IR Blu Ray Review: MILE 22 [STX/USHE]

The integration of global cinema is finding the right balance that appeals to all corners while still remaining edgy. For most places, this involves moving towards the center and not necessarily to the darker elements. Director Peter Berg seems in his movies with Mark Wahlberg (who also produces) to find that interesting mix between personal story, political underpinings and essential practical action. Their previous collaboration: “Patriot’s Day” was more specifically encompassed with a certain idea of an American style response within the Boston Massacre in a town that is very close to Wahlberg’s heart. But like Berg’s “The Kingdom”, what their latest “Mile 22” does is push the idea of the edge of the zone while still embracing new ideas. While Wahlberg is the marquee star here, it is the breakneck pace of the film which allows not just him but the other actors, especially Iko Uwais, the star of the breakout Indonesian action film “The Raid” to shine. The fact that this film can operate on that level as well as the film Wahlberg is trying to make is admirable. Some of the facts get muddled since the script is somewhat scitzophrenic and trying to move too fast but the action is just as frenetic and almost overtakes what Berg is trying to do. At its core, “Mile 22” is a stopwatch action film; point A to point B involving the need to deliver an asset. However using different places and streets to its advantage is key. As shown in the bonus features (and in its initial release) part of the big street scenes were shot in Bogota, Colombia. Having been to the city for a wedding, there is so much possibility to its back and main streets (although it is set to mirror at Southeastern Asian fictional city). Bogota is used to a point but also as a angle to bring more film production despite the country having a somewhat checkered tourism past from decade to decade. The stunts are interesting but most of the material on the Blu Ray was originally created as publicity material for the original release so no new material is here though what is included should be fodder for any regular cinema collector. Another stand out is Lauren Cowan, who brings to mind a 2018 version of Bridget Moynahan (who starred with Al Pacino and Colin Farrell in “The Recruit” in the early 2000s). This reviewer has not experienced her screen presence as Maggie in “The Walking Dead” but her steel here hopefully bodes for more focal elements on the big screen as well. “Mile 22” is an expert exercise by two filmmakers wanting to push the boundaries but also understanding the need for entertainment, however hard nosed, within the audience.

B

By Tim Wassberg

Puppets, Sharks & Regular People: The 2009 TCA Cable Summer Press Tour – Feature – Part I

The essence of cable is based between the aspects of reality, scripted essence and the angle of creative paradoxes. The key is pushing the envelopes in more ways the one and not creating the aspect of nitch as much as the angle of the now. The Cable Portion of the Summer 2009 TCA Summer Press Tour speaks to the angle of the voice versus the perception of the idea.

AMC/Mad Men Cocktail Party Entering in off the terrace into the grasp of sunset, the essence of the smoothness continues to build. Sitting on a posh chair swishing around a Manhattan inundated with a cherry as the scotch continues to flow, Christina Hendricks who plays Joan, the sly and in-control office manager on the series, twirls the men with equal precision around her finger working the terrace in a form fitting green dress, both retro and modern. Most of the cast seem to highlight much of their personas from wardrobe which was obviously highlighted from the costume department for this event. Jon Hamm positioned by the door was holding a gaggle of people rapt within his tales as the bar continued pouring. While traversing the party in the company of a younger and compelling 22 year old woman, the interaction came to  Rich Sommer, who plays Harry Crane, a rising star within the Madison Avenue office who always tries to find the balance but also the edge of the moral code prevalent in his work. The actor and his wife moved from New York when he got the gig and have been here for the compelling three years since. Our discussion turned to theater in NY which he has not done yet but would be interesting for him during the haitus. He reflected that it is in fact 7 months between shooting of the seasons to adhere to AMC’s specific airing schedule so there is much time down. As the cigarette smoke drifted in silky rhythm as cast member looking off the Roman essence of the terrace into the sunset, the characteristic element of the Emmy Award winning drama lushily made itself known.

TV Land The early morning essence of the shows began in earnest as the introductions began in earnest. Joan Rivers took the podium with gusto talking about her new series “How Did You Get So Rich”. When Rivers gets going, she is like a freight train with a lot of blue stops along the way. She spoke of Dustin Hoffman who lives next door to Barbara Streisand. His dog gets massages. She says why do you have to get any more relaxed when you can already lick your own balls? The people she interviews on her new show don’t promote envy because most of them came from nothing. However some of the objects they buy sometimes seem to defy description. She says that one guy opened his safe filled with money and she had an orgasm which she peppers with the follow up that it was the first time she had one since Melissa was born. She chuckles and even admits that this early morning joke might have crossed the line. She also enters her thought on the looming Jay Leno Show at 10pm since she herself used to have her own late night show. Her opinion is that people will get bored more easily and go to bed earlier. The crops will all be greener. The woman doesn’t pull the punches for sure.

Nickelodeon With the success of “The Penguins Of Madagacar”, the pursuit of the intention of more animation seems like a natural fit. With his long standing success as head of multiple studios, Michael Eisner would be one to know the landscape. With his new stop motion show “Glenn Martin DDS”, the irony is a bit closer. Unlike “Happy Days” which he shepherded in the 70s, this new show is more about a modern family being torn apart. Eisner says that the show is both “opposite and the same”. It is about family but this is not the 50s. Eisner explains that this outlay is no different from what he has done in his whole career. At Disney, it was a matter of more people in the process. He remembers when he came up with “Happy Days” when he was snowbound at Newark Airport. He further represents that the aspect of “Beverly Hills Cop” came about when he was stopped in Beverly Hills coming from Paramount. The “puppet animation”, as he puts it, is a natural extension. When he was at ABC in the 60s, he gave the go-ahead for the “Frosty” special, followed soon after by “Rudolph”. The laugh tracks present in “Martin DDS” are derived from his enjoyment of the laugh tracks on “The Jetsons”. He believes this new show will bring stop motion back to the forefront (which of course is a tall order). He reflects that with “Barney Miller”, he had trouble getting it on the air. “Cheers” had a brisk to it which also could be considered difficult. But all of these shows, in his mind, had an aspect of social commentary. By comparison, at Disney, he said they had the aspect that “the family that plays together stays together”. Star Kevin Nealon, formerly of SNL, says that his favorite shows were “Gilligan’s Island” and “Wild Wild West”. He sarcastically remarks that they were looking for a “voice” and he had one but it was difficult since he was being offered so many shows at the time.

Comedy Central Making a show with less than socially correct puppets has always been a mine for comedy. It is just a matter of hitting the right marks. Jeff Dunham has been working and doing his schtick as a ventriloquist for years. His routine with his crochety old compatriot Walter works precisely for the fact that the marionette can say things that he simply can’t. Dunham says he wants to give a real edge to the show. One of the first things that came to his mind was to have his Middle Eastern puppet Ahkmed do a sketch at the airport. The aspect that still fascinates him is that people still forget that the dolls are not real. His associates, when making the pieces, simply tell the interviewees to “pay no attention to Jeff”. Walter, his most famous creation, is inspired by one of his friend’s fathers from college. He says that when you would carry on a conversation with him and stare him straight in the eye, the man would seem frightened. Combine that, he says, with aspects of Bette Davis’ last appearance on “The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson” where the actress simply said whatever she wanted. At this point, he brings out Walter, who simply says that “we have peaked” and that it feels “like it was in Chris Brown’s car”. Walter then proceeds to offer different headlines that go along with his pessimistic demise of this said show including “Dunham Show Dolls Out Cheap Laughs”, “Dunham Show Funny as Fucking Wood” and “Dunham Show Needs Helping Hands” (which elicits some groans from the background). Dunham goes onto say that they will be introducing a new character called Melvin The Superhero who doesn’t have any powers to speak of. He does admit that if he has a couple drinks, Walter is the character that will come out as it did on the second taping on one of his DVDs. He did a tequila shot just with a friend before the show and it hit him a little harder than he would have expected. Walter materialized in vigor. In terms of ventriloquism, as an art form, he does say that it is a dying art. He speaks of the annual ventriloquist convention which draws about 400 attendees, 8 of which work professionally. Of course the stigma tends to be always there.

History Channel With a show addressing social consciousness, the trick is not to make it too preachy in the overall scheme of its progression. With the new show “The People Speak”, the History Channel is attempting to highlight some very real perceptions of how ordinary people make a different. Matt Damon and Chris Moore who were involved with “Project Greenlight” believed in the project enough to propel it. Damon speaks that “People” shows how everyday citizens change the course of history calling it, for him, “a very empowering experience”. The aspect that drew him was simply the material. He says people have a relationship with the book and that it relays itself perfectly into this format. He admits that he put money to the piece but that the main thrust of the “locomotive” was done by the other involved parties. He says that the History Channel was the exact right outlet because he says, it has “exploded” buoyed by the fact that “there is an appetite for history” and that “people in general seem to be more interested in politics now”. He admits that in many big Hollywood films that there is a lot of waste but that “different films have different catering budgets”. He brings the focus back to “People” saying that “things have not worked out well for any citizens who have conceded to the bandwagon”. The real work is about “being pushed by regular people”

Chris Moore, long a collaborator with Damon, says ultimately what it comes down to, in terms of motivating a show like this, is manpower. On projects like this, people come on to help because they want to do it, not because of a paycheck. The whole design of this series, he adds, is to go into the schools and connect with the kids. He entices that Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam did a cover of “No More War”, Bob Dylan did Woody Guthrie and John Legend did a slave spiritual along with “What’s Going On” which gives the program pop culture as well as historical relevance. Howard Zinn, who wrote the book on which the series is based, notes the question of how many people who struggle for an 8-hour day. When people in schools sometimes speak of “the history collective” as he puts it, one tends to get a lecture on the masters of the freedom trail. The point, Zinn says, is “to teach qualitatively and not quantatively, to not just celebrate but to make people think” because “all citizens have the power of demanding”.

National Geographic Looking into the teeth of a Great White Shark might be a compelling moment even for the star of “The Fast & The Furious” franchise. Paul Walker, long an avid surfer with a love of the ocean (his black muscle car outside is strapped for his surfboard), was invited along for the ride by one of his friends who offered him the job as a deckhand to take the unprecedented task of bringing one of the massive sharks onboard. Paul, whom this reporter has met many times over the years, smiles saying that Jacques Cousteau is his idol. He mentions that he is on the board of the Billfish Foundation and when he got a call from exec producer Chris McKay on 4 days notice, he jumped at the chance to see the “awesomeness” of this animal up close although he admits “it hurt my surfing career”. McKay says that the progression in the field of microbiology allows these kind of studies to be part of the science agenda specifically in many ways in how it relates to astrobiology. The shark they captured nicknamed “Bruce” in an ode to the “Jaws” movies ate the outboard and props so it wasn’t the easiest capture.

Another more terran series in poise at Nat Geo is “Rescue Ink Unleashed” which follows the plight of some very tough guys (Eric, Joe Panz, Big Ant and Johnny O) who fight for the plight of abused and abandoned animals. They come in when the cops have done their part and things must be taken a step further. Joe speaks for the group saying that they stay on point until the situation gets resolved. The question becomes, if they show up, does it make a difference? His response is that they get the animal out of a bad situation. After they do the rescue, the vet gets involved and once it is determined there is no agression, the animals are placed into a better home. Otherwise, they come to the Ink Sanctuary called “The Clubhouse”. The process by which the cases are investigated is that a call goes to their girl Mary at the office. They then send in their guy, a former homicide investigator, that dispatches them to the situation if it warrants their attention. Then business is taken care of.

ESPN Having pop culture and media savvy filmmakers highlight what their sport icons mean to them makes for very interesting voices in a saturated market. “30 for 30” takes this approach by bringing some of these people together to create this kind of mosaic. For example, Ice Cube, filmmaker, actor and music star, takes on the iconography of the Los Angeles Raiders and what they meant to him. He says that his story is really the parallel between the Raiders image and what it did to the city of LA. He relates the fact that NWA (the rap group he was part of) took on part of that persona. He admits that Los Angeles, by rote, is owned by the Dodgers and the Lakers. The Raiders, as he puts it, were “the bad cousins that come to visit you”. He experienced that culture by being knee deep in that era of gansgta rap. It is at this point that, he says, the LA Kings hockey team changed their colors. Cube believes that this story is one that hasn’t been explored (and truly he is the person suited to bring it to light). He does this by interviewing many of the people interrelated at different points in this perspective from Eric Dickerson to Ice T to Marcus Allen to John Singleton. His piece he relates is more indicative of the community itself. Cube also opinionates himself on the lack of a current NFL franchise in the LA area saying “Los Angeles does not support NFL franchises unless they win” citing the Clippers as an example.

John Singleton, who worked with Cube on his seminal work “Boyz In The Hood”, thought that these stories across the board needed to be told not as they were in the media but by these respective filmmakers. The key here is to create a filter with something different. Fellow director Peter Berg, best known for action films “The Rundown” and “Hancock”, speaks of his segment on hockey player Wayne Gretsky whom he describes as a “very humble and shy person who was interested [in the idea] but not chomping at the bit”. He says he was most surprised to see the man becoming more enthusiastic as he came closer to the emotions. Berg speaks of being a Canadian and remembering how horrible the LA Kings were before Gretsky. He said that growing up in Edmonton Alberta where the athlete was originally based was an exercise in identity since the whole thought of the city was wrapped around this one individual. When Gretsky left for LA, it almost became a national issue which is what intrigued him about the story.

BBC The perception of British programming is the balance between the aspect of drama and the conceptual ideals that sometimes are able to traverse oceans. A good example is the passing of the baton for a show like “Dr. Who” which has enjoyed an exceptionally good run with its star David Tennant whom they are phasing out at the top of his popularity to maintain the brand. Creator/writer Russell Davies says that he and David were lucky to have worked together since they did “Casanova” originally for the BBC where he saw the essence of the Doctor. Davies says that there was a humor and comedy whereas most other actors who had taken on the part were playing it so seriously. He adds that there will be no massive distances between the doctors because it all has to do with experiences. One can’t depend on character hooks too much. The doctor maybe an alien and a timelord but ultimately for the most part he is human. That is the key.

Tennant, for his part, relates that, in view of his recent Comic Con experience, he admits that the doctor likes being “this doctor”. He says that the character, as well as himself, is reaching against the “dying of the light” where “the bell is tolling for him and he doesn’t want to go quietly”. Tennant agrees that it is exciting handing over the show in good health but that keeping it on with him, in the long term, was uncertain. With a future including two films and “Hamlet” for the BBC, his plate is hardly empty.

“Occupation”, another BBC series [this one shot in Morocco] takes into the strike zone the aspect of the war in the Middle East from the British perspective. Pete Bowker, the writer, says that the way the characters approach the war is key. Having a pint or a coffee becomes a major event. He relates a moment when a soldier told him that the only way his family would let him become a nurse is if he did it in the army. Another anecote came from another soldier telling him how they would clear a building. The humor came from the aspect of sticking your head around the corner and seeing if someone blows it off.

“Being Human”, by comparison, takes a middle ground between the two series, because of its inherent supernatural elements. Toby Whithouse, creator of the series, emphasizes the fact that, in reality, we don’t live in a genre. A person can have a normal conversation but it doesn’t mean that something tragic isn’t going on. In a matter of perspective, sometimes the relativity gives you more free range to work in because you can tell a massive and a personal story at the same time which allows you to look at the community in a distinctly different way. He says the stablizing factor is to maintain order in the house which he jokingly says he does by constantly making tea.

Deep Space, Early Nights & Medical Thoughts: The 2009 NBC TCA Summer Press Tour – Feature

The angle of NBC this year is reinvention. With the introduction of Jay Leno, the network is trying to change the landscape but this path sometimes peppered with obstacles. Kinks still need to be worked out as the process continues.

bromstad1

Exec Sessions – NBC President Angela Bromstad With the impact of Jay’s moving to 10pm, Conan’s beginnings on “The Tonight Show” and the letting go of “Medium”, the tension in the room was palpable as the focus of the progression of the network continued. Talk first turned to “Heroes” and the specificity of Brian Fuller’s quick hire and then his departure. Bromstad indicates that Fuller was simply brought in to put the series back on track. When that was done, he turned his focus back to development which is their deal with him anyway.

Exec Ben Silverman’s departure Bromstad said was always part of “his” plan which drew some unintentional laughter which she seemed annoyingly puzzled at by saying that he wasn’t planning on being there for a long time anyway. In regards to Leno, she kept pushing off her perception but says that she hopes for a 5 cumulative rating which by structure is a little misleading. She confirmed that they be producing 6 “Weekend Update” specials this year and also admits that this fall with be the true test of Conan’s staying power as “The Tonight Show” host. There seems to be a little bit of tension in the transition as evidenced by an earlier marketing ploy dubbing him the new “King Of Late Night” which they agree was a little premature. They seem much more reserved now in terms of outlook.

Bromstad also speaks of the new series “Day One” which unlike “Heroes” tends to look at more narrow drama. However, any possibility of a second season will obviously hinge on its success in the first.

Another ambitious series: “Kings” (since canceled) was discussed as an experiment. Bromstad said it was an “amazingly big swing” and was “a great production”. However, in a crowded marketplace where you have to sell something, she says that it was ultimately not the right sell. She even admits that when they first developed it with Susan Lancaster, they thought it was a bit too highbrow.

In terms of the new series “Community”, it has been placed to premiere after “The Office” at 9pm which is why the “SNL Update” got the 8pm time slot. In response furthermore to “Southland” which is entering its sophomore season, Bromstad emphasized that the show needs to be more focused, especially on the cop angle of the story coming together.

“Medium” is another angle addressed (in that CBS picked it up after NBC declined to renew it). She says that they were thinking of picking it up until the very end. On an up note, she says that the new season of “Chuck”, which was saved despite lower ratings than expected, is on a great track creatively.

community1

Community This new comedy follows a guy who basically scams his way into a job at a community college as teacher but finds out that he something to give to his students. Dan Harmon, the creator of the show, got the idea from actually going to a community college in Glendale when he was 32. He went to do it with his girlfriend at the time so they could do something together other than sex. His interaction with the different people there is what gave him the idea and jokes that it has the musings of something like “A Charlie Brown Christmas” He says that community colleges to him are funny but sardonically adds that he also thinks farts are funny.

Joel McHale, who stars as the would-be embodiment of Dan, says that he will continue to do “The Soup” on E! but warns jokingly that it will take a lot of uppers and downers to maintain his productivity. He admits that he can’t look at clips at that show the way he used to. He looks over at Chevy Chase (who makes his first venture into television here) and admits that the legendary comedian is “more god than man”.

Chevy, for his part, gives the advice back that “if you are going blind, then you are doing it right” which is a very sinister but subtle quip showing he still has it. He effuses in his Griswold way apologizing for the fact that he is a comedian. Seriously, he admits that right now films are not as good as TV. He, for one, never thought he would be in a situation comedy but the great writing hooked him. The reality he admits is that he doesn’t improvise a lot with his style of comedy. However, he also says, in good natured, ironic, self imposed ignorance on his part that he knows nothing about pop culture from 20 years ago until now.

tr2

Trauma By comparison, this view into the emergency response angles of the first response units comes off more “Die Hard” than “ER” simply by the aspect of its teaser footage. There seem to be too many explosions but not enough character traits. This however might only be sizzle and part of the initial pilot run to get viewers interested but, if they have to keep up that level of production value (especially with the bigger chopper explosion that ends the teaser), then the show might become quite expensive.

Exec producer Peter Berg says that the key with shows like this is always to up the ante. He makes the point that medical dramas will always be relevant, saying also that his personal experience on “Chicago Hope” as an actor was a great one. His fellow exec producer Dario Scardapane follows this up emphasizing Peter’s point that the legacy of a medical show lies in the characters. Some of the episodes will revolve around MCIs (which are Mass Casuality Incidents). Dario points to the fact that in the footage we saw, the pile up was such an event. The question he poses (which was my concern) is keeping up the production value which he hopes they can. This, however, is an obstacle from the start, ambitious but also a battle to be fought. The key is that with this show, you increase the pace because you are seeing the action 20 minutes before it hits the hospital doors. It is about working outside of the box although the specter of “ER” still looms large over many medical shows as to what can be done. How do you up the ante for the next generation of medical shows? Bigger is sometimes an option but that can quickly get out of control.

Dario mentions that they shut down the 280 Freeway for the pilot for five days, which is something you would do for a feature (and one that was most assuredly not cheap). The area explore with “Trauma” lies in the fact that “paramedicine” does what the doctors cannot. He says it takes a long time to get to this job but there is a burn out factor. People never step down but sometimes they are asked to leave because the pace and pressure become too much to handle.

Anastasia Griffith, who plays Nancy Carnahan, says that her character is the drug pusher of the clan. She went to medical school but she wants to work on the ground. She has a big heart and wants to connect to the individual which at times is very detrimental to her because it leaves her feeling very isolated in her personal life. She ends up self-medicating with sex.

Cliff Curtis, who plays Reuben Palchuck, angles to the endurance of a second archetype. His character, while being confidant, exudes a coldness in his personal life because he is serving an overall kind of ideology in the essence of service to humanity without judgment. The pilot, he says, serves a certain set up in that they go in like gangbusters on this certain event but a lot of the team dies which causes repercussions in the emotional and physical lives of the surviving members. Curtis says that the series is intense but if they can keep it grounded, it will be a great ride.

wc3

White Collar Building off a certain penchant in both “In Plain Sight” and “Breaking Bad” which made them so relevant, USA’s “White Collar” builds from two people who seem to have respect for each other and are more water than vinegar than they would like to relate despite some severe past incidents. It all comes down to an agenda. Like “48 Hrs”, one is a cop and one is a criminal who are working together towards a common goal. How it works is within a state of thought.

Jeff Eastin, the creator of the show, says ultimately the show is about these two guys and their interaction. Two aspects of the story hit him that were important as he was developing it. One, you don’t want one of the guys to look dumb and the other one smart. Tim DeKay’s character Peter Stokes, however, doesn’t want to show that his cards like that yet it shines through. These have to be guys you want to hang with. The key crux for them within the series is based in trust issues. Eastin also relates that when he talked to Tiffany Thiessen about her role as a wife, he told her to look at Abigail Adams (as the “John Adams” miniseries premiered to acclaim at the time they were developing this). Dihann Carroll also makes an appearance in half the episodes of season one as a recurring character called June who adds a delicious edge to the proceedings.

Matt Bomer, who plays Neal Caffrey, the erstwhile criminal serving a different agenda, says that his character is humanized by the fact that he comes from a quixotic place. Ultimately in the overall picture, he is searching for a girl Kate (a lost love) which dominates all his thoughts. The fact that the show is shot in NYC also gives the series, he believes, a distinct mood and tone, which is something that DeKay, who plays his nemesis Peter (who is on the right side of the law), echoes in sentiment citing a scene they shot with Dihann Caroll [on a roof] with the Empire State Building in the background. DeKay admits that Peter, even as a good guy loves a good con but he also likes to solve a good con which points to the fact that the character internally might enjoy working with this guy. But, as DeKay puts it regarding any criminal, “like any 4 year old, you have to hold their hand in the parking lot”.

sgu2

Stargate Universe This telling attempts to reinvigorate the Stargate franchise by creating more of a “Star Trek” base with an almost “Lost In Space” theme. The selling point on a lot of this is bringing in Robert Carlyle who is mostly known as a film actor. More of these kinds of actors are entering this space because of the increasing production value and acceptance of television as an accepted form in terms of career path.

Robert Cooper, one of the exec producers who has shepherded “Stargate” through its many incarnations on TV, relates that he was a big fan of Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” which set the pace for the world of “Universe” in bringing in a visual style of say “The Shield” or “Friday Night Lights”. When conceiving this new series, they thought in paradox of terms to “SG1” and “Atlantis” in making it less referential. The angle that comes up quite new and fresh is the ability for some of the characters within this new structure to switch consciousness with people on Earth, which can be a “suspension of belief” deal breaker if it is not done right. The crux of the story of “Universe” is that there is not really good guys or bad guys, simply different agendas. Cooper also reveals that the forst episodes will examine different elements in terms of thematics like earth, wind, fire, etc.

Lou Diamond Phillips, who plays Colonel David Telford, says that when was approached, he saw that Robert Carlyle was attached to the property which raised the bar and Ming Na, whom he had known for years, was also involved as an actor. He says he always looks at new things as a life experience and thought this might be a different angle. He sees a series like “Stargate” as comfort food for the American public. Like any genre based show, it works within an unknown or, at least, partially alien setting. The angle with “Stargate” in his mind has iconic characters who are very real and relatable which negates the impact of the setting.

Robert Carlyle, who plays lead character Dr. Nicolas Rush, says that Robert and [co-creator] Brad [Wright] had contacted him around a year ago (September 2008). He was initially caught off guard by it and asked them if they, for sure, had the right guy. When he read the first script “Air” (which is the two hour pilot), he saw it as a challenge and it brought him to a place of enjoying science fiction more. He says that his character is a very dangerous man because, as an audience member, you are not sure what he actually is. He does some dodgy stuff which would probably make some of the other characters want to airlock him. The rub is that he is the one who knows how the technology works.

alice2

Alice This new miniseries from ScyFy comes almost in tandem with the feature version that Tim Burton is telling next spring. While that film is a more a telling of the traditional story, this version is more the neo-gothic portrayal using the urban city and casinos as a backdrop instead of the forest.

Nick Willing, who directed this fusion of worlds like his earlier “Tin Man”, said the key was to make the approach both funny and fresh but also with a strong visual flair. The base of the story is that the Mad Hatter is bringing over people from the real world to play at the Queen’s Casino in Wonderland. Like Pleasure Island, if you lose, the Queen gets to take your essence. The people of Wonderland can then drink it for a variety of intents including lust. The thought is that just as we have evolved in the modern world so has Wonderland. The question is what would it be like now as a real place but also how would it be relevant to us today?

Caterina Scorsone, who plays Alice, says that her reaction to the material in the way it was approached here was a bit more visceral. When you are growing up, in her words, you see the real world as not always logical. For her, the illogical here became part of the draw because the whimsy itself then isn’t as threatening. Beneath the surface though, for her, this “Alice” is a compelling love story even though right now it is heavily in the zeitgeist

Kathy Bates, who makes one of her first forays into the fantasy genre, plays the Queen Of Hearts which had always been a dream of hers. The key for her in terms of challenge was to have something psychologically compelling within the character but also to be able to perform without feeling that you have one leg tied to the floor. The key in understanding the Queen within the confines of this world is that she is fascinated by the ideals of feelings and emotions but is, in fact, terrified by her own.

Matt Frewer, who recently appeared in “Watchmen”, said he couldn’t turn down playing The White Knight who, according to the script, is “as crazy as a box of frogs”. The vision of the future as shown in this “Alice” is one where people are innoculated and tranquilized by gambling and the Queen Of Hearts’ nefarious ways. This, in many ways, he says, mirrors some of themes covered in “Max Headroom” in terms of turning large populations into blank canvasses.

Harry Dean Stanton, who plays the Caterpillar, describes this “Alice” as a well defined acid trip. This mirrors some of the production thought of legendary TV producer Robert Halmi who says that this world was mostly built because no locations like this exist. Hence most of it was against green screen in Vancouver. In the computer you can fly with flamingos over the Alps so it just becomes a question of vision.

mercy2

Mercy This new medical series, which premieres September 23rd (8pm), follows the element of nurses in a less subversive way than say “Nurse Jackie”. Liz Heidens, the creator of the show, wanted to represent a real female friendship where the girls can be wild together. Nurses, as a rule, tend to pick up the pieces in the hospital but they also happen to be heroes and save lives, according to Heidens. For her, this felt like a way to depict real working women. They don’t have martinis in Manhattan…they drink beer in New Jersey. She also says that they will make sure to examine stories about people without health insurance. Her interest primarily lies more in characters that are wrong…and these women are still trying to figure out who they are. Women are usually played with kid gloves on TV and she wanted to change that.

Michelle Trachenberg, who plays Chloe, relates her decision in connecting to the show saying that once when she was in the hospital, the first person to hold her hand was male nurse who had a tattoo of a unicorn on his arm. He did her IV and made sure the ice pack was cold enough. That really made her feel safe. Chloe, for her, is an adult. The character went through nursing school and has the credentials. But, according to her, unlike her in real life, Chloe is shy and quiet. The challenge for her is in keeping it realistic. In her perspective, so many many women are scared by the situation they are in. Chloe looks to the other girls in the hospital (specifically Jamie and Taylor) to support her.

Taylor Schilling, who plays Veronica, says that in researching for this role, it became clear to her that nurses are the backbone of our hospital system. She was interested by this character in that Veronica had just returned from an uncontrolled environment (Iraq). It made her feel like a streetfighter. This world she has come back to is corporate and might feel a little contrived which makes this character almost like a bull in a china shop. In her mind, it is usually the most self protected people who are the most vulberable.

Jamie Lee Kirschner, who plays Sonya, says that her character is a hard worker who gets the job done. Playing the “brown” girl, for her, highlights that. Nurses, in her estimation, are the ones that deal with you freaking out. Her character is still searching for identity but maintaining her focus.

Lloyd Braun, one of the exec producers along with Gail Berman, believes that the big influx of medical shows is just coincidence. He relates that when he was at ABC, and they first were discussing Grey’s Anatomy, the thought was “not another medical show” since there were three other pilots vying for the slot. Every show was tonally different. Here he thought “Mercy” worked the same as well as did “Anatomy”. The key was connecting these people to this moment in time.

ludwin1

Exec Sessions – Rick Ludwin Before Jay Leno came out to discuss his new 10pm show, late night executive Ludwin discussed basic facts to optimize the time with Jay. His points initialized with the thought that 10pm is still prime time. Jay’s show will be on without fail for 52 weeks as a judging basis and that NBC won’t be putting it on a yardstick. Ludwin says that they did three separate studies which said that the audience would be looking forward to this kind of comedy as an alternative at 10pm, specifically in the fact that it leads into the late local news. He adds that music will be a factor in the new show but only twice a week. Comedy, of course, is the “X” factor. There will be “pretty actors” but Ludwin says that it will be more than just talk. In terms of relationships and parallels of booking with “The Tonight Show”, he says that there is a good working relationship. Ludwin stresses that this will be an “important show” but also also makes the point that they are not disappointed in Conan at all. The ratings, of course, is how they will keep score.

They will also be incorporating more advertising/product placement in Leno’s show with Lexus being the initial participant. He defends this thought saying this kind of interaction is in the DNA of television going back to the 50s. Ludwin, for his own part, says that he loves live commercials and would be shocked if the audience liked Jay and didn’t like these commercials.

leno1

The Jay Leno Show The big dog came into the house looking svelt, very rested and ready for anything. The first elements out of his mouth was, of course, his impressions on the news of the past months since he has been off the air. For example to the Michael Jackson death and the resignation of Sarah Palin, he says that they go “hand in hand” but that “the Palin thing cheered me up”.

Returning to TV like this was like training for him. For the new show, he got in shape. When he first started “The Tonight Show”, he said that everyone said they hated him (since he was taking over for the great Johnny Carson). For him, comedy is specific because it plays to a certain audience. Leno says he grew up in the era of Jack Benny, Johnny Carson and Bill Cosby. Politics are always in play as well as everything else across the board.

Leno talks about the physical representation of his new show. He finds the new set interesting and says that it is a lot bigger. He has a whole desk but he stresses that this new show will not be a talk or variety format. For example, he has spoken to Brian Williams about doing a segment about pieces that are not good enough for The Nightly News. DL Hughley, by contrast, will be reporting on politics. Rachel Harris (who was just in “The Hangover”) will also be doing some segments.

Leno also progressed into the sardonic considering all the controversy of the past two years which he could really never speak about before. He thinks that he hasn’t changed a whole lot. He is still married to the same woman and drives the same car. His nugget of advice relates to his acronym for “NBC”: Never Believe your Contract”.

He will also have some new cool segments which he could never have done on “The Tonight Show”. Leno relates that one of his favorite TV shows is “Top Gear”. As a result, he built a race track outside the studio. He had these fast electric cars built to race. He says Tom Cruise actually asked if he could get in early and practice.

For him, he thinks 10pm is the new 11:30. The kids in their 20s and 30s don’t stay up as late as they used to (in his perspective). Television, for him, now needs to be about immediacy. His example is that “The Today Show” got the airliner as it was landing in the Hudson. Does he expect to beat CSI? No. But he will catch them in the reruns.

Leno also slips that Kevin Eubanks came up with a new theme song. His Jay Show will start in as quickly as ten seconds. His quip is that it is “good food at sensible prices”. He comments on musical guests saying that it will get you a good studio audience but sometimes not a great TV audience. He will not have three guests. He will have one…maybe two, and then the racetrack. He also reminds everyone that, with “The Tonight Show” when he came in, it was number one and when he left it was number one. “The Jay Leno Show” in his estimation will have something for everyone.

He offers a peak at his competitors saying that there are good scripted dramas out there (he specifically highlights “Burn Notice”) but says also that he is very proud of his writers saying he has “the top five guys in the guild”.

When asked about his feeling about NBC and if he thinks he is coming into save them, he responds: “The networks are on their own. Screw them. There are things I like about it. There are things I don’t like about it”. He admits towards the end of his run, he was getting complacent at “The Tonight Show”. He adds that though, that if this new show goes down in flames, “we’ll be laughing all the way down”.

He unashamedly says that his confidence (exuded here) comes from the point now that he is rich. He doesn’t need to do this. He wants to. He also wants to make the point that there is no tension between Conan and him. He says that “when you play, this is how you play”. He admits that there will probably be booking wars between them. Jay then makes a General Motors reference saying that different engines make a difference. His point: “It is a game…and you play to win.”

He makes reference to David Letterman in terms of how he had a show on the same network and moved away. He says that one thing that kills people in Hollywood is bitterness. Leno says he “got it” when they wanted to take him off “The Tonight Show” when it was still number one and he admits that “there is only so much pie you can eat”. In all seriousness, he did say he had no desire to ever go to ABC because that, in effect, would create that “bitterness” which he says is so destructive.

NBC TCA Party With the Jay pinnacle ending the day, the party headed outside to the main garden area behind the Langham where the food smelled great and the open air concept truly encouraged interaction.

After proceeding to the Patron Bar, which held everything in account (especially the new coffee version), the life of the party spread out. Across the way there was a Dutch Bar set up with chocolate and golden lagers of exquisite taste. A compatriot of mine and I proceeded over to talk to Jay with the beer girl in tow before I was able to relate to them that, in fact, Jay does not drink. After conversing briefly with Hayden Pantierre (there to support “Heroes”), the day faded into night as a content looking Chevy Chase watched over the grounds with food in hand.

After failing to light up with Robert Carlyle near the beer bar, the late conversation proceeded with the creators of “Stargate Universe”, Brad and Robert, while a couple of the cast members and I did shots of whiskey. The relation of the reboot of this series stuck very clearly in my mind with the emphasis that in re-angling the franchise and making it seen through the eyes of a civilian gives it an almost mythic quality. Although I had not seen the pilot, the casting of Robert Carlyle was genius in that he (like Tim Roth) has so much to bring to this game if they let him go and roar through the screen. It has the possibility to transcend a genre and bridge certain gaps. This critic holds high hopes for the show as they disappear into the night, heading to Vancouver in the morning to begin shooting anew.

NBC as a network has been awash with controversy in the past year but also takes chances. In actuality, its cable siblings are doing some of the best work seen on television in years, specifically USA with “Burn Notice” especially but also with “Royal Pains”, “In Plain Sight” and now “White Collar” in the mix. There just seems to be a never-ending stream of good material from that specific net. Of course though, times change fast. ScyFy is also doing well with “Warehouse 13” opening to good numbers and “Caprica” on the way along with the aforementioned “Stargate: Universe”. NBC proper is the only one not entirely surefooted. While shows like “Chuck” and “Heroes” show the possibilities at times of good writing, the overemphasis on new medical shows and an erstwhile non-studio sitcom might have trouble gaining traction along with the loss of the 10pm hour.

The biggest gamble of course is “The Jay Leno Show” which has no guarantee to work despite good pedigree. It is the move that everyone is watching. It simply becomes a wait and see game.