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The TCA Press Tour: A Day with Larry David...and Serial Killers
July 26, 2017  | By Ed Bark
 

BEVERLY HILLS, CA -- The people at HBO aren't dummies. So they saved Larry David for last, Wednesday, during a three-hour cavalcade of panels in which he followed a new James Franco-starring series, The Deuce, on the Times Square origins of the porn industry.

Let's just stick with Larry and the return of Curb Your Enthusiasm, for whom the wait has been far longer. Season 8's concluding episode aired on Sept. 11, 2011. Season 9, at the usual 10 episodes, arrives on Oct. 1. That's easily a record gap of indecision from David. Why now?

"Why not?" He asked in turn. "I was missing it. And I was missing these idiots."

Furthermore, "I like to quit things, too. It's a very natural thing," he told TVWorthWatching. From season to season, he's always fretted about not having enough good ideas, David said, noting that he likewise wrote a number of "season-enders" for Seinfeld before it actually in fact ended. "It's my nature."

A highlight reel of the upcoming season showed Larry blowing up at hard-to-open shower products, chastising a woman for crying at a funeral ("I can't hear a thing. Shut up!") and appearing as a plaintiff on Judge Judy after a woman scrawled "Bald F**k!" on his driver's side window.

Bryan Cranston also guest stars as his therapist and recurring cast members Richard Lewis, Cheryl Hines, Ted Danson (above, with Hines and David) and Mary Steenburgen will re-appear.

As always, he amiably deflected most questions with short-burst answers.

"Do people avoid you like the plague when they see you in public?" David was asked after noting that "TV Larry is just about a quarter-inch away from real Larry."

Still, "why would they want to avoid me? Unfortunately, they don't avoid me?" he said.

That one-liner later led to another.

Question: "How often do you become frustrated with humans?"

Answer: "Right now."

David was joined onstage by co-stars Susie Essman, Jeff Garlin, and J.B. Smoove (left, with David), plus executive producer Jeff Schaffer.

Two of them piped up when David was asked if President Trump and his free-form Twitter rants are now competition for him.

"Larry's been an inspiration to HIM," Essman contended.

"Well, I don't consider myself a prick," David interjected.

"The President is not funny. And Larry is funny. So no comparison," Garlin said with emphasis.

David also got asked about an upcoming episode of PBS' Finding Your Roots in which he learned of his relationship to Bernie Sanders, whom he sent up on several episodes of Saturday Night Live during the 2016 presidential campaign.

David thought it was supposed to be a secret before hearing that PBS had made a screener available.

"I thought there had to be some connection," he said. "I don't know. Probably some distant cousin."

The star of Curb recently turned 70. At an earlier HBO panel on the network's upcoming Steven Spielberg biography, director Susan Lacy said the famed director's 70th birthday might well have made him more introspective and willing to participate. Eagles mainstay Don Henley was similarly reflective in an interview preceding a special 70th birthday concert last Saturday in Dallas.

Taking a second bite near session's end, TVWorthWatching dared to ask David whether he, too, had some deep thoughts.

"Extremely unpleasant," he said of the milestone birthday. "Very unpleasant experience. Thank you for reminding me. There'll be no documentaries."

HBO also distributed a fake Larry David biography that credited him, among other things, with creating HBO's Girls and Netflix's Orange Is the New Black.

In Curb, says the bio, David "plays an incredibly gifted, lovable writer who spreads bonhomie and good cheer to everyone fortunate enough to encounter him."

That'll be the day.

*** Also Wednesday on the Television Critics Association's annual summer "press tour:"

Not at all surprisingly, ESPN insists that its latest acquisition, Rex Ryan, just be himself.

Which in his case, will be colorful, quotable and maybe even bombastic at times.

"I'd be such a phony otherwise. I'd have no interest in that whatsoever," the former New York Jets and Buffalo Bills head coach told TV critics after being introduced as the newest member of ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown team.

TVWorthWatching also wanted to know if he might be tempted to go back again. Or whether the relatively cushy hours and nice-sized salary could result in him joining the ranks of Jimmy Johnson, Jon Gruden, and Bill Cowher. Those three former head coaches now look like broadcasting or cable network lifers with no intention of again putting themselves through the gut-churning grind of running an NFL team. But they all also have Super Bowl rings as head coaches. Ryan still doesn't.

"Right now I've been coaching for 30 straight years. So this is very different for me not to have a team," he said. "It's very strange. So I won't close the door . . . But maybe this is the start of another career."

Johnson himself told Ryan, "You've gotta get one of these gigs." So perhaps that's the end game. "Will I miss it? I know I will," Ryan added. "But I'm sure I'll enjoy this as well."

Ryan also knows that his outsized temperament as a coach in a very real sense served as an audition for a television studio.

"Nobody called me about a coaching job, but I think every network called me in some capacity about being an analyst," he told TVWorthWatching. "I guess just my style leads to this more."

He'll also get at least one tryout as a live game analyst. In the first week of the NFL season, ESPN in later years has gotten a doubleheader. So for the second game on Sept. 11, Ryan will join Beth Mowins (left with Ryan) in the booth. She'll be the first woman to call an NFL regular season game in more than 30 years.

***

The Discovery Channel will be accentuating serial killers in August.

The first of the month brings Manhunt: Unabomber, an "eight-episode event" with a cast that includes Sam Worthington, Chris Noth, and Paul Bettany as perpetrator Ted Kaczynski (right), who was finally apprehended in 1996 after 18 years at large.

Worthington, best known for his career-making turn as the heroic Jake Sully in the blockbuster film Avatar, plays clean-and-scrubbed real-life detective Jim Fitzgerald. But for Wednesday's crowded panel session, he sported a Mohawk and a beard.

His new look, which he "rocked" at last week's official Unabomber premiere in New York City, predictably has been all over the Internet. But there's been no further explanation for it. So your inquiring TVWorthWatching correspondent hazarded to ask him about it. Might it be for the second Avatar movie and its planned two sequels, now in pre-production?

"Fitz didn't look like this?" Worthington rejoined. Pause and count to 10 while Bettany, who was seated beside him, clearly wanted more. That didn't happen.

Lynch, by the way, plays former U.S. Attorney-General Janet Reno, who died in 2014, and Noth is Bay Area Division FBI head, Don Ackerman.

All of the principals were later scheduled to attend what may be the most bizarrely themed party in the history of the Beverly Hilton hotel's Wilshire Garden. Discovery is touting a replica of "Ted's cabin with full set dressings and props," a "photo activation featuring for the Unabomber's cipher" and a "summer farm-to-table menu inspired by the series."

Supremely bad taste? Let's just note that Kaczynski killed three people and injured 23 others during his nationwide mail bombing campaign.

There are currently no plans for a Jeffrey Dahmer-themed party next summer.

***

Discovery also will be presenting Son of Sam: The Hunt for a Killer on August 5. The two-hour documentary relives the killing spree of David Berkowitz (below) from the summer of 1976 until he was apprehended in August of the following year. He was convicted of eight shooting incidents that took six lives and wounded seven other of his victims.

Berkowitz, who remains in prison, declined to be interviewed for the film. But Discovery's panel included criminologist Dr. Scott Bonn, who was the last to get a firsthand interview with Berkowitz in 2013.

Bonn, also the author of Why We Love Serial Killers, said he was "shocked" to see the convicted killer's transformation.

"The David Berkowitz of today looks like an elf, an almost gnome-like character," Bonn said. He greeted his interviewer with a big hug and now proclaims himself the fully redeemed "Son of Hope." But Berkowitz does admit to being a "truly evil man" during his "Son of Sam" days, Bonn said.

The panel also included Carl Denaro, who survived a bullet to the head from a man he's still not convinced was Berkowitz. He was alone among the four panelists, which also included retired NYPD detective Marlin Hopkins and longtime New York Post columnist Steve Dunleavy, in believing that Berkowitz was "in a cult and there was more than one shooter." Denaro said he continues to do "whatever I can to get to the bottom of the case."

Others have joined him over the years, but Bonn still speaks for the prevailing conventional wisdom when he says of Berkowitz, "He was packaged for the media. He gave himself his own brand name."

In today's pervasive media climate, as opposed to the "Stone Age" of the mid-1970s, "Son of Sam" would be the biggest crime story ever, Bonn contends.

***

Finally, here it comes. And the Science Channel, part of the Discovery family of networks, will be ready to seize the day on Aug. 21 with The Great American Eclipse.

It's being billed as the first time in nearly a century -- since June 9, 1918, that a temporary blot-out of the sun will be visible across the entire contiguous United States.

Science Channel, which also will whet appetites with an August 20 special, fully expects to be joined by breathless coverage on cable news networks, likely meaning an eclipse of all things President Trump for at least a few hours. But Science Channel expert James Bullock, professor and chair of the physics and astronomy department at the University of California at Irvine, figures it's all going to be for a higher cause.

"I get your point about the 'breathless coverage,' " he told TVWorthWatching. "Things can get too extreme. But at some level, if you were going to have a natural event that you wanted to get breathless about, it might be this one."
 
 
 
 
 
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