Even as news from outside the doors of the Beverly Hilton roiled the traditional television ecosystem — including Disney pulling future programming from Netflix in favor of its own subscription services and Facebook producing original content — networks continued to put their best and their brightest front and center for the second half of the Television Critics Association summer press tour.
New and returning shows were presented by ABC, CBS, The CW, Fox, FX, NBC and Showtime during the final week of TCA, which concluded August 9.
Held primarily in the hotel’s International Ballroom, with some presentations on studio lots, the networks put on panels with executives, creators and talent who fielded questions– many friendly, some confrontational – from television reporters.
Here is the first of two parts looking at some of the programming highlights:
Even as CBS continues to kill it in late-night comedy with Stephen Colbert’s “The Late Show” winning the ratings war, things quickly turned serious as the network’s new executive team, Kelly Kahl, President, CBS Entertainment, and Thom Sherman, Senior Executive Vice President, Programming, took the stage.
Several critics queried them about the pace of gender and racial diversity in front of and behind the camera on CBS shows, after the executives noted that CBS was the most-watched network in primetime, daytime, and at 11:30 p.m.
“There is change happening on CBS,” said Kahl. “We have two shows with diverse leads this year that we didn’t have on the schedule last year. We have a midseason show with a lead character who’s gay. And over the last few years, if you look at the number of diverse series regulars, that’s up almost 60 percent. The number of writers we have from diverse backgrounds is up over the last few years, as are directors. So we are absolutely moving in the right direction. The number of reality contestants is up dramatically over the last few years. So we are making progress.”
The mood lightened with the panel for “Young Sheldon,” a single-camera spinoff of the mult-cam comedy hit, “The Big Bang Theory.” Co-creator Chuck Lorre said the idea about the origins of Sheldon (played by the Emmy award-winning Jim Parsons, who will serve as narrator in the story of his younger self, portrayed by Iain Armitage) has been germinating for ten years.
“I have to tell you that it was a very moving experience to me to see something that I’ve put in a decade of my life toward,” said Parsons. “In the same way that we’re mining the writing for what they’ve been putting in for those ten years, it was very moving for me to see this…machine take off that’s related to all that.”
Lorre said this is the first time he’s worked with narration and it changed the way the show was written — and yes, the writers discussed “The Wonder Years,” which used a similar narrated format.
“I’m a nervous wreck,” Lorre admitted. “It’s an entirely different animal. It’s a wholly different way to tell a story, and the working process is very different. It’s much slower, you know. But the end result is something to be proud of, really. I love the pilot.”
Later in the morning, CBS ferried TCA attendees to its Studio City Radford lot, beginning with a panel on the set of the new comedy “9JKL,” which denotes New York City apartment numbers where the characters live adjacent to each other. It’s based partially on the experiences of series star Mark Feuerstein, who for eight years lived next door to his parents when he was shooting “Royal Pains” and at other times, trying to find work. For a time, his brother, the brother’s wife and their young child were also next-door neighbors. Feuerstein co-created and EPs the show with Dana Klein, his wife.
“It’s a show about this guy who is trying to set boundaries and rebuild his life professionally, career-wise, with a very well-meaning but very intrusive family. So, a lot of the comedic engine is about him trying to establish a boundary,” Klein said. “And he’s sort of feeling bad because his parents are so loving, and their biggest crime is loving too much. And they all are super enmeshed. And so, we’re going to be getting to know everybody.”
Elliot Gould and Linda Lavin play the parents. Although both actors met their real-life counterparts, Feuerstein promised that over time, they will not resemble them. “This is not a documentary,” he said. “They are their own characters. They will become idiosyncratic to what these amazing actors bring to it. And we will slowly but surely quickly forget about the fact that it’s related to my personal family.”
Despite the airdate delay from January to Sept. 24 on CBS and CBS All Access, The network’s paid subscription service, the 15-episode “Star Trek: Discovery” — along with a new talk aftershow following each new episode — is bound to send Trekkies to the moon with its compelling characters, massive sets and elaborate costumes.
“’Star Trek’ is an incredibly ambitious show. [Showrunner] Bryan [Fuller] and I were looking to bring something new to ‘Trek’ that both fans and people who’d never seen the show before could experience, and to justify being on a premium cable service, we knew it had to be huge in emotion and character,” executive producer Alex Kurtzman said. (Fuller left to focus his attention on Starz’ “American Gods.”) “And to build this world, there was an airdate looming, and we couldn’t compromise the show for the sake of a date. We went into Les Moonves’ office and figured the worst we could do is compromise the show to meet an airdate.”
The famous theme music is performed by a 60-piece orchestra and pays homage to the original Alexander Courage theme, and Kurtzman played a video of the performance, which elicited rare applause from the TCA audience.
“We couldn’t be more thrilled to share this journey with you because we understand its significance, and we know that we are telling a story that we believe in. Everyone is so passionate,” said series star Sonequa Martin-Green. “The craftsmanship here in our entire company, behind the camera and in front of the camera, is nothing short of stellar, and this is an epically grand yet microscopically tuned, deeply emotional story, and we don’t take it for granted. We don’t take it lightly. I certainly don’t, and it’s a dream to be able to be a part of history.”
TCA attendees walking into the International Ballroom were greeted with massive white and beige rose flower arrangements indicative of the fact that “Dynasty” is coming back, a younger and fresher version of the 1980s Aaron Spelling classic primetime soap on ABC which starred Joan Collins, Linda Evans and John Forsythe.
The setting has been moved from Denver to Atlanta.
This version was developed by Josh Schwartz, Stephanie Savage and Sallie Patrick, and follows two wealthy families, the Carringtons and the Colbys as they feud with each other and fight for control over their fortunes. Grant Show, Elizabeth Gillies, Nathalie Kelley, James Mackay, Alan Dale, Sam Adegoke, Robert Christopher Riley and Rafael de la Fuente star.
“Valor” is a military drama starring Matt Barr and Christina Ochoa as elite helicopter pilots who uncover the secret behind a botched mission to Somalia that left U.S. service personnel in enemy hands. Executive producer Anne Fricke said one of the things that sets it apart from other military shows premiering this fall like NBC’s “The Brave” and CBS’s “SEAL Team” is the fact that it’s largely female-driven, centering around Ochoa’s character as one of the first female pilots in the unit.
The drama unfolds in the present as well as in flashbacks to the failed mission.
“The reality of warfare is that it’s being done by special ops. It’s not a major ground war. There are special ops operating in over 100 countries, carrying on missions. Warfare is about special ops,” said EP Kyle Jarrow, whose brother is a veteran. “We have a large military and a large country and the percentage of Americans who served is very low. There’s not a lot of knowledge of what the day-to-day military life is.”
The third season of “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow“ features the show’s first Muslim superhero, played by Iranian-born actress Tala Ashe, whose character Zari Adrianna Tomaz hails from the year 2030.
“She brings a new point of view, and when you do a scene with eight different people, everyone has to have a distinct voice or you lose yourself in a scene,” said executive producer Phil Klemmer.
“We also recognized there weren’t enough women on the Waverider and it was something we’ve been looking to address,” added EP Marc Guggenheim.
Jes Macallan will recur as Special Agent Ava Sharpe, dedicated to the regulation of time travel. She joins cast members Brandon Routh, Victor Garber, Arthur Darvill, Dominic Purcell, Caity Lotz, Franz Drameh, Nick Zano, Amy Pemberton, Matt Letscher and Maisie Richardson-Sellers.
Following in the footsteps of director Ryan Murphy’s Half Initiative, the Peacock network launched what it is calling the Female Forward initiative with the goal of increasing the number of female directors in television. It will start by giving 10 women the opportunity to shadow other directors on episodes of NBC series during the 2018-19 season before handing them the reins to direct at least one program of that series. Acclaimed director Lesli Linka Glatter (“Mad Men,” “Homeland”), who is helming two episodes of the upcoming limited series “Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders” will spearhead the program.
The 1989 murders of Jose and Kitty Menendez by their sons Erik and Lyle are among the most notorious in Los Angeles and American criminal history and the limited series from prolific crime maestro Dick Wolf is expected to ride high on the wave of popularity of true-crime programming.
Edie Falco portrays tenacious defense attorney Leslie Abramson, who sucked much of the air out of the room during the sensational trials of the brothers–18 and 21 years old when they shotgunned their parents–who claimed the murders at the family home in Beverly Hills were the result of years of psychological and sexual abuse they suffered.
“This is unique for me, after 27 years of ‘Law & Order.’ This is taken from the headlines,” Wolf said. “This is one of the crimes of the century. It’s absolutely horrible, but when you see the information, I think people are going to realize, well, yeah, they did it but it wasn’t first degree murder with no possibility of parole. They probably should have been out eight or 10 years ago, because they should’ve been convicted of first-degree manslaughter, which is a different punishment than first-degree murder. So, yes, this is a show that has an agenda to it.”
Every so often, lightning strikes in a bottle and that is definitely the case with “This Is Us,” which won the TCA Award for outstanding new program on Aug. 5, the rare broadcast television show in recent years to take that prestigious crown. (The multigenerational family drama also scored an impressive 11 Emmy award nominations including a coveted outstanding drama series nod.)
All of the major cast members – Mandy Moore, Milo Ventimiglia, Sterling K. Brown, Chrissy Metz, Chris Sullivan, Justin Hartley, Ron Cephas Jones and Susan Kelechi Watson appeared on stage with creator Dan Fogelman after a teary trailer from Season 2 ran.
“The very nature of the show is how the past informs the present,” said Fogelman, who also announced that Sylvester Stallone will guest star in the upcoming season. “Everyone’s meter goes from sentimental to schmaltzy and we have to be cognizant that it doesn’t become soap opera.”
Partially answering the question if everything old will be new again, the funny foursome that was and is the backbone of “Will & Grace” proved their comedic mettle and chemistry during a high-energy panel devoted to the reboot from co-creators David Kohan and Max Mutchnick.
During an eight-year run that ended in 2006, Sean Hayes, Eric McCormack, Debra Messing and Megan Mullally imprinted themselves into television history. Each won Emmys for their respective roles and the show itself garnered 83 nominations and 16 wins. It’s also credited with educating and improving public opinion about the LGBT community. And even before the launch of the encore of the classic sitcom, with 16 episodes scheduled to premiere Sept. 28, it was announced that a second season of 13 eps has been greenlit.
The cast had gone through their first table read the day before the panel, and were clearly still giddy about their reunion.
“When we started it was revolutionary to have two gay characters, so what we were able to address at that time was LGB,” Messing said. “We stopped at B, and my hope is that now we can finish the alphabet. And with gender identity there are so many things that are being discussed in the culture right now.”
The premium pay cabler showcased two new half-hour comedies slated for fall in an event at the Sherry Lansing Theater on the Paramount lot featuring key cast. Rosie O’Donnell, in her first recurring TV role, stars as the mother of Frankie Shaw’s character Bridgette in “SMILF.” Set in Boston, it centers on the travails of a young single mom juggling the joys and pitfalls of motherhood while navigating a career and the dating world. Shaw not only stars, but writes, produces and directs the semi–autobiographical comedy.
“White Famous” stars Jay Pharaoh, late of “Saturday Night Live,” as a young comedian rising through the ranks and trying to make it to the big time in Hollywood when he gets an offer to meet with actor and comedian Jamie Foxx. The show is loosely based on Foxx’s life, and he is an executive producer — and appears on camera in a recurring guest role. Clips shown reveal a penchant for some provocative clothing on Foxx’s part — and Pharaoh’s manager urging him to sell out his values to become, well, white famous.