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.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Alec Mapa joins hot NBC pilot "The Sackett Sisters"

Casey Wilson (l) and Busy Philipps
film a scene in the new NBC pilot
The Sackett Sisters
As we inch closer to NBC's Upfront presentation -- i.e., the network's revelation of its 2017-18 schedule, complete with renewals, cancellations and new series pickups -- one comedy pilot that's been garnering buzz as an almost sure thing is The Sackett Sisters, starring Busy Philipps, Casey Wilson and Bradley Whitford.

In the potential new series -- which sources say if picked up may be held for midseason, to accommodate Casey Wilson's pregnancy -- two estranged sisters perform a Sully Sullenberger-esque act of public heroism, then are forced to navigate their newfound notoriety together.

Alec Mapa
In one latest bit of Sackett casting, Alec Mapa has signed on to play the sisters' therapist, Josh.  The out gay actor has appeared on such fun shows as Desperate Housewives, Ugly Betty, Scream Queens, Mom and Jane the Virgin, and made history playing network TV's first gay Asian series regular role on the short-lived CBS sitcom Some of My Best Friends.  On the big screen, he was a scream in such films as Connie & Carla, and You Don't Mess with the Zohan.

NBC is already leading the pack with new series announcements, with its previous pickups of two new dramas, Rise and For God and Country.  On the comedy side, the network has the now 12-episode revival of Will & Grace -- which will need some comedy company.  Although multi-cam sitcoms like W&G generally work better with other multi-cams, the network has only one of those -- Relatively Happy, from W&G co-creator Max Mutchnick and Trial & Error co-creator Jeff Astrof -- among its pilots.  One of ABC's multi-cam pilots, Carol Burnett's Household Name, is produced by NBC Universal, so it could end up at the Peacock Network if ABC cuts it loose.

But regardless of format, NBC needs new comedy blood, and The Sackett Sisters -- which comes with an impressive pedigree, having been created by 30 Rock writer Luke del Tredici and executive produced by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock -- seems to be leading the pack as of this writing.  Stay tuned for more announcements from NBC, leading up to its big upfront morning of Monday, May 15.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Lauren Ash and Nico Santos Talk Tonight's Superstore... and what they hope for the show's future

With Lauren Ash and Nico Santos
for NBC's "Summer Press Day"
Beverly Hilton hotel, Beverly Hills,
March 20, 2017
 This past Monday, NBC held a soiree in Beverly Hills to preview the network’s upcoming summer series.  Throughout the day, we critics saw clips of new shows like Midnight, Texas, and previews of upcoming seasons of The Wall, Hollywood Game Night and The Night Shift.  Then that night, the casts and producers of many of the shows mingled on the rooftop of the Beverly Hilton hotel.  And although I did talk a little about the new stuff coming up, I was most excited to see two stars of NBC’s hilarious comedy Superstore.

Tonight, we get to see an important episode of this second season, as Mateo (Nico Santos) deals with the repercussions of the revelation of his relationship with Jeff (Michael Bunin) – which includes being forced to transfer to a different store.  The episode, titled “Mateo’s Last Day,” is also notable in that it was directed by that series’ multi-faceted star, America Ferrera.

I spoke with Santos and with Lauren Ash – aka Dina, although in her glam blue hostess-pant outfit, you’d never see the resemblance – about tonight’s episode, the future of Superstore in season three, and what they’d like to see happen for their characters.

Must-Hear TV:  How does life at Cloud 9 change now that Dina and Mateo’s secrets are out?

Nico Santos:  We’re out of the closet now!  As you saw from the end of the last episode, Mateo has to transfer stores for the romance to work.  So this next episode – which America directed, and is a lot of fun – is titled “Mateo’s Last Day.”  To what capacity, the audience will just have to wait and see.  But there’s a lot of drama that happens with his undocumented status, and with Jeff, there’s some drama. 

MHTV:  I’ve been fooled by the show before, like with the walkout at the end of season 1.

NS:  Well if you thought the season 1 finale with the walkout was crazy…

Lauren Ash:  …You’ll have to wait for the season 2 finale.  Which we can’t give details about, but…

NS:  …It makes the season 1 finale look weak!

The cast of NBC's Thursday night comedy
LA:  What I will say is I don’t know how they’re going to get us out of it, and I don’t know that they know how they’re going to get us out of it.  Which is amazing.

MHTV:  I wrote a book about Will  Grace, and those writers used to say that every season they deliberately painted themselves into a corner with the finale, because the fun was figuring your way out.

LA:  Absolutely.  That was also Dexter.  That constantly happened at the end of seasons of that show, where it was like, “Now what?!”  Not that we’re a murdering type show, but…  Who knows!

MHTV:  Would you think it was unusual if you found out Dina had a closet full of bodies?

LA:  I feel like she’s too much of a rule follower to actually commit a murder, but….

NS:  Mateo would totally have bodies. 

LA:  Yeah, he would bury a body for sure.  But there’s great stuff coming up.  Obviously the Dina/Garrett storyline is so much fun.  Yes, they know that they are sleeping together, and that they like sleeping together – but they also hate each other.  So it’s pretty fun.  I think it’s a great metaphor for modern romance and dating, in the app world that we live in, where people date a bunch of people at the same time.  It’s kind of a different world than it was even like 10 years ago.  So there’s some really fun stuff coming.  And the other thing we can tease is that this season’s second-to-last episode does not set foot in the store.  That’s a first.  Because we’ve seen us outside the store, but we’ve never had an episode that’s completely out of the store.  Fans are going to go crazy.

MHTV:  Is it set at some kind of retreat?

NS:  We’ve said too much!

MHTV:  How does Dina and Garrett’s relationship change now that everyone knows?  And how does it change life in the store?

LA:  It’s somewhat business as usual, but now that the other characters know, their awkwardness is a fun thing.  We explore that [tonight’s] episode for sure.  How does this define them in the workplace?  Because they’re not in a relationship, they’re not married, they’re not engaged, they’re into even dating – in fact they hate each other.  But they do have this existing connection which has to be acknowledged.  But how do you acknowledge it?  There’s really fun play with the human resources aspect of what that would look like.

MHTV:  Yes!  If Mateo has to leave because of Jeff, then…

LA:  Exactly.  So what does that mean?  And Mateo and Jeff is a real relationship, but we don’t know what this is [with Dina and Garrett.]

MHTV:  But this is almost worse, because it could go wrong in so many different ways.

LA:  That’s right!  And the other great thing about tonight’s episode is that America directed it, which I don’t feel is getting enough press.  I think that should be out there more!  Because she did a fucking killer job!  She was great!  It was amazing.  No one knows the show better than us, and so what a gift, to have somebody who knows and has been there literally from day one be your director! 

MHTV:  Comparing the show to The Office, I think it’s pretty clear that Dina is very similar to Dwight, the weird rule followers.  Would you say that, Lauren?  And Nico, who would be Mateo’s Office counterpart?

LA:  I have to admit something, and I don’t normally do this because I feel bad about it, but I actually didn’t watch The Office.

MHTV:  You were in Canada!

LA:  But I did watch the British Office, that’s the thing.  So people often bring up “you’re the female Dwight.”  And I love the comparison, because I know he was a beloved character and he’s so funny.  But any similarities were not deliberate.  I don’t really have a frame of reference for him.

MHTV:  I would think some of it comes from the writing.

LA:  I think some of it is, certainly.  But I think ultimately, we all know somebody like that.  There’s always somebody in our lives who is that stick-in-the-mud, for lack of a more modern term.  So there’s something relatable about that archetype.  I think some people think I’m doing an impression of him, which is not the case.  I wouldn’t even know where to begin.  But any comparisons to that show are amazing.  That show was so successful and had so much heart, and people loved it.  So that’s a great statement.

NS:  I’m also not that familiar with a lot of characters from the Office.  But in season 1 of our show, people were asking, “Is Mateo like a Dwight-esque character as well?”  And I don’t think so.

MHTV:  I don’t know who he would be.

NS:  He’s Pam!

MHTV:  I was thinking maybe Angela.  They were both uptight, but had a romantic side.

NS:  Okay, I’ll take that!

MHTV:  Angela also dated a gay man!

LA:  But Parks & Rec I think is another comparison you can make.  A show which I loved.  And again, there’s Ron Swanson.  He isn’t necessarily like Dina or Dwight, but is.  It’s still that kind of character.  The really strong, confident, bold type.

MHTV:  But completely out of touch.

NS:  That’s the thing about our show.  You watch it, and you see somebody like Dina and somebody like Mateo or Garrett, and you realize, “Oh, I’ve worked with them before!”  We all play somebody who people have worked with before.

MHTV:  Why is everybody so mean to poor Sandra?

LA:  For the most part, it’s Dina being mean to Sandra.  People often ask me why, and my answer is always to say that I think Dina just smells weakness.  If Sandra were super-confident, Dina wouldn’t mess with her.  But because there’s a vulnerability there, she doesn’t respect her.

NS:  It’s so crazy, because Kaliko Kauahi, who plays Sandra, is so not her character.  She’s amazing.  She’s from the islands, very low-key.  She’s got a very laid-back, Hawaiian attitude.  So it’s so funny to see her portray Sandra, and people expect her to be that meek person, but she’s not.

LA:  She’s so sweet, too.  I feel bad screaming in her face.

MHTVSuperstore did something great, which was adding more secondary characters over time as they proved themselves popular.  Was that the case with Sandra, and Marcus the warehouse guy, and Myrtle?

NS:  Somebody like  Johnnny Pemberton who plays Bo, Kaliko as Sandra, Jon Barinholtz as Marcus – these three actors have really added so much to our show.  From the moment they were on the show for their first appearances, they meshed well.  I’m excited for them to get more into the show, and for other additions in the near future.

LA:  Because the reality of those stores is that people come and go like crazy.  You have some people who have been there for 30 years, and some who have been there for 3 weeks.  And there’s a lot of turnover.  So it’s great, because it opens up the writers to trying different people and characters.  Certainly, a character like Sandra, the audience responded to right away.  So it would have been silly for them not to pursue that.  And she’s become a huge storyline this season.

MHTV:  Lauren, has any of your real-life experiences at [Canadian retailer] Zellers been pitched as storylines?

LA:  So many have been pitched…

MHTV:  Has any landed?

LA:  No!  They love them but they haven’t done any of them yet.  So I’ve got to keep pushing.  There are some good ones that I feel like we’ll get into the show for sure eventually.

MHTV:  What do you hope happens in season 3 for each of your characters?

NS:  I really hope that we get to meet some members of Mateo’s family.  We almost never see a Filipino family on television.  Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is the first time.  And just like with any other family, Filipinos are just kind of crazy.  So I would love for our audiences to be introduced to them.

MHTV:  Who do you want your parents to be?

NS:  America is actually really trying to pitch me portraying my own mom!  Which I would do!

LA:  Nico Santos, Nico Santos and Nico Santos!

NS:  We’ll do a Nutty Professor thing.  I would love it!

MHTV:   How about for Dina?  What would you like us to see in season 3?

LA:  Dina’s birds!  This is the thing that the fans are crying out to see on social media.  And I have been pushing to Justin, so we’ll see.  We’ve talked about them so much, and what is it they say – “if you’re going to pull out a gun, you have to use it”?  So I think we have to see the birds.

MHTV:  What do you think Dina’s birds have been trained to say?

LA:  They pledge allegiance to the flag.  I think she runs them through military drills.  I just think it would be such a gift to see that.  There have been people on twitter who have also been pitching that Camryn Manheim should play my mother on the show, and that’s actually awesome!  Not that I’m suggesting that she looks old enough to be my mother at all, but I think she’s amazing.

MHTV:  She’d be a young mother, which would explain a lot about Dina’s upbringing.

LA:  Exactly!  And I think it would be great to see Dina’s mother, somebody in Dina’s family who makes Dina look like Sandra.  I would like to see the person in Dina’s life who makes her shut down, whoever that may be.  Someone from her past.  And, the other thing that I’ve forgotten to say earlier:  America and I are pushing so hard that Dina and Amy knew each other in high school, and we want to see a flashback.  This is our dream.  We have been pushing this with [executive producer] Justin [Spitzer], and he keeps giggling and saying “okay…”  But I love the idea that they went to high school together!  My opinion has always been that Dina would consider Amy to be her best friend, even though there’s no basis for that.  We never see each other after work.

MHTV:  I can’t imagine Dina has a lot of female friends.

LA:  She has no friends!  But in her mind, she thinks Amy is her best friend.  Which I always improv into different things, “Well, she’s my best friend, so…”  So I’d love to see what that dynamic was.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Meet Ms. Wilson

Betty White and Emily Osment
in Freeform's Young & Hungry
Tonight's episode of Freeform's sitcom Young & Hungry marks the introduction of a new character, Ms. Wilson -- played by a venerable lady who is anything but young.

The show's writers had laid out this Valentine's Day-themed episode, where after a misunderstanding Gabi has to return a ring she has just learned was not intended for her.  But as originally scripted, before Gabi can get to the ring, a mouse would nab it first.

But, as the show's creator David Holden notes, the network's executives found the mouse bit a bit forced, "and for lack of a better word, cheesy."  And so David and another of the show's writer/producers, Caryn Lucas, took a walk around the CBS Radford studio lot to brainstorm.

With Young & Hungry being directed by Andy Cadiff, who had worked with Betty White all through Hot in Cleveland, the Young writers already knew they wanted to find a way to lure Betty onto their set.  So when David and Caryn decided the plot would instead involve a neighbor in her apartment, "Caryn turned to me and said, 'What if the neighbor is Betty?'," David remembers.

The two rushed back to their offices and pitched the idea to the rest of the staff; ultimately, writer Rachel Sweet, who had spent years on Hot in Cleveland, was elected to write dialogue for Betty's new character:  the five-times-married widow, Bernice Wilson.

Betty filmed her scenes for tonight's episode in December -- not in front of the live audience, but pre-taped, mostly because her scenes would be shot on "swing sets" which are located off to the side of the soundstage, out of the audience's view.  Her scenes completed, Betty had had such a great time  that she indicated that day that she'd like to return.

And so, later this season, look for a romantic episode where Mrs. Wilson and Gabi take a danger-fraught road trip to Vegas.  As Gabi (Emily Osment) suffers through, at 25, her "quarter-life crisis," Bernice, turning 95 on the same day, has a preoccupation of her own:  to meet up with a man she kissed 20 years ago, and with whom she made a pact to meet as they turned 95.  Ultimately, Betty was thrilled not only to come back to Young & Hungry in a bigger plotline revolving around her character, but also to be playing opposite her real-life close friend Carl Reiner, aka Bernice's long-lost beau, Bernie.

As David explains, the writers came up with the idea of the age-based pact when they realized that the episode would be taping on the day of Betty's actual 95th birthday:  January 17, 2017.  After the scenes were shot, the Young & Hungry stages turned into a birthday party for Betty, with a select number of humans, including Carl and also her former Mary Tyler Moore Show and Hot in Cleveland co-star Georgia Engel, and a preponderance of animals.  Throughout the evening, Betty talked with her guests while nonchalantly cradling a porcupine, or armadillo, or a lynx which, David admits, "I was afraid was going to claw her face off."

Betty's second episode, opposite Carl, will air in May -- and it will probably not be her last; Young & Hungry's writers intend to bring back Bernice, whose relationship at ninetysomething is a nice counterpoint to Gabi and Josh's. Now that the show has gotten the "back order" of episodes to comprise the remainder of its fifth season, David explains that while the first ten episodes will be about Gabi and Josh (Jonathan Sadowski) realizing they were meant to be together, "the back ten will be about exploring what that entails."  And as Bernie and Bernice explore their own burgeoning love, the two women will be able to compare notes about what it means to move in with a guy.  "The younger with the older," David says, "is such a great dynamic."

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

RIP Bill Paxton, 1955-2017

Justin Cornwell and Bill Paxton
in CBS' small-screen adaptation
of the 2001 film Training Day.
It's hard to believe that the vibrant, talented and from all accounts good-hearted actor Bill Paxton passed away this past weekend at the age of 61, after complications from surgery.  Paxton rose to fame in film: he had a notable run with director James Cameron, in Aliens, True Lies and Titanic; he chased tornadoes with Helen Hunt in Twister;the native Texan was a gunslinger in Tombstone and Frank & Jesse; he was the piece-of-shit older brother (literally) in Weird Science.  And of course, Paxton found big success on the small screen, with his lead roles in HBO's Big Love, The History Channel's Hatfields & McCoys, and his current role as dirtyish cop Frank Rourke on CBS' recent debut, Training Day.

Training Day wrapped production of its first -- and especially now, probably its only -- season back in December, meaning that there are still episodes about to unspool, keeping Paxton's talent that much more alive through the end of this TV season.  The show debuted to only so-so ratings, and slipped thereafter, meaning it was probably a long-shot for renewal anyway.  There's been no word from CBS as to the show's fate -- contrast that, of course, to the cancellation of the network's other big midseason drama entry, Doubt, which was cancelled after just two episodes aired -- but here's hoping that, at the very least in tribute to Bill, we get to see all thirteen.  (Later this year, audiences will get to see Paxton's final film role, with the release of the sci-fi thriller The Circle, in which he co-stars with Tom Hanks.)

Last May 18 -- just a day after Paxton's 61st birthday -- I had the pleasure of interviewing him and his Training Day co-star Justin Cornwell about the upcoming show, and about how the Rourke character fit into the collection of characters in Paxton's career.  You've played a lot of bad guys, I remarked to him -- well, make that bad-ish guys.  Do you think these guys are what you'd call "justifiably bad?"

"Justifiably bad?  You bet.  To me, the characters I’ve played -- and I’ve played a few antagonistic characters – usually have more justification than the protagonist.  They have a real reason to be the way they are.  And certainly my character Frank Rourke in this, he’s been in this business a long time.  He’s a 30-year veteran.  He’s seen everything.  He’s seen stuff that would appall most normal people, who wouldn’t be able to go back to the job.  But it’s in his blood.  He’s a hunter.  I start off [Training Day] with a narration, talking about how LA has always been a hunting ground, going back to the Pleistocene days, ten thousand years ago.  The La Brea tarpits for God’s sakes!  And is hasn’t really changed.  [In playing a morally grey character in that setting], you have to have a reason for doing what you’re doing.  You’re not just the 'bad cop.'”

Having grown up in the '60s, Paxton later added, he was happy for today's emergence of "antihero" shows, and was happy to take on such a character in Training Day.  It's just one of the latest examples of a career's worth of characters, made memorable by a talented actor.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Fox renews freshman series "Lethal Weapon" and "Star"

Two more early pieces of news from Fox today: the network has given early renewals to two freshman series, this past fall's adaptation of Lethal Weapon, and a much more recent show to debut, the musical series Star.

Check out the press releases below, with details about each show's current-season performance, as well as loglines of upcoming episodes.


An All-New Episode Airs Tonight on FOX

FOX has ordered a second season of the hit action drama LETHAL WEAPON, it was announced today by David Madden, President, Entertainment, Fox Broadcasting Company.

“LETHAL WEAPON continues to fire on all cylinders,” said Madden. “Every week, it delivers a big, fun rollercoaster ride, but also remains touchingly human and genuinely emotional, and that’s due to the chemistry that’s developed not only between Damon Wayans and Clayne Crawford, but the entire cast. We want to thank our producing partners, Warner Bros., as well as Matt Miller, McG, Dan Lin and Jennifer Gwartz, who have done a fantastic job in crafting a series for which a second-season order is well deserved.”

LETHAL WEAPON delivers a total Multi-Platform average audience of 11 million viewers and ranks among the Top 5 new series this season.

In tonight’s all-new episode, “Unnecessary Roughness,” airing 8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT, on FOX, a murder involving a high school football phenomenon draws Riggs (Clayne Crawford) and Murtaugh (Damon Wayans) into the lucrative – and corrupt – world of college recruiting. Meanwhile, Murtaugh considers a big change in his professional life, and Riggs contemplates an even bigger shift in his personal life, as he spends more time with DEA Agent Karen Palmer (guest star Hilarie Burton).

Combining action and drama with ride-or-die friendship and humor, LETHAL WEAPON reimagines the hit movie franchise, as it follows classic cop duo Riggs (Clayne Crawford, “Rectify”) and Murtaugh (Emmy Award nominee Damon Wayans, “My Wife and Kids,” “In Living Color”), who work a crime-ridden beat in modern-day Los Angeles. Grief-stricken after the loss of his young wife and unborn child, ex-Navy SEAL-turned-detective MARTIN RIGGS moves to California to “start over” at the LAPD. He’s paired up with ROGER MURTAUGH, who’s just coming back to the job after a near-fatal heart attack. Riggs’ penchant for diving headfirst into the line of fire immediately clashes with Murtaugh’s prudent, by-the-book technique. One has everything to live for, the other has nothing to lose.

LETHAL WEAPON is a production of Warner Bros. Television in association with Lin Pictures and Good Session Productions. Matt Miller (“Forever,” “The 100”), Dan Lin (“The LEGO Movie,” “Sherlock Holmes”), Jennifer Gwartz (“Forever,” “Veronica Mars”) and McG (“The Mysteries of Laura,” “The O.C.,” “Charlie’s Angels”) serve as executive producers. The pilot was written by Miller and directed by McG. “Like” LETHAL WEAPON on Facebook at Follow the series on Twitter @LethalWeaponFOX and join the discussion at #LethalWeapon. See photos and videos onInstagram by following @LethalWeaponFOX.

All episodes of LETHAL WEAPON are available on FOX NOW, Hulu and On Demand. To watch episodes on FOX NOW, visit


An All-New Episode Airs Tonight on FOX

FOX has renewed the drama series STAR for a second season, it was announced today by David Madden, President, Entertainment, Fox Broadcasting Company.

“Lee Daniels is a true visionary and he and Tom Donaghy have delivered a series with a unique and meaningful point of view,” said Madden. “Our incredible cast, led by Queen Latifah and Benjamin Bratt, instantly infused their characters with tremendous depth and passion, and the show has proved to be both powerful and really entertaining. We are thrilled that this STAR will continue to shine for a second season.”

Delivering an average Multi-Platform audience of more than seven and a half million viewers, STAR is an emotionally powerful drama that follows three talented singers – running from their pasts and desperate for a new start – with ambitions of stardom, as they navigate the cut-throat music business. The series features Queen Latifah, Benjamin Bratt, Jude Demorest, Brittany O’Grady, Ryan Destiny, Amiyah Scott and Quincy Brown.

Only three more episodes of STAR remain before the jaw-dropping season finale, airing Wednesday, March 15 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. As the season comes to a close, news of Otis’ murder continues to wreak havoc on God’s Blessings Beauty Salon and threatens to break up the family, as the girls will face life-changing decisions that could tear them apart. Special guest stars set to appear on STAR over the next four weeks include Naomi Campbell, Big Boi, Rickey Smiley, Missy Elliott and Paris Jackson. 

STAR is a production of 20th Century Fox Television in association with Lee Daniels Entertainment. Lee Daniels and Tom Donaghy are the creators and executive producers of the series. Pamela Oas Williams and Effie Brown also serve as executive producers. Chuck Pratt is an executive producer and serves asshowrunner of the series. “Like” STAR on Facebook at Follow the series on Twitter @STAR and join the discussion by using #Star. See photos and videos on Instagram by following @STARonFOX. 
All previously aired episodes of STAR are available on FOX NOW and On Demand to subscribers of participating pay-TV services. To learn more about FOX NOW, please visit

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Watch out, Greenwich: Fox Renews "The Mick" for season 2

l-r, Sofia Black-Delia, Jack Stanton, Carla Jimenez,
Thomas Barbusca, Scott MacArthur and Kaitlin Olson
in Fox's comedy The Mick

This morning, in advance of the usual barrage of renewals and cancellations in May, Fox announced a season 2 pickup for its midseason comedy The Mick, a show of faith in Kaitlin Olson and her "bad aunt" sitcom.

No word yet on whether The Mick will be on Fox's fall schedule, or will be held, like this year, until after the World Series or beyond for a midseason debut.  Stay tuned!

Below, Fox's full announcement:

 An All-New Episode Airs Tonight on FOX Hit comedy THE MICK, starring Kaitlin Olson, has been renewed for a second season, it was announced today by David Madden, President, Entertainment, Fox Broadcasting Company.
“From the earliest stages of development, all of us at FOX had enormous faith in THE MICK, and it hasn’t disappointed,” said Madden. “Kaitlin is a fearless comedic force, and the rest of the cast has just proven to be phenomenal. John and Dave Chernin have a very clear vision of what this show is, and they execute on that vision each week to perfection. We really couldn’t be happier with THE MICK, and we’re so thrilled to renew the series for a second season.”
On tonight’s all-new episode of THE MICK, “The Baggage,” airing 8:30-9:00 ET/PT, on FOX, Mickey’s (Kaitlin Olson) unwanted suitors team up to thwart her new romance. Meanwhile, Sabrina (Sofia Black-D’Elia) and Alba (Carla Jimenez) teach Ben (Jack Stanton) a lesson in responsibility.
Delivering an average Multi-Platform audience of eight million viewers, THE MICK is a comedy about an unapologetic degenerate (Kaitlin Olson) who suddenly finds herself stuck raising her spoiled niece (Sofia Black-D’Elia, “The Night Of”) and nephews (Thomas Barbusca, “Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life”; newcomer Jack Stanton) in affluent Greenwich, CT. It’s pretty much everything she never wanted. Regardless, she’s determined to rise to the occasion and transform these little monsters into honest, hard-working, decent members of society – something she knows absolutely nothing about.
The series also stars Carla Jimenez (“Last Man Standing”) and newcomer Scott MacArthur. Produced by 20th Century Fox Television, THE MICK was created/written by John Chernin (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) and Dave Chernin (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”). The Chernin brothers, Nicholas Frenkel (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) and Oly Obst (“Barely Famous”), along with Randall Einhorn (“Nurse Jackie,” “The Office”), who directed the pilot episode, are executive producers. Kaitlin Olson is a co-executive producer on the series.
“Like” THE MICK on Facebook at
Follow the series on Twitter @TheMickFOX and join the discussion at #TheMick.
See photos and videos on Instagram @TheMickFOX. All episodes of THE MICK are available on FOX NOW, Hulu and On Demand.
To watch episodes on FOX NOW, visit

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Henstridge Era Continues, as E! renews "The Royals" for season 4

News coming out of, Los Angeles today, as E! announces a fourth-season renewal for its scripted series The Royals.  Ten episodes will air at an unspecified date, after the season 3 finale airs this Sunday night, February 19.  Read on for the official royal proclamation:

Season Three of the Delightfully Scandalous Original Scripted Series Starring Elizabeth Hurley Averages 1.1M Total Viewers, with More Than 600k in the A18-49 Demo, and 1.6M Weekly Social Engagements  
Third Season Finale Episode Airs This Sunday, February 19 at 10pm ET/PT on E!, Followed by “The Royal Hangover” on Facebook Live at 11pm ET
Los Angeles and Santa Monica, CA, February 16, 2017 – E! Entertainment announced a season four pick-up of the hit original scripted drama series “The Royals,” co-produced by Lionsgate and Universal Cable Productions.  Created by Mark Schwahn (“One Tree Hill”), the hour-long drama follows a fictional modern day royal family as they find love, conspire against one another, and are forced to face long-hidden secrets, all in the name of the crown.  “The Royals’” fourth season will consist of 10 one-hour episodes, to be followed each week by The Loyals’ favorite after show, “The Royal Hangover,” on Facebook Live. 
The third season has been a fun, sexy romp filled with battles for the throne, unexpected trysts, secret relationships, impossible returns, and complicated reveals from the past.   Events have included Queen Helena’s (Elizabeth Hurley) bitter battle against Cyrus (Jake Maskall) to prove Prince Liam (William Moseley) and Princess Eleanor (Alexandra Park) are rightful heirs to the throne after King Simon’s murder; the presumed dead Prince Robert’s (Max Brown) return to the palace; Queen Helena’s obsession with the Crown Prince of Lichtenstein (Elizabeth Hurley’s son, Damian Hurley) from the “Royal & Beautiful” television series; Princess Eleanor and her bodyguard Jasper (Tom Austen) taking a romantic turn in their relationship while he struggles to keep his past from catching up to him; and finally, Cyrus fighting for his life and the throne. 
In the upcoming third season finale episode, airing this Sunday, February 19 at 10pm, Prince Liam finds himself in unexpected places while looking to validate or dismiss the latest palace scandal. Queen Helena is heartbroken over a recent loss, while Jasper makes a final play for Princess Eleanor’s heart, and historic changes assure that nothing will ever be the same behind the palace gates.
Following the episode, the cast of “The Royals” joins creator Mark Schwahn to talk about the latest vices, skirmishes and not-so-secret rendezvous the nobles have taken part in throughout the season on “The Royal Hangover” on Facebook Live at 11pm ET on Sunday, February 19.
 “The third season of ‘The Royals’ has proven to be an entertaining mix of secrets, deceit and desire that our fans can't get enough of,” said Adam Stotsky, President, E! Entertainment and Esquire Network.  “We are excited to see what new scandals await our royal family, and how their dynamic evolves in season four.”
“We’re proud to extend our partnership with our friends at E! and Universal Cable Productions, and we’re pleased that the dedicated fans – the ‘Loyals’ –  are getting another season of their favorite show,” said Lionsgate Television Group Chairman Kevin Beggs.  “’‘The Royals’ is the kind of original and provocative series that has become a Lionsgate trademark, and we look forward to an all-new season of saucy palace intrigue and badly behaved sovereigns.”
“Mark Schwahn has created a sensational and opulent world filled with high stakes, scandalous drama and fairytale love stories. We’re excited to continue working with the talented cast and crew along with Lionsgate and E! to deliver more of ‘The Royals’ to loyal fans,” said Jeff Wachtel, President, Chief Content Officer, NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment.
"E!, Lionsgate, and Universal Cable productions are wise and benevolent rulers and the Loyals are the true aristocracy,” said Mark Schwahn, creator, writer and director of “The Royals.”  “The writers, cast and crew love making this show, and I'm thrilled to once again play the role of court jester and humbly entertain our dedicated fan base with many more scandalous, sexy, heartfelt and addictive tales from the House of Henstridge." 
The third season of “The Royals” is averaging 1.1M total viewers, with over 600k in the 18-49 demo.  The scripted series ranks among the Top 5 Primetime destinations on Sundays (8p-11p) among W18-34 (#4), and is a Top 10 Primetime destination for 2017 to date among A/W 18-49 and A18-34.  Season three is averaging 1.6M weekly social media engagements, up 52% versus the same season two window.
Source: Nielsen, Live + 3, A18-49, premieres only (12/4/16-1/29/17); Primetime ranks based on 2017 premieres only (1/1/17-1/29/17; Social = ListenFirst
“The Royals” is co-produced by Lionsgate and Universal Cable Productions.  The series is executive produced, written and directed by Mark Schwahn (“One Tree Hill”), and executive produced by Brian Robbins, Joe Davola (“One Tree Hill,” “Smallville”), and Shauna Phelan.  “The Royals” stars Elizabeth Hurley (“Queen Helena”), William Moseley (“Prince Liam”), Alexandra Park (“Princess Eleanor”), Jake Maskall (“King Cyrus”), Tom Austen (“Jasper”), Max Brown (“Prince Robert”) and Genevieve Gaunt (“Wilhelmina”).