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Hillary Atkin

Things Get Bubbly at TCA — Broadcast (and Affiliated Cable) Presentations, Part II

Aug 19, 2016

It’s not a question that is normally on the minds of anyone participating in the summer TCA press tour. And that question would be this. Who is up for day-drinking some really good, expensive French champagne?

Mariah Carey, promoting the upcoming “Mariah’s World,” was responsible for sending out dozens of buckets of chilled bubbly to television critics and reporters working away on their laptops in the Beverly Hilton’s International Ballroom.

That was just one of the many highlights during the broadcast (and affiliated cable) networks’ portion of the tour.

Here is the second part of our curated look at the some programming presented during the recently wrapped confab.

Fox

As Jimmy Kimmel joked during upfronts, much of the fall television season will look like your old VCR collection from the 70s and 80s. Using that categorization, Fox has “Lethal Weapon,” “The Exorcist” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” coming down the pike.

It also presented panels on two totally new shows, “Pitch,” about a female major league baseball player and ” Son of Zorn,” a comedy series blending live action and animation.

And in more crossover news, Fox comedy worlds will collide when characters from “New Girl” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” meet up in New York City in back-to-back episodes airing October 11.

“The Exorcist”

“As a horror fan, nothing infuriates me more than pretending the original doesn’t exist,” said Jeremy Slater, creator and executive producer of this reimagining of the classic scary movie from 1973, which redefined the genre.

The one-hour drama follows two very different men confronting the face of true evil as one family battles a terrifying case of demonic possession. The cast includes Geena Davis, Alfonzo Herrera, Ben Daniels and Alan Ruck.

“This is a brand new story, but in the same tune and the same spirit. This time around, evil has grander ambitions than one 8-year-old girl. That’s the entry point,” Slater said. “Now I can see this as a show that can run for multiple seasons. People won’t tune in week after week for scares and shock value. It has to be about characters that we care about.”

Davis said she wouldn’t have taken the role if she thought she was supposed to be a new version of Ellen Burstyn. “This is a whole new experience,” she said, before reflecting on the William Friedkin film. “Just the whole atmosphere he created was so profoundly impactful, but it’s a scary topic.”

Davis, who is a front-and-center proponent of gender parity in the business, noted that half of the writers room is women, “which is very exciting, but unfortunately unusual.”

“The Rocky Horror Picture Show”

There was practically dancing in the aisles to the theme song as the cult favorite’s original Dr. Frank-N-Furter, Tim Curry, took the stage with cast members including Christina Milian, Ben Vereen, Victoria Justice and Reeve Carney, along with executive producers Kenny Ortega, who is also the choreographer, Lou Adler and Gail Berman.

As anyone who’s ever been to a midnight showing well knows, audience participation is part of the joy of “Rocky Horror.”

“We wanted to make sure that callbacks didn’t get in the way but celebrated the story, and we found a way to balance them,” Ortega said.

“But ‘Rocky Horror’ has a mind of its own,” Adler added. “Basically, the fans tell us what we do next. We started doing this TV idea a while ago but it wasn’t the right time. Kenny took the choreography to another place and my son Cisco took the soundtrack to another place.”

“The original film was my first movie,” Curry remarked. “It was fun to do it again. I offered myself as Dr. Scott but they thought the narrator was a better fit. I give this version my unconditional support. As far as Dr. Frank-N-Furter being my legacy, well there’s nothing I can do about it, really.”

“There are no better teachers then legends like Tim and Ben,” said cast member Ryan McCartan, a former Disney Channel star who is doing the time warp again.

“We are not remaking it but paying homage to them for laying the groundwork. You cannot remake it, but you can pay tribute and honor to it,” Vereen said about the original production and cast, which also included Susan Sarandon who disappointingly will not participate in the new version.

When asked, Adler said she was not approached to do so. He also noted that the initial backlash against the remake subsided when Curry signed on.

“All of the cast are triple threats,” Ortega said. “This is an opportunity to breathe new life into wonderful characters. I fell in love with this in 1973 at the Roxy in Los Angeles. I love this music and for me it’s an opportunity to jump in with both feet with all of these talented people.”

FX

Network executives are still on Cloud 9 about the haul of Primetime Emmy award nominations — and who can blame them — including the first heavy-duty recognition for “The Americans” and the hefty 22 nods for “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.”

FX rode the glory of those programs with panels for them and other returning shows including “The Strain,” “You’re the Worst” and “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll.” It showcased only two new series, “Atlanta” and “Better Things,” both of which fill 10 p.m. slots, beginning September 6 and September 8, respectively.

“The Americans”

“The Emmy nominations feel nice,” said Joel Fields, who co-created the spy drama with Joe Weisberg. “Every year [we don’t get them] we say we’re not bitter. But the big one [drama series] feels especially nice because it’s for everyone.”

After Weisberg also waxed euphoric about the recognition, the two showrunners got down to talking brass tacks, about how they created a detailed bible-type document early on but later abandoned it after it got too immense. They mentioned that both Margo Martindale and Frank Langella will be back next season, joining Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as two Soviet spies who pose as an ordinary American couple but don disguises in order to spy on the U.S. government.

“We started with a marriage that had unique problems,” said Weisberg, a former CIA officer. “The journey is figuring out how it manifests itself when they’ve gone off to murder someone or steal some documents.”

There is an endgame—along with potentially new disguises for the characters — that only he and Fields know. The show will go two more seasons, concluding with its sixth.

“The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”

The panel for the limited series looked a lot like the group that will likely be making several trips to the dais at the Emmys. Participating were executive producers Brad Simpson, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, director John Singleton, writers Joel Robert Cole and D.V. DeVincentis and stars Sarah Paulson and Cuba Gooding Jr.

Gooding was late, as other panel members remarked was usual, arriving onstage as Paulson was discussing an element of portraying prosecutor Marcia Clark, and she interrupted her spiel to give him a good ribbing.

It turns out that neither actor has watched their respective performances, somehow finding it too difficult to view themselves portraying Clark and Simpson. (Paulson had even exited the stage when a clip played so as not to see it.) Viewers felt differently, turning out in record numbers for the 10 episodes.

The key creative discussion between Alexander and Karaszewski, who previously had worked only in features, was how to structure the story.

“Was it a 10 hour movie or 10 separate hours?,” Karaszewski recalled about their deliberations, which resulted in each episode telling basically a standalone story. “It was important for each episode to have a theme, a statement, and one of the benefits of a TV program is you could do a deep dive. It was a new tool for us as we had only written movies.”

(Paulson also poked fun at them for that. As in, remember the days when film people felt so superior to TV? These days, not so much.)

“Larry and I didn’t know any better. We had this idea of 10 one-hour movies and then we backed into the high concept of each episode,” said Alexander. “We even talked about an episode on jury selection – and we were in love with it – but it’s minutiae.” They didn’t end up doing that one.

As for depicting Clark, whom she has befriended, Paulson said her initial assumptions changed. “I wasn’t able to hold the complexity of how the trial might change Marcia’s life. I was lucky to have clear writing based on research. Nothing I learned about her jived with what I was led to believe. I did enter into it thinking she was a particular sort of person and not thinking of her as a human.”

Gooding said the most difficult part of the role was filming the infamous slow speed Bronco chase, saying that it almost made him physically ill. He also revealed that cast members created their own tribes during the production, with some extras not speaking to those in other tribes as they stayed in character as either part of the prosecution or defense teams, or the Goldman, Brown or Simpson families.

The intensity of the drama was summed up by Paulson. “Somehow, we felt if we did it right, the verdict would be different. There was an enormous responsibility and feeling to have justice be served.”

NBC

“Rio Olympics”

It was three days before the opening ceremonies when Bob Costas, Mary Carillo and Olympics executive producer Jim Bell appeared live via satellite from Rio de Janeiro to take questions, which quickly turned testy to the point that an uninformed observer might’ve gotten the impression that Costas was responsible for the Zika virus and all the ills that have plagued Brazil of late.

The three kept their cool in the tropical heat and Costas responded that he would ask IOC president Thomas Bach all the burning questions about security, health and environmental issues during their interview.

“We have our fingers crossed on security issues,” Costa said. (There was no way he could have predicted the unraveling of the story that Ryan Lochte and U.S. swim team members were robbed at gunpoint, or the assault on the security chief after he left the main stadium.) “The Zika outcome won’t be apparent until after the Games. With everything on open water, we have to talk about the condition of the water.”

“Timeless”

Premiering October 3, the science fiction drama series stars Goran Visnjic as a criminal who steals a state-of-the-art time machine with the intent of changing the course of American history — with nefarious intent. Chasing him through time travel is a team that includes a history professor, a soldier and a scientist.

“We are going back to Abraham Lincoln, the Alamo, Watergate and Germany in World War II,” said Shawn Ryan, who created the show with Eric Kripke. “Those things are the core of show.”

The producers promise they will not sugarcoat history and will explore the racism one character encounters through various periods in time that will go back to the 1750s during the French and Indian War.

“One thing we’ve explored is that so much history as we know it is the history of rich white dudes, but there’s so much history from minorities and females,” Kripke said. “We’re looking for a door in to tell an exciting, fresh history that’s current and that allows us to make commentary on issues happening today. You can talk about difficult subjects as you can’t in a typical drama.”

“This Is Us”

The trailer for the ensemble show from creator Dan Fogelman — also running Fox’s “Pitch” — has already garnered more than 50 million views on Facebook, but Fogelman said it was a hard concept to sell. He described “This Is Us,” which intertwines four stories, as “a dramedy version of ‘Lost.’”

Among the cast: Sterling K. Brown, Mandy Moore, Milo Ventimiglia, Justin Hartley and Chrissy Metz. Roles are also slated for Katey Sagal, Brad Garrett and Gerald McRaney.

“You’ll see the growth of people as it jumps in time,” Fogelman said. “Everything now is so dark and cynical, that maybe this is the right time for a show with little bit of hope and optimism. It sounds highfalutin and artist-y, but I think life can be romantic when we’re not wallowing in the shit.”

“Hairspray Live!”

Continuing NBC’s live musical franchise championed by entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt, he introduced the panel as a slew of Tony, Emmy and Oscar winners, including Harvey Fierstein, who is reprising the role he performed as Edna Turnblad in the hit Broadway show. Other cast members include newcomer Maddie Baillio as Tracy Turnblad, Ariana Grande, Martin Short, Derek Hough, Jennifer Hudson, Kristin Chenoweth, Shawn Hayes and Rosie O’Donnell, with Craig Zadan and Neil Meron producing, as they did for the 2007 feature film.

The production will be staged on the Universal Studios lot in Los Angeles, Dec. 7.

The cast expressed mutual admiration of each other and love for Marc Shaiman’s music in “Hairspray,” which was originally written by John Waters, who directed the 1988 film. (Movie buffs will recall he starred in it, along with Ricki Lake, Debbie Harry, Sonny Bono, Jerry Stiller and Divine.)

“These NBC live musicals have brought Broadway into people’s living rooms,” said Zadan. “It used to be thought that no one’s interested in musical theater and themed shows, but that’s not true, thank God. Thank God for Bob [Greenblatt] because he went into these without hesitation.”

This will be NBC’s fourth consecutive live musical, after “The Sound of Music,” “Peter Pan” and “The Wiz.”

NBCU Cable

“Botched by Nature” (E!)

Medical procedures are painful. So was watching this panel about the reality skein featuring plastic surgeons Paul Nassif and Terry Dubrow, along with the show’s executive producer, Matt Westmore.

The concept is that the doctors donate their services to fix patients’ congenital defects and conditions that are a result of trauma, rather than simply improve their looks with plastic surgery, thus changing their lives.

And while almost everyone could agree that that’s a worthy cause, reporters in the room seemed negatively fixated on the word “botched.” It is, after all, the title of the E! show that just wrapped its third season, from which this is a spin-off. Sample titles of recent “Botched” episodes: “Blowfish Lips and Crab Claw Bits” and “Here Comes Tummy Boo Hoo.”

So semantics were the major part of the discussion because of the negative connotation attached to patients whose conditions did not result from previous plastic surgery.

The doctors insisted the title was all about maintaining the brand, saying that people are usually just happy to see “Botched” doctors. “’Botched’ is now a brand that means hope for your problem,” said Dr. Dubrow. “We want people to know that the ‘Botched’ doctors with their ‘Botched’ experience and heart are applying these skills and sensibilities to people with congenital deformities. That is really what the show is about.”

“The Women of Mr. Robot” (USA)

Wait, there are women on the acclaimed series starring Rami Malek and Christian Slater, which recently launched its Season 2? Kidding. Among them are Grace Gummer, Portia Doubleday, Stephanie Corneliussen and Carly Chaiken, who appeared on the panel with Dawn Olmstead, the executive VP of development for Universal Cable Productions and Wilshire Studios.

“We drive the story as much as Rami or Christian,” Gummer said. We’re not secondary characters. All of the characters are in a gray area which is interesting.”

What’s also interesting is that all the women admitted they were not necessarily tech savvy — before they were on the show.

“We’re all millennials but most of us don’t know much about tech. We have consultants who teach us hacking lingo,” said Gummer.

Despite the nature of the drama focusing on Malek’s character, at least one cast member feels a responsibility to represent women well in the tech area.

“When we first started, I didn’t think about repping a woman in technology, but that made me much more excited about the role,” Chaiken said. “The show is reflecting a world where there are incredible female hackers. As an actor, it’s great to play that character that stands for something and has an effect on the outside world.”

“Mariah’s World” (E!)

Those who enjoy a nice, chilled glass — or, rather, a whole bottle — of Veuve Clicquot champagne got served an indulgent surprise as Mariah Carey’s panel was getting underway. And we’re not talking about the six bare-chested men who carried her onto the stage (and later took on the role of carrying microphones to reporters who had questions, a task generally reserved for uniformed network pages).

Of course, it was the last panel of the day, and it did span the 5 o’clock hour. But it was still a surprise as Hilton waiters efficiently served up iced buckets of the bubbly, as stunts like this are rare at TCA.

It did set the tone for her diva-ness, who was also recently announced as a guest star on Fox’s “Empire,” to dish all about the upcoming docuseries, as she reclined on a purple velvet loveseat and took questions.

(She also dissed “American Idol,” saying her time there was “abusive.”)

The eight-part program will follow her as she begins a tour of the UK, Europe and Africa while at the same time planning her wedding to Australian businessman James Packer. Apparently he will not appear in the series. It’s not clear whether her children will, but she mention the five-year-old twins were so funny they should “have a show of their own.”

“If I don’t document my life, I’m not sure when I’m going to go on tour again,” she said, insisting it feels like a documentary. “I didn’t say, ooh, let’s do a realty thing because I don’t even know what reality is. Literally.”

There was a staged break in the action when the pop star called out her hair and makeup team for a touch up, eliciting a few groans from the audience. After all, the session was only half an hour.

Showtime

A muscular presentation by the network’s president and CEO David Nevins highlighted renewals for tentpole dramas including “Ray Donovan,” “Billions” and “Homeland,” announced new shows for two “SNL-ers” whom NBC had just dropped, Jay Pharaoh and Taran Killam– and showed a teeny, tiny bit about the highly anticipated David Lynch reboot of “Twin Peaks.” There was no footage. Rather, interviews with some of the key players involved, including Kyle McLachlan.

Nevins also touted the success of the-year-old standalone OTT play, saying it has one million subscribers.

“Weiner”

If you thought you knew everything there was to know about Anthony Weiner after all of the um, exposure the New York politician got a few years ago, you were wrong. Filmmakers Josh Kriegman, who worked for Weiner, and Elyse Steinberg got wall-to-wall access to the congressman who was caught up in a sexting scandal but still decided to run for mayor of New York City.

His wife, Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abadin, also plays a key role, giving viewers insight as to why she might have stood by her man, even as a new sex controversy emerges and eventually derails Weiner’s political ambitions.

“It’s a really behind the scenes look at the media firestorm,” Steinberg noted. “Why he let us continue to film — he wanted to be viewed as a whole person and not just a punchline and that was our intention, a more nuanced look.”

The feature-length documentary premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this year and was released theatrically, but will get wide play on Showtime.

“The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth”

The producers of the series couldn’t have even predicted the bizarre twists and turns that the current presidential campaign has taken. But their job every week is to give viewers a cogent look at what’s gone down in a tight half-hour.

“There were very few times I feel that we weren’t where we should have been,” said Mark Halperin about some of the unexpected developments in the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. “We are holding the Trump peyote scene until after the election, ha ha.”

“Homeland”

Carrie and Saul were together again — with the only man who really knows the truth about where their relationship is going, after all of its ups and downs, as Claire Danes, Mandy Patinkin and showrunner Alex Gansa comprised the troika for “Homeland,” the final panel of summer TCA.

The sixth season will be shot in New York City, where both Danes and Patinkin make their homes — and a bonus for them after the multiple international locations, including last season in Berlin. The time period spans between Election Day and Inauguration Day, when a female candidate will assume the presidency.

“It is very fertile territory for our story,” Danes promised about the New York-based next season, premiering January 15. (“Homeland” has also been renewed for seasons 7 and 8.) “We are always charting toward the most compelling events in our culture, which is what’s happening in politics right now. I think people will be engaged.”

She also gave some hints about what lies ahead for her character. “Carrie is going to influence change from a different standpoint – advocating for Muslims being unfairly treated — but she has a bigger agenda,” Danes said. “She’s a rogue spirit, she’s a really good spy, and that will manifest itself. She’s in the game again but rewriting the rules.”

Gansa promised that after the drama about whether Quinn (Rupert Friend) was alive or dead, viewers will see him as a very changed and altered man.

Patinkin discussed the research meetings the talent and writing staff have annually with members of the intelligence community — and how much the drama has meant to him personally.

“When I read the pilot, I was aware of the pedigree of Claire and Alex,” said Patinkin. “We did the first season and it got more and more extraordinary. It’s been an absolute privilege to be in the company of people who can reflect and comment on the world we are living in in a fictional way. Within the drama, a possibility exists to address and create conversations in ways we been deprived of in the last few years of the election cycle. It ignites my life on every level, including the success of the show giving me a profile the likes of which I’ve never had before.”

Please click here to see part one, focusing on ABC, CBS and the CW.

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