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ERIC GOULD

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ROGER CATLIN

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TCA Winter Press Tour 2019 – Day One
February 1, 2019  | By Roger Catlin
 

PASADENA, CA – It isn’t the polar vortex that caused the TV Critics Association (TCA) winter press tour to start nearly four weeks later than usual in Pasadena.

That decision was made in order to maneuver through the many events early in the year, said TCA president Dan Feinberg of the Hollywood Reporter, who himself had to come to TCA late because of Sundance.

The event that once began soon after Rose Bowl petals were swept is now scheduled through Super Bowl weekend and extending to nearly Valentine’s Day.

If there were any hopes that more shows would be in production than there might have been just after the New Year, or that more stars would be around since nobody had to worry about planning around the Golden Globes, those were dashed.

So far, two broadcast networks have struggled with putting on even a half-day’s worth of panels at the Langham Huntington Hotel before handing off to their cable or streaming partners.

Still, there was information to glean, such as the show that would get the high profile slot following Super Bowl LIII this Sunday, Feb. 3, with a title that furthers the day’s usual superlatives: The World’s Best.

Usually, the post-Super Bowl slot has been a coveted one. Even capturing a fraction of the game’s ratings means a big boost for shows despite the late start times that average from 10:20 p.m. ET to as late as 11 p.m ET.

Recent years have seen an episode of This is Us that captured nearly 27 million viewers last year; the series premiere of the revived 24: Legacy in 2017, and big season premieres for Survivor: All-Stars in 2004 and The Voice in 2012.

It’s actually kind of rare to premiere a show after the Super Bowl, despite the big promotion that comes during the game. Undercover Boss did so in 2010 but to find a show before that, you’d have to go back to Family Guy in 1999.

The World’s Best actually looks like a show we’ve seen before — or that we’re seeing right now with America’s Got Talent: Champions, a hastily taped internationally-themed talent variety show with celebrity judges meant to steal some thunder from CBS’ new show.

“That was a direct shot at us,” says World's Best executive producer, and longtime reality show creator, Mike Darnell. “That’s okay. We’re ready for the challenge, and I think we’ve got the next new spin on a variety show, and I think it’s going to work.”

It involves international acts like The Drowning Man, Monks of Steel, The Impossible Balancing Act, and The Six Octave Man, all performing for the judges Drew Barrymore, Faith Hill, and RuPaul, who was the only one of them who attended the press conference.

“We were all not prepared for the emotional journey that the show and the performances took us on,” RuPaul said.

The three judges can score as high as 50, but each act will need a boost from a roster of 50 international judges from 34 countries, who sit at light-up desks as if from the quiz show 1 vs. 100 (NBC, 2006-08 and GSN, 2010-11).

The international judges, who range from ballerinas to MMA fighters, each have one vote to the American judges’ average of as much as 50 (so if The World’s Best is a United Nations kind of talent competition, then the U.S. judges constitute its Security Council).

As on America’s Got Talent, there is a high tech edge to what essentially recalls the randomness of vaudeville, with a singer being followed by a gymnast, followed by a Houdini homage.

An early favorite among the acts must be Hypnodog, a mutt who drops a pile of volunteers on stage with his adorable stare.

While the winner of The World's Best will get $1 million, a bigger winner may be host James Corden, who not only introduces each act but also often hams it up and gets involved with a lot of them.

Darnell hopes the format catches on so it can be exported to other countries (just as American Idol and Got Talent were imported here).

“It has all those tropes of old school comedy and variety, with gobsmackingly brilliant talent,” producer Ben Winston says  “But at the same time, it has adrenaline moments in our scoring system that is fresh.”

Once the late-night post-Super Bowl premiere is over, close to midnight, the regular time slot for The World’s Best will be Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on CBS, moving to 9 p.m. ET on Feb. 20.

********

The one show NBC had to offer in its session was Abby’s, a multi-camera sitcom about a woman who opens a neighborhood bar in her backyard, from Michael Schur and Josh Malmuth that stars Natalie Morales.

“The idea seemed cool,” Schur said of a sitcom set out of doors. “The biggest selling point for me was, like, that would be different and interesting and weird and fun.”

The live audience brings its own energy, Morales says. “It’s different than a single cam in that you have to memorize a 30-page script for that day and shoot the entire thing that night. But it’s really fun. It’s a play. It’s like we’re doing, in our case, very Shakespeare-in-the-Park-y or Cheers in the Park, if you will.”

Certainly, the notion of a sitcom set in a bar brought up thoughts of that famous TV show where everybody knows your name.

“It’s a completely natural question that’s going to come up, I suspect, over and over,” says Neil Flynn, who comes to the show after the end of The Middle. Only the setting is similar, he says, and it’s been 25 years since Cheers has been on. “Except it occurs to everyone.”

“When Josh and I were beginning to plan the show, we were acutely aware of the fact that no matter what we did, the show would be compared to Cheers,’” Schur says. “And that was really freeing because we were, like, ‘Well, it doesn’t matter, right?’ We could cast all 90-year-old women, and people will still go, ‘That’s kind of like Sam.’ There’s nothing you can do.”

Any problems involving shooting outside at night, in front of a live audience, are minimal, Morales says. “The things we had to worry about were airplanes and helicopters.”

“On most show nights somebody would come up to me and say, ‘Just so you know, there is a skunk 10 feet that way,’” Malmuth says.

It’s shot on the Universal Studios lot, on the former Wisteria Lane of the old Desperate Housewives.

It’s “in the back of one of those houses,” cast member Jessica Chaffin says, “and we passed the time in the lovely Los Angeles weather. It was pretty great.”

Abby’s premieres March 28 at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

 
 
 
 
 
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