Monday, September 30, 2013

Fall Preview: CBS' We Are Men

We Are Men
Mondays at 8:30 Eastern / 7:30 Central
Premiering September 30

Because their new comedy We Are Men is about a foursome of recently divorced guy friends who share questionable counsel around their apartment complex’s outdoor pool, Must Hear TV asked each of the new Monday night comedy’s stars to summarize their show using just four words.

“We Are Divorced Men,” says Jerry O’Connell, jumping in proactively much as would his character Stuart, the Speedo-sporting OB/GYN, angry as he suffers through his second contentious nuptial breakup.

“Not Good at Committed Relationships,” adds Tony Shalhoub, whose Frank is a garmento and four-time groom who now lives happily between girlfriends, vowing never to marry again.

“Good Guys, Bad Ideas,” says Chris Nicholas Smith, who plays naïve Carter, the youngest and most recent addition to this cynical group, after he was dumped at the altar in mid-ceremony.

“Friendship, Love, Mistakes, Ridiculousness,” finishes Kal Penn, whose character Gil harbors hopes of reconciling with his ex-wife after he was caught having the world’s least satisfying affair.

About five years ago, at the time himself a new divorcé, “I was basically a little bit of all four of these guys,” remembers We Are Men’s creator Rob Greenberg.  After years as a producer of another marital-status-teasing comedy hit, How I Met Your Mother, Greenberg was inspired to write about his new phase of life after noting that “everybody handles divorce in different ways.  Some people are wounded, while others attack.  Some never want to get in another relationship, and others jump back in.  Some are philosophical, some blame their exes.  I realized divorce is a ripe area [for comedy] because of how people react to it.”

In We Are Men, the guys form a strong bond over the mutual failures of their marriages, which O’Connell says is what attracted him to the show.  “While divorce is in itself a negative situation, I think [Men] takes a positive spin on it, and says that there is life after divorce,” the actor explains.  “And that with the help and support of friends, you can get through what is an awful time.”

“These are guys who, a lot like your friends, make mistakes and do ridiculous things, but at the end of the day they’re there for each other,” Penn agrees.  When approached about We Are Men, “I thought it was a nice way of depicting friendship, and it’s also pretty real.”

TV has brought us such strong four-way friendships before, in shows like The Golden Girls and Designing Women.  But never before have we seen the male version, a show depicting what four such disparate men are truly like, and how they relate to each other, when no women are around.  As Greenberg theorizes, “There’s a particular feeling to being alone with your guy friends.  You can be more uncensored.”  That’s why, he says, these four Men are ready to join the Girls and Women among the ranks of classic TV comedies.  “I think Sex and the City is a good model for this show, too, but in reverse,” Greenberg explains.  “That show was about four characters’ love lives, work lives and family lives – but ultimately, it was about their friendship when they came together as a foursome.”

Prepare For Your Date in Court

Amid all the clutter of last week's fall debuts, there was one debut you might not yet have caught, but might want to take note of:  the new syndicated half-hour daily courtroom show Paternity Court, and particularly its impressive judge, Lauren Lake.

Originally from Detroit, Lake was already an accomplished TV talking head -- you might have caught her on The View, Good Morning America, Dr. Phil, etc. etc. etc -- by the time she co-founded the Women in Entertainment Empowerment Network to foster positive portrayals of women.  She's been
featured all over the newsstand, in articles in The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Family Circle, Good Housekeeping, Essence and Jet, and in 2009 wrote a book, Girl! Let Me Tell You, to empower single women to strive for what they deserve.

All this to say that while some people seem to get afternoon shows just by virtue of being a celebrity mom -- ahem! -- Lake has a point of view and a mighty accomplished background.  Of course, as a TV judge, a gal also has to have the legal credentials -- and this one has many.  She earned her law degree at Wayne State University, and is a member of the New York, New Jersey and Michigan bars, with concentrations in family, criminal and entertainment law.  Now, Paternity Court combines all of her areas of expertise, as the feisty-yet-fair Lake, herself a mom, uses her sharp wit to help litigants resolve legal issues involving paternity using DNA results.

On the eve of the show's debut last week, Must Hear TV caught up with Lake to find out just how she plans on making her Court-room a place we all want to visit.

Must Hear TV:  Your background includes expertise in several different areas of law. What made you interested in paternity?

Lauren Lake:  I've been a practicing attorney for 18 years concentrating in family, entertainment and criminal law. I have represented families in disputes involving divorce, child custody, visitation, matrimonial and paternity. I am passionate about children and believe it is in their best interest to know who their parents are.

MHTV:  In the past, when we've seen the subject of paternity addressed in daytime TV, it has been on some of the cheesiest shows, where paternity testing is used for shock value, and to incite guests to arguments and violence. How will Paternity Court differ in its approach?

LL:  Paternity Court combines science with the law. We don't just use the DNA results for shock value. We use them as a tool to empower families with the truth. Additionally we add the legal component and I am able to counsel litigants on the legal rights and ramifications associated with those results and then help them figure out how to move forward in their lives. We also offer counseling to our families after each show and provide them with counseling resources in their home state.

MHTV:  What has been the most inspiring case you've encountered so far regarding paternity testing? What has been the most inspiring case you've encountered for the show?

LL:  I find most inspiring cases to be the ones where I see men come into the courtroom wanting desperately to be the father of a child. Our show is about more than "dead beat" dads. It's about helping men become better fathers and empowering families. I am also inspired by the courage of our litigants who come into our courtroom and share their shame and secrets in a quest for the truth and to break the cycle.

MHTV:  What advice would you give to a child who wonders about his or her true father, in terms of getting tested? What advice would you offer to a woman who wants to prove paternity? Or to a man?

LL:  I would advise them to be open about their concerns with all parties involved and voluntarily submit to a DNA test.

MHTV:  You must be familiar with the many "judge shows" currently on television. Is your own style of mediating similar to any of the judges we're familiar with from those shows?

LL:  We definitely respect the court shows that paved the way for us. I believe I am a blend of feisty and fair. But ultimately I am focused on empowering families to be better and stronger.

MHTV:  In the end, what message do you hope that Paternity Court will convey?

LL:  No matter the secret, shame or the struggle, honesty and truth are the tools you need to begin again.
A father's presence in a child's life is priceless. Knowing who we are and who we belong to should never be taken lightly or for granted.

Monday to Friday
Debuted September 23
Check your local listings for air times

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Fall Preview: CBS' The Crazy Ones

The Crazy Ones
Thursdays at 9PM Eastern / 8PM Central,
Premiering September 26

In 1997, the Los Angeles office of advertising agency TBWA\Chiat\Day created Apple Computer’s “Think Different” slogan, and an accompanying campaign inaugurated with a now historic TV ad.  “Here’s to the crazy ones,” Richard Dreyfuss narrated, in a salute to the geniuses and innovators who have changed the world.  The spot won raves from critics, and the 1998 Emmy for Best Commercial.

Now, CBS brings us The Crazy Ones, a new advertising-set sitcom which cleverly can be viewed as both an homage to and a lampooning of such self-serious salesmanship.  And with its cunning conceit and all-star cast, the new show is poised to bring the same type of “crazy” energy, and similar accolades, to the genre of half-hour comedy.

The brainchild of John Montgomery, the Executive Creative Director of Chicago ad agency Leo Burnett, and nurtured by accomplished executive producer David E. Kelley, The Crazy Ones snagged Oscar winner Robin Williams for his long-awaited return to series television.  Williams’ hyperkinetic character Simon Roberts is “an idea guy who’s been on everything but skates,” says the 62-year-old comedy icon.  “I watched a documentary about ad guys, and a lot of them live on the edge.  Their whole job is to think outside the envelope, and at the same time get an idea down to the simplest, purest image, to fight for your consciousness.”

“And,” Williams adds, “they can be kind of crazy.”  That’s where Simon’s daughter Sydney, his partner at their joint small agency, comes in.  After seasons of slaying vampires as Buffy, Sarah Michelle Gellar says she was happy to become the organized, ambitious and Type-A Sydney, whose task of wrangling her unfocused father, while finding her own place in the industry he dominates, may be just as exhausting.  “To me, some of the greatest parts of Buffy were the funny moments,” Gellar explains of stepping into this lighter role.  “And I got to a point where I thought, ‘I’ve cried a lot.  I’m ready to be funny.’”

Helping to make that happen is Bill D’Elia, himself a longtime New York ad man turned TV writer, and now one of The Crazy Ones’ executive producers.  The inspiration for Montgomery’s pilot script, he explains, “was this idea to have fun with how we create advertising.  Not to denigrate the products, but the process, and [as ad execs] ourselves.”  With a pitch like that, it’s easy to see while real-life clients are clamoring to come on board; The Crazy Ones features McDonalds in its pilot, and D’Elia expects to recruit two or three more real brands, “plus a few fictitious ones thrown in,” to round out Roberts & Roberts’ roster.

But, the producer insists, The Crazy Ones’ appeal ultimately comes not just from the craftiness of its concept, but from the chemistry of its cast.  From the start, D’Elia says, “Everyone has felt like they’ve been together for a long time.  Robin and Sarah feel like real father and daughter.”  And coworkers played by Hamish Linklater and James Wolk – fresh off his season on that other crazy/advertising show, Mad Men – have already proven themselves more than capable of keeping up with Williams, the king of comedic improv. 

As Williams agrees, “All these people can go one-on-one, and riff just as well.”  But with The Crazy Ones, he notes, “I am often on script because the script is so good.”  The actor credits the show’s quality to its writers and advisors, many of whom are “real ad agency execs, who tell us stories that are just insane.”  Of course, Williams and Gellar might be able to contribute some stories of their own; Williams recently shilled for Snickers, and Gellar has done over 100 commercials – including, at age 7, a spot for Duncan Hines cake mix, directed by D’Elia.  It goes to prove, she adds, that it’s just all one, small Crazy world.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Fall Preview: CBS' Hostages

Mondays at 10 PM Eastern/9 PM Central,
Premiering September 23

With its similarly intense mix of political intrigue and personal drama, Hostages is obviously harboring hopes of becoming the next Homeland.  After all, the two series have more in common than merely the cleverness of their blonde heroines; both action thrillers have origins in Israel, which is fast becoming fertile ground for growing America’s future TV hits.

Showtime’s series, adapted from the Israeli Hatufim, captured critical raves and swept the Emmy Awards in 2012.  Now, CBS’ high-concept Hostages, based on a previously unproduced script out of Tel Aviv, has nabbed both a top-notch cast and one of TV’s highest-profile launching pads for a drama, the network’s Mondays at 10.

Hostages stars Toni Collette in the juicy lead role of Ellen Sanders, a Washington, DC surgeon whose family is taken captive by team of rogue FBI agents on the eve of her operation on the President of the United States.  Commanded to kill her political patient, Sanders is tested in her resolve as a medical professional, as a wife and mother, and as a patriotic citizen.  The scope of the story, says producer Alon Aranya, who teamed with writer Jeffrey Nachmanoff to tailor the original script for an American audience, reaches beyond that of the typical television procedural.  The intricately-plotted, surprise-rigged Hostages “will be like a feature film designed for TV.”

In another way that Hostages will be notable for the network, the series will, following its September premiere, run for 15 straight episodes with few repeats or interruptions, before ceding its timeslot in early 2014 to another hotly anticipated drama. (Intelligence, which stars Lost’s Josh Holloway as a government intelligence operative whose brain has been implanted with a supercomputer microchip and CSI’s Marg Helgenberger as his agency boss, is scheduled to debut February 24.)  Such shorter seasons have long been the norm on cable, but as network president Nina Tassler explains, this is a first for CBS:  “We’re normally in the 22-episode business, because our fans don’t want less of their favorite shows – they want more.”  But Tassler and her team were soon won over by the Hostages producers’ detailed plans for a nailbiting first season, which she describes as “fifteen really terrific episodes, jampacked with big events and plot twists.”

The twists were what lured actors like Collette, who remembers that “when I read the pilot script, it was unlike any other show.  I loved that I didn’t know what was happening -- although I thought I did.  It really was a page-turner, where I couldn’t put it down.”  Collette is joined by Tate Donovan as Ellen’s less successful – and less-than-faithful – husband Brian, Dylan McDermott as Duncan Carlisle, the erstwhile Fed turned conspirator and kidnapper, and James Naughton as the President targeted for assassination.

But both Hostages’ producer and leading lady warn not to blindly accept these simplified descriptions of the show’s characters.  “The show is a conspiracy thriller – and as such, all is not what it seems.  There’s always another layer,” Aranya teases.

“People keep asking Dylan, ‘How is it to play the bad guy?’” Collette adds.  “But he may not be entirely bad.  All of these characters have their reasons for doing what they do.  And those reasons will slowly be revealed.”

Fall Preview: CBS' Mom

Mondays at 9:30 PM Eastern/8:30 PM Central,
Premiering September 23

As the executive producer of a trio of today’s top comedies, Chuck Lorre might want to take some advice from his Big Bang Theory character Sheldon:  look into cloning.  Because this fall, after already bringing forth the Big Bang, plus Two and a Half Men and Mike & Molly, this man in demand is bringing his fourth sitcom to CBS.

Co-created by Lorre and his Men writers Eddie Gorodetsky and Gemma Baker, Mom is the story of Christy (Anna Faris), a thirtysomething waitress at a posh Napa Valley restaurant who struggles not only with the challenges of being a single mom to a rebellious teenage daughter and pre-teen son, but with addiction.  Christy’s four-month-and-counting sobriety will continually be tested, now that her man-hungry mother Bonnie (Allison Janney), herself a (barely) recovering alcoholic, has reappeared in her life, armed with passive-aggressive insights and questionable advice.

“I’ve always wanted to tell the story about somebody trying to reclaim his or her life after destroying it, repairing the damage of perhaps a poorly thought-out lifestyle,” Lorre says of his latest inspiration.  With Mom, “We get to see the second act of Christy’s life.  I think the idea of a second chance is a very American theme.”

After building a successful career on the big screen, Faris chose Mom as her first TV project, similarly moved by the show’s complex dynamic and message.   “On film, I’ve played a lot of very simple characters, so now it’s fun to play someone like Christy, who’s so complicated,” explains the 36-year-old actress and real-life mom to year-old son Jack with her husband, actor Chris Pratt.  “Christy is flawed, but trying to be better.  She has the best of intentions, but doesn’t always know the right way to get there.  I think we all have issues like that to some degree, whether it’s from not yet achieving your life goal, or not being sober, or having financial struggles.  I think that’s why from page one as I read this script, it felt like Cinderella’s shoe.  I realized, ‘Wow, this is me!’”

After winning four Emmys during her stint on The West Wing, Faris’ co-star Allison Janney is already TV royalty, and was equally eager to become America’s new favorite Mom.  “The best comedies deal with the reality of recognizable situations without always trying too hard to be ‘funny,’” Janney enthuses.  “With Mom, everybody will be able to recognize the truths behind this very frustrating relationship.”