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TCA's Winter Press Tour – Day 3: CBS, CW, Showtime
January 8, 2018  | By Roger Catlin  | 1 comment

PASADENA, Calif. — For being a big broadcaster, CBS had an extremely small footprint at the TV Critics Association winter press tour, with panels this weekend for just two new series, the super-light detective yarn Instinct with Alan Cullen and the Johnny Galecki-produced sitcom Living Biblically (top).

That’s the same number of shows its sister network The CW presented on Sunday — the anticipated superhero series Black Lightning and the post-cancer Lucy Hale romp Life Sentence.

Worse, neither networks held executive sessions — not long ago, a reliable forum of answers and accountability from the top.

That despite the fact that CW president Mark Pedowitz was in the room. Some questioned whether he declined taking a microphone to avoid inevitable questions about the suspension of the co-creator and executive producer of several of its superhero shows following multiple claims of sexual misconduct.

CBS executives didn’t have an executive session either, after they were lambasted last year for a dismal record on diversity (its seeming solution: a panel on political and social issues in series, dominated by showrunners from online only CBS AllAccess).

That left premium cable subsidiary Showtime to shine on its own, with as many shows to present as two broadcast cousins — and a newsy executive session to boot.

Showtime CEO David Nevins began his session by questioning the very name of the TV Critics Association, which he said “seems almost quaint. Who among you actually watches shows exclusively anymore on television?”

The explosion of TV, he says, is a good thing. “Beyond the proliferation of great content, there are also numerous signs of the business flourishing. There’s more production and more overall jobs. Diversity is on the rise, which leads to a broader range of programs getting made.”

To that end he cited more than 4,000 television writers reporting earnings to the Writers Guild in 2016, with another all time high expected in 2017.

Precisely 4,482 episodes of television were made in 2017, according to the Directors Guild — a jump of 42 percent in the past five years.

Amid all the changes, Nevins said, “the delivery system is changing. The craving for great, entertaining, provocative stories is not.”

When he began to rattle off some Showtime projects in the works, a hotel fire alarm went off and lights started flashing. He went on anyway:

- Kidding, a comedy about a children’s host with a family crisis that reunites Jim Carrey with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind director Michel Gondry,

- Ball Street from Seth Rogen, pairing Don Cheadle (right) and Andrew Rannells.

- City on a Hill with Kevin Bacon and Aldis Hodge with Ben Affleck and Matt Damon executive producing.

- The Kingkiller Chronicles, with Lin Manuel Miranda executive producing and creating music for the adaptation of the fantasy book series.

- An unnamed scripted series from Daily Show grad Jessica Williams as Brooklyn woman who is “sexually fluid” (a term that got a question from a baffled reporter)

- Your Honor, a courtroom drama from Robert and Michelle King of The Good Wife.

Two major series getting their start this year include The Chi, which premiered Sunday, the limited series Patrick Melrose starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Allison Williams and Blythe Danner, in late spring. Both had panels on Saturday.

One that did not was Escape at Dannemora, (right) an eight episode series due this fall about the 2015  prison break in upstate New York, shot on location with a cast that includes Benicio del Toro, Patricia Arquette and Paul Dano, directed by Ben Stiller.

Of returning Showtime series given start dates — Homeland Feb. 11; Billions March 25; The Affair, now set in Los Angeles, June 17 — he said there will be some retooling for the series about standup comedy in the 70s, I’m Dying Up Here before it returns May 6.

Part of its problem, said Gary Levine, Showtime president of programming, is that it didn’t really fit alongside the accompanying Twin Peaks: The Return.

“We make no apologies for Twin Peaks,’ said Levine. “Except as a lead-in to I’m Dying Up Here.

Of Twin Peaks, which confounded some but ended up on several Top 10 lists, Levine said there was no reason to expect more. After all, it took David Lynch and Mark Frost 25 years to come up with the 18-hour follow-up, Levine said. But, he added “the door at Showtime is always open to Mark and to David for Twin Peaks or anything else they want to talk about.”

In another post mortem, Nevins was succinct on why one recent Showtime comedy, White Famous, was canceled after one season, while another, SMILF, was quickly renewed for a second season: “Voice matters.”


There were some sexual misconduct issues to answer for on the Showtime panel as well, involving Mark Halperin, removed as co-host of the political documentary series The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth after allegations against him arose.

“I’ve known Mark (right) for many, many years,” Nevins said. “He’s an old friend, and so that was very difficult and to be, kind of, blind sided like that. And once it became clear, I think we decided very quickly it was best that the show go on without him.”

“We were already in conversations at that point with Alex Wagner about joining,” he added. The onetime MSNBC correspondent who had more recently been on CBS, “was going to come on regardless.”

Nevins said a female was needed on the show.

“We had a show that had three white males,” he said. “I would say I was aware that it was a weakness of the show that we were already trying to address.”


Other documentary series due out this year on Showtime include The Trade, a five part series on the opioid epidemic from Matt Heineman, director of Cartel Land. It premieres Feb. 2.

The Fourth Estate, a four-part documentary in which filmmaker Liz Garbus was embedded in the offices of The New York Times during the first year of the Trump era, will run on consecutive Sundays starting May 27.

And XY Chelsea will tell the transformation journey of Chelsea Manning. Shot over two years, it will premiere on Showtime after a theatrical run.


Stephen Colbert returns to the network where he learned Donald Trump would become president, in real time, with an animated show that jumps off his Late Show, with Our Cartoon President.

The orange-hued leader, who has popped up on the late night show, will be joined by caricatures of the entire cabinet and White House family when the show premieres Feb. 11.

A preview of the premiere will be available on demand Jan. 28, the night before the State of the Union.

Showtime is where Colbert last hosted a live, uncensored election night special that ended differently than he had planned.

Since then, Trump has been a basis of a nightly monologue that is credited to raising ratings of the Late Show.

As much comedy material as the administration may have provided, though, Colbert told a session at TCA “I love my country more than I love a good joke.

“You always have fresh material,” he said. “But I don’t want to describe that as a good thing. I would happily do with less.”

His approach as political satirist? “I’m not actually an advocate or an educator,” Colbert said. “I’m a buddy.”

Jeff Bergman, a veteran cartoon voice, provides the one for Trump. Of the other voices heard in a clip, Eric Trump’s seems particularly high.

“I don’t know what pitch his voice, is but that’s what it sounds like to me,” Colbert told me. “I would describe it as breathy and wet.”

 “The voice is so important. It really needs to be bigger than it would be necessarily on a live-action show,” said executive producer and showrunner R.J. Fried. “We’ve had fun with Ben Carson and Jeff Sessions and Stephen Miller. Ted Cruz is a brilliant performance by James Adomian, who is genius and always delivers amazing characters.”

Sarah Huckabee Sanders wasn’t heard in the clip, but looked pretty formidable in her drawing.

“Yes,” said Colbert. “And she sounds just as happy as she looks.”

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Hope a guy does the Huckabee voice. Maybe Jerry Mathers pre-puberty:"Gee,Wally. I didn't think the 'lil stinker had it in him to push the button. Hey,Dad,sorry."
Jan 10, 2018   |  Reply
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