<p>Whitney Cummings and Chris D'Elia of 'Whitney'</p>
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Whitney Cummings and Chris D'Elia of 'Whitney'

Credit: NBC

Take Me To The Pilots '11: NBC's 'Whitney'

Whitney Cummings and Chris D'Elia are funny, but 'Whitney' is not

[In case you've Forgotten, and as I will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots.]

Show: "Whitney" (NBC)
The Pitch: "You loved Whitney Cummings' raunchy standup, now see if you love her in the hippest comedy of 1993."
Quick Response: This is one that NBC should probably scrap and start over with. The pilot is consistently and woefully unfunny. And as unfunny as the pilot is, NBC has managed to feature just about every single punchline in promos that have been in almost relentless circulation. As I've said on Twitter, there's one punchline in "Whitney" that made me laugh out loud when I saw it in the upfronts sizzle reel and that made me laugh out loud within the pilot and it's even made me laugh out loud the couple times I've seen it in promotion on NBC. But that's it. So NBC has a problem: "Whitney" is a bad pilot and I don't think people are going to like it. They're going to be disappointed. But the people who actually are LOVING the "Whitney" promos -- there may be some out there, though I don't know any -- are going to tune in and they're going to be disappointed by how little there is that they haven't seen. ["Whitney" is already in real danger of a viewer uprising in its Thursday home. This pilot isn't going to help.] My solution would be to leave this sucker on the shelf and move on with Ep.2. It's not like "Whitney" has an origin pilot or anything. It's Whitney and her boyfriend (Chris D'Elia) mid-relationship. Give the show a fighting chance and don't air this episode. It would be the humane thing to do, because I don't disagree with NBC's core feeling that Whitney Cummings is a talented and promising comedic voice and that her energy with D'Elia has potential, even if that promise and that potential are, at best, nascent in the pilot. The pilot also makes very little profitable use of the supporting cast featuring Maulik Pancholy and several other plausibly valuable foils, and it doesn't include the newly added Jane Kaczmarek at all. So start over. You can lift the scene with Whitney in the naughty nurse costume and insert it in a future episode and I guarantee that I'll laugh again when she asks the boyfriend to fill out the pile of paperwork before sex. But airing this pilot isn't the right way to treat a show you pretend to like. I don't need to tell the world anything else about this pilot. I'm willing to forget it ever happened. You won't get that offer from me for "Free Agents," I assure you.
Desire To Watch Again: Of all of the bad comedy pilots this spring, "Whitney" is the one that I actually think has the most potential to turn in a decent -- not "remarkable," not "hilarious" and not even "good," necessarily, but "decent" -- second episode. I highly doubt I'll give it much more than two or three episodes, but I *did* watch nearly two-thirds of a season of "Outsourced," so it could happen. In any case, I hope NBC doesn't waste one of my good-faith viewings on this pilot.

Take Me To The Pilots '11: ABC's 'Pan Am'
Take Me To The Pilots '11: FOX's 'Alcatraz'
Take Me To The Pilots '11: CBS' 'Person of Interest'
Take Me To The Pilots '11: ABC's ' 'The River'
Take Me To The Pilots '11: ABC's 'Last Man Standing'
Take Me To The Pilots '11: CBS' 'Two Broke Girls'
Take Me To The Pilots '11: NBC's 'Up All Night'
Take Me To The Pilots '11: ABC's 'Revenge'
Take Me To The Pilots '11: ABC's 'Once Upon a Time'
Take Me To The Pilots '11: NBC's 'Awake'
Take Me To The Pilots '11: FOX's 'I Hate My Teenage Daughter'
Take Me To The Pilots '11: The CW's 'The Secret Circle'
Take Me To The Pilots '11: CBS' 'Unforgettable'
Take Me To The Pilots '11: NBC's 'The Playboy Club'
Take Me To The Pilots '11: ABC's 'Charlie's Angels'
Take Me To The Pilots '11: NBC's 'Grimm'
Take Me To The Pilots '11: FOX's 'New Girl'
Take Me To The Pilots '11: The CW's 'Hart of Dixie'
Take Me To The Pilots ' 11: ABC's 'Apartment 23'
Take Me To The Pilots '11: CBS' 'A Gifted Man'
All of last year's Take Me To The Pilots installments.

<p>Christina Ricci and Margot Robbie of 'Pan Am'</p>
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Christina Ricci and Margot Robbie of 'Pan Am'

Credit: ABC

Take Me To The Pilots '11: ABC's 'Pan Am'

Handsome production values and a solid cast lead to an intriguing pilot

[In case you've Forgotten, and as I will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots.]

Show: "Pan Am" (ABC)
The Pitch:"It's 'Fly Girls' 1963."
Quick Response:Two seasons ago -- my, how time flies -- The CW aired a show about glamorous air hostesses on a glamorous airline with a cult following. The takeaway from the show was that the flight attendants on Virgin viewed themselves as the progressive, mobile, liberated women of the 21st Century, that serving drinks and being patted on the backside by drunk passengers were really just the price of having a job that opened up a world of possibilities which might otherwise have been barred. Due to the period setting and less overall suckage -- "Fly Girls" wasn't a good show -- a similar message gets delivered with more class and a richer subtext in ABC's "Pan Am," which probably ranks as my favorite drama pilot premiering this fall. "Pan Am" takes the sturdy period details that made "The Playboy Club" a not-unpleasant viewing experience for me and raises the ante with superior costume and production design, plus a quantity of special effects that I can only assume was daunting. Everything is highly stylized, almost making "Mad Men" look like a piece of documentary realism, but I dug the hyper-stylized approach, even if I compared "Pan Am" to "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" in my notes a couple times. While I was watching "Pan Am," I was impressed with the time-jumping dexterity of Jack Orman's script, which weaves in dozens of characters, countless historical details, and also works in an espionage undercurrent which, at least for one episode, didn't feel forced. Do I completely buy the empowerment message espoused throughout? Not exactly, but it also didn't make me cringe in the way "Playboy Club" occasionally did. Probably director Tommy Schlamme deserves a lot of credit for holding together the whole package. Schlamme's passionate involvement is a key element of my desire to keep watching "Pan Am" going forward. The cast doesn't hurt. Christina Ricci's being positioned as the big "Pan Am" star, but she's closer to a sturdy supporting player. I'm assuming she's been told things about where this character is going and that's why she took the role. For the pilot, Margot Robbie and Kelli Garner have bigger parts. I've always liked Kelli Garner and this is a much better vehicle for her than "My Generation" was last fall. And while I've never seen Robbie before, I'm prepared to like her quite a bit. The leading man swap between exiting Jonah Lotan and entering Mike Vogel won't make much difference either way.
Desire To Watch Again: It's odd, because I was surprised by how much I was enjoying the pilot as I watched it, but very little stuck with me hours or days later, much less several weeks later. I definitely want to watch more episodes, but I have no trouble imagining directions "Pan Am" might take that would have me dropping out after another week or two. But still, in response to the "Desire to Watch Again," the basic answer is "High."

Take Me To The Pilots '11: FOX's 'Alcatraz'
Take Me To The Pilots '11: CBS' 'Person of Interest'
Take Me To The Pilots '11: ABC's ' 'The River'
Take Me To The Pilots '11: ABC's 'Last Man Standing'
Take Me To The Pilots '11: CBS' 'Two Broke Girls'
Take Me To The Pilots '11: NBC's 'Up All Night'
Take Me To The Pilots '11: ABC's 'Revenge'
Take Me To The Pilots '11: ABC's 'Once Upon a Time'
Take Me To The Pilots '11: NBC's 'Awake'
Take Me To The Pilots '11: FOX's 'I Hate My Teenage Daughter'
Take Me To The Pilots '11: The CW's 'The Secret Circle'
Take Me To The Pilots '11: CBS' 'Unforgettable'
Take Me To The Pilots '11: NBC's 'The Playboy Club'
Take Me To The Pilots '11: ABC's 'Charlie's Angels'
Take Me To The Pilots '11: NBC's 'Grimm'
Take Me To The Pilots '11: FOX's 'New Girl'
Take Me To The Pilots '11: The CW's 'Hart of Dixie'
Take Me To The Pilots ' 11: ABC's 'Apartment 23'
Take Me To The Pilots '11: CBS' 'A Gifted Man'
All of last year's Take Me To The Pilots installments.

<p>'Glee: The 3D Concert Movie'</p>
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'Glee: The 3D Concert Movie'

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Movie Review: 'Glee: The 3D Concert Movie'

HitFix
B-
Readers
C
Brisk concert film has more highlights and fewer lowlights than most 'Glee' episodes

"Glee: The 3D Concert Movie" runs roughly twice the length of your average episode of "Glee."

It features a couple dozen songs, performed by the show's 14 main high school characters.

It also has three main narrative threads featuring characters -- real people, actually -- we've never seen before. 

Plumes of smoke gush from all parts of a vast stage.

Stroboscopic lighting effects make epileptics one disenfranchised group not welcomed into the "Glee" big tent.

There are interviews with countless "Glee" fans and confusing backstage conversations with the stars, who sometimes seem to be in character, but sometimes don't. 

And it's still the least cluttered installment of "Glee" in nearly two years.

Emmy and Golden Globe wins aside, "Glee" has become a storytelling nightmare, a perpetually overextended hodge-podge of inconsistent characters, tonally jarring mean-spiritedness and thematic dissonance. For every masterfully choreographed production number or cheeky mash-up, viewers have to suffer through whole segments of emotionally manipulative tripe or, even worse, segments starring Matthew Morrison. A streamlined, effective episode of "Glee" has become as rare as an episode of "True Blood" without toplessness (male or female).

Directed by "Fame" veteran Kevin Tancharoen, "Glee: The 3D Concert Movie" isn't really great cinema and it plays more as a straight-up, hastily tossed-together money-grab than an opportunity to welcome fans who couldn't make it to the show's recent concert tour, but I still came away oddly pleased. This is a version of "Glee" stripped of most of what annoys me about FOX's "Glee."

There's no Mr. Schuester rapping and dancing and concocting random theme weeks and generally doing absolutely nothing to prepare the glee club for regionals/states/nationals. [And, as a result, there's no woefully integrated Mr. Schuester romance featuring Terri or Emma or anybody else.]

There's no Sue Sylvester, earning big laughs, but also making every single episode only about her and her alleged audacity. 

There are no love triangles of any kind, so you don't need to pretend that Cory Monteith has chemistry with either Lea Michele or Dianna Agron, much less pretend you're invested in which way his libido leads him.

Mostly, "Glee: The 3D Concert Movie" is just pretty young people singing, with a very clear-eyed, uncluttered empowerment message behind it. For the uninitiated, this will feel more like an Up With People showcase or a terrifyingly engaged cult rally, but I found this to be a "Glee" that was mostly far preferable to the real thing.

[More after the break...]

Read Full Post
<p>Cinemax's 'Strike Back'</p>
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Cinemax's 'Strike Back'

Credit: Cinemax

Exclusive 'Strike Back' clip shows Section 20 playing by its own rules

Cinemax drama stars Philip Winchester and Sullivan Stapleton
If you're a regular podcast listener, you've already heard what Sepinwall and I had to say about Cinemax's new transplanted drama "Strike Back," which premieres on Friday (August 12) night at 10 p.m. 
 
The muscular action series features Philip Winchester and Sullivan Stapleton as a pair of operatives in Section 20, an uber-secretive British Military Intelligence unit. 
 
Friday's premiere features Section 20 taking a very personal interest in a hostage situation at an Indian hotel, an attack involving the mysterious terrorist Latif.
 
In this exclusive clip, featuring guest star Jimi Mistry as a Pakistani intelligence officer, we discover that Section 20 doesn't always play by the book.
 
Time permitting, I'll have a full "Strike Back" review posted tomorrow pre-premiere, but for now, enjoy the clip...
<p>Katharine McPhee</p>
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Katharine McPhee

Watch: Katharine McPhee talks 'Shark Night 3D,' 'Smash'

Did the 'American Idol' veteran enjoy going from singing to screaming?
Comic-Con feels many months in the rearview, but it was actually only three weeks ago that I found myself standing next to Katharine McPhee and a giant mechanical shark in a parking lot across the street from PETCO Park in San Diego.
 
The shark was there as a proxy for the largely CG star of the thriller "Shark Night 3D," which hits theaters on September 2 and features a plot that requires almost no explanation beyond what's implied by the title: A group of college friends head off for a wild weekend of partying at a lake house, but find themselves falling prey to a giant shark. In 3D. I believe the correct dramatic conflict archetype would be "Scantily Clad Man vs. Nature."
 
McPhee was there as one of the human stars of "Shark Night 3D," though she wouldn't tell me if she's one of the nubile coeds who becomes shark kibble, or if she leaves that honor for her chums. 
 
If "Shark Night" is successful, it will be part of a wave of career re-definition for "American Idol" Season 5 runner-up McPhee, possibly whetting appetites for the February 2012 premiere of the NBC musical-drama "Smash," which finds the "House Bunny" co-star in such uncharted waters that the network has been billing her as "And Introducing Katharine McPhee."
 
McPhee and I discussed that NBC billing, her own thriller preferences and the difficulties of cinematic screaming in this video interview. 
 
Check it out!
<p>Cinemax's 'Strike Back'</p>
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Cinemax's 'Strike Back'

Credit: Cinemax

Listen: Firewall & Iceberg Podcast No. 88

Dan and Alan talk Press Tour, 'The Hour,' 'Strike Back' and more

The

Happy Monday, Boys & Girls.
 
Press tour is over and our brains are mush, but Sepinwall and I wanted to make sure we recorded one last podcast in the same room together. 
 
In this installment of The Firewall & Iceberg podcast, we review Cinemax's "Strike Back" and BBC America's "The Hour," discuss this week's episode of "Breaking Bad" and spend a loooooooong time chatting about the past week with the Television Critics Association.
 
Here's the breakdown:
"Strike Back" -- 02:45 - 11:55
"The Hour" -- 11:55 - 21:25
Press Tour -- 21:25 - 1:09:30
"Breaking Bad" -- 01:09:30 - 01:21:50
 
 

As always, you can subscribe to The Firewall & Iceberg Podcast over at the iTunes Store, where you can also rate us and comment on us. [Or you can always follow our RSS Feed.] 

And here's the podcast...
<p>Dan</p>
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Dan

Credit: Frederick M. Brown/Getty

The Fien Print's TCA Awards introduction for HBO's 'Game of Thrones'

Read it quickly and it'll be like you were at Sunday's show
On Saturday (August 6) evening at the Beverly Hilton, the Television Critics Association handed out our annual awards for the best of the small screen.
 
At the risk of sounding like a homer, I think we did a rather solid job,  giving Program of the Year to "Friday Night Lights" and showering awards on the likes of "Mad Men," "Parks and Recreation" and "Sesame Street."
 
We also gave our Outstanding New Program award to HBO's "Game of Thrones," another decision I felt pretty good about and not just because I got to present the award to a trio of producers (most of the team was in Ireland where production on the second season is ongoing).
 
Since a couple people expressed curiosity in the intro on Sepinwall's recap of the event (and my mother also showed some interest), I'm cutting and pasting the quickie transcript for what was designed as a one-minute intro. I suspect a lot of the intro's appeal hinges on its successful and breathless delivery (I didn't drink at the cocktail hour beforehand to avoid alcohol-induced tongue-tying), but the TCA Awards are a video/audio-free zone. In lieu of video/audio, then, I've attached an image, part of the annual series of "Dan presents a TCA Award with a raised eyebrow looking off at an indeterminate point in space, varying only his tie" photos which have accompanied each of the previous times I've presented.
 
[Oh and the intro kinda includes spoilers... You've been warned.]
 
Enjoy...
 
At first glance, many of the nominees for Outstanding New Program fit familiar TV conventions. We have a cop show, a detective show, and a mob drama.
 
How conventional was our winner? Adapted masterfully from George R.R. Martin's novel by David Benioff, D.B. Weiss and a team of ace writers and directors, it's outstanding, but it's also just your basic epic medieval fantasy power struggle featuring dragons and direwolves, white walkers and witches, beheadings and be-tonguings and a crown of gold, whispering eunuchs and plotting pimps, breast-feeding 8-year-olds and little girls with swords, ascending bastards and sincere bastards and secret bastards, Imps and Wards and Hounds and Hands, twincest and sexposition, regicide and infanticide, Lords and Ladies, Sers and Maesters, Khals and Khaleesis, a kingdom wracked by war, a strong-hold in the sky, a giant freaking wall and a throne forged from iron and blood. 

Oh and did I mention that much of the story was told in Dothraki?
 
Hmmm... Maybe this won't be such an easy formula to replicate.
 
It is known that the TCA Award for Outstanding New Program goes to HBO's "Game of Thrones."
 
Accepting for "Game of Thrones" are Executive Producers Carolyn Strauss, Vince Gerardis and Guymon Casady.
 
 
 
<p>ABC Entertainment President Paul Lee</p>
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ABC Entertainment President Paul Lee

Credit: ABC

Press Tour '11 Live-Blog: ABC Executive Session

Paul Lee meets with the Television Critics Association

It's Sunday Morning! After a late night for the Television Critics Association Awards, reporters are gathered in the Beverly Hilton hotel ballroom for ABC Entertainment President Paul Lee's opening press conference...

Click through for the excitement, which is sure to include a "Desperate Housewives" announcement and more...

9:00 a.m. The "Desperate Housewives" announcement arrives before Paul Lee. This will, indeed, be the final season of what was, indeed, briefly a landmark series. I'll inevitably write up a full story on this in a bit. Lee will almost certainly have more to say anon.

9:05 a.m. Paul Lee has been at this gig for a year now and he calls it "a crazy job." He says ABC has "a hell of a lot to brag about." The bragging begins with "Modern Family" and with "Grey's Anatomy" and "Dancing with this Stars." He also celebrates "Body of Proof," the network's first new drama hit in years. He admits, though, that ABC "has a lot of work to do."

9:07 a.m. Lee is the latest exec to SWEAR that their network is all about programming year-round. He's throwing around a lot of pretty empty jargon. He's new referred to both "Revenge" and "Apartment 23" as "underrated." But who the heck has been rating anything? 

9:10 a.m. Paul Lee says he'd had doubts about "Once Upon a Time" as an ongoing story, but he's seen three scripts and, "I'm now fully confident we can sustain it for three episodes."

9:11 a.m. On "Desperate Housewives," Lee says, "It is an iconic show and we're so proud of it." 

9:11 a.m. What does ABC get out of nostalgia-driven shows like "Pan Am" and "Charlie's Angels"? "It does have a built-in audience," Lee says of "Charlie's Angels" with its many generations of recognition, but he adds "The proof will be in the pudding." Of "Pan Am," Lee says "there's nothing cheap, glossy and silly about this show." Lee has now mentioned his background as a director twice. 

9:13 a.m. How do these comedies represent Paul Lee's comic philosophy? It's a network about empowered women and the plight of men around them. Lee repeats that ABC is a network that guns for affluent women and these shows reflect that. And what about the reviled "Work It"? Lee admits, "I'm a Brit. It's in my contract. I have to do a cross-dressing show every year."

9:15 a.m. There was a whole process of script and conceptual evolution that brought "Once Upon a Time" to air. He thinks the "Once Upon a Time" "changes the rules" and will be "appointment television."

9:15 a.m. Much praise for Jane Levy, the young star of "Suburbatory." Of their overall message, ABC plans on opening out a "wider" and "Heartland" brand of comedy on Tuesday night. "Empowered women is definitely a theme of the network. It's one of the reasons we do so well with affluent women," he says. But he adds, "In the end, it's all about emotion."

9:16 a.m. Lee says that Castle will have a really cool storyline involving a Marvel character. "We're extremely excited by having Marvel in the fold," Lee says, adding that they're aggressively developing properties with The Incredible Hulk and Jessica Jones.

9:20 a.m. "No," is Paul Lee's answer to my question about whether the network is worried that the Mancession doesn't actually exist anymore and that the network is working two years behind the Zeitgeist. Oh well. 

9:21 a.m. "Certainly those are not the projections that we see," Lee says in response to projections that ABC could slip into fourth place for next season. "We think we're well-positioned."

9:22 a.m. What are ABC's plans for the newly added Hallmark Hall of Fame? "The truth is, it's an illustrious brand and I think we're a great environment for them," Lee says. Up first is "A Leap of Faith." He thinks TV movies can still be appointment viewing. The deal is for three movies a year.

9:23 a.m. Lee is happy with "Shark Tank." 

9:24 a.m. A critic asks if there have been thoughts about moving "Rookie Blue" into the regular season. This critic hasn't actually looked at the ratings. Lee says he's proud of "Rookie Blue" and wouldn't rule out airing it in the seasons.

9:26 a.m. ABC's internal guys are very enthusiastic about "Revenge." 

9:26 a.m. Is there any future for "Hallelujah"? "I love that idea and we've started to redevelop it," Lee says of the Marc Cherry pilot.

9:27 a.m. If "Mad Men" can't draw ratings, why will "Playboy Club" and "Pan Am"? "'Pan Am,' when you watch it, is a much brighter and broader canvas," Lee says. He says it's time to "take some risks in broadcast," citing "The River" as the kind of show we haven't seen for a long time. "The fun of these chairs is to start taking risk," Lee says of his position. Lee says that the second episode of "The River" has "so much heart to it." He also says that "Steven Spielberg is really engaged in this one."

9:29 a.m. It's implied that many of the midseason shows are better than the fall shows. Why? Lee says that January, April and June can all be great months to launch shows. "What we don't want to do is have all of our shows together," Lee says.

9:30 a.m. If ABC values women, why cancel those two beloved soaps? This isn't Paul Lee's job and he's perfectly happy to pass the buck.

9:31 a.m. Regarding "Work It," a critic asks, "Seriously? Come on, Paul." He says "Sometimes you pick up a pilot because it makes you cackle with laughter." Lee grins and adds, "We didn't think this room would like it. And there's some pleasure in that." ABC: Taking Pleasure In Programming Trash. Excellent.

9:33 a.m. Out comes Marc Cherry to discuss the end of "Desperate Housewives," a topic that actually didn't draw a single question during the panel.

9:35 a.m. "I think the only thing harder than creating a hit show is knowing when to end it," Cherry says. "I wanted to go out while the network still saw us as a viable show, while we were still doing well in the ratings, while we were still a force to contend with."  Cherry says that the end-date discussion began in his first discussion with Paul Lee. "We decided that this was the right time and I feel so good about it," he says. The show will have a whole year to "reflect on how lucky we all were, what an amazing ride this has all been." He repeats that they're going to "end this in the classiest way possible." Cherry had a close relationship with Steve McPherson, but he's also been close with Lee.

9:37 a.m. Questions for Cherry. How did the stars react when they heard? He's spoken to over half of the cast. "It was bittersweet and lovely, because the women knew it was a possibility, but they didn't know," Cherry says. "People said some very lovely things to me about how I changed their lives and careers and I said it back to them," he says, calling the actors family. "I love my cast," Cherry says.

9:40 a.m. Cherry had said he might have enough for a ninth season. "If we were going to go nine, I have no idea what that was going to be," Cherry says. "The mystery of what's going on this season harkens back to the first season," Cherry says, going back to the mystery of Mary-Alice. Part of the consideration for Cherry is that he's wanted to do some development. "It was really like a back and a forth and we all kinda made the decision together," Cherry adds of his creative team.

9:43 a.m. Any possibility for a spinoff? "I'm just going to put you in a van and have you solve mysteries," Cherry says he told Eva Longoria, who he loves more than life itself. Cherry reminds us that he came out of comedy and "Desperate Housewives" was his drama-type thing and it has made him a better writer and "I don't want to be one of those guys who just repeats himself constantly."

9:45 a.m. "We'll see what happens with that," Cherry says evoking memories of the Edie Britt character.

9:46 a.m. Marc Cherry wanted more time to fix "Hallelujah," which he says he only got half-right. "You kinda have to get it perfect. It's a big swing," he says of timing for the redeveloped pilot. 

9:46 a.m. Will it be an extra-long season? "I never want extra episodes. This is so hard," Cherry says. "The network has come to me at times wishing they could get more episodes, but this is such a complex show to write," Cherry says.

That's all, folks...

Press Tour '11 Live-Blog: FX Executive Session
Credit: FX

Press Tour '11 Live-Blog: FX Executive Session

John Landgraf meets with the Television Critics Association

It's the final Saturday (August 6) of the Television Critics Association press tour and we're getting sleepy. And by "getting sleepy," I mean "have been nearly comatose for three or four days now." Before the TCA Awards this evening, though, we have an action-packed day of FX panels with favorites including "Sons of Anarchy," "The League," "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" and much more.

But first... 30 minutes with FX President and General Manager John Landgraf.

Click through...

9:02 a.m. We begin with the news that Landgraf has renewed his contract for another three years. That's a lot. And Landgraf justifies his new contract by talking about FX's 17 percent year-to-date increase in ratings. He had kind words for "Justified," "Archer," "Wilfred" and more.

9:05 a.m. First piece of news: "Wilfred" renewed for a second season.

9:06 a.m. More news: "Louie" has been renewed for a third season.

9:06 a.m. MORE news: FX has formed FX Canada. That's cool, eh?

9:07 a.m. EVEN MORE NEWS: FX has ordered "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" for two additional seasons. This will make "Sunny" the longest running comedy in basic cable history, apparently.

9:08 a.m. Does FX envision "American Horror Story" as a close-ended 13? "It's designed to go multiple years. Some aspects of the show will be close-ended each season," Landgraf says. He adds that while some elements will be close-ended, but other elements -- certain characters and aspects of the core haunted house -- will be part of an ongoing mythology.

9:10 a.m. Landgraf says that his time as a producer, specifically working on "Reno 911!" inspired FX's approach to comedy, specifically shooting cheap and fast. "When I got to FX, I had a strong ambition to take what I'd learned as an executive producer and bring it to basic cable," he says.

9:13 a.m. Is FX still The Flawed Male Network? "We've really tried to broaden," Landgraf says, referencing "Dirt" and "Damages" and "The Riches" as examples of the network's commitment to female characters. He suggests that Katey Sagal is every bit a "Sons of Anarchy" lead. "If you look at FX as a channel, it's 52 percent male and 48 percent female, so it's very closed to balanced viewership," Landgraf says, suggesting that FX is actually more balanced than the general TV landscape as a whole. "I think what it does is it provides contrast between FX and other channels," Landgraf says, saying that between Turner and the networks, most of TV is female skewing. He references his wife -- that'd be Ally Walker -- as a woman who finds most of TV's female-centric programming to be too soft.

9:16 a.m. FX is very happy with its Big 12/Pac 12 sports package. It's part of what allows FX to be in the conversation with the bigger cable networks like TNT and USA. FX still wants to get up to seven comedies on-air. It's up to five. "We're not quite done yet," Landgraf says, adding that FX also has a strong focus on drama. He references "Powers" and "Outlaw Country," two drama pilots that were made in the same development cycle as "American Horror Story." "So far, what I've seen from 'Powers' and 'Outlaw Country' looks real good," he says.

 

9:19 a.m. FX also has an option to pick up a 10th season "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." He teases that "Sunny' Season 7 is the show's funniest season. He says that the "Sunny" team is trying different kinds of stories as they move forward. With dramas, FX wants to "find an optimal balance" in telling the whole saga, making sure they get to end, whenever possible.

9:21 a.m. What did FX like about "Powers"? Well, they liked the comic, of course. "It's a really, gritty, edgy, very real, very dark cop show. It also happens to have superhero elements in it," Landgraf says. "What we saw is the possibility to do a really different, interesting take on a cop show," Landgraf says, pointing out that FX hasn't had a cop show since "The Shield." He thinks "Powers" has the emotional weight to have a seven-season run, saying it has the potential to be "a 90-hour movie." He points out that most TV superhero shows have be 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. shows, but "Powers" "aspires to be a serious drama." When will FX be making a decision on it? Well, he's only seen dailies. FX will see the pilots within a month or six weeks, so a decision will be made in two months or three months.

 

9:25 a.m. Will this be a back-to-basics season for "Sons of Anarchy"? "I think that the audience will be really satisfied with the fourth season of 'Sons of Anarchy,'" Landgraf says, point out that this season's primary conflicts are internal to the club. Landgraf argues that "The Shield" had seasons that were more favored and less favored "but they're all necessary to the telling of the whole saga." In that vein, Landgraf had no conversations with Kurt Sutter about focusing the drama and bringing it back in this season. "If we clamp down on our showrunners and say 'We are the arbiters of what the audience wants...' we're going to miss out on some tremendous experiments," Landgraf observes. He says that his definition of leadership is the willingness to let people experiment and sail ships into uncharted waters. "I can't abandon that philosophy towards our showrunners," he says.

9:29 a.m. Is FX looking for different things now than maybe five or 10 years ago? "Terriers" and "Lights Out" are finally invoked. Can just character dramas succeed? "To some extend," Landgraf admits. He says it's getting harder and harder for original dramas to even get awareness, much less to get people to watch." Landgraf says that FX still aspires to be both literary and populist. He says "The Shield" and "Rescue Me" are examples of shows that check both boxes.

9:33 a.m. "I don't think it will," Landgraf says, though he agrees that there may be arguably too much scripted programming on TV. "I think when the consumer can't even differentiate how much product there is, there's probably too much," he says. He points out that in this landscape, "renewal" or "cancellation" no longer can be equated to "success" or "failure." He suspects that "American Horror Story" is going to be a breakthrough piece of television, but "American Horror Story" couldn't exist if "Terriers" and "Lights Out" don't get canceled, but that doesn't mean the canceled shows weren't successes on some level.

 

That's all, folks...

 

 

 

 

<p>Dinosaurs!</p>
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Dinosaurs!

Credit: FOX

Press Tour '11 Live-Blog: FOX's 'Terra Nova'

Dinosaur talk from FOX's new big-ticket drama

FOX's "Terra Nova" is shooting in Australia, so it's a bit of a roll of the dice which stars are going to be liberated for public appearances.

Two weeks ago, Stephen Lang was the star capable of escaping production Down Under for Comic-Con promotion.

This week, the Television Critics Association press tour is lucky enough to get Jason O'Mara and Shelley Conn.

We're also getting producers Brannon Braga, Rene Echevarria and John Cassar.

Let the live-blogging good times roll...

3:39 p.m. PT. The first question refers to some really awful changes that were made after the pilot was first screened for a small group of critics. "It was our desire to engage you in the Shannon Family story," Rene Echevarria says of the Act I exposition that cripples the show. 

3:40 p.m. "It gets easier," Jon Cassar says of progress on shooting since the long-delayed pilot. He adds that the weather has been cooperating.

3:40 p.m. Shelley Conn is very pretty. She's playing Elisabeth Shannon, wife to Jason O'Mara's Jim. She's basically just reciting her bio, which is basically what she was asked to do. "It's a dream come true for me, really. I never imagined I would be sitting here with these people," Conn says. It's an honor to be sitting next to Brannon Braga. 

3:42 p.m. Jason O'Mara is asked about getting back into the time travel business. Darnit. The American "Life on Mars" wasn't about time travel. They were on a rocket ship. To Mars. To have a gene hunt. A GENE HUNT. "I was aware of the similarities when I read the script, but the differences are so overwhelming I can't really compare the two," O'Mara says.

3:43 p.m. Ray Bradbury's name is invoked for some reason. Brannon Braga compares it to "The Sound of Thunder." Braga raves that their visual effects team is doing advanced things with motion capture dinosaurs and motion capture animals. "We're creating things as we go along to make it possible," Braga says. Echevarria said that several visual effects houses rebuffed them and said it wouldn't be possible and that even five years ago, this show wouldn't be possible.

3:43 p.m. A critic says it was hard for him to act in front of a green screen and asks the actors how they prepared. "I think experience is probably the best thing," O'Mara says. He adds that his biggest advantage is that he gets a second take. O'Mara also singles out Stephen Lang's experiences on "Avatar" as a big plus. "I've had several personal interactions with these creatures. They weren't there on set, but I felt them on me, taking chunks out of me, ripping my clothes," O'Mara says. 

3:48 p.m. "It's not record-breaking," Brannon Braga says of the number of executive producers, noting that it's fewer than there were on "24." Echevarria says there are many executive producers for a variety of different reasons and that many of them are "creative partners." Steven Spielberg has weighed in on visual effects, concept art, casting and scripts.

3:49 p.m. Our perception is that this is a difficult undertaking. Where are they in production and in the series? They're currently shooting episodes 8 and 9. They're in post-production on 3-through-5, but also a bit on the second part of the pilot. "It has its challenges. Australia, it's almost like time travel itself. It's morning there tomorrow. You have to have special calendars and you always have to double-check like, 'Is it Tuesday here or Tuesday there?" Echevarria says. "There's lots of whiz-bang, but it's not about that," Echevarria adds. Braga insists that their proudest accomplishment is the cast, rather than the dinosaurs. "We're also cheaper than the dinosaurs," O'Mara cracks. 

3:52 p.m. "Absolutely," Echevarria says on whether they'll be able to get the visual effects completed on time every week. "There's a pipeline," he says, admitting that there was a learning curve. He promises that in episode two, we'll meet Slashers, which are like nothing we've ever seen before.

3:53 p.m. The new pilot has eased over the Butterfly Effect by saying it's an alternate time-line. "They're colonizing another time period," Echevarria says. 

3:54 p.m. "Dudes in animal suits" are doing MoCap dinosaurs, specifically the aforementioned Slashers. 

3:57 p.m. Marital difficulties between the main couple have also been smoothed over between the original pilot and the current pilot. Nobody on the panel wants to say "testing" was the reason for these changes.

 

3:58 p.m. Brannon Braga says that Steven Spielberg has been involved from day one, that he's wanted to add verisimilitude, to make things feel real. O'Mara says that Spielberg has even been directing performances, albeit through intermediaries. "His movies have probably had more impact on television than his television," Braga says of Spielberg. Jon Cassar calls Spielberg's TV work as "daring."

4:00 p.m. What's gonna be happening in the future as we go along? "The happenings in 2149 will figure into our storytelling," Braga says. There's a conspiracy in the future with people who have a different vision for "Terra Nova." The fringe group in the past is called The Sixers, which raises the ire of a Philadelphia-based reporter.

4:02 p.m. "We write it as an adult show," Braga says, but adds that they hope it will become a family show. "It's not 'Jurassic Park.' This is an entire ecosystem of weird creatures," Braga notes, adding that there isn't a certain number of dinosaur sightings required each episodes.

4:05 p.m. What's it like being in Australia? Conn's a fan. "There's a sentiment in Australia to make sure that they do take care of the natural beauty," she says. "It makes our job easier as actors," O'Mara says. Cassar praises the technical community and says that while the acting base in Australia isn't what you'd find in New York or LA or Vancouver, it'll do.

4:10 p.m. For Cassar, differences and similarities to "24"? "To me, it's very much the same," Cassar says, reminding us that "24" was really about Jack and his family, while "Terra Nova" is really about Jim Shannon and his family. "From my end, as a director, that's how I'm concentrating my efforts to make sure that works better than anything else," he says.

4:11 p.m. "Would probably need to start production in the early spring," Braga says of how much time they'd need from FOX to get to work on a second season, in the event of a renewal.

4:12 p.m. Producers stumble when asking if there are any stakes for the people in the future if they're not in the same time-line and there's nothing they can do to fix the future. "This is very much the beginning... these are the pioneers," Braga says. But an early episode will deal with the first murder in Terra Nova.

4:14 p.m. Yes, it's a family drama and it's not about the dinosaurs, but will science fiction fans want to watch? Braga says yes and compares this to the family (crew) focus of "Star Trek: The Next Generation."

 

That's all, folks...