Sunday, March 18, 2018

Will & Grace Renewed -- Again

At PaleyFest at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood:
l-r, moderator Dan Bucatinsky, NBC president Bob Greenblatt
Will & Grace director Jimmy Burrows, stars Sean Hayes,
Debra Messing, Eric McCormack and Megan Mullally,
co-creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan.
As of tonight, it's official: Will & Grace is back for the long haul.

As the cast of the popular rebooted sitcom took the stage at Hollywood's Dolby Theater for a panel on night two of the annual PaleyFest, it was Megan Mullally who urged co-creator Max Mutchnick to announce the official news:  not only will W&G's rebooted season 2/overall season 10 be increased from a planned 13 to now 18 episodes, but NBC has already renewed the show for a third (or eleventh) season.

After a day on a photo shoot at the W Hotel in Hollywood, the cast assembled -- along with Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Sean Hayes, plus Mutchnick, co-creator David Kohan and director/executive producer Jimmy Burrows -- at the Dolby for an interview conducted by Scandal actor, writer/producer and W&G super-fan Dan Bucatinsky, who recently reprised his character Neil, from the original series.

Below, NBC's official announcement of its pickup of the series for season 3:


Additional Season Two Episodes Ordered as Critical Acclaim Builds for Original Cast and Production Team

UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. – March 17, 2018 – “Will & Grace” is giving you more, honey!

The return of “Will & Grace,” which began as an Internet reunion that turned into a one-season order and then a two-season order before it even went back on the air last fall, has just been ordered for a third season to premiere in fall 2019. With its razor-sharp wit intact and all four Emmy Award-winning actors back at the top of their game, one of the best NBC Must See comedies will return for an 18-episode third season.

In addition, the network has increased the season two order, which will begin again next fall, from 13 to 18 episodes. The announcement was made by Robert Greenblatt, Chairman, NBC Entertainment.

“As far as I’m concerned, we can’t get enough of ‘Will & Grace’ and 23 more episodes is music to my ears,” Greenblatt said. “We’re eternally grateful that Debra, Eric, Sean and Megan feel the same way and wanted to keep this good thing going. I’m overwhelmed by the euphoric response the new show has received from the press and the audience, and my hat is off to the unrivaled writing team of Max Mutchnick and David Kohan, as well as the brilliant directing of Jimmy Burrows, for consistently delivering one of the best shows on television.”   

So far this season “Will & Grace” is averaging a 3.1 rating in adults 18-49 and 9.8 million viewers overall in “live plus seven day” figures from Nielsen Media Research. “Will & Grace” is NBC’s most-watched primetime comedy at this point in the season in eight years and has improved its Thursday timeslot by +48% versus NBC’s year-ago results for regular non-sports programming in 18-49.

“Will & Grace” has received critical acclaim since the show’s return in September.  “Watching it is like running into an old flame who looks fantastic and is as bright and fun as ever,” said The New York Times. Entertainment Weekly wrote that 
“‘Will & Grace’ has been just as incredible as the original series: hilarious, poignant, contemporary” while USA Today added, “Watching the foursome is like taking in a tango by professional dancers.” 

Season one has been highlighted by an array of top guest stars, including Jennifer Lopez, Alec Baldwin, Minnie Driver, Ben Platt, Molly Shannon, Jane Lynch, Andrew Rannells and more.

“Will & Grace” stars Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally. Max Mutchnick and David Kohan, who co-created the series, write and executive produce. James Burrows directs and executive produces. “Will & Grace” is produced by Universal Television.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Maurice Made "Golden" Magic

Recently, I learned of the passing of makeup artist and inventor, Maurice Stein.  I had the pleasure of interviewing Maurice in 2006, inside Cinema Secrets, the Toluca Lake, California store which sells not just cinema-quality makeup, but also many of his ingenious innovations.

Talking with Maurice was one of the most memorable experiences I had in researching Golden Girls Forever -- and that's really saying something, because I also got to sit for a day each with Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan and Betty White!  But for one thing, makeup artists are often privy to the most intimate details of stars' personal lives, spending so much time with them each day.  And Maurice's memories of the groundbreaking show, and his storytelling skills, were both superb. 

But the most interesting thing I learned that day was about how, out of Golden Girls necessity, Maurice ended up inventing a brand new cinema technique that is still used to this day.  Below, a featurette that didn't make it into Golden Girls Forever, due to space constraints.  (Hopefully it will someday, in some kind of expanded edition.)  I think it's a proper tribute to a funny, warm guy whom I had the pleasure of meeting, and who helped bring the world laughter via Sophia Petrillo.

As The Golden Girls progressed, the series’ hair and makeup crew would be tasked with some very specific challenges, such as turning Estelle Getty and Bea Arthur into a convincing Sonny and Cher. But by then, such sartorial switchups were old hat for costume designer Judy Evans, hair stylist Joyce Melton and makeup artist Maurice Stein.  After all, they’d already been convincingly transforming Estelle – actually a tiny bit younger than her co-stars Betty and Bea – into an old lady for years. 

For the earliest episodes in season one, Estelle's hair was merely sprayed gray, as the actress herself had done to perform her shtick for producer after producer during her many auditions.  But very soon, as it became clear that The Golden Girls would be an enduring hit, it also became obvious that some things had to change.

And so, not far into the first season, the show's producers commissioned Sophia's trademark -- and expensive -- curly white human-hair wig.  But the larger problem was, the prevailing old-age makeup technique at the time, a process called “stretch and stipple,” took over four hours to apply, and as Maurice remembers Estelle saying, “an hour and a half, and a couple of vodkas, to take off.”  Each week, that added up to five or six hours of expensive production time – and an extra headache for an already nervous Estelle.

And so, Golden Girls producer Marsha Posner Williams had made a call to Maurice, luring him out of his early retirement; as luck would have it, Maurice had spent his newfound spare time inventing a new waterproof, oil-free foundation.  Now, instead of putting his star through the time-consuming application, blow-drying and powdering of layers and layers of latex, Maurice was able to cover Estelle’s face with several strata of the fast-drying foundation, and followed by accentuating her natural wrinkles with a makeup pencil (and, after Estelle’s facelift between seasons one and two, creating those lines anew.)

Today, Maurice still sells his Cinema Secrets Ultimate Foundation to the public; and because it's one of the only products medically approved to cover radiation burns, he donates his time and product to kids in burn units and to women with cancer.  As Maurice jokes, his products “aren't tested on animals…but on actors.”  So really, he adds, in the end, it was partly Estelle's ambition to play Sophia that has resulted not only in an innovative new product, but also in charitable work that has benefitted people around the world.

Jim Colucci, Golden Girls Forever, copyright 2016 HarperCollins Inc. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Join The Good Fight

The Good Fight season 1 DVD
featuring stars (l-r) Cush Jumbo,
Christine Baranski, Rose Leslie
I have a confession to make: I'm not a huge TV streamer.  There's simply too much good stuff to watch on network and cable TV, and it fills up my DVR (again, old fashioned tech, I guess, but it works for me.)  So I rarely have to go looking for extra ways to watch even more TV, especially at an extra cost, even if those series are widely acclaimed.

For one thing, eventually they'll come out on DVD.  And that's exactly the case with my favorite show currently on any platform, CBS All Access' The Good Fight.  A continuation of CBS' former (and amazing) series, The Good Wife, The Good Fight may even be a bit better than its predecessor.

Season 1 starts with Christine Baranski's Diane Lockhart, on the eve of her planned retirement, finding out that her savings have been wiped out by a Madoff-esque Ponzi scheme, perpetrated by her supposed friend, Henry Rindell.  Now, with Henry's daughter Maia (Rose Leslie)'s reputation destroyed as well, the two women join one of The Good Wife's most recently introduced and yet most beloved characters, Cush Jumbo's Lucca Quinn, at one of Chicago's pre-eminent, predominantly African-American, law firms.

CBS All Access is of course also the home of the newest Star Trek series, Star Trek: Discovery -- and its run, which began this past September, has been a boon to the now nearly four-year-old service in terms of attracting subscribers.  But Star Trek or no, The Good Fight is so good, it itself is also worth the monthly cost.

Season 1 consisted of ten, nailbiting episodes (and, it's worth noting, episodes which are free of network standards and practices constraints in terms of language and nudity) -- and as of this week, they're available on a three-DVD set, which also contains a gag reel and deleted/extended scenes.  The show's already captivating season 2 began "airing" -- if that's what one can call episodes which continue to drop each Sunday -- on March 4, and so now is the perfect time for newcomers (even non Good Wife watchers) to catch up.

The Good Fight
Season 1 available on DVD, release date March 13, 2018
Season 2 airing on CBS All Access, beginning March 4, 2018

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

GALECA Announces its 9th Annual DORIAN Award Winners

For the past nine years, I've been honored to be a member of the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association (GALECA), which bestows its Dorian Awards on shows depicting, serving and generally entertaining the LGBT community.

This year's winners have just been announced, with awards to be distributed at our February 24 "Winner's Reception" in Beverly Hills. And although of course I voted for Will & Grace, I am happy to see RuPaul's Drag Race and Feud: Bette and Joan get much-deserved recognition in those categories.

Other winners include Greta Gerwig as best director, Sally Hawkins as best actress, Timothee Chalamet as both best actor and rising star, Jordan Peele for best screenplay (and another win as a "Wilde Wit"), Michael Stuhlbarg and Laurie Metcalf for best supporting actor and actress, and Meryl Streep winning our version of a lifetime achievement award, as our "Timeless Star."  Call Me By Your Name wins the award for best film of the year.

On the TV side, winners include Big Little Lies as best drama, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel as best comedy, Nicole Kidman and Kyle MacLachlan winning the acting awards, and the amazing Kate McKinnon winning twice, as a "Wilde Wit" and also for her musical performance as Kellyanne Conway.

The full list of nominees and winners is below.

GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics
 (as in Lesbian! Gay! Bisexual! Transgender! Queer!)
Name Dorian Award Film/TV Winners

• • • • •

'Call Me By Your Name' is Best Film, Greta Gerwig Takes Best Director
'Get Out' Auteur Jordan Peele Scores Best Screenplay and More
Sally Hawkins Wins Best Actress, Timothée Chalamet is Both Best Actor and Rising Star
'American Gods,' Kyle MacLachlan, Samantha Bee, ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race' Rule TV Categories
Meryl Streep is Group’s Latest 'Timeless Star’ Honoree

Wednesday, January 31, 2018 - Hollywood, CA — The distinctly unique GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, comprised of over 200 gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and ally entertainment journalists in the U.S., Canada and U.K., has announced its ninth annual Dorian Award winners. This year’s 26 TV and film categories, again running from mainstream to LGBTQ-centric, include inaugural awards for Supporting Film Performance. A handful of select recipients will join the group for GALECA’s annual Winners Toast on Saturday February 24th in Beverly Hills.

Broflakes won’t be happy about this: Call Me By Your Name, which led with nine nominations, was named 2017’s Film of the Year. The bittersweet story of two American men — a teen and a 20something — falling for each other in Italy also earned Timothée Chalamet a Dorian for Film Performance of the Year — Actor. Chalamet, seen in Dorian nominee Lady Bird as well, was also the group’s Rising Star pick. Meanwhile, Greta Gerwig, writer and helmer of the female-focused coming-of-age drama Lady Bird, was named Director of the Year. 

Jordan Peele, formerly of TV’s acclaimed Key and Peele sketch comedy series, earned Screenplay of the Year for Get Outthe heart-stopping thriller and acidic satire about a black man (Daniel Kaluuya) who discovers his white girlfriend’s “liberal” parents are secretly murderous racists. Peele was also crowned Wilde Artist of the Year (nominees included Gerwig, Patty Jenkins, David Lynch and Guillermo del Toro) and Wilde Wit of the Year. Peele shares the latter award with Saturday Night Live fixture Kate McKinnon, nabbing her second win in that race — along with a victory for her sing-songy imagining of Trump explainer Kellyanne Conway taking her "alternative facts" act to Broadway.

Film icon and feminist activist Meryl Streep was the group’s latest choice for Timeless Star, a career achievement honor previously won by such equally beloved stars (and human-rights champions) Jane Fonda, Dame Angela Lansbury and Sir Ian McKellen. 

“Who doesn’t love Meryl Streep outside of non-feminist Donald Trump?” quipped Diane Anderson-Minshall, GALECA’s president as well as editorial director of The Advocate magazine. “Streep’s latest film, The Post, speaks to her commitment to playing, and supporting, strong women who push for or at least embody the need for equality. As The Washington Post’s firebrand Katherine Graham, she inhabited the role of the first female publisher of a major American newspaper — a woman who went from housewife to overseeing the revelations of both Watergate and the Pentagon Papers at a time when most of the men around her were too afraid to take on either. And this was all long before the #MeToo movement.” Adds John Griffiths, GALECA’s Executive Director, "From Sophie’s Choice to Postcards from the Edge, Streep’s an incredibly stirring and affecting actress who transports, delights and nails various accents like no other. I’d say she definitely qualifies as a timeless star — and amid all the headlines about sexual harassment in Hollywood, she’s also a very relevant current voice.” 

Fun fact: Streep won a Dorian Award for The Iron Lady back in 2012. 

In additional trademark races, God’s Own Country — 2017’s other visceral love story involving two gay men — won as GALECA's Unsung Film of the Year (the competition included director Angela Robinson’s Professor Marston and the Wonder Women). Awards-season darling The Shape of Water impressed as Visually Striking Film of the Year. And mother!, Darren Aronofsky’s over-the-top psychological chiller starring Jennifer Lawrence, was deemed Campy Flick of the Year.

Among TV categories, HBO’s sleek murder mystery Big Little Lies took TV Drama of the Year, with star Nicole Kidman (as a battered wife) triumphing too. Kyle MacLachlan was Kidman’s male counterpart for Twin Peaks: The Return. Starz’s provocative gods-among-us fantasy American Gods took Unsung TV Show, fittingly as its future the freshman series’ future is reportedly up in the air. And programs each celebrating their second win in a row: TBS’ Full Frontal with Samantha Bee (Current Events Show of the Year) and the Lady Gaga-loved gay performance contest RuPaul’s Drag Race (LGBTQ Show). 

Below is the complete list of Dorian winners. 

GALECA, The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, previously known as the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, includes members who review, write and/or report on film and television for a diverse number of media outlets, including BuzzFeed, The Daily Beast, Entertainment Weekly, TV GuideThe Advocate, CNN, the Associated Press, PeopleVariety, The Hollywood Reporter, Collider, Vanity Fair, Screen Crush, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, New Now Next, The Guardian and the BBC. For more information, visit Also find us at #DorianAwards, and enjoy our posts via @DorianAwards on Facebook  Twitter  Instagram 

BPM (Beats Per Minute) - The Orchard
Call Me By Your Name - Sony Pictures Classics (WINNER)
Get Out - Universal
Lady Bird - A24
The Shape of Water - Fox Searchlight

Sean Baker, The Florida Project – A24
Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water – Fox Searchlight
Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird - A24  (WINNER)
Luca Guadagnino, Call Me By Your Name - Sony Pictures Classics
Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk – Warner Bros.
Jordan Peele, Get Out - Universal

Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water – Fox Searchlight  (WINNER)
Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri - Fox Searchlight
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya - Neon
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird - A24
Daniela Vega, A Fantastic Woman - Sony Pictures Classics

Nahuel Perez Biscayart, BPM (Beats Per Minute) — The Orchard
Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name - Sony Pictures Classics  (WINNER)
James Franco, The Disaster Artist – A24
Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out - Universal
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour – Focus Features

Mary J. Blige, Mudbound - Netflix
Tiffany Haddish, Girls Trip - Universal
Allison Janney, I, Tonya - Neon
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird - A24  (WINNER)
Michelle Pfeiffer, mother! - Paramount

Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project – A24
Armie Hammer, Call Me By Your Name- Sony Pictures Classics
Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water – Fox Searchlight
Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri - Fox Searchlight
Michael Stuhlbarg, Call Me By Your Name - Sony Pictures Classics  (WINNER)

BPM (Beats Per Minute) — The Orchard
Battle of the Sexes - Fox Searchlight
Call Me By Your Name - Sony Pictures Classics  (WINNER)
A Fantastic Woman - Sony Pictures Classics
God's Own Country – Samuel Goldwyn Films

BPM (Beats Per Minute) — The Orchard  (WINNER)
A Fantastic Woman - Sony Pictures Classics
First They Killed My Father - Netflix
The Square – Magnolia Pictures
Thelma – The Orchard

James Ivory, Call Me By Your Name - Sony Pictures Classics
Jordan Peele, Get Out - Universal  (WINNER)
Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird - A24
Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor, The Shape of Water – Fox Searchlight
Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri - Fox Searchlight

(theatrical release, TV airing or DVD release)
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story – Zeitgeist/Kino Lorber
The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson - Netflix
Faces Places – Cohen Media Group  (WINNER)
Jane ­– National Geographic/Abramorama
Kedi - Oscilloscope

(honoring a production of stunning beauty, from art direction to cinematography)
Blade Runner 2049 – Warner Bros.
Call Me By Your Name - Sony Pictures Classics
Dunkirk – Warner Bros.
The Shape of Water – Fox Searchlight  (WINNER)
Wonderstruck - Amazon

BPM (Beats Per Minute) - The Orchard
Beach Rats - Neon
God's Own Country – Samuel Goldwyn Films  (WINNER)
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women - Annapurna
Wonderstruck - Amazon

Baywatch - Paramount
The Disaster Artist – A24
The Greatest Showman – 20th Century Fox
I, Tonya - Neon
mother! - Paramount  (WINNER)

Big Little Lies - HBO - HBO  (WINNER)
The Crown - Netflix
Feud: Bette and Joan - FX
The Handmaid's Tale - Hulu
Twin Peaks: The Return - Showtime

Better Things - FX
GLOW - Netflix
The Good Place - NBC
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel - Amazon  (WINNER)
Will & Grace - NBC

Clare Foy, The Crown - Netflix
Nicole Kidman, Big Little Lies - HBO  (WINNER)
Jessica Lange, Feud: Bette and Joan - FX
Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid's Tale - Hulu
Reese Witherspoon, Big Little Lies - HBO

Aziz Ansari, Master of None – Netflix
Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us - NBC
Jonathan Groff, Mindhunter - Netflix
Kyle MacLachlan, Twin Peaks: The Return - Showtime  (WINNER)
Alexander Skaarsgård, Big Little Lies - HBO

Full Frontal with Samantha Bee – TBS  (WINNER)
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver - HBO
Late Night with Seth Meyers - NBC
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert - CBS
The Rachel Maddow Show - MSNBC

Lady Gaga, “God Bless America,” “Born This Way,” etc., Super Bowl LI - Fox
Kate McKinnon, “(Kellyanne) Conway!” Saturday Night Live - NBC (WINNER)
Brendan McCreary, John Mulaney, “I’m Gay,” Big Mouth – Netflix
Pink, “Beautiful Trauma,” American Music Awards - ABC
Sasha Velour, “So Emotional,” RuPaul's Drag Race – VH1

Difficult People - Hulu
RuPaul's Drag Race – VH1 (WINNER)
Sense8 - Netflix
Transparent – Amazon
Will & Grace - NBC

American Gods - Starz  (WINNER)
Dear White People - Netflix
Difficult People - Hulu
At Home with Amy Sedaris - TruTV
The Leftovers - HBO

Feud: Betty and Joan  (WINNER)
RuPaul's Drag Race
Will & Grace

Timothée Chalamet  (WINNER)
Harris Dickinson
Tiffany Haddish
Daniel Kaluuya
Daniela Vega

(honoring a performer, writer or commentator whose observations both challenge and amuse)
Samantha Bee
Stephen Colbert
Kate McKinnon  (WINNER - TIE)
John Oliver
Jordan Peele  (WINNER - TIE)

(honoring a truly groundbreaking force in the fields of film, theater and/or television)
Guillermo del Toro
Greta Gerwig
Patty Jenkins
David Lynch
Jordan Peele  (WINNER)

TIMELESS STAR (to a living actor or performer whose exemplary career is marked by character, wisdom and wit)
Meryl Streep  

GALECA’S MISSIONHome of the Dorian Awards for the best in film and TV, GALECA aims to generate camaraderie in an unsettling media environment, and elevate professional entertainment criticism and journalism, all while bolstering art and humanity. Via panels, screenings, events and its occasional “Ten Best" lists, this 501 c-6 organization also strives to remind the everyone from at-risk youth to bullies that gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer people have a rich history of putting great movies and TV on the radar. How would the world fare without knowing what's campy?
Diane Anderson-Minshall, GALECA
John Griffiths, GALECA Executive

Thursday, January 25, 2018

A Tribute to WKRP in Cincinnati creator Hugh Wilson (1943-2018), Part 2

Last week, the world lost another creator of classic TV when  the writer behind the beloved WKRP in CincinnatiHugh Wilson, died at age 74 in Virginia, where he had lived for over a decade.  Best known for executive producing WKRP’s 90 episodes, which gained popularity in syndication after its initial 1978-82 run, Wilson segued later into film, directing The First Wives Club and the first of the Police Academy movies.

Ten years ago, in the spring of 2008, I had the pleasure of conducting a long interview with Wilson for a WKRP story Watch! magazine.  Below is part 2, talking about the writing process and cancellation of WKRP and his follow-up, Frank's Place.

Must-Hear TV:  Once WKRP was on the air, I remember as a viewer having a hard time finding it, through many different time slots.  Did you feel that CBS supported the show?

Hugh Wilson:  That’s where the story changes.  I think everybody liked the show, but it went on the air and didn’t do well.  They took it off the air for “fine tuning.”  Frankly, I don’t know what fine tuning means.  Then or now.  There were some meetings – I don’t think any changes came out of it.  And then they put it back on the air.  They hung in with it, I think, because it got very good reviews.  The problem that for some reason we couldn’t get a stable time slot, and got moved all over the place.   When your own mother is calling you wanting to know when the show’s on, there’s something wrong.

But on the other hand, there’s an odd dividend to that.  When we went into syndication, a lot of people found the show for the first time.  WKRP was bigger in syndication success than any of the MTM shows.  And it certainly wasn’t in its first run on CBS.  I had a feeling that they liked the show but also didn’t love it, and didn’t hate it.  People are surprised that we were only on for four seasons.  We stayed on the air, but never really in a stable time slot.  So there were some hard feelings about that.

MHTV:  How did you find out that the show was cancelled?

HW:  I could kind of see it coming, but we weren’t allowed to write any kind of wrap up.  We were told it had to be a regular episode, because it was still under debate whether the show was going to get cancelled or not.  And then Grant [Tinker] got a call from Harvey Shepard who was running CBS at the time.  It became a choice whether they were going to keep us, or Alice.  So we were pretty confident it would be us, but it wasn’t – it was Alice.

MHTV:  What makes the show resonate this many years later?

HW:  I think the cast was the real deal.  Hell, I wrote or rewrote most of the scripts, but I would have to say myself that it was the cast.  I do think there was a tradition at MTM at that time to really try to write good characters.  Who not only get the laughs, but get a little deeper than that.  

I knew of Howard Hesseman from going way back.  He was a member of The Committee, which was like a Second City in San Francisco.  I had been watching him, had my eye on him.  He did a lot of guest shots on other shows.  Gordon Jump I saw on Soap.  He had kind of a recurring character, but he wasn’t a regular contractually.  Loni [Anderson] I just met – she hadn’t really been in town long from Minnesota.  Jan Smithers just came in to audition.  I was aware of Tim [Reid] because of the comedy routine he and a partner used to do on variety shows.  Frank Bonner and Gary Sandy were CBS favorites.  Gary had been on a Norman Lear show called All That Glitters.  And they liked him in that, so they were really pushing hard, and I was delighted to have him.  Richard Sanders I had never seen before.  After I met him, I looked at a tape of him – Richard had I think mainly been in dramas, a pretty serious actor, which surprised me, because I thought he was funnier than hell.

What happens is the writer creates the characters on paper and the actors come in and inhabit those.  So for a while, they’re following the script.  And then as the show moves on, pretty soon the writers are chasing the actors and taking their cues from them instead of them taking their cues from the script.  That’s a nice way of working, and we were lucky to have it that way.

One more actor I should mention:  Carol Bruce.  She wasn’t in the pilot.  A woman who used to be a famous actress was -- Sylvia Sidney.  And I think Sylvia kind of thought it was beneath her, so it was fun to switch it.  Carol was great.  You know at one point she was on the cover of Life magazine.  She was a wonderful song and dance woman.  I didn’t know that until I got to know her.

MHTV:  Were there any specific bits of business the actors brought to the characters?

HW:  It wasn’t specific lines or pieces of business.  Like Frank Bonner, playing Herb Tarlek.  Just the way he would stand, and the way he looked at Loni.  You know Loni doesn’t get credit for being as funny as she is – she’s a wonderful comic actress.  But one of the things that’s funny about her is she’s so strikingly good looking.  She made the IQ go down of every male character who walked into the room.  She made all the guys funny because they pretty much lost their cool the moment they saw her.  But Bonner lost it in the most wonderful way.  You realize at some point that when you start talking about Herb instead of Frank, like he’s in Cincinnati and he’s a real guy, that’s when you feel you’re writing well, that you’ve sort of bought the act yourself.

MHTV:  The WKRP ensemble included an African-American character – was that considered groundbreaking in 1978?

HW:  I hadn’t thought of that.  Frankly I hadn’t thought of the show as groundbreaking except I knew the music was a whole new deal.  Another thing I thought was setting us apart is something I wanted from the beginning, to really be a true ensemble.  Mary [Tyler Moore Show] was a wonderful ensemble, but they came in levels.  There was Mary and Lou Grant, and then the next level.  I was trying to keep it really egalitarian.  I didn’t always pull that off.  We were always saying, “Let’s do a show this week about this character.”  And the actors, if they were pretty light one week, they wouldn’t get their noses out of joint because they knew we’d be getting around to them, to one where their character would be really heavy.

There have been some shows where the behind-the-scenes ambience was just gruesome.  We’d tape on Friday, and we’d be walking out by 9PM.  But we would hear stories of other shows, with everybody yelling and screaming and fighting.  That is really not my style, and hopefully I had an impact on the people I hired.  I think you’ve got to be careful.  If you have a show and area so blessed that it’s successful, you could be with these people for years.

MHTV:  Were you involved in the 1990s WKRP reboot?

HW:  No.  I was honored that the show was being redone, but at the same time I didn’t much like the idea.  I thought what’s done is done.  By then I had moved to Virginia.  Whereas I could get involved in a movie, in order to do television you have to live [in Los Angeles].  I just never thought it was a good idea, but bless their hearts.

MHTV:  The show and its characters had such a distinctive look, too.

HW:  From the start, Tim said, “Look, I just don’t want to be the typical black guy,” and Loni said, “I don’t want to be the typical bimbo.”  Thank God Tim got involved in his wardrobe a little bit, because I needed help there.  I knew how Herb would dress, because at the time all I’d have to do is go through the Atlanta airport, and it would be wall-to-wall polyester leisure suits.  But just within our four years, his clothes got so out of fashion that the costume people finally had to go to golf course pro shops to find that crap.  So much changed in those four years, when there was a lot going on.  Dr. Johnny Fever, he’s got a serious problem with disco.  And I think disco was kind of over by the time we finished.

MHTV:  You gave Venus Flytrap a back story – real name Gordon Simms, and being a former teacher – that was a lot like Sting’s in real life.  Was that intentional?

HW:  I’d like to tell you I was.  The name “Venus Flytrap” just got into my head, and a lot of people said, “That’s a woman’s name.”  But then Tim Reid said, “I think that’s a good name,” and I don’t think anyone ever complained.

MHTV:  Do you still hear from fans about WKRP?

HW:  It’s amazing to me today how people will come up and start quoting lines to me.  Around here [in Virginia] people will ask, “What do you do?” and I say, “Nothing.”  Then they’ll say, “What did you do?”  I’ll start telling them, and they think I’m lying.  And then they say, “My God, WKRP!” and they start telling me about the show – I don’t have to say a word.

MHTV:  Who are the fans, most often?

HW:  It’s men and women, and they’re late 30s and older.  I teach a television writing course at the University of Virginia.  And the kids say to me – this happens every damn time – after class:  “Hey, Mr. Wilson, my parents wanted me to tell you how much they loved WKRP.”

MHTV:  Does the show have a legacy?  What did it change in television?

HW:  I don’t think it changed anything.  You know, Barney Miller was a show I admired, and I loved the idea of the workplace rather than the home.  The formula usually was office/home/office/home.  If you look at any of the MTM shows that’s how it would go.  I liked the idea of making the family the office.  I don’t know thought that that was new ground.  I thought we broke good ground, but I don’t know if we broke new ground.

I went on to do Frank’s Place, and was breaking all kinds of ground there.  I had directed a movie or two by then, and when I went back to television, I shot it one-camera.  I didn’t have much of a budget but tried to make it look like a feature.  I dumped the laugh track.  I got an Emmy out of it.  It all got hung on the same washline as a dramedy, because another show came out that was just like it.  But in fact I had no idea anybody was doing what I was doing.

The way Frank’s Place came about was, Cajun food was the rage, and everyone at the Ivy was eating blackened something or other.  They said, “You’re a Southerner… Cajun food….”  I went down to New Orleans a couple of times with Tim Reid.  We really researched that pretty thoroughly and came back with something that was not what [Hollywood] had in mind.  I was more over in the black part of town, not on Bourbon St., and was talking more about a Creole cuisine than Cajun.  I made it almost entirely black.  I thought it would be funny to have the white guy as the 6th man.  There were two white people in the regular cast.  That was amazing.  I hired one of the regulars, just a guy I met on an airplane, because I couldn’t find any actors who could do the specific New Orleans accent, to please my Southern ear.  It’s called a Ninth Ward or Eighth Ward accent.  So I hired this guy and bless CBS’ heart, they said,  “Wait a minute, one of the regulars you’re sending over for us to read, he’s never acted before in his life?”  His name is don Yesso.  And the story was so amazing, Johnny Carson scooped him up immediately, so it worked well for us.

MHTV:  It sounds like by the time of Frank’s Place, you had some leeway.  But was there anything the network wouldn’t let you do on WKRP?

HW:  You won’t believe this based on what’s on today, but they were very, very careful about “hell”s and “damn”s.  And there could be no suggestion of drugs.  There could be something in the playing, not in any overt dialogue.  [Howard Hesseman] would always kind of play it like some kind of drug flashback, and he did talk about having flashbacks.  But we had written a scene once where he stepped out of the janitor’s closet fanning the air, right into the arms of the big guy, and that went right out.  That wasn’t even going to be discussed.  Clearly he must have had a joint in there.  I knew that wasn’t going to get in.  I sometimes think I put that in so I could get something else.  You do that – you kind of collect the chips – I caved on this and caved on that, so please let me have such and such.  It was such a different time in terms of that.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

A Tribute to WKRP in Cincinnati creator Hugh Wilson (1943-2018), Part 1

Last week, the world lost another creator of classic TV when  the writer behind the beloved WKRP in Cincinnati, Hugh Wilson, died at age 74 in Virginia, where he had lived for over a decade.  Best known for executive producing WKRP’s 90 episodes, which gained popularity in syndication after its initial 1978-82 run, Wilson segued later into film, directing The First Wives Club and the first of the Police Academy movies.

Ten years ago, in the spring of 2008, I had the pleasure of conducting a long interview with Wilson for a WKRP story Watch! magazine.  Below is part 1, talking about Wilson’s transition into television, and the birth of his classic hit.

Must-Hear TV:  I’ve heard you mention in interviews that you didn’t initially set out to be in television. How did a Southern boy like you end up in Hollywood?

Hugh Wilson:  I’m from Florida, and went to the University of Florida.  After that, I went to New York and worked up north for a little bit, and then to Atlanta.  In New York, there weren’t many Southerners.  I think it kind of helped me, because it was like, “What’s this guy doing here?”  You get a little bit of a brand.  That was good.

I had been since college in the advertising business.  I was in Atlanta at an agency that no longer exists called Burton Campbell, which not big, but a very good creative agency.  I was the creative director there.  Then I left and got a job at MTM Productions, where I was able to sell some scripts to the Bob Newhart Show.  That was my first credit.  It was a great honor and was also a thrill.  I liked the show so much, and it was a big national icon of a hit.  And also Suzanne Pleshette, rest her lovely soul, and Bob Newhart were just such wonderful nice people.

MHTV:  What was it like, landing that first TV job?

HW:  Back then, MTM and Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin’s company [Tandem Productions] were sort of the Harvard and Yale of the independent producers.  Both of them had so many comedies on the air.  So it was a great break for me to get a job at MTM.  Two wonderful writers, Tom Patchett and Jay Tarses, allowed me to write on the Newhart show and then for the next two seasons, I was a staff writer on the short-lived Tony Randall Show, which was also CBS.  And then I created WKRP.  So I was very lucky, because I had only been in Hollywood for two and a half years before I suddenly found myself with a national show on network television.

I had no idea at the time what a lovely situation I was in.  It was only later in my career, when I saw how much pushing and shoving can go on, that I realized that Grant Tinker had created the most pleasant environment a writer could ever ask for.  I think what had something to do with that was that Jim Brooks was such an exceptional talent.  He and Allan Burns had created the Mary Tyler Moore Show, and of course Jim went on to become an Academy Award-winning director.  But I think Grant came to really rely on writers thanks to Jim and Allan.

MHTV:  What inspired WKRP?  Did you have a background in radio or in music?

HW:  No, but when I was in the advertising business in Atlanta, there was a bar there called Harrison’s that for some reason was kind of a media bar.  All the radio sales reps and disc jockeys and advertising people hung out there, and I knew a lot of people in radio, and I thought they were an interesting group.  When I had the idea, when I was asked by Grant, “Do you have any pilot ideas?”, I thought of a rock and roll station that was down on its luck.  And when CBS said, “Yeah, let’s look into that,” I went back to Atlanta, and my friends at the Top 40 rock station there let me come in and hang out for a couple of weeks.

I’m a big music fan, but I myself have no musical talent at all.  If I sing, people say, “You shouldn’t really do that.”  But that was part of the great fun of it.  When we were starting out, they said, “You know, it’s too expensive to pay for all the rights to al this music.”  Let’s do like they do on Happy Days, some soundalikes.  But I was pretty adamant that it had to be the real music.  So it was interesting – all the MTM shows had been shot on film, but we found that if we shot it on videotape, we could get a different kind of [music licensing] deal, like a variety show deal for the music.

At the time, film and videotape were pretty segregated:  “That’s a film lot” or “That’s a tape lot.”  So we became the first MTM show to leave the CBS Radford lot, and we went over to KTLA and were a videotape show just so we could afford the music.  We eventually moved back to the Radford lot in Studio City – that’s where MTM had most of their stuff.

MHTV:  Music was so important to WKRP.  Who chose the music for each episode?

HW:  I was picking the music, but then Howard Hesseman and Tim Reid, who were playing the DJs, asked if they could pick their own music.  I said yes, because they had excellent taste.  So unless I absolutely need a song for the story, they picked most of the music.  But it was very interesting because record labels started treating us almost like a radio station.  They would send me all this free stuff – it was wonderful.   I’d get standup posters, which I’d put in the set.  Once they saw I’d put posters on national television, I was just inundated with PR.

MHTV:  And why Cincinnati, of all places?  Why not Atlanta, if that’s what you knew?

HW:  I thought the show should be set in kind of not a big market.  That’s one reason; plus, I kind of wanted it somewhere in flyover country.   But I mainly chose the name by saying, “WKRP in Buffalo,” “WKRP in…” “Cincinnati” seemed to just roll off the tongue.  I had never been there in my life.  I’d like to tell you there was more thought in choosing it.  And then we came to really love Cincinnati, because when we went there with the cast, they treated us as if we were one of them.  They particularly liked Loni [Anderson].

MHTV:  Why CBS?  And what was the network’s initial reaction to the show?

HW:  MTM had a very special relationship with CBS, and so they pretty much took their shows there.  Later, Grant Tinker ended up taking the job as CEO at NBC.  But Rhoda, Mary and Bob were all CBS shows.  Also, CBS was, at least in my opinion, the “Tiffany Network.”  I think that was in everybody’s mind in those days.  CBS was first class, so people tried for that.

And at CBS, one of the reasons I thought I caught a break on WKRP is that, I came to discover, a lot of the people in the development department and those who had a say in new shows, had a background in radio, and so they had a proprietary love for it.  Immediately they would say, “When I was in radio…” and they’d start pitching me bits and pieces and funny things that happened to them.

In fact, the most famous show we did was a Thanksgiving show, “Turkeys Away,” where we threw turkeys out of a helicopter.  And I had gotten that from a station manager in Dallas.  He was fired and couldn’t get a job for a year after that.   I had asked him, “Can you think of any remarkable things?”  And in five minutes, he told me the whole thing.  I thought “Oh my God, this is going to be so much fun,” and realized he had just given me my Emmy.  And that episode all pretty much all came from this fellow’s lips.

Coming soon:  part 2:  the four-season life and death of WKRP in Cincinnati

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Fox Renews New Hit Drama 9-1-1

With all the news coming out of the TV Critics convention in Pasadena, this one comes over a week after the Fox network made its presentations.  But it's no shocker that Fox has renewed its midseason entry 9-1-1 for a second season; not only did it debut to good ratings, but it has a star-studded cast and comes from creators Ryan  Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Tim Minear.

Below more details on the renewal.
From Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Tim Minear,
Series Debut Delivers more than 15 Million Viewers and is Week’s No. 1 Drama,
Ranking it as Highest-Rated Wednesday Series Premiere
on Broadcast and Cable in Over a Year
Week Two of Hit Series Draws 11.6 Million Three-Day Multi-Platform Viewers and
Posts a 2.5/9 L3 Rating among Adults 18-49, Ranking as Night’s No. 1 Program
 All-New Episode Airs Tomorrow on FOX
FOX has renewed the critically acclaimed hit drama 9-1-1, from creators Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Tim Minear, for a second season, it was announced today by Gary Newman and Dana Walden, Chairmen & CEOs, Fox Television Group. 
“With a bold concept, award-winning stars and a flawless execution, Ryan, Brad and Tim have done it again,” said Walden and Newman. “They have tapped into the cultural zeitgeist and reimagined the procedural as only they could, bringing it to life with a dream team of actors led by Angela, Peter and Connie. This is storytelling at its best and we’re so pleased that it’s resonated with our audience. We’d like to thank everyone involved with this production for their stellar work, and we look forward to another thrilling season of 9-1-1.”
The series premiere of 9-1-1 has grown to more than 15 million viewers in seven-day multi-platform viewing, including its encore, delivering FOX’s largest debut since EMPIRE in 2015, excluding post-Super Bowl premieres. In Nielsen Live + 7 Day, the show delivered 10.7 million viewers, a lift of 57% from Live+Same Day. 9-1-1 ranks as the highest-rated debut since “The Good Doctor” and the week’s No. 1 drama among all key demos, averaging a 3.0/11 L7 in Adults 18-49, up +67% from L+SD, according to Nielsen. It also ranks as the highest-rated Wednesday series premiere on television in more than a year. The first hit series of 2018, 9-1-1 improved its fall time period average by 36% in the demo and +47% among Total Viewers. On social media, 9-1-1 is this season’s No. 1 new broadcast drama series and the most engaging new broadcast program on YouTube, with more than nine million views.
In week two, 9-1-1 delivered a three-day multi-platform audience of 11.6 million viewers, including its encore. Among Adults 18-49, it posted a 2.5/9 L3 rating, up +67% vs. L+SD, tying “Modern Family” as the night’s No. 1 program for the second consecutive week, while also winning the 9:00-10:00 PM hour.
9-1-1 explores the high-pressure experiences of police officers, firefighters and emergency operators who are thrust into the most frightening, shocking and heart-stopping situations. These first responders must try to balance saving those who are at their most vulnerable with solving the problems in their own lives. The procedural drama stars Academy and Emmy Award nominee Angela Bassett (“American Horror Story,” “What’s Love Got to Do with It”), Emmy Award and Golden Globe nominee Peter Krause (“The Catch,” “Six Feet Under”) and Emmy Award nominee Connie Britton (“Nashville,” “Friday Night Lights,” “American Horror Story”). The series also stars Oliver Stark (“Into The Badlands”), Aisha Hinds (“Shots Fired,” “Underground”), Kenneth Choi (“The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”) and Rockmond Dunbar (“Prison Break,” “The Path”). 
In the all-new “Next Of Kin” episode of 9-1-1 airing tomorrow, Wednesday, Jan. 17 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT), on FOX, Bobby (Krause) and his team respond to an emergency at a children’s birthday party that leaves lives hanging in the balance. The crew jumps into action after one of their own is involved in a devastating accident. Athena (Bassett) tries to cope with a tragedy that hits way too close to home, and Abby (Britton) is confronted with a life-changing decision for her mother and makes a connection with Buck (Stark).
9-1-1 is produced by 20th Century Fox Television in association with Ryan Murphy Television and Brad Falchuk Teley-Vision. Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Tim Minear are creators, executive producers and writers on the series. Bradley Buecker is an executive producer and directed the series premiere. Alexis Martin Woodall and Angela Bassett serve as executive producers. “Like” 9-1-1 on Facebook at 911onFOX/. Follow the series on Twitter 911onFOX and join the discussion using #911onFOX. See photos and videos on Instagram by following 911onfox/.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Our President Is Now Officially a Cartoon

Although I'm hesitant to expose my psyche to any additional Trump-themed material, I do have to say I love the animated version of 45 on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, as well as Colbert's impression of the cretin as he reads his tweets on air (complete with "dot dot dot").

Now, Showtime is debuting a half-hour animated comedy starring you-know-who, Our Cartoon President, to debut on Sunday, February 11 at 8 PM Eastern/Pacific (this time, with actor Jeff Bergman as the voice of Trump.)  But if you'd like to get a sneak peek even sooner, check out the link below, to the show's official trailer -- and stay tuned to view a sneak peek of the pilot on-demand, on January 28 -- two days prior to what will certainly be a nail-biting State of the Union address.

Early Preview Of The Premiere Will Be Available Across Platforms
And On Demand On Sunday, January 28, Ahead Of State of The Union
LOS ANGELES, CA – January 6, 2018 – SHOWTIME released the official trailer for the new animated series OUR CARTOON PRESIDENT, executive produced by multiple Emmy® winner Stephen Colbert, Chris Licht (The Late Show with Stephen Colbert) and showrunner R.J. Fried. The half-hour parody series, debuting on Sunday, February 11 at 8 p.m. ET/PT, follows the tru-ish misadventures of the 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, and his merry band of advisors and family members. SHOWTIME will give viewers an early preview of the series, making the first episode of OUR CARTOON PRESIDENT available across multiple platforms online and On Demand on Sunday, January 28. 
To watch and share the trailer for OUR CARTOON PRESIDENT, go to:
The new 10-episode parody OUR CARTOON PRESIDENT examines the quintessentially Trumpian details of the presidency and his most important relationships, and no one is safe – from his close family and confidants to key political figures from both parties and members of the media. In this parallel cartoon universe, the Commander-in-Chief opens the White House doors for an “all access” look at a typical day in the life of the President of the United States. OUR CARTOON PRESIDENT is produced by CBS Television Studios and executive produced by Colbert, Licht and showrunner R.J. Fried. Tim Luecke will serve as lead animator and co-executive producer. Matt Lappin will serve as consulting producer. To learn more about OUR CARTOON PRESIDENT, follow@CartoonPres and join the conversation using #CartoonPresident.
SHOWTIME is currently available to subscribers via cable, DBS and telco providers, and as a stand-alone streaming service through Apple®, Roku®, Amazon, Google, Xbox One and Samsung. Consumers can also subscribe to SHOWTIME via Hulu, YouTube TV, Sling TV, DirecTV Now, Sony PlayStation® Vue and Amazon Channels. The network’s authentication service, SHOWTIME ANYTIME, is available at no additional cost to SHOWTIME customers who subscribe to the network through participating providers. Subscribers can also watch on their computers at
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