Deals, Stars & Mediums: The 2009 CBS TCA Summer Press Tour – Feature

The essence of a prevailing network is a great balance between all things. With CBS, this is their time since they have a great balance of all from comedy with “The Big Bang Theory” to drama with “CSI”. And late night is getting more cool with them riding the ever increasing wave of Craig Ferguson. With the announcement of the new “Let’s Make A Deal” hosted by Wayne Brady and the controversy surrounding the next Emmys, CBS is at the center of discussion which is always a good place to be.

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Late Night With Craig Ferguson Last winter, Craig stopped by to talk about the new happenings in late night since Jimmy Fallon was coming on the scene and Conan was moving out to LA. A couple months later when both of them are still trying to find their footing, Craig is knocking down the pins on his own terms. His informal small room talk shows that his comedy filters well in the early morning as well.

The first thought hit was on the upcoming transition of Jay Leno to 10pm which is on everybody’s minds. Craig doesn’t think people are ready for cussing puppets at 10pm. The move mystifies him because its seems like backtracking after NBC pretty much fired Leno. As far as the puppets, Ferguson is debating getting rid of them because he is starting to get bored with them and that is something that can’t happen. As to why he doesn’t Twitter, he says it is because he has “an hour every fucking night”. His monologue he sees as retro but also as contemporary because it is unrestricted thought. He brings up the fact that he forgot the name of David Letterman’s show a couple nights ago which he got a little flack for. But he says that watching himself fail at times is what keeps him challenged.

He mentions his autobiography that comes out in September and says that he is looking forward to it. He jokes that he “couldn’t remember [some of] it so I made it up”. As far as why he got into show business in terms of his memoir, he says it was because Hollywood “was tolerant of drunkeness” and that “you get to meet girls”. He compares his show to “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” and he says that is an aspiration because that was a great show. That is why he won’t do retakes because that for  would kill the show.

In terms of his patrioticism which is always at the forefront of his idealism on the show, Ferguson says America for him is a “philosphical and emotional decision”. American comedians that have influenced him include Robin Williams in his stand-up back in the 70s and even now (which is interesting since I talked to Robin about that relevancy just two days ago). He also cites Steve Martin back in the early 80s as well. He says that it is very hard to find humor because it is all very subjective.

His future ambitions come into question. He says that he doesn’t want to get so rich that all he worries about is keeping his job. His ambition is to spend less than he earns. He doesn’t want to be scared just to have the ambition of a different time slot. In his words, does he want to be rich? “Fuck Yeah” is his follow-up. But has he met and interview a bunch of “rich deuschbags”? Yes, in his words, to that too.

Talk then turns to Jimmy Fallon who was coming onto the scene just a couple months ago. Craig watched it a little bit the first week but the reality is that he has a TIVO and a child. He watches “Mythbusters” and “Duck Dodgers”. His competition is sleep. He finally got his pilot’s license on Friday. The way he looks at it is that “show business…bullshit…bullshit…bullshit”. With flying, it is “Bullshit…you die!”

In terms of a changing audience because of his increasing popularity, he says that sometimes there is a bachelor party or, like the other night, there was a gaggle of women in sundresses. He brought them up onstage because he said people just had to see them.

In closing in terms of his place in late night, he simply says that for him, David Letterman is the King. Period. Dave is the successor to Johnny Carson. Craig’s words: “I sit at the feet of David Letterman. I am his beeotch. Whatever you prefer”. Simply put and humble. Craig is the man.

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Let’s Make A Deal CBS made the decision to bring this game show back after the final cancellation of “Guiding Light” after nearly 57 years. After the success of Drew Carey on “The Price Is Right”, they approached another “Whose Line Is It Anyway” alum in the form of Wayne Brady to take over the new emcee duties. Monty Hall, who was the original voice behind “Let’s Make A Deal” says that it was the right time to bring the show back. The games that are played are one where they, as the creators, know the secrets. The surprise is how the people react. The script evolves from the reaction of the contestants and what they bring to the party.

Back when they made the pilot in 1963, Monty remembers that people came in ordinary dresses and suits. He said he remembers that he was picking contestants one day early on and this woman came in with the sign saying “Roses are red. Violets are blue. And I want to make a deal with you.” The best moments he says were obviously when things went wrong.

For Wayne Brady, it seemed the right fit as well. He said that he had spoken to Drew Carey after his friend had gotten “The Price Is Right” and heard that he was having a great time. Wayne is 37 and he grew up watching the show and thought it would be great being a part of that. For him, he says “Who doesn’t like free money?” On the show, he also mentions, there is no “traffic”. He is the guy and he likes that. That is what snagged him in. He is able to do that in his Vegas show as well.

He agrees that, for him, being on “The Chappelle Show” changed people’s perception of him. On the talk show, people always said he was a nice guy but he said he didnt have to change himself. The key with “Deal” is just to be funny without going over the line.

Mike Richards, the exec producer, says that the format has moved to an hour and they have added a mid-game element. They felt to cut it down would affect the excitement and nostalgia of the game. Wayne likes this aspect because you can come in with nothing and leave with a car…or a couple tons of rocks.

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Accidentally On Purpose This new sitcom casts Jenna Elfman as a movie critic who becomes pregnant accidentally (or on purpose depending how you look at it). The concept is based upon a book and obviously this slightly MILF version of “Sex & The City” circles the possibilities especially with Ashley Jensen (fresh off “Ugly Betty” and “Extras” and actually really pregnant) pitching some clean up.

Jenna finally found this role after a couple years of trying to develop concepts on her own. A little frustrated, she put herself out there and within weeks found this script. Claudia Lonow, best known from her acting stint back in the day on “Knots Landing”, is the show runner with a bit of  edge to her. She is a big fan of “How I Met Your Mother” in how it appeals to both a male and female audience. The key for her is balancing the aspect of no underhanded actions by the lead character in the unfolding of the narative, which will definitely be a challenge.

Lonow uses a nice reference to “Knots Landing” as “a make-up show” since every time the director would get ready to yell action, he would say “Mirrors Down!”. The comparison rests in this as a very female driven show which instead brims with intentional comedy elements. Ashley Jensen adds that doing the show in front of a studio audience, unlike her last two projects, really adds to the immediacy of it. If you are doing it wrong, you will know from the get go.

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Medium When last season ended, show runner Glen Gordon Caron wasn’t sure where the train was headed for the show. In moving from NBC to CBS after 5 seasons, the question became one of control. When we left Patricia Arquette’s character last season, she was in a coma with a brain tumor. Caron wrote this specifically to force a hand which works, he says, depending how you look at it. The series was made by CBS from the beginning but shown on NBC so for it to come back home per se seemed almost like “divine province”. He agrees that TV is being consumed in very different way in comparison to back when he did “Moonlighting”.

Caron also admits that these are tough financial times but the reality in terms of promotion is that CBS has run more promos before the season even has started for “Medium” than NBC ran in their entire run. Caron says that he tries to keep the writing fresh but there is also just so many ways someone can wake up. You have to keep it from being didactic and not get bored.

Patricia Arquette for her part thought they would always end up at CBS. She said she heard unofficially that they were cancelled last season and she was about to buy a house. She seemed to think they were led to believe that they would be picked up at NBC. The fan sites she said never thought they were in jeopardy  and overall the ratings were pretty good, she thought.

Caron says that they attracted more viewers than “Chuck” but it was more about the ever present “buzz”. Caron also speaks to the fact that they are going to try new elements this season. The Halloween episode has Arquette’s character being consumed into the actual film of “Night Of The Living Dead”. Arquette likes this and makes the point that her first film role was in “Nightmare On Elm Street 3”, a monster movie, and that now, by all points in fact, she is the monster. She however has not felt any danger in any of the elements of her performance.

In terms of now reflecting on her move to television after so many years in film, she says that back a couple years ago she always thought of television as the “bastard child of entertainment”. However the more she has thought about it, it is something that is free that anyone can see, even if you are stuck somewhere and can’t go to a theater. It is very freeing for her knowing that it has the breathe of being seen everywhere.

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The Emmy Awards The telecast has gotten a lot of flack in recent days because of its decision, as it were, to “time shift” the program and, by essence, cut some of the awards segments (specifically those relating to writing and directing). Don Mischer, who is overseeing the program, and has done the big Super Bowl halftime shows over the past couple years as well, was quick to defend the changes but also explain the reasoning as to also alleviate some animosity which had been building up in the creative community. Even the show runner on “Medium”, David Caron, had signed the said petition against the Emmy program for this dereliction.

Mischer makes the point that they are trying to reshape the Emmys. They are being crunched like the other awards shows. and it is all about connecting with the audience, he says. Compared to the Oscars, the Emmys have to fit into 2 hours and 9 minutes. He says that there is also a lot of misinformation floating around. The decision to change parts of the show were based on research of what the viewer wanted to see (and outside the industry, truthfully, very few people could recognize those contenders by name in the “shifted” categories).

He also admits that the Emmys might be a niche event in the long run but right now the focus is to be broad. They are just going to do their best because the writing is on the wall. Mischer kept saying repeatedly that the show is going to be about the entertainment but, in doing so, seemed to overemphasize his point which is what makes the contention up for debate.

Neil Patrick Harris, the much lauded host of the Tonys and the now anticipated host of the Emmys, spoke via satellite from Vancouver where he is shooting a movie. He says the controversy is simply to streamline the process, by editing down the “hugging”, as he puts it. The writers sometimes give the best speeches but, according to him, you want to prepare and keep it fast. This show, for him, is not about the host. He is there, in his vision, to represent the show. The changes are not about lack of respect or cables vs. network. Personally, and joking, he wants to open the show with Gallagher and the Sledge-O-Matic. Problem is that most young people don’t know who Gallagher is. He just wants to do it Dean Martin style and sip the martini.

The Stars Party @ The Huntington Library CBS brought out the heavy hitters to this sprawling estate a couple miles from The Langham. Sporting a great green sense and a museum-like architecture, the red carpet swilled through more like oatmeal. Passing Peter Gallagher entering the back terrace, a shot was needed and shared among friends.

Settling into a couch blanketed in sunset, the Goose simmered nicely. As the exploring began, we first came upon Edie Falco, now starring in Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie”. One of our girls, looking party ready, was a former cop from NY who recently moved out to LA. Edie liked that hometown girl connection. She just loves being able to be close to home when shooting the show (it is shot in Long Island City, just outside Manhattan). She still looks at feature scripts still but for her this show makes sense for her right now.

Settling down with a mojito as the place gets more packed, a very pregnant Ashley Jensen, formerly of “Ugly Betty” and now co-starring in “Accidentally On Purpose”,  took a load off, Last time I met her was a set visit on “Betty” before its premiere. Times changed but she was commuting to NY to work on “Betty” so she said that this made more sense as well.

Jim Parsons, who plays Sheldon on “Big Bang Theory” was standing looking out towards the bar.  Wearing his name tag in a very Sheldon way, you see the uber geek exterior but he is much more relaxed in real life though he says that Comic Con was a bit more overwhelming this year than last. His performance as well as the others on that show make it a joy to watch.

By comparison,Kunai Nayyar (also on the show), who plays Rajesh, was wandering around the party in a slick suit and stubble so you could hardly tell it was him as the people watching element on his side worked well. But it was Simon Helberg who plays Howard Walowitz that cracked us up towards the end of the night as we chilled with vodka tonics. He had the pants to boot but was looking for a cigarette which despite his best intentions, he could not procure.

Earlier in the night, the entire cast of “Medium” sat next to us with Patricia Arquette looking particularly fetching in fishnet stockings. On the dim sum line, we ran into Tracy Ullman who is working on her next season of “State Of The Union” and talked a little bit of shop although my female companion loved her kimono-like dress which was all her.

After traversing the museum inside with a play-by-play on the inherent disturbances the subjects were going through when they were painted, the trip down towards the mashed potato bar, replete with scallops, chicken and beef, was needed but not before holding court with LL Cool J, the new old school star on “NCIS: LA”. Relating the aspects of coolness to the sets and interaction with Kensi in the war room at the set visit the day before, LL knows that he is bridging the new aspects of balance for him in this kind of character. He also says that he has brought down the bling a little bit but that this guy still has style. He has a hit on his hands which I said straight out.

As the mashed potato bar with scallops rang around us, Drew Carey with his newly coiffed hair chilled in earnest. Braving the valet line outside as the red carpet faded away…and the lights of Hollywood were only steps away.