Friday, August 18, 2017

Final Episodes of Episodes

Matt LeBlanc at Episodes season 5
premiere screening, Paley Center for Media
Beverly Hills, CA, August 16, 2017
Photo by Imeh Bryant /
 The Paley Center for Media
This Sunday, August 20, Showtime's brilliant comedy Episodes returns for its fifth and final season, of seven...well, episodes.  And having seen the screening of the first two installments of the season at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills the other night, I can tell you the show is back in fine form.  (In fact, while episode 1 was very, very funny, episode 2 is one of the series' best, right on par with the revelation of the "artwork" in Merc's blind ex-wife's living room.  Episode 2 was so screamingly funny that I actually missed some lines, drowned out by audience laughter, and will have to watch again.)

We pick up season 5 right where the season 4 left off:  Sean (Stephen Mangan) and Beverly (Tamsin Greig) are stuck working for their odious former assistant Tim (Bruce Mackinnon), who is now the showrunner on the new series he and Sean once came up with together.  Matt LeBlanc is hosting a cheesy game show for his old network, uneasily working with its producer, his nemesis Merc (John Pankow).  Having been fired after her affair with her boss Helen (Andrea Savage), Carol (Kathleen Rose Perkins) is wallowing in seclusion at home.  And Morning?  (Mircea Monroe)  We don't know where she is yet -- but as Episodes' creator/writer/producers David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik revealed that night, she returns in episode 3.

Episodes creators/writers/producers
Jeffrey Klarik (l) and David Crane
Paley Center for Media, Beverly Hills
August 16, 2017
Photo by Imeh Bryant /
 The Paley Center for Media
As Crane and Klarik long ago revealed, they had the idea for their show years ago, after a bad experience working with CBS on their underappreciated sitcom The Class.  While they were pitching their show to the BBC, they deliberately set it in Hollywood, thinking -- wrongly, it turns out -- that they'd have to shoot it in L.A.  But ironically, the budget said otherwise.  And even with the injection of funds from partnering with Showtime, the producers found themselves recreating the look of L.A. in London, and living in the U.K. for up to six months to produce each season.  (Limited exterior shooting, plus post-production, is then done in real-life Los Angeles.)

For Sean and Beverly's show-within-the-show, Klarik and Crane -- partners in both writing and life -- wanted to take a smart, prototypical British setting, and dumb it down the way an American network might.  So they started with History Boys -- and then Klarik had an epiphany:  "Hockey!"  Having co-created and -produced all those seasons of Friends, Crane knew just who to approach to play a teacher as far as one can get from British propriety:  Matt LeBlanc.  (When that was revealed on the panel following Wednesday night's screening, LeBlanc feigned insult.  But both writers also revealed that had LeBlanc said no, they would have opted not to proceed with Episodes.  Well, Klarik joked, "maybe with David Schwimmer.")
Episodes panel at The Paley Center for Media, August 16, 2017:
l-r, creators David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik, stars Mircea Monroe,
Kathleen Rose Perkins and Matt LeBlanc,
 moderator Jarett Wieselman of Buzzfeed News
Episodes cast and creators
The Paley Center for Media, Beverly Hills
August 16, 2017
Photo by Imeh Bryant /
 The Paley Center for Media

Other burning questions arose on the panel, such as Morning's real age (even Klarik and Crane don't know, and we love it that way); Myra's constipated noises (which actress Daisy Haggard performs brilliantly, and which Klarik sweetens even more with his own whines in post-production); and Carol's attraction to authority figures, whether they be male or female (a plot point which Perkins says she was told as far back as season 1, and couldn't wait to play.)  And while fans have speculated for seasons now whether the characters of Merc, Carol, Myra, Andy (Joseph May) and others might correlate to any real-life network execs, Crane and Klarik do admit that two characters, Sean and Beverly, are directly modeled on real people -- namely, them.


"I'm like Sean, thinking the glass is half-full," Crane says.  Then, pointing to Klarik, he adds, "And he thinks the glass is an idiot."

David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik on Episodes panel
The Paley Center for Media, Beverly Hills
August 16, 2017


Episodes returns to Showtime Sunday, August 20 at 10 PM Eastern/Pacific

Friday, August 11, 2017

Dear Will and Grace

The cast of Will & Grace with its
episode 2 guest star, l-r:
Eric McCormack, Megan Mullally,
Ben Platt, Debra Messing, Sean Hayes
Photo by Chris Haston, NBC
Amid the excitement about not just the reboot of Will & Grace, but the announcement -- before an episode had even been shot -- that the show has been picked up for a 13-episode second season, now comes word that the show has booked the star of Broadway's Dear Evan Hansen, Ben Platt, fresh off his Tony win for Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical.

Will & Grace taped its first episode this past Wednesday night, and on Thursday morning, the cast convened for a "table read" of episode two.  That's when the cast took a beaming photo with guest star Platt, and tweeted out the news to fans.

NBC sent out the following press release as well, with news about the show and episode, which will air Thursday, October 5 at 9PM Eastern/Pacific.:

The cast of “Will & Grace” announced Ben Platt’s guest starring appearance below:
Will & Grace: https://instagram.com/p/BXoF_cKldtb/Eric McCormack: https://twitter.com/ericmccormack/status/895742083704561664Sean Hayes: https://instagram.com/p/BXoGNE8Au3e/ 
ABOUT BEN PLATTPlatt won a Tony Award earlier this year for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical for his role in “Dear Evan Hansen,” which captured the Tony for Best Musical.  “Dear Evan Hansen” was a huge winner at the Tonys and won six awards in all.  In addition to taking home the Tony, Ben also won the Drama League Award for distinguished Performance making him the youngest actor to have won the coveted award.  Ben was awarded an Obie and Lucille Lortel Award as well as  nominations for Outer Critics Circle and Drama League awards for his performance in the Off Broadway run.  Prior to his award winning turn as Evan Hansen, Platt made his Broadway debut in  the musical, “The Book of Mormon.” On the big screen, Platt has co-starred in both “Pitch Perfect” and “Pitch Perfect 2” as well as “Ricki and the Flash”, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” and the soon to be released “Drunk Parents.”
ABOUT “WILL & GRACE”A decade after their unforgettable eight-season run, Debra Messing, Eric McCormack, Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally reprise their infamous roles in “Will & Grace” in a 16-episode event. In addition, at NBC’s recent Television Critics Assn. day, the network also ordered a 13-episode second season.  The legendary James Burrows, director of every original “Will & Grace” episode, returns along with a slew of razor-sharp jabs and dirty martinis. Behold once again, from the minds of Max Mutchnick and David Kohan, TV’s wittiest ensemble ever.  Max Mutchnick and David Kohan will write and executive produce. Tim Kaiser, Alex Herschlag, Tracy Poust & Jon Kinnally also executive produce. James Burrows will direct and executive produce. “Will & Grace” is produced by Universal Television.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Andy Cohen's Love Connection renewed for season 2 on Fox

It had been decades since the original Love Connection had aired in original syndication, and I admit that when I first heard that Fox would be reviving the series for a run this summer, I was skeptical it would work.

For one thing, ever since the show's original host, Chuck Woolery, took to twitter and other social media, his horrible, right-wing politics have come to the fore.  And so my memories of Love Connection had become tainted.

But then Fox announced that the show's new host and executive producer would be Andy Cohen, whose charm and style have launched not only his talk show Watch What Happens Live! on Bravo but now a burgeoning empire that includes Sirius XM's Radio Andy and his several hit volumes of published memoirs.  And in just the show's short first-season run, some other welcomed changes have become apparent; for the first time this summer, Love Connection featured a same-sex couple.

This morning, Fox announced its pickup of Love Connection for a second season, with no timeframe or air dates yet revealed.  Details below:


“LOVE CONNECTION” RENEWED FOR SECOND SEASON ON FOX

Andy Cohen Returns as Host and Co-Executive Producer

An All-New Episode Airs Tonight at 9/8c on FOX

LOVE CONNECTION has been renewed for a second season, it was announced today by Rob Wade, President, Alternative Entertainment and Specials, Fox Broadcasting Company. Andy Cohen will return as host and co-executive producer for Season Two, along with executive producer Mike Fleiss (“The Bachelor”).

“Andy Cohen is a phenomenal host, not only because he has brought so much fun to the show but also because he truly wants these participants to find love, and that genuine level of interest enables him to elicit both touching and hilariously awkward dating moments from them,” said Wade. “I’d also like to thank Mike Darnell and Mike Fleiss, who, along with Andy, have helped redefine this show.”

"This show fits like a glove and I can't wait to make more love connections," said Cohen.

“We are excited for a second season of LOVE CONNECTION,” said Mike Darnell President, Warner Bros. Unscripted & Alternative Television. “Andy Cohen is a natural provocateur and is beloved by so many for his uncanny ability to bring out the most revealing details about the couples and their dates.” 

In tonight’s all-new episode of LOVE CONNECTION, “Devilish in a Blue Dress,” airing at 9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT, singles Adam Menchaca and Casey Tatum dish the dirt on some of the best, worst and awkward moments of their dates in front of host Andy Cohen and the live studio audience. Alex recounts a match who led him on a cemetery outing, while Casey reveals what happened when her date got a little too drunk.

The revival of the dating show sends hopeful singles on three dates in order to ditch the apps and find true love. Each hour of LOVE CONNECTION features single men and/or women in search of romance. They tell Cohen exactly what they're looking for in a partner and why they've found it so hard to meet Mr. or Mrs. Right.

LOVE CONNECTION is produced by Warner Horizon Unscripted & Alternative Television and NEXT Entertainment in association with Telepictures Productions. Mike Fleiss, Martin Hilton, James Breen and Jason Ehrlich serve as executive producers. Andy Cohen serves as a co-executive producer. “Like” LOVE CONNECTION on Facebook at facebook.com/loveconnectionfox/. Follow the series on Twitter @loveconnection and join the discussion using #LoveConnection.


Thursday, August 3, 2017

Will & Grace already renewed -- but minus one key character

Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti proclaims
August 2, 2017 "Will & Grace Day"
at Universal Studios Hollywood.
l-r, NBC president Bob Greenblatt,
L.A. mayor Garcetti, W&G creators
Max Mutchnick and David Kohan,
stars Eric McCormack, Debra Messing,
Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes, and
director Jimmy Burrows.
Photo by Chris Haston/NBC
At today's panel for the revival of Will & Grace at the Television Critics of America (TCA) convention in Beverly Hills, things started with a bang -- the announcement that not only has the episode order for season 1 been increased to 16 (from the original 10, then 12), but the show has already been renewed for a second season.

Ever since the announcement of the revival -- and even before, with the debut of the #VoteHoney video that the cast members and producers made to get out the vote last fall -- Will & Grace has been drawing major buzz.  Yesterday, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti attended the inauguration of the show's new stage 22 at Universal Studios, accompanied by the cast, fanfare and confetti.

The show's producers have stated that they intend to work around the original W&G series finale -- by pretending it didn't ever happen.  Other than that, they were mum on most details, including the returns of recurring characters, guest stars, etc.  Could Cher appear?  Maybe, but it's not set up yet.  Harry Connick, Jr.'s Leo, they confirmed, will be back. Leslie Jordan's Beverley Leslie?  Others?  Talks are ongoing.

But the one piece of bad news I received personally after the panel:  despite appearing in the VoteHoney video, Shelley Morrison has decided to retire, and will not be reprising her character of Rosario at all on the series.  "It's a Larry Bird type of retirement, not a Michael Jordan retirement," David said -- completely confusing fans like me, but I'm sure that analogy makes sense to straight fans out there.  :)  (I'm told it means that Shelley's retirement is complete, and she really can't be persuaded to return.)

Will & Grace's now 16-episode 1st season debuts on NBC on Thursday, September 28.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Outlander season 3 -- FIRST LOOK

This afternoon at the Television Critics (TCA) convention in Beverly Hills, Starz released new information and a first-look video at season 3 of its smash series Outlander.  The video, titled "Parallel Lives," features new footage and cast interviews.




Outlander season 3 debuts on Starz on Sunday, September 10 at 8 PM ET/PT.


About “Outlander” Season Three
The third season of “Outlander” picks up right after Claire (Caitriona Balfe) travels through the stones to return to her life in 1948. Now pregnant with Jamie’s (Sam Heughan) child, she struggles with the fallout of her sudden reappearance and its effect on her marriage to her first husband, Frank (Tobias Menzies). Meanwhile, in the 18th century, Jamie suffers from the aftermath of his doomed last stand at the historic battle of Culloden, as well as the loss of Claire. As the years pass, Jamie and Claire attempt to make a life apart from one another, each haunted by the memory of their lost love. The budding possibility that Claire can return to Jamie in the past breathes new hope into Claire’s heart… as well as new doubt. Separated by continents and centuries, Claire and Jamie must find their way back to each other. As always, adversity, mystery, and adventure await them on the path to reunion. And the question remains: When they find each other, will they be the same people who parted at the standing stones, all those years ago?

Diana Gabaldon’s eight-book Outlander series has sold more than 28 million copies worldwide and all the books have graced the New York Times best-sellers list. The “Outlander” series spans the genres of history, science fiction, romance and adventure in one amazing tale. The second season of “Outlander” won the Critics’ Choice Award for 
Most Bingeworthy Show, and four People’s Choice Awards, including Favorite TV Show.

Ronald D. Moore, Maril Davis, Matthew B. Roberts, Toni Graphia, Anne Kenney and Andy Harries serve as executive producers of “Outlander,” which is produced by Tall Ship Productions, Story Mining & Supply Company and Left Bank Pictures in association with Sony Pictures Television.

“Outlander” Online
For more information, go to the official Outlander Facebook Page and follow @Outlander_Starz on Twitter and Instagram. Join the conversation with #Outlander and #STARZ.


Starz Announces Stephenie Meyer's The Rook

Breaking news from the Television Critics (TCA) Convention in Beverly Hills:  Starz has announced the pickup of a series based on Twilight author Stephenie Meyers' supernatural spy thriller, The Rook, to be distributed internationally.  Press release below.
      

EMBARGOED UNTIL 2:30 PM PT/5:30 PM ET, JULY 28TH 2017

Lionsgate and Liberty Global Partner on Supernatural Spy Thriller The Rook for Premium Pay Platform STARZ
Twilight Creator Stephenie Meyer and Television Icon Stephen Garrett to Executive Produce New Premium Series
Series Will Debut on STARZ Platform in the U.S. and Across Liberty Global’s International Platforms in Europe, Latin America & the Caribbean
Santa Monica and Beverly Hills, CA, and London, UK – July 28, 2017 – Starz President and Chief Executive Officer Chris Albrecht announced today that STARZ has picked up the supernatural spy thriller The Rook, produced by a ground-breaking partnership between global content leader Lionsgate (NYSE: LGF.A, LGF.B) and Liberty Global (NASDAQ: LBTYA, LBTYB, LBTYK, LILA and LILAK), the world’s largest international TV and broadband company.  The Rook is a premium series executive produced byTwilight Saga creator Stephenie Meyer, with industry icon Stephen Garrett serving as showrunning Executive Producer.  The announcement was part of Starz’s presentation to the Television Critics Association (TCA).  
The series will air on the STARZ platform in the U.S. beginning next year.  At the same time, Liberty Global will feature the series exclusively on demand across its footprint in Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean.  Lionsgate will distribute the series worldwide.
A riveting supernatural thriller about a young woman pursued by shadowy paranormal adversaries while grappling with extraordinary abilities of her own, The Rook is executive produced by Ms. Meyer (The Twilight Saga, Lionsgate’s upcoming Down A Dark HallAustenland and The Host) and producing partner Meghan Hibbett under their Fickle Fish production banner.
An accomplished producer in both television and film, Stephen Garrett will serve as showrunning Executive Producer under his Character 7 banner.  Garrett most recently served as Executive Producer on the award-winning and ratings hit, The Night ManagerThe Rook is adapted and co-produced by award-winning playwrights and screenwriters Sam Holcroft (Rules for Living) and Al Muriel (Precious & Rich) based on the novel by Daniel O’Malley.
“A high-end series aimed right at the sweet spot of our audience, The Rook is a great addition to a STARZ slate loaded with the most exciting new and returning series offered by any platform anywhere,” said Albrecht. “We are thrilled to add the talents of Stephen Garrett and Stephenie Meyer to our creative family and forge our partnership with the Lionsgate Television Group and Liberty Global. The Rook is instantly addictive from the very first scene and introduces what we believe will be one of the most fascinating and thrilling female protagonists on television.”
“Stephenie is one of the world’s great creative talents, and Stephen has an incredible track record in bringing remarkable stories to the screen,” said Lionsgate Television Group Chairman Kevin Beggs and President of Worldwide Television & Digital Distribution Jim Packer.  The Rook is a major premium property driven by an amazing creative team, and it’s not only a terrific addition to the STARZ platform but the perfect series to launch a content alliance with our friends at Liberty Global.”
The Rook is another important step in Liberty Global’s premium scripted content strategy. Shot in the UK, this project is a perfect fit for Virgin Media as well as our other European markets,” said Liberty Global chief programming officer Bruce Mann. “The series, which we look forward to making available exclusively to millions of Liberty Global subscribers worldwide, is an amazing supernatural thriller which we are excited to have in the hands of an elite creative showrunner like Stephen Garrett.  We’re also delighted to be partnering with our good friends at Lionsgate and Starz.”
“Everything starts with great writing,” said Character 7’s Executive Chairman Stephen Garrett.  “To be conspiring on The Rook in partnership with Stephenie based on a book that is as dazzling as it is surprising and working with the talented team of Sam and Al, is the perfect springboard for thrilling television. The teams at Lionsgate, Starz and Liberty Global are great champions of creativity, and we’re looking forward to partnering with them.”
The Rook tells the story of a young woman who wakes up in a London park suffering total amnesia – surrounded by dead bodies, all wearing latex gloves. Pursued by shadowy paranormal adversaries, grappling with peculiar ‘abilities’ of her own, she must fight to uncover her past, and resume her position at the head of Britain’s most secret (supernatural) service… before the traitors who stole her memory can finish what they started.
About Stephenie Meyer
Ms. Meyer has gained worldwide recognition for her original and captivating stories that have paved the way for a new generation of women heroes, and her blockbuster Twilight Saga film franchise, which she created and produced, grossed $3.5 billion at the worldwide box office.  The Twilight films were based on her acclaimed book series which has sold over 100 million copies in more than 50 countries and been translated into 37 languages.  She also co-produced The Host, based on her #1 New York Times best-seller, andAustenland with Hibbett.  They are producing an adaptation of Lois Duncan’s teen classic Down A Dark Hall, starring Uma Thurman and AnneSophie Robb, with Temple Hill’s Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey, for Lionsgate.
Ms. Meyer was the best-selling author of 2008 and 2009 in the U.S., selling over 29 million books in 2008 and another 26.5 million in 2009.  USA Today named Ms. Meyer “Author of the Year” in 2008, noting that she swept the top four slots on the USA Today best-seller book list, something that no one else had done in 15 years.  Ms. Meyer accomplished this feat again in 2009.
About Character 7
As an accomplished producer with an eye for pedigree material, Stephen Garrett most recently served as Executive Producer of “The Night Manager.”  The series marked the first under his Character 7 production company, which is based in Los Angeles and London for high-end television and film projects.  A ratings and critical success, “The Night Manager” was done in collaboration with The Ink Factory, and garnered multiple Emmy and Golden Globe Awards.  The Character 7 team also includes Head of Development Michele Wolkoff, who works closely with Garrett on the company’s expanding slate of projects.  Wolkoff joined the company last year having most recently led development for The Mark Gordon Company as Head of Film where she oversaw a robust slate as well.

Prior to Character 7, Garrett was Founder and Executive Chairman of Kudos, the UK’s leading independent producer of TV drama.   While running the company, he and his team galvanized British television with popular and acclaimed shows including the BAFTA-winning “Spooks” (based on Garrett’s original idea), “Hustle,” “Life on Mars,” Frank Spotnitz’s “Hunted,” and ITV’s hit “Broadchurch.” 

About Lionsgate
The first major new studio in decades, Lionsgate is a global content platform whose films, television series, digital products and linear and over-the-top platforms reach next generation audiences around the world.  In addition to its filmed entertainment leadership, Lionsgate content drives a growing presence in interactive and location-based entertainment, gaming, virtual reality and other new entertainment technologies.  Lionsgate’s content initiatives are backed by a 16,000-title film and television library and delivered through a global licensing infrastructure.  The Lionsgate brand is synonymous with original, daring and ground-breaking content created with special emphasis on the evolving patterns and diverse composition of the Company’s worldwide consumer base.  
About Starz
Starz (www.starz.com), a Lionsgate company (NYSE: LGF.A, LGF.B), is a leading global media and entertainment company that provides premium subscription video programming on domestic U.S. pay television networks and produces and distributes content for worldwide audiences, including its investment in the STARZ PLAY Arabia OTT service. Starz is home to the flagship STARZ® brand and STARZ ENCORE channels and provides high-quality, entertaining premium subscription video programming with 17 premium pay TV channels and associated on-demand and online services, including the STARZ app. Sold through U.S. multichannel video distributors, including cable operators, satellite television providers, telecommunications companies, and other online and digital platforms, Starz offers subscribers more than 5,000 distinct premium television episodes and feature films every year and up to 1,500 every month, including STARZ Original series, first-run movies and other popular movie and television programming.
About Liberty Global

Liberty Global is the world’s largest international TV and broadband company, with operations in more than 30 countries across Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean. We invest in the infrastructure that empowers our customers to make the most of the digital revolution. Our scale and commitment to innovation enable us to develop market-leading products delivered through next-generation networks that connect our 25 million customers who subscribe to over 50 million television, broadband internet and telephony services. We also serve over 10 million mobile subscribers and offer WiFi service across 6 million access points.

Liberty Global’s businesses are comprised of two stocks: the Liberty Global Group (NASDAQ: LBTYA, LBTYB and LBTYK) for our European operations, and the LiLAC Group (NASDAQ: LILA and LILAK, OTC Link: LILAB), which consists of our operations in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Liberty Global Group operates in 11 European countries under the consumer brands Virgin Media, Unitymedia, Telenet and UPC. The Liberty Global Group also owns 50% of VodafoneZiggo, a Dutch joint venture, which has 4 million customers, 10 million fixed-line subscribers and 5 million mobile subscribers. The LiLAC Group operates in over 20 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean under the consumer brands VTR, Flow, Liberty, Más Móvil and BTC. In addition, the LiLAC Group operates a sub-sea fiber network throughout the region in over 30 markets.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

June Foray, 1917-2017

with my husband Frank DeCaro and
voiceover legend June Foray at a party
in Beverly Hills for the Archive of
American Television.
June 4, 2007.
It was in 2001, when I was assigned to write a TV Guide tribute to the then-recently departed animation giant William Hanna, when I first got to meet June Foray, herself perhaps the giant in the field of voiceover acting.

During our phone interview, June delighted me with snippets from her amazing career -- lines from the Warner Brothers cartoons' Witch Hazel and Granny, from Rocky of Rocky & Bullwinkle, from Cindy Lou Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  A Massachusetts native, Foray ended up with a
Hollywood career that spanned seven decades, working well into her late nineties.

Foray died yesterday in Los Angeles, just two months short of her 100th birthday.  In celebration of her long and storied career -- she even once provided barks for little Ricky's dog Fred on I Love Lucy! -- below is a chunk of our interview from 16 years ago.  At the time, June was 83, and still in huge demand as an actor.  She talks lovingly and at length about Bill Hanna -- because that was the purpose for our interview.  But along the way, June provided a glimpse into her own amazing life.


I started my career in radio, and was put under contract at Capitol Records, and that’s how Disney heard about me.  I did a cat in Cinderella.  I had also done a witch character for Disney, in a short called “Trick or Treat.”  Chuck Jones loved the witch I did, and the next thing I knew I was called over to MGM where Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera were working under producer Fred Quimby.  So I did a Tom and Jerry called “The Flying Sorceress.”
 They were two charming young men, creative, really symbolic of everything that animation stands for.  The writing was good – Bill Hanna did a lot of it, and he was most empathetic to all creatures, whether they were human or anthropomorphic.  So I did several works for them, and that was before they of course had their own company.
 Then I think they opened Hanna Barbera in about 1958.  They of course had the first nighttime series, and that was The Flintstones.  And Jay Ward was very upset about that, because we had started recording Rocky and His Friends in 1959 and Jay had hoped that his would be the first nighttime series, but Hanna Barbera beat them.  Joe and Bill were so original in their thinking, as you can see – their characters are lasting creatures and their series just keep going ona nd on and on – on Cartoon Network, on Nickelodeon.

Bill was a very thoughtful man with a wonderful personality.  Just a couple of years before he died, he wrote another thing as a witch for me – he never forgot.  He was most kind to everybody who worked with him, I understand – the animators, the writers.  He was certainly an ideologically correct man.  Everything was for the good, and there was nothing evil in his characters.

He had suffered so many ailments physically – at first it didn’t impair him at all, and he would travel, go to Australia.  I think they had a studio there.  He was very valiant in his progression of what he wanted to do, and what he felt that he had to do for animation.  And of course Joe was quite a promoter.  I think Joe did most of the PR, and Bill did most of the writing.  Joe occasionally in the beginning would direct the actors.  Bill was always behind the scenes.  It was Joe who was more forthcoming as far as his appearances were concerned.  Bill was sort of in the background, but he was phenomenal, really, in his thinking.  He was gentle and kind – I know everybody I talk to who has worked with him, writers and animators, feel that there was just this synthesis of a producer.  Here was a man who was creative in his writing and his animating, and yet he was business wise, which has really paid off, because of course Ted Turner bought Hanna Barbera and then of course AOL bought Warner’s.

Over the years, I did Jokey Smurf for about eight years, with Gordon Hunt as the voice director.  Bill never showed up at any of the recordings, but you knew his presence was there.  I was in A Man Called Flintstone.  I did Cindy Lou Who in How The Grinch Stole Christmas, which I can still do, and it’s altogether different from the low voices I usually do, so you might not know it was the same person.  I do Granny in the “Tweety and Sylvester” cartoons, and we recently recorded some fun parodies:  3 with me as “Judge Granny,” a parody of Judge Judy, and two takeoffs of Survivor, where they finally kicked Granny off the island.
In designing their characters, I’m sure many writers for animation do take on the proportions and the look of the actors who play them.  I’m not sure if Bill Hanna did that or not, but I know that Disney did, and I know that Chuck Jones did, in a lot of the things that I did for them.  In fact, I have a marvelous drawing that Chuck Jones did of me once, because I started when I was very young.  Chuck drew a picture of me, he’s at the drawing board, and it’s a pic of me naked, looking like Witch Hazel looked in the end of the short, when she became beautiful after drinking the wrong cup of tea.
At home, I have a rubber doormat of Witch Hazel with Bugs Bunny..  But I have it framed – I would never use it as a doormat!  I have all kinds of Granny items with Tweety and Sylvester, and of Witch Hazel.  I don’t know where they are, though, at the moment – which is a shame!
I’ve been on Entertainment Tonight and Showbiz Today and a lot of shows, but it’s amazing to me how many people ask for my autograph.  They recognize me, and not just from my voice – it just astounds me.  In fact, yesterday I went to the Motion Picture Hospital for a mammogram, and was sitting in the waiting room and chatting with a lady I’d never met before.  She asked me what I do, and a man next to me said, “Oh my God, you’re June Foray – you made my week!”  I ended up entertaining the whole waiting room with the he different voices I knew.  Even the nurse asked for my autograph.

-- June Foray, December 6, 2001 


Sunday, July 16, 2017

Hot Pants in Hollywood

From her first TV job on Laugh-In, to her pioneering work as a writer on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, Square Pegs and other sitcoms, Susan Silver has had an amazing career.  And as a woman growing up in the formative decades of the conservative '50s and free-swinging '60s, she's had a fascinating life as well.  And now it's all in her new book, Hot Pants in Hollywood:  Sex, Secrets & Sitcoms.

The title is derived from that of an article TV Guide magazine wrote about her back in the day, which they called "The Writer Wore Hot Pants."  It's telling that apparently the concepts of being female and being a writer were considered as incongruous back then as were the title subjects of another '70s vehicle, The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes.

After devouring Silver's memoir, I asked her more specifically about her days as a woman "making it on her own," to quote MTM's theme, in Hollywood.



Must-Hear TV:  How did your traditional Midwestern family background prepare you -- or not prepare you -- for life in Hollywood?  How did it prepare you to write for a character such as Mary Richards?

Susan Silver:  Coming from Milwaukee, which is often confused with Minneapolis, I was perfect for The Mary Tyler Moore Show -- though frankly I'm much more Rhoda than Mary.  I have too much spunk!   Seriously I think the difference in values is huge, and I'm glad I had the basics from the Midwest.  Hollywood is a place unto itself.  I used to say I had to leave because my tush fell and they measure it when you get off the plane.  It's very superficial still, sorry to say.  So I arrived like Little Annie Fanny, wide-eyed.  But it was easier than New York, which would have chewed me up and spit me out.  For that, I had to wait until after some success. 


MHTV:  At the time of the MTM Show, there were few or no female comedy writers working on sitcoms.  What do you think made the MTM producers decide they needed a female perspective?

SS:  The great timing of the show, with the beginning of feminism, was an impetus to get a woman's POV.  Rarely heard before, real women's lives were what the show wanted and they thought we were all geniuses.  The truth was, all women have the same stories to share and they had not been heard before.  By the end of the show I think 25 women had been hired as writers.


MHTV:  What were some of the most common pitfalls a comedy writer would face in decades past in her career?  What did you learn to do or not to do from your own career?

SS:  I feel as though I started on top, and so my requirement and what I had learned was to pick only high quality shows.  Most of us don't have that luxury.  On MTM [company] shows they worked with you all day, but on other shows they would give you a 20-minute story meeting and you had no real idea what they wanted.  Nor did they, so there was more rewriting.


MHTV:  Hollywood is a ridiculously ageist town.  Would you still want to create your own show?  And if so, what would it be, and what message would you/it be trying to say?


SS:  Ageism is the new discrimination. The Writers Guild had a longtime lawsuit against studios, which we won, and it was proven that there was so much of it... and it still exists. I doubt that writers over 50 have a chance.  The sad thing is that great shows like The Golden Girls, as you know, have audiences, if only they would write them and put them on.   I don't think I'd want to be active in the biz now unless I had total control, and wouldn't write a show where Boomers were portrayed so unrealistically or as sex-starved cliches.  But what the hell -- if someone wants me to do a show, call me.  George Clooney can call me, too.  I know he is a new father but still...

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Behind the Scenes with Downward Dog's Title Character

Ordinarily, summer is a tough time for a network show to have its premiere; we the audience have been conditioned to tune out after May's season finales, and we spend more precious primetime hours still outdoors, enjoying the longer evenings of summer.

But Downward Dog seems to have timing on its side.  The show premiered on May 17, in a plum position following the season finale of Modern Family.  And of course Downward Dog, starring Fargo's Allison Tolman as single, dog-loving Pittsburgh creative executive Nan, follows in the wake of this year's earlier hit film, A Dog's Purpose.

Downward Dog co-creator Samm Hodges
and star Allison Tolman
In May of 2016, when ABC announced the show's pickup, it was unfortunately in the same breath as another show announced for midseason, Imaginary Mary.  And so the two shows became lumped together in the minds of critics, who thought ABC must be desperate to pick up shows about an imaginary friend and a talking dog.

Smartly, though, Downward Dog soon distinguished itself from the pack.  In January, the show, which is based upon a popular web series of the same name, became the first broadcast TV series to premiere at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, to positive reviews from the audience and critics.  And the ratings for the show's premiere were respectable, with a decent retention of Modern Family's audience, even though it aired against another big hit, Fox's Empire.

As of last night, ABC has now aired four of the series' eight episodes -- and word is, the network will be making a decision about cancellation/renewal any minute now.  My dog Gabby and I love the show.  And while she's got her paws crossed for season two, I spoke with the web series and show's co-creator, Samm Hodges, who also provides the voice of its irresistable canine star, Martin.

An erstwhile commercial director, Hodges says he and colleague Michael Killen originally created Downward Dog just so as to have a creative outlet not beholden to any client.  But as I also found out when I spoke with Samm, there's another interesting angle to this story, about how becoming the voice of a TV dog has helped not just his bank account, but his personal growth as well.

Downward Dog co-creator Samm Hodges
provides the voice of top dog, Martin

Must-Hear TV:  Downward Dog certainly has had an interesting path to the small screen, as it caught the eye of some Hollywood managers and evolved from your web series into a half-hour show.  But the other aspect I don't feel the press has covered at all is that here you are, voicing the lead character -- and as you mentioned earlier, you grew up with a stutter.  How has that affected how you feel about voicing a character for TV?

Samm Hodges:  I grew up with a stammer, and there are things about the way I speak -- whether it be stuttering or the fast-paced delivery and other techniques I learned to get through it -- that now are helping to make Martin's voice feel unique and special.  There are other things I can do to help, like tailoring the lines to match my speech pattern in way that won't give me trouble.  Plus, if a stutter does slip into a take, sometimes rather than retake the line we might decide to use it.  In the end, we just want to have a character that sounds natural, and hopefully the voice actor disappears anyway.  I think people are going to watch the dog, and I hope they don't think about me ever.



MHTV:  Do you find it challenging or difficult to perform the role?

SH:  I think a lot of the show is about owning your flaws, and looking at your flaws.  And for me, doing the voiceover with a stutter, I get really frustrated.  I’ll always dread it.  My wife always knows the day before I have to record, because I might be an asshole that day.  It's very hard.  If you've ever had a really bad speech impediment, you know you're never really over it.  I know it will always be with me, and yet I'll get past it.  But then when I do go do the voiceover, I end up also realizing that it makes the show feel really authentic for me.  Our whole show is about characters who are vulnerable, afraid to be made fun of, and not being the polished star.  We’re all kind of outsiders, and now we the producers of Downward Dog are part of this punk rock TV show on a network.  A while back, I had wanted to recast mysef, but then I realized that even though performing the role was a pain for me, it actually gave something to the show.  So I realized I’ll do it for the show.



MHTV:  Your voice has a laconic quality that really helps give Martin a fun personality.  You really should be doing voiceover for a career.  You must find that odd to hear someone say that to you in 2017, because there was probably a time as a child where you beat yourself up for your voice.

SH:  It’s crazy.  The thing is, whenever you’re told what you can’t do, it kind of makes you want to do it.  I think as a writer, I write from a place of trying to be really radically honest.  And the show is really radically honest.  And I feel that if I ask my actors to be vulnerable, then I have to step up and be vulnerable myself.  Martin provides me a way to make fun of all my worst qualities.  If Martin thinks he’s smart, I think I’m smart.  When you put that in a dog’s mouth, it reveals how silly we are.  We in the entertainment industry tend to be narcissists, and I’m a narcissist.  So I always thought I was special. And for me, being a dog who thinks he’s special is a way to admit how messed up I am, but also how I’m still a worthwhile person, 



MHTV:  What kind of work did you do to overcome the stutter the way you have?

SH:  It’s funny.  I was raised really poor.  I never had any speech therapist offered to me.



MHTV:  I had speech therapy in elementary school, and I know how hard the work can be.  That’s impressive!

SH:  I was a senior in high school and couldn’t really speak well.  I got so frustrated that my dad’s friend, who was an undergraduate for speech therapy, gave me a worksheet.  I would just read it out loud to myself.  I worked really hard at it.  There had been times in a McDonalds where they’d think I was mentally handicapped.  It was really embarrassing, but that ended up giving me a lot of confidence and makes me hard to embarrass now.  So if I’m pitching, I don’t get scared because I’ve lived through so much embarrassment.  It’s weird in life how things work out that way.



MHTV:  Where were you raised?

SH:  In Washington state.  In a cabin off the grid.  No electricity, no running water.  Really weird.  My mom passed when I was young.  Not a happy childhood.




MHTV:  I hope you give yourself a lot of credit for learning from a worksheet.  It’s hard when you have someone working with you, and you did it yourself from a piece of paper.

SH:  As a poor kid from a poor town with a stutter, I felt like I was doomed.  I felt like there was no way out. Then in high school, I was part of a mock trial.  I chose to be the lawyer, which is insane.  And I actually won the mock trial and got all these awards.  I decided I wasn't going to stop fighting.  It’s the kind of thing where someone tells you “You’re not going to make it.”  It’s such a motivator.  If I go back home now, most of my friends are still stuck there.  And the meth use is really tragic in small towns now.  I was lucky.  I think I worked really hard, but I was really lucky.



MHTV:  [Downward Dog executive producer] Kat Likkel has encouraged you to get a voiceover agent and career.  Would you want to pursue that?


SH:  I would, totally.  I’m a small-town kid.  I like working.  But it’s the last thing I ever imagined myself doing.  It’s kind of happened naturally, and that’s the weird way life works sometimes.  I would never have thought this would be where I’d be.

Monday, May 29, 2017

How Speechless Will Continue Giving Voice to Families with Special Needs

On May 17, ABC's family comedy Speechless finished a flawless first season, with a finale episode in which the DiMeo family flew across the country to deliver son JJ to camp.

ABC's Speechless stars, l-r:
John Ross Bowie, Mason Cook, Micah Fowler,
Kyla Kenedy, Cedric Yarbrough and Minnie Driver
at the Paley Center for Media, Beverly Hills
May 9, 2017
It was a great moment for each character:  for Micah Fowler's JJ, who gets to taste a first bit of independence; for siblings Ray and Dylan (Mason Cook and Kyla Kenedy) who experience their own firsts along the route; and for John Ross Bowie's Jimmy and particularly Minnie Driver's Maya, who learn they're going to have to start letting go of the disabled child they've protected all his life.

And as beautiful a bookend as this 23rd episode -- ABC likes the show so much that back in December, they ordered one extra installment for this first season -- was for the family we had come to care about, JJ's ability to survive summer camp certainly doesn't signal that the struggle is over.

Last month, on the eve of its upfront presentation, ABC officially renewed Speechless for a second season.  Just days before the official order, which everyone had anticipated, I attended an event celebrating the series at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills, and caught up with the show's creator, Scott Silveri -- upon whose own family the DiMeos are loosely modeled -- to talk about what we can expect for season 2 and beyond.


Must-Hear TV:  So what have you thought about for season 2?  There obviously must be some family stories with which you probably frontloaded the series in season 1.  But are there still more personal stories you want to tell?

Speechless creator and Executive Producer,
Scott Silveri
Scott Silveri:  Yes, that’s the way to characterize it.  In the first season, you have to really concentrate on those dynamics between the [main characters] who are in the show every week.  And in the second season, hopefully people are familiar with them, and we can open it up a little more.  We can learn a little about where Minnie’s character came from, where John’s character came from, and have the kids have friends who are not paid aides [like Cedric Yarbrough's amazing Kenneth] or siblings.

But I think more than anything, it’s just not going to get easy for these guys.  Because that’s life, and that’s particularly this life.  You go to the right school, and then something changes.  You get the right aide, and then they go on to something else.  Life is like that.  But particularly for a family with someone with a disability, if you care about the care of the person you love, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment over and over again.


MHTV:  People change, and people move.

SS:  Exactly.  It’s not difficult to think of ways to make life hard for these guys!  And the joy is going to be in that struggle, and having them face it with a little bit of courage and some fun.


MHTV:  Have you pitched season 2 to ABC already?  For many shows, that’s what happens, pitching to network executives, "This is what our season would be, if we get renewed."

SS:  No!  Sometimes you do that, but we were not asked to, so… I think they know generally we’re going to open it up a little, to explore the next step for these guys.  JJ is a senior in high school.  What is his next step going to be?  And towards the end of the season, we really explored his independence, and his life away from his family a little bit.   Before that there had been none of that, and now we’re slowly rolling that out.  And I think it’s a natural spot for a lot more of that, which will be a challenge for him and a challenge for people who care for him.


MHTV:  When you said you would be "expanding" their world, obviously there’s a certain percentage of the main characters of season 1 that came right from your life, and other writers’ too.  But do you have auxiliary people in your mind, who were in the background of your real life, and now  you get to think, “THAT’s a good secondary character!”

SS:  Yes.  People I both want to celebrate, and to take down.  A healthy dose of both!  Celebrating people – how much fun is that?   I have some names of some administrators we’ve been sharpening the axe for for months – for years, actually!  We’ve got some Silveri grudges to settle.


MHTV:  It’s an Italian thing.  What percentage of season 1 is from real life for you?  In real life, your brother's disability is a little more pronounced than JJ's.

SS:  From my real life, it really wasn’t episode for episode.  There are shows that do that and do it well.  Like The Goldbergs do that, and there’s a lot of “this happened to me, my brother said this, my mom wore that.”  And that’s cool!  But that’s not how we chose to do it.  I found it particularly suffocating, frankly, to try simply to mimic things that had happened in my life.  I found it a lot more freeing when we changed who these people were, we put a couple of people together, and gave license to these guys to be characters rather than caricatures of my folks.


MHTV:  I would think it makes it easier to take a step back so you can fictionalize it without feeling weird about it, like an actor with a mask.

SS:  That’s it, precisely.


MHTV:  So JJ is not exactly your brother, and your mom is not British.

SS:  They have some overlap, but no.  And I’ve had my mom checked.  She’s not British.


MHTV:  So you did 23 and Me while she was sleeping?

SS:  Exactly.  I think there is a feeling that was important to convey.  These guys feel different, and take pride in being different.  No apologies.  In fact, sometimes we think we’re better than the other folks for being a little different.  There was that, and there was how they always coming back to their center, and form a unified front.  “It’s us against the world.”

But luckily that doesn’t happen too often.  But you have a choice in any given situation:  are you going to cry or are you going to laugh?  And my folks, God bless them, always chose to laugh.  So I thought that was something to be replicated, protected and celebrated.  The rest of it, the exact quirks and plot twists that our lives took, I didn’t feel the need to cling closely to that.  The vibe is what I wanted to protect.  And it’s been fun to get to do that.


MHTV:  In terms of tentpole events that might happen in season 2:  will JJ’s graduation be one of them, like at the end of the year?

SS:  I think that’s something to work towards.  And that’s such a big thing.  A lot of friends of mine who have disabilities bemoan the fact that there’s a lot of attention paid to children with disabilities --but once you grow up, there’s a little less of that.  There’s something adorable and cute and inspirational – which is a word that everybody hates – about a child, but then you don’t get quite the same attention and care as an adult.


MHTV:  "Good luck to you – and thanks for taking forever to get on the bus!"

SS:  Exactly!  So I think we’d like to explore that.  Because every time there’s been a challenge that has come up for the characters, we’ve tried to find a funny take on it. 


MHTV:  Non saccharine.  That’s what I appreciate.

SS:  We’re going to keep looking for these very real challenges, and it ain’t hard to find them.  And turn them into opportunities for this family to bust their asses, to find a way, and to laugh.