BEVERLY HILLS, CALIF. – The Television Critics Association’s annual summer press tour chugs ever on, as a couple hundred reporters and critics make like a sequestered jury in the Beverly Hilton hotel for three weeks to get a good, long look at what’s ahead for the fall season and beyond.
Random notes, observations and tidbits thus far, a week into it …
• The peacock relocates some pride: At an executive Q&A panel Sunday, NBC entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt touted improved numbers and said that the network leads its competitors in some key demos, even if you take the Winter Olympics out of the equation. In late night, “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon” is still way ahead of both Jimmy Kimmel and David Letterman’s shows.
There’s still a long way to go and Greenblatt, once the entertainment head at Showtime, spoke about the struggles of making the kind of broadcast shows that can compete with the quality of what you see on premium cable. It’s a matter of production (NBC launches a dozen or more new shows a year) and something far more ineffable: viewer perception.
Take “Hannibal,” for example, which is as dark and broody as anything on cable and has gotten good reviews, but, Greenblatt said: “We still struggle to find an audience for it. It’s great. We’re keeping it going. … But if this were on a cable network, the small audience wouldn’t matter, and it would be deemed successful, more successful than it is on our network, and I don’t know why 5 million people or 8 million people won’t watch ‘Hannibal’ on a broadcast network. … The minute you try to do something that is dark and subversive and frightening and gets into that territory, you start to peel away the mass audience. It’s just the way it is.”
• Christopher Walken is Captain Hook: No announcement on who’s playing the lead in “Peter Pan Live!” (ordered up after last year’s ratings hit “The Sound of Music Live!”), but Walken will indeed play the villain with the dangerous prosthetic. It’s scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 4.
• New Cosby: Thirty years after “The Cosby Show” helped propel NBC into its golden “must-see TV” era, programming head Jennifer Salke said the network continues work on a traditional sitcom that will bring back Bill Cosby, 77, as the granddad of a large multi-generational brood. The NBC execs made it sound as if they’d like to air it next summer.
• “The Comeback’s” comeback: Filming has wrapped on the loooong-awaited second season of co-creator Michael Patrick King and Lisa Kudrow’s short-lived 2005 HBO comedy “The Comeback,” in which Kudrow once again plays the vain but insecure ’90s sitcom star Valerie Cherish. It’s a decade after Valerie’s unwise participation in a reality show, but she’s noticed there’s more television content than ever out there and she wants a piece of it. She winds up getting a chance to appear in an HBO series and allows the show’s “behind-the-scenes” crew to follow her.
The six-episode run will include many characters from the original (including Robert Michael Morris as Valerie’s loyal hairdresser, Mickey) and will air in November. Kudrow’s other riffy comedy, Showtime’s “Web Therapy,” will be airing around the same time, on a different night. It’s almost unheard of for a star to have shows on both HBO and Showtime.
• “Olive Kitteridge”: Oscar-winning actress Frances McDormand produced and stars in HBO’s four-part adaptation of Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer-winning novel about an unhappy schoolteacher in Maine. It looks absolutely depressing (in the very best sense of the word) and also airs this fall.
• “Better Call Saul”: As reported last Friday, AMC’s “Better Call Saul,” the “Breaking Bad” prequel about the seedy attorney, is filming now in Albuquerque. The premiere has been pushed from November to early 2015 and Michael McKean has joined the cast as the brother of Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk). The show is set in 2002, long before Saul met Walter White, but might jump around in time.
• More, more, more: DirecTV, Amazon and Hulu previewed their own original comedies and dramas during Saturday’s panel sessions, some launching now, some still months away. Despite my fatigue with shows involving sweaty, angry, emotionally tortured men (yeah, you, “Ray Donovan”), I was intrigued by “Kingdom,” DirecTV’s upcoming drama about a Venice Beach family enmeshed in the world of mixed martial arts fighting.
During a panel for “Transparent,” an ensemble Amazon dramedy starring Jeffrey Tambor as a father who reveals to his family his plan to transition to a woman, the actors found themselves insisting over and over again that they really are working on a television show (not a web series, not a hobby project!) that pays them the same or better as work they’ve done for broadcast and cable networks.
“I don’t know where all these ideas are coming from,” said cast member Gaby Hoffmann (who did a recent turn on HBO’s “Girls”).
“They pay really well!” cast member Amy Landecker agreed. “You’d be amazed.”
“I just bought a new car,” Tambor offered.
“Transparent,” created by Jill Soloway (who worked on “Six Feet Under” and “The United States of Tara”) will stream its entire first season (10 episodes) on Amazon Prime in late September. (And here’s the standard disclosure: Amazon and The Washington Post are separately owned by Jeffrey P. Bezos.)
• Number-crunching: After years of study and development, Nielsen has devised ways to measure viewership on devices other than televisions, including tablets and phones; the company will begin sharing that data with networks this fall.
During an overview at the press tour last week, one Nielsen number in particular stood out: Despite rapidly shifting habits in platforms and time-shifted viewing, a majority of American TV watchers are still plopped down in front of the TV, watching it live. That number has held steady for three years. (Seems weird, right? Don’t forget about all the time spent watching sports.)
The tour continues through July 23, including a poolside viewing of “Sharknado 2: The Second One” scheduled for Monday night. (It airs July 30 on SyFy.) ABC will make its presentations on Tuesday, followed by CBS, the CW, Showtime, Fox, FX and PBS.
Feel free to follow my live tweets from the panels – @hankstuever – or tweets from other reporters and critics on the tour by following the hashtag #TCA14.