Material Traction & Genre Progression: The 2019 CBS Network & CBS All Access TCA Winter Press Tour

CBS Networks’ progression of the day indicated the breathe of material but also the specific detail intonated in each of their respective programs. This becomes more apparent even as the network found the balance between purely broadcast and All Access, which is quickly gaining traction as the place to watch new genre series (as the newly announced “Twilight Zone” spearheaded by Jordan Peele attests).

The World’s Best The reality genre, specifically the idea of what this consists of, has considerably changed over the years. Mike Darnell, who produces this new “variety show” on CBS per se has led the way. Currently as President Of Alternative Programming at Warner Brothers Television, he understands the way things work. The idea here was finding acts that had not been seen before that don’t necessarily need to be “found” to guarantee their success. He explains how he approached this show: “Sometimes we say it was expensive and you can see it on the show. [But] CBS stepped up to make it big. The sale of the show was based on a built concept. When I was working at Fox and we did ‘Idol’, a lot of singing shows came along. [With] “The Voice”, [we] took the singing show and added a game show element. Here we have was spinning chairs [but also add] the aspect of the “Will of the World”. This adds a global feel of selling it, making it fresh and new.” Darnell continues: “There are so many singing shows. There has been only one variety show. While ‘America’s Got Talent’ is the best in the world, the format has got to change.” Executive Producer Alison Holloway, who has also worked on “America’s Got Talent”, had to find those acts that were perhaps a little harder to uncover: “I have a small casting team because it is very hands on. The Internet is a great tool for casting. That is where a lot of work is done. But talking to your contacts…seeing what the local papers in China are talking about…[that is how] we want to get something [that] is a little different.” Darnell also explains the changing directive of what alternative programming means: “Alternative covers this wide umbrella of variety. Other genres are fairly well defined. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard in my career that reality is dying. [But] the networks rely on them, especially for same day numbers, which is important for advertising.” Ru Paul Jones, one of the judges on the show, concludes with a perception of the talent: “In our lifetime, we have had a lot of things happen. These [acts we see] are people who have spent their lives perfecting what they do. [As judges] we weren’t prepared for the emotional journey and the expertise.”

Red Line This new dramatic/event series uses the texture of the Red Line which is a force in terms of geography that both connects and separates Chicago’s different sides, both financially and racially as a train system. The two show runners come from independent cinema with their film “A View From Tall” playing the Los Angeles Film Festival. Their play “A Twist Of Water”, which played Off Broadway was actually the inspiration for the show. Caitlin Parrish, one of the show runners, explains their trajectory: “We come from theater but with a cast this sprawling there was something enticing about the longer form. The red line is one of the main lines in the city from the very north to the very south. For as segregated as Chicago is, this touches upon every person in the city. It was our metaphor of choice.” Her co-showrunner Erica Weiss continues: “I think Chicago has a lot to say in the national communication. We did our research to make sure we are giving the fullest picture possible. The socio-politcal element in Chicago is rich and we’re telling stories about characters and their personal choices.” Noah Wyle, who plays Daniel Calder, wanted to try something perhaps more grounded than his recent roles like “The Librarian”: “The emotional reaction I had to the first reading of this script was so intense. It was about leaving a lot of my creature comforts as far as wearing hats and doing it differently on every single level.”

The Neighborhood In the first of quick freshman show highlights, this show moves forward in a structure like a reverse “All In The Family” where it is more based in a white family moving into a black neighborhood. Show runner Jim Reynolds, who has written for such shows as “Samantha Who?” and “The Big Bang Theory” offers his perception: “I don’t think the show is written from a black perspective. I think it is balanced. It is based on my experience of moving into a predominantly African American neighborhood.” Cedric The Entertainer who plays Calvin talks about the show: “Calvin is the patriarch of the neighborhood. This is where the character is rooted, where he is grounded. In a lot of ways, ‘All In The Family’ was set up where that character has the biggest perspective to have the greatest change. [For me] it was trying to get across a point of view. Luckily the way I have discovered Calvin in his hubris and how he discovers who he is is endless. [But] no one wants to see [the two sides] bicker or him being mean. It is about that line.” Tichina Arnold, who also starred on “Martin”, explains the balance: “Racism comes from fear, the fear of unknowing. I think that it is important that this conversation does happen. When two households get together and have conversation, they learn from each other.”

FBI From Dick Wolf, creator of “Law & Order” and the “Chicago” franchise, this look into the Bureau is built to be a launching board for a whole new world of spin-offs. Missy Peregrym, who recently guested on “Hawaii Five O”, takes up the lead as Special Agent Maggie Bell. She explains the balance and challenge in creating a new character in this world: “The first season is really tricky [as far as] developing the dynamics. It is a grind but it is such a win when it works. Z (her co-star Zeeko Zaki) and I have had a lot of conversations as to how that works. We’re not making a judgement about what is happening.” Zaki portrays her partner, Special Agent Omar Odom. “I was surprised at how a lot of pieces that are not FBI are within the family. It is such a bigger thing without egos,” he explains. “They shoot these episodes really big to make them as big and intense as reality. That is the goal of the show. [And we are] doing 22 [episodes]. I am not sure it is normal.” Peregrym also discusses her trajectory in the law enforcement genre as she started with the ABC show “Rookie Blue”: “I was a rookie and I had to go through every mistake and embody it. [With] every single person here I interview [here for my role]…I really want to listen and give them the respect of being a human being no matter what the situation is. I had to really grow up to do this.”

God Friended Me This other new freshman series has a unique perspective in its use of social media but with an intriguing religious balance (which brings to mind the defunct 2018 series “Living Biblically” which was covered at CBS TCAs last year in addition to an exclusive one-on-one with Ian Gomez ). But the texture is always timing within the zeitgeist. Brandon Michael Hall, who previously was the lead on ABC’s “The Mayor”, plays Miles who gets a text from God. His approach to the material is the essence of creating “a deep and honest friendship” within the show. Bryan Wynbrandt, the show runner, who also co-created “Alcatraz” with JJ Abrams explains: “We haven’t put any restrictions on topics. The show is no really about religion but rather humanity [because] religion is just one aspect of being a human being. Nothing is really off limits but we don’t let religion drive the show.”

With CBS All Access, CBS has begun to engage a new audience with originals shows that occupies even a different space than CW and Showtime, thereby ensuring its uniqueness.

The Good Fight This spin-off of “The Good Wife” starring Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart allows the acidic wit to simply wash with delicious aplomb over the audience. Robert & Michelle King, who also created “The Good Wife” as well as the short lived “Brain Dead” starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, looked to find the right tone as they molded the show. Robert explains: “What you try to do is stay as close to the zeitgeist as possible. We are not real fans of shows that preach to the choir.” He continues that in creating story lines “a lot of it is about a satire to the left.” Baranski talks about how her character continues to build: “It is quite serendipitous is that [my character] was emboldened by what happened in history (Trump being elected instead of Clinton).” As a result, she explains, “it is a show with a lot of people dealing with what is going on. [Diane] was always the woman in the room when it happens [but she is] trying to keep her balance in a dystopian world…[which is] inspired for me.

Star Trek: Discovery Heading into its second season, this flagship show for CBS All Access does have to walk the line between new storytelling and the aspect of canon. With Alex Kurtzman taking full helm of showrunning duties this season along with the new cast fodder in Anson Mount as Captain Pike and Ethan Peck as Spock, the texture of how it all fits together still continues as a puzzle. Kurtzman explains: “We see canon as an amazing opportunity. There is amazing grey area where we didn’t know what happened to Spock in his life. [But] we certainly know that in order for ‘Discovery’ to live on, we have to be able to operate outside of canon. The common denominator among the cast is that they are empathetic [But from what you are seeing] these are the proto versions [of these characters]. Mount speaks to taking on a character straight out of canon: “Ethan had a tougher job that I did. Obviously it is an enormous sense of responsibility. I grew up with Kirk as my captain. [But] my favorite character was Data.” Ethan Peck, grandson of Gregory Peck has the undeniable pressure of taking on the iconic character of Spock: “It is a huge responsibility [but] I had the faith of people. I spent a lot of time of Nimoy’s performance. [This space in canon” exists] 3 years after the TOS pilot “The Cage”. Finally Sonequa Martin-Green, who plays the lead Michael Burnham, (whom IR has interviewed for both Season 1 and Season 2), knows that the character is still evolving in many ways: “The guilt is going to take a long time [for her] to process and set aside. It is a big part of the overall feeling that needs to happen [for her]. There is a deep desire to rewrite history to make up for these major mistakes. [For Michael], reinstatement into Starfleet is a big step forward. There is a lot of healing on Discovery…[and] a journey towards restoration.”

By Tim Wassberg

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IR Print Interview: Michael Sheen For “The Good Fight” [CBS All Access – S3 – CBS TCA Winter Press Tour]

Michael Sheen has played the gamut of characters within the structure of his career. From the texture of “Underworld” and “Tron: Legacy” all the way to the essence of Showtime’s “Master Of Sex”, his characters always require a balance (or perhaps imbalance) of personality to give them a unique spin. After conducting a panel with his fellow actors at the CBS All Access TCA Press Day for the new season of “The Good Fight”, Sheen spoke with The Inside Reel about nuance, finding the character and knowing how to walk the line.

Was there a different approach to playing Roland Blum?

Michael Sheen: There’s something incredibly liberating about playing a character like this. Anything that’s put in front of him, he just pushes it over. He can say whatever he wants to say, and just says things to provoke and outrage. The pendulum has swung the other way, and I’m loving it.

On a demonic scale, how does he fare?

MS: The temptation was to talk of him as being Mephistopheles, a devil kind of character. But it actually goes beyond that. The devil was born out of the god Pan. There’s something kind of pagan about it and I love that. I am trying to still play with that a bit more so I’m trying to look a bit more like a forest creature. So there’s an appetite rather than putting up a moral or ethical judgment on him. He’s something that goes a bit deeper and hopefully people will be both attracted to him and repelled by him at the same time. Because he does go very deep into something very primal.

The character does dwell in a certain world of thought.

MS: It’s something very human. I make a joke about it but it’s true…I actually prefer being him. Because he is touching on things that we all have. When people often ask actors who are playing the bad guy, “Oh you must be having so much fun!” Everyone loves a good bad guy. It’s slightly lazy of me thinking like that but there’s something truthful in that we go around living a partly repressed life in order to all get along with each other. That’s what the most civilizations are, isn’t it? But then you have these characters who come along who are essentially parasitic. They’re thinking “As long as everyone else is keeping civilization going on, I can just wreck things”. And there’s something incredibly attractive about that. I think at the moment there’s a lot of disruptors…there’s a lot of people breaking down those pillars of what everyone else is trying to keep up. That’s a scary thing. And so to play a character who is doing that…that both makes people go “I wish could do that. I spend most of my day wanting to do that stuff but I don’t do it.” We are both attracted to that and repelled by that. Roland is definitely one of those characters. He fulfills two sides: on the one hand, he’s the trickster who remakes the world…who comes along and says we have to throw everything up in the air because things are too settled…that it’s unfair in society, both during the past Trump election and the Brexit stuff…about that false sense, that there’s an illusion of how the world is, and we need to throw it all up in the air and remake it. Roland represents the positive aspect of that but also the negative aspect of that, which is just about eroding things that we all really need in order to live a life and not be eating each other.

The mythology of Pan as a metaphor is all about testing people. You’ve explored many characters in “Tron: Legacy”, “Masters Of Sex”, but it is all about the mask…

MS: It’s the idea of tempting in the garden. It goes back to god demons…the idea that the devil comes and goes, but do you want to know more? Do you want to just accept the way things are…or do you want to find out a little bit more? I can help you do the questions, but be curious. A lot of the qualities that we think of as being positive qualities, un-progressive qualities, used to be kind of contained within the idea of the devil and the saint in…and it was because a saint is a Christian construct based on Pan, which has much more to do with appetite and nature as well as its healing qualities…

An expression of culture.

MS: Exactly. So I love that quality of that character. In fact in the first scene Diane [Christine Baranski] has with Roland this season…she learns something from him. Whether he does it on purpose or not, we don’t know but he offers something, a bit of a bit of wisdom, She picks up on that and that becomes a major power of what happens in the season. He is this character who seems like he’s part of the enemy but actually he’s the key to maybe understanding and moving things along.

So with him is what you see what you get or does he have the symbolic side as well?

MS: He’s both total surface in that what you see is what you get, he’s totally that. But he’s also totally a mystery in darkness and you’ll never know. I like the idea that you sort of feel like, “Oh he’s just old service”. And then you realize “Oh no he’s not old service”. It’s very hard to know,

Did embodying the character come together quickly?

MS: It all happened very quickly. I found myself walking into the courtroom for my first scene on the show, having to play this huge, larger than life character. Normally I would, certainly for the characters I played based on real people, spend a massive amount of time doing research. I wasn’t able to do that here. It was like, “Here you go.” And I remember walking through those doors that first day having to kind of essentially take over the whole thing. I was terrified. I’m a confident character usually. You know as an actor you’re always worried you’re going to be found out. I’ve always pretended that I know. For the entire first week on this show, I was genuinely convinced I was going to be fired, that someone was going to stop me and go, “You know what? That’s a good effort, I admire your chutzpah for what you’re trying to do, but ultimately this is a professional job and people have to watch this. It’s just not going to work. Sorry.” Really. Funny enough, at the end of the first week, I had a message from the Kings’ assistant saying, “Uh, Robert would you like to have…uh a word with you.” And I was like “This is it, This is where I get fired.” I was absolutely convinced that was going to be packing my bags and going. That was terrifying.

By Tim Wassberg