With most network execs following Donald Trump’s strategy of not taking journalists’ questions from the stage and thespians pontificating about not being a method actor — and, in fact, not knowing what it means — or boasting about not reading the book on which their project is based lest they become “oversaturated” with “too much information,” this TCA ran the risk of being a total bust.
Happily, that was not the case for the TCA Winter Press Tour in Pasadena. Here’s why:
In trademark boxy black suit and buttoned-up white shirt, Twin Peaks‘ David Lynch made a “surprise” appearance at TCA and gave all those TV execs who had dodged the stage a master class in the art of affable evasiveness.
Asked if Twin Peaks on Showtime will tell stories it could not on ABC a quarter-century ago, Lynch charmed TV critics by answering ,“Well, in the beginning, I’m not really at liberty to talk about that.”
So pronounced was the press’ reaction to Lynch’s response, when asked if the Showtime Decency Police were more relaxed about language than had been ABC’s, the court stenographers who transcribe all TCA Q&A’s felt compelled to insert “(Crickets)” into the official transcript:
DAVID LYNCH: Oh, no, no, no, no, no. We didn’t have hardly any problems with standards and practices in the old days, 25 years ago. In fact, I couldn’t believe the freedom and the things that we did. If you look at the show, it’s kind of amazing. Sometimes dialogue had to be changed, but those changes always led to a more creative, you know, better thing. But we had a lot of freedom.
It’s been real great, you guys.
But, in his most Lynchian obfuscation, when asked how he and Mark Frost work together on Twin Peaks, he responded:
“Well, in the beginning, many years ago, we were, Mark and I, as if lost in the wilderness, as it always is in the beginning. And then we seemed to find some mountain, and we begin to climb, and when we rounded the mountain, we entered a deep forest. And going through the forest for a time, the trees began to thin. And when we came out of the woods, we discovered this small town called Twin Peaks. And we got to know many of the people in Twin Peaks, and the people who visited Twin Peaks, and we discovered a mystery, and within this mystery were many other mysteries. And we discovered a world, and within this world, there were other worlds, and that’s how it started, and that’s what brought us here today. This story continues.”
“In anticipation of the panel in which you tell us repeatedly that this show absolutely, positively isn’t about Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes and Scientology, could you legally tell us if it were?” The Arrangement executive producer Jonathan Abrahams got asked at the top of E!’s Q&A for its upcoming scripted series about a struggling young actress offered a $10M marriage with a super-hot movie star who belongs to the “self-help” org Institute of the Higher Mind.
“It’s clear to me that even if I could say that I could legally do it, I don’t have the authority to say that. Do you know what I mean?” Abrahams responded. “Like, I don’t know, but it’s an easy, I mean, it doesn’t really matter because it really isn’t, if that answers your question.”
“Sure,” the critic responded, forecasting, accurately, “I assume you are going to get several more variations on that in the next few minutes.”
Second question: “When you decided not to base this on Tom and Katie … did you ever consider kind of flipping the script and going with an actress who was involved in an organization that wasn’t Scientology?”
And on and on. Asked if he has had experience with arranged relationships, actor Michael Vartan quipped, “I’m on my third.”
“I would like to be your fourth.“ the critic shot back, winning that round charmingly and inspiring network programming chief Jeff Olde to announce at the end of the Q&A, “We do have a sign-up sheet for marriage offers to Michael in the back.”
Hulu’s Whore’s Eye View of London
Hulu’s Harlots took a certain amount of grilling about “women’s empowerment” and scolding from “feminists” during one of the zippier TCA panels. EP Alison Owen described the series as a “whore’s-eye view” of prostitution in 18th century London, boasting of “no male gazes” in the show that is entirely about women looking outward at their world. To that end, the team of producers, directors and writers is nearly entirely female. And the series’ 18th century setting also is “a marvelous way to get around the censorship,” because obsolete words for various sex acts, such as “swiving,” are not on Standards & Practices’ list of banned words.
President-elect Donald Trump that’s him at the loomed large over this year’s TCA, though he had not appeared at the clambake since January 2015 (see photo above) when he last starred in NBC’s The Celebrity Apprentice. Among those who brought him up:
Ryan Murphy said Trump vs, Meryl Streep was on his wish list for an upcoming season of anthology series Feud. Powerless’s EP said that in his DC Comics spoof, Bruce Wayne has put his dim cousin in charge of one of Wayne Enterprises companies “like Donald Trump and his idiot sons.” Dick Wolf said he “suspected” his oft-moved Trump-inspired Law & Order: SVU episode, “Unstoppable,” will air in the spring. PBS chief Paula Kerger said it’s too early to know what impact Trump will have on public television.
“Remember when Russian infiltration was a cute thing you were able to confine to the ’80s?” a TV critic asked The Americans creator Joe Weisberg. The former CIA officer responded candidly, “There is something, in a twisted way, kind of fun in seeing all the headlines about stuff we’re trafficking in,” but he added, “to see things spiral so out of control just doesn’t feel good.”
CNN’s United Shades of America star W. Kamau Bell fielded a question as to whether now is a particularly important time for comedy. “A lot of my friends have always sort of said they wished they lived through the ’60s. Well, here’s your chance,” he quipped.
Samantha Bee was the only late-night TV host to brave this TCA. Her TBS series Full Frontal has been one of the most talke-about TV shows during the election process and, keying up for the show’s TCA panel, TBS reminded critics they have called her show the funniest takedown of the Donald Trump political clown car and Jon Stewart’s successor as torch bearer of common sense. Asked about that impact, EP/showrunner Jo Miller put things in perspective: “Tucker Carlson just got Megyn Kelly’s timeslot,” she noted. And when a critic tried to engage Bee in a conversation about which news operations had abdicated their responsibility during Trump’s candidacy, she instead noted the growing sense “they’re coming for all of us, so it does behoove us to support one another.”
Surprisingly, one person who did not get asked about Trump was Tina Fey, who reportedly had suggested to Lorne Michaels that Alec Baldwin play Trump on Saturday Night Live – a bit of casting that clearly is getting under Trump’s skin, given his weekly tweets on the performances. Fey’s Q&A for her new NBC series Great News closed out the two-week orgy of question-asking. A couple of NBC execs happily noted afterward that they’d heard complaints from some journalists attending TCA that there were “too many Donald Trump questions” being asked. Which is perhaps to be expected from a gathering in which just 64% of members recently polled called it “important” to have an executive Q&A panel for cable networks at the semi-annual conference.
Bones creator Hart Hanson ruffled some Fox feathers when, at a Q&A celebrating his series’ 12-year run at the network, he lovingly called the show “the cockroach of Fox,” because it has lasted so long despite the best efforts of former Fox execs to kill it.
Asked “what made you all decide this was the best time to bring [Bones] to a close,” star Emily Deschanel shot back, “It wasn’t our decision. It would be ungracious of us to be fighting against them canceling us,” and “we’ve had a great run.”
When Hanson complimented her for her “gracious way to say that,” she corrected, “I’m not gracious anymore. I was gracious at one point.”
After which Hanson reminisced about being “on the bubble all the time,” adding, “I felt like I was angry all the time.” Over 12 years, four network presidents and 20 timeslots, he said, “This amazing thing happened, which is that our fans, who are loud and passionate and very opinionated, would follow us.
“We started to feel kind of like, ‘Go ahead, try to kill us!'”