Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What Would Mary Ann Do?

This past weekend, I was excited to have the opportunity to interview Dawn Wells -- aka Mary Ann from Gilligan's Island -- about her role on the classic comedy, and her new book What Would Mary Ann Do? A Guide to Life.  For nearly an hour on stage at the Santa Monica Public Library in California, Dawn and I spoke about her life, her career, and the pieces of wisdom she's picked up along the way.

For a big Gilligan fan like me, the afternoon was a dream come true, and Dawn did not disappoint, speaking to the crowd with wit and charm -- and looking gorgeous.  Gilligan's Island just celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in September -- and if you do the math, that makes Dawn now an incredibly youthful 76 (!)  One of just two surviving cast members (the other being Tina Louise, aka Ginger), Dawn reminisced about her now-departed co-stars, and told some fun tales from behind the scenes.  You can check it out in the video below.  Enjoy!


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

RIP Mrs. Wolowitz

Carol Ann Susi, 1952-2014
I was so sad this afternoon to hear about the death at age 62 
of Carol Ann Susi, the actress who voiced the unseen character of Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg)'s harridan mom on The Big Bang Theory.  I've long been a fan of Carol Ann's, and was thrilled a few years back when I got the chance to interview her for a CBS Watch! magazine story about the secretaries of Murphy Brown.

With a long resume in both TV and film, Carol Ann was one of those character actresses with such perfect comic timing, you knew the moment you spotted her in something you'd be in for a laugh.  She was Michael J. Fox's secretary Jean in The Secret to My Succe$s, and a psychiatric patient in Death Becomes Her.  She made her TV debut with three episodes of Kolchak:  The Night Stalker in 1974, and never stopped working since, popping up in all my favorite comedies of the last few decades.  I still laugh out loud when I think back to her hilarious appearance as Maya's (Laura San Giacomo) crazy neighbor Mrs. Boukidis on a 1998 episode of Just Shoot Me.

I had the pleasure of running into Carol Ann quite a few times since my move to LA last fall, including just a few months ago, immediately following a live taping of Big Bang on the Warner Brothers lot.  Her death comes as a shock to all of us who loved her work, including her millions of Big Bang devotees around the world.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Meet The McCarthys

Growing up in a suburb of Boston, Brian Gallivan committed a huge sin in the eyes of his sports-crazed, Irish-Catholic family.  It wasn't that he is gay; it’s that he knows nothing about basketball.

In fact, says Tyler Ritter, who plays Gallivan’s alter-ego Ronny on his new CBS sitcom The McCarthys, “The fact that my character is gay isn’t even a driving characteristic.  Our characters are all different but loveable, and the show is about how we learn to get along.”

“The McCarthys is a good combination of traditional family comedy and progressive, edgier stuff,” says former New Kid on the Block Joey McIntyre, who along with Jimmy Dunn and Kelen Coleman were cast as Ronny’s three siblings.  Jack McGee, who plays high school basketball coach and McCarthy patriarch Arthur, speaks from experience when he states that “a lot of Irish families don’t know how to talk to each other – they talk at each other, and it comes out unfiltered.”

It’s that kind of political incorrectness that makes for good comedy, Gallivan says – even if his own real-life family may sometimes bristle at the depiction.  Gallivan’s own clan is bigger – he’s one of six – and of course his own mother isn’t TV royalty as is Mrs. McCarthy, aka Laurie Metcalf.  “But the show is peppered with details from real life.  And so, my family can’t wait to see it,” he explains.  “But then again, every time I go home, they all say, ‘Don’t say anything to him – it’ll end up in an episode!’”

The McCarthys
Thursdays at 9:30PM
beginning October 30

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

NBC Wants More "Laura"

This morning, NBC announced the first full-season pickup from among its new fall series.  Debra Messing's The Mysteries of Laura has been scoring in the ratings since its debut on September 17, and has helped the network build a female-centric night of crimefighting and action, leading into Mariska Hargitay's veteran Law & Order: SVU and Sophia Bush in Chicago Fire.  See announcement from NBC below.


Debra Messing Starrer Improves 8 P.M. Wednesday Timeslot by 58% Vs. Last Season

UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. — Oct. 28, 2014 — NBC has given a full-season 22-episode order to its 8 p.m. Wednesday drama “The Mysteries of Laura.”

Emmy Award winner Debra Messing stars as NYPD homicide Det. Laura Diamond, who manages to balance her time between being a police officer and that of a harried mom with two unruly young boys.

“Debra has effortlessly infused Laura with a relatability that is captivating audiences,” said Jennifer Salke, President, NBC Entertainment. “We can’t wait to see how Laura will continue to evolve throughout the entire season.”

Through its first six telecasts, “The Mysteries of Laura” has averaged a 1.8 rating, 6 share in adults 18-49 and 10.4 million viewers overall in “most current” figures from Nielsen Media Research. In “live plus same day” results, “The Mysteries of Laura” has improved the Wednesday 8-9 p.m. ET/PT hour by +58% or 3.3 million persons versus NBC’s results in the hour one year earlier.

“The Mysteries of Laura” is the only new drama on the Big 4 networks so far this season to remain with 0.2 of a rating point in 18-49 of its regular-slot debut through its next four telecasts in L+SD results.

The series also stars Josh Lucas, Laz Alonso, Janina Gavankar and Max Jenkins.

Writer Jeff Rake (“Boston Legal”) and director McG (“Supernatural”) serve as executive producers with Greg Berlanti (“Brothers & Sisters”), Aaron Kaplan (“The Neighbors”), Todd Lituchy and Sarah Schechter. “The Mysteries of Laura” is a production of Warner Bros. Television, Berlanti Productions and Kapital Entertainment.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

CW Announces Full Season Orders for "The Flash" and "Jane the Virgin"

Just a few weeks into the new fall season, it appears as if the CW Network may have two brand-new hits on its hands.  Both The Flash and Jane the Virgin have earned decent ratings and critics' approval, and so this morning, the network announced full-season renewals for each.  The press release is below.

October 21, 2014 (Burbank, CA) — The CW has given full season orders to its two hit freshman series, THE FLASH and JANE THE VIRGIN, it was announced today by Mark Pedowitz, President, The CW.
THE FLASH debuted as the most-watched series premiere ever on The CW, scoring 6.1 million viewers in Live + 3 Day Nielsen ratings, and was the network's highest-rated series premiere among adults 18-49 in more than five years, since THE VAMPIRE DIARIES debuted in 2009.
The most critically acclaimed new series of the season, JANE THE VIRGIN, bowed with The CW's most-watched and highest-rated show in its time period in two years. TV Guide called JANE THE VIRGIN the "#1 Must-See" new show of the season, and named star Gina Rodriguez the "most inspiring young actress on TV today." Tim Goodman of the Hollywood Reporter said JANE was "by far the best network pilot –drama or comedy" this season.
"We have had a fantastic start to our season this year, with THE FLASH launching as our most-watched series premiere ever, and JANE THE VIRGIN recognized as the best new show this season by critics across the country," said Pedowitz. "Over the past three seasons, we have made it our mission to grow and to broaden out our audience, and to keep raising the bar with the quality and impact of our new shows, and THE FLASH and JANE have both exceeded our expectations on all counts. I'm thrilled to announce full season orders for both of these terrific new series."  
THE FLASH is produced by Bonanza Productions Inc. in association with Berlanti Productions and Warner Bros. Television, with executive producers Greg Berlanti ("Arrow," "Everwood"), Andrew Kreisberg ("Arrow," "Eli Stone"), David Nutter ("Arrow," "Game of Thrones") and Sarah Schechter.  This series is based upon characters published by DC Entertainment.
JANE THE VIRGIN is produced by CBS Television Studios and Warner Bros. Television, in association with Electus, with executive producers Jennie Snyder Urman ("Emily Owens, M.D."), Ben Silverman ("The Biggest Loser"), Gary Pearl ("10.5: Apocalypse") and Jorge Granier ("Que el Cielo Me Explique").

Friday, October 17, 2014

More Grist for The Millers

When Sean Hayes got the call from TV legend James Burrows about joining The Millers, “it was probably the easiest ‘yes’ I’ve ever said,” the actor recalls.  Already a fan of the Thursday night sitcom, Hayes relished the chance to reteam with his former Will & Grace director  Burrows (and former W&G  guest star Beau Bridges; papa Tom Miller was once Jack McFarland's dad, too)  and to join friend Will Arnett on screen. 

This season, Hayes’ character Kip becomes Miller matriarch Carol’s new friend – and thus a nascent rival for her son Nathan.  “It’s been really fun turning our friendship into an adversarial relationship,” Arnett says.

“Just the thought of Sean and Margo Martindale as BFFs makes me smile,” adds Millers creator Greg Garcia.  “We’re only getting started, and writing this season’s stories has been a blast.”

The Millers
Returns Monday, October 20
8:30 PM EST

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Follow "Stalker"

It’s a dance,” Maggie Q says of her character Lieutenant Beth Davis’ work on CBS’ new crime thriller Stalker.  Stocked with the nail-biting suspense for which its creator Kevin Williamson (Scream, The Vampire Diaries) is famous, Stalker depicts the duties of the LAPD’s Threat Assessment Unit, as they work to save the targets of obsessive criminals before the worst might happen.

But the job is tricky, the former Nikita star explains, because as no-nonsense unit commander Davis has learned first-hand as a victim, “stalking is one of those subject areas we don’t know a lot about. We know there’s a high correlation with mental illness, but it’s hard to predict which lines get crossed, and when, and why.” 

Her co-star, HostagesDylan McDermott, reveals that years ago he himself used to get threatening letters from prisoners.  “But the problem is, the threat has to become real. Someone can follow you all day long. But the law can’t really prosecute until he or she does something that physically harms you.”

That’s an ironic loophole for McDermott’s character, Detective Jack Larsen, who has transferred from New York partly to pursue his estranged wife.  As he settles in among fellow detectives Ben Caldwell (Victor Rasuk) and Janice Lawrence (Mariana Klaveno), the usually confident Larsen will have to demonstrate dedication to the cause, all while keeping his own personal passions at bay.  As McDermott explains, “that’s a twist I found really interesting.”

Wednesdays at 10PM
beginning October 1

Monday, September 22, 2014

NCIS returns to the Big Easy

After the high ratings and excited fan feedback NCIS scored after airing its two-episode arc set in New Orleans last spring, it was clear we had not seen the last of Special Agent Dwayne Pride, aka “King” (Scott Bakula), or his unorthodox ways in policing the Big Easy.

“King just loves this town so much, every aspect of it,” says Bakula, star of the new NCIS: New Orleans, in explaining what drew him to the character. “The real character he’s based on, Dwayne Swear, says ‘I don't care how we get it done.  I just want to work with the people. I’ll help them, they’ll help me, and we get it done.’”  As Bakula explains, King leads his team, which includes Special Agents Christopher LaSalle (Lucas Black) and Meredith “Merri” Brody (Zoe McLellan) and is aided by Jefferson Parish Coronor Dr. Loretta Wade (the venerable CCH Pounder) with an ethos typical of the laid-back city. “We don’t worry about rules, but we take care of business.’”

As New Orleans showrunner and captain of the NCIS flagship Gary Glasberg explains, King is very different from Mark Harmon’s NCIS leader Jethro Gibbs, as he’s “much more outspoken and emotional, reflecting the different rhythm and energy in that part of the country.”  Glasberg remembers that in conceiving the spinoff series, he was excited to discover that New Orleans has a real-life NCIS office, due to the significant military presence along the Gulf of Mexico.  “There’s so much color and vibrancy in this city, so it made sense to take some extraordinary characters and tie it all together.”

NCIS: New Orleans
Tuesdays at 9PM
beginning September 23

Enter "Scorpion"

When writer Nick Santora first heard about real-life genius Walter O’Brien and his think-tank company, Scorpion Computer Services, he immediately saw the potential for action.

His resulting show for CBS, Scorpion, casts Elyes Gabel as O’Brien, whose IQ is ranked the world’s fourth-highest, and surrounds him with other brilliant specialists in mechanics, statistics and behavior analysis.  As the brainy new team, guarded by federal agent Cobe Gallo (Robert Patrick), works each week to defend the U.S. against the high-tech threats of the modern age, Scorpion will be “a little bit of X-Men, a little bit A-Team,” Santora promises.  And with producers like Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (The Amazing Spider-Man 3) and director Justin Lin (The Fast and the Furious) behind the scenes, Scorpion will boast feature-level special effects that literally jolt these geniuses with a Big Bang.

Katharine McPhee, who plays the waitress mother of an autistic young boy whose gifted intelligence O’Brien discovers, says she was “enthralled by all the stories the real Walter was telling us on the set.  This show brings us into some real, top-secret areas we don’t necessarily know about.”

Scorpion, Santora adds, combines adventure with the dramatic, interpersonal workings of a group of outsiders striving to fit in.  “There will be self-doubt and self-discovery, because so many of these guys are insecure,” the writer explains.  “We’re going to see how being a genius can be tough.  Because when you’re 1 in 1.47 billion, that can be a lonely feeling.”

Mondays at 9PM
beginning September 22

Friday, September 19, 2014

Meet Madam Secretary

When Téa Leoni first read the pilot script for Madam Secretary, from renowned show creator Barbara Hall (Joan of Arcadia), “I knew right away who this woman was going to be.” In contemplating taking on her first regular dramatic series, Leoni admits that three role models immediately came to mind: Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright, and Condoleezza Rice.  So as an actress, “I’m in a great position, where I can steal from those women, and the show can imagine more.”

To that point, Leoni explains that Madam Secretary will show not only the high-stakes working world of brand-new Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord -- amid an administration boasting Keith Carradine as the president, and Emmy winner Zeljko Ivanek, multiple Emmy/Tony winner Bebe Neuwirth and Tony winner Patina Miller among his staff -- but the other half of her life as well, with husband Henry (Tim Daly) and two kids.

The highly-sought actress reveals she was already a big fan of the similarly multi-faceted The Good Wife (and indeed CBS' President Nina Tassler and the network's scheduling guru Kelly Kahl both joke that Madam Secretary is perfectly positioned among its new Sunday night neighbors, because "the show looks like what would happen if 60 Minutes and The Good Wife had a baby.")  With Julianna Margulies’ Alicia Florrick now following Leoni's Elizabeth McCord, the 48-year-old actress is excited that “we have strong, complex and dynamic women on television.”  So while in real life, Leoni hopes that Mrs. Clinton will leverage her years of experience into a presidential bid in 2016, for now, regarding her character, a former professor and CIA analyst, “This is the woman I want to see in office.”

Madam Secretary
Sundays at 8PM
beginning September 21

Monday, July 21, 2014

Two and a Half Married Men

At the Television Critics Association convention last week, CBS President Nina Tassler was excited to make an announcement about the storyline for the twelfth and final, 13-episode season of Two and a Half Men.  After surviving a near-death experience, Walden (Ashton Kutcher) becomes determined to raise a child.  But as a single man, his chances for an adoption getting approved seem slim – so he and Alan (Jon Cryer) stage a sham gay marriage.

On Thursday night, at CBS’ star-studded TCA party at West Hollywood’s Pacific Design Center, I caught up with the show’s executive producer Chuck Lorre, and asked about the inspiration for the storyline.  Chuck is always a fun and candid interviewee, and here he gives some honest assessments of where the long-running show has been, and where it hopes to end up.

Must-Hear TV:  What inspired the gay storyline for Two and a Half Men’s final season?
Chuck Lorre:  It was a brilliant idea that was proposed by Jim Patterson and Don Reo, who are the head writers on the show.  I thought it was both very funny and very heartwearming, that these guys would go to such great lengths to take a kid out of the foster system and give him a home.  Yes, there’s some subterfuge involved in doing that, gaming the system.  But the intention is to give a child a home, and it brings the series back full circle, to where it’s about two men trying to teach a young boy how to become a man.

MHTV:  Any chance the concept could go so well, it could become a spinoff?
Lorre:  I have no idea.  I just fell in love with it the minute they said it.  And I hope it breathes life into the show.  This is the end of Two and a Half Men this season.  But whether this concept goes beyond that, I have no idea.

MHTV:  Whose idea to get married?
Lorre:  It’s Walden’s. 

MHTV:  Does Alan think he’s crazy?
Lorre:  Alan doesn’t want to sign a pre-nup.  He’s no fool.  The guy’s a billionaire!

MHTV:  Wasn’t Alan’s dream always to marry a billionaire?
Lorre:  Yes.  And now, there are issues of money, and a joint checking account.  And hopefully we can play this for comedy.  Their basic intention, I think, is wonderful.  They want to have a child.  And sexuality is irrelevant.  If you’re taking care of a child, who cares what you do in the privacy of your bedroom.  Isn’t that the whole point?

MHTV:   Or what you don’t do.   You have played with the gay subtext over the years.
Lorre:  Oh absolutely.  We have dominated the cheap laughs in that arena.  I know what the show is.  The show is what it is.  But it’s been hilariously good fun to do it.

MHTV:  Does this marriage and fatherhood preclude the guys from ending up in happily-ever-after relationships with women by the end of the show?
Lorre:  I think their romantic travails will go forward.  It’s a TV series, not a movie.  Their lives go on.  They’re going to be cheating spouses.

MHTV:  Like green card spouses “cheat” on each other?
Lorre:  Yes.  There’s no effort here in our last and final season to try to reach for any dignity.  It’s too late for that.

MHTV:  Has the child been cast?  How old is he?
Lorre:  We have not cast the child yet.  But we’re looking.  Probably between 5 and 10 years old. 

MHTV:  Definitely a boy?
Lorre:  We’re thinking a boy right now.  Because that was the essence of the whole idea in the beginning.  These two very different men raising a young boy, and trying to have an impact on his maturation.  And really the combination of the two of them was the best parent.  

MHTV:  When a show touches on LGBT themes in a comic way like this, there’s a potential for blowback.  Do you anticipate people having a problem with the storyline?
Lorre:  I hope there’s none.  The show has always caused controversy.  There’s no intention to insult or diminish anyone.  The intention is to create laughter.  That’s it.  Create laughter, and if it’s got a heartbeat in there somewhere, that would be nice, too.

MHTV:  Are you hoping to bring back any characters for the final season who were part of the show earlier?  Might we see Charlie or Charlie’s ghost?
Lorre:  We haven’t discussed that.  We were really focused on finding a storyline that puts Jon and Ashton front and center in a really interesting, hopefully funny and provocative story.  That was our priority going in in this last year.  What’s the storyline that puts these two guys right in the middle of it?  So outside characters will come in as they do, but that’s the focus right now.

MHTV:  It’s a storyline that has generated the most interest in the show in years.
Lorre:  Yes – in year twelve!

MHTV:  You’re like the SVU of comedy!  And the gay marriage storyline couldn’t be more timely.
Lorre:  Yeah, it’s timely, and again, it has a heartbeat.  Ashton Kutcher himself is a man with a huge heart – he’s very engaged in social welfare, and puts a lot of time and money into making things better.  And getting a little of that spirit in the show – rather than having him do what the show used to be – has been a journey.  This seems like the next logical step.  Not romance, not sex, but raising a child.  We had enough sex on this show.

MHTV:  Really?  There’s sex?  There are sex jokes?  I didn’t catch those.
Lorre:  I think adding any more sexual jokes on this show could actually be a misdemeanor of some sort.

Two and a Half Men
Returns Thursday, October 30
9 PM

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Let's get Enlisted on Yahoo Screen!

After yesterday's announcement that Yahoo's budding TV service, Yahoo Screen, is picking up the NBC-canceled comedy Community for a sixth season, fans had a great idea:  why not also pick up Enlisted, which in its single season on Fox earned a loyal audience, for a one-hour comedy block?

Yahoo Screen and 20th Century TV, the studio behind Enlisted, have yet to comment on this idea -- but if you like the idea of saving the show, tweet your support!

Click here for the full story on TheWrap.

Designer John Bartlett Wins Humane Society Award

When I heard that designer John Bartlett was a fan of The Golden Girls, that fact became, believe it or not, just the third-most fabulous thing I've come to learn about him: John is, of course, a designer of beautiful clothing, and a longtime advocate for the rights and care of animals.  His company logo, in fact, is in memory of the three-legged pit bull he had rescued and raised, Tiny Tim.

Congratulations, John, on this latest award for your good work!

JB Logo

hello, friends!
i recently found out that i received
the tremendous honor of the

henry spira humane corporate
progress award

from the humane society of the united states!
this is a huge honor and i'm thrilled to be
sharing it with you.

from pj smith, corporate outreach
manager for the humane society:

"John Bartlett continues to lead the
way in furthering the fur-free message
in the fashion world. From working with
local animal shelters to speaking to
other fashion designers about the cruel
fur trade, Bartlett's passion for
animals knows no bounds."

click here for the full story.
as i said, i'm incredibly honored to have
received this incredible award. the choices
we make as individuals can make a difference!
thanks for letting me share!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Enlisted's Last Stand

Of all the shows cancelled this past month at the broadcast networks' annual upfront presentations, one that the critics are already mourning most is Fox's short-lived Enlisted.  The story of three brothers on a military base in Florida, Enlisted was a sweet and funny comedy with the potential to grow into a solid hit -- but Fox has always had an itchy trigger finger when it comes to their comedies.  (Another worthy new comedy, Surviving Jack from Cougar Town producer Bill Lawrence, met the same cancelled fate.)

Starting this Sunday, June 1, Fox is bringing back Enlisted for its final four -- and, according to the show's creator Kevin Biegel -- best episodes.  Biegel and his fellow producers are holding out hope for this last ratings battle, pointing out that if Enlisted experiences a ratings bump, it will help their case in being able to sell the show to another network or platform.

Below, a message from Biegel asking you to check out Enlisted -- and I'll add my voice to that, too.  Catch this worthy comedy before it's too late.

New episodes of Enlisted start this Sunday, June 1 at 7/6c on Fox.  

There are 4 new episodes, and they will be on every Sunday in June with the finale airing on June 22. 

These are the best four episodes we did.  The episode airing June 1, our first one back, is one of our funniest, and the finale is one of the best pieces of TV I've ever been lucky enough to be a part of. 

Here's a recent article from Foreign Policy that speaks to how much the military community has embraced the show:

If we get any even the slightest rating bump, it can help us live.  This may seem like a fool's errand, but even a little bit of hope is still hope.  I love this show and believe in this show too much to give up.

If you can, spread the word about the show coming back.  Forward this email to your friends, ask them to do the same.  If anyone knows or knows of a Nielsen family, beg them to watch.  Beg, really? That's strong. How about ask?

I do hate asking favors, but I fear no one will know Enlisted is coming back on the air for the final 4.  If we can get even a slightly decent rating we can show a new home that this show has a real fan base.

Thank you so much,

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Save Enlisted

Remember how they sent peanuts to CBS to save Jericho?  (Or how, 30 Rock hilariously joked, they sent douchebags to HBO to save Entourage?)  Well, it's time to save Fox's underappreciated Friday night military comedy Enlisted.  In this case, I don't know what gimmicky gift you should send Fox's president Kevin Reilly, but a plain old letter of support is a good place to start.

In an exclusive Must-Hear TV interview yesterday, Enlisted's creator Kevin Biegel said he's pleased that fans have already begun writing to the network prez to show their support.  For one thing, he pointed out, there's a glitch in the TV ratings system that may be causing Enlisted's true fans to be undercounted.

"We know the show is reaching a giant audience of military folk that literally can't be measured by Nielsen boxes because they don't allow boxes on post or in military housing," Biegel explains. "It basically discounts any and all military audience."

"Basically, fan support is what has kept us alive, and as the very vocal community of fans continues to be vocal, it gives the show a shot at Fox or even at a new network," Biegel said.  "We believe every voice matters.  And because actual letters seem to speak much louder than emails," he continues, "if you have two seconds and a stamp," why not write a letter of support to:

Kevin Reilly
Fox Broadcasting
10201 W. Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA  90035

In another great show of support, some fans have had an even better, win-win idea:  they've started donating to the Wounded Warrior Project in Enlisted's name, and have listed Kevin Reilly's information as the contact.  (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/18/six-reasons-to-watch-enlisted_n_4986442.html)

Enlisted has fought a tough battle, getting stuck with a January premiere (despite what the poster here says; it was pushed from November, signaling scheduling troubles from the start) in an unenviable Friday night time slot, paired with the fading (and now cancelled) Raising Hope, and then suffering from changing lead-ins, including the low-rated Rake.  Let's show Kevin Reilly we'd love to see Enlisted live to fight another season.  (Sorry, I'm not good with war metaphors, but you get the idea.)

Friday, January 10, 2014

Functional Design is Elementary

Sherlock Holmes’s Eclectic Décor Reflects a Mind in Motion

Sherlock Holmes may be a highly decorated detective, but he's not about to win any awards from Good Housekeeping.

Holmes is, after all, usually too busy solving crimes to clean up around the place – never mind to pore over the latest Pottery Barn catalog for the perfect throw pillow.  “Sherlock’s philosophy is one of function over form.  He lives to do what he does, and eating and sleeping are totally secondary,” explains Andrew Bernard, the production designer for CBS’ hit sophomore series, Elementary.  And so, it becomes Bernard’s job to make sure Holmes’s home reflects the great man’s passions – and lack thereof – all while still making it an attractive space where more than 12 million viewers want to spend an hour every Thursday night.

For Elementary’s pilot episode, producers picked a classic brownstone in New York’s Harlem as Holmes’s office and abode, and still use that location for scenes of the house’s exterior, supposedly in Brooklyn.  But when Holmes and his sober companion-turned-sidekick Joan Watson, played by Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu, became permanent fixtures on the CBS schedule, Bernard and his team replicated the structure’s somewhat deteriorated interior on a Queens soundstage, with some enlargements and other concessions to allow for ease of camera movement and improved sight lines.

"Sunlight" streams through the windows
of Holmes and Watson's brownstone,
in reality inside a Queens soundstage.
Bernard explains that, having scouted many brownstones throughout his career, “I often find that the woodwork usually holds up, and it’s the plaster walls and wall treatments that have fallen away.”  So he and his team set out to replicate authentic  19th Century carvings, with fluted moldings and medallions they ordered from a nearby lumberyard experienced in catering to TV and film.  The team outfitted several rooms with built-in pocket shutters and transom windows which are not only authentic to the brownstone’s Victorian vintage, but also allow the show’s director of photography to get creative with patterns of sunlight and shadow to suit the mood of any scene.

Lacking a bed, Holmes sometimes sacks out
on this beat-up leather couch.  The show's
set designers imagined that this midcentury patterned
rug would have been left by previous tenants;
 it's actually new, but they stained and frayed it.
As Elementary has explained, Sherlock’s building is one of many owned by his wealthy father; and as Bernard and his team further surmised when setting out to decorate the space, many of Holmes’s pieces of furniture would actually be items left behind by previous occupants.  For these pieces, like a purple velvet couch for the living room or a turn-of-the-20th-century settee for under the stairs, they combed area thrift shops, as well as online sources such as ebay and craigslist.  For other items, they relied on reproductions of classic designs from throughout the last century, like a brown leather club chair from Restoration Hardware for the living room, and a space-age patterned rug – which they then stained and frayed.

Watson and Holmes around their
rococo "kitchen table."
As Bernard explains, he got some instruction on Holmes furnishings straight from the Elementary scripts; for example, the show’s creator and executive producer Rob Doherty insists that
Sherlock have no bed or formal bedroom, preferring instead to crash on a midcentury black leather-cushioned couch in what was originally the brownstone’s billiard room.  And still other items, Bernard adds, were chosen mostly for their shapes, from the sleekness of an aluminum desk to the rolling curves of the wooden rococo desk Holmes and Watson use as a kitchen table.

Holmes and Watson amid the distressed,
"unfinished" walls and built-in pocket
window shutters of their brownstone.
In all, before starting production, Bernard’s Elementary team had just four weeks to create a space that looks like it’s been standing for well over 100 years.  The overall aesthetic they strive for, he says, is a type of shabby-chic.  “In fashion, there’s a tradition of putting models in front of distressed, messy backdrops, of the beautiful and stylish versus decrepit walls and peeling paint,” the designer explains.  So when Holmes and Watson spontaneously spread out on the floor to create one of his physical crime scene models –with Miller and Liu, of course, providing the physical beauty – they’re leaning on a parquet pattern which is actually 1’-by-1’ self-stick tiles Bernard has aged by beating them with chains.

The team spent considerable time on the treatment of floors and walls, deliberately cracking their plaster and
creating effects like remnant wallpaper paste with mottled paint.  “The unfinished effect is certainly interesting, and it can be done with the right craftspeople.  It can look dirty but not be dirty,” Bernard explains.  “It’s all done with paint,” he notes, by people who, like Holmes, have spent years perfecting their craft.

Dusting For Clues:

To say something special, add your own character, Bernard advises. “Reflect your own interests, as opposed to hiring someone to decorate based on the latest style.”  Here is what Sherlock Holmes’s possessions reveal about their owner – along with tips on how to solve your own space.

"Red is one of our accent colors on the show," Bernard explains.  "We try to keep the color palette fairly muted, to let Holmes and Watson stand out -- but then we'll have a little accent, like in Holmes's tie or a particular piece of furniture.  Bernard found this particular turn-of-the-century mauve settee for under
Holmes' stairs on Craigslist.

“Christopher Reiter is a New York artist who makes these lamps out of paper.  We rented this one for the pilot, and then had to have it back for the series because it’s so distinctive,” Bernard says.  “It has an organic quality that matches Sherlock’s interest in nature – and we get many requests asking where it came from.”  (muleh.com)Ceramic phrenology skulls were popular in the Victorian era, and can still be found in many thrift shops. This one is plastic, its skull whacked in with a bat as part of one of Sherlock’s experiments.  He then named it Angus – “it’s become a kind of mascot for him,” Bernard explains.

Brown leather pouf.  “I like that this can be moved around,
 so that it suits whatever Holmes is up to,” Bernard explains.

Brown leather club chair from Restoration Hardware.  It comes already weathered –
 “but then we ‘scenic-ed’ it a bit more to show more wear.”

“Another theme of our show is the old versus the new, Sherlock with his Victorian roots being in present day,” Bernard explains. “So we mixed a lot of modern furniture into this 19th Century brownstone.”  Here, a white cloth midcentury Saarinen armchair from Brooklyn thrift store Two Jakes.
"This green lacquer cabinet provides another pop of color,”
 Bernard says of this Haller customizable media cabinet by USM

“We found an artist who makes these ballistics displays,” Bernard says,
 “and it was not only decorative, but perfect for Sherlock,
 who has to know about every type of bullet.”

This supposedly surviving blue and gold wallpaper looks ‘20s,
but it’s actually a modern reproduction from Astek in Los Angeles.
  “We liked the bit of reflection from its gold dots.
  The pattern’s not overwhelming, but yet it makes a statement,” Bernard explains.

Rob Doherty’s pilot script described this collage of locks of all shapes, sizes and origins, “which Sherlock uses almost as a meditative exercise,” Bernard explains.  “It’s a way to for him to gather his thoughts and practice his lock-picking skills.”  Now, as a piece of wall art, it’s become one of the show’s most famous visuals, and was requested for display along with other Elementary props at the "The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes." (That traveling show debuted at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) in Portland, OR in October, 2013 and will next be at COSI in Columbus, OH from Feb 6 to Sept. 8, 2014.)