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GUEST BLOG #35: Bill Brioux Checks In From TCA Press Tour
July 30, 2009  | By Bill Brioux
[Bianculli here: The seminannual Television Critics Association press tour has begun -- and even though I'm not there this time, TV WORTH WATCHING is, thanks to contributing writers Bill Brioux and Diane Holloway. Diane's piece on this weekend's TCA Awards will run Monday. But first, here are two of old buddy Brioux's typically observant dispatches from the West Coast -- one on Matt Damon, the other on ventriloquist Jeff Dunham...]

Matt Damon Makes History, Jeff Dunham Makes Headlines

By Bill Brioux

Maybe it's just because I'm sitting next to the constantly clicking still photographers, but the buzz level seems to have jumped a notch on Day Two of the Television Critics Association press tour. I'm in a session now for The History Network with Matt Damon and Marisa Tomei, both very involved with a program called The People Speak.


This is a different kind of show for the Hitler Channel: hiring actors to get up and read historical documents and speeches, especially moments when ordinary citizens stood up and changed history. Even the inspiration behind this deal joked that this could be a turn-off for non-history buffs.

"As I'm describing it now, I'm getting bored," joked author Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States).

It helps that the actors involved are all A-list: Damon, Tomei, Josh Brolin, David Strathairn, Don Cheadle and musicians such as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Eddie Vedder. Somebody asked Damon what other musicians were on the series.

"What -- Dylan and Springsteen aren't enough for you?" he quipped.

Damon said he's spent 10 years trying to get this "locomotive up the mountain," and said Zinn's book had a "huge impact on my life." He pitched through meeting after meeting at Fox and HBO trying to get this documentary series off the ground. HBO wanted stand-alone, scripted films depicting different moments in U.S. history. "It was such a big project and so unwieldy, HBO eventually just ran out of gas for us," Damon said.

Now he's happy to be at History and sticking to "actual words" (the actors reads through everything from private letters from Confederate soldiers to passages from John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath). How did he get over all those network turn-downs?

Said Damon: "I'm an actor, I'm used to being rejected."



Comedian/ventriloquist Jeff Dunham wanted to help critics out by offering some headlines for his TCA visit Wednesday. Dunham is the dude with all those big-headed dummies (no, not the critics) he carts up to Just Four Laughs every summer. You know them: his cranky old man Walter, Peanut, Bubba Jr., and Achmed the Dead Terrorist (basically a talking skeleton). He has a new series, The Jeff Dunham Show, coming to Comedy Central Oct. 22.

Among Dunham's headline suggestions:

Jeff Dunham Show Cast is Kinda Wooden

Dunham's Show is for Dummies

Dunham Makes Dolls Talk but Can't Make Audience Laugh

Dunham is as Funny as a Block of F***ing Wood

Not Funny: Read My Lips

There were others. He went on to make hilarious jokes about how all the critics are being downsized and stuff. "Are you guys going to wait to get laid off or take the early severance package?"

To be fair, grumpy grandpa Walter said that, not Jeff. Still, Jeff Dunham is a Tool.



Bill Brioux started contributing to TV WORTH WATCHING in 2008. A veteran TV critic and reporter, Brioux was TV columnist for the Toronto Sun from 1999-2007. He runs and writes his own website about all things television, called TV Feeds My Family.

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