Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Much-Needed Return of Tracey Ullman

Last month, at the Television Critics Association (TCA) convention in Beverly Hills, I caught up with Tracey Ullman at the Starz network's party to promote its upcoming miniseries of Howard's End, in which Tracey plays Aunt Juley.  But we critics were even more eager to quiz Tracey about the new season of her self-titled BBC sketch comedy series, whose second season of six episodes debuts here in the U.S. on HBO this coming Sunday, October 20. 

Chatting with Tracey is a particular treat, because you never know which voice might pop out of her mouth to answer your question.  In between laughs, a few fellow critics and I managed to conduct the interview below, with news of this upcoming season.

Must Hear TV:   I'd love to talk with you about everything from your early album, "You Broke My Heart in Seventeen Places," onward -- but let's talk about the HBO show.  Has Judi Dench or Angela Merkel or any of the other real-life people you impersonate gotten back to you about your impression?

Tracey Ullman:  They both have, in a funny way.  Judi Dench really likes it.  She said it was great, and she has a great sense of humor.  So I sent her a present.  I sent a vase, because I do a whole thing where she smashes things.  She did say that “It’s been a bit tricky for her going into shops, because people think, ‘I’m watching you!’”  But she’s had a wonderful sense of humor about it.

And then I was on some BBC show, and they decided to contact the Reichstag and ask Angela Merkel what she thought.  For a TV show to do that -- it's like if your girlfriend says, “I asked, and he really likes you.”  You don’t do that!  So I was on the show, and they brought out this letter with an eagle on it.  It looked very official, from the Reichstag.  Jerry Springer presented me with a letter from the Reichstag saying, “The Chancellor is not here right now, but she would like to say to the brilliant Tracey Ullman…”  so Angela Merkel likes it.

MHTV:  Have you inspired Judi to a real-life life of crime?

TU:  I sent her a vase and a shawl, and she wrote back “I’ve already smashed it.”  She’s been really kind.  I sort of used her brilliance to do something on my show, and it’s very nice of her.

MHTV:  How did you get hooked up with Anthony Atamanuik, who does the Trump character?  How did that come about?

TU:  Well I saw him during the election, and I thought he was the best Trump.  I love Alec Baldwin, who’s amazing, but I love Anthony’s take on it.  We wanted to have Angela and Theresa May talking to Trump.  He has this set, and he’s always dressed as Trump.  He’s never not Trump at the moment!  So he was fantastic.  I’m doing more shows from London…

MHTV:  Earlier, you said three more?

TU:  Yes, I’m doing 3 more before Christmas [to be called Tracey Breaks the News.]  And I’m going to have all sorts of people talking to Trump.  We’ll put bits on his show, and bits of mine.  I love it.

MHTV:  What is this moment like for you, as someone who does this political satire, when the real politics are so insane themselves?

TU:  Really weird.  But it’s exciting.  It’s what people want to talk about.  It’s what people want to see.  Being Theresa May recently was difficult, because she’d had a terrible election.  We had a terrible, tragic fire in England, the Grenfell Tower, and she couldn’t have been having a worse time.  And yet, we filmed a piece about her and there was some empathy within it.  It just kind of worked.  And the makeup is stunning.  I had this Dutch guy who is a sculptor normally, and he does these amazing makeups on me.  But I like doing this.  I’m trying to do my own Saturday Night Live in England.  I’d like to do everybody.  It’s a great time to comment about it all.  I did sort of Melania Trump as a Russian robot, like her Westworld kind of thing.  They bring her in for a service, because she’s malfunctioning, and won’t hold Donald’s hand.  So that was in the show recently.  And that was fun.  I got a girl who looked like Melania.  I can’t look like Melania Trump, because she’s gorgeous.  But we had our little take on that.

MHTV:  How much time is there between filming in the UK and its airing on TV there?

TU:  Now we’re doing it like 48 hours, some of it.  And we’re going to do it that way with these three shows.  I like live shows.

MHTV:  What can we expect new this season?  New characters?

TU:  I’m really fascinated with Brigitte Macron.  I love Trump saying, “Your wife is so physically fit!”  I was so shocked!  But yeah, it’s the same age difference as you and Melania, right?  So that’s one thing.

MHTV:  Did I hear that we'll meet Jerry Hall?

TU:  That’s going to be in this season of the HBO show, yes.  Jerry Hall and Rupert.  Ben Miller is amazing as Rupert.  We haven’t heard from them in season 1.  That’s season 2 that will be on HBO, and goes out after Bill Maher in October.

MHTV:  What season are you in in the UK now?

TU:  I’m doing sort of a more topical show, with season 3 just starting. 

MHTV:  Do you wish that episodes could get on sooner here in the U.S.?

TU:  Maybe they will, if we’re doing a more topical show.  I’ve got people talking to me from America to get it on quicker here.

MHTV:  We need your voice right now in this political climate.

TU:  Things change.  SNL, thank God for SNL!  And Melissa McCarthy.  But things change so quickly.  Sean Spicer is gone.  It’s so immediate.  I mean, I hear Priebus has been fired, and I would have been sitting here today saying, “So you decided to go with the Mooch!”  I don’t know – some days it’s not funny, and some days, it’s like what are you going to do?!  Brexit ain’t funny!

MHTV:  Of all your characters throughout all your shows, who are your favorites?

TU:  I used to do a character years ago called Ruby Romaine.  I’m staying [in Los Angeles] at a hotel here now because I don’t live here anymore, and I’m on Romaine Street.  And I just remember being her, like an old, faded, alcoholic chainsmoker.  I used to love being her more than anything.  And they still have those kind of Hollywood ladies -- there’s very few of them, but you still see them, with cotton candy hair, and the cigarette.  She’d love Trump.  “He’s wonderful.  I gotta tell you, that guy’s gonna get it done.”

MHTV:  How did you get to be such a good observer of Americans?  That’s such an American archetype, Ruby Romaine.  You’re such a keen observer of the British that we learn from you, but how do you know the Americans so well?

TU:  When I came to America – I got married here in ’83.  I’ve lived here for 30 years now.  And I didn’t do anything for two years.  I had a baby, and I just studied America.  I didn’t come here and live here for just three weeks.  I really learned about the culture.  James L. Brooks, who I did my TV show with, used to send me to the American Museum of Broadcasting [now the Paley Center for Media] in New York, saying go there every day and learn.  And I did that for a year.  So I kind of immersed myself in the culture.  And by the time it came to do something, I think I was a participant.  I knew about everything a bit more.  I didn’t just visit.

MHTV:  When you reflect on your career, what accomplishment are you most proud of?

TU:  That I’m still working.  My next job.  That I’m still doing it, and I’ve instigated my own staff.  I know I’ve been doing it a long time, and I notice that there’s a lady [Samantha Bee] finally in the comedy/variety show category at the Emmys again.  And then someone is saying the last time anyone was in it was me, like 20 years ago.  So I guess I didn’t think about being a gal early in my career, but I do now.  I’m still doing it, and I love it. BBC is great, HBO is great, and I'm lucky.  It’s great to be given the opportunity to do it.

And then as we thanked Tracey for the interview, she turned to me with this:

"You remember my son, Buddy?  He's a great kid, but don't give him any liquor or ammunition." -- Ruby Romaine 

I charmed Tracey Ullman into taking this photo booth shot with me, by quoting a line from aged makeup artist Ruby Romaine, as she found herself on a porn set:  "I didn't need a beaver brush when I worked for Mr. Minnelli!" 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Celebrating The Goldbergs' 100th

The Goldbergs at the Paley Center for Media,
Beverly Hills:
(l to r) Executive Producer Doug Robinson,
stars Sam Lerner, Wendi McLendon Covey,
Hayley Orrantia, 100th episode director Lea Thompson
Last night at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills, cast and creators of The Goldbergs came together to celebrate the series' upcoming 100th episode.

After an advance screening of tonight's (hilarious) Revenge of the Nerds-themed episode -- not the 100th, which is not quite ready yet -- series stars Wendi McLendon Covey, Hayley Orrantia and new series regular Sam Lerner, as well as EP Doug Robinson, creator/EP Adam Goldberg and the director of the 100th episode, Lea Thompson, came together for a panel discussion about the show's past and future.  Some highlights:

The show came about when creator Adam Goldberg and producer Robinson were working on Breaking In, starring Christian Slater, which then was cancelled.  Familiar with the crazy stories from Adam's childhood, Doug said to him, "Now is the time to do your family show."

Adam put together a pitch about a family he called the "Silvers," and wrote a pilot called "How the F--- Am I Normal?"  Doug, who had worked with Wendi McLendon Covey on Rules of Engagement, instantly thought of her to play Beverly Goldberg.  So they sent her some of the real-life footage that Adam had shot throughout his life -- and Wendi was in.  "There was one moment where Beverly was yelling at Adam, 'You don't deserve anything!  You're not going to eat tonight!  That's a nice sweater. Where did you get it?'," Wendi remembers. "She turned on a dime, and my parents talked to me that way, so it rang true to me.  I thought, 'These people are crazy! I'm in!'"

Hayley Orrantia auditioned at first via videotape -- and nailed it.  But afraid to cast one of their leads so soon from a mere tape, the producers proceeded to audition many more actresses -- before coming back to Hayley.  The character of Erica is the only one for whom creative license was taken; she's based off Adam's real-life brother Eric.  "In real life, Eric is so much older than me, I thought it would open up the world of the show and create more storylines if the family had a daughter," Adam explains.  "And the great thing about the character has been, I'm so locked in to how Pops would really act, or how my dad would, or how I would, that there's one character in the family where there are no rules -- and I don't get a phone call the morning after an episode airs from someone whose feeligns are hurt.  So creating Erica has turned out to be fantastic -- and for the writers, it's really freeing."

Another freeing device Adam cleverly came up with: the "1980something" device.  From the pilot, he says, he didn't want to be locked into a certain year -- especially an early-80s year, with so little of the decade to explore.  As he and Doug worked hard to convince Sony early on, memory is a tricky thing, and it tends to blur and mix all of its references together anyway.

The Goldbergs panel at the
Paley Center for Media, Beverly Hills:
(l to r): Lea Thompson, Doug Robinson,
Sam Lerner, Hayley Orrantia,
Wendi McLendon Covey, Adam Goldberg,
moderator Jim Halterman
So now, thanks to that device, we get to see the show's trademark takes on movies from anytime in the '80s, from The Goonies, to Hayley's favorite (Dirty Dancing) to Wendi's favorite (watching Troy Gentile as Barry inside the stadium as a Ferris Bueller-type)  to tonight's episode, based on Revenge of the Nerds.  (As Thompson quipped, "I auditioned for all those movies!")  Karate Kid, Adam says, was the easiest homage to pull off -- because for one thing, it's a Sony movie, so rights and clearances were easier.  Whereas recreating Ferris Bueller proved so difficult that, as Doug joked, "I think we're still filming that." 

Rights are a tricky issue for the show; as Adam points out, broken-hearted, he went ahead and wrote a "Thriller"-themed episode, complete with dance, which was never shot because the show was never able to secure permission.  In other instances, it's come down to the wire, and some personal please.  In fact, for one episode, the show was forced to create a separate, non-Journey based version of an episode, until Adam got the okay from the band, via twitter, just before the show was to air.

That's why, of course, the video to which Adam DOES have full rights to use -- his own -- is such an amazing secret weapon.  Not only did his home video compilation help sell the pitch to Sony and help secure actors like Wendi, but a brief clip has accompanied every episode of the show so far, except one.  For the second episode of season 1, there was no clip.  Adam didn't include it, he reveals, "because I didn't know it was a thing."  But then, just as people were responding to him that "you should show more of those," episode 3 turned out to be a few moments too short.  So The Goldbergs producers threw in another of Adam's clips, and the rest was history.  "With the third episode, it became 'a thing.'"

After moderator Jim Halterman of TV Guide opened up the evening to audience questions, one woman ascended to the stage to give the panelists homemade Goldbergs gifts -- and in the process, pointed out her husband, who was "being shy" -- and who turned out to be Adventures in Babysitting star Keith Coogan.  So perhaps the producers will be inspired to create a Babysitting movie homage.  But one spoiler Adam did reveal:  with the 100th episode featuring the return of AJ Michalka as Erica's friend/Barry's girlfriend Lainie, producers are toying with Lainie and Erica forming a girl band.

That 100th episode, by the way, is set to air next week, just in time for Halloween -- which, as Adam pointed out, is always a big night for ABC's comedies.  The episode features not only Lainie's return, but an argument between Star Wars-loving Adam and his Trekkie girlfriend Jackie (based on the second of the real-life Adam's girlfriends -- the third of whom, from age 17, now being his wife.)  "It's very emotional, and hilarious," Adam promises.  "Halloween episodes are always big and kind of silly, but there was a lot of good emotion this year."

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Will & Grace gives back

In its initial eight-season run, Will & Grace contributed strongly to the LGBT community's struggle for equal rights; in fact, just ask then Vice President Joe Biden about the show's impact, as he discussed in 2012 on NBC's Meet the Press.

Now that the show is back, starting tonight, for a historic re-boot, Will & Grace is looking to enact social change even more directly.  A few weeks ago, the burger chain Shake Shack announced a partnership with the show, creating four limited-edition "boozy milkshakes" inspired by the show's characters; the treats are available at four of the chain's New York and Los Angeles locations, with proceeds benefitting the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD.)  And tonight, a viewing-party celebrating the show's return to prime time (NBC, 9 PM Eastern/Pacific) will benefit a cause the Will & Grace creators and cast have long supported, the Human Rights Campaign.

Plus for each week the show has been in production, its cast and crew have worked with different charitable causes to raise funds and awareness.  For example, check out this video Sean Hayes made with Maria Shriver, to aid the Women's Alzheimer's Movement.  As Sean announces, any fans who donate $10 or more by October 20 via will be eligible to win two tickets to a taping of the show in Los Angeles.

Finally, here's the most recent announcement of the show's charitable efforts, benefitting the Children's Hospital Los Angeles.  Again, via this campaign which started today at 11AM Pacific, for every $10 donated via, fans will get 1 chance to win a pair of tickets to the November 15 taping of Will & Grace at NBC Universal Studios in Los Angeles, a behind-the-scenes tour of the set, and a personal photo opp with Will, Grace, Jack and Karen -- plus airfare for two on Delta Air Lines and accommodations for two at the Sheraton Universal hotel.  100% of the proceeds will directly benefit CHLA.

“Children’s Hospital Los Angeles is a place I hold near and dear, and it’s my absolute honor to be able to support them in such a fun and unique way,” said show co-creator and executive producer, David Kohan.  “They are hard at work every day caring for hundreds of thousands of children with some of the rarest and most complex disorders. The research and care they provide impacts children not just in our immediate community—and I know many people whose children have received life-changing and life-saving care at CHLA—but it reaches children around the globe.”

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Keep the Will & Grace Party Going

Here's yet another thing that's changed in the eleven years since Will & Grace last aired in prime time:  the concept of the "after show" online.

NBC announced today that, on the morning following the Will & Grace revival's premiere tomorrow night (Thurs. Sept. 28 at 9PM Eastern/Pacific), another talent from within the NBC Universal family, E!'s Kristin Dos Santos, will host the Will & Grace After Party.  So this Friday morning, September 29, tune in to any of several of the company's platforms -- the NBC app, its YouTube channel, etc. -- to catch Kristin with fun tidbits from each episode, plus exclusives and surprise guests.

Details in NBC's press release below:


Digital Exclusive After Show Available Across “Will & Grace” Social Channels, YouTube, NBC app, Hulu, E! Platforms and NBC’s Participating Owned and Affiliate Station Sites starting Friday, September 29

“Will & Grace” Fans Keep the Party Going Via Social and Mobile Chats with NBC’s Official Show GIF and Gaymoji Collections

Universal City, Ca, September 27, 2017 – The “Will & Grace” hysterics won’t end on Thursday nights! NBC is bringing the ultimate fan experience to life with the “Will & Grace After Party,” celebrating all of the reasons we love the iconic sitcom.

The after show will be available Friday mornings, the day after the broadcast airing, of the first six episodes of the season, and can be found across the NBC app, the “Will & Grace” social accounts, YouTube channel, E! platforms and NBC’s participating owned and affiliate station sites starting September 29.

Set in a New York-style bar, the “Will & Grace After Party” show combines  pop-culture maven Kristin Dos Santos (E! News Executive TV Editor) with “Will & Grace” superfans for a viewing party, games, trivia and exclusive behind-the-scenes material—not to mention surprise appearances from the show’s creative team and special celebrity guests. Over the course of the show's first six episodes, “After Party” will provide an all-encompassing fan-centric journey through current and past episodes of Will & Grace and its influence on pop-culture since its initial debut in 1998.  Burning questions will be covered like who had better boyfriends - Will or Grace? What were some of Jack's best and worst side hustles? How does Karen manage to drink so much and stay alive? The “After Party” will cover it all with a wink and a smile with real fans getting to be the stars of the show right up until last call.

“With the ‘Will & Grace After Party,’ we set out to create a true fan experience celebrating the return of one of the most iconic shows on television,” said Rob Hayes, Executive Vice President , Digital, NBC Entertainment. “Rather than just focusing on individual episodes, we’re going to dive into the series as a whole, discussing its place in pop-culture, and what it means to fans. I can’t think of a more appropriate promotional partner than E! News and Kristin Dos Santos as our host. She’s not only a TV expert, but a bonafide ‘Will & Grace’ fan."

“Will & Grace After Party” host and E! News Executive Editor, Kristin Dos Santos says of the project, "I'm truly honored to be a part of this very cool experience for fellow fans of ‘Will & Grace.’ It's going to be so much fun celebrating this iconic show that has meant so much to so many people."

Additionally, fans can keep the party going all week long with the official “Will & Grace” GIF  collection and liven up their group chats with the official show Gaymojis.

The hit comedy series “Will & Grace” features actors Debra Messing as Grace Adler, Megan Mullally as Karen Walker, Eric McCormack as Will Truman and Sean Hayes as Jack McFarland. The series follows best friends Will and Grace as they navigate living together, while they deal with their eccentric friends Karen and Jack. The show originally aired on NBC starting in 1998, with the season eight finale coming in 2006. “Will & Grace” rejoins the NBC lineup with all new episodes Thursday, September 28 at 9 PM. 

Hulu Beefs Up Its Classic Comedy Roster

Hulu, you had me at The Golden Girls.  Yes, on February 13, Hulu added the Girls to its service -- and I was hooked.  But then just a few weeks back, Hulu also became the exclusive streaming home of Will & Grace, just in time for us to catch up on the show's eight seasons in time for tomorrow night's historic "season 9" re-booted premiere.

Now, Hulu has announced a partnership with Universal television which means lots of good stuff coming our way -- including a streaming home for yet another of the most brilliant comedies of the last few decades, NBC's 30 Rock (beginning October 1.)  Check out Hulu's press announcement below for details, which include the addition of other popular titles like Parenthood, as well as original programming like Paul Reiser's new comedy There's Johnny.


Hulu Inks Deal with NBCUniversal for Hundreds of Episodes of TV Favorites Including 30 Rock, Parenthood and More

New Licensing Agreement to Mark Premiere of Paul Reiser’s Comedy Series, There’s Johnny and SVOD Premiere of Syfy’s Face Off, as well as the U.S. Streaming Debut of the complete Made in Chelsea Library

SANTA MONICA, CA (September 27, 2017) – Following a groundbreaking licensing agreement that marked the streaming debut of iconic series Will & Grace, Hulu and NBCUniversal Television and New Media Distribution today announced a new agreement that will make Hulu the exclusive SVOD home to all episodes of Emmy Award winning comedy series, 30 Rock, beginning October 1st, as well as add hundreds of episodes of shows for the whole family to Hulu.

In addition to bringing the complete library of the critically acclaimed and Emmy Award-winning comedy series from creator and star Tina Fey - 30 Rock - to a new streaming home, the new deal includes a full suite of premium programming that will become available to stream on Hulu:

30 Rock. A three-time Emmy Award winner for Outstanding Comedy Series as well as a critical darling,30 Rock comes from the brilliant mind of creator and star Tina Fey, whose character Liz Lemon is asked by her ultra corporate boss Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) to somehow make the fictional program “TGS with Tracy Jordan” a success. Working with an oddball staff, no budget and no sleep, Liz keeps up the good fight against long odds. Also starring Tracy Morgan, Jack McBrayer, Scott Adsit, Judah Friedlander and Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock aired for seven seasons and arrives in its entirety on Hulu on October 1st.

ParenthoodThe family favorite, hit drama series will stream in its entirety in early 2018 on Hulu. The critically-acclaimed series, which aired for six seasons, has remained popular with viewers since its finale. Parenthood is a one-hour drama from Award-winning executive producers Jason Katims, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer.  It follows the trials and tribulations of the very large, colorful and imperfect Braverman family and features stars including Peter Krause, Lauren Graham, Craig T. Nelson, Bonnie Bedelia, Dax Shepard, Erika Christensen, Monica Potter, Sam Jaeger and Joy Bryant. 

There’s JohnnyPaul Reiser’s highly-anticipated series, There’s Johnny, will make its debut on Hulu. The deal marks the premiere for the NBCUniversal period comedy, set in the world of “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” circa 1972, starring Tony Danza.

Made in Chelsea. The first 13 seasons of the BAFTA award-winning, reality television series from the UK will make their US SVOD debut on Hulu. Since its premiere, the hit series has captivated audiences in the UK and resulted in many spin-offs. Through the deal, the complete series will be made available to stream in the US on Hulu later this year.

Face Off. The first 10 seasons of SYFY’s hit reality competition series, Face Off, will become available to stream on Hulu. The series will make its SVOD debut in early 2018. Face Off follows special effects make-up artists as they participate in elaborate challenges for a grand prize and the honor of being Hollywood's next great effects artist.

The new deal expands Hulu’s growing library of premium programming with even more hit series from the NBCUniversal Television library. Earlier this month, Hulu and NBCUniversal announced a joint agreement that made all episodes of the Emmy-winning, iconic series Will & Grace available to stream for the first time ever. Hulu is also home to top series from NBC including This Is Us, Blindspot, and the Emmy-winning Saturday Night Live. 

About Hulu
Hulu is a leading premium streaming service that offers instant access to live and on demand channels, original series and films, and a premium library of TV and movies to millions of subscribers in the U.S. Since its launch in 2008, Hulu has consistently been at the forefront of entertainment and technology.  Hulu is the only streaming service that offers both ad-supported and commercial-free current season shows from the largest U.S. broadcast networks; libraries of hit TV series and films; and acclaimed original series including Emmy Award-winning series The Handmaid’s Tale, The Mindy Project, The Path, 11.22.63, the Golden Globe® nominated comedy series Casual, as well as the upcoming Future Man, Castle Rock, Marvel’s Runaways and The Looming Tower. In 2017, Hulu added live news, entertainment and sports from 21st Century Fox, The Walt Disney Company, NBCUniversal, CBS Corporation, The CW, Turner Networks, A+E Networks and Scripps Networks Interactive to its offering – making it the only TV service that brings together live, on-demand, originals, and library content all in one place, across living room and mobile devices.

 About NBCUniversal Television and New Media Distribution 
NBCUniversal Television and New Media Distribution is responsible for the sales and distribution of NBCUniversal product to all forms of television within the U.S. and Canada.  This includes current television and film product as well as content from NBCUniversal's vast library (Universal Pictures, Focus Features, Universal Television, Universal Cable Productions, NBC Late Night properties, etc.) distributed in basic cable, pay cable and subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) markets. The division is also responsible for the sales of NBCUniversal content to non-theatrical markets including airlines worldwide. 

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Sunday, September 24, 2017

40 Years Old, Yet Exciting and New

The Love Boat seasons 1-3
are available on DVD.
clockwise from upper left:
Fred Grandy, Ted Lange,
Bernie Kopell, Jill Whelan,
Gavin MacLeod, Lauren Tewes
Today, September 24, marks the 40th anniversary of the beloved ABC series The Love Boat, which set sail as a regular series in the fall of 1977.  Earlier this year, in May, the show's cast reunited on the Today Show, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the airing of the TV movie that launched the series.

Actually, that was the third Love Boat TV movie, the other two having aired in the previous season.  After optioning author Jeraldine Saunders' book about her pioneering career as the industry's first female cruise director, producer Douglas S. Cramer knew he had the makings of a great series, a version of his previous hit, Love, American Style, on the seas.  But it took three tries, and the addition of legendary producer Aaron Spelling, to get the casting and chemistry just right.

I've been spending the past year, and will spend the months ahead, amassing interviews and never-before-seen photos and other materials for my upcoming book Love Boat Forever.  When the book is released, it will be one of many celebrations that continue, as the show continues to air on Me TV and Cosi TV, and memes such as the "Love Boat Generator" proliferate on the web.  And this fall, look for the Love Boat cast to reunite at least once more, for a special ceremony involving the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Welcome aboard!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Saturday Night (Truly) Live

After a successful experiment late last season, airing Saturday Night Live truly live in all U.S. time zones for the first time ever, NBC has announced that the adjusted time slots are here to stay.

Starting with the season 43 opener on September 30 -- with host Ryan Gosling and musical guest Jay-Z -- each episode will air as always on the East Coast (live at 11:30 PM), and simultaneously in each of the other time zones -- meaning at 10:30 PM Central, 9:30 PM Mountain and 8:30 PM Pacific.  Then, to fill up the remainder of the Mountain and Pacific markets' Saturday nights, SNL will be repeated at 11:30.

For us on the West Coast, it means the chance to see the live version, warts and all.  So if something slips getting bleeped, now we'll all get to see, rather than just the lucky folks back East!

Below, the NBC press release from earlier today:


NEW YORK — Sept. 19, 2017 — NBC’s Emmy Award-winning “Saturday Night Live” will once again air live simultaneously around the country beginning with the highly anticipated season 43 premiere on Sept. 30 with host Ryan Gosling and musical guest Jay-Z.

Each episode will air live at:
11:30 p.m. Eastern
10:30 p.m. Central
9:30 p.m. Mountain
8:30 p.m. Pacific

For the Mountain and Pacific time zones, “SNL” will be repeated at 11:30 p.m.

The live coast-to-coast airings that began in April grew 11% in “live plus same day” viewership versus what “SNL” was averaging earlier in the season (8.3 million vs. 7.5 million, according to Nielsen Media Research), indicating strong interest in the formerly tape-delayed markets to see the show live.

“Saturday Night Live” is produced in association with Broadway Video. The creator and executive producer is Lorne Michaels.

Need a Refresher Before Will & Grace next Thursday?

For those of us dying to see the return, after 11 years off the air, of Will & Grace on Thursday, Sept. 28, here's a little taste to keep us going, and to remind us of the eight great seasons we had.

This afternoon, the Human Rights Campaign, an organization the W&G creators and cast have long supported, circulated the video below, featuring interview snippets about how the show came to be.

And for even more behind-the-scenes stories and clips, check out tonight's Paley Center for Media-produced tribute to Will & Grace, airing at 10PM Eastern/Pacific on NBC.

Monday, September 11, 2017

I'm So Glad We'll Have More Time Together

When The Carol Burnett Show first aired on CBS fifty years ago today, on September 11, 1967, few of us probably could imagine a date in 2017, way into the 21st Century, or the show's long-lasting impact.

Even Carol herself was just initially thinking of the show on a short-term basis -- because the show was actually an unintended result of a little-noticed clause in Burnett’s contract for The Garry Moore Show wherein CBS promised the musical comedy actress her own program.  But from such inauspicious beginnings, Burnett and her talented ensemble cast of Harvey Korman, Tim Conway, Vicki Lawrence and Lyle Waggoner soon became a hit, averaging 30 million viewers per week and ultimately winning 25 Emmy Awards.

And now, even though The Carol Burnett Show has been off the air for several generations, Burnett told me in a 2012 interview that she still gets mail "from teenagers -- even 11-year-olds -- who write me because they've seen individual sketches on YouTube.  They're the sweetest letters, saying 'We heard about this show from our parents' or 'our grandparents. We wish we could have been there at the beginning.'"

The timing of the 50th Anniversary celebration is part of a perfect Carol Burnett storm happening in 2017, reminiscent of the big year another then-octogenarian icon, Betty White, experienced in 2010.  In July, Netflix announced a new unscripted series, A Little Help with Carol Burnett, in which the comedy legend joins a panel of 4- to 8-year old kids to give life advice.  And this past spring, Carol shot the pilot for Household Name, a multi-camera sitcom in which she plays a deliciously haughty 92-year-old movie queen living with a non-showbiz family in her Los Angeles manse; having attended the May pilot taping, I can attest that the show was hilarious, which is why it was surprising when ABC did not pick it up to series at the time of its May upfront presentation.  Still, the show is currently being redeveloped by its creator, Michael Saltzman, and the network, which was thrilled with Carol's work, hopes to pick it up in the future. 

There have been studies in the past showing that in bad economic times, comedy flourishes; and someday, I'm sure, sociologists will study 2017, and see how the anxiety of the Trump era drove us all towards the comfort of safe, nostalgic programming.  Netflix already has had several seasons of success with its Fuller House, and now this season on the broadcast networks we have upcoming reboots of '90s sitcoms Roseanne and Will & Grace.  Just the other day, ABC picked up a pilot for a new version of its 1981 show Greatest American Hero -- which wasn't even a hit in its day, but remains beloved by its fans nonetheless -- this time with a female, Indian-American lead.  Suddenly, everything old is new again.

And so this December 3, CBS is celebrating the Golden Anniversary of The Carol Burnett Show -- a little late, but perfectly timed to catch us in a nostalgic, holiday mood.  The star-studded tribute will tape next month in Los Angeles.  Below, CBS' press announcement about the special honoring their comedy icon.

Sept. 7, 2017


“The Carol Burnett 50th Anniversary Special” to Air Sunday, Dec. 3


Carol Burnett, Original Cast Members Vicki Lawrence and Lyle Waggoner, Costume Designer Bob Mackie, along with Celebrities Jim Carrey, Kristin Chenoweth, Stephen Colbert, Harry Connick Jr., Bill Hader, Jay Leno, Jane Lynch, Bernadette Peters, Maya Rudolph, Martin Short and More Will Commemorate the Groundbreaking Show

CBS will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Carol Burnett’s classic, award-winning comedy series with THE CAROL BURNETT 50TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL, a new two-hour star-studded event featuring Burnett, original cast members and special guests, on Sunday, Dec. 3 (8:00-10:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.

Filming on Stage 33 at CBS Television City in Los Angeles, the show’s original soundstage, Burnett will reminisce about her favorite sketches, Q&As with the studio audience, guest stars, her memorable wardrobe and bloopers, as well as the tremendous effect the show continues to have on television today as a true pioneer of sketch comedy.

“I can’t believe how fast the time went, and what makes me the happiest is that so much of the funny stuff we did still holds up today, and we can share it with generations to come,” said Carol Burnett. “What a great ride!”

“‘The Carol Burnett Show’ was a comedy showcase that was years ahead of its time. If social media existed then, clips from the broadcast would have quickly gone viral,” said Leslie Moonves, Chairman and CEO, CBS Corporation. “We are very proud of the show’s significant place in CBS’ legacy, as well as in television history, and we look forward to this primetime celebration of incredible talent, led by the incomparable Carol Burnett.”

The special will also feature original cast members Vicki Lawrence and Lyle Waggoner, costume designer Bob Mackie, as well as other comedians, comic actors and friends, including Jim Carrey, Kristin Chenoweth, Stephen Colbert, Harry Connick Jr., Bill Hader, Jay Leno, Jane Lynch, Bernadette Peters, Maya Rudolph and Martin Short, among others, who will join Burnett to discuss how the revolutionary series paved the way for them and impacted their careers.

“The Carol Burnett Show” premiered on Sept. 11, 1967 and starred Carol Burnett, Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, Lyle Waggoner and Tim Conway. Airing for 11 seasons and a total of 276 episodes, the show earned a total of 25 Primetime Emmy Awards, including three for Outstanding Variety-Music/Comedy Series. In addition, the show earned eight Golden Globe Awards, including one for Best Television Show – Comedy or Musical, and Burnett received four for Best Actress – Comedy or Musical.

THE CAROL BURNETT 50TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL will be produced for television by dick clark productions. Carol Burnett, Steve Sauer, Allen Shapiro, Mike Mahan, Mark Bracco, Paul Miller and Leslie Kolins Small are executive producers. Paul Miller directs.

CHEAT TWEET: Celebrate the 50th anniversary of #TheCarolBurnettShow! 2-hour star studded special event on Dec. 3! #CarolBurnett50

Friday, August 18, 2017

Final Episodes of Episodes

Matt LeBlanc at Episodes season 5
premiere screening, Paley Center for Media
Beverly Hills, CA, August 16, 2017
Photo by Imeh Bryant /
 The Paley Center for Media
This Sunday, August 20, Showtime's brilliant comedy Episodes returns for its fifth and final season, of seven...well, episodes.  And having seen the screening of the first two installments of the season at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills the other night, I can tell you the show is back in fine form.  (In fact, while episode 1 was very, very funny, episode 2 is one of the series' best, right on par with the revelation of the "artwork" in Merc's blind ex-wife's living room.  Episode 2 was so screamingly funny that I actually missed some lines, drowned out by audience laughter, and will have to watch again.)

We pick up season 5 right where the season 4 left off:  Sean (Stephen Mangan) and Beverly (Tamsin Greig) are stuck working for their odious former assistant Tim (Bruce Mackinnon), who is now the showrunner on the new series he and Sean once came up with together.  Matt LeBlanc is hosting a cheesy game show for his old network, uneasily working with its producer, his nemesis Merc (John Pankow).  Having been fired after her affair with her boss Helen (Andrea Savage), Carol (Kathleen Rose Perkins) is wallowing in seclusion at home.  And Morning?  (Mircea Monroe)  We don't know where she is yet -- but as Episodes' creator/writer/producers David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik revealed that night, she returns in episode 3.

Episodes creators/writers/producers
Jeffrey Klarik (l) and David Crane
Paley Center for Media, Beverly Hills
August 16, 2017
Photo by Imeh Bryant /
 The Paley Center for Media
As Crane and Klarik long ago revealed, they had the idea for their show years ago, after a bad experience working with CBS on their underappreciated sitcom The Class.  While they were pitching their show to the BBC, they deliberately set it in Hollywood, thinking -- wrongly, it turns out -- that they'd have to shoot it in L.A.  But ironically, the budget said otherwise.  And even with the injection of funds from partnering with Showtime, the producers found themselves recreating the look of L.A. in London, and living in the U.K. for up to six months to produce each season.  (Limited exterior shooting, plus post-production, is then done in real-life Los Angeles.)

For Sean and Beverly's show-within-the-show, Klarik and Crane -- partners in both writing and life -- wanted to take a smart, prototypical British setting, and dumb it down the way an American network might.  So they started with History Boys -- and then Klarik had an epiphany:  "Hockey!"  Having co-created and -produced all those seasons of Friends, Crane knew just who to approach to play a teacher as far as one can get from British propriety:  Matt LeBlanc.  (When that was revealed on the panel following Wednesday night's screening, LeBlanc feigned insult.  But both writers also revealed that had LeBlanc said no, they would have opted not to proceed with Episodes.  Well, Klarik joked, "maybe with David Schwimmer.")
Episodes panel at The Paley Center for Media, August 16, 2017:
l-r, creators David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik, stars Mircea Monroe,
Kathleen Rose Perkins and Matt LeBlanc,
 moderator Jarett Wieselman of Buzzfeed News
Episodes cast and creators
The Paley Center for Media, Beverly Hills
August 16, 2017
Photo by Imeh Bryant /
 The Paley Center for Media

Other burning questions arose on the panel, such as Morning's real age (even Klarik and Crane don't know, and we love it that way); Myra's constipated noises (which actress Daisy Haggard performs brilliantly, and which Klarik sweetens even more with his own whines in post-production); and Carol's attraction to authority figures, whether they be male or female (a plot point which Perkins says she was told as far back as season 1, and couldn't wait to play.)  And while fans have speculated for seasons now whether the characters of Merc, Carol, Myra, Andy (Joseph May) and others might correlate to any real-life network execs, Crane and Klarik do admit that two characters, Sean and Beverly, are directly modeled on real people -- namely, them.

"I'm like Sean, thinking the glass is half-full," Crane says.  Then, pointing to Klarik, he adds, "And he thinks the glass is an idiot."

David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik on Episodes panel
The Paley Center for Media, Beverly Hills
August 16, 2017

Episodes returns to Showtime Sunday, August 20 at 10 PM Eastern/Pacific