Category: Television Critics Association

TCA Press Tour 2011: Fox executives stand by programming strategy

Although it is coming off a fall television season in which two of its new, high-profile shows flopped, Fox said it has no plans on rethinking its scheduling strategy.

Speaking at the semiannual Television Critics Assn. press tour held in Pasadena, Fox's top programming executives said the disappointing results for the drama "Lone Star" and comedy "Running Wilde" did not mean that the system itself of using the fall as a launching pad is broken.

"We launched shows in the fall we were hoping would be hits and they weren't," Fox Networks Group Entertainment Chairman Peter Rice said.

Since both shows flamed out, there has been second-guessing in some circles that perhaps it would have been better to debut them in a less crowded environment than in September when the networks debut their new programs. Fox's biggest new hit, "Glee," was launched in May 2009, and this May it is launching a highly ambitious science-fiction series, "Terra Nova."

All the networks are struggling to launch and sustain shows in an era in which viewers not only have scores of channels to choose from instead of a handful but also have new platforms and ways to view content. The growth of digital video recorders allows people to record shows and watch when they want to, as opposed to when the networks schedule them.

Furthermore, programs end up going online or made available via DVD or iTunes so soon after their first run on a network, the urgency to watch a show when it premieres is often no longer there. Although the audience that watches shows on a DVR are valuable, the business model of broadcast television is still built around getting the most viewers to tune in at the same time.

"I still believe in the power of a schedule," said Kevin Reilly, the president of entertainment for Fox Broadcasting.

With regards to his own network's performance, Reilly acknowledged that Fox needed to develop a "next generation" of hits. While the network is generally satisfied creatively with shows such as "Lie to Me," "Fringe" and "Human Target," none are "breaking through to the next level" in terms of ratings, Reilly said, adding the network will have a "few decisions to make."

Shows that are secure include in the new comedy "Raising Hope," which has already been renewed for a second season. Veteran dramas "House" and "Bones" are also likely to be back next season, but deals for the two still need to be negotiated.

As for "American Idol," Fox's biggest show, it returns next week with new judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez. The consensus among media industry watchers is that without Simon Cowell on board, the show will face a ratings drop. Fox's Rice acknowledged that the network also expects a ratings decline, but he did not speculate on how big.

"There's no science to it," Rice said of trying to determine how "American Idol" might do when it returns.

The show's audience has been declining for several seasons, but it is still the most-watched program on television. Last year, "Idol" had an average audience of 24.3 million, a 9% drop from the 2009 edition. Even with the declines, the talent show is still expected to finish on top this season.

Any decrease in ratings for "American Idol," may very well be offset by "The X Factor," Cowell's new singing talent show that is already a monster hit in the U.K. and will debut here in the fall.

So far, Fox is still keeping close-mouthed about what days it will run "The X Factor," which like "American Idol" will be on twice a week. Also not known is who, besides Cowell, will be a judge. Rice said Cowell is still trying to find the right mix, but ultimately the network will have "traditional" approval.

-- Joe Flint





TCA Press Tour 2011: Humanity in 'Jeopardy!'?

Watson is the name of the IBM computer that will challenge two human "Jeorpardy!" champions next month for a million-dollar prize. It will be the first time such a machine has starred on the famous quiz show, if you don't count Alex Trebek.

Just how smart is Watson? Naturally, the computer has been in training with his IBM creators, and here's how the 10-refrigerator-sized contestant answered the following question: What do grasshoppers eat? Watson's answer: Kosher.

Bet you didn't know that.

"That was one of my favorites," said David Ferrucci, lead Watson scientist, speaking via satellite to reporters at the winter TV Press Tour on Sunday in Pasadena. "He's developed since then though."

Watson's difficulty discerning the appropriate response points up the immense challenge facing his geek squad of programmers and developers. Yes, Google is amazing, but it still can't give you precisely the answer you want — yet. That's why there's a long list of top answers that pop up — not a single response. And if you're competing on "Jeopardy!" you must account for — within a matter of seconds — the nuances of the English language, deliberate word play and puns that come with the popular quiz show. It isn't easy, even for a computer.

Watson's showdown will be against  Ken Jennings, who set the "Jeopardy!" record for the most consecutive games (74), and Brad Rutter, who won the highest cumulative amount ever by a single player ($3.25 million). Apparently, Jennings and Rutter are not machines either. The men-versus-machine contest will consist of two matches and will be aired Feb. 14-16. (PBS' "NOVA" will broadcast a behind-the-scenes look at the development of Watson on Feb. 9.)

What if Watson wins, does that mean Skynet (See "The Terminator" mythology) will soon be exterminating humanity, asked a reporter. The scientists, one from M.I.T., the other a MacArthur genius grant winner, laughed.

"We knew somebody was going to bring up Skynet," said Rodney Brooks, a professor of Robotics at MIT. "I don't think we need to worry about the machines getting rid of people any time soon.... We can relax for a few hundred years."

— Martin Miller

Photo: "Jeopardy!" champion Ken Jennings with host Alex Trebek. Photo credit: "Jeopardy!"

TCA Press Tour 2011: Tavis Smiley in talks with AEG Live to move TV show to downtown Los Angeles studio

Tavis Smiley may be on the move.

The PBS talk host is currently doing his weeknight show out of studios at KCET-TV in Silver Lake -- despite the fact that, as of the start of the year, that station is no longer airing his show. KCET left the PBS fold in a dues dispute and lost the network's entire lineup as well.

Now Smiley says he's in talks with AEG Live -- a subsidiary of the Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns and operates Staples Center among other venues -- about moving in to their TV studio space.

“We have been in conversations with AEG Live about possibly moving, a year from now, our studios downtown into some brand new facilities that they have," Smiley said in an interview this week.

Smiley, who started his career as an aide to former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, added: “Being downtown would be a great place to be, the energy, the activity. I’d be happy about that -– if we could work the deal out.”

One big sticking point: Money. KCET gives Smiley a major break on rent for his current studio space. The price of facilities in downtown is only going up. "Doing business downtown these days isn’t cheap," he said.

While the two sides continue talks, Smiley added, his current contract with KCET will last through this year.

But he and his crew may be spending a little less time there. As part of his new partnership with New York PBS station WNET, he's already considering new projects and revamping his marketing efforts for the talk show. And WNET has also offered use of its Manhattan studio space.

"We’re going be doing more of our shows in New York," Smiley said. But "L.A. is home. We love L.A.”

-- Scott Collins

Twitter: @scottcollinsLAT

Photo: Tavis Smiley. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times




TCA Press Tour 2011 Day 2: Dr. Drew, Mike Tyson and Oprah

The winter 2011 edition of the Television Critics' Assn. press tour got busy today in Pasadena with presentations from Turner Communications' networks, Playboy, BET, and Discovery Communications.

Rob Corddry took the stage with the cast (including Megan Mullally and Henry Winkler) of Adult Swim hospital satire "Children's Hospital." Corddry asked the crowd to address him with questions for Dr Drew, who was also at TCA waiting for his own panel -- and then Corddry responded to the journalist as Dr Drew. "Were you molested?"

When the real Dr. Drew presented his new HLN talk show, he spoke more seriously about using this new show as a platform to get to "the bottom line" on addicted and troubled celebrities and others. Up next, Piers Morgan served up a full dose of bravado as he boasted about the delights soon to come as he takes over Larry King's throne at CNN.

Mark-Paul Gosselaar showed off his good hair in his panel for the upcoming TNT legal drama "Franklin and Bash," in which he stars with Breckin Meyer and Malcolm McDowell and Ray Romano discussed the appeal of "Men of a Certain Age."

 Mike Tyson kicked off the afternoon session with a panel on his forthcoming Animal Planet series "Taking on Tyson" -- not a show about boxing but about pigeon racing, a topic vhe spoke about very excitedly.

Tyson (and then Ricky Gervais, who followed with a seemingly science-free show, "An Idiot Abroad," to air on the Science Channel) was just an aperitif to the main event of the afternoon, which was the arrival of OWN: the Oprah Winfrey Network.

The network presented the contestants who are auditioning for "Your OWN Show: Oprah's Search for the Next Reality Star," Oprah BFF Gayle King took questions on her new live show, and then finally Oprah herself appeared, clad in vivid shades of purple. Oprah talked -- and talked and talked -- about her mission for the new brand new network. "I don’t think it’s wise for us at this moment to go announcing that we’re the spiritual channel," she said. "There are many different ways to assert the nature of what is good without labeling it that.

Up tomorrow: more cable networks, among them AMC, WE, IFC, A&E, Hallmark, Starz, and HBO, featuring everyone from Joan and Melissa Rivers to Kate Winslet and Pee-wee Herman.

 -- Joy Press

Photo: Oprah Winfrey at TCA. Credit: Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images.


Full Show Tracker coverage of the TCA press tour 2011

TCA Press Tour 2011 Day 1: Old is new again




TCA Press Tour 2011: Dr. Drew to talk 'the bottom line' on Miley Cyrus and Snooki [Updated]

Drew_PinskyThis post has been corrected. See note below.

The morning session of Day 2 of the TV press tour dealt with light fare such as Adult Swim's "Children's Hospital" and TNT's "Men of a Certain Age." But Dr. Drew Pinsky brought a bit more seriousness into the gathering as he talked about his new HLN series.

Pinsky, who also has his "Celebrity Rehab" series, says "The Dr. Drew Show" on HLN will give him a platform to provide his perspective on news and newsmakers. The point of the series, which will premiere in March, is to get to "the bottom line" on addicted and troubled celebrities and others.

"I do have a point of view," said Pinsky.

Referring to the recent pictures of Miley Cyrus smoking a bong containing salvia, Pinsky called her "a young woman in pain" who is suffering through her parents' divorce. He also talked about the outrageous behavior of Snooki of "Jersey Shore" and how its entertainment value overshadows the destructive pattern.

"It will all come to bear, and she will be regretful of what she says and what she does," Pinsky said.

For the record, 4:01 p.m. Jan. 6: The headline on an earlier version of this post, "Dr. Drew to talk 'the bottom line' on Miley Cyrus and Lindsay Lohan," erred in referring to Lohan. The show's title was mistakenly described as "The Dr. Drew Pinsky Show" in an early version of this post and has also been corrected.

— Greg Braxton

Photo: Dr. Drew Pinsky. Credit: HLN


TCA Press Tour 2011: Ray Romano gets kissed off by his wife [Updated]

Day two of the Television Press Tour was barely underway before Ray Romano delivered one of the best lines of the day.

Romano, the star of the long-running hit "Everybody Loves Raymond," was promoting the second season of TNT's "Men of a Certain Age," which started this month. The series, which follows three close male friends dealing with midlife crises, was a critical hit for the network.

[For the record: An earlier version of this report incorrectly said the second season of "Men of a Certain Age" would begin this summer.]

One reporter asked Romano about the appeal his current series might have for women.

Said Romano, "Every time my wife sees me in a kissing scene, she says, 'This is ... We have enough money.' "

-- Greg Braxton

Photo: Ray Romano and Scott Bakula at TCA. Credit: Chris Pizzello/AP.

TCA Press Tour 2011: No More Bad Hair Days for Mark-Paul Gosselaar

When Mark-Paul Gosselaar starred in his last series, 2008's "Raising the Bar," it wasn't his character of a driven public defender that attracted the most notice. It was his hair--an unkempt, grungy mullet that many viewers said looked greasy and distracting. Although he got a haircut in the second season, the impression of his bad hair days never really went away.

Gosselaar is back in justice mode in his new show, "Franklin & Bash," and he and the cast appeared at the Television Critics Association press tour today to discuss the show. Gosselaar plays a plucky street lawyer who joins a presigious, no-nonsense law firm. His hair is not an issue -- the handsome actor's coif is groomed and slick. The series, which also stars Breckin Meyer and Malcolm McDowell, will premiere this summer on TNT.

Appearing before TV reporters Thursday, Gosselaar made it clear that although he's played back-to-back attorneys in his last two TV projects, the differences are signifciant. He's having a lot more fun.

"That other character was a noble  public defender, and to play that character was so righteous," he said. "I miss the nobility of playing him, but it is really nice to be on a show that is much lighter. It just feels very different."

The tone of the series certainly appears to be much more comedic. Gosselaar and Meyer, who play partners who don't quite play by the rules, display an easy chemistry, and their attraction toward women will figure into the storylines.

Said Gosselaar: "It's fresh."

--Greg Braxton


TCA Press Tour: 'Spartacus': 'Gods of the Arena' or gods of TV?

Lucy Lawless (Lucretia) Though only a week into production, “Spartacus: Gods of the Arena,” is shaping up to be just as much of a guilty pleasure as its predecessor.

“I gotta tell you, its pretty fantastic,” Steven S. DeKnight, creator and executive producer of the highly anticipated prequel to “Spartacus: Blood and Sand,” set to premiere in January on Starz.

The prequel follows Gannicus (Dustin Clare), the first gladiator to become Champion of Capua. 

In the series, which takes place before Spartacus joins the ludus (gladiator training school), there will be a few familiar faces, as Lucy Lawless (Lucretia), John Hannah (Batiatus), Peter Mensah (Oenomaus) and Manu Bennett (Crixus) have all reprised their roles.

DeKnight provided a major spoiler alert during the press tour when he confirmed Lawless would indeed be back for Season Two of the original series, after it was assumed -- with great measure -- that her character was murdered in Season One.

Andy Whitfield (Spartacus) will also appear briefly in the prequel and rejoin the show in Season Two, which is set to begin shooting later this year. 

Production on the second season of the hit show had to be halted while the star battled non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Though not ideal by any means, it gave DeKnight the opportunity to transform a Season Two flashback episode he had in the works into the six-part series. 

“It was just a one-episode thing. Once we found out what was going on with Andy we thought, ‘Let’s blow this out,’” DeKnight said. “It was an unfortunate circumstance ... [but] he looks fantastic. He’s in great spirits. He looks better than I have in my entire life.”

As for the seemingly overnight success of “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” -- it was the highest rated show for the 18-to-49 demographic among all cable networks for 12 of the 13 Fridays, maybe thanks in part to the gory battle scenes and no-holds-barred sex -- DeKnight is still getting used to it himself.

"It's been phenomenal and shocking. You're never prepared for extreme success or extreme failure," he said.  

Gerrick D. Kennedy

Photo: Lucy Lawless returns as Lucretia in "Spartacus: Gods of the Arena." Credit: Starz

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TCA Press Tour: Shutting it down with 'The Rachel Zoe Project's' Brad Goreski

Fans of “The Rachel Zoe Project” will be going bananas come Tuesday. The pint-sized stylista and her crew (minus the curmudgeon known as Taylor) return for a new season brimming with meltdowns, a star-studded clientele (Demi Moore, Gwen Stefani) and enough racks full of couture frocks to make you scream “I die! I die!” 

We caught up with Zoe’s fashionably bespectacled style director Brad Goreski (unfortunately he wasn’t wearing those spiffy white shorts from last season) at a TCA after-party this weekend. Take a look to hear what he has to say about Taylor’s departure and what to expect this season. Oh, and  “Housewives” beware (I'm looking at you, LuAnn and Kim): should Goreski enter the music business, the title of his nonexistent single promises to be a hit.

“The Rachel Zoe Project" premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m.

-- Yvonne Villarreal

TCA Press Tour: ABC's new cop duo solves homicides on 'Detroit 1-8-7'


To prepare for his new role as homicide detective  Louis Fitch on ABC's "Detroit 1-8-7," Michael Imperioli took a class on interrogation techniques with a Detroit detective who was known for eliciting confessions from criminals.

What "The Sopranos" star learned was that a key to that officer's success was how much he cared about people in general. It's a quality Imperioli is trying to bring to the veteran detective that he plays.

"He didn't see the label 'criminal,' " Imperioli said.  "Like everybody else, they were raised by parents, and when they were kids, they weren't criminals, and because of certain problems and conditions in their environment, they went a certain direction. He was able to see that, and because he saw that, he was able to reach them in a way to get through to them."

In the pilot episode, Fitch gets a new partner -- Det. Damon Washington, whose wife is having their first baby on his first day of work for the homicide division. That character is played by TV newcomer Jon Michael Hill.

In a recent interview,  ABC's executive vice president of casting, Keli Lee, said she saw Hill on "Superior Donuts," the Broadway show written by Tracy Letts, for which he was nominated for a Tony.

"He was the breakout from that show, and I just made up my mind that we had to have him," Lee said. As soon as ABC picked up its first pilot, "Detroit 1-8-7," Lee got the ball rolling to hire him.

"He's very funny and we loved him and Michael together," Lee said. "With Jon, there's so much hope and potential."

-- Maria Elena Fernandez

Photo: Jon Michael Hill and Michael Imperioli in "Detroit 1-8-7." Credit: Guy D'Alema / ABC


Some TV pilots have bumpy flights on their way to premieres

Pilot view: ABC's new drama, "Detroit 1-8-7"

TCA Press Tour: Marc Cherry talks about the end of 'Desperate Housewives' and what's next for him

HousewivesWith "Desperate Housewives" moving into its seventh season this fall, there has been speculation that the hit series would soon be coming to an end.

Creator and executive producer Marc Cherry has often teased that he had a specific number of seasons in mind. On a set visit with reporters at the Television Critics Assn. summer press tour on Tuesday, Cherry was coy about the end of Wisteria Lane.

"I've got a contract that keeps me around a few more years," Cherry says. "I will always be an executive producer and consultant of the show. It's my baby; I can't let go. I have some control issues."

What would potentially make Cherry let go of the long-running show?

Continue reading »

TCA Press Tour: Timothy Olyphant says 'Justified' is a 'different animal' from 'Deadwood'

Don't let the cowboy hats and gunfights fool you: FX's newest drama "Justified" isn't a classic western.

In the crime drama, Timothy Olyphant plays Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, a modern-day lawman with a 19th century-style of justice. The role isn't too much of a stretch for the actor, who portrayed 19th century merchant-turned-sheriff Seth Bullock in HBO's short-lives series 'Deadwood." But this new venture isn't a carbon copy, Olyphant insists.

"Both characters wear hats, but after that they really start to become their own thing," Olyphant said. "['Deadwood'] is over and this one is just beginning. I think anyone that knows Elmore's work ... there's a tone to it that's just so appealing. It's a different animal than what 'Deadwood' was."

"Justified" was developed by Graham Yost (''Speed", "Boomtown") and is based on the popular character featured in several books and short stories by novelist Elmore Leonard, who serves as an "honorary" executive producer.

"I started reading Elmore Leonard's stuff back in the early '80s with 'La Brava,' " said Yost, who also serves as an executive producer. "The thing that's always gotten to me about Elmore's writing ... I loved his sense of character, that things were unpredictable. I thought it would be a change of pace for FX ... Raylan is a hero and he has stuff haunting him and he's a human being. He's a good guy and you like him and you're rooting for him."

While the base of the character and story comes from Leonard's work, the challenge comes in making a whole series out of it.

"That was the thing I was most frightened of," Yost said. "Were we going to be able to deliver? ... We've done a good job. We have every available book by Elmore to get the flavor and style and then we started kicking around story ideas."

The writing team even sports WWED (What Would Elmore Do?) bracelets.

But should they ever run out of ideas, they could just look to the master. Leonard said he planned to write another short story based on the character.

"I don't want to write for, specifically, what they're shooting," Leonard said. "I want to come up with a new idea and give it to them. If they like it, fine. If they don't, don't use it."

The series premieres in March.

-- Yvonne Villarreal


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