Tuesday, September 27, 2016

#VoteHoney! Will & Grace reunites for a fabulous cause

Turns out there IS a silver lining to this horrible and painful election season.

For years, the cast of Will & Grace has vowed that there will be no reunion special -- and after the series' confusing finale episode, devising a plot for any new episodes would be a challenge anyway.  But it's amazing what the prospect of an petty, incompetent despot in the White House will do.  

Debra Messing has been vocal in her support of Hillary, and now she joins her former W&G castmates Eric McCormack, Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes in a new, nearly 10-minute-long video -- which was uploaded just hours before tonight's important debate and quickly went viral -- where the four actors reprise their iconic characters in a hilarious discussion of Trump and Clinton.  What's more, they're back in Will's original apartment, which remains a helluva beautiful set, recently rescued from storage in the Boston area and reassembled in secret out West.

Stay tuned to the very end, for a fun surprise.  And #VoteHoney -- of course, as Will and Grace implore, for Hillary!  #ImWithHer!



Thursday, September 22, 2016

Using just this paper clip and a wad of gum, CBS makes... a whole new MacGyver

Lucas Till is CBS' new 21st-Century MacGyver.
For decades after the original MacGyver hung up his tool belt, the character’s very name has remained as a verb in our pop culture lexicon.  This fall, CBS will bring “MacGyver-ing” – meaning the creative use of science to escape a sticky situation – back to the tip of everyone’s tongue.

“We know just which touchstones to hit and boxes to check to make our new MacGyver satisfying to fans of the [1985-92] original, and yet keep it slick and modern to entice new fans, too,” says the 2016 show’s executive producer Peter Lenkov, who successfully conquered the reboot once before with Hawaii Five-0.  To that end, Lenkov promises at least two “MacGyver-isms” per episode – and a reprise of the character traits that made MacGyver unique as a crimefighter.

“So many shows today solve every crime with a keystroke, but MacGyver does things differently,” Lenkov explains.  “He’s a guy who can get out of any situation without having to pull a gun or throw a punch, and that’s fresh in the marketplace today.  I love the fact that, unlike any other hero on TV, his superpower is his brain.”

Embodying the leading man whom Lenkov calls “the best-looking science geek you’ll ever meet” is Lucas Till, who has already earned his heroic stripes playing Havok, most recently in X-Men: Apocalypse.  He’s joined by former CSI star George Eads as the quippy ex-CIA agent Jack Dalton, a character who made recurring appearances in the original series but now emerges more in the forefront as a regular member of MacGyver’s team.

Although he was born late in the original series’ run, Till had caught it in reruns, and was soon a devoted fan.  With a background seemingly tailor-made for the character – Till’s mother is a chemist, and his father in the military – the actor has quickly become comfortable spouting chemical terms and working with improvised gadgets; recently, in fact, he wowed friends by sparking a flame with just a gum wrapper and 12-volt battery.  It’s a party trick he learned from his dad, whom friends had long ago nicknamed “MacGyver.”

“Growing up, my dad would hijack some of my school projects that needed to be ‘MacGyvered,’ I guess you’d say.  And I’d end up walking into school with a Pinewood derby car that I really didn’t have anything to do with,” Till remembers with a laugh.  “My mom had been the one to take me to most of my auditions as a kid, and to understand the ins and outs of my coming up as an actor.”

“But now,” he adds, “ever since I got MacGyver, my dad has not only told all his friends, but he’s called me every day with a new idea to put on the show.”

Fridays at 8PM Eastern

Begins September 23

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Michael Weatherly: From NCIS to Bull

Michael Weatherly with new co-star
Geneva Carr in CBS' Bull.
When Michael Weatherly decided to leave NCIS after a 13-season run, his respite turned out to be incredibly short lived.  Weatherly’s Anthony DiNozzo said goodbye to the Major Case Response Team on Tuesday night, May 19, and by Wednesday morning the actor was on the red carpet at New York’s Carnegie Hall, talking about his new character, trial consultant Dr. Jason Bull.  “I got about an 8-hour break,” Weatherly says with a wink.

Just a few months earlier, as he was preparing for his final scenes on the megahit, CBS had approached Weatherly with the new procedural drama Bull, whose lead character is based on the previous career of talk show host Dr. Phil McGraw.  Attracted by the talent behind the new project – not only McGraw, but producer Steven Spielberg and writer Paul Attanasio, creator of the acclaimed medical drama House, M.D. – Weatherly signed on to play the brilliant and brash Bull – after a brief moment’s hesitation.  The actor was already familiar with the real McGraw, the founder of one of the most prolific trial consulting firms of all time, whom he finds to be “a really fascinating character: part Machiavelli, part P.T. Barnum.  When we met, I asked him if he’d ever had a moment of insecurity, and he just stared at me and said, ‘No.’” And so, when offered the chance to portray McGraw’s alter ego, Weatherly admits that “Initially I was scared, because I didn’t know if I could play such an intense character.  And then I realized that that was why I should do it.”

Of course, Weatherly’s version takes some artistic license – “I don’t have a bald cap and a moustache waiting in my kit bag,” the actor jokes – but Bull is “inspired by the world that Dr. Phil understands so well.”  Joining Dr. Bull within that milieu are Freddy Rodriguez as Bull’s ex-brother-in-law Benny, the defense attorney at the company’s mock trials; Geneva Carr as a neurolinguistics expert who honed her skills working for the Department of Homeland Security; Annabelle Attanasio as a helpful hacker; Chris Jackson as a stylist and image consultant; and Jaime Lee Kirchner as a former NYPD detective-turned-private eye.

Bull’s team works to analyze jurors’ backgrounds and behaviors, creating strategies to tip the scales of justice in their clients’ favor; it’s a discipline that most of us laymen never knew existed.  As Rodriguez enthuses, Bull brings us “a side of the legal drama that I had never seen before.”  In fact, Weatherly predicts, after watching the show, most of us will never look at jury service the same way again:  “The next time you serve, you’ll realize that people are paying attention to you – noting where you went to school, and whether you like cats or dogs.”  Trial consultants can sway us “by getting really granular on human behavior,” he notes – “and every week we’ll investigate how it’s done.”

Tuesdays at 9PM Eastern

Begins September 20

Kevin James in Kevin Can Wait

Kevin James with his new Kevin Can Wait TV family
Back in May, as Kevin James stepped out onto the Carnegie Hall stage to introduce advertisers to his new sitcom Kevin Can Wait, he invoked the name of his character from his previous, beloved CBS comedy, The King of Queens.  The father of four, James added that he’s always wanted to work with kids – and thus Kevin Can Wait shows what happens when a guy much like Queens’ blue-collar Doug Heffernan finds himself juggling the added responsibility of children.

The idea for the show arose, notes James’ longtime friend and Kevin co-creator Rock Reuben, from an experience the two men shared, as they returned from a three-month-long shoot in Boston for James’ 2012 film Here Comes the Boom.  Finally heading home, “We thought, ‘This must have been rough on our families, missing us so much.  When we get home, we’ll make up for lost time.’  And then it turned out, they couldn’t have cared less.  Everybody in our families had developed their own routines, and now we were really messing them up.”

At the same time, the two writers also discovered that many of their mutual friends were now about to retire from local New York-area police and fire forces, fantasizing about their futures unfettered and unburdened.  And thus was born James’ character Kevin Gable, a newly retired cop looking forward to rejoining his family’s daily routine, as well as spending carefree time with buddies and fellow retirees Goody (Leonard Earl Howze) and Duffy (Lenny Venito) and his fireman brother Kyle (played by James’ real-life brother, Gary Valentine.)  Of course, Kevin’s best-laid plans for relaxation soon go astray, as he discovers that his wife Donna (Erinn Hayes) has been shielding him from family problems, particularly the one concerning their eldest daughter Kendra (Taylor Spreitler) and her surprise new fiancĂ© Chale (Ryan Cartwright), the unemployed app developer.

For an extra dose of reality, Kevin Can Wait tapes its episodes in a new studio in Bethpage, Long Island, close to James’ and Reuben’s hometowns.  And while James’ real-life kids are all pre-teen and younger, Reuben notes, Kevin’s showrunner Bruce Helford, who previously shepherded Drew Carey’s and George Lopez’s sitcoms to the small screen, brings his own experiences raising a now-grown daughter to the writers’ table.  “Every one of us has kids, of different ages, and so we have different perspectives.”  Particularly with the show’s city-adjacent setting, “There’s a flavor of The King of Queens in the show by design -- and also the humor that comes from the guys hanging out together, kind of being jackasses,” Reuben admits with a laugh, adding, “We have a lot of ideas in that area.”

Mondays at 8:30 PM Eastern

Begins September 19

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Happy Anniversary, Golden Girls!

Bea Arthur, Estelle Getty, Betty White and Rue McClanahan
in the Girls' kitchen -- which had been recycled from a failed
ABC sitcom a year earlier, Richard Crenna and Patty Duke's
It Takes Two.  Problem is, as newly reconfigured, it had no
oven. 
It was thirty-one years ago tonight, on September 14, 1985, that four older ladies called "The Golden Girls" first came into our living rooms.

If you were like me, a teenager in the pre-Internet era who diligently followed all buzz about the new fall season as doled out in the entertainment press, you knew this new show was going to be something special.  After all, it hailed from Susan Harris, the brilliant creator of Soap, and starred TV icons Bea Arthur, Betty White and Rue McClanahan.  And yet, the buzz also said, this newcomer Estelle Getty just might steal the show.

As I've said many times in promoting my book Golden Girls Forever, The Golden Girls was just as unlikely a network product back then as it would be now -- in fact, maybe even more so.  After all, advertisers were then, too, chasing a younger age demographic -- and why, conventional wisdom would say, would those young viewers want to watch four old ladies in Miami?

Before even Susan Harris' involvement, it had been the foresight of NBC head Brandon Tartikoff that had brought these Girls to life (even if the network honchos were afraid, deferring to political correctness, of calling these four ladies "Girls" until Susan Harris reassured them).  Tartikoff had been gestating the idea for a while, having watched the movie How to Marry a Millionaire with his nieces, and having observed the interplay among his crotchety elder relatives in Florida.  So when, at an otherwise boring NBC fall preview event, Night Court's Selma Diamond and Remington Steele's Doris Roberts enlivened the proceedings with their scripted shtik mistaking the title of network's big hope Miami Vice for "Miami Nice," Tartikoff realized the idea was worth pursuing.

It's only through the miracles of great writing and great casting that the fleshed-out concept made it not just to the national airwaves, but into the pop culture pantheon, celebrated as it is more than three decades later.  At 63, Betty White was the eldest of the four women (older by only four months than Bea Arthur, though); today at 94 she's still a national treasure and inspiration.

And so I was honored to get the chance to sit with Betty, as well as Bea and Rue, in their living rooms, and hear their stories about their experiences on the show firsthand.  In all, over 250 guest stars, writers, producers and crew members were happy to share their memories -- and in some cases, rare artifacts -- with me for the book, eager to ensure that such a rare show should enjoy the legacy it deserves.  So to Susan Harris, to Betty, and to the three other Golden ladies we've lost but will never forget, I'd like to take the occasion of this 31st anniversary again to say thank you for the years and years of not just laughs but thought-provoking takes on issues that still concern us.  And above all else, of course, Thank You For Being a Friend!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

RIP Ken Howard, 1944-2016

I was saddened today to hear about the death of Ken Howard, who began his career in 1968 with a role in Broadway's Promises, Promises, and the following year, created the role of Thomas Jefferson in the Tony-winning musical 1776.  Ken himself received a Tony for his role of a young gym coach at a Catholic boys' school in the 1970 stage drama Child's Play; interestingly, it would later be the 6'6" actor's starring role as a former NBA pro-turned-inner city basketball coach in CBS' The White Shadow (1978-81) that would make him a household name for TV audiences.  In 1974-75, Ken had his first TV starring role as bounty hunter Dave Barrett on CBS' The Manhunter, and he would continue to pop up in later years in recurring roles on such shows as Dynasty and its spinoff The Colbys, FameMurder, She Wrote, Melrose Place, Crossing Jordan and, most recently, in the hilarious recurring role of Kabletown CEO Hank Hooper on NBC's 30 Rock.  Elected president of the Screen Actors' Guild in 2009, Ken continued to juggle his SAG-AFTRA duties with performing, such as in HBO's adaptation of Grey Gardens, for which he received his second Emmy Award in 2009.

And apart from all that, Golden Girls fans will of course forever remember Ken as Jerry, the gentlemanly gentleman caller of Blanche's who preferred old-fashioned romance to bed-hopping, and who ultimately left Blanche speechless with their first kiss, which made her feel "like a lady."



A few years ago, I happened to have been seated next to Ken's lovely wife Linda at the taping of the pilot for CBS' sitcom The McCarthys, in which he was appearing, and soon thereafter in February of 2014, I had the pleasure of interviewing them both by phone, as they drove up the coast, about Ken's work on The Golden Girls.  A shorter version of that interview is included in my book Golden Girls Forever, which hits stores on April 5.  But in light of the news today of Ken's passing, I'd like to share his full recollection about working on the show, with its brief glimpse into the life of this beloved actor.

The opportunity to guest star on The Golden Girls came out of the blue, in December of 1991, as my then-fiancĂ©e Linda and I were planning our upcoming wedding in February. It was a busy time, but I was excited to do the show because I was a fan. I knew Bea Arthur a little through Broadway circles, and Betty White a bit, too – and now that Linda and I are on the board of directors for the animal charity the Onyx and Breezy Foundation, we’ve gotten to know Betty much more dearly. And I’d just worked with Rue McClanahan on a TV movie, The Man in the Brown Suit, which had filmed on location in Spain in the summer of 1988. We’d had a lot of opportunity on the set to chat, and so when I heard I’d be working with Rue again, I knew it would be great to see her again. 
Working on The Golden Girls was a wonderful experience, although it goes by so fast. I had a few loving scenes with Rue, which is what I remember most. But I also remember how I enjoyed watching those women work, as they rehearsed their scenes together. That week, I even developed the impression to imitate Bea Arthur -- the trick was to let all the air out of my lungs before I would talk.
When the week was over, Linda had the idea to send each of the ladies flowers. So we sent each a bouquet, a dozen roses. And they were all so touched – but the way Bea Arthur expressed how touched she was, she got mad at me. She said, “You mustn’t spend your money that way, and don’t you ever do that again. Do you hear me?!” And she read me out, which was so her. Her way of saying “Thank you” was to say, “That’s excessive, and don’t ever do it again!” --Ken Howard

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Blanche's Granddaughter Finally Belts Out that Number

In a 1991 episode of The Golden Girls, Alisan Porter -- who, at age 10, already had a rising career after appearing in the 1989 film Parenthood and as the title character of 1991's Curly Sue -- guest starred as Blanche's granddaughter Melissa, whose visit was marred by the pushiness of a stage grandmother who forced her to compete in the Little Miss Miami pageant.



When it came time for her big number, little Melissa froze, completely unable to launch into "Put on a Happy Face."  But now grown up at 34, Alisan has absolutely no problem with "Blue Bayou," Roy Orbison's 1963 hit, which Linda Ronstadt recorded again in 1977.

Check out Alisan's "Blind Audition" performance on the season 10 premiere episode of NBC's megahit The Voice, airing this coming Monday, February 29 at 8PM Eastern.  When they hear a voice this amazing, all four judges -- Blake Shelton, Christina Aguilera, Pharrell Williams and Adam Levine -- are bound to turn their chairs around.  I won't reveal which coach Alisan ultimately chooses.  But let's just say that Alisan's story, of childhood stardom, a journey through addiction, and now a happy life as a wife and mother, has many wonderful chapters to come.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Check Out Superstore

America Ferrera debuts tonight in Superstore,
10 PM Eastern/Pacific on NBC
Although it's not set to continue the rest of its 11-episode first-season run until the new year, America Ferrera's latest series, Superstore, premieres tonight at 10, as a special one-hour block following megahit lead-in The Voice.  (The series' eventual Monday night companion piece, Eva Longoria's Telenovela, will get the same preview push at the same time next week, on Monday, December 7.)

I've seen episodes of Superstore, and can attest it's worth checking out, not only for Ferrera's endearing new character Amy, but for the rest of its skilled comedic ensemble cast, including Mad Men's Ben Feldman as her new romantic interest, the elitist Jonah, Kids in the Hall's Mark McKinney as the hyperreligious store manager Glenn and Another Period's Lauren Ash as the super-weird and aggressive Dina.

Superstore comes from creator Justin Spitzer, who worked for years as a producer on NBC's great ensemble comedy The Office -- and the DNA shows here.  Superstore has the same mix of officious weirdos as funny supporting characters, and yet also shows a lot of heart.  After the overwhelming experience playing a title character on Ugly Betty, Ferrera said today at a lunch for critics on the Universal lot in Los Angeles that she's happy to step into a true ensemble.  Plus, the woman is busy; not only does she develop TV shows at her own development company, but as a producer of Superstore, she's part of the show's story decisions.  As such, she adds that she's happy that Spitzer and his writing staff are expert at pacing out story developments in Superstore's first season, trusting the audience to keep tuning in to learn more about its ever-deepening characters.

If the four episodes available to the press are any indication, it will be a season worth spending.  Check out the show's first two installments tonight at 10 PM, following The Voice on NBC.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Undateable: Je Suis Paris

From the start of this, its third season, NBC's sitcom Undateable has aired live every Friday night -- until tonight.

At 4:45 PM Pacific time -- just 15 minutes before the first of two live telecasts was to be performed for the Eastern time zone -- Undateable opted to cancel tonight's live show in deference to the terrorist attack on Paris.

With several of the networks scrambling to cover the breaking situation -- such as ABC's 20/20, which will devote its hour to coverage -- it's likely that NBC would have pre-empted at least one of the Undateable performances anyway.  But as an emotional Bill Lawrence, the show's executive producer, explained to a disappointed yet understanding crowd, tonight it didn't feel right for the cast or producers to go live with the show's trademark brand of silliness.

At the producers' request, musical guest Joshua Radin did perform for the crowd, albeit a different, more mournful song than he'd planned.  Barring anything unforeseen, Undateable will be back live next Friday -- probably with the same episode we would have seen tonight.  Bravo to Bill Lawrence, Randall Winston (he's the producer you'll see placing the "Je Suis Paris" sign in the video below), Chris D'Elia, who addresses the crowd here, and the cast and crew of Undateable for this classy move, in tribute to the victims of this senseless violence.

video



Friday, October 16, 2015

Another Undateable Duo

Undateable's Ron Funches (l) and David Fynn
According to his posts on Twitter, on tonight's live episode of Undateable -- the second installment of Undateable's all-live third season on NBC -- actor David Fynn, who plays gay British bartender Brett, will be periscoping live from within a scene.  It's one of the many ways Undateable is reinventing the live broadcast, and folding viewers into the experience via a variety of social media.

Last week, just in advance of the show's season premiere, I sat down with David and co-star Ron Funches, whose character Shelly has a way of imbuing even the most edgy of remarks with his trademark cuddliness and likeability.  I talked with the two about everything from Ron's weight loss -- 75 pounds since last season! -- and their biggest fears about what could happen live, tonight at 8PM Eastern (rebroadcast for other time zones) tonight on NBC.

Must-Hear TV:  Ron, you look a little different from last year.  How did you do it?

Ron Funches:  Just working out.  Exercises with a trainer.  And I hate it.

MHTV:  How is the show going to explain Shelly's new appearance?

RF:  I don’t think they’re going to have to.  I lost 75 pounds, but I’m magically still fat!  So it works!  I think they’ll just let it go.

MHTV:  Come on, with all the live stuff that could happen on the show?  Last year, Chris D'Elia's Danny commented on Brent Morin's character Justin's weight.  So you think they’re just going to let it go for Shelly?

RF:  That would be fine!  Great, bring it up, get me more dates!

MHTV:  When you were told you were going to do live shows all year, were you intimidated?

David Fynn:  No.  I think this is a cast that embraces pressure like that.  The four boys come from standup backgrounds, Bridgit [Mendler] is a live performer, and I’ve done theater and stuff.  I think if any cast is going to embrace live TV, I think it’s going to be us.  I think we kind of get off on the adrenaline of it as well.  Like on our tape nights, when things were kind of coming out a bit crazy and the improv was going a bit crazy, you could really feel that energy from the audience.  And I think to have that in a live scenario suits our cast very well.

MHTV:  What’s your worst nightmare of what could happen?

DF:  Cursing, for sure.

RF:  Cursing is the worst nightmare.  But also, because the show will be doing some things where they unexpectedly put the camera on other [audience] people, what if that person curses?  That’s my worst nightmare, where it’s someone out of our control.

DF:  I guess dropping a line would be pretty bad.  But someone would save you, though.  You’d be fine.

MHTV:  You’re all skilled enough in working without a net that you can cover for each other.

DF:  Sure.  And because we rehearse quite a lot now, we know the story so well that if a line goes, the most important thing is that you’re tuned into the story, so someone will bail you out.

MHTV:  Do you have a dream guest star you’d like this season?

RF:  I like The Rock.  The Rock would come here, and be like, "Oh man, I’m not feeling confident. Shelly, teach me how to be so cool!"  That would be great.

DF:  I’d like Ricky Gervais

MHTV:  He could play your dad!

DF:  That would be amazing!  And he’s lovely, too.  I think he’d embrace it.  Let’s get Ricky Gervais!

RF:  Let’s make Ricky Gervais MY dad!

MHTV:  He might be one of those people who could drop the F-bomb.  He’s a little unpredictable.  Maybe he’s the one who’d get the show fined by the FCC!

DF:  And he’d love it as well!

MHTV:  Do you think comedies like Undateable have a specific advantage in addressing stories about race and class, as compared to TV dramas?

RF:  Yes, of course!  The advantage is, you get to tell jokes.  Or more exactly, you can say exactly what you mean, and people will think it’s a joke.  And those are usually the best jokes, when you’re really just saying what you truly believe, but because it’s an uncomfortable truth, people are going to laugh at their reaction.  When you’re doing it in a drama, you have a tendency to be whiny or preachy.  But when you’re using humor, you can diffuse the situation and make light of it, and be very honest without people really holding you to it.

MHTV:  Do you guys have in the back of your heads some lines that you would throw out there in a nervous moment, or just to mess with your costars?  Are you banking stuff to play with in the scenes?

RF:  No, because I feel like that’s cheating.  That’s taking away the live atmosphere.  What will happen is when we’re live, because we’re very funny people we’ll play the situation.  And if something comes up, we’ll say it.

DF:  I think we all had moments in the [live season 2] finale that we improv’d something.  I think the first [East Coast broadcast] was a little tighter on the script, and the second show [for the West Coast] everyone was a little bit more loose.  I felt like in the first show people were spotting opportunities, but not taking them as much as in the second.  And then in the second, people were  having little gos and still improvising.  So I still think that spontaneous thing will still be there this season.

MHTV:  What are this seasons's character arcs for Shelly and Brett.  Will Brett get a boyfriend?

DF:  It’s already talked about that I’m possibly seeing a guy, so hopefully we’ll bring him in at some point.

MHTV:  Do you know who they’ll cast?

DF:  I’m pretty sure it’s going to be Anthony Hopkins.  [laughs]

MHTV:  Or, another possible dad!

DF:  Yeah!  My dad actually looks like Anthony Hopkins a bit.

RF:  I know a specific thing but I can’t talk about it.  But I can say that Shelly’s going to have some trials in his life that he’ll have to deal with, coming up.  And we’ll get to watch him deal with them.

MHTV:  Any special ladies?

RF:  I hope so.  I hope so in the show, and in my real life.

MHTV:  What kind of social media things will you be doing to tie into the live performances?

RF:  Every day at 4:30, we’re all going to be doing periscope.  We’ll all have our own individual shows: David will be doing some actor challenges, and I will be doing a thing called Funches’ Favorites, which is basically a lifestyle magazine about being a modern man, just showing you the things that I love.  And then we’ll be live tweeting during the shows.  We’ll be all over social media.

DF:  During scenes, if we’re not speaking, we’ll be on our phones, tweeting.  We’ve been told to do it during scenes.

MHTV:  Just to make it harder, to have more things to juggle!  Are we going to meet any of your family members?  We were joking about your possible dads.

RF:  I haven’t heard anything yet.  I know we’ve been talking about my cousin, who’s meth-addicted.  So hopefully he’ll show up!


Undateable
Airs LIVE for the East Coast, Friday October 16 at 8PM,
Replayed from live broadcast in other time zones
NBC