Friday, October 28, 2016

A Big Day and Night for the Cast of Will & Grace

L-r, Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Megan Mullally
and Sean Hayes perform at a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton
at the home of  Michael Lombardo and Sonny Ward in L.A.
Yesterday, more than ten years after Will & Grace aired its series finale, turned out to be a big day for the beloved cast.

For one thing, news broke early in the day that NBC is interested in reviving the show, reportedly for a ten-episode season, which would effectively be the show's ninth.  And then last night, the cast was already scheduled to reunite for a special fundraiser for the Hillary Clinton campaign, held at the Los Angeles home of former HBO president Michael Lombardo and his husband, Sonny Ward.

Just before their surprise for the fans in attendance -- a musical performance about Clinton and Trump to the tune of West Side Story's "Gee, Officer Krupke"-- I asked Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally about the reports of a revival.  "We have no idea what's going on with that stuff," Megan said -- and indeed each cast member agreed, the project is in such early talks, the cast is unaware of the chances of the revival actually happening.  (Fingers crossed!)

Perhaps this is finally one good thing that has arisen from the vicious election cycle we've been subjected to for the past year (other than the possible fragmenting of the Republican Party, and its hopeful reorganization into something more inclusive and excluding the hateful alt-right.)  The renewed ardor for the groundbreaking and influential 1998-2006 sitcom comes after the cast reunited in secret last month, to tape a special ten-minute episode in character [see clip below], where they debated the virtues of the two candidates.  The project was filmed hush-hush, and incredibly, on the exact Will Truman living room set used by the series; it had been in storage at the show co-creator Max Mutchnick's alma mater, Emerson College, in Boston, and was shipped back to LA in time for the taping.

Below, a clip from the 1961 film version of West Side Story.  Picture brilliant spoof lyrics -- which today on Twitter Eric McCormack attributed to Randy Rainbow -- about Trump and Clinton.  One chorus became just "little hands, little hands, he has little hands...", so it's designed perfectly to get under Trump's skin.  And of course, the number ends not with "Officer Krupke, Krup You!" but "Hillary Clinton, we're with you!"

After the performance, Debra Messing spoke eloquently to the crowd about how she's so passionate about the Clinton campaign that she took a few months off from acting to concentrate on her activism.  And then, the four actors stepped down into the crowd, obliging us fans with photos.  Let's hope this is far from the last time we see them all together!  NBC, make it so!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A Peek into the Future on Pure Genius

Benevolent billionaire James Bell (Augustus Prew)
recruits Dr. Walter Wallace (Dermot Mulroney) to
join the Bunker Hill team in Pure Genius.
In a lot of the medical shows we’ve seen and loved over the years, it’s all about the problems,” says Dermot Mulroney, who plays maverick surgeon Dr. Walter Wallace in the new Thursday-night drama Pure Genius.  “Our show is all about solutions.”

Created by Jason Katims, the man behind the acclaimed TV versions of Friday Night Lights and Parenthood, Pure Genius is a cutting-edge medical drama set at Silicon Valley’s fictional Bunker Hill Hospital, which has been endowed by billionaire genius James Bell (Augustus Prew) and charged with using emerging technology to treat the trickiest of diagnoses – at no charge.  Recruited after failing to save a patient in his native Ohio with a risky operation, Mulroney’s Dr. Wallace journeys west to join Bell’s staff, which already comprises the best-of-the-best:  physician Dr. Zoe Brockett (Odette Annable), idealistic neurosurgeon Talaikha Channarayapatra (Reshma Shetty), gang member-turned-med technician Dr. Malik Verlaine (Aaron Jennings), Ivy League-educated neurologist Dr. Scott Strauss (Ward Horton) and 3-D printing programming whiz Angie Cheng (Brenda Song.)

“The show is set essentially ten minutes in the future,” explains Prew, adding that “because much of the technology it shows” – like ingestible monitors and virtual-reality patient environments, depicted in just Pure Genius’ pilot episode – “actually exists.”  In fact, Dr. Wallace himself is partly based on one of Pure Genius’ real-life medical consultants, Dr. Brennan Spiegel, a surgeon at Los Angeles’ Cedars-Sinai Hospital.  “Dr. Spiegel’s specialty is infiltrating medicine with technology, finding new ways and inventing new devices to track and monitor patients,” says Mulroney.  “I’m sure you’ll see his influence in my character, because when I met him, I noted how his body moved, and how he uses medical tools.  I tried to pick up a feel for the guy, and put it into the part.”

Amid today’s debates over privatization versus more government-sponsored initiatives like Obama-care, Pure Genius taps into “a very important part of the zeitgeist right now,” Prew enthuses.  “What if you could have the best minds in technology and medicine paired together?  How could we make the healthcare system better?  How could we change lives?  The show is about what could be, and we’re hoping to spur change.”

Mulroney, too, expects Pure Genius to bring an inspiring dose of optimism to our screens each week.  “There’s a little magic” in the show, he admits, because not all of the Bunker Hill doctors’ innovative moves are yet completely possible.  “But that’s one of its great appeals.  You’ll say, ‘Is that really happening?’ And instead of saying ‘No,’ we’ll get to say ‘Not yet.’”

Thursdays at 10 PM Eastern

Begins October 27

Joel McHale heads for The Great Indoors

Joel McHale (Center) and the cast of The Great Indoors
Mike Gibbons got the idea for the new sitcom The Great Indoors while working as the head writer for The Late Late Show with James Corden.  Working “with a bunch of millennials,” the fortysomething Gibbons soon discovered that in their eyes, “40 is the new 80.”  At one point, as he attempted to reimburse the show’s writers’ assistant for the group’s lunch order, “I reached for my wallet, and he recoiled,” Gibbons remembers.  “It’s not like I was going to write him a check – I had cash.  And still, he made a face.  Cash – legal tender -- was now inconvenient?  And by the way, just by the fact that I carry a wallet at all, he assumes I keep pictures of my grandkids in there.”

As his proxy on The Great Indoors, Gibbons recruited former Community star Joel McHale, who responded to the pilot script’s generational warfare.  “I’m a big fan of workplace sitcoms, and always wanted to do one with a live audience,” McHale avows.  “When this great cast came together, I knew this would work.”  McHale plays grizzled adventure reporter Jack Gordon, called in from the field and now stuck at a desk amid Outdoor Limits magazine’s decidedly indoorsy staff of tech-addicted twentysomethings: deadpan social media expert Emma (Christine Ko), hipster-lumberjack Mason (Shaun Brown) and sensitive nerd Clark (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). And if that weren’t enough to provide Jack constant conflict, he now finds himself reporting to a new boss – and his old flame – Brooke (Susannah Fielding) and Brooke’s dad, the publication’s larger-than-life founder Roland, played by the venerable British actor/comedian Stephen Fry.

As Chris Williams, whose character Eddie is both Jack’s favorite bartender and his sole peer and confidant, notes, the show is about “bridging the gap between older and younger, and finding a way to understand each other.  As my character and Joel’s are finding out, our age is old school now – although I like being old school.”  His young co-star Brown agrees, calling The Great Indoors “very relevant, tapping into the sense of guilt [the younger set has] about missing connections with people, and being so buried in our phones and social media that we miss what’s happening around us.”

As Gibbons is quick to point out, The Great Indoors “is not just picking on millennials – who won’t mind anyway, because according to them, they don’t watch TV.”  Besides, he adds, with technology uniting us all, both he and Jack are actually “much closer to the millennials than we care to admit.  I’m addicted to my phone.  I’m constantly binge-watching shows digitally.  Quite honestly, too often I’m thinking I’m the center of the universe.  All of that, we all share.  I think the audience overall will relate, because in the end we all have those ‘millennial’ qualities.”

Thursdays at 8:30 PM

Begins October 27

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Real O'Neals gain steam in season 2

The cast of ABC's The Real O'Neals: (l-r):
Jay Ferguson, Mary Hollis Inboden, Noah Galvin,
Martha Plimpton, Bebe Wood, Matt Shively
After returning earlier in October for its second season, tonight ABC’s The Real O’Neals presents its first Halloween episode (9:30 Eastern/Pacific) – and its central character Kenny O’Neal’s (Noah Galvin) first Halloween after coming out to his family.

As the ABC comedy, which premiered at midseason earlier in 2016, continues to get stronger in this second year, I spoke with its three executive producers during the season 2 premiere screening at Los Angeles’ Paley Center for Media about how far the show has evolved, and what we can expect in episodes to come.

Must-Hear TV:  What is special about The Real O’Neals that drew you to the pilot script and to the show?

Casey Johnson:  Initially we were really excited about the idea of telling a real coming-of-age story for a gay teenager in today’s America.  That seemed really exciting to us, especially on network television.  It hadn’t been done before, so we were thrilled about that.  Also, the story about a divorce happening in real time.  We felt like that hadn’t been seen either.

MHTV:  Is there anything in the second season – whether it be guest stars or storylines -- that you wanted to get to in the first season that we’ll see now?

David Windsor:  Well there are definitely some guest stars.  In the season premiere episode, we had Jane Lynch, RuPaul, Lance Bass and Tyler Oakley.  And later on, a couple of episodes later, we have our chefs. 
The Real O'Neals executive producers (l-r):
Casey Johnson, David Windsor, Stacy Traub

Stacy Traub:  We have Alex Guarnaschelli, Toni Lofaso and Graham Elliot.  It’s a Chopped fantasy, kind of “Kenny’s Kitchen Nightmares.”  That was really fun, recreating a cooking show.

DW:  We’re still trying to get Jesus back for a role.

CJ:  He’s busy

ST:  We have Robbie Rogers and Gus Kenworthy, the silver medalist.  And we’re definitely going to have Tim Gunn back.  He’s shooting Project Runway right now, but as soon as he’s done, he tells us he’ll come back.

MHTV:  What did you learn from season 1 that affects season 2?

CJ:  I think one of the things we’re doing – we talk about season 1 with Kenny about being gay in theory, and now we’re talking about him being gay in practice.  And what does that mean in the world?  What does his first gay Halloween look like, when he wants to dress as Beyonce?  How does Eileen feel about that now that she knows he’s gay?  We’re going to have Kenny get a boyfriend this year and watch the steps of that relationship.  We’ll see what that means for Kenny, and what it means for the rest of the family.

MHTV:  Did you have any trepidation about doing that on network TV?

DW:  ABC has always been really supportive of everything we wanted to do.  We never ran into any roadblocks with them.  They were always encouraging of going further and further.  So if we had any fears, they was put down right away.  We were given a green light to move forward with those stories.

MHTV:  What can two teen boys do on television on a date?  Can you suggest that they fool around?  How far can they go on network TV?

ST:  Well we’re not there yet, but there’s definitely lots of kissing.  Yes, Kenny is tippy-toeing into the relationship, but we’re not going to shy away from it.  We’re going to be real, and teenagers fool around.  So we’ll get there.

MHTV:  The election will be over just a month into your season, and you’ll go well beyond that.  But has anything about this political climate seeped into the show?

CJ:  It hasn’t seeped in directly.  We don’t make any direct commentary at all.  But I think our show has always been about love and acceptance.  So if people see that as a commentary on our world today, that’s our point of view. 

ST:  We tried to stay away from politics, just because it’s so timely and you don’t know exactly when the episode is going to air.  Or who’s going to win.  So it’s in the world, but not directly discussed.

MHTV:  Do you have any casting for any of Kenny’s boyfriends or dates?  And does Noah have any input?

DW:  Well, we brought in a few guys for Noah to read with.  They were all really incredible, and we wanted to make sure that they had really good chemistry.  So we cast Sean Grandillo, who is an amazing theater actor.  He was in Spring Awakening.  He and Noah actually knew each other and had a friendship before the show even started, so the chemistry just kicked off right away.

CJ:  We introduce him in our Christmas episode, where Eileen is the choirmaster for the St. Barkley’s choir.  And it builds to this beautiful scene with a Christmas song/pop song mashup that Noah sings with Sean.  And it’s really really beautiful. 

MHTV:  I would hope that would the kind of thing that would win over early critics, such as from Catholic groups.  Have you heard that they have come around to understanding that the show is loving and supporting, and far from sacrilegious?

DW:  I think there’s been no reaction, which is a better reaction.  Matt Shively [who plays older brother Jimmy] was saying today on another panel that we were on that the Catholic League, for example, softened a little bit.  I think they finally saw some episodes and were like, “Oh, okay.  Well, maybe that’s not as outrageous as I was thinking before.”

CJ:  The feedback we’ve gotten directly are from Catholic people we know and who are in our lives.  Just the feedback from them saying, “This seems like our lives, this seems like my family.”  That’s really gratifying for us.  Because that’s what we’re trying to do.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Matt LeBlanc returns to Multi-Cam Sitcoms as a Man with a Plan

When Matt LeBlanc decided to return to network TV in a multicamera sitcom – and then said sitcom landed a plum Monday night berth, near his former Friends co-star Matthew Perry’s The Odd Couple – the whole thing “felt like coming home again.”

Matt LeBlanc with his new TV wife, Yes, Dear's Liza Snyder,
in CBS' new sitcom Man with a Plan.
Now, more than a decade after last playing the perennially single Joey Tribbiani, LeBlanc is Adam Burns, a Pittsburgh contractor who agrees to spend more time raising his kids – manipulative pre-teen Kate (Grace Kaufman), middle son Teddy (Matthew McCann) and brand new kindergartener Emme (Hala Finley) -- when his wife returns to work.  “Picking them up from school, making their lunches in the morning – Adam realizes straightaway on the first day that he hates all that,” LeBlanc explains.  “It becomes a big point of contention between him and his wife, and that’s where the comedy is.”

Created by former That ‘70s Show showrunners Jeff and Jackie Filgo, Man With a Plan is the first chance the actor, a real-life father of two adult sons and a 12-year old daughter, has had to play both a dad and a spouse.   “Being a parent is a really fun thing, and I’ve had a great time doing it,” LeBlanc says.  “I think if you have a funny bone, and can laugh at your kids, that’s a fun place for a show to be.”

LeBlanc says he’s proud of the healthy and supportive marriage with wife Andi (Liza Snyder) at the center of the show – and yet, Adam still feels the need to scheme behind her back with two newfound confidants and co-conspirators, fellow parents Lowell (Matt Cook) and Marie (Jessica Chaffin).  It turns out, the trio is able to come up with some unorthodox methods to control today’s entitled, unruly spawn.  “We live in a very politically correct world, especially regarding parenting,” LeBlanc explains.  “At school, other parents have so many rules, specifying that everything has to be non-GMO and organic.  I had none of that growing up, and I’m sure neither did Adam.  So Adam is a little less PC than most guys – and I’m ready to have fun watching him fumble his way through that world.”

Mondays at 8:30 PM Eastern

Begins October 24

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

"CBS Daytime #1 For 30 Years" exhibit at the Paley Center

Last night in Beverly Hills, the stars of CBS' five daytime programs -- The Talk, The Price Is Right, Let's Make a Deal, The Young and The Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful -- came together to celebrate the opening of the latest exhibit at the Paley Center for Media.

As detailed in the press release at the bottom of this post, the exciting new exhibit at the Paley contains artifacts and fun photo-ops from all five of the shows -- and last night, stars of each one were having fun with the displays, taking their own souvenir shots.  Many of mine, some with the casts, are below, to give you an idea of the colorful props you'll find at the museum on Beverly Drive.  Also, in the below press release, check out the dates for special in-person panel discussions with the stars of the shows, to be held at the museum.

The exhibition opens tomorrow, October 12, and runs through November 27.

A vignette from the long-running soap, The Young and The Restless
A chance to sit around the already iconic table
at The Talk

A fashion runway out of The Bold and the Beautiful

Try your luck on the Price Is Right wheel

A bench dedicated to the late Y&R matriarch Katherine Chancellor (Jeanne Cooper)

The B&B family tree

The Price Is Right's showcase showdown

The Talk sent over props and costumes from the
show's six-plus seasons.

One of five Plinko chips use in the famed
game on The Price Is Right

Bob Barker's skinny microphone
from The Price Is Right

Advertising for B&B's businesses

B&B's Bill Spencer (Don Diamont) poses
with the ad for his publishing company.

Laurette Spang-McCook and B&B's Pamela Forrester (Alley Mills),
with a cardboard Eric Forrester (John McCook)

My moment in the Showcase Showdown
with The Price Is Right host Drew Carey

CBS Daytime president Angelica McDaniel, with (r)
The Price Is Right's Drew Carey and
Let's Make a Deal's Jonathan Mangum

Y&R's Kate Linder, paying tribute to Esther's old boss,
Katherine Chancellor

Y&R's Kate Linder, in the Katherine Forrester tribute

Y&R's Kate Linder and B&B's Alley Mills

L-R:  B&B's Obba Bobatunde and Alley Mills, and Mills' husband,
Orson Bean, The Talk's Sheryl Underwood, Y&R's Kate Linder,
B&B's Reign Edwards

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., Oct. 10, 2016 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The Paley Center for Media is excited to announce that the new exhibit, CBS Daytime #1 for 30 Years, will make its debut at the Paley Center on October 12, 2016. The exhibit, created by CBS Daytime to commemorate 30 years of the Network's daytime programming being rated #1, will feature sets, props, and costumes from Let's Make a Deal, The Price Is Right, The Young and the Restless, The Bold and the Beautiful, and The Talk. In addition, the Paley Center will host four consecutive weeks of panel events featuring the talent and creative teams from the CBS Daytime lineup. 
Visitors to the exhibit will have the rare chance to immerse themselves in the world of CBS Daytime, viewing sets, costumes, and props from their favorite shows, as well as engaging in special interactives. Included in the exhibit: the "Big Wheel" from The Price Is Right; the "Car Pong" game and the Zonko, Zurtle, and Zonkey mascot costumes from Let's Make a Deal; a replica of Victor Newman's office and the Chancellor Park set from The Young and the Restless; the fashion runway from the opening credits of The Bold and the Beautiful, in addition to five memorable wedding dresses and wardrobe from international location shoots; the original host table from The Talk and the costumes each host wore for the 2015's Daytime Emmy-winning episode "Rocktober Halloween Spectacular." 
"The Paley Center is thrilled to host the debut of this incredible exhibit," said Maureen J. Reidy, President & CEO of The Paley Center for Media. "The television shows from CBS Daytime have enthralled generations and we're so excited that our visitors will have the once-in-a lifetime opportunity to see all the iconic sets, props, and costumes from all their favorite shows up close, as well as have the opportunity to learn the creative process behind these shows from their favorite stars during our special panel discussions."
"This is the perfect way to celebrate CBS Daytime being #1 for 30 years and the rich history of our iconic shows. Our passionate and dedicated fans have invited us into their homes for decades and this exhibit at the Paley Center offers a unique, hands-on opportunity for viewers to interact with and experience the shows they know and love," said Angelica McDaniel, Executive Vice President, Daytime Programs, CBS Entertainment. 
The four weeks of panels will include lively and entertaining discussions with the talent and producers from the CBS Daytime line up including:

Thursday, Oct. 20:            CBS Daytime Game Shows panel
Wayne Brady, Host, LET'S MAKE A DEAL; Drew Carey, Host, THE PRICE IS RIGHT; Dan Funk, Executive Producer, LET'S MAKE A DEAL; Mike Richards, Executive Producer, THE PRICE IS RIGHT & LET'S MAKE A DEAL

Wednesday, Oct. 26:      THE TALK panel 
Hosts Julie Chen, Sara Gilbert, Sharon Osbourne, Aisha Tyler, and
Sheryl Underwood

Thursday, Nov. 3:             THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL original full script reading & panel 
Bradley Bell (executive producer and head writer), Darin Brooks, Scott Clifton, Don Diamont, Katherine Kelly Lang, John McCook, Alley Mills, Karla Mosley, Heather Tom, Jacqueline MacInnes Wood, Jacob Young

Thursday, Nov. 10:          THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS original full script reading & panel 
Lauralee Bell, Peter Bergman, Eric Braeden, Sharon Case, Eileen Davidson, Amelia Heinle, Christian Le Blanc, Joshua Morrow, Greg Rikaart, Kristoff St. John, Melody Thomas Scott, Sally Sussman (head writer), Mal Young (executive producer)

CBS Daytime #1 for 30 Years will be open at the Paley Center's Beverly Hills location (465 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210) from October 12- November 27, 2016.  For more information about this exhibit please visit, and follow the Paley Center on Facebook and Twitter@PaleyCenter for more updates.

# # #

About CBS Daytime

CBS Daytime has been #1 for 30th consecutive years, one of the longest winning streaks in television history. The lineup features a balance of dramas, game shows and talk, including television's #1 daytime program and longest-running game show THE PRICE IS RIGHT, the #1 daytime drama THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS, Daytime Emmy-winning THE TALK, the world's most-watched serial THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, and LET'S MAKE A DEAL, which has awarded more than $50 million in cash & prizes.
About The Paley Center for Media
The Paley Center for Media, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with locations in New York and Los Angeles, leads the discussion about the cultural, creative, and social significance of television, radio, and emerging platforms for the professional community and media-interested public. Drawing upon its curatorial expertise, an international collection, and close relationships with the leaders of the media community, the Paley Center examines the intersections between media and society. The general public can access the Paley Archive – including special African-American, Hispanic, and LGBT collections – and participate in programs that explore and celebrate the creativity, the innovations, the personalities, and the leaders who are shaping media. Through the global programs of its Media Council and International Council, the Paley Center also serves as a neutral setting where media professionals can engage in discussion and debate about the evolving media landscape. Previously known as The Museum of Television & Radio, the Paley Center was founded in 1975 by William S. Paley, a pioneering innovator in the industry. For more information, please visit

Monday, October 3, 2016

Golden Girls Cafe in NYC -- Latest Update

Rue McClanahan's Emmy Award for The Golden Girls,
soon to be moved upstairs into a spotlight in the
completed Rue La Rue cafe in Washington Heights.
Last week in NYC, I was happy to get the chance to meet up with Michael J. La Rue, Rue McClanahan's friend and the executor of her estate who, along with Rue's artist son Mark Bish, is about to open "Rue La Rue" cafe in the city's Washington Heights neighborhood, in tribute to the actress.

Although no longer with us, Rue will greet each visitor to
Rue La Rue cafe, via her star embedded in the cafe's threshold.
Michael took my husband Frank DeCaro and me on a walk-through of the cafe space, which is sure to delight Golden Girls fans from the moment they cross over the Hollywood Walk of Fame-type star which Michael has had made for the restaurant's threshold.  Inside, you'll find a display of Rue's Golden Girls Emmy in one corner, costumes from that show and from Maude in another.  As Michael tells me in the video below -- where we peek at just a fraction of Rue's personal and household treasures to be displayed on site now or rotated in later -- the woman was a pack rat when it came to clothing; but now, that's a boon to fans, who will have the chance to commune with some of Blanche Devereaux's stunning, handpainted silk nightgowns up close.

Michael tells me in the video below that the cafe is set to open soon -- meaning sometime soon this fall.  But an exact date has not yet been announced.  Check out the goodies we uncover below -- and stay tuned to this blog for opening date info as soon as it's available!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

#VoteHoney! Will & Grace reunites for a fabulous cause

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 22, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fridays at 8PM Eastern

Begins September 23

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Michael Weatherly: From NCIS to Bull

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

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

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

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

Tuesdays at 9PM Eastern

Begins September 20

Kevin James in Kevin Can Wait

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

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

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

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

Mondays at 8:30 PM Eastern

Begins September 19

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Happy Anniversary, Golden Girls!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

RIP Ken Howard, 1944-2016

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Blanche's Granddaughter Finally Belts Out that Number

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

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

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