Today was my first day at the Television Critics Association summer press tour as an official TCA member. Arriving at the massive ballroom at the Beverly Hilton, it’s a tad intimidating to see about 200 fellow TV critics (nearly all lit by the glow of their laptops) facing the stage where the new shows will attempt to explain why we should care about them.
I’ll be here in Los Angeles for the next five days covering all the hot panels, attending the swanky parties and set visits, and reporting back on what happens when TV critics and stars collide.
The CBS lineup seems pretty solid, in terms of guaranteed hits. A new comedy airing after the top-rated Two and a Half Men, two new procedural crime dramas, one following NCIS, the other following CSI and a charming romantic comedy starring Elizabeth Reaser, aka Ava from Grey’s Anatomy.
For my first ever panel at the TCA press tour, it was, ironically, the show BuddyTV prejudged as the least anticipated new series of the season. The CBS comedy Worst Week consists of a series of unfortunate events as Sam (Kyle Bornheimer) tries to win the approval of his future in-laws.
Based on a British series, creator Matt Tarses explained that the show will take place over more than just a week as Sam and his fiancee Mel plan their wedding and go through their pregnancy. However, the key component of the show will remain the same, namely the fact that Sam routinely gets into awkward situations. “He’s going to keep having weeks that are unbelievably bad,” Tarses said.
The other important component of the show is the heavy use of physical comedy. Co-star Kurtwood Smith found himself laughing aloud as he read the script and he mentioned that during the editing process, they actually cut several standard “jokes” because the show’s strength is in the situational comedy, not the one-liners.
Fans may feel uncomfortable watching Sam’s parade of bad luck as he tries to impress people, but Tarses believes what keeps the show grounded is that Mel finds her fiancé endearing and that she always stands by him.
The previews for Eleventh Hour have been eerie and almost cinematic without much indication of how it would work as a series. At the TCA press tour, we learned from the show’s creators that it follows Rufus Sewell as a special science advisor to the FBI helping to solve science-related cases.
Co-creator Ethan Reiff was careful to note that the show is “science fact, not science fiction,” meaning the storylines (cloning in the pilot) are more ripped from the headlines than a sheer creation of fake science. When asked about FOX’s Fringe, which has a bit of a similar premise, Reiff pointed out that Fringe is more fanciful, iterating the “science fact” premise of Eleventh Hour. Another thing that sets it apart is that the show only stars two people, Sewell’s scientist and his FBI handler. While the pilot focuses on cloning, future episode will also address genetically-engineered agriculture, cryogenics and cures for cancer.
The British star Rufus Sewell made a very conscious decision to play an American character because he wants to definitely establish himself as different from his character. He also wants to avoid typecasting, and he would much rather play one strong character for a long period of time on TV than play several similar roles in a series of increasingly bad movies. Co-creator Cyrus Voris described the show’s title as a metaphor for the fact that science and technology have gotten so big that we are possibly in the final moments before they became too out of control for us to handle.
Creator Bruno Heller believes The Mentalist is like a modern Sherlock Holmes with the way the mysteries are constructed with all the clues presented. He also finds the ability to fake being a psychic more impressive than if a person was actually psychic.
The pilot includes a lot of discussion about a larger backstory surrounding the main character and a deranged serial killer named Red John, though Heller says the show will not be serialized and that it will focus more on the weekly crimes and not the long-term arc established in the pilot.
On a completely unrelated note, Simon Baker brought the house down with an amusing anecdote about how he decided to star in The Devil Wears Prada. His 11-year-old daughter asked to read the script and when she finished she told him, “Your character’s kind of a dick, but you should still do it.” He then proceeded to explain that he wanted to do something his daughter could watch and not just films where he dies or has sex.
The Ex List
It’s hard for me to accurately describe the hilarious awesomeness of the TCA panel session for The Ex List, but it should be enough to say that showrunner Diane Ruggiero previously worked on Veronica Mars. Right out of the gate, Ruggiero and star Elizabeth Reaser defended the main character as not being a slut in spite of the show’s premise that she has this long list of potential exes.
There was also plenty of talk about the pilot episode’s seeming fascination with vaginal humor, which Ruggiero said was more than acceptable to the network. When asked about the title of the show, Ruggiero joked that she initially agreed to do it because the original title was Mythological Ex and she thought it was a superhero show. She also feared being fired when she came up with a series of awful replacement titles, including The Next Ex.
Ruggiero essentially dominated the whole panel and went on for about a 10 minute hilarious rant about how she moved out to California from New Jersey and was mocked for being a size 14. That segued into her success thanks to Veronica Mars and her defense that all her ex-boyfriends are now jealous and worried that they’ll be used as fodder for her new show.
Check back with BuddyTV over the next week for more updates and scoops live from the TCA press tour.
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-John Kubicek, BuddyTV Senior Writer
(Image courtesy of CBS)