During the Television Critics Association summer press tour, close to 150 programs are presented to TV reporters, many of whom fly in from all over the country and Canada for the confab, which concluded last week.
Some of the most talked about came at the end when ABC, Fox and FX each had a day to showcase their respective shows at the Beverly Hilton, with some presentations on the Fox lot.
Here is the second part of our look at some of the programming highlights:
For ABC Entertainment Group president Channing Dungey, it was her first TCA presenting a slate that was entirely greenlit and produced under her leadership. In her remarks, Dungey, who had just returned from maternity leave, touched on the just concluded season of “The Bachelorette,” which featured the first African-American bachelorette, Rachel Lindsay. She deferred all specific questions about the resumption of “Bachelor in Paradise,” airing tonight, to Warner Bros., which conducted an investigation of reported alcohol-fueled sexual misconduct between two contestants that shut down the production in June.
Even though this will be the final season for ABC stalwarts “Scandal” and “The Middle,” “Grey’s Anatomy” will reach a milestone 300th episode in November during its 14th season.
Midseason will see the high-profile debuts of “American Idol,” with fellow judges alongside Katy Perry yet to be named, and the new incarnation of “Roseanne,” eight episodes starring the cast from the original sitcom, which ran from 1988-1997.
Dungey said she’s looking forward to a full schedule of comedies on Tuesday nights (starting Oct. 3, so as not to go up against NBC’s season premieres of “The Voice” and “This Is Us” the previous Tuesday) with “The Middle,” “Fresh Off the Boat” and “black-ish, followed by new shows ”The Mayor” and “Kevin (Probably) Saves the World.”
In “The Mayor,” Brandon Micheal Hall stars as Courtney Rose, a young rapper looking for his big break when he comes up with an unlikely idea to get publicity for his music career – running for mayor of his fictional California hometown, a burg of about 30,000 people in the Bay Area. The plans go too well, and he actually wins the election. With help from his mother, played by Yvette Nicole Brown, and a close friend named Valentina (Lea Michele), Hall’s character struggles to succeed in a job he never really wanted.
Tony Award winner Daveed Diggs, of “Hamilton” renown, created original music for the pilot and is also executive producing.
“It was the incorporation of the musical aspect of this show which attracted me. I’ve been a fan of Daveed’s for such a long time,” said MIchele, who recently came off of “Scream Queens” but is best known for her role on “Glee.”
“I’ve wanted to do a political show for a long time,” said writer and executive producer Jeremy Bronson, who earlier in his career was an NBC News producer. “And in particular, the idea that a character would have some skill set, some life experience that he could tap into and that might help him do this job well, but that he was a complete novice was also something I was interested in. And I’m a big fan of rap music. I know about Daveed’s involvement in rap as a young guy. And I was also inspired by Chance the Rapper’s path as well, doing his poetry in a multipurpose room of his high school.”
Actor Freddie Highmore pivots from “Bates Motel,” which concluded its fifth and final season on A+E to “The Good Doctor,” which tells the story of a young surgeon with autism who joins the staff of a prestigious hospital. As Highmore noted, he goes from killing people to saving them. His medical mentor is played by Richard Schiff.
One of the drama’s executive producers is Daniel Dae Kim, who left CBS’s “Hawaii Five-0” after a pay dispute. Another is David Shore of “House,” another medical drama revolving around a brilliant physician.
“I’m very proud to be part of this show. It’s one that I saw several years ago after it aired in Korea,” said Kim. “It started as a Korean series, and I loved the message of it, and it was a very familiar genre to American audiences in that it’s a medical show. And I also think that we haven’t seen an autistic character on a network broadcast show as the lead, and autism affects 1 in 68 Americans. And so to be able to start this dialogue, I think, is really an important one. That was really the heart of it.”
“Marvel’s Inhumans” will have a unique launch– the first two episodes of the series will premiere in IMAX theaters over Labor Day weekend, and three weeks later, the series will debut on ABC. The show, executive produced by Marvel TV chief Jeph Loeb and Scott Buck and starring Anson Mount, Iwan Rheon, Serinda Swan and Ellen Woglom, represents a unique partnership between IMAX, Marvel, ABC Studios, and ABC Network.
It’s based on the super-powered royal family created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby 50 years ago. The eight-episode series drew criticism last month after a trailer released at Comic-Con led some to believe that the quality wasn’t up to Marvel standards. Loeb said the show is not yet completed and asked that judgments be held off until it is.
“It’s a very human drama set in an inhuman world,” said Swan, whose character Medusa sports a four-foot long red wig and is the confidante and communicator for Mount’s character, Black Bolt.
There may be no better example of broadcast television embracing the limited series concept than Kyra Sedgwick’s upcoming psychological mystery series, “Ten Days in the Valley,” which will be solved in 10 episodes.
The story was created by Tassie Cameron, based partially on the anxiety she suffered as a single mother working long hours as a television producer, which expressed itself as a reoccurring nightmare.
“We are trying to toy with the archetypical guilt women have when they give birth. Every moment you are not with the child, you loathe yourself – and society does too. By creating the conversation of whether this is a good or a bad mother, we are delving deeper into this and asking more questions,” said Sedgwick. She EPs and stars as Jane Sadler, whose daughter goes missing in the midst of a custody battle with her ex-husband.
After “The Closer,” Sedgwick said she was interested in doing a show where her character is not solving a mystery, but is the mystery. Co-star Erika Christensen said it reads like a novel, with a treasure trove of information presented to the viewer.
Cameron hinted that although the missing child mystery is solved, bombshells are dropped along the way that could plant the seeds for a second season.
Just when you thought Fox might still be licking its wounds over losing “American Idol” to ABC, along comes a new musical competition show, “The Four.” It focuses on four finalists taking on new challengers, rather than celebrity judging panels, although it will have one of those, too.
And Fox is still in the live musical business, with Fox Television Group chairman and CEP Dana Walden announcing “A Christmas Story” for December 17, starring Maya Rudolph in a three-hour adaptation of the classic holiday tale. Executive produced by Marc Platt, who also oversaw “Grease: Live,” it will shoot live on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank.
Marvel TV’s Jeph Loeb was back on stage at the Beverly Hilton for “The Gifted,” which some are characterizing as an X-Men show without the X-Men.
“If you are an X-Men fan, you know that there are other books within this world, like District X, with large numbers of characters in that world,” Loeb explained for those who are not aware of the finer points of this particular superhero universe. “That X is a shorthand for mutants. The parents of the story are dealing with characters that we have not met before and that’s our entry point along the way.”
Stephen Moyer, well-known to genre audiences from “True Blood,” admitted that as a kid, he was heavily into Spider-Man and not X-Men. But that was then, this is now. “The disenfranchised world of X-Men is very attractive to most, as everyone feels they’ve been blocked or thwarted – everyone has some element to which they can relate,” Moyer said. “What I love is that it’s set in a normal world. It’s totally legal to be a mutant as long as you don’t use the powers in public. We are showing a galaxy, yet a close parallel to our own world.”
Showrunner Matt Nix, who noted that he did seven years of “Burn Notice” in Miami on a cable budget, said that his 10-year-old self would come back in a time machine to kill him if he hadn’t have gotten this job.
Craig Robinson and Adam Scott are also reveling in their new jobs in “Ghosted,” which draws from the “Ghostbusters” films as inspiration for a buddy comedy set in the world of paranormal investigation. In case people had forgotten – which they obviously had – Robinson reminded them that the two comedy vets (“Parks and Recreation,” “The Office”) also worked together in “Hot Tub Time Machine 2.” He also roiled the crowd with an announcement that Meryl Streep would make a guest appearance. No, not really.
“We were both on NBC shows and had met at parties,” Scott said. “Craig said we should do something together. I was so blown away because he was deeply funny. This is where we’ve been able to expand on that and develop this relationship.”
Seth MacFarlane has long been a go-to guy for Fox and now he wants to bring everyone on board “The Orville,” a “Star Trek”-inspired comedic drama set in space. Yes, the title is in honor of the Wright brother who didn’t get as much credit as his brother Wilbur as a pioneer of aviation.
The crew includes Penny Johnson Jerald, Scott Grimes, Adrianne Palicki, Chad L. Coleman, Mark Jackson, J Lee, Halston Sage and Peter Macon. Brannon Braga, who ran “Star Trek: Voyager” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation” is one of the executive producers, along with David A. Goodman and Liz Heldens.
“When I read the pilot, it struck me as completely original – with a big beginning, middle and end,” Braga said of the hour-long show, which features standalone episodes, not serialized.
“’Star Trek’ itself sprang from different sci-fi tropes, the idea of a ship cruising through space, but they crystallized it in a more perfect way than anyone else,” said MacFarlane. “I miss the optimistic place that science fiction used to represent. It’s a space waiting to be filled. It can’t all be dystopian like ‘The Hunger Games,’ or people murdering each other for food. Because this is an hour, the story has to come first. It’s all things that come out of where the characters are, and that’s by design. We allow some more room for levity. We’re trying to break some new ground.”
John Landgraf, CEO of FX Networks and FX Productions, is known for using his TCA executive session to speak not only about his networks, but the television industry as a whole, and this year was no exception. He quickly addressed “the elephant in the room at TCA — the massive transformation, disruptions the business is undergoing.” Landgraf compared networks like FX, HBO and AMC to chess champion Gary Kasparov fighting the supercomputer Deep Blue — an allegory to Silicon Valley companies like Netflix and Amazon invading the television space with huge amounts of capital for original programming. “I want humans to win against the machines,” he said. About Apple’s pending entrance into the field he warned, “Wait for the epic titanic fight for talent.”
Another elephant in the room that hung over FX’s day of panels, albeit a positive one, was director Ryan Murphy’s Half initiative, the effort to attain a 50% level of women and people of color directing FX shows. It achieved that goal last year, with 51%, up from just 12% in 2015.
All episodes of Season 2 of “Better Things” will be directed by series star Pamela Adlon, who appeared on a panel about the show with her mentor and co-creator, Louis C.K.
Adlon, who recently won a Peabody Award, plays Sam Fox, an actress raising three daughters while dealing with the demands of Hollywood, friendship and dating.
“Louis encouraged me to take over my show directing-wise. I’m not a control freak, but I have a vision,” Adlon said. “In Season 2, there’s a dreamlike quality. She’s going deeper, exploring getting uncomfortable. The first season was trying to find my voice in the character. I’ve been working my whole life and now playing myself. Now it just feels like we’re just living in this world.”
“Right now I’m involved in her show – it’s the best show on TV,” C.K. said when asked about doing another season of “Louie” on FX, which last aired in 2015. “So I’m happy to be doing that – and standup – and other dumb things.”
John Singleton’s “Snowfall,” the drama set in early 1980s Los Angeles about the beginning of the crack cocaine epidemic, has been renewed for a second season with key cast Damson Idris, Emily Rios. Carter Hudson, Angela Lewis, Amin Joseph, Michael Hyatt and Sergio Peris-Mencheta.
“Multiple generations have lived through this. It was the best of times and the worst of times. We are not glorifying being a drug dealer – the drugs are actually the backdrop for three characters and their needs and wants,” said Singleton, who created with the show with Dave Andron and Eric Amadio. Tommy Schlamme, recently named president of the DGA, is also an executive producer. “There’s a whole new generation who looks at this time only as references in hip-hop culture, specifically in West Coast hip-hop. It’s the lore they’ve heard about but have never seen depicted before.”
Singleton also talked about the differences between the crack epidemic and the current opioid scourge. “The laws changed quickly. After [college basketball star] Len Bias died [in 1986], the whole drug laws changed in one weekend. No one really thought about it, and how it affected millions of people in the inner cities. What we’re trying to do is make a comment on a certain time period. It’s interesting to see how the current opioid crisis is being handled as opposed to the way they criminalized multiple generations of people in those times.”
How does director/producer/writer Ryan Murphy follow last year’s commercial and critical hit “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story? The previously announced yet delayed “Katrina,” which just changed source material and casting, will now come after “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.” It stars Edgar Ramirez as the iconic fashion designer and Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan, the charismatic drifter who killed him outside his Miami mansion in 1997. Pop star Ricky Martin portrays Versace’s long time partner Antonio D’Amico and Oscar-winning actress Penélope Cruz plays Donatella Versace.
“We’re telling the story backwards. The first episode deals with the literal murder, or assassination itself, and then we get into how he had that motive and why he wanted to do what he wanted to do,” Murphy said. “It’s more than why he was killed. It’s why it was allowed to happen. We’re trying to talk about a crime within a social idea. I think the word assassination has a political overtone, and it denotes somebody taking the life of somebody to make a point, and that’s exactly what Andrew Cunanan did.”
“I’ve always admired Ryan’s work,” Ramirez said. “We had intimate conversations about how he wanted to tell the story– being haunted and hunted. Versace combined sexiness, glamour and opulence in a way that no one had before–and everyone went crazy. He is a disruptor. The story captures the spirit of the times and the zeitgeist.”
While Versace was Cunanan’s final, and most famous, victim, he also murdered at least four others. “It’s a manhunt season. It’s not a one-location season. It has great breadth, and a great scope, and it’s really a look at the time,” Murphy said about the era, in which few famous people were out as gay. 1997 was the year Ellen DeGeneres revealed her homosexuality, a groundbreaking time which paved the way for many others in the public eye to come out of the closet.
The research was meticulous, down to the ashtrays Versace used and the bathrobes he wore. The production shot at the mansion, which was sold by the Versace family after the murder and is now a luxury boutique hotel, and re-created rooms from it on sets at the Fox lot in Century City.
“That’s one of the joys of the work — to really get it right,” Murphy said. “Because we cared. We wanted to do honor to him.”