Monday, January 30, 2017

Me of Little Faith; The Good Place scores a season 2

Ted Danson and Kristen Bell in
NBC's The Good Place
I have a confession to make.  When I first heard, about a year ago, that NBC had picked up, straight to series, the high-concept, heaven-set comedy The Good Place, I thought the show would turn out to be too smart for broadcast TV.

I underestimated viewers -- after all, the majority of us who voted did not vote for Trump -- and thought the show's serialized storyline and its dabbling with philosophy and theology would be a turn-off to the NBC crowd.

And then later, in watching the show, I also thought I was picking up on inconsistencies in its writing.  For instance, if Eleanor (Kristen Bell) doesn't get credit for good deeds done for a selfish reason -- i.e., to stay in the Good Place -- then why is Tahani (Jameela Jamil) there?  After all, we've seen how she was driven to her good deeds on earth not by a sense of altruism but by a need to outshine her sister.

I was wrong. On all counts.  Mea maxima culpa.

I certainly should have had more faith in The Good Place creator Mike Schur, who entertained us for years as a writer for The Office -- and even on-screen, as Dwight's idiot brother Mose -- and as the creator of the brilliant Parks & Recreation and co-creator of the equally hilarious Brooklyn Nine-Nine.  I should have realized that here, the Creator had a master plan.

Now, not only has the show scored decent ratings (see below) among well-heeled viewers, but it's scored something even harder to get these days:  buzz.  And, thanks to that buzz, and positive critical reviews, the show has earned what really counts in network TV:  a second-season renewal.

In a press release beginning with "Free yogurt for everyone!" NBC announced its pickup this morning of a second, 13-episode of the series -- which, for those of us who saw the season 1 finale with its shocking and brilliant twist, we're dying to see.  For those who like numbers with their comedy, here are the ratings NBC cited in its renewal decision:

In its rookie season, “The Good Place” has averaged a 1.9 rating in adults 18-49 and 6.1 million viewers overall in “live plus seven day” figures from Nielsen Media Research, improving the timeslot by +36% over NBC’s Thursday 8:30 average last season. The show’s Jan. 19 season finale delivered 5.2 million viewers after three days of time-shifted and video-on-demand viewing, for the show’s biggest L+3 audience since Oct. 27.

“The Good Place” has also generated a strong upscale audience, indexing at a 135 among adults 18-49 living in homes with $100K+ incomes (with 100 representing an average concentration of those homes).

The announcement does not specify if The Good Place's season two will debut in the fall or if its relatively short run will begin sometime later in the 2017-18 season.  (And I hope it's not a case of Heaven Can Wait.  That, of course, would be bullshirt!)

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

In rerun heaven, she'll always turn the world on with her smile

Cast members of The Mary Tyler Moore Show,
reunited in 2013 on TV Land's Hot in Cleveland.
l-r, Valerie Harper, Cloris Leachman, Mary Tyler Moore,
Betty White, Georgia Engel
She could turn the world on with her smile, and she will continue to do so for decades and generations to come.  TV icon Mary Tyler Moore died today at age 80, after years of declining health due to her lifelong fight with diabetes.

It was actually through the fight against diabetes that I first met Mary, at a Juvenile Diabetes Walk in New York City, a cause to which she was incredibly dedicated.  An animal lover, Mary also co-hosted with Bernadette Peters the "Broadway Barks" benefit each year, a beautiful event celebrating and adopting out animals in Manhattan's Shubert Alley.

But it was my husband Frank DeCaro's encounter with Mary that I'll always remember.  In 1997, Mary had appeared on Rosie O'Donnell's talk show, and talked about her desire to reunite with Valerie Harper in a new show, to be called "Mary & Rhoda."  At the time, Frank was writing a style column for the New York Times, and so, while searching for a topic for his next piece, he decided to write about what Mary Richards and Rhoda Morgenstern's lives would look like in the late '90s, twenty years after we'd last seen them on our screens.

The day after the column ran, Frank's home office phone rang; the voice on the other end said simply, "Please hold for Mary Tyler Moore."  A few seconds later, he heard, "Hello, Fraaaank?" in that famous quaver.

Valerie Harper and Mary Tyler Moore
attend the taping of NBC's 90th Birthday
Tribute to Betty White, January 2012.
Mary invited Frank to lunch, and of course he eagerly agreed.  But on the appointed date and time, all hell broke loose.  A storm raged in Manhattan, and bricks were falling off a building on Madison Avenue.  President Clinton was in town, causing a giant case of gridlock.  And despite trying to get from Chelsea to the Upper East Side restaurant by both subway and cab and then on foot, Frank arrived over an hour late. (Remember, this was JUST before we all had cell phones in our pockets.) Would a TV icon be furious with him -- or would she be gone?

To Frank's delight, Mary had had company for the hourlong wait -- surprise lunch guest Valerie Harper.  I first met Frank by reading his memoir, A Boy Named Phyllis, about growing up in surburban New Jersey and, yes, adopting the nickname Phyllis, after Elton John's supposed sobriquet for Rod Stewart.  The ladies understood his lateness, and they all three -- Mary, Rhoda and Phyllis -- proceeded to have a lovely lunch while brainstorming what the show could be.

Mary & Rhoda ended up going through several sitcom script iterations before being reconceived as a TV movie for ABC -- which scored high ratings.  Mary and Valerie never did reunite again on their own, although they both did join their former Mary Tyler Moore Show castmates Betty White, Cloris Leachman and Georgia Engel in a 2013 episode of Betty's TV Land sitcom, Hot in Cleveland.

Mary leaves behind an incredible showbiz legacy, from her iconic roles on landmark sitcoms The Dick Van Dyke Show and her own self-titled, groundbreaking '70s hit to amazing performances in films such as 1980's Ordinary People and one of my own silly favorites, 1967's Thoroughly Modern Millie.

The Television Academy's Archive of American Television project is an amazing resource, interviewing our TV legends about the span of their lives and careers.  Here, a link to Mary's full two-hour interview with the Archive, conducted by Diane Werts in New York City in 1997.  At the end, she discusses just how she'd like to be remembered.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Lisa Edelstein returns with season 3 of Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce... both in front of the camera, and in the writers' room

l-r, Bloomingdales Fashion Director Brooke Jaffe;
GG2D's star Lisa Edelstein, EP Marti Noxon and
costume designer Cynthia Summers; designer Ramy Brook
Just as the Television Critics of America (TCA) semi-annual tour finished in California, Bravo had saved a special treat for last.  On Thursday, Bloomingdales in Century City hosted a panel for its scripted series Girlfriends Guide to Divorce, bringing together star Lisa Edelstein and executive producer Marti Noxon with the show's costume designer, Cynthia Summers, and one of Cynthia's favorite designers, Ramy Brook.

In what may be the start of a new trend in TV, Girlfriends' Guide is now airing its third season, and the first of a three-season pickup leading to the series' finale.  Seasons 3, 4 and 5 of the show will consist of 19 episodes, to be filmed now (thru April of this year) but to be split into three small "seasons" that will air into January of 2018.  (I say this multi-season pickup may be a "trend" -- at least within NBC Universal --because NBC announced last week its own pickup of two more seasons of its freshman sensation, This Is Us.)

Before the panel, I got the chance to sit down with Lisa and Marti for a talk about where the show is going in its upcoming seasons, and through to the finish line -- and what they'll be up to next.

Must-Hear TV:  You have an end date now.  How rare is that in television, to get a three-season notice of the end?

Lisa Edelstein:  It’s nice to have.  Because you end up telling a half story otherwise, or rushing because you find out you’re being cancelled and you have 2 episodes left to wrap up the whole thing.  So yes, it’s really nice.  We had a long time to tell what story she wanted to tell.

MHTV:  Was there always a 5 year plan, or was it variable?

Marti Noxon:  No.  The plan was for as long as they’d have us.  But when they said they wanted to do  19-episodes, broken into seasons… I had always kind of had an idea where I wanted to end, so that was great.  I wanted the plane to land.

LE:  It’s kind of nice.  I feel like sometimes shows, there’s something that happens at around year 6…

MN:  Fatigue!

LE:  It’s more than fatigue.  I remember year 6 of House I was driving to work, and I was like, “Oh, I see how people say, ‘I’m ready to move on.’”  You can’t imagine that as an actor, and probably as a writer, too, that you’d ever get tired of something.  But there is something that happens.  But on this show, season 3, this moment, the moment we got this extended experience, was such a perfect time for it.  Because all the actors really felt confident and knew their roles so well, and the writers knew the actors so well, and so these three last seasons have just played out in such a beautiful way.  So to get that opportunity at the exact moment that we did was really comfortable.

MHTV:  Before you got tired of it?

LE:  Before we got tired of it, and while there were rich stories to tell, and at that moment where everybody knew everybody’s voice.  So the writing is very specific to the people who are inhabiting those roles.  And you can really feel it on set.

MHTV:  You wrote an episode as well.  In fact, it’s the episode airing this week as the third one of the third season, “Rule #188: Mind Your Side of the Plate.” [Airs Weds. Jan 25 at 10 PM ET/PT on Bravo]

LE:  I did!  Marti is the best boss in the world.  Last year, I asked, “Can I co-write an episode?” And I co-wrote with her.  This year she let me write an episode, and it was an amazing experience.

MHTV:  Is that a different muscle to exercise?  How did you do it?

LE:  The culture on our show is really group-think.  So you go into the writers’ room and everyone is breaking the whole season, and each episode that happens in that season, and each scene that happens in that episode.  So by the time you as the writer go off, you’re sort of writing the outline of what everybody came up with.  It’s not like I came in and was like, “Well, this is what’s going to happen.”  So I couldn’t do anything bad to anybody else.  I couldn’t make their characters die.  I couldn’t make them lose their voices.

MN:  “Weirdly, I have all the lines in this episode!”

MHTV:  “And everybody else’s line just says how beautiful I am!”  Did you get it all out, or do you want to write more as we continue?

LE:  I really do want to write more. 

MN:  She’s really super talented and multi-faceted…

LE:  I wrote when I was young.  And then I had a terrible friend who was very destructive.  As sometimes we do.  It really made me not trust that aspect of being creative.  When I left House, I started writing this thing, and I realized I miss this relationship with expressing myself.  And so, Marti as a boss is very generous and supportive, and really open to the enthusiasm and excitement and ambition of the people she hires.  That’s not something you see all the time.  A lot of times you get somebody who’s like, “This is my show.  Please be quiet.” But in this case, as soon as I learned that about her, it became an opportunity for me to really grow, at a time in my life where, like anybody who’s been doing something for 25 years, you hope you would get the opportunity to grow.  So I feel very blessed.

MHTV:  Is there something specific about the episode you wrote thematically that that’s the one you chose to write?

LE:  I didn’t choose.  It chose me.

MN:  We have to do it around schedules.

LE:  I needed to be able to write before I start shooting.  But I will say there’s a lot of body image stuff in this episode.  And Abby’s relationship with food and her body, and her relationship with Retta’s character Barbara.  It’s a very sensitive topic.  It’s something that we don’t talk about enough.  In fact, Marti’s got a movie coming out this weekend…

MHTV:  Serendipitously, your film, To The Bone [with Lily Collins portraying a young version of Marti, struggling with anorexia], is about the same topic.  It’s premiering at Sundance this weekend, right?  Right at the time of the Women’s March there.

MN:  I’m doing the March and then Sundance.

LE:  I’m doing the March in DC. 

MHTV:  How important is it to you both to speak out?

LE:  It’s a moment for people to gather and recognize how many people are activated to make sure that women’s issues remain in the forefront of our minds.  And that after the march, we then need to go home and talk to our local representatives and make sure they know how important it is.  I think these marches are just like “Yeah, we’re doing it” – and then you’ve got to go do it.  The march is awesome, but it’s what happens after the march that is vital.

MHTV:  Do you think it will get people more involved in standing up for civil rights?  I think seeing that there’s such a critical mass will probably be inspiring.

LE:  I’ll tell you, when Obama had his first inauguration, I got to go, and it was an extraordinary, powerful, incredibly emotional moment.  Trying to get in to where the inauguration was, we got trapped in this tunnel in the purple section – and people will talk about it if they were in the purple section.  We were in the yellow section, but we had to go through the purple tunnel.  And it was very frightening, because there were so many bodies.  But everyone was so happy and joyful, even in this moment where we were body to body and no one knew what to do.  It was really something.  So being around that energy is very powerful.

MHTV:  Will politics dictate anything about the show?

MN:  I did write into the first episode that aired last week a joke about Madame President.  But I did it in a way where we could cut it if we needed to, thinking, “We won’t have to.  Maybe this is a good omen.”

LE:  We did one take where we didn’t say that.

MN:  I think that the show already was taking on, in the way that we do, issues that are important to gender equality, but in a way that’s sort of palatable and fun.

LE:  And fashionable.

MN:  And everyone looks fabulous doing it.  But now we have jokes about living in a different kind of political climate.  So it has changed a little bit.

MHTV:  Are you doing a Mad Men where you’re going to make all 19 now, and they just air over 3 years?

MN:  Yes, that’s right.

MHTV:  So as they air in seasons 4 and 5, if the apocalypse has happened, you’re already in the can.

MN:  If the apocalypse has happened, I hope people will not be watching TV.  I hope they’re in the streets.

LE:  They could still stream our show. It’s fine.  Make them happy.

MHTV:  They could watch in the bunker.

LE:  Why not?  It’s so good!

MHTV:  I know you can’t spoil it, but what can you tell us about the evolution of Abby and all the other characters over these seasons, now that you have the luxury of time.

Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce star Lisa Edelstein
and executive producer Marti Noxon
LE:  We’re sort of calling season 3 the “Girlfriends’ Guide to Freedom.” In seasons 1 and 2, Abby has continuously slammed herself against the same brick wall.  And I think the foundation of that brick wall is her not wanting to deal with life on life’s terms.  And still holding on to fantasy, thinking the world is one way when it’s not.  Having sex with a hustler and being surprised she got hustled.  Stuff like that.  But she hits bottom at the beginning of season 3, and this is now time for her to start really picking up the pieces, and really discovering who she is and how she wants to be in the world.  And there’s a lot of interpersonal relationships with the girlfriends, and her relationship with Barbara gets very close.  She finds a new love interest – James Lesure is amazing.  Malcolm-Jamal Warner is amazing.

MHTV:  So what’s next after April?

LE:  She’s doing 8 million things.

MN:  [Marti’s HBO adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s] Sharp Objects goes into production in late March, and then for [new AMC series] Dietland, we start the writers’ room in February.  And the movie is done.

LE:  The movie is amazing.  And I am developing a project.  But this is my first time doing it, and it seems to be a very long, slow, grueling process. And other than that, I really don’t know.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

It's Official -- Will & Grace is back!!

l-r, Sean Hayes, Megan Mullally,
Eric McCormack and Debra Messing in
Will & Grace
This morning at the TCA press tour, NBC started off with an announcement they knew we'd love:  the brilliant 1998-2006 sitcom Will & Grace is coming back in the 2017-18 season, as a 10-episode limited series.

When Will & Grace premiered in 1998, it was only the second network show to feature an out gay leading character -- and that was after Ellen DeGeneres' Ellen Morgan character had come out only in the latter seasons of her eponymous show, in 1997.  Will & Grace went on not only to win 18 Emmys for its writing and all four of its principal cast members, but inspired a generation of men and women, including me, in their coming-out journeys.

In 2004, I was lucky to get the assignment to write Will & Grace: Fabulously Uncensored, a behind-the-scenes coffee table book about the show.  Getting to hang out with that fab foursome -- Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally -- plus the show's creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan and its amazing writers and crew -- was truly like going to fantasy camp.

Now, a whole new generation will get the same inspiration I did all those years ago.  And after all, there's plenty to talk about in 2017.  In fact, the whole revival talks began when the W&G cast and creators released their video, "Vote, Honey" this past fall, urging Americans to get out and vote.  That itself had been a feat of serendipity, because the set for Will Truman's apartment still existed intact, thanks to the preservation work of Mutchnick's alma mater Emerson College.   The "Vote, Honey" viral video proved so popular, it launched NBC into talks with Mutchnick, Kohan and the cast about the revival.

As Mutchnick notes, "Dave and I are absolutely thrilled about the opportunity to write what Will, Grace, Jack and Karen are thinking about in 2017."

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Mick picked up for 4 additional episodes: Fox at the TCA part 2

l-r, Thomas Barbusca, Sofia Black D'Elia,
Jack Stanton and Kaitlin Olson in The Mick
Another announcement from Fox this morning:  new comedy The Mick, starring It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's Katlin Olson, has been picked up for an additional 4 episodes, bringing this season's total to 17.

Fox touts the show as the "#1 New Comedy of the Season," which is a dubious claim to make about a show that has aired only 3 times, especially when some new shows such as ABC's American Housewife and Speechless have been pumping out popular installments since early fall.  Still, Fox brags that The Mick's special Jan. 1 "preview" of its pilot eipsode scored the season's highest-rated new comedy debut in Adults 18-49 in more than 15 months on any network.  Combining multiple platforms, The Mick's audience grew 35% to 11.6 million viewers, tying Lethal Weapon as Fox's highest-rated series premiere of this season (not too hard a feat, compared to underperformers like Pitch and The Exorcist, however.)  And in its regular time period premiere on Jan. 3, The Mick was Fox's highest-rated Tuesday entertainment telecast of the season.

The next all-new episode of The Mick will also air in a special time slot -- as Fox gives a special boost to this deserving comedy by running it on Sunday, January 15, following the sure-to-be-popular, first-ever hour-long episode of The Simpsons.

The show's creators Dave and John Chernin, director Randall Einhorn, and stars Kaitlin Olson, Carla Jimenez, Scott MacArthur, Sofia Black-D'Elia and Thomas Barbusca appeared today on a TCA panel in Pasadena, where we learned that the show has two episodes yet to film of its original 13-episode order, plus now four additional shows -- extra weeks that will stretch The Mick's season closer to those magic mid-May days when the network will make its decisions about pickups for the fall.

Empire renewed for Season 4: FOX at the TCA, part 1

Taraji P. Henson as Cookie Lyon in Empire
Fox began its day of presentations at the Television Critics of America (TCA) conference in Pasadena with a flurry of announcements, one of which being that the network has taken the early step of renewing its hit soap Empire for a fourth season, ahead of the network's full fall schedule announcement in May.

Although Empire's ratings have fallen from their meteoric levels in season 1, the Fox press release brags that the show ranks as the #1 broadcast drama in Adults 18-49 for the third consecutive season, and is the #1 broadcast entertainment program among Adults 18-49, teens and young women.  And on a multi-platform basis, Empire averages almost 16 million total viewers this season, up 82% from its live+same day numbers.

A few hours later, Empire creator Lee Daniels appeared on the stage, along with the cast of his latest creation, Star.  And so Daniels will be quite a busy man if Fox proceeds with a possible Empire spinoff, which was announced in the press back in August.

After Empire's fall finale, Star has been occuping the show's Wednesdays at 9 time slot.  After Star finishes its own run, Empire will return for its spring premiere on Wednesday, March 22.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

7 Bits of Good News from the CW

Rachel Bloom co-created and stars in
the CW's Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
If you're like me, a superfan of the CW network's fantastic musical comedy Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (and if you''re not, I urge you to check it out) you'll be happy to hear that this morning at the Television Critics of America (TCA) convention in Pasadena, the network's president Mark Pedowitz announced the renewal of Crazy Ex for season 3 -- along with six other early pickups of the network's most popular hits.

So get ready for a 2017-18 season in September which is now set to include: Arrow season 6, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend season 3, DC's Legends of Tomorrow season 3, The Flash season 4, Jane the Virgin season 4, Supergirl season 3, and a whopping thirteenth season of the long-running Supernatural.

By the way, I've heard from reliable sources that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was intended from the start to run for a limited number of seasons.  And so with this pickup, it looks like creators Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna will be well on their way to carrying out their complete vision for this well-written, well-acted and incredibly inventive series.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

PaleyFest 2017 schedule announced

Today, the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills announced the schedule for the 34th annual "PaleyFest," to take place once again at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood from March 17-26, 2017.

Ticket pre-sales for some events begin this coming Monday, January 9, via TicketMaster.

Here’s the full PaleyFest LA lineup:
March 17: “The Walking Dead,” AMC
March 18: CW super heroes; “This Is Us,” NBC
March 19: “Grey’s Anatomy,” ABC
March 21: “NCIS: Los Angeles,” CBS
March 22: “The Late, Late Show,” CBS
March 23: “Orphan Black,” BBC America
March 24: “Bob’s Burgers”
March 25: “Pretty Little Liars,” Freeform
March 25: “Westworld,” HBO
March 26: “Scandal,” ABC; “American Horror Story: Roanoke,” FX

Hulu premiere dates for Spring 2017

At today's Television Critics of America (TCA) convention in Pasadena, Hulu presented panels for its collection of shows, and treated critics to a few fun musical performances as well.

Sam Palladio and Clare Bowen in Nashville
First, Clare Bowen and fiance Brandon R. Young performed two songs from Nashville (which of course will air on Hulu this season following each episode's debut on cable network CMT) and also "Love Steps In," her new single which will drop next week, and the proceeds of which will benefit St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, inspired by her brother's battle with lymphoma.  Later, a musical duo performed inside the Langham Hotel's ballroom -- reimagined as the "Bluebird Cafe" -- and even played a country version of "Thank You For Being a Friend," in honor of Hulu's acquisition of streaming rights to all 180 episodes of The Golden Girls, starting February 13.

Below, the announced premiere dates for each of the spring's upcoming Hulu series:

The Golden Girls, l-r:  Estelle Getty, Bea Arthur,
 Rue McClanahan & Betty White
January 6, 2017:  Nashville, season 5  (22 episodes, released after each CMT airing)

January 7, 2017:  Please Like Me, season 4 (6 episodes)

January 25, 2017:  The Path, season 2  (season 1 was 10 episodes; season 2 episode count not announced)

February 13, 2017:  The Golden Girls, seasons 1-7 (180 half-hour episodes)

March 1, 2017:  National Treasure, season 1  (4 episodes)
Andrea Riseborough, Robbie Coltrane
and Julie Walters in National Treasure

March 29, 2017:  Harlots, season 1 (8 episodes)

April 26, 2017:  The Handmaid's Tale, season 1  (10 episodes)

May 23, 2017:  Casual, season 3 (13 episodes, released weekly)

The Girls Head to Hulu

Big news this morning out of the Television Critics of America (TCA) convention in Pasadena:  Hulu has announced the exclusive acquisition of streaming rights to The Golden Girls.  Starting February 13, all seven seasons/180 episodes of the show will be available for on-demand viewing anytime.

Now if only we can get them to throw in Golden Palace.  Stay tuned!