New Daily Show Host Trevor Noah’s Private Performance Before a Very Tough Crowd

All eyes were on Trevor Noah Tuesday night at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. But it wasn’t the comedian’s average stand-up gig. Noah, who in less than two months will take over the ultra high profile job as host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” from Jon Stewart, faced a very tough crowd—members of the Television Critics Assn.

It was his first in-person appearance before the group, many of whom will go on to report on and dissect his every move when he inherits the mantle Sept. 28 from the beloved Stewart, who has not only won countless Emmy awards during his 16-year tenure but has disrupted the media landscape with his take on world events and domestic politics.

Seemingly impervious to the intense scrutiny, the 31-year-old Soweto, South Africa native, wearing a gray suit, black shirt and black sneakers, confidently commanded the stage for a nearly hour-and-a-half long set.

Noah riffed on everything from being pulled over by the police to traveling from Africa during the Ebola crisis to various forms of racism he’s encountered in the United States, eliciting laughter and cheers throughout his performance.

“I find myself falling into traps. I always fly into the U.S. on Middle Eastern airlines. I feel that there’s less of a chance someone would take out that plane,” he said, before launching into a skit in which he impersonated one Muslim talking down another one bent on blowing up the plane in the name of Allah.

“Muslims used to be the blacks of the sky. How quickly we change our focus,” he said in discussing travel issues he faced during the Ebola crisis, which included a humorous take on being wanded by TSA agents and being forced to take off almost all his clothes.

The bit concluded with his description of a Mexican agent named Velasquez, whom he saw as a master of his craft—and a Mexican Jedi. That got him wondering why there are no Latino Jedis in “Star Wars.” “’ Star Wars is a vision of America in the distant future. Would it be safe to say in a galaxy far, far away that there are no Mexicans?”

Noah touched on his background. Born of a white mother and an African father, the family was poor, as was everyone else in the township, preventing anyone from making fun of them. He said he was the first in his family to fly on a plane—and get kicked off of one.

He then launched into a discussion of various types of racism. “In South Africa, we have top-quality racism. Handcrafted racism. Now racism is cheap and mass-produced and probably made in China.”

In the United States, he finds what he called blatant racism – often by old people – and subtle racism, where people leave a series of clues that Noah said he doesn’t like to work for, and his favorite, what he called “charming American racism.”

“When I played in Lexington, Kentucky, it was racism with a smile,” Noah said, relating a story where a man passed him on the street and said “Good afternoon, [n-word]” and a Southern belle-type woman told him after his performance, “You are by far the funniest and most handsomest [n-word] ever.”

Noah referenced the shootings of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Michael Brown and discussed the news coverage of each and how it morphed into questioning each victims’ character. “Who was Trayvon Martin and why was he wearing a hoodie?”

He also noted that when there is black gun violence it’s always called gang-related by the media but when it’s a white person with a gun, the shooter is termed a lone gunman, mentally unstable, who had no friends.

“I refuse to live in a world where a white man is denied the label of terrorist,” he said about the gunman who last month shot nine people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina.

After the performance, Noah spoke with reporters crowded around him for about 10 minutes, where naturally the hot topic was what he will do differently than Jon Stewart.

“I think of it as evolution as opposed to revolution,” he said. “I’m a big fan of ‘The Daily Show,’ so for me to break it would be blasphemy in my world. So right now I’m looking for a way to incorporate the new media while still keeping the core of what the show is.”

Noah faced the media again in a TCA panel on Wednesday at the Beverly Hilton, answering more questions about what the show will look like under his tutelage–and the controversy that arose after his hiring. He also accepted some compliments about his performance the previous night.

He was introduced by Comedy Central’s president of original programming Kent Alterman, who called him the perfect choice to take over for Stewart. “Trevor is wickedly funny and has incredible charm and a broad comedic sensibility,” said Alterman, who also announced that all senior staff of “TDS” will stay in place for the transition.

The first order of business is Stewart’s farewell, Noah said, and it’s almost certain that he will appear on the final edition of the show, taping Thursday, August 6.

Yet changes will obviously emerge, as Noah comes at comedy from a different perspective than Stewart. “The way you approach a story depends on your point of view. The way you look at comedy depends on your point of view. So, Jon is a white, 52-year-old Jewish guy who grew up in New Jersey. I am a 31-year-old, half black, half white South African who’s lived in America for a few years on and off. So the way we look at the same story will be completely different.”

Yet Stewart’s are huge shoes to fill.

“The biggest pressure for me is living up to the expectations that Jon has of me. I never dreamed that I’d be sitting here in this chair talking to you now about hosting the show. I guess Jon knew something about me that I didn’t,” Noah said. “There is an immense pressure for me to live up to that legacy and keep that flagship going.”

The shape of the media landscape “TDS” lampoons has shifted, although many targets will remain the same.

“’The Daily Show’ was based on an emerging 24-hour news cycle. It was this big thing that came out, and that’s what inspired the show. Now you look at news and it’s changing. It’s no longer around 24-hour news, but there are so many different sources, half of it is online, like the Gawkers and Buzzfeeds of the world,” Noah said. “The way people are absorbing the news in soundbites and headlines and clickbait links has changed everything. So the biggest challenge — and it’s going to be an exciting one — is how do we bring all of that together, looking at it through a bigger lens as opposed of going after just one source, which was historically Fox News.”

The topic of dealing with race came up when Noah was asked about a recently revealed yet years-old disagreement between former “TDS” correspondent Wyatt Cenac and Stewart about his impersonation of Herman Cain, who at the time was a presidential candidate.

“It wasn’t a bad joke,” Noah said. “Anyone can feel offended. We have a diverse staff. That’s the whole point of having a great writing team. I may be the face of the show, but we’re finding the best way to tell jokes. That’s what the writers room is for. When you see it on the air we’ve already fought about it there.”

 

Noah addressed what some saw as a manufactured controversy about some of his tweets from 2 ½ years ago, which joke about women and Jews. He noted that Twitter used to be a place where people put out jokes but that now it has become a sea of negativity, and that Vine has taken over what Twitter once was.

“If someone sent out 9,000 tweets and you didn’t like five of them… I don’t strive to be offensive. When you know a person, you know the context,” he said. “I knew there would be some sort of backlash or furor. An announcement is made that someone is being replaced, someone’s going to say something about it. A lot of people won’t like it, a lot of people will like it. I didn’t know what the thing would be, though. ‘Will it be about the fact that I’m not an American? Will it be about the fact that I’m a black person?’ Then they went with that [his old tweets], which was an interesting choice. But I knew that something would come of it.”

And here it is, your moment of Zen.

“Luckily Comedy Central hasn’t limited me to 140 characters on the show. So I should be able to say things in a better, well-formed way.”

An Incendiary Look at the History of Nuclear Weapons on PBS’s ‘The Bomb’

The producers of PBS’s new special “The Bomb” could not have predicted the current furor over the Iran nuclear deal while they were making their two-hour documentary, whose airing was timed to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the detonation of the atomic bomb.

Yet since its inception, the bomb and its terrifying destructive power have never been far from the headlines, the minds of world leaders or the imagination of the public.

“The Bomb” takes viewers behind the scenes of the development of the first atomic bomb during World War II with the Manhattan Project and how it changed history and reshaped global politics.

But for those who did not live through the Cold War and the constant fear of a U.S.-Soviet nuclear war, the film will bring the era graphically to life.

The documentary uses rare footage from detonation tests from the 1950s and 60s that show the awesome power of nuclear explosions. With interviews from diplomats, historians, scientists, weapons designers, pilots and those who lived and worked with the atomic bomb, the film focuses on the choices society has made up until the present day to live with an invention that could destroy the planet.

“These explosions are horrible and horrific but there’s a strange irony that they’re visually compelling and almost beautiful in a way,” writer and director Rushmore DeNooyer said in a phone interview. “I’m a history buff, but I didn’t know much of anything after the war ended. I found the whole story a lot more compelling.”

DeNooyer said he always knew about Robert Oppenheimer, heralded as the father of the bomb, but not much about Leslie Groves, the general whom Oppenheimer worked with in tandem to develop the weapon.

Beginning in 1942, the basic atomic bomb research was carried out–mainly at Columbia University and the University of Chicago–and then project plants were established at Oak Ridge, Tenn., Hanford, Wash. and the secluded Los Alamos installation in northern New Mexico.

“Oppenheimer and Groves were opposites, but they worked together perfectly to get it done. I didn’t know how quickly things turn dark – very dark,” he said. “They were racing to prevent Hitler from getting the bomb. But Germany surrenders, and the bomb is ready three to four months later. They never set out to use it against Japan. They started debating the whole idea of what it would take for Japan to surrender. A lot of people don’t understand how difficult it was. There’s controversy today: would they surrender if we allowed them to keep the Emperor, which we did.  And the 50th anniversary of the bombing in Hiroshima and Nagasaki turned into a huge controversy there.”

After three years of feverish work on the weapon by the military, there was huge momentum to use it. “It’s not fair to judge with the benefit of hindsight,” DeNooyer said. “In 1945, they didn’t know much about the effects. A lot of them thought it was just a bigger bomb–just one bomb and one airplane, in their minds.”

The bombings of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which killed 129,000 people in attacks three days apart, remain the only instances in which nuclear weapons have been used in warfare.

As a viewer, it’s staggering to watch the video of nuclear tests with witnesses who are apparently unaware of the effects of radiation. It’s shocking to learn the U.S. Navy detonated underwater nuclear explosions without much knowledge of the contamination of its ships, the ocean and the effects on crew members.

“In the summer of 1946, events happened at lightning speed. In June, we proposed total nuclear disarmament but that broke down in arguments between the Americans and the Soviets,” DeNooyer said. “In July, with the first public test off the island of Bikini, the Navy wanted to prove that it was still relevant. They exploded two bombs, an environmental disaster, and a painful lesson. Ships were covered with radioactive steam, and no one had planned for that.”

The anti-nuclear movement can be traced to August 1946, when The New Yorker magazine devoted an entire issue to a 31,000 word essay called “Hiroshima” by John Hersey, which gave the public its first highly detailed look at what life was like for those who survived a nuclear bomb –and created arguments about it which we are still having today.

Memories of “duck and cover” drills, bomb shelters and the Cuban Missile Crisis still resonate with many Americans, but the Cold War ended, the Berlin Wall came down and for a time, it seemed like nuclear danger was at bay.

“But it’s still there and just as dangerous and horrific as it always was,” DeNooyer said. “The number of weapons has been reduced, although we still have thousands, and we don’t have bombers circling Russia. But with India and Pakistan having the bomb, a small nuclear war could happen and end up using 30 or 40 bombs which would affect the climate of the whole planet, produce crop destruction and a huge amount of smoke and a tremendous amount of heat. Cities would be burned. Hiroshima was set on fire by the bomb. With nuclear bombs, you don’t get a second chance.”

DeNooyer spent a year and a half working on the documentary and said, “I really want people to see it and get a sense of the huge epic story of the bomb.”

(“The Bomb” premieres on PBS Tuesday, July 28 at 8 p.m. ET– check local listings.)

 

 

Brace Yourselves for Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! Tonight on Syfy

Obviously, Los Angeles was not enough – and neither was New York– because the ravenous sharks are back in Syfy’s “Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!,” premiering tonight.

This time, the entire Eastern Seaboard from Washington, D.C. all the way down to Orlando, Fla. is in jeopardy of mass destruction from the freak storms that spew vicious, man-eating sharks like raindrops from their churning, tornado-like clouds.

But never fear, because Ian Ziering as the aptly named Fin is again revving up his chainsaw to save the United States from the bloody devastation, with help from Cassie Scerbo as Nova.

Also on board is returning favorite Tara Reid as April from the original made-for- television movies—“Sharnado” and “Sharnado 2”– that became a pop culture sensation and megahits for the cable network.

All have been directed by Anthony C. Ferrante and written by Thunder Levin.

Fans are in for a treat with performances from David Hasselhoff, who plays Fin’s father and Bo Derek, who play’s April’s mom. Nickelodeon stars Ryan Newman and Jack Griffo also have juicy roles and Mark McGrath returns as Martin.

But what is really fun about this latest installment of the Sharnado canon are the large numbers of cameos – everyone from Mark Cuban to Rick Fox to Ne-Yo, Kathie Lee and Hoda, Frankie Muniz, Penn Jillette & Teller, Ann Coulter, Chris Jericho, Jackie Collins, Lou Ferrigno, Jerry Springer, Michele Bachmann, Kim Richards, Kendra Wilkinson, Holly Madison, Reza Farahan, Ray J and Jedward. Even, gulp, Anthony Weiner!

Which ones of them will survive the Sharknado? Viewers in the U.S. and those in 87 other countries will soon find out.

(“Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!,” premieres on Syfy Wednesday, July 22 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.)

 

 

Riveting Documentary Chronicles the Life of Amy Winehouse

It will soon be four years to the day the tragic news came down that singer Amy Winehouse had died at age 27, a death in her London flat that was later ruled as accidental alcohol poisoning.

Her brief and tumultuous life is harrowingly chronicled in a new feature-length documentary, “Amy,” which utilizes home movies of her childhood and young adulthood, studio rehearsal footage and interviews with friends, family and people in the music industry who knew her well.

Filmmaker Asif Kapadia, like Winehouse, grew up in North London. “Something happened with Amy Winehouse and I wanted to know how that happened in front of our eyes,” the director said. “How can someone die like that in this day and age? And it wasn’t a shock; I almost knew it was going to happen. You can see she was going down a certain path.”

Yet as a viewer, watching clips featured in the documentary of Winehouse as a vibrant teenager with a powerful voice, there is overwhelming sadness that her story did not have to end in tragedy.

Kapadia wanted to explore it in detail. “For me, she was like a girl from down the road. I grew up in the same part of the world. It could be someone I knew, someone I was friends with or might have gone to school with.”

He and editor Chris King and producer James Gay-Rees began assembling footage and came up with the concept of telling the story through Winehouse’s lyrics, which hauntingly appear on screen throughout the film, often as she seen in the studio or performing.

The filmmakers delved into unraveling the meaning behind the lyrics, seeking an understanding of Winehouse’s being.

“Everyone knew she could sing, but maybe people didn’t realize how well she could write. She wrote the music herself as well. The whole thing was her,” said Kapadia.

After they decided on using the songs and lyrics as the narrative vehicle of the film, they began the interview process of trying to find the right subjects. Often in such cases, there is a definitive book that can be used as source material, but not with Winehouse. The books written about her were inconsistent with each other, with a good amount of conflicting information.

“With Amy it became apparent that no one knew the story, or that people were not willing to tell it,” said Kapadia. In an effort to get to the heart of the story, they conducted more than 100 interviews with 80 people in a difficult process that took more than a year.

“She had her old friends, her famous friends, her new friends and not so famous friends and she would present different versions of herself to all these different people so they all had completely different reflections and experiences of her,” Gay-Rees said.

It’s left to the viewer to sort out the divergent remembrances from people including girlhood friends Juliette Ashby and Lauren Gilbert, her first manager Nick Shymansky and the great love of her life, Blake Fielder-Civil, whom she married and divorced. Their up-and-down relationship paused her great agony that is reflected in her lyrics, particularly in her first huge hit album, “Back to Black.” Later, the couple was dogged by media everywhere they went as their drug use together spiraled out of control.

Another key person in Winehouse’s life, her father Mitch, is also shown to be someone who caused her both huge distress and great pleasure. He has since distanced himself from the film, saying he does not approve of the way it characterizes his daughter or their relationship.

Despite the fact that he left Winehouse’s mother Janis for another woman when she was 9 years old and that she grew up in a broken home, Amy later made him her manager and is shown at her essence to be a daddy’s girl who sought his love and attention.

Yet as she struggled with drug addiction, bulimia and constant harassment by the media as her fame exploded, her father is portrayed as seeming mainly interested in keeping her working– and the huge amount of money flowing in.

“Amy was just a suburban, Jewish kid from North London who became this phenomenon,” Gay-Rees sums up. “Amy was not a Justin Bieber. She wasn’t a Disney kid.”

–Hillary Atkin

Inaugural Edition of SeriesFest Showcases Best New TV Pilots Across the Spectrum

It’s always challenging putting on a first-time event and the organizers of the first SeriesFest, which took place June 18 through 21st in Denver, pulled it off in fine fashion.

The festival spotlighted independent episodic television along with entries from cable and broadcast networks that were screened at Denver’s Sie FilmCenter– home of partner organization the Denver Film Society – from morning until late in the evening.

Many featured Q&A’s with the creators and talent after the screening and there was ample time for networking between showings and at afterparties that took place at Union Station and Denver’s Cable Center.

SeriesFest kicked off with a dramatic evening at one of the nation’s most spectacular amphitheaters, Red Rocks outside Denver. After a private reception at the trading post down the hill with its spectacular views of the natural rock formations, organizers Randi Kleiner and Kaily Smith Westbrook welcomed the crowd and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper appeared on stage to inaugurate the festival.

But in the middle of comedian Whitney Cumming’s set, a surprise downpour sent audience members scrambling for cover. Yet the storm didn’t dampen the reception for headliner John Legend, who played a grand piano and performed some of his greatest hits in an hour-long set that also included a well-received cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark.”

Twenty-six official selections screened in competition and showcased programs by emerging and established creators and directors. The pilots featured talent including Malcolm McDowell, John Glover, Alan Thicke, Missy Pyle, Keith Powell, Michael Raymond James, Rachel Dratch and Mary Lynn Rajskub.

ABC screened two new dramas, “Quantico” and “Blood and Oil,” starring Don Johnson, Delroy Lindo and Chace Crawford. USA Network showcased a new original series about computer hacking, “Mr. Robot,” starring Christian Slater and Rami Malek, who plays a young programmer who works as a cyber-security engineer by day and as a vigilante hacker by night.

Starz previewed the first two episodes of Season 2 of “Survivor’s Remorse,” about a star basketball player in Atlanta and the challenges he and his family face in adopting from their modest roots to fame and fortune.

Also screened were HBO’s “Sex On//”; the series premiere of AMC’s “Humans”; the North American premiere of BBC Four’s “Detectorists”; a sneak preview of FX’s “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll”; the world premiere of Condé Nast Entertainment’s “Our Story,” a Glamour original series and the series premiere of Fusion’s “Outpost.”

Here is a full list of awards given by the SeriesFest jury:

 

Best Pilot:             “Witnesses”

 

Jury Statement:     “This was such a tough decision. There were so many sensational pilots to choose from. ‘Witnesses’ had such an intriguing premise and it made us eager to see the next episode. We found ourselves thoroughly engaged by the actors, writing and director. Congratulations to everyone involved with ‘Witnesses’.”

 

Best Actor:            Robert Olsen, “Dispatch”

 

Jury Statement:     “Robert Olsen captured our attention from the first frame of ‘Dispatch’. His genuine likeability and subtle comedic timing made us want to watch more.”

 

Best Actress:        Lisa King Hawkes, “Zero Point”

 

Jury Statement:     “Lisa King Hawkes brings a simmering sadness and strength to the role of Dr. Alex Embry in ‘Zero Point’. Much of the pilot is spent focused on her face and she carries the story like a season pro.”

 

Best Director:       Alex Calleros, Michael Tucker, “Anamnesis”

 

Jury Statement:     “The screen is a canvas for directors. Alex and Michael took us on a journey in the pilot ‘Anamnesis’. From sweeping vistas to small details, their visual

storytelling masterfully created a compelling world.”

 

Best Writer:         Guy Shalem, “Family Style”

 

Jury Statement:     “A smart and original comedy that explores what happens when a family decides to open up a pop-up restaurant in their home to make ends meet –

the clever and witty pilot promises many seasons of fresh characters and funny situations.”

 

“We are thrilled to name ‘Witnesses’ the Best Pilot of SeriesFest: Season One,” said Randi Kleiner, CEO of SeriesFest.  “Congratulations to all of our winners. We are extremely proud of all the pilots that screened in the inaugural competition and cannot wait to see what the future holds for each.”

 

SeriesFest’s group of Season One jurors hailed from television and the big screen including Oscar-winner Dan Jinks as well as distinguished producers Carter Covington and Ophira Dagan in addition to a veteran of premium cable and network television, Sharon Allen.

–Hillary Atkin

 

Documentary Sheds New Light on the Story of Anne Frank

It is the most well-known personal story to come out of the Holocaust, the journey of young Anne Frank, her family and friends who hid from the Nazis for more than two years before they were betrayed and discovered in their hiding place in Amsterdam and sent to concentration camps.

Much of the story was of course documented by a teenaged Anne in her iconic diary, which was rescued and later published worldwide by her father, Otto, the only survivor of the group.

The Franks, another family, the Van Pels and a friend, Fritz Pfeffer, had been living in a secret annex at the top of Otto Frank’s office building when they were arrested on August 4, 1944.

Yet no matter how familiar the narrative may be, a new two-hour documentary titled “Anne Frank’s Holocaust” sheds new light on the tragic saga, adding dimensions and additional details that are not widely known about the events leading up to the capture, how it went down and what exactly happened afterward.

“For the first time, the story is told from her captors’ side, taking Anne and her seven companions through the Holocaust, where they were no longer considered individuals, but tragically, a disposal problem. By telling this story in this way, we reveal the full horror of the Holocaust, and also document the heroism of those who managed to endure, and survive,” said Erik Nelson, the director and executive producer.

 

“Anne Frank’s diaries have sold in excess of 30 million copies since they were first published in 1947,” says historian and author Martin Morgan in the film. “They tell the story of her life, and her dreams. But the story of her death is important as well, because it reveals the full terrible dimensions of the Holocaust.”

 

Adding to the overarching impact of a story that demonstrates the absolute evils of human nature as well as the purest of positive emotions are rare photographs and cinematography techniques blending past and present that are used throughout the documentary. There is even the only known film footage of Anne, standing on a balcony.

Especially resonant are the interviews with people who actually knew the young girl, who was described as highly intelligent, lively and vivacious. Against incredible odds, Hannah Goslar-Pick, a childhood friend of Anne’s interviewed for the film, was reunited with her friend at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

 

“First thing when we met we were crying, because it was really a miracle that we met each other again amidst millions of people,” she says. “It was not the same Anne I knew from Holland, the nice little spicy girl. She was frightened and she was without hope. It was awful.”

 

Anne Frank was killed shortly before the camp was liberated.

 

Yet the filmmakers were honored to bring these anecdotes to light. “Two women we discovered, [including Goslar-Pick] now in their late 80’s, were friends with Anne before her exile and arrest in Amsterdam, and miraculously reunited with her in her last desperate months, giving Anne some kind of companionship and hope. We were able to locate and interview them on their incredible encounter,” Nelson said.

 

The filmmaking process was conducted by a production team well-versed in the study of the Holocaust, with research on the documentary beginning in 2008.

 

“Our current film incorporates our many connections with archives and scholars, with the location filming being done with our Berlin-based producer and cinematographer, Gavin Hodge,” said Nelson.  

 

The film also explores what remains of Germany’s worst death camp, Sobibor, which the Nazis tried to blast out of existence before the end of the war in an attempt to cover up the atrocities that were committed there.

 

Even as “Anne Frank’s Holocaust” reveals incredible tales of bravery and tragedy, it also provides a searing new take on the brutality of Auschwitz, Sobibor and Bergen-Belsen. While the accounts are tragic, burdened with the massive loss of human life, the retelling of this story denies the Nazis their victory over history.

 

“Her story puts a human face on an incomprehensible tragedy, and allows to humanize and continually re-interpret and research a human disaster that took the lives of six million other men, women and children, victims who were denied an opportunity to create something as enduring as the Anne Frank diary, or even to live out their lives,” Nelson said.

–Hillary Atkin

(“Anne Frank’s Holocaust” premieres on National Geographic Channel Sunday, June 21 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.)

 

 

 

Henson and Howard Make Their Own Empire Hosting Spike TV Guys Choice Awards

Those anxiously awaiting the return of Fox’s breakout hit “Empire” can get a bit of a fix when Taraji P. Henson and Terence Howard cohost the ninth annual Spike TV Guys Choice Awards, airing June 18.

It’s an always irreverent proceeding – with awards like ”Decade of Hotness” and “Biggest Ass Kicker” that nonetheless draws a stable of A-listers. In addition to the hosts, this year that list includes Sir Ben Kingsley, Clint Eastwood, Selma Hayek, Jake Gyllenhaal, Dwayne Johnson, Liam Neeson, Floyd Mayweather and Robert DeNiro.

“We’re here for one reason, because black people are taking over TV,” exclaimed Henson as the taping began on a soundstage at Sony Pictures Studios on June 6. It was dressed in a ski lodge theme, to “make white folks comfortable about the takeover,” Howard said.

It was fitting that Robert DeNiro, who famously played a boxer in “Raging Bull,” presented “The Best Ever” award to Mayweather, who thanked fans and U.S. troops. “I will think about you fighting for our country,” he said.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt gave the “Brass Balls” award to Kingsley. “It’s great to be honored for that I love,” said the esteemed actor, who stars in the upcoming “Self/less” and the miniseries “Tut.” “I will now kiss my balls.”

Kingsley in turn presented another film star, Neeson, with the “Biggest Ass Kicker” trophy.

Mary J. Blige appeared to present an honor and dubbed Henson’s “Empire” character, Cookie Lyon, as HBIC, head bitch in charge. “Superstars don’t happen overnight. It takes years. I earned this effing honor,” Henson said in accepting the “Jean Claude Gahd Damn” award.

Eastwood looked out at the audience and thanked all the service people that were in attendance before anointing Johnson with the “Troops Choice” award. (He also made a crack about Caitlyn Jenner that will reportedly be cut from the broadcast.)

Johnson then lauded Eastwood as one of his heroes. “One of the reasons I do what I do is because we all live in a country where we are free,” he said, and then called up dozens of troops on stage before announcing a new show for them on Veterans Day of next year called “Rock the Troops.” “We will take some of the biggest stars in movies and music overseas to honor you,” he promised.

Hayek also acknowledged the armed forces in accepting her mantlers for “Decade of Hotness.” “From going to Kosovo in 1999, I learned that they depend on each other, that there is no discrimination that they are brothers and sisters.”

Gyllenhaal was presented the “Guyconic” trophy by Rachel McAdams. “It’s a pleasure to be on the set of ‘The Shining,’” he said. “If this gives me anything, it is the opportunity to thank the Armed Forces.”

Triumph the Insult Comic Dog—a regular at Guys Choice for the past few years– took to the podium with a list of “douchebags of the year,” and it was a long one. Included were Josh Duggar, Johnny Depp, Brian Williams, Ben Affleck, Bill Cosby, Dr. Oz, Robert Durst, Tom Brady, Warren Sapp, Adrian Peterson, Roger Goodell, Alex Rodriguez, Zayn Malik, Dennis Hastert, and the “Entourage” movie—for being “a date rape—I mean night movie.”

Chelsea Handler became the first female ever to be awarded the coveted mantlers for the “Funniest M.F.” award.

 

And Chris Pratt, star of the blockbuster “Jurassic World,” went home with the Guy of the Year award.

 –Hillary Atkin

(“Guys Choice 2015” premieres on Spike TV Thursday, June 18 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.)

Randall Park to Host Inaugural Edition of New Global TV Awards

There’s a new television awards show coming down the pike. Set for September 12, the first Global TV Awards will celebrate achievements in television as chosen by viewers from more than 200 countries.

The kudofest, to be held at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Los Angeles, will be hosted by Randall Park, star of the ABC comedy “Fresh off the Boat” and Sony Pictures’ “The Interview.”

The show will be live streamed on Viki, a television content site that subtitles popular programs from around the world, which is partnering with Variety for the presentation. The event, beginning with a red carpet, is expected to draw about 2,000 people, including television talent and influencers from Hollywood and Asia who have contributed to the evolution of global television.

“We’re incredibly excited about the Global TV Awards, an unprecedented opportunity to celebrate with our passionate fans,” said Tammy H. Nam, CEO of Viki, who created the concept for the show. “Variety is the number one authority in what’s newsworthy and relevant in the entertainment industry, and we’re honored to be partnering with them for this event.”

The launch of the Global TV Awards was announced last week during TUNE IN: Variety’s TV Summit 2015, an annual confab examining trends in the television industry.

“Viki represents an exciting part of the future of digital entertainment: global content, highly engaged viewers, any device. Basically, no barriers,” said Variety Executive Editor Steven Gaydos.. “We started TUNE IN so that leaders in our industry can get together to discuss, learn and explore the future of entertainment; the Global TV Awards is an extension of this mission, and we’re excited to be a part of its inception.”

–Hillary Atkin

This Will Have You ROLF–The AFI Tribute to Steve Martin

What do you get when you put Tina Fey, Jack Black, Dan Aykroyd, Amy Poehler, Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Martin Short, Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah, Lily Tomlin, Steve Carell, Conan O’Brien and Sarah Silverman in a room together? One hell of a rollicking good time filled with laughs, all in celebration of the illustrious career of Steve Martin.

The actor, playwright, comedian, author, banjo player and producer was honored with the 43rd AFI Life Achievement Award in ceremonies taped June 4 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, bestowed upon him by another comedy legend, Mel Brooks, the 41st such honoree of the American Film Institute.

After introductory remarks from AFI Board Chair Sir Howard Stringer and the institute’s president Bob Gazzale, the evening’s festivities kicked off with a drum roll and a color guard introduction of Jack Black, who set the tone for the night with a funny a capella version of the “The Thermos Song” from “The Jerk.”

Then, a clip reel of just a few of Martin’s numerous “greatest hits” rolled, an array of bits going back to his days as a rock star standup comic in the late 1970s to his appearances on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” and “Saturday Night Live” to scenes from “Pennies from Heaven,” “The Jerk” and “Father of the Bride.”

“Steve Martin gave me some great showbiz advice,” said Fey, his co-star in “Baby Mama.” “Advice like ‘to be early is to be on time and never shake hands when an open mouth kiss would suffice. Fix your nose or your teeth, but not both.’ I’ve learned so much from you, Steve, and then you end up marrying a woman who’s a younger, smarter version of me. You’re a genius.”

The camera cut to a grinning Martin with wife Anne Stringfield, who bears a remarkable resemblance to Fey.

Aykroyd spoke after the inevitable – and highly anticipated – clips of their beloved, bumbling escapades as “Two Wild and Crazy Guys” on “SNL.”

“We first met on ‘SNL’ and he asked me to come to Saks with him to look at sweaters. Steve left and never spoke to me. I worked on [creating] the hedonistic, swinging Czech brothers, and then four decades of the Blues Brothers,” Aykroyd recalled. “Steve, I owe you a living.”

Interspersed with the parade of Martin’s co-stars to the podium, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks and Ron Howard also paid tribute and offered their reminiscences via video.

“He’s the whitest man on Earth who ever lived,” remarked Queen Latifah, who starred opposite Martin in “Bringing Down the House.” “In college, he took white studies. Usually when I hear white people playing banjo, it’s time to leave,” she concluded, to roars of laughter from the audience.

Poehler also commented on Martin’s banjo playing. “Man with banjo, it’s the grey period, from 1970 to tonight,” she said about his artistry. “He’s the Mona Lisa of comedy.”

Carell took a different approach when speaking about his relationship with Martin. “I for one hate Steve Martin. But I ripped him off. ‘Roxanne’ is pretty much ‘Foxcatcher.’ He’s better, smarter and funnier. But I know he’s not a good lover.”

But it was Short, Martin’s frequent co-star in projects including “!Three Amigos!” and two installments of “Father of the Bride,” in addition to their “SNL” skits, who had the crowd continually in stitches.

“I’m so happy… that the Vicodin and Xanax are taking effect,” he began, and then launched into tracing Martin’s career in a set that will likely be edited for the broadcast of the ceremonies. “He started turning tricks at Disneyland, offering to pleasure strange men in the parking lot. Then Walt Disney asked him, ’Jew or not a Jew?’”

As the audience roared with laughter, Short continued by saying, “Steve is needy, vindictive and overrated. He’s received many awards– but this one is not deserved.”

Yet Short, who will share some tour dates with Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers beginning this summer and is obviously getting well warmed up, did have this compliment for his friend, “I think he’s ‘fucksy’– funny and sexy.”

There was much, much more– so no further spoilers – before Short ended in performing a song by Edie Brickell, Martin’s frequent musical collaborator.

When it came time for Brooks to present Martin with the honor, he started off sincerely before letting his natural comedic instincts take over. “He sticks his hand in his fly and does amazing things,” Brooks said of Martin. “He keeps winning awards. But Steve, tear down this wall. Let Jews and blacks and women back into comedy.”

“How do I top this parade of stars–easy,” said the man of the hour, to thunderous applause and a standing ovation from a crowd of about 1,000 people. “But to quote Jack Benny, I don’t really deserve this.”

– Hillary Atkin

(“43rd AFI Life Achievement Award to Steve Martin” premieres on TBS on Saturday, June 13 at 10:00 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. ET/PT.  An encore showing is set on TCM on Thursday, July 30, at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT as part of an all-night tribute to Martin’s films.)

 

The Inside Stories of ‘Mad Men’s’ Grand Finale

It was a panacea for all those suffering withdrawal symptoms from the end of the adventures of Don Draper & Co., a packed house at the WGA Theater in Beverly Hills for the Writers Guild Foundation’s “Inside the Writers Room with Mad Men,” a Q&A with series creator Matthew Weiner and his writing staff who worked on the final season of the AMC drama.

Moderated by another of television’s legendary creators, Matt Groening of “The Simpsons,” the May 28 event featured more than two hours of inside anecdotes about challenges and rewards for the creative team, production of the show and character development and casting on the award-winning series, which premiered in 2007 and concluded on May 17.

Groening got things off to a rousing start by screening a Simpsons-style spoof of the “Mad Men” opening, with Homer Simpson slo-mo falling through office buildings to the tune of the famous theme music, before landing on a bench smoking a cigarette.

When Weiner first pitched his plans to AMC, he knew the ending — Draper sitting lotus-style at a California ashram modeled on Esalen in 1970, meant to signify the shift under way in American culture at the time.

Four years ago, when he was in difficult and lengthy negotiations with the network, he wanted to be able to tell people how the series would wrap up if he himself had to leave. It was at that point that an iconic Coca-Cola commercial came into his head.

“I was like, ‘Oh, of course — that’s the ‘70s,’” Weiner told the audience. “I liked the poetry of it.”

In discussing the finale, which was filmed last July, Weiner said he was amazed that 150 people could keep it a secret for so long, and that he had doubts about whether it was the right ending. “Over six months, I could feel my confidence slowly eroding,” he said, to which Groening interjected, “That should be the Writers Guild slogan — confidence eroding.”

Weiner said his fears were allayed when he watched the finale with the cast, crew and an audience of about 1,600 at a screening at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

“I had an amazing experience in that I knew I would not need to go online no matter what was written because I felt everybody kind of emotionally react to the end of the show,” he said. “And you don’t get that much in TV because people are watching it alone in their house. It was a big life moment.”

Then Weiner introduced a clip of what he called ”the most important scene in the series,” in which Jon Hamm’s Draper comforts and hugs a man crying during a group encounter session.

“I never wanted to say it was Esalen, but we shot it at a house in Anderson Canyon, which is exactly ten miles north of Esalen, I was trying to find a place [in Los Angeles] but it costs more money and I didn’t want to have another fight with Lionsgate about the very last episode of the show. I just thought it added to it, this idea that Don would be skeptical – he’s a fish out of water; it’s a comic situation, really – and then just the idea that he would reach out to another person.”

“There’s clarity and there’s ambiguity. I like that you can continue to contemplate and come away with different interpretations,” Groening said of the ending.

“They gave us an extra ten minutes. The pace feels like tension in real life,” Weiner added.

He talked about Hamm’s role as the lead, both on-screen and off. “Jon Hamm worked 14 hours a day, always on time, even when fame hit him. We never had anybody say all the crap you sometimes hear on a show. Jon was such a leader. He’s different than Don Draper. He carried the show on his shoulders.”

Each of the other writers on stage — Janet Leahy, Erin Levy, Tom Smuts, Lisa Albert, Robert Towne, Josh Weitman, Jonathan Igla and Carly Wray — also played clips and discussed why they felt they were the most resonant. (Semi Chellas and Bob Levinson were unable to attend the event).

The group represented a cross-section of men and women of diverse ages and stages in their careers, from three USC alums who started as writers’ assistants and later became staff writers to the legendary Towne, who wrote the 1974 classic “Chinatown,” considered one of history’s greatest films.

Many social and cultural issues of the time that still resonate today were dramatized during “Mad Men.”

“Feminism was the last thing of the 60s,” Weiner said. “Don mentions Betty Friedan. We got to tell stories of their reaction to the unfairness of how women were treated in the workplace. Betty Draper became politicized. My mother was a women’s libber and my dad was supportive.”

The discussion turned to the current hot topic of gender equality in the entertainment industry.

“I don’t care if they’re purple. Gender is not an issue,” Weiner said of his staff, adding that he’s fired a lot of women.

Yet it was Draper’s character that drew the most scrutiny, and it was noted that in his story, there is no genre, no guns and Don doesn’t fight crime. “He’s self-aware but can’t necessarily heal himself. Being open to experience leads to change. The show questions breakthroughs constantly,” said Weiner.

“I love the wordlessness of Don. It’s about how we’re perceived,” said Albert.

Towne quoted Mark Twain, saying “When in doubt, tell the truth.” “Don has lived lies his whole life,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve seen characters move so far with little words. There’s an effortless turn of character.”

Towne had called Weiner about the show, a written message Weiner said he tacked up and saved on his door, until after sending him all the episodes, Towne came in — joining the production. “It’s great to be in a room with smart, funny people,” he said about the other writers of “Mad Men.”

“Peggy was afraid of flying. It’s color, but it ends up being story,” Weiner said. “The premise was that in this most BS of professions [the advertising world], it was about them working together that long but at the end they really knew each other. For us, we wanted people to laugh and cry and to come back next week.”

Over seven seasons, Don’s secret life and the journeys of the other main characters including Peggy, Joan, Pete, Roger, Betty and Megan generated an abundance of honors, including 105 Emmy nominations, 15 Primetime Emmys — including four for Outstanding Drama Series — one Peabody Award and six WGA Awards.

And of course, in the midst of the current television awards campaigning season, more accolades could deservedly be in store.

–Hillary Atkin