Any references you see in Starz’s new comedy Blunt Talk to Paddy Chayefsky’s Network are entirely not coincidental, the show’s creator/exec producer Joanthan Ames told journalists at TCA this morning. Asked if there was a connection, Ames answered happily, “Very much so. I, in preparation for writing, rewatched Network. Network was wonderful — I wanted more Howard Beale.”
(For the one or two people reading who are not in the know: Chayefsky’s scathing mid-’70s sendup of the TV news business starred Peter Finch as Beale, anchor of an evening newscast at Union Broadcasting System whose show is about to be yanked due to lousy ratings, until he announces on air he’s going to kill himself on the broadcast in the near future, which UBS suits decide to exploit.)
At some point, the focus of that movie switched to UBS execs William Holden and Faye Dunaway, Ames said disappointedly. He thinks of Blunt Talk as a sort of exploration of what TV news would be had “Howard Beale continued his broadcast,” only “slightly less mad.” The stained-glass UBS logo on the set also is a reference to the stained glass in Beale’s office as he gets more and more lunatic, Ames acknowledged. Tonally, the series “is a cross between Network and P.G. Wodehouse – that’s why I have a manservant role (played by Adrian Scarborough),” he said, referencing Wodehouse’s most famous literary character, Jeeves.
Set in Los Angeles, Blunt Talk follows Walter Blunt (Patrick Stewart), a British import intent on conquering the world of American cable news, and the fallout from his well-intentioned but mostly misguided decision-making — professionally and personally. Jacki Weaver co-stars as Blunt’s straight-talking, tough and motherthy producer-manager.
At today’s TCA panel, Stewart carried the ball Ames tossed to him, “What Jonathan has given me to do on the show is something similar” to Beale. “Although there is chaos in his life, he sees that as metaphor for world in general, and this is the world that he is committed to improving.”
Seth MacFarlane, who also is an EP on the show, was asked if he’s writing any episodes. Describing himself as the “most useless person” onstage, he explained: “At this point, one of pleasures of my career is to be able to connect people of whom I am a fan. It always struck me as criminal that Patrick Stewart had never been cast in a single-camera comedy. He’s … conquered every genre he has attempted.” This series, he said, “just seemed to me like a no-brainer, and it was matter of pairing him with somebody who could really build a character for him as memorable as it should be.”
One journalist likened Blunt Talk to a Bugs Bunny cartoon, which Stewart said is a “huge compliment. To be thought to be in that same world at all is to me as grand a thing as could possibly happen.”
But Stewart added that he has never had so many days of “acting deeply seriously” as he has on this series. “We are in an absurdist and comical world, which at times seems difficult to understand how it holds together,” he said. “But it does, because every single one of the principal characters is passionate and deeply serious about what they do. So there is nothing funny about the show. It’s one serious situation after another that has to be resolved. That’s how it feels to me.”
Bugs Bunny was not mentioned again.
Ames, however, said he sees Blunt Talk “as a comedy of uplift,” quoting Wodehouse: ” ‘Try to give pleasure with every sentence’ – We try to give pleasure with every scene, and I want people to feel a little bit better about being alive, to feel a little less alone.”
The 10-episode first season of Blunt Talk kicks off at 9 PM Saturday, August 22. The series is greenlighted for a two-season, 20-episode commitment. Stephanie Davis and Tristram Shapeero also exec produce.