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!