Synergy thrives at Disney with Miss Piggy of Walt Disney co-produced and distributed "The Muppets" stopping by the Disney Channel comedy-variety halfhour "So Random" at 7:30 p.m. Sunday.
Recent TV Headlines
Variety TV Resources
"Two and a Half Men" has always provided viewers with eye-catching fun in the form of executive producer Chuck Lorre's split-second vanity cards at the end of each episode. Now new "Men" star Ashton Kutcher is getting in on the action with some sly visuals of his own.
The actor-cum-Internet entrepreneur had a scene in the second episode (full video here; click to 6:33 mark) in which he sits with a laptop covered with stickers that just happen to represent multiple companies in which he has a real-life financial stake (see screen shot here).
"Men" net CBS did not receive compensation for the plug, according to a CBS spokesman, who noted that one of the companies plugged on the stickers, Foursquare, was disclosed in an end credit that accompanied the episode (as stipulated by the FCC).
“This was not part of any advertising transaction with CBS,” he said. “Our policy is to disclose such financial interests in a credit at the end of the broadcast.”
But other companies not listed yet clearly visible on the laptop included Hipmunk, which like Foursquare is clearly identified, and the logos of other Kutcher investments including Flipboard and GroupMe. Another visible company name, Chegg, is not owned in part by Kutcher, but his shingle, Katalyst, handles social media for that firm.
Given Kutcher is playing an Internet billionaire on the series, the stickers may be seen as a touch of authenticity. But he's been criticized in the past for being a bit too aggressive when it comes to self-promotion. Kutcher raised eyebrows last month when, as guest editor of Details magazine, he touted numerous companies in which he had invested without clearly disclosing his involvement. He's also been criticized for doing same on his Twitter account, where he enjoys a massive following.
Kutcher has also found another way to leverage the sitcom as a means for boosting his investments but in more organic fashion. During Monday's episode, Kutcher participated in a mass video chat in which he watched along with dozens of fans (see clip above). The service that enabled the experience was Tinychat, which just happened to count Kutcher among its investors. Tinychat allows for a variation on the increasingly common practice of actors tweeting along with episodes.
This spring during upfront season, most networks gave out expensive bath products, notebooks, bags or pens to prospective ad buyers. The Sundance channel gave out a dustpan.
The show responsible for the dustpan - which is a really great dustpan, I hasten to add - is Ben Kaufman's reality show "Quirky," and it'll be wrapping on Sundance at 10 p.m. on Friday. It's one of the few unscripted shows that you can see in action in the real world. By definition, "Swamp People" is interesting because its characters are inaccessible. "Quirky" is about space- and time-saving inventions that you can actually find in a store. Yes, it sounds a little like an infomercial. But it sort of isn't (full disclosure: if I flip over to QVC, I have to flip away, quickly, or I will watch. And watch. And watch).
Conceptually, Quirky (the company) is pretty simple: it has an open-submissions policy for inventors, who are shepherded (on the show) from concept to design to fabrication, and then see their products shipped out to partner stores. "We sell products to all these retailers - we handle all that for our investors - Bed, Bath & Beyond, OfficeMax, and so on. BB&B is our main retail partner. We're constantly increasing our distribution." Having a TV show, obviously, has helped with that. Quirky saw encouraging sales on its latest approved invention, a super-complex shower caddy, on the Home Shopping Network.
The show's not competitive ("We didn't want to do 'American Chopper' says Kaufman), but it does get some mileage out of the the offbeat suggestions that result from the open-submissions process.
"We see everything from edible frisbees to time machines," says Kaufman. "You can imagine what happens when you tell people "we can make your invention real." Are those submissions written in crayon? Not always. "Some people just say 'A time machine would be a great idea,' some people actually put up diagrams and stuff."
No word on whether or not the diagrams describe a viable device, but Friday's season finale takes place in 1985.
With the new fall TV season just underway, the hunt is on for The Next Big Thing. But as you scour the airwaves, it might be worth considering that this could finally be the year that the Web beats TV to the punch?
I know, I know; the very word "webisode" instills instant nausea. There's just been way too many years of undue hype and dashed hopes from the zillions of online-only series big and small that have tried to grab even a fraction of even a lowly cable series since all the way back to the standard bearer of this much-maligned genre, "Lonelygirl15."
But squelch your skepticism and sample the new webis...er, digital original program "RCVR," which premiered the first of six short-form episodes Wednesday on Machinima's YouTube channel. If the brand Machinima means nothing to you, understand these are the guys that are better poised than anyone to crack the ceiling that seems to separate any series that originates online from what is truly mass and relevant in pop culture. Machinima is becoming that rare non-TV company capable of reliably producing entertainment with real production values, including actioner "Mortal Kombat: Legacy" and comedy "Bite Me."
But "RCVR" is its best yet, a thriller that follows a government agent (Daniel Bonjour) as he visits people who report UFO sightings in 1973. Though he seems to be doing his damndest to discourage them from believing in the paranormal, he seems to be having some sort of alien contact of his own.
"RCVR" serves up a juicy slice of paranoia that's perfectly timed to capitalize on the yawning vaccuum currently on TV for a series like "The X Files." Some might even suggest it's more than a little derivative of that show. But the failures of broadcast TV to fill this gap in recent years may have been met with failure--i.e. CBS's "Jericho," ABC's "Fast Forward" and NBC's "The Event"--but there's got to be a sizable audience just dying to lap this up.
What's also interesting about "RCVR" is the way it doesn't just play out in purely episodic sequence; there's a corresponding website and Twitter account filled with supplemental videos that just deepen the mystery.
If that format sounds a tad familiar to LonelyGirl15 fans, it may not be entirely coincidental. CAA packaged the series; the agency hatched LonelyGirl15, a disclosure that only came a few months into that viral phenomenon. Which isn't to say "RCVR" is also passing itself off as some kind of real-life vlog from a random teenager; it's a slick piece of entertainment from veteran new-media producer David van Eyssen with exclusive sponsorship provided by Motorla Mobility.
If "RCVR" doesn't turn out to be your cup of tea, it won't be the Internet's only fall effort. Warner Bros. Digital Distribution is set to launch a series exclusively on Facebook beginning Oct. 11. From theatrical director McG ("Charlie's Angels"), "Aim High" is about a high-school student, played by "Twilight's" Jackson Rathbone, who doubles as a secret agent. Trailer below...
As with Christmas shopping, there's a tendency to hold out until the last possible moment to handle the messy business of predictions for the Big Four's new fall TV season that officially gets underway tonight. Just as it's well-nigh impossible to give gifts that truly wow its recipients, choosing which shows will succeed or fail is an equally thankless task...but you just gotta. So here goes.
Note that three sleeper "hits" have been picked below, each put in bold for your quick-skim reading pleasure.
FOX: This fall has the potential to be a truly gamechanging fourth-quarter for the network, which could take its dominance to a whole new level if more than a few of its biggest bets pan out. "The X Factor" won't be quite as "Idol"-sized as the network wants it to be--chalk it up to SCSF Syndrome (singing-competition-show fatigue). But it will do well enough to become the net's new fall tentpole. However, not even Simon Cowell will be potent enough a lead-in to support what may be the single worst pilot of this year's crop, "I Hate My Teenage Daughter," which Fox didn't exactly give a ringing endorsement to by delaying its premiere a week into late November.
The other big Fox bet is "Terra Nova," which should get strong sampling in week one but won't stay that way to justify its expensive budget toward earning a second season. "New Girl" will get that second season but won't be quite the breakout hit Fox wants it to be even with a very compatible lead-in from "Glee." Don't expect "Allen Gregory" to hang on in Fox's Animation Domination lineup, which has enough other shows to withstand its loss.
CBS: Expect yet another year of stability from the Eye, the downside being it won't experience a breakout success, either. "Two Broke Girls" will be as close as the network will come, which will work splendidly albeit not spectacularly on a Monday that should get a nice shot in the arm from a rejuvenated "Two and a Half Men." "How To Be a Gentleman" may not be getting anywhere near the buzz of "Girls," yet look for it to do just slightly better than "$#! My Dad Says" in the post-"Big Bang Theory" time slot, inheriting the "Yes Dear" Memorial Sitcom You Resent For Limping All The Way Into Syndication award. "A Gifted Man" won't have it as easy on Friday, but will benefit enough from the night's diminished audience expectations. Where CBS will stumble is perhaps where its most confident: Though focus groups may have gone gaga for "Person of Interest," this could be the show that frustrates CBS, though not do so badly as to deserve a quick hook.
Now get ready for the sleeper: CBS's "Unforgettable." Creatively, this procedural is actually kinda stale, a reworking of the same-old investigation-of-the-week that the Eye has made work one too many times. But when it comes down to it, you're only as good as your time slot and "Unforgettable" has a pretty enviable Tuesday 10 p.m. slot with questionable competition between NBC's middling "Parenthood" and the ABC entry "Body of Proof," which hasn't really been tested yet. As an exercise in genre, "Unforgettable" probably isn't going to win Emmys but it's done just well enough with likable stars in Poppy Montgomery and Dylan Walsh to have the kind of success that will have critics gnashing their teeth about how formulaic TV is.
ABC: The fall is going to be a very mixed bag for the Alphabet; no network has reserved more of its bets for the midseason, and its fall will reflect that focus. Look for the network to earn the distinction of being the first series to cancel a new show when "Charlie's Angels" flatlines right from the start in a Thursday 8 p.m. slot where the network has long been challenged. "Pan Am" isn't going to do much better, but ABC will have a little more patience given the pilot's price tag ($10 million). On the comedy side, "Suburgatory" and "Man Up!" will watch "Happy Endings" be eventually deemed an incompatible pairing with "Modern Family" and one of them will step in to give ABC at least one fall half-hour it can work with. Let's say "Man," which almost looks like "Modern" when you squint in its direction; bye-bye, "Suburgatory," which will stick around long enough to get a TV Guide "Best Show You're Not Watching" cover before getting discharged.
Now for some good news: Both "Revenge" and "Once Upon A Time" scream sleeper because they feel like incredibly fresh ideas but for very different reasons. "Revenge" could work for being just the kind of soapy drama that isn't on TV right now but has worked in years past, from "Dallas" to "Dynasty." There's something to be said for filling a conceptual vaccuum given the cyclical nature of TV tastes. And with its melding of fairy-tale fantasy and "Lost"-style mythos, "Time" could stand out simply because it doesn't look like anything else on the air--present or past.
NBC: There's no way to sugar-coat this: The fall will be filled with failure. Like ABC, the network is saving its strength for the midseason, so the carnage has to be expected. First to go will be "Whitney," which will be justifiably massacred on Thursday. Then "Grimm" will get steamrolled on Friday. The Wednesday combo of "Up All Night" and "Free Agents" won't work but will remain in place all season to experience a fate less merciful than cancellation itself: serving as sacrificial lambs to be battered by Fox's "Factor" and "Idol." "The Playboy Club" won't be the travesty some have made it out to be, and will tough it out in a hugely competitive time slot on Mondays before going to that big Playboy Mansion in the sky at season's end.
Perhaps the only bright spot NBC will see in the fall is "Prime Suspect," which will perform just respectably enough to stick around long enough to get Maria Bello an Emmy nomination or two. But before writing NBC's obituary, remember "The Voice" is set to return in the midseason and Peacock chairman Robert Greenblatt will have all this time to devote to a development season he can truly call his own, which bodes well for 2012-13.
So there you have it. Sure, at least 30% of what's just been written will be wrong in a matter of days; only March Madness brackets are harder to pick. Stick to this blog to watch me eat crow about what I get wrong...and do some crowing too should by some miracle I get something right.
“Mad Men” showrunner Matthew Weiner likes his Emmys as much as he is surprised by them, which made his reaction to tying the record for most drama series Emmys with four an overwhelmed one.
“I have not absorbed that,” Weiner said backstage at the Nokia. “I’m a huge fan of television -– it’s hard to comprehend that we’re in that company.
“I heard a lot more of ‘we loved the show last year, but you’re not gonna win,'" Weiner said of his expectations going into tonight's kudofest. "I was disheartened, but we can’t go on forever, and we keep doing the same work whether we win or not.”
“Mad Men” did absorb several Emmy losses Sunday, including Weiner himself to Jason Katims of “Friday Night Lights” for drama writer. Weiner said it’s par for the course.
“Jason’s a great writer; I’m thrilled that he won the award,” Katims said. “No one expects any of this. I’m looking at what I think is the greatest cast of television and we were shut out (of the acting awards), but we won this award, so things balance out.”
One of the highlights of this year’s Emmy broadcast was the moment when the comedy lead actress nominees were being introduced, and Amy Poehler of “Parks and Recreation” took it upon herself to walk on stage before the winner was announced. Soon following were the other nominees in the category, each doing a little comedy bit, including eventual winner Melissa McCarthy.
“I heard it first through Martha (Plimpton), but I think she said, “Amy’s got an idea,’” McCarthy said backstage. “Amy Poehler thinks something funny, I’ll do it.”
A winner in her first year, McCarthy reflected on getting the job and on exec producer Chuck Lorre’s support.
“This is my first lead, and I think there was some trepidation,” McCarthy said. “I think that’s a big line to cross. I don’t think it was like ‘Oh, of course – put her in the lead.’
“I think (Lorre) dug his heels in … and fought for me.”
When Jim Parsons won the comedy lead actor Emmy in 2010, it was amid a lack of Academy love for the rest of his “Big Bang Theory” cast and crew. This time around, with nominations ranging from comedy series to a lead actor nom for co-star Johnny Galecki, Parsons could revel in the companionship.
“I did enjoy this year leading up to it more than last year,” Parsons said. “Maybe it was because last year having won, but I think it was more because (with) the show being nominated and Johnny being nominated, there were a lot more people involved in the process. … It was a much more party atmosphere leading up to it this year.
Parsons said he and Galecki touched base in the morning before coming down to the Nokia.
“We did text today, and he mentioned to me that it was a butterfly-making day,” Parsons said, “ and he’d been off and on the treadmill several times -- not to give away his secrets. I happened to do an elliptical this morning, and that helped me.”
And it wouldn’t be TV in 2011 without being asked about Charlie Sheen, who presented the award to Parsons.
“He just congratulated me and said that’s awesome,” Parsons said. “It was that sweet and that banal, I’m afraid. I wish I had something more lurid to say.”
Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen made a joint appearance backstage following the opening salvo of “Modern Family” at the Emmys, in which the ABC comedy swept the first four categories. They were asked whether the series, which features prominent gay characters played by Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson, was helping to fight less tolerant views within conservative America.
“Well, I don’t know about it in opposition to conservative America,” Burrell said, “but it feels very, very good to be on a show that seems like it’s slowly changing a lot of minds. Eric and Jesse obviously deserve all of the credit for that, along with our amazing showrunners, but it’s a great thing to just peripherally go to events and talk to family and start to talk about those characters the same way they talk about any other.”
Joked Bowen: “As a straight woman and part of a straight couple on the show, I feel marginalized,” before adding, “To me it’s absurd that it’s even an issue, but to the extent that it is an issue, we’re helping change minds.”
Though the awards are rapidly spreading through the cast and crew of the second-year series, not everyone has been in the winner’s circle yet, but Burrell says the cohesiveness of the cast will win out over jealousy.
“Ed actually just said something very sweet before the award: ‘ Just remember, whoever wins deserves it,’” Burrell said. “I think we’re just trying to enjoy this moment more than anything. Everybody has been incredibly supportive of each other, and we know this doesn’t last forever.”
Bowen was thankful for the chance to be appreciated for her comedy while playing the more buttoned-down character.
“Claire is not necessarily fall-down funny all the time,” Bowen said. “ She’s not necessarily a big character, and it’s amazing they have found ways to find all these different aspects to her, to make her not just the mom.”
Reflecting on the show’s strong performance this year, “Modern Family” exec producer Steve Levitan, who shared a writing Emmy with Jeffrey Richman, said there was “sort of a desperation to keep the quality up.” He also called the kids of the cast the show’s “unsung heroes.”
“I wasn’t so thrilled about working with kids,” Levitan said. “They are so good and they add such dimensions to scenes. …They are very skilled actors. … They are playing at the same level as the adults.”
Introduced by Emmy host and recurring "Two and a Half Men" guest Jane Lynch, estranged "Men" actor Charlie Sheen presented the lead comedy actor Emmy, greeted by an Emmy audience that could best be described as wary.
Those waiting for a veritable bomb to go off -- or at least for a joke -- didn't get it. Sheen played it straight and succinct with an apology.
“From the bottom of my heart, I wish you nothing but the best for the coming season,” Sheen said. “We spent eight wonderful years together, and I know you will continue to make great television.
The first two Emmys of the night went to "Modern Family" supporting thesps Julie Bowen and Ty Burrell. The latter had his father in the forefront of his thoughts, both serious and comedic, as he gave his acceptance speech.
“My dad actually passed away before he ever saw me perform, and I can’t help but wonder what he would think about all this, and that I have a job where every day I go to work in full makeup" Burrell said, pausing to do "thank yous" before returning to talking about his father.
"If he were here tonight, he would say, ‘But why the makeup?'" Burrell said. "In the end, he'd feel like, ‘Couldn't you just wear a little powder? Why do you have to look like a harlot?'
"I would say, 'Dad, just think of me as a very masculine lady.' And he would say, ‘I do, son. I do.’”
Half-hour skein, which will wrap its first season Sept. 27, is MTV’s highest-rated scripted series in the last two years and third best show this summer for the cabler, following “Jersey Shore” and “Teen Mom.”
Tuesday night’s episode aired at 11:30, following a 90-minute “Teen Mom,” and scored well again in the 12-34 demo (2.3 rating). Show is averaging a 2.0.
Also of note: Among that 12-34 age group, Tuesday’s “Awkward” outdrew the season premiere of NBC’s “Parenthood” and the CW’s series debut of “Ringer.”
And that’s exactly what the league did for the entire 2009 season. The results can be heard, and seen, with the first episode of “Bill Belichick: A Football Life.” Two-part docu from NFL Films will debut on NFL Network at 9 p.m. ET Thursday. The second part airs Sept. 22 at 10 p.m. ET.
Not only is Belichick wired for his reactions on game days, but the Patriots coach chats up about some of the league’s most recognizable icons.
“Bill Belichick doesn’t only make history, he studies it, understands his place in it and appreciates our desire to capture it,” said NFL Films president Steve Sabol. “Like Vince Lombardi’s Packers in 1967, Belichick and the Patriots gave us access to his football life and what we created is a portrait of the coach, the father, the taskmaster and, most importantly, the man.”
Docu is narrated by “The Good Wife” thesp and big-time Baltimore sports fan Josh Charles.
Future installments of “A Football Life” will focus on late Philadelphia Eagles teammates and legends Reggie White and Jerome Brown; Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton and the storybook saga of Kurt Warner.
The untitled Doug McGrath laffer, previously known as “On We Go,” is a half-hour singlecam about an unlucky actor whose Broadway aspirations must be put on hold when he returns to his Texas hometown upon his father’s health taking a turn for the worse. Lane is currently in negotiations for the role.
McGrath, who wrote the pilot, will exec produce with Lane. Project is from Universal Cable Prods.
“Paging Dr. Freed,” from Fox 21, is a half-hour comedy about two brothers who take over the reins of their father’s medical practice after his untimely death. Script is from Michael Feldman, who will exec produce. Katy McCaffrey and Brad Johnson are set as producers.
“The pick up of these half-hour comedy pilots underscores our commitment to broadening the appeal of USA’s entertainment brand,” said co-presidents Chris McCumber and Jeff Wachtel. “We’re excited to be collaborating with some of the most distinct voices in the business as we open up to new genres.”
If you were suffering from Oprah withdrawal now that she's no longer on daytime TV, her interview Thursday on Facebook Live was pure manna. But judging from how profusely the self-actualization hooey poured forth from Winfrey's mouth, perhaps she was really missing her daily soapbox as well.
Streaming from Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, Winfrey sat down with the company's COO Sheryl Sandberg for a one-on-one format that wouldn't have been out of place on "Inside the Actors Studio." But oddly enough the sycophancy wasn't directed as much host to guest as it was the other way around. Winfrey fawned over Sandberg as if she were, well, the top-rated talk-show host in the universe. She described their first meeting at the Allen & Co. mogul-only getaway in messianic terms Moses might have reserved for the Lord Almighty.
Winfrey and Sandberg lavished each other with praise, but not only on a personal level. It seemed they were attempting some sort of branding mind meld, describing their respective organizations not as if they were for-profit corporations but fellow compulsive do-gooders who just happen to be raking in billions of dollars along the way.
"You want to connect people all over the world," Winfrey told Sandberg."We want the world individually empowered."
Winfrey also revealed that everyone at her company's offices in Los Angeles and Chicago are required to meditate twice a day, though she noted staffers are so intimidated by the term "meditation" that she prefers to just call it "quiet time." While Sandberg responded, probably jokingly, that she would institute the same policy as well, it's probably not required because in Winfrey's eyes, the employees of Facebook are already on an elevated spiritual plane.
"As I walk through Facebook offices, I see people fully themselves," said Winfrey. "Nobody in this entire space is pretending to be anything they’re not."
Again and again, Winfrey returned to the notion of people maximizing themselves by using meditation to access the "space" within themselves that holds their inner potential. So many references were there to "space" that Winfrey might have been better off cross-promoting her appearance on MySpace instead of Facebook.
But Winfrey isn't entirely perfection. She admitted to needing to overcome fear in order to launch the OWN cable network, but warned it's a venture not for the faint at heart.
"It’s a lot harder than I ever imagine," Winfrey admitted. "If anyone asks you to run a network, think about that."
We will, Oprah. We will. Right after we're done meditating.
Denis Leary chatted with On the Air just as his FX dramedy “Rescue Me” was getting its final sendoff tonight (Sept. 7).
With the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as an impetus for what it was like to be a firefighter during the 10 years following that harrowing day, “Rescue Me” was sometimes riveting, other times infuriating, but most of the time compelling enough to keep coming back for all seven seasons.
Q: So, in a larger sense, what’s your assessment of the impact of “Rescue Me,” both to you and viewers?
DL: Yeah. It’s a big picture question. I don’t know. I think the most original aspect of it is was it ripped your heart out one second and then, hopefully, make you turn those tears into tears of laughter the next, which is kind of our trademark. And maybe, hopefully, put the job that those guys do for a living into a little bit of perspective.
Q: Do you feel like you gave justice to firefighters, showing what they do on a daily basis?
DL: Yeah. I definitely feel like we did. We set out with the action scenes to do that from the beginning. That’s thanks to our technical advisor, Terry Quinn, who’s an old friend of mine and a New York City firefighter, and Danny Aiello III, who was our stunt man and, unfortunately, passed away during the final season at a very young age. We gave them carte blanche with the action sequences. We would often only write “Exterior Manhattan” or “Harlem” or whatever neighborhood the fire took place. We would put in parentheses see ‘Terry Quinn and Danny Aiello’ and they would construct it based on what kind of fire it was supposed to be and what Terry and the firefighters knew what would have to happen.
Then we would get there in the morning with the actors and they would say, "You’re going to say this" and "This is going to be the radio transmission." We worked with real smoke and real flame so that we could try to keep the audience on the edge of their seats, having to lean in and wonder sometimes, "What’s going on? I can barely see," which is kind of how it is in a real fire. And also the threats, such as the floor collapses and/or the stairway collapses, that was something we definitely wanted to show the audience at home. I don’t think it had ever been portrayed that way in the movies, where it’s always fairly well lit up so you can everybody’s face. For that part of it, I felt we were in good hands with Terry and the guys.
Q: As a viewer, the fires always seemed very realistic.
DL: Yeah, it happened at least twice, sometimes three times a season when we’d be running a real fire, with our trucks pulling up on a block with flame and smoke shooting out of a building. While we were doing the exterior shots, the real fire department would show up because neighbors had called saying there was a fire. And inevitably the real firemen would pull up and see Terry and/or me and the other guys and go, “Ugh it’s another ‘Rescue Me’ fire’ and we’d go, “Yeah sorry guys.” So that always said to me that we we’re doing something right.
Q: Did you always use real locations? Did you ever shoot the fire scenes on a stage?
DL: Sometimes very specific pieces in a hallway or a room we would do on a stage, but otherwise, no. We would take over buildings that were abandoned or in the process of being rebuilt and we would set them on fire, then put them out. One time I was in a fire scene with one of our real firemen, Mills, and John Scurti (who plays Lt. Shea), and we were supposed to run into a room and grab this girl. The ceiling above us was going to collapse after they had rigged the ceiling.
We ran in, the ceiling collapsed a little early and we thought we probably looked pretty cool. We grabbed the girl, took her out and then I looked down at my and John’s bunker pants and boots, which were on fire. When they called cut, we looked at Mills and said, ‘Our pants and our boots are on fire,’ and he goes, ‘Yep, that happens,’ and he walked away.
Q: That’s funny.
DL: I know. It’s a classic fake fireman versus a real fireman situation.
Q: What was more rewarding and/or difficult between both writing and acting?
DL: It’s really hard for me to judge. The main actors, and quite often the guest stars as well, were so great that as writers we would bring stuff in that we thought was good or that we hoped was good and the actors would inevitably make it better. We would allow, especially in certain circumstances, the actors to improvise and play with the material a lot. So by the time we ended up shooting, it was a mixture of what we wrote and what the actors had brought into it. We could not have written what we wrote if we didn’t have a great cast and it couldn’t have looked so great on camera if those actors hadn’t taken our words and improved on them.
Q: Were you protective of the words?
DL: No. I guess we fall into the Woody Allen category, and we did this on “Wag the Dog” as well, where you come in and whatever is on the page is great, but we would literally say we need this line to set up that joke. Otherwise just run with it and see what you come up with. Good actors, especially when they know their character, will come in and either tell you in advance that they have an idea, or in the middle of the rehearsal or the scene they’ll let it loose and you go, “Ah that’s great.”
Q: The show really introduced some really good actors.
DL: Well, I mean, we were lucky to have them. Scurti I’ve known for years and he was in “The Ref.” Callie Thorne had auditioned for the job, and then she had gone off and worked like crazy. So there were certain people like Scurti and Callie that we knew we wanted, and then the other people it took us a long time to find. Daniel Sunjata and Steven Pasquale were both famous for drama and were both working on Broadway at the time that we were casting. A lot of people wanted them and we had to bring them in and see how they were together. They weren’t an easy sell to the network because they were known for drama as opposed to comedy and they needed to be able to do both. A lot of it’s luck and a lot of it is our job as producers, to spend time in casting and make sure we get the right people.
Q: Any specific challenges you encountered while writing the series?
DL: We didn’t want Tommy to be a show business alcoholic in the sense that we didn’t want him to be a guy that was easily cured. The truth is, especially for a guy in his occupation, firemen aren’t necessarily the most open people in terms of outside influences in solving their psychological problems. We were very interested in going as dark as we could. At the same time, he’s based on two real-life friends of mine who are firefighters, so my eyes and ears were constantly open to what was going on with those guys. They knew I was using stuff from them for Tommy.
They were two or three years ahead of what was happening in Tommy’s life. So I watched what was going on with them in terms of their marriage, their jobs at the firehouse and their personal problems. Like any good writer, I was stealing the elements I wanted. They’re a tough breed. They’re guys who do an extraordinary thing everyday for a living, so they don’t really have time nor do they necessarily want to examine themselves, which means it takes a long time of banging your head against the wall to maybe get the message. That’s what we were going for.
Q: How much thought did you give to how the show was going to end up?
DL: We didn’t really know exactly how it was going to end, based on not just the real-life people but where our story was going. We knew if we got the network behind us we would probably end right around the 10th anniversary of 9/11. That was our goal. We were planning originally to go a lot darker. Not that it’s a light ending, but we were going to go a lot darker and then the elements of those two guys and also (FX president) John Landgraf’s take on how we should end the series started to enter into it.
Q: What was the most fun overall?
DL: There’s no way around it, drama is very difficult to shoot. It’s very heavy and something that you carry with you for the course of the day. There’s no easy way to play those scenes. We were in the middle of a show where on Monday or Tuesday, you might be doing some very heavy and dramatic; on Wednesday you’d be doing a really fast, sharp, improvisational scene around the firehouse kitchen; and Thursday and Friday, you’re an action hero. You’re running into fake fires, saving people and jumping off of ladders. It was like a kid’s dream come true. The thing I’ll miss the most is the guys and the girls in the cast and then in one week you’d do an action scene, then comedy and drama. It was great.
Q: Did you always enjoy being in front of the camera?
DL: Well, I came from the theater first, that’s where I was trained. So when I got out of school, I went into stand-up because a couple guys I went to college with — Steven Wright and Mario Cantone — they went into stand-up comedy and I thought I want to try this. My experience as an actor was all based on the stage. It wasn’t until after I got famous as a standup comic that I started to get offered roles in films. I spent a long time working in the movies to figure out that kind of acting and also how to write and produce for the screen. I love the movies, but this is the closest you can get to a theater company. It’s like doing a different play, but it’s the same play every week. I really loved it.
Q: You could see on screen the companionship everyone had together.
DL: When the cameras weren’t rolling, everybody tended to be in character in the firehouse scenes. We all just sat around without realizing it. Maybe we did subconsciously, and we were busting each others’ balls. When they said the cameras were ready, we would go in and it would just come to life. Again, that’s the thing I miss the most.
Regis Philbin will bid farewell to "Live with Regis and Kelly" on Nov. 18, the longtime host announced today.
"Last January I made the announcement that I'll be moving on," Philbin said, "but I never gave you an exact date. So I'm pushing it back five years — just kidding! Just kidding!
"The date is Friday, November 18 - but don't worry, the show goes on. Kelly will begin trying out new co-hosts, just like I did 11 years ago when I found her."
Philbin will wrap up 28 seasons on the ayem talker. Highlights of his run will air over the next two months as part of the ongoing “Regis Farewell Celebration Season.”
Given there's been no reports of Bravo executives being struck by lightning now that the long-awaited premiere of "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" has aired, their decision to go forward with the show despite the suicide of Russell Armstrong may not seem as transgressive. But if the network thinks the steps they took to reduce the "ick" factor worked, think again.
As Bravo indicated last week, the series underwent some re-editing before being brought back for its second season. The episode began with a short segment featuring all the women--with the exception of widow Taylor Armstrong--gathering days after Armstrong's death to discuss the unexpected tragedy. The segment closed with the following message displayed across a stark black background: "The events depicted in this series were recorded prior to the death of Russell Armstrong."
Cast member Kim Richards ended the introductory segment with a tearful statement: "It's hard to move forward because it is such a tragic situation and so many people have been left hurt by it. But as difficult as that is, life goes on."
If what Richards said felt like a bit much maybe it was because it brought to mind the way comedy shows like "Saturday Night Live" felt compelled to address Sept. 11 with a straight face before moving on to the regularly scheduled jokes.
But the problem with the psychological firewall Bravo was trying to erect here was that it felt false. Bringing the women together as if they were genuinely mourning seemed odd given that, from what can be deduced from the show's first season and the coverage of Armstrong's death, there wasn't any real connection between them and him. It also had the unintended consequence of putting these women at the center of the emotional fallout from the suicide, which is just wrong.
Compartmentalizing the mourning at the top of the show didn't cast a pall over the rest of the hour; you'd be surprised how quickly you can forget about a suicide in the time it takes Lisa Vanderpump to let her cutey-wutey doggy Jiggy to leave her tender embrace for a leak on the sidewalk. But by the time Taylor Armstrong comes on screen, there's a whole other unintended dimension that doesn't go away just because Bravo made a decision to remove Russell Armstrong from the opening episode.
Even in the absence of the poor guy's mug, his presence is very much felt given Taylor's raison d'etre on the series is to bemoan the sorry state of her marriage. That even figures into the episode's obligatory cast clash toward the end of the episode: Taylor gets tearful when Vanderpump's husband, Ken, dismisses couples therapy as a "sign of weakness" after Taylor talks of taking to the couch with Russell to repair their broken bond.
Were Russell Armstrong still alive, this conflict wouldn't have an added emotional punch. And yet you can't help but think that he truly did suffer from some sort of "weakness" that led him down such a tragic path, and suddenly the usual schadenfreude you feel watching the show's bickering is mixed with tougher emotions.
The episode also closes with a public-service announcement (see video above) from the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. It feels like something ticked off a to-do list by a crisis-management flack, nothing more.
This probably isn't anything that hasn't occurred to the powers that be at Bravo. They probably realize this was essentially a no-win situation and that it wasn't about what they specifically did for this episode just as long as they did...something.
Sure, canceling the series may be the highest road they could have travelled but that was not going to happen given the bonanza of free marketing the suicide created. Bravo just has to avoid looking complicit in Armstrong's death, and on that front, their conscience is clear. They communicate that notion simply by sticking with the show; canceling it would be tantamount to taking responsibility for the man's death.
And yet watching the premiere even with the sense that Bravo didn't actually do anything wrong would leave anyone feeling quite right about reality TV, either. Even f the death of Russell Armstrong isn't quite the Jenny Jones moment for the genre, this incident does feel like the TV industry has inched itself further down a slippery slope--with rock bottom not too much farther down.
It's likely Russell Armstrong will be forgotten soon enough, that is until the next time something like this happens. And when it inevitably does, maybe the industry will look back at this moment and say this was when they should have reined things in. But by then it'll be too late.