Several large and controversial personalities dominated the proceedings during last week’s cable portion of the Television Critics Association summer press tour, known as CTAM, which wrapped up Sunday at the Beverly Hilton.
We’re talking people like Tom Arnold and Bobby Brown and on the comedic side, Jeff Goldblum and John Cleese, whose appearances stood out amongst the programs being presented by a plethora of networks, along with streamers Amazon, Facebook, YouTube and Netflix.
And there was a fair share of movie stars including Julia Roberts, Amy Adams, Jennifer Garner and Michael Douglas, along with revered industry figures like Norman Lear, Ron Howard, Chuck Lorre and Matt Groening.
Among the cablers participating in summer TCA: HBO, National Geographic Channels, Starz, Viacom, AMC, AT&T Audience Network, Discovery Communications, A+E Networks, Britbox, Hallmark/Crown Media, Rooster Teeth and Sony Crackle.
Some, like Hallmark and Crackle, opted to showcase their programming during evening events featuring talent from the shows.
Here are some of the program highlights presented during the confab:
Fans of “Deadwood” rejoiced after Casey Bloys’ announcement that the David Milch series, which ran for three seasons beginning in 2004 and scored 18 Emmy awards, will be made into a film.
Late-night’s John Oliver jetted in from New York with his British brand of dry humor to discuss his weekly series, “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” currently in its fifth season. He compared President Donald Trump to a fire hose, but one he wishes could be turned off occasionally. He added that Trump was not “the ingredient that comedy was crying out for” and that he tries to confine talk about Trump to the first few minutes of the program’s opening so it doesn’t take over the whole show.
After “Spielberg,” another high-profile personality gets the Susan Lacy treatment in “Jane Fonda in Five Acts,” a feature-length documentary taking an intimate look at the life of the activist and actor, drawing on more than 20 hours of interviews with producer/director Lacy.
The 80-year-old Fonda said she was inspired to do the documentary because of the impact of her autobiography, “My Life So Far,” which was published in 2005 and has been translated into 17 languages. “Oddly enough, a lot of people identify with the various struggles that I’ve had. Issues with parents, issues with eating disorders, issues with men, issues with self-confidence, and so I felt that if these things could be brought to a broader audience, that it would be informative and helpful to other people,” Fonda said.
“I was conscious of trying to get Jane to go further. And it is, in fact, quite different, I think, to write about something than it is to say it with a camera on you. And I felt it had a different impact on me and that it would have a different impact on people seeing the film,” said Lacy.
Jennifer Garner and David Tennant play a married couple a new half-hour comedy series, “Camping,” based on a British series and executive produced by Jenni Konner and Lena Dunham, the “Girls” team who had the day before announced an end to their eight-year partnership. The eight-episode series follows a group of old friends who go into the woods to celebrate one of their birthdays and in the process, a back to nature experience quickly goes sideways with relationship dramas and power plays.
Amy Adams, Patricia Clarkson, Chris Messina, Eliza Scanlen, Gillian Flynn, Marti Noxon and Jean-Marc Vallée took questions on “Sharp Objects,” the limited series currently airing that’s based on Flynn’s novel.
“I wrote it because I loved [Adams’ character] Camille and wanted to tell the story of generational violence amongst women, put inside the wrapping of the town and of these murders. HBO got that. They really understood that this is a character sturdy with a mystery. We’re allowed to take the time with that and give her a proper backstory that feels appropriate and correct,” said Flynn, who co-wrote three of the episodes.
Adams, who plays a newspaper reporter who goes back to her hometown to cover the murders and relives the unresolved issues of her childhood, said one of the things that’s been really nice is the reactions to an accurate telling of female trauma. “And that felt very validating to me, because it is something that isn’t explored as often,” she said. “We often make women the victims of something but Camille is also very active in this. So Marti and Gillian and Jean-Marc handled that in a really beautiful way.”
National Geographic Channels
CEO Courtney Monroe promoted the network’s initiative to cut down on single-usage plastic items like bottles and straws, “Planet or Plastic,” and TCA members received kits with metal straws, cloth food bags and wooden utensils in a re-usable lunch container.
“What distinguishes us is we are a brand with a real purpose. Small changes can have a huge impact,” she said, before announcing new projects including “The Hot Zone,” starring Julianna Margulies, the culinary series “Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted” and “The Curiosity of Jeff Goldblum.”
Sounding like a page from the late Anthony Bourdain’s playbook, “Uncharted” will find Ramsay, the host of “Hell’s Kitchen,” traveling around the world to places including Borneo and Cambodia exploring culture and cuisine.
Goldblum, best known for his roles in the “Jurassic Park” movies, will also globe-trot in his 12-part docuseries.
Both Ramsey and Goldblum made appearances, the latter setting off a tweet-storm amongst TCA attendees with a wide-ranging, lengthy and hard to follow rant on ice cream.
Further out in space, “Mars” returns for a second season that again alternates between scripted drama and documentary sequences as the astronauts in the colony on the Red Planet seek to fund their mission with the help of the private sector. Their efforts beg the question of if we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes made on Earth.
“We had a lot of possibilities of where this adventure would lead us,” said executive producer Ron Howard. “This season has physical action and danger, but it’s more psychological and a different pressure on these characters.”
“Valley of the Boom” goes back in time to the tech boom — and later bust — of the 1990s, telling the inside story of the formative years of the internet and the browser wars between Netscape and Microsoft. The six-part limited series stars Bradley Whitford, Steve Zahn and Lamorne Morris. The lively panel discussing the program, which blends drama, comedy and documentary elements, included showrunner and director Matthew Carnahan, executive producer Arianna Huffington and employees of dotcom 1.0-era companies including Netscape and The Globe that disrupted the space but didn’t make it through the bust.
Wildlife cinematographers J.J. Kelley and Michael Cheeseman discussed the challenges they’ve faced and the extreme lengths to which they’ve gone to capture the perfect moments while on assignment for National Geographic in a panel titled “Getting the Shot.”
History showcased “Project Blue Book,” a drama from acclaimed director Robert Zemeckis which is based on the top-secret investigations into UFOs by the U.S. Air Force between 1952 and 1969. The series is based on the experiences of a college professor, Dr. J. Allen Hynek, recruited to spearhead the clandestine operation that investigated thousands of cases – more than 700 of which remained unsolved to this day. Aidan Gillen, known for his role as villain Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish on “Game of Thrones,” plays Hynek, who was a consultant on Steven Spielberg’s 1977 film “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
“All of our plotlines, our stories are based on actual reports. And it’s very convenient to say it but truth is stranger than fiction — or can nearly always be stranger than fiction. So having these stories based on real events and real reports, they take these twists and turns that you couldn’t — you just wouldn’t make up because the randomness of the way the tapestry of life works, you just can’t predict it,” Gillen said.
Greg Berlanti and Sera Gamble are bringing the psychological thriller “You” to Lifetime. Starring Penn Badgley, Shay Mitchell, John Stamos and Elizabeth Lail, it’s billed as a twisted love story about an obsessive, brilliant man who uses the hyper-connectivity of the modern world to make the woman of his dreams fall in love with him.
Comedian Tom Arnold takes citizen journalism to another level in “The Hunt for Trump Tapes,” an eight-episode series slated to premiere September 18 on Viceland. With the tagline “America doesn’t want this show but it might need it,” this panel was the place to find irreverence in a large dose of stream of consciousness ramblings as Arnold ripped into both the president and Mark Burnett, whom he says has incriminating tapes of Donald Trump from “The Apprentice,” tapes he hopes to locate.
“I want to do this until he resigns. He’s a crazy person putting the country on the precipice of war. Things are going on right now that affect our world and that are scary,” Arnold said about the show. “And, for some reason, I’m in a position to do something and it’s working and I will continue to do this until that guy resigns and the world is a little bit safer. And it is going to happen.”
It was inevitable that Arnold was asked a question about the firestorm around his former wife, Roseanne Barr. “We haven’t been married for 24 years,” he snapped back before resuming his rants, which overall highly entertained the assembled journalists.
Informally referring to itself as the English Channel of English channels, Britbox is a streaming service created by the BBC and ITV — a deep sea of programming from across the Atlantic to these shores.
Britbox showcased just three programs. “Bliss” is a dramedy about a travel writer (Stephen Mangan of “Episodes”) living a double life with two wives– Heather Graham is one of them – and two sets of kids. He so duplicitous that he doesn’t even travel either, apparently using the money for plane tickets to support the families.
“The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco” takes a group of four female codebreakers — some of them seen in a British series from a few years ago — and sets them in post-World War II San Francisco, joining forces with other experts on decryption and pattern recognition to solve crimes.
But it was a beloved member of the extremely beloved comedy troupe Monty Python who won the hearts and minds of the journalists assembled in the Beverly Hilton’s International ballroom. John Cleese appeared by satellite in the presentation on “Hold the Sunset,” a multi-generational family comedy in which he stars.
Answering questions that were clearly well-intentioned but that he obviously considered fluffy, like where his comedy came from, Cleese regaled the assemblage with a series of hilarious retorts.
“It comes from a little man in Cardiff. He’s just wonderfully funny. I read the postcards and do pretty much what he tells me. He told me recently they’re not his ideas. He gets his ideas from (a) lady in Swinton who refuses to say where she gets her ideas.”
Cleese, who stands 6’5,” was asked if it was true that the best comics were tall, to which he replied, “Yes, this is true. The very best comedians are very tall. There’s no doubt about it.”
Responded to another question about his greatest personal and professional accomplishments he had this to say: “My greatest professional accomplishment will be a movie I’m writing now. It’s a light comedy about cannibalism called ‘Yummy.’ My greatest personal accomplishment is to have established a really good relationship with our cats.”
Speaking of his character on the show, Cleese called him a no-filter kind of guy and concluded, “The closer you get to death, the more you don’t give a fuck.” The reaction from the crowd clearly meant that it would be hard to top that as a life-guiding philosophy.
As if it wasn’t totally apparent that he’s not slowing down, Cleese is also joining the ABC series “Speechless” as a guest star.
It’s been overshadowed by news about Disney buying Fox and AT&T taking over Time Warner but Discovery’s acquisition of Scripps Networks Interactive four months ago in a $14 billion deal has created a behemoth in the unscripted world. Pres. and CEO David Zaslav took the stage with Nancy Daniels, Kathleen Finch and Susanna Dinnage to tout the expanded network footprint, which includes Animal Planet, TLC, Investigation Discovery and Food Network among its platforms.
ID brought the people involved in the documentary “Sugar Town,” a tragic 2014 crime involving the death of 22-year-old Victor White III, who was fatally shot in police custody in New Iberia, Louisiana, a place known as Sugar Town because of its sugarcane production. Police said the young man shot himself while handcuffed in the back of a patrol car–and his family, civil rights attorneys and journalists have been searching for justice ever since. The documentary reveals a larger story of power, corruption and racial injustice within a Southern town.
“Poverty and hopelessness are endemic in southern Louisiana, and no one is telling you that story,” said the director of the project, Shan Nicholson.
“We have a two-tiered judicial system that’s unfair to African Americans. We have rural areas unlike some of the heavily populated areas like New York or LA, where we can get some exposure and where the press is really active and adamant about getting to the truth. In Louisiana, it’s a different story,” said Tony Brown, a broadcast journalist who has been covering the story. “We have the media that are many novice people, right out of college. They don’t have investigative skills. Those media outlets don’t have the resources to cover them adequately and as a result, we have lawmen who have become lawless and it’s problematic, not only for Louisiana, but for America.”
Keeping it fresh even after 500 episodes, the ever-popular Food Network showcased its reality competition series “Chopped,” with a panel of six judges.
“I think it’s always daunting,” Marc Murphy said about the program. “The clock is there, but it’s an equal game because everybody has the same ingredients. So that’s the beautiful thing. It’s an even playing field. It’s everybody’s most of the times first time unless we’re doing the $50,000 rounds where people are coming back. But I think it’s a beautiful challenge and it’s obviously something that all of us are super passionate about. We’re all a bunch of line cooks that have worked our way up, and seeing other people that are on that trajectory or on that path and doing something that we always loved and know that they have a passion for it, it just ties it all together and we have that commonality between all of us, judges and competitors.”
There were some uncomfortable moments during the presentation for BET’s “The Bobby Brown Story,” a two-parter spanning 30 years of the life of the R&B artist, including his marriage to the late Whitney Houston. Actor Woody McClain portrays Brown.
Brown denied there was any domestic violence during their marriage, after a reporter noted there was a 911 call in 2003 from the Georgia home of the couple, to which police responded and after which Brown was charged with battery.
“There was no violence between me and Whitney. You’re mistaken. You’re completely wrong,” Brown said in response to the reporter’s question, adding that the public record was wrong.
“People don’t understand that the stories that have been told about me are untrue,” he continued. “They are false. We are correcting everything the press has believed about me. I’m able to tell my story from what I know. My truth. That’s the basic reason we did this film.”
“The press has gotten the wrong impression of me, of our relationship. What me and Whitney went through is what we went through. You are the press, you’re going to be the press. I’m not the press. I’m Bobby.”
From Left Bank Pictures, the producers of “The Crown” and “Outlander” comes “Origin,” a 10-episode intergalactic space thriller set to debut this fall on YouTube Premium. Starring Tom Felton and Natalia Tena, both vets of the “Harry Potter” films, the series follows a group of people who find themselves abandoned on a spaceship bound for a distant planet and forced to work together to survive.
Tena gave a preview of her character, Lana Pierce. “She’s been in the special forces, so she’s basically a weapon of a human. But she’s suffering from PTSD, which I find is a very interesting combination, because there’s a side of her that’s very brave and fearless and disciplined, and has all the skills to survive, and then there’s the other side that’s actually very vulnerable, and a bit broken. And I think same as all of us, we’re all escaping our past a bit, and going to see if we can do better somewhere else.”
AT&T Audience Network
“Mr. Mercedes” is back in a few weeks for its second season. Based on Stephen King’s best-selling trilogy of novels, it picks up a year after a demented serial killer (Brady Hartsfield, played by Harry Treadaway) who taunts a retired police chief (played by Brendan Gleeson) tries to perpetrate a second mass murder in the town of Bridgton, Ohio. Although Brady is in a coma, strange things happen in the hospital to those attending to him and Gleeson’s character, Bill Hodges, is haunted by the feeling that Brady is responsible.
“Even things that would seem far-fetched to most of us in this room, if we really were faced with them, maybe they wouldn’t seem so far-fetched. Part of the challenge of the season was how to keep the series with Brady and Hodges, the two challenging each other and to keep him active and not just lying in a hospital bed. So, that was definitely the challenge of this season and the goal,” said director and EP Jack Bender.
Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke made her TCA debut in that capacity—she came to the streamer from NBCUniversal in February—alongside co-heads of television Albert Cheng and Vernon Sanders. Salke had a list of things to brag about, including their new home at Culver Studios, the success of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” the upcoming Jack Ryan series, deals with Nicole Kidman, Lena Waithe, Greg Daniels and the Russo brothers, the “Lord of the Rings” project and the October debut of Matthew Weiner’s “The Romanoffs.”
And if that weren’t enough, the panel itself exemplified diversity. One reporter called the trio a modern-day version of “Mod Squad.”
“We live in a world with all kinds of people. We have a very diverse audience in a very diverse customer base, and they deserve to see different people incorporated into the different shows that they watch,” said Salke. She demurred on discussing the controversy surrounding “Transparent,” whose star Jeffrey Tambor was fired after sexual harassment allegations that he denied. The show will have a fifth season without his character.
“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” crew — recent recipients of 14 Emmy nominations including best comedy series — made for a lively panel that began with a trailer for Season 2 showing Midge in a new day job while she apparently still hits the comedy clubs at night.
Rachel Brosnahan said she’s never even tried stand up although she did a lot of research for the role by going to see female comics perform. “Thankfully the writing is so sharp and smart,” she said.
Creator and executive producer Amy Sherman-Palladino admitted everyone is feeling a lot of pressure for the second season and promised that it will be bigger than the first. “We have the self-imposed nausea that’s always there,” she said, exchanging a knowing look with co-executive producer–and her husband–Dan Palladino. “We feel like we’ve got support from the brass, the actors, and all pieces to go big or go home–but we haven’t been home for two years.”
Cast members Tony Shalhoub, Alex Borstein, Michael Zegen, Marin Hinkle and Kevin Pollak were on hand and contributed to the conversation, several of them with zingy one-liners. Tribute was paid to Shalhoub for his recent Tony Award as best actor in a musical for “The Band’s Visit.”
Julia Roberts and Dermot Mulroney finally play boyfriend and girlfriend in Sam Esmail’s psychological thriller “Homecoming.” The two actors have shared the big screen in “My Best Friend’s Wedding” and “August: Osage County.”
“That only took 30 years,” Roberts said. Aside from guest spots in shows including “Murphy Brown,” “Miami Vice” and “Law & Order,” it’s her first starring television role. “I didn’t think of it as small screen-big screen. My television is very big.” She said the role, a social worker helping veterans returning from war, provided a great mental challenge every day.
Mulroney called his part a more modest-sized role than his previous jobs with Roberts but said it was no less impactful. “It would be a privilege for any actor to work on material like this. But I get to do these incredible scenes with this incredible actor, who happens to be one of my best friends,” he said of Roberts.
Esmail said the paranoid vibe of the show, based on a podcast, borrows from “Mr. Robot.” Bobby Canavale, Alex Karpovsky, Stephan James and Shea Wigham co-star.
Although contractual obligations to “Billions” prevent him from appearing on camera, Paul Giamatti is an executive producer of “Lodge 49,” a modern-day fable set in Long Beach, California about a surfer dude named Sean “Dud” Dudley (Wyatt Russell) who finds himself adrift after the death of his father and the collapse of the family business.
Dud discovers a fraternal lodge where he’s welcomed into a world of camaraderie with the other members that may help put him back on the path to the life he’s lost.
Creator and EP Jim Gavin said the premise of the show was shaped by the writings of Thomas Pynchon, much of whose work is rooted in Southern California.
“I knew right after I read it that I wanted to be a viewer of this thing,” Giamatti said. “I wanted the joy of being able to watch it.”
Following the success of “The Night Manager” and from the same producers, AMC showcased its six-part adaptation of John Le Carré’s classic thriller, “The Litttle Drummer Girl,” starring Alexander Skarsgård, Michael Shannon and Florence Pugh. Pugh plays an actress who strikes up a friendship with an intriguing stranger (Skarsgård) while vacationing in Greece, but it soon becomes apparent that his intentions with her are far from romantic. He’s an Israeli intelligence officer who gets her involved in a complicated, high-stakes plot orchestrated by a spy master played by Shannon.
The book was also adapted in the 1984 film starring Diane Keaton and directed by George Roy Hill.
This version is helmed by Park Chan-wook, his first television foray after a number of celebrated films in his native country, South Korea.
The streaming giant is riding high with a record 112 Emmy nominations—placing it on the leaderboard for the first time– and a reported $8 billion war chest for programming this year. In her first TCA appearance, head of original programming Cindy Holland got personal, saying she grew up as a nerdy little kid in Nebraska as an elementary school picture of herself was projected on the screen behind her.
“Our entire business is focused on the enjoyment and satisfaction of our members,” she said. “Netflix doesn’t know demographics, but taste. Our 130 million members find content they love. We are focused on broadening our slate while maintaining a high bar. We hire talent and give them creative space. Our primary goal is to please audiences, but we are happy when we please you as well.”
She announced several new shows, including “Madame C.J. Walker,” starring Octavia Spencer as a haircare pioneer who became the first self-made black female millionaire and “Maniac,” starring Emma Stone, Jonah Hill and Justin Theroux, a 10-episode sci-fi series directed by Cary Fukanaga.
There was also a dramatic announcement for “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” as a coven of witches handed out candy apples — or were they poison apples? As the costumed characters took the stage and turned around, each one had a letter or number spelling out the premiere date, October 26.
Netflix brought panels for a mix of returning and new programs across various genres including “All About the Washingtons,” “GLOW,” “Ozark,” “One Day at a Time,” “Disenchantment,” “The Kominsky Method” and “The Innocents.”
It wasn’t a big surprise that Rita Moreno and Norman Lear dazzled the audience for the presentation on “One Day at a Time,” and that Moreno was named the recipient of TCA’s lifetime achievement award to be presented at its annual awards show this coming weekend.
Math is not our forte but we can estimate that between the two they have nearly 150 years of showbiz experience– and lucky for us, they are still going strong.
Moreno plays the matriarch of the Alvarez family as the show, created and executive produced by Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce, heads into its third season.
“I love turning on a dime, making her vain and all of her bad qualities,” said Moreno, who also promised that guest star Gloria Estefan will be “wonderful and hilarious.”
Lear admitted that the only thing that relates to his old show of the same name is the title. ”But we’re connected by that humanity and on top of that we learn what it was like to be born in Cuba and then to come here and get started in this culture,” he said. “It’s a great privilege to be me in the culture of this show. I inherit the story along with audience. It’s a brand new role, at 96 [years old] a new role.”
Another legendary figure, this one in the animation world was front and center for the panel on “Disenchantment.” “The Simpsons” creator Matt Groening talked about developing this new animation project, set in a crumbling medieval kingdom, over a period of years by sketching ogres, fairies and gnomes in a notebook.
Although the setting may seem familiar, “Disenchantment’s” main characters are far cries from anything Disney might produce. Princess Bean, voiced by “Broad City’s” Abbi Jacobson is a hard drinking young woman who gets into a series of misadventures with her feisty elf companion Elfo and her personal demon, Luci. In the trio’s journeys, they encounter all sorts of imps, trolls — and an abundance of human fools.
“It’s a coming of age story, they’re 18, 19, 20 years old, and all these legends, kings and wizards are telling you what to do. Plus Bean is an anti-stereotypical princess,” said EP and showrunner Josh Weinstein.
As Jacobson summarized it, “She gets fucked up and they all grew up together.”
“Josh and I put together the universe and we have only gotten to the first dozen mythical creatures,” Groening said. “We plotted the show as a drama and then added jokes. Working in an imaginary, ideal world always turns out differently than you imagined but when we got Abbi, Eric Andre and Nat Faxon we put them together and said we have a show. The rest of the cast voices are from ‘Futurama.’”
Michael Douglas brings his star power — along with that of Alan Arkin — to Chuck Lorre’s “The Kominsky Method,” a buddy comedy about an aging star and his longtime agent still navigating the waters in a Hollywood that values youth and beauty. Both stars are Oscar winners and it is Douglas’s first streaming project.
He said he was inclined to do it not only because of the success he had on HBO’s “Behind the Candelabra” a few years back but because he feels the bottom has dropped out of independent films, passion projects he made over the past few years where the marketing budget was pretty much only his appearances on talk shows to promote them — which didn’t translate into much box office success.
Single camera is a new genre for Lorre, and he said it was a steep learning curve creating the eight half-hour episodes.
Douglas and Lorre held the reporters in thrall, each one insisting they learned from the other. They also lauded Arkin, who couldn’t attend. “I’ve been a fan of his since ‘The Russians are Coming,’” Douglas said. “I’d forgotten about his Second City background and I learned a lot from him. It’s the best dialogue we’ve had in a long time.”
“We talk a lot of prostate,” Lorre admitted. “But it has to be funny, otherwise it’s heartbreaking — the loss of loved ones and how it affects you and how you respond to a culture that feels like it is moving away from you.”