TCA Summer 2017 Tour: Quick Takes from CBS Presentations
Twice a year, various cable and networks attend the Television Critics Association’s Press Tour where they promote new and returning television shows through a series of daily panels and exclusive preview clips spanning over a two week period. The tour presentations provide a way for television shows to get traction and attention of the hundreds of TV critics who then in turn will hopefully write about and promote those shows to their various audiences via online and print media outlets.
This Summer’s TCA tour included presentation from CBS who presented on the 8th day of the tour. Here are some of the featured television shows and specials that caught our attention:
The CBS Executive Session was held with President Kelly Kahl and Sr. EVP Thom Sherman in attendance. It should be noted that both were relatively new to their positions at CBS and, while game to answer questions about CBS and its current programming, they could not fully answer every question simply because they had not been in their jobs long enough to know why certain CBS decisions had been made by their predecessors. This made the Executive Session a bit more challenging, to say the least.
Straight away, Kelly Kahl stated that, as a network, CBS is striving to stay ahead of the changes facing all networks in a world where streaming and demand for online content have pushed broadcast and cable networks into a race to keep up. Despite these challenges, CBS has attained a solid role as the most-watched network in primetime, daytime and late-night programming. Kahl was also quick to point out the difference of how CBS is not just looking at ratings, it knows that in today’s world of digital viewers that ratings do not gauge the total viewing audience and thus CBS is looking towards capturing eyeballs on all platforms (whether it is on Google, Facebook, etc.), not limited to viewers just watching on the television medium. He also gave shout-outs to James Corden, Stephen Colbert, and CBS’ Friday night flagship series BLUE BLOODS for outstanding performances across all mediums and platforms worldwide. That’s right: TV is not about just televised shows anymore, it is all creative content no matter how it is viewed or accessed — and it is not just about how a show performs in the U.S., it is about how it performs throughout the 200+ foreign distribution markets as well.
Thom Sherman also explained that CBS is looking to expand its existing palate and wants to showcase passion projects and different genres, while maintaining the loyal audience on CBS that they want to continue to serve.
As expected, the hot-button topics of the CBS exec session was the perceived the lack of diversity in the new crop of TV shows debuting on CBS this Fall and the recent HAWAII FIVE-O salary dispute involving Daniel Day Kim and Grace Park. Kahl clarified that, while CBS made very lucrative offers to them, ultimately that was not enough to convince them to stay with the show. As to the perceived lack of diversity as none of the new CBS shows have a female lead and 5 of the 6 have white male leads, Sherman said that there were in fact 6 shows that CBS had ordered to pilot with female leads, it is just that the network ultimate decided against going forward with those shows. Unfortunately, Sherman was not sure exactly what led to the final selection as he was new to the network. He did stated that CBS was aware of the diversity concerns and that they were working to expand the staff in its casting department to promote more diversification with its casting on all its shows.
One new CBS show that does have laud-worthy diversified cast is STAR TREK DISCOVERY, and Kahl was quick to admit that he would love to be able to move that show to CBS for primetime broadcast. But because STAR TREK DISCOVERY was developed specifically for CBS All Access and s depended upon as part of the CBS All Access business model and its success, it cannot be moved.
(Observation: CBS’ Fall 2017 TV shows seem to have a theme of “testosterone TV,” which is to say that all six of its new Fall shows — SEAL TEAM, WISDOM OF THE CROWD, ME MYSELF & I, 9JKL, YOUNG SHELDON, S.W.A.T are male-oriented and for me, as a woman, that is not a great selling point. Whereas, CBS All Access offers both THE GOOD FIGHT and STAR TREK DISCOVERY — both which are female-oriented and female-led shows. I will be definitely be watching more CBS Access as a result.)
One last note from the Executive Session, Kahl said CBS is happy with its summer drama SALVATION and while the rating numbers will determine its future, that the producers do have a plan for Season 2 if renewed.
One of the most anticipated new comedy series this Fall is undoubtably the new CBS series YOUNG SHELDON. With spot-on casting and narrated by THE BIG BANG THEORY’s Jim Parsons, the prequel series takes a look at early the life of Sheldon Cooper. Executive producer Chuck Lorre candidly admitted that he had been interested in writing about the origins of Sheldon for over 10 years and is grateful and excited that CBS finally wanted to do the series. Appearing for the YOUNG SHELDON panel were stars Jim Parsons and Iain Armitage (who viewers may recognize from HBO’s BIG LITTLE LIES) had already bonded to such a degree that they were practically answering questions for each other.
Jim Parsons described that when he learned about YOUNG SHELDON and was asked to be a part of it to narrate, “It was a moving experience to me to see something I have put a decade of my life toward.” He added to it was great getting to meet and talk with his costar Iain because, “I was able to interact with Iain a lot and discuss things that were peculiar to that character.” He also expansively added, “Iain is so much more in control as a human being than I was back then.” Executive Producer Steve Molaro explained that they deliberately set the show in 1989 when Sheldon was only 9 years old because Sheldon would still be very naive and vulnerable and thus would not be as cynical as his older counterpart. Thus, they wanted the show set at a time when Sheldon was more innocent and a hopeful version of Sheldon.As to the arc of the character and what the show will explore, executive producer Steve Molaro stated that it will explore highs and lows of having a kid like Sheldon and how it affects everybody around him.
As to how they selected Iain for the role of YOUNG SHELDON, the producers said, “He made us laugh… We just got extremely lucky.” When asked if he had seen THE BIG BANG THEORY, from which the show is based, Iain laughed and said that he had only seen a few age-appropriate clips. He quickly added, “[THE BIG BANG THEORY] is aimed at a different audience than me. Usually, I occupy my time by reading books and playing a lot.” Executive producer Chuck Lorre did cautiously admit that events in YOUNG SHELDON could have ripple-effects on the older version of Sheldon in THE BIG BANG THEORY as both shows go forward. Both shows are now inextricably linked. As to the concern that Sheldon’s dad died when he was 14, they are not worried about sticking to that exact timeframe on YOUNG SHELDON.
When it was noted that co-star Zoe Perry is portraying the younger version of the character that her real-life mom Laurie Metcalf portrays in THE BIG BANG THEORY, Zoe laughingly admitted, “Genetics do a lot for me.”
YOUNG SHELDON premieres Monday, September 25, 2017 and then a few weeks later will move to its regularly scheduled night and timeslot on Thursdays, starting November 2, 2017 on CBS.
ME, MYSELF & I
CBS’ new comedy series ME, MYSELF & I introduces a show where viewers follow a single character through three distinct points in his life: when a teenager, as a middle-aged man, and then as he is entering his senior years. As executive producer Dan Kopelman stated, “If we do our job right, you’re going to go along for the ride.” (Particularly, as viewers will have to adjust to watching three different actors for one character.) To help with the adjustment, star Bobby Moynihan said that he and his co-stars Jack Grazer and John Larroquette worked on “little tics” (looks, gestures, mannerisms) that they wanted their characters to all have to tie their characters through the various timelines.
Bobby Moynihan confessed that when he received the script for ME, MYSELF & I that he just fell in love with the role. After working on SNL for so long, he really wanted a role that showcased how much range he has as an actor. He also confessed, “I’m a sentimental person…and this [role] is perfect for me.”
Executive producer Dan Kopelman said that the second that John Larroquette was offered the role, he took it and they were then shooting just days later. Clearly, everyone was excited about the project and were anxious to get it going and to see how it would play out.
ME, MYSELF & I premieres Monday, September 25, 2017 on CBS.
CBS’ new high-octane drama S.W.A.T. is loosely-based on the earlier series of the same name, but is updated to modern times and instilled with a lot more of everything that made the original a success. Appearing for panel were executive producers Shawn Ryan and Aaron Rahsaas Thomas and Justin Lin, along with stars Shemar Moore, Jay Harrington, Kenny Johnson, Stephanie Sigman, Peter Onorati, Lina Esco. Right away, Shemar stated that his character is someone who sees both sides of Black Lives Matterand that is is really about “all lives matter.” To which, executive producer Aaron Rahsaas Thomas added that he always thought of the character that Shemar portrays as someone who understands both Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter, and that perspective would make interesting character. The idea came from wanting to have a character that had his foot on both sides of community and police, and forced to straddle both. He also emphasized that it is the show’s goal is to tell stories grounded in reality and stories with visceral action combined with entertaining elements.
For executive producer Shawn Ryan (creator of THE SHIELD and The CHICAGO CODE), “What appealed to me was looking at the police in a different way.” He explained that, “L.A. is such a diverse city. We wanted to see the police as people, as humans, as neighbors, as friends.” He wants viewers to see the characters on S.W.A.T. as heroes that are both “pro-police and pro-truth.” He said that viewers will embrace and recognize the truth when you show it to them. As to the appeal for him, executive producer Justin Lin said he happened to be researching the history of S.W.A.T. when he got the call about the show and he immediately knew that he wanted to work on the show to explore all the issues and the humanity behind it.
As for co-star Jay Harrington, he said that the cast had trained extensively and worked their “tails off” to honor those who serve in S.W.A.T and that they wanted to “get it right.” S.W.A.T. premieres Thursday, November 2, 2017 on CBS.
From a visit to the set of 9JKL, it was easy to see what sold the show to CBS — 9JKL was based on the real life of star Mark Feuerstein, who ended up living next door to his parents in an apartment in New York during the 8 years he filmed his prior series ROYAL PAINS. Not only was the concept a fun idea, but add to it that the fact that the co-creator and co-executive producer is Mark’s wife Dana Klein, with whom there is a natural and delightful chemistry between them, it is hard not to be swept away by the infectiousness of Mark and Dana as they promote the show. For example, Mark lovingly said, “I can tell you that when Josh finds his ‘meant to be’ — which is what Dana is for me — she will be perfection.” To which he added, “she is funny and she is kind and smart — and I am just in awe of my wife.” Co-starring in 9JKL are also Elliott Gould, Linda Lavin, David Walton, Albert Tsai, Matt Murray and Liza Lapira and the casting combination feels like a breezy, fruity cocktail on a beach in the tropics — it feels warm, relaxed, fun and hilarious at the same time. 9JKL is a comedy that aims for the heart. It wants its viewers to feel like they have found a family to love and spend time with. 9JKL premieres Monday, October 2, 2017 on CBS.
WISDOM OF THE CROWD
The new high-tech crime thriller series WISDOM OF THE CROWD has two goals: unmask the man who killed the daughter of high-tech guru Jeffrey Tanner and solve criminal cases along the way, all while seeking the assistance of everyday people to crowd-source information to track the killer and solve crimes for the police. WISDOM OF THE CROWD stars Jeremy Piven and Monica Potter, as the grieving parents, and Richard T. Jones, as the detective that finds himself entangled in these cases with them. There is an undeniable pull on viewer’s emotions to empathize with a father so driven to find his daughter’s killer that he will seek the help of everyone with a smartphone to track the man responsible down. Plus, the technology is really at our fingertips these days and it is easy to see how this might be something that could be happening and used already all around us — especially with Amber Alerts and TV bulletins being utilized already to aid law enforcement. Recognizing that crowd-sourcing crimes is essentially deputizing private citizens, executive producer Ted Humphrey explained that they will tackle that theory issue by thought-provokingly asking: “We all know the internet changed our lives, but the question is: into what?” WISDOM OF THE CROWD premieres Sunday, October 1, 2017 on CBS.
CBS’ new military drama SEAL TEAM strives to be one of the most accurate depictions of military life seen on television. It not only employs a number of military advisors, it also brought in a specially-trained police dog Dita (who also happens to steal every scenes she is in) in order to flesh out the team. Attending the Q&A panel were executive producers Benjamin Cavell, Sarah Timberman, Ed Redlich and Christopher Chulack, along with stars Jessica Paré, David Boreanaz, AJ Buckley, Max Thieriot, Neil Brown, Jr. and Toni Trucks. SEAL TEAM does not want to be simply a show about rescue missions and special ops assignments, it wants to showcase the people who are the Tier One operators behind the scenes and on these assignments.
Davod Boreanaz described it as: “It’s a workplace show. I really feel these characters and these people I sit up here with represent people that do things for a living — that while we all go home and go to bed and are cozy in our blankets at nighttime — there are people out there that are fighting for our freedom and are fighting for us.” He also said he was drawn to this particular character because of how when he comes home, it shows “how he deals with his own inner turmoils and how he deals with his personal life.” Such as, his character has a “nervous tick” with his hand, which represents him trying to get the blood off his hands after he lost a fellow member on this mission and how he cannot come to grips with it. He further explained that his character “lives in a very hypersensitive, fastpaced job, where they control chaos.” It is the Tier One operators who are “calm in chaos, where we all just freak out and run.” As executive producer Christopher Chulack explained, the show is: “A story about the study of the psyche of the men and women who are involved in these situations, so it’s not politics. It’s human study.” Executive producer Sarah Timberman added that she found it fascinating that: “A big part of when you meet the Tier One operators from the various [divisions] — not just the SEALs — but the Delta Force guys we met, some of the stories that have really struck us are about restraint. These guys are trained to use unbelievable firepower, and what, for me, is remarkable is when they choose not to.”
Even though they want to delve into the hearts and minds of these uniquely trained men with a special skill set and mind-set, the show also depicts and explores the physicality of being a Tier One operator as well. The cast had to learn how to move like the SEALs move. David admitted that, “It’s physically, a challenge” and co-star AJ Buckley laughingly added, “I had to jump and I had a 140 pound thing, plus a guy strapped tandem to me that was taller — it was tough.”
From the physical challenges to the emotional challenges and stressors, Sarah Timberman said there was a human cost for each of these men and women and SEAL TEAM will show that: “We’re also going to tell the stories about the toll that this war takes on the people that do it, personally.” SEAL TEAM premieres Wednesday, September 27, 2017 on CBS.
STAR TREK DISCOVERY
While not technically airing on CBS, as it will be available for streaming on CBS All Access, certainly one of the hottest sic-fi dramas this Fall is STAR TREK DISCOVERY. Appearing for the panel were: executive producers Akiva Goldsman, Heather Kadin, Gretchen Berg, Aaron Harberts, and Alex Kurtzman, along with stars Jason Isaacs (who plays Captain Gabriel Lorca of the USS Discovery), Mary Chieffo (who plays L’Rell, the battle deck commander of the Klingon ship), James Frain (who plays Ambassador Sarek), and Sonequa MartinGreen (who plays First Officer Michael Burnham).
[Note: Yes, the show deliberately gave its female star Sonequa a role with a male character name “Michael.” Thank Bryan Fuller for that fond gender-bending oddity. Bryan likes naming his female lead characters with male names in his TV shows.]
Straight off, executive producer Alex Kurtzman stated that STAR TREK DISCOVERY is “an incredibly ambitious show — and as we all sat down in the room — Bryan and I were really looking for a way to bring something new to Trek that both fans and people who’d never seen the show before could experience, and we also knew that, in order to justify it being on a premium cable service, it had to be huge.” There were not going to be any corners cut or expense saved to bring back a fan-favorite scifi show to television. [Note: It shows. The trailer for the series looks fantastic!]
As for Sonequa, she knows how vital a role she is portraying in STAR TREK DISCOVERY. She, herself, seems awed to be stepping into the shoes of those who came before in representing such an iconic universe. She remarked: “Our cups are running over with gratitude and excitement and with the we are bursting at the seams from the weight of it and the breadth of it, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to share this journey with you because we understand its significance, and we know that we are telling a story that we believe in. Everyone is so passionate. . . We don’t take it lightly. I certainly don’t. I feel like it’s a dream.” Carrying the weight of expectations of the STAR TREK on her shoulders, Sonequa understands that STAR TREK DISCOVERY is not just about the characters, but rather it is about the incredible questions off human-alien interaction and space exploration. She explained it as: “It is just about asking those really deep those deeply profound questions of — who am I, and who are you, and how do I relate to you? How do we live with each other? How do we make acculturation a twoway exchange rather than me dominating you or you dominating me?” Which, to her, is “one of the most beautiful pillars of STAR TREK. Finally, with the addition of James Frain who will portray Michael’s father Ambassador Sarek, Sonequa added: “I decided for my creation and for my background and whatnot that I was named after my father. And so, again, we sort of get a little bit of a little bit of exploration of the father-daughter dynamic — I think it’s a lovely symbol.”
Executive producer Aaron Harberts explained that: “the relationship between Michael and Sarek plays a huge part, not only in her backstory, but in where she was raised and what she brings to every ship she serves on. — and her time on Vulcan causes her to make several choices in our first episode, choices that will really have aftershocks throughout the entire series.” He further explained, “it’s been amazing to have James Frain here, playing Sarek, because what we are able to do is — much in the way that they did with Spock and Sarek in the films and on the show — we are able to tell father-daughter stories, and we are able to really drill down on particularly what’s interesting about a Vulcan raising a human child, and how that affects her and how she’s grown up with that.”
Then James Frain said for him: “From the perspective of playing a Vulcan, it’s been really interesting looking at the human world through those eyes of a people who have decided that emotion itself is barbaric and will always lead to war, that human beings are barbaric as a result and not to be trusted because they start wars and they kill people, and the Vulcans don’t do that anymore, not for hundreds of years. So it’s really that’s the kind of angle that my character is looking at the human world from.”
Another interesting perspective that has been added to STAR TREK DISCOVERY is Mary Chieffo’s role as L’Rell. Mary said: “I think the show has always been this exploration of the other – and speaking to the Klingon side of things — I think they’ve done a beautiful job of showing that both sides are human and both sides have humanity, and I think that it’s really beautiful to read the script and see these parallel stories going on and seeing how the conflicts arise.” She added: “I’ve found it’s really fun to see as L’Rell, my relationship within the Klingon world is so different from my relationship with the Federation . . . How I’m perceived there is so different from how I am within that world.” When queried as to whether she is portraying the villain of the series, Mary explained: “I love seeing the nuances between characters, and I just think that there’s a lot to be said for both sides, and I think that that’s something that’s always been true for this series and I think is just augmented even more and both sides’ capacity to love and to have compassion and passion for what they believe in. And I really hope and I truly believe that that will come across, and I think it’s a very important message that no one is actually the bad guy.”
No matter which side you try to see the viewpoint from, there will certainly be something interesting to see from the other side as STAR TREK DISCOVERY seeks to make each side look as appealing and persuasive as the other. It will make you want to root for each and wonder if there is a way to find common ground between them as they explore new frontiers through the universe and beyond.
STAR TREK DISCOVERY premieres Sunday, September 24, 2017 on CBS All Access.
That’s a wrap on the network and studio presentations from Day 8 of the Summer 2017 Television Critics Association Tour. As a reminder: be sure to mark your calendars for the upcoming new series and specials as you do not want to miss out on the next great TV show that everyone will be talking about.