Superhero show isn't about superheroes? Hey, it's Hollywood
I've been back from the Television Critics Association's summer press tour in Hollywood for a little over a week, and I've had a chance to settle back into the newsroom routine. I've finally dealt with the e-mail messages clogging up my inbox and dispensed with the stacks of DVDs and network tchotchkes that piled up during my absence. The phone on my desk is still blinking, but shhhhh ... I'll get to those messages soon, I promise.
My first tour was a little overwhelming, as I expected it would be. It can be disorienting to wake up in one city, fly to another, cover panel after panel featuring stars you feel you know but who have absolutely no idea who you are, then make small talk with them at evening parties. It's strange to tell yourself, "OK, you don't know anybody here. Just take a quarter turn to your right and strike up a conversation with the first person you see," and find yourself shooting the breeze with Paul Schulze, so good being bad as Eddie on Showtime's "Nurse Jackie."
And by the time you feel like you've pretty much figured the whole thing out, it's time to come home.
I learned a lot at TCA, and much of that information will find its way into future stories and fall series previews. But here are a few things I just wanted to share.
Yes, your show is about that
I sat through a panel with the cast and creators of CBS's "Mike and Molly," a sitcom starring fat people making fat jokes at Overeaters Anonymous meetings that creator Chuck Lorre and his actors insist "isn't about fat." You know Lorre ... he created that CBS show with the nerds that isn't about nerds ("The Big Bang Theory").
Then there's ABC's "No Ordinary Family." It stars "The Shield's" Michael Chiklis as a police artist with super strength who can stop bullets with his hands and leap tall buildings. His wife in the show, played by "Dexter's" Julie Benz, can move so quickly that she essentially vanishes. Their kids? One is a genius and the other can read minds. But it's not a superhero show, they insist — it's a "family" show.
Because my family is just like that. Except that when somebody in my family starts a fire, it's not with his or her mind and the flames don't dance at their fingertips — it's a grease fire on the stove and the neighbors all get out their lawn chairs and watch as we frantically throw open windows then stand out in the front yard waiting for the fire truck to arrive. Occasionally, in my brightly colored underwear, I might look like a past-his-prime Green Lantern if you squint.
That's a family show; your series is about superheroes.
Location, location, location
Whether it's chatting with "Curb Your Enthusiasm's" Cheryl Hines about the bats under the Congress Avenue bridge and the trailer food farther south on that thoroughfare; talking Hotel St. Cecilia with "The Good Guys" star Bradley Whitford; or yacking with Jim Belushi of "The Defenders" and Kate Flannery (Meredith on "The Office") about the Second City and Chicago's vibrant theater scene, my current residence in Austin and my old Illinois stomping grounds provide an instant conversation starter with anybody in show business.
Did you know that "Breaking Bad's" Bob Odenkirk grew up in Naperville, the town next to the city I was raised in up north? Neither did I. But chatting about when Wisconsin's drinking age was only 18 (turns out he and I are the same age) and one had to road-trip up over the border like Bill Murray and Harold Ramis in "Stripes" to have a beer led to a great conversation about the actor's sleazy "Breaking Bad" lawyer and the chances of Odenkirk teaming up with former "Mr. Show" partner David Cross again.
Bonus: During our conversation, I had occasion to utter the phrase "Spielberg, Schmielberg," to which Odenkirk replied, "Forrest Gump, Schmorrest Schmump." The actor might have a list of memorized answers for press questions, but I guarantee you that isn't one of them.
No means no
The weekend before Fox's Aug. 2 presentation at TCA, Ellen DeGeneres announced that she was vacating her seat at the "American Idol" judges' table. This is one of those things that reporters hope will happen during the tour — the Conan O'Brien/NBC debacle broke during a recent TCA conference. It's fun, it's newsy and it gives you something to do besides transcribe press conferences where writers and actors insist that their superhero shows aren't superhero shows.
Rumors began to circulate that Fox would have a major "Idol" announcement during that Aug. 2 session. So, reporters hung over from the previous night's Disney/ABC party eagerly gathered in the Beverly Hilton International Ballroom to hear Fox chief Peter Rice announce that ... the network's special effects-laden dinosaur drama, "Terra Nova," was being delayed until Fall 2011 and that Fox was presenting a new country music awards show in December.
Oh, and he had no comment about "American Idol." And when he said "no comment," he meant it. For a half- hour, journalists phrased the question 50 ways, but Rice's answer remained the same. I thought, for a time, that Rice was going to refuse to answer any questions that contained words starting with the letter "j."
If such a stonewalling session breaks out next year, I'll know to tune out and take advantage of the opportunity to catch up on writing.
Dax Shepard is funny
And humble. I heard a lot of negative rumbling about the "Parenthood" star hosting the Television Critics Association Awards this year, but Shepard tore it up. Initially addressing the room as if the assembled stars and critics were a gathering of Herbalife salespeople, the actor talked about how this was his second hosting gig — his body had previously hosted the swine flu. He took pokes at AT&T pitchman Luke Wilson (mostly through a hilarious impression of Wilson's brother Owen) and joked about his celebrity status at Costco (he played an employee of the warehouse chain in the movie "Employee of the Month"). He was very gracious when I told him how much my kids and I enjoyed his film "Zathura."
"That was all (director Jon) Favreau," he said, noting he'd played some roles that weren't exactly critically acclaimed. That's true, but his performance in "Zathura" wasn't all Favreau, and while his turn as screw-up son Crosby in NBC's "Parenthood" isn't deserving of an Emmy, it should have been nominated.
P.S.: Tom Hanks is funny, too. Receiving a TCA award for his HBO miniseries "The Pacific," Hanks said, "This is the last time I'm (expletive) dressing up for you guys. I can't believe I'm getting this from a guy at the Minnesota Star Ledger ... all afternoon I'm in front of a mirror: tie, no tie, tie, no tie ... "
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