Tuesday Night TV: Tyrant vs. Motor City Masters–Both Involve Hot Cars

Long gone, it seems, are the days when summer was a television wasteland filled with repeats. In fact, the small screen is beginning to rival the big screen with one potential blockbuster after another hitting the airwaves.


Just this month alone, big-budget, heavily-marketed new shows including Starz’ “Power,” TNT’s “Murder in the First” and “The Last Ship,” ABC’s “Rising Star,” Syfy’s “Dominion” and BBC America’s “The Musketeers” have already bowed.


Tuesday night sees the premiere of two more new programs on opposite ends of the viewing spectrum that will appeal to different audiences. Both come from highly experienced producers in their respective genres: FX’s “Tyrant” and truTV’s “Motor City Masters,” both slated in the 10 p.m. ET/PT timeslot on their respective cable networks.


“Tyrant” is from acclaimed writer/producers Howard Gordon (“24,” “Homeland”) and Gideon Raff. It tells the story of an American family thrown into the political power plays of a dictator-ruled, fictionalized Middle East nation, echoing themes from “The Godfather” of a son being forced into a brutal family business.


The dictator’s son, Bassam “Barry” Al-Fayeed, played by Adam Rayner, is a California pediatrician who left his homeland as a young man and comes back 20 years later with his American wife and two teenage children for his nephew’s wedding. The homecoming reveals a dramatic culture clash as he is uncomfortably thrown into the midst of dysfunctional family dynamics and violent political rivalries he left.


Particularly difficult is Barry’s relationship with his heir-apparent brother, Jamal (Ashraf Barhom), a trigger-happy, brutal hothead who forces himself on women, flaunts his enormous wealth and power and appears to be modeled on Uday Hussein.


“Tyrant’s” backstory is nearly as dramatic as its plot. A bidding war for the material broke out, with FX claiming victory over HBO. (Showtime recused itself because it already had a Middle East-themed drama in “Homeland.”) Gordon and Raff reportedly had a falling out over creative direction. Oscar-winning Ang Lee was originally on board to direct but changed his mind before production started. The pilot was shot in Morocco but production had to move to Israel because of a lack of infrastructure.


The show’s depictions of its Arab characters have already drawn the ire of the Council on American-Islamic Relations regarding potential stereotyping.


“In the pilot of FX’s ‘Tyrant,’ Arab Muslim culture is devoid of any redeeming qualities and is represented by terrorists, murderous children, rapists, corrupt billionaires and powerless female victims,” said CAIR national communications director Ibrahim Hooper. “In ‘Tyrant,’ even the ‘good’ Arab Muslims are bad.”


Gordon and the writing staff have consulted with two other groups, the Muslim Public Affairs Council and Muslims on Screen and Television, as well as with historians, experts and scholars on the Middle East.


Back to the show and its inherent drama. Killing off characters has become quite fashionable of late. No spoilers here, but several main characters do not make it past the closing credits of the first episode. And one spectacular and shocking scene involves a very hot car.

That brings us to “Motor City Masters,” a reality competition show in the vein of “Project Runway,” which aims to find America’s next great automotive designer by pitting 10 contestants against each other in testing their design expertise and creativity in timed tasks.


Like “Project Runway,” it is produced by Bunim/Murray Productions, one of the top marques in the reality biz often credited with creating the genre with the hit MTV series, “The Real World.” The show is hosted by Brooke Burns. In each episode, the contestants vie to create new concept cars based upon Chevrolet bodies with a different theme each week.


In addition to Chevy, there’s more product integration. One of the challenges involves a theme tied into the release of the upcoming film “Transformers: Age of Extinction.” Another revolves around a Mattel Hot Wheels tie-in. The design elements include the interior and exterior of the vehicles, paint jobs, technology, functionality, body trim and even tires.


The designs will be judged by Jean Jennings, former editor-in-chief of Automobile Magazine and renowned car designer Harald Belker, known for his vehicle design in films including “Minority Report” and “Batman and Robin.”


The competition narrows until it’s down to two competitors who face off in front of Chevy’s top design experts. The winner receives a 2014 Camaro Z28, $100,000 and becomes a brand ambassador with the opportunity to showcase their designs at major auto shows.


“I think it will be exciting to everyone,” said Jennings. “In every one of the 10 episodes, we were always excited to see what the designers had done, under pressure, whether they would rise to the challenge or come apart at the seams.”


A different celebrity judge will join her and Belker each week, a group that includes actor Jesse Metcalfe, actress Melissa Joan Hart, Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz, baseball great David Justice and former NASCAR driver Robby Gordon.


So ladies and gentlemen, start your engines.

–Hillary Atkin


Orange is the New Black, Fargo Dominate Critics’ Choice for Best TV of the Year

What a difference a year makes for the Critics’ Choice Television Awards, the 4rd annual edition of which was held June 19 at the Beverly Hilton’s International Ballroom, hosted by Cedric the Entertainer.


It was the first time in its short history that the awardscast was televised, broadcast live on the East Coast on the CW Network and tape-delayed on the West at 8 p.m.


That meant that instead of last year’s 2 ½ hour long freewheeling ceremony – also held at the Hilton –  the 2014 version had to fit into a two-hour time slot with commercials. Acceptance speeches were extremely tight for fear of the dreaded play-off music, which only happened once.


Awards are voted on by members of the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. Last year there were three ties, this year just one, for best supporting actress in a comedy series which went to Kate Mulgrew (Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black”) and Allison Janney for CBS’s “Mom.”


It was a landmark night for Janney, who was a double winner after taking the trophy for guest performer in a drama series for Showtime’s “Masters of Sex” and for “OitNB,” which was awarded two other trophies, for best comedy series and best guest performer in a comedy series for Uzo Aduba.


Alluding to the subject matter of “Masters,” Janney accepted her award by saying, “I just came.” She went on to compliment costars Beau Bridges and Teddy Sears as the best on-screen lovers she’s ever had.

“I’m stunned and amazed,” said Aduba. “Jenji Kohan is such an amazing writer and the cast and crew is right up there.”


The wins for “OitNB” are more feathers in the cap of Netflix, whose recent foray into original programming and practice of releasing all episodes of a series at once has changed the television landscape.


The other big multi-award winner was FX’s “Fargo,” which took the prize for best miniseries, best actor in a miniseries or movie (Billy Bob Thornton) and best supporting actress in a miniseries or movie, Allison Tolman.


“Noah Hawley called me and changed my life,” said Tolman, who played police chief Molly Solverson in the ten-part series inspired by the Coen brothers 1996 movie of the same name. Her character was modeled on the film’s Marge Gunderson, played by Francis McDormand, who won an Oscar for the role.


Thornton also gave Hawley and Joel and Ethan Coen shoutouts when he accepted his award. “This is a nice little soirée. Thanks for inviting me,” he said. “I won’t lie. It was cold–and crazy to adapt the movie, but MGM and FX were a dream team and that was the award.”


Like Emmy Award voters, BTJA has its favorites– this year anointing several two- years-in-a-row winners: Tatiana Maslany as best drama series actress for BBC America’s “Orphan Black,” Julia Louis Dreyfus as best comedy series actress for  HBO’s “Veep” and FX’s “Archer” as best animated series.


And if you include last year’s tie with “Game of Thrones,” this year AMC’s “Breaking Bad” also took the vaunted best drama series trophy, besting “GoT,” “The Americans,” “The Good Wife,” “Masters of Sex” and “True Detective.”


Yet it was no surprise that series star Matthew McConaughey continued his 2014 awards streak by winning best actor in a drama– and an Emmy nomination is surely guaranteed.

“HBO broke convention with this and has been first class,” he said in his speech, and also acknowledged costar Woody Harrelson. “I’ve done film, film, film and people ask ‘Why did you go to TV?’ Quality. That introduction to character that so patiently unfolds becomes watercooler conversation and anticipation of the next episode–that’s what TV is giving audiences.”


Another frequent trophy recipient, Jim Parsons, won for his lead comedy role in “The Big Bang Theory,” topping last year’s winner Louie C.K. in the field of contenders, which also included Chris Messina, Thomas Middleditch, Adam Scott and Robin Williams.


HBO added more gold with the win for best movie for “The Normal Heart,” based on Larry Kramer’s play about the beginning of the AIDS epidemic.


“It took 30 years to get this made,” said producer Ryan Murphy, who was also the recipient of the Louis XIII Genius Award for his work on “Glee,” “American Horror Story” and “Nip/Tuck.” “I realized that we were part of something bigger than ourselves. Loving another is what makes each heart normal. Larry Kramer, this is for you.”

–Hillary Atkin






Billy Bob Thornton Tells All About the Killer End of FX’s Fargo

The 1996 Coen brothers film “Fargo” made about $60 million at the box office — its production budget was $7 million — and won two Academy Awards, for best original screenplay and best actress for its star, Frances McDormand. Over the years, its cult status has become more and more entrenched. So much so that the film was used as the inspiration for FX’s just-concluded 10-part series using the same title, with the filmmakers’ blessing.

Joel and Ethan Coen acted as executive producers and the spirit of their iconic movie about a female Minnesota police chief investigating local homicides infused the series, which stars Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Colin Hanks and Allison Tolman. The entire series was written by Noah Hawley.

Thornton–who just won the Critics’ Choice TV Award as best actor in a mini-series– plays hitman Lorne Malvo, the stranger who comes to the town of Bemidji, Minn., and wreaks unspeakable havoc and fear among the populace, beginning in the first few minutes and continuing through the bloody end.

He sat down with The Atkin Report and a group of television reporters with the understanding that any discussion of the finale would not be revealed until after it aired.

Here is an edited version of the conversation:

Q: You could say that Malvo is as sinister as he is mysterious. You don’t know where he came from; you don’t know what he did before. Can you just talk about your approach in playing a guy like that, what his wants are? Can you give him a back story, and what do you think makes him tick?

Billy Bob Thornton: I think it’s probably the only character I’ve ever played, frankly, that has no conscience, but he has no back story in the story. So I chose to not think about that because Malvo, he’s an animal and animals are eating machines. I thought if I come up with a back story and it’s like his father locked him in a shed when he was little or something, that might cause too much emotion for the character. It might give me too many reasons to do things and I didn’t want to do that, so it’s the first time I’ve ever not had a back story, in my head or otherwise.

Malvo is all about he has a job to do and whatever he has to do to do it, that’s what he does and he has supreme confidence. He doesn’t think about failure and he’s not afraid of anything, and I was afraid that a back story might mess with that a little bit.

Q: Throughout the series Malvo has killed a lot of people and you’ve had a lot of shooting scenes and blood and all that to work with. Can you talk about the logistics of doing those kinds of scenes?

BBT: First of all I’ve been doing this for 30-something years, so you get used to it, although this time I’m the giver rather than the receiver most of the time, but we have really good technical people. The crew up there in Calgary was very good and the stunt people, everybody, they were really, really terrific, so we couldn’t have asked for more help.

What you want to do is you want to try to stay in a world of reality as much as possible, so you don’t try to ever think of it as fake blood or anything like that. You just want to stay inside the scene as if you’re really doing this stuff, and I guess that’s the main trick is just keeping your head on straight and never getting outside of the scene. It’s just like having a camera in front of you; you’re supposed to not know it’s there. And that’s why I never quite understood when actors don’t want someone in their eyeline because if you’re really in the scene, you’ve already got a camera operator, a boom guy, and a camera assistant and all these people in front of you. So I’ve never understood the difference between 5 or 6 people in front of you and 13 people in front of you. I think the main thing as an actor is you just have to try to ignore anything else and just do things as if you’re doing it.

Q: If Lester had walked away, do you think Malvo would have left him alone, or do you think he would eventually come after him anyway?

BBT: I think Malvo is kind of like a cat with a mouse. I’m not sure — I think the temptation would have probably been too great. I’m not sure he could have left him alone. It is, “Are you kidding me here? We are in the same place in Las Vegas; I’ve got to do something about this.” Plus this whole thing is more like a — Malvo is almost like God and the devil wrapped into one and I think these things were just going to happen. Do you know what I mean? I think a lot of this is about faith. You always think about if I’d only gotten on my motorcycle two minutes later, then I wouldn’t have hit that deer or whatever it is. Malvo is kind of the spirit that makes all those things happen, sort of lines up people’s faith for them.

Q: Billy Bob, were you satisfied with the ending of the finale and the end of the story arc for Malvo?

BBT: In terms of the arc of not only my character, but everyone’s, I think people will be very satisfied. I think Noah [Hawley] wrote a terrific ten-hour movie. It really has a beginning, a middle, and an end and that was one of the things that appealed to me about it. It’s just very well thought out and I was very happy with it. I haven’t seen the last episode myself. I watch them the way the public watches them. Every Tuesday night I just watch it, so the thing is … since it’s an ensemble cast like it is, you’re not always there when the other people are doing their thing, so it’s kind of like watching it fresh for me.

We shot it like a movie, so we shot it in two-episode blocks, so you might be doing episode six and seven or whatever it is, five and six, whatever. You may shoot two scenes from five on one day and one from six on the same day; so it’s shot kind of like a movie in that sense. Things were out of order enough to where I can’t remember it all, so it’s really nice to be able to watch it just as an audience member each week.

Q: When you read it, were you surprised by the ending? Was it something you saw coming? Or was it completely out of left field for you?

BBT: It’s not tricky so much. We kind of have known all along that I’m the devil in it and it’s kind of the way Hitchcock did things. He always thought it was scarier when you knew from the opening frame that’s the bad guy; that way the audience is afraid every time he’s around, so it’s not like the butler did it or something like that. I’ll just say it’s a very well thought-out series and very well-rounded and I think each character does have an arc and an A, B, and C.

Q: There’s been lots of chatter about a second season. Would you like to see that even if you weren’t necessarily involved? Would you like to see this tone continue on for another series of episodes?

BBT: Oh sure. As an audience member I’d love to see it. Our particular ten hours was designed as one story, so it does have a beginning, middle and an end. And if they did do another one, it would be a new story with some new characters and that kind of thing. But absolutely, I would love to see it.

I’ve really enjoyed watching it, frankly, and it’s kind of hard to watch things you’re in normally. But this was pretty easy to watch because after you’ve done ten episodes of something, you can’t really remember everything that you’ve already done, so it’s been very fresh for me.

Q: As a fan of the series, we fell in love with the “Fargo” characters and as critics we often use the term chemistry or say things like, “Brilliant performance! Billy Bob Thornton plays his most complex character yet.” I’m wondering in your opinion as an actor are words and terms like those to describe performances overused, or do you actually feel a sense of something going on while you’re filming it compared with maybe something else you may have filmed?

BBT: I think you generally get a sense when you’re filming something if you’re doing a good job or if the thing is good; I think you do get a sense of that. What you don’t get a sense of is how people are going to react to it. So in other words, I’ve done things before that I thought were OK and people think they’re amazing. And I’ve done things that I thought were amazing and people don’t get it. So you don’t always know how people are going to react to it.

But I think you do get a pretty good sense of if you’ve done your job and if it’s got that vibe. It would probably be comparable to … being in a band or something and you’re doing a concert and some nights you’re on and some nights you’re not.

This show in particular really felt like we were on, so yes, we could tell. It was, I don’t want to say easy, but I think the writing was so good and it’s based on such a classic thing and that tone had already been set by the Coen brothers. We all had a groove to fall into, so yes, I think we really felt we were up to something.

In terms of what people use in the press, all the words and compliments and everything, one of the ones that bothers me is when they always say something is award-worthy, because that sounds like they’re saying other people’s stuff wasn’t worthy. It’s kind of — I don’t know, sounds a little dehumanizing or something like that. I think in terms of when people are picked out for awards and they start talking, that depends on the machine behind you. You can make a movie for $2 million that doesn’t get a distributor; nobody sees it. Those don’t have a chance and maybe they’re just as good as the one that had a machine behind it and got all the right things lined up, all the right press lined up or whatever.

I guess the most you can hope for is that you get to be in good quality projects and know that you did your job and then after that, you decide to leave it up to fate or whatever and just see what happens. This one felt good during the process.

Q: Regarding Malvo’s physicality, in some shots he reminds me more than anything of the film character Nosferatu. I don’t know if that’s his code or how you’re holding yourself when you play him. Is that something you thought about? To me, it’s a big part of his menace is how he appears when he’s not talking.

BBT: That’s a very good question — and no one else has compared Malvo to Nosferatu, but that’s pretty good. I like that. I think a lot of that is just because after years and years of injuries and weighing 140 pounds, I look like Homer Simpson’s boss to start with, my physicality, so some of it is just natural. But I did choose to be very sort of slinky and sort of — I just sort of appear from places.

I did choose to be very quiet, but not like purposely menacing like the guy who twirls his mustache. Malvo even acts like he’s a pal to people sometimes, especially Lester. That was conscious, to make him not the typical bad guy who screams a lot and grits his teeth and grabs people by the collar. That was a conscious choice.

Q: You’ve done some amazing writing work for the screen. Did you ever have the urge to get in there with Noah in the creative process, or were you glad to turn that over to someone else for this project? Would you maybe consider trying to write a short-run TV series in the future after this experience?

BBT: First of all it was so well-written; it was just like when I’ve worked with the Coen brothers in the past. I tend to be kind of an improvisational actor, but in this case it was so well-written that I pretty much stuck to what Noah wrote. I had ideas every now and then, but they were generally less about dialog and things like that and more about how about I don’t go in a room right away or just little things like that here and there. Actors always have some kind of suggestion, so little stuff like that. But for the most part I just stuck to what Noah wrote.

I think something that’s been overlooked a little bit throughout our press for this show, there’s been a lot of talk about how we’ve created a whole new animal, even though it’s based on the movie. The Coen brothers didn’t write any of it. It’s been just our thing and its own show and all we took from “Fargo” was the snow and the general idea. But something that I think has been overlooked a little bit and not talked about enough is that if it weren’t for Joel and Ethan Coen, we wouldn’t be here. They created a whole new genre practically for movies. It’s not that nobody else had that dark sense of humor and nobody else had thought about these kinds of things in their mind before. Otherwise the Coen brothers wouldn’t have any fans, but all those people who had that sensibility, they hadn’t done it yet. The Coen brothers are the first to do it.

It’s like there might not be a Will Ferrell without a Steve Martin, if you know what I’m saying, so I think more credit needs to be given to Joel and Ethan for starting this ball rolling. They’re the ones who really created this world and I just have to say that because I think sometimes that’s overlooked, that we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them. They set this tone and deserve the credit for us even having this show.

In terms of writing … myself, I don’t know. I’ve never written anything over movie length, so I don’t know if I’d be any good at it or not, but I certainly think that’s the future. I think this short-run television thing, whether it’s a three-episode mini-series like Costner did with “Hatfields & McCoys,” or a ten-episode thing like ours  — these are like movies, extended movies, and I think it’s a great world to be in and I certainly have thought about it. Whether I’d be any good at creating one or writing it, I don’t know, but I certainly would love to be involved in another one if it’s of this quality.

Q: How was it working up in Calgary? I don’t know if you were there for the entire six months it was shot. How did you cope with the extreme cold conditions and did you go anyplace afterward to defrost?

BBT: I live in Los Angeles, so yes, I definitely came home and defrosted, there’s no question about it. We really loved shooting in Calgary. It’s a great city and the people are terrific there. The crew was great and the people in western Canada really remind me of home folks a lot, so it’s very comfortable.

The weather, however, was miserable. Even the Canadian crew said that was the worst winter they’d had in years and years. What was funny about it sometimes is the fact that the Canadian crew sometimes when we’d get to work and they would all be happy because it was 4. And we said no, no, you don’t understand something, that’s winter to us, so 4 [degrees] doesn’t mean anything to us.

But I really enjoyed shooting up there and I was there off and on. We all had some time off because we weren’t in each other’s scenes, so you’d work ten days and be off for seven and come home, so I got to fly home quite a bit. When you have sinus and allergy trouble like I do, sometimes that’s a problem because you go from one extreme to the other and you end up having a cold all the time. A lot of us were sick.

Q: What was your favorite scene or moment from the series?

BBT: I really enjoyed the scenes that I did with Martin [Freeman]. There’s a scene in a little cafe where I tell him about how he needs to be a man and step up and realize that we were once apes. I like the opening scene where he and I meet each other in the lobby of the waiting room of the hospital, the scene with myself and Colin Hanks at the end of the pilot where we first meet each other in the car. I remember those as particularly good moments. I remember feeling completely lost in them, that we were really there, but I have to say all the stuff we did just felt really good.

I’ve particularly enjoyed working with Keith Carradine in the one scene we’ve had so far in his diner. I’ve always wanted to work with Keith and it was just a real — you could feel two actors disappearing into their characters in that scene. I remember coming out of it as if I’d actually been through something; it was really, really easy working with Keith and just looking at him as this guy.

Q: What was your take on the rain of fish scene? Was it more kind of just a surrealistic kind of play on what was happening?

BBT: I thought it was pretty great and it obviously had the sort of symbolic, biblical thing, I guess. I think the one thing in terms of fish that I was pretty disappointed about was nobody told me they were going to do a photo shoot with all these girls in bikinis holding fish. I wasn’t warned about that, so I didn’t get to go over and watch. I always miss out on all the good stuff.

I think that’s one of those things that at the end of the day it kind of doesn’t matter and it’s up to interpretation by each person. Myself, I probably felt, yes it’s more of a surreal kind of thing, that’s more the way I take it. That’s a great thing about stories — it’s why books are so great, because you read a book and you’re the only one there, you and that book, and you can interpret these things any way you want to. You can envision the characters as looking like or being like anything you want.

So I think sometimes you just have your visceral reaction to something and let it live in some place in you where it doesn’t matter if it’s real or not real, you know what I mean?

Q: I wondered if you could comment on what you see as the meaning of Malvo’s journey.

BBT: I think Malvo, in a way, I’ve said before, people say he’s like the devil. I think he’s more like God and the devil. I think it’s almost as if whether he knows it or not, Malvo is there to facilitate people’s true selves. It’s like he brings out in people who they really are. He’s very impatient with people who are stupid or if they’re ridiculous. Malvo likes to get to the root of what everything is about and sometimes he has to mess with people in order to do that. But I think Malvo symbolizes that sort of spirit in the world that ultimately brings to the surface who people really are, and I think that’s probably the best way I could put it.

Q: When an actor plays a very dark role or there are dark forces at work, is there any point at which you really have to protect yourself from it?

BBT: I think it depends on the actor and I think it depends on how fragile that actor’s constitution is. I’ve never had a real problem with it, I don’t think. I’m pretty able to just go home and have an omelet. I’m not really the type to let it permeate my life. Maybe when I was doing “Bad Santa” to a degree, I think maybe I probably drank a little more beer during that time than I normally have in my life, because I’m kind of a lightweight.

For the most part I don’t let it creep into my regular life. It was really interesting playing a character like this who had no conscience, though. I’ve never done that. When I played odd characters or whatever, they usually had their softer side, but Malvo is pretty straight ahead. He just kicks ass and takes names. He’s not worried about the consequences.

Q: One of the lines that really stuck out with me through the course of the show is the line Malvo says to Gus about shade the green and it comes full circle in the finale. Everybody wants to survive and people will do sinister things to survive, and can you relate to that line or idea at all in your career or otherwise?

BBT: It’s certainly hard to survive in Hollywood, so that’s one place where I’d probably put that as a practice. Also, I grew up poor and in a rough way, so I think I’ve had to be a chameleon at some points in my life, both in my career and as a person. I always had a knack for if I’m hanging around English people, I think I probably get a little fancier. If I’m hanging out with the folks back home, it’s easier to fall in with that vibe. So I’ve always been very aware of who I need to be in a certain situation and it’ll get you out of a knifing sometimes. I’ll tell you that much.

Q: Your character was almost like a hummingbird going from scene to scene and having so many different interactions with probably more characters than anybody else, besides Lester. Can you compare this with being able to work with another actor throughout a whole project?

BBT: Because my guy doesn’t really know any of these people, I think that made it seem very realistic for me that I just stepped into the lives of different people throughout the series. I think you do have a different feeling than you would have if you were playing, say, the husband of one of the lead actresses or something, or you’re the guy who’s lived in the town forever. You then have to think about your relationship and your history with these people, but my guy, he’s from nowhere. It’s kind of like Clint Eastwood in the old spaghetti westerns, like he was the man with no name. Malvo is kind of the man from nowhere. I found it very interesting to be able to do that and I didn’t have to know anything about these people, and I could look at them as if I just met them all the time. … I enjoyed that aspect of it.

Q: Malvo the character is very meticulous and economical in everything that he does. He just does enough to get by and not go out of his way, but he did have a little fun terrorizing those kids who moved into Lester’s old home. Do you want to talk a little bit about, was that just for fun for Malvo, or was that on purpose?

BBT: Malvo does have fun messing with people, and more than messing with the kids he was really messing with the father. I think Malvo was probably pretty pissed that he didn’t find Lester yet, so who’s the nearest person I can poke with a stick? It’s like Lester is not here, so you bought Lester’s house. You’re not the guy I wanted, but let me just leave you with this little tidbit.

Malvo definitely likes to mess with people and I think particularly people that are too cheery, and that guy was just a little too friendly in the beginning and he thought he’d leave him a little something more serious to think about.

Q: Usually there’s a long history of TV adaptations of great classic movies that falls a little short. This one is obviously just as good as the classic. Were you bothered by the possibility that it won’t be as good?

BBT: When I read the pilot script, I could see how good it was. I think if I had just heard about the idea without having read it, I think maybe I would have been a little more worried about it. But as it turns out, when they met with me and offered me the role, I read it right away. That dispelled any concerns I might have because it almost looked like it was written by the Coen brothers to me. It was very, very much like the movie in that way. … I thought Noah really hit the mark. I didn’t worry about it so much; but if I hadn’t read it right away, I probably would have been concerned.

Q: Just like the movie, the TV series used the initial words, “This is a real story.” This seems to give the audience the right motivation to somehow look to this fictional universe in a different way. Do you think this is an element that will appeal to the story?

BBT: Yes, definitely. Obviously it’s not a real story, but it falls in the category of a true crime story, meaning that you get to see the crime unfold in real time. I think that’s a cool thing for the audience. Even though they know intellectually it’s not a real story, I think it helps you get into it more and helps the audience think of it as being real, because at the end of the day whatever movie or TV show you’re doing, you want the audience to feel that. So yes, I definitely think it helps.

Q: The show certainly had a lot of press coverage, recaps and things like that after every episode. Do you read that? Do you have to be selective or how do you deal with all that feedback?

BBT: I don’t really read the stuff. I hear it from other people. I think I’d rather do it that way. Like friends call up and say people love the show and I’ve heard that it’s even a big hit in England, which is great. So I hear those things. If you put any given thousand people together and have them start a conversation back and forth with each other, some of them are going to love you; some of them are going to hate you, and I don’t know why you’d want to subject yourself to the ones who say he’s ugly, we don’t like him. It’s like I don’t need to read that stuff.

In terms of legitimate publications, my publicist will send me the reviews and stuff like that and I’ll read those sometimes. It depends on the source. In other words I don’t get on the Internet and read chat rooms or stuff like that about what people think about it, because if people tell me that there’s a good reaction to the show, that’s enough for me without reading the particulars. But as I said, newspapers, magazines, different things like that that do legitimate reviews of it, I’ll read those sometimes. I’ve been so happy and grateful that people have embraced the show the way they have. It’s been a real thrill for all of us.

Q: You have an amazing body of work and I’m wondering what drives you and gets you excited each time you take on a new role. Did you approach anything differently going from film to TV?

BBT: These days TV and film are so closely connected in terms of where they’re done that I didn’t really approach it any differently. I think it probably depends on what type of TV show you’re doing. Like for instance if you were doing a sitcom, I think you would have to rethink the way you prepare yourself or something. But I think in this case it was like doing a ten-hour independent film, so I didn’t really approach it any different. And these days really great work is being done on TV and it seems like it’s the future for people who want to watch movies for adults. Because that Renaissance that we had in the ‘90s of independent film … those days are kind of over, and the medium-budget studio films, too, which is my other wheelhouse, that’s not being done as much.

So TV is a great place to do these things. Now TV is not looked at as TV anymore. It’s just another way to watch movies in a lot of ways, especially on premium cable and all that kind of thing. It’s just there’s not much difference. I guess if you’re doing a big action movie I guess you need the big screen. But so many people watch even movies today on computers or whatever or at home on Netflix or whatever, the two are coming together, I think, in a lot more ways than before. I think you just try to not think about the differences. There’s not much of one.


Blanchett, Washington, Longoria Make For an Exceptional Night at Women in Film Awards

Exceptional. That was the theme of the Women in Film 2014 Crystal + Lucy Awards on June 11, held at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza’s California Ballroom.


Hosted by actress Tracee Ellis Ross, the gala event raised funds for WIF’s educational and philanthropic programs and honored Cate Blanchett with the Crystal Award for Excellence in Film and Kerry Washington with the prestigious Lucy Award for Excellence in Television.


They shared the spotlight with some of the industry’s other exceptional women: director/writer Jennifer Lee (“Frozen”), who received the Dorothy Arzner Directors Award, Rose Byrne, recognized with the Max Mara Face of the Future Award and Eva Longoria, who was honored with the Norma Zarky Humanitarian Award.


The proceedings got started with someone who was perhaps a little unexpected under the circumstances: actor Fred Willard. In a taped piece, later revealed to be a Funny or Die production, he uttered platitudes like, “100% of all blockbusters are directed by men.”


“Thanks for the sad plight,” said Ross, who appeared on stage before a sold out crowd just after she entered the video with Willard at its conclusion. “But what really brings us together is our passion for gift bags. Last year, WIF turned 40, but it’s 34 on IMDb.”


Actress Laura Dern referred to her daughter as she presented two-time Oscar winner Blanchett with the Crystal Award.


“I think often how I would want a woman to inspire my daughter, like Shelley Winters, a dame, did for me,” Dern said. “Cate Blanchett is the dame of my generation. She’s sassy, sexy, a goddess, a lover of fashion, gifted, graceful and versatile.”


“I’m old, blind and unprepared,” Blanchett retorted, after hugging Dern and putting on a pair of reading glasses. “I hate to write something, but I shan’t subject you to interpretive dance. This is a big deal. Female achievement is still discussed as being niche. I don’t accept this without acknowledging women like Lucille Ball, Thelma Schoonmaker, Ida Lupino, Megan Ellison and my agent, Hylda Queally, who’s been a mentor. When risks are taken, rewards are reaped. If a misstep is made by women, it’s feared as a career killer–but it shouldn’t lessen our desire to take risks.”

Washington has been thrilling audiences and racking up awards and nominations (BET, Image, Emmy, Golden Globe and SAG amongst them) for her role as Olivia Pope on ABC’s “Scandal.”


“In her three years as Olivia Pope, she’s been brilliant and her chameleon-like quality had taken off on a new level,” said showrunner Shonda Rhimes, who presented Washington with her latest honor.


The Lucy Award for Excellence in Television was first handed out in 1994– joining its sister, the Crystal Award for Excellence in Film, which was instituted in 1977. It is named after Lucille Ball and is presented in conjunction with her estate to those whose creative works follow in the footsteps of Ball’s extraordinary accomplishments, particularly in enhancing the perception of women through the medium of television.


Washington has achieved an additional accomplishment – she is the first African-American woman around whom a television show revolves in 40 years.


“A lot has been made of that, and that is something,” Rhimes said. “The business has started to catch up with reality, but there are a lot of requirements placed on her as Olivia and as Kerry. Being a trailblazer has challenged her but she’s courageously leaned into playing not an idol, not an icon, but a human. All the scrutiny and pressure – she blew the box wide open. She’s smart, funny, goofy, a thinker.”


Cue clip of Washington from when she hosted “Saturday Night Live” last November, playing roles of multiple black women (just before the show added one to its cast), rushing to change costumes from being Michelle Obama to portraying Oprah Winfrey.


“The writer you are has changed me as an artist,” Washington said to Rhimes as she accepted the Lucy Award. “It’s thrilling to be in this group.”


It was Washington’s first public outing as a new mom to daughter Isabelle, born in April. Her husband, Nnamdi Asomugha, proudly watched from the audience with other guests that included Diahann Carroll, Florence Henderson, Gabrielle Carteris, Joely Fisher, John Lasseter, Jon Tenney, Kate Flannery, Sharon Lawrence and Shohreh Aghdashloo.


“Good things come in small packages,” said actress Lake Bell in honoring Longoria’s philanthropic work, which includes an eponymous foundation and Eva’s Heroes, which assists special needs young people to integrate and flourish in society.


“I wish I had an accent,” Longoria began, referring to Blanchett and Byrne, both Australians. “Norma Zarky was an amazing advocate, but I hate being honored for philanthropy–which is hard to believe in this room full of egotistical actors. It started at the age of 10 because of my special needs sister Lisa and seeing what she went through. I learned compassion. To quote Maya Angelou, people may not remember what you say but they will never forget how you make them feel.”

Lee’s path to becoming the first woman to direct a film for Walt Disney Animation began when she was an executive at a publishing house and left to enter film school, Kristen Bell, the voice of Anna from “Frozen,” told the crowd.


“Frozen,” directed by Lee and Chris Buck with a screenplay written by Lee based upon a Hans Christian Andersen story, has grossed $1.25 billion worldwide since its release last year, becoming the highest-grossing animated film ever.


“I feel very blessed,” Lee said, and praised Lasseter for his faith in her and believing she could direct “Frozen” as her first feature. “Animation reaches the new generation first, and we’re seeing, authentic, inspiring female characters.”

–Hillary Atkin






Leg Warmers and Laughter: Inside the AFI Tribute to Jane Fonda

Jane Fonda has been called many things. The daughter of Hollywood royalty. A complete sexpot. A trailblazer, an activist, an award-winning actress and, gulp, a traitor.

The breath and depth of Fonda’s career was vividly outlined as the American Film Institute feted her with its 42nd Life Achievement Award in a gala ceremony June 5 at the Dolby Theatre, an edited version of which will air on TNT.

And it will need editing, because the stories told about the two-time Oscar winner were seemingly endless – in a good way.

Starting off with Meryl Streep, who reflected back on meeting Fonda during shooting of 1977’s “Julia,” reminiscing about her mentorship and guidance.

“Jane has a feral alertness. She made me feel lumpy and from New Jersey, which I am,” Streep said, as Fonda looked on, laughing. “You told me about how to stand on my mark, staying in the light, and made me, a day player, feel special. Jane, you also helped me lose weight after each child.”

The parade of participants including Cameron Diaz, Lily Tomlin, Eva Longoria, Sally Field, Peter Fonda, Jeff Daniels, Ron Kovic and Sandra Bullock was interspersed with clips of Fonda discussing everything ranging to life—and work–with her famous father Henry, acting classes, living in France with director Roger Vadim, the work-out craze and coming back into the business in rom-coms and most recently, as a Ted Turner-like media owner in “The Newsroom” and as Nancy Reagan in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.”

And then there were the movie clips of some of her most memorable and impactful roles. “Klute.” “Coming Home.” “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” “On Golden Pond.” “Nine to Five.” And, yes, “Barbarella.”

That 1968 kitschy but sexy showcase for Fonda—based on a French comic book– was a big topic of conversation throughout the evening. Wanda Sykes even came out in a Barbarella-inspired costume, and made some profane comments that provoked groans from the audience, which included Diane Lane, Morgan Freeman, Dylan McDermott, Melanie Griffith, William H. Macy, Felicity Huffman, Marcia Gay Harden and Sam Waterston.

In the parade of A-list stars to the stage, two especially stood out, Ron Kovic, the partially paralyzed Vietnam War veteran who inspired “Coming Home” and Fonda’s son with former husband Tom Hayden, Troy Garity.

“If my mother thinks it was difficult being the daughter of Henry Fonda, she should try being the son of Hanoi Jane,” Garity said. “My first 13 birthday parties were fundraisers. My mother never hired a nanny to watch out for me. That’s what the FBI was for. I was sent to school in leg warmers. We took holidays in conflict zones,” he recounted, to raucous laughter from the house.

Kovic, taking the stage in his wheelchair, received a standing ovation and told the crowd how he met Fonda during a rally at Claremont College. “I told the crowd I was a Vietnam vet, shot at, that men were crying out for help at VA hospitals, and that I couldn’t support the war. I may have lost my body, but not my mind. It would lead to ‘Coming Home,’ and I’m happy to have had the opportunity to have contributed in a small way.”

The other anecdotes told by Fonda’s friends and colleagues recognized the scope of her career, her portrayals of strong female characters, her political activism—most with a strong dose of comedy thrown in.

Daniels came out with a guitar and performed a song with the chorus “Did I mention she’s fit? Abs, buns and thighs.”

“We all find her annoying,” said Bullock. “She’s better than us. Everything she does is better – and she’s proved it’s never too late to start over.”

Continuing the humor right up to the end was Michael Douglas, who said Fonda’s career came down to one thing.

“Her body,” he said, before quickly interjecting, “of work.” Douglas, there with wife Catherine Zeta Jones, was the one who got the honor of actually presenting Fonda with her AFI award.

“It’s not easy being the kid of a legend,” he continued. “Jane and I grew up in the shadows of giants but had to come into our own identity. On ‘The China Syndrome,’ I realized she was one-of-a-kind. She left her chosen field and came back. She is that rare combination of movie star and great actress.” As Fonda smiled at him, he told her, “You are true film royalty.”

–Hillary Atkin

(“AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to Jane Fonda” airs on TNT June 14 at 9 p.m. ET/PT, with encores scheduled on TCM.)


Hot, Funny Women and Funny, Hot Guys at the Spike TV Guys Choice Awards

Before she was in outer space with George Clooney, Sandra Bullock shared the screen with the likes of other leading men like Hugh Grant, Keanu Reeves and Matthew McConaughey.

So it was with great delight that all three of those major movie stars were on hand in order to hand Ms. Bullock her “mantler” trophy at the 2014 Spike TV Guys Choice Awards for her “Decade of Hotness.” Or as the Oscar-winning actress herself asked, which decade? It’s been 20 years since she starred in “Speed” with Reeves, and she was a hottie before that, and remains one.

The irreverence of the awards show, which taped June 7 at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, is its biggest attraction. Who votes on these awards? Who cares? The program historically attracts top-name talent that span the generations and appeal to the network’s largely male demographic with sex appeal and humor.

Biggest ass kicker? That would be Norman Reedus of “The Walking Dead.” Hottest couple: Key and Peele. Smartacus—yeah, that’s right, a smart guy, which this year went to Chris Hardwick. King of comedy? That would be Kevin Hart. The primetime award: presented to Andy Samberg. Guycon: handed over to Johnny Knoxville.

But let’s not forget the women. First there was the “Holy Grail of Hot,” Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition cover models Chrissy Teigen, Nina Agdal and Lily Aldridge. “Our New Girlfriend.” That was Emily Ratajkowski.  And then, on the heels of wearing a see-through dress which nearly crashed the Internet, Rihanna – outfitted in a much more sedate black cocktail number– showed up to accept the “Most Desirable Woman” mantlers.

There’s also a large dose of patriotism with numerous shout-outs of support to US Armed Forces, who also make up a sizable contingent attending the live show.

This year was especially resonant as the Troops Choice award was given to Mark Wahlberg (by “Sons of Anarchy’s” Charlie Hunnam) for his portrayal of a captured Marine in “Lone Survivor.”

“I was very fortunate to be able to do this role,” Walberg said, before urging people to show their support by hiring a veteran. He then introduced the real hero of the story upon which the film is based, Marcus Luttrell.

“If I had to do it over again, I’d join the Air Force,” Luttrell began. “When we’re overseas, we are watching movies and appreciate the time and effort it takes to bring us these stories – whatever they are – and the swimsuit models.”

It was Academy Award winner Matthew McConaughey who received receive the night’s biggest honor, Guy of the Year. But in his acceptance speech, he was equally about the ladies.

“I’d like to shout out to all the women, the wives, sisters, mothers and daughters who got us here,” he said. “And for the guys, it’s a fraternity and a fellowship of men who watch out for one another. Be the best fathers, the best husbands you can be. The bad guys can’t win if the good guys keep showing up.”

A perfect sentiment going into Father’s Day.

(The 2014 Guys Choice Awards air on Spike TV June 11 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.)

–Hillary Atkin


Most Exciting New TV Shows Honored by Critics’ Choice

Some of them you may have already seen, like AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire and Showtime’s Penny Dreadful. But the rest are coming soon to a screen near you soon.

These are the just-announced television programs being honored as the Critics’ Choice Television Awards for Most Exciting New Series:



  • ·         Extant – CBS
  • ·         Gotham – FOX
  • ·         Halt and Catch Fire – AMC
  • ·         The Leftovers – HBO
  • ·         Outlander – Starz
  • ·         Penny Dreadful – Showtime
  • ·         The Strain – FX

The shows will be recognized at the 4th Annual CCTAs being held on June 19 and broadcast on the CW. Red carpet pre-show starts at 6 p.m. ET/PT, so make sure to tune in.

Critics’ Choice TV Awards Nominations are Out, FX and HBO Lead the Pack

Nominations were just revealed by The Broadcast Television Journalists Association (BTJA) for the 4th annual Critics’ Choice Television Awards. Cable net FX leads the fray with 19 nominations, followed by HBO with 18 nods for the honors that will be handed out June 19.

Topping the list of nominated series are The Big Bang Theory (CBS), Fargo (FX), The Good Wife (CBS), Masters of Sex (Showtime) and The Normal Heart (HBO) with five nominations each.  Other top-nominated series include The Americans (FX), Breaking Bad (AMC), Orange Is the New Black (Netflix) and Sherlock: His Last Vow (PBS), which each received four nominations.

Several actors will each have two chances to win a trophy. Walton Goggins, Allison Janney and Martin Freeman were all nominated for their performances in two separate shows. Goggins earned a Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series nomination for Justified, while Janney earned a Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series nomination for Mom. The two will compete against each other in the Best Guest Performer in a Drama Series category for Sons of Anarchy and Masters of Sex, respectively.  Freeman was nominated in the Best Actor in a Movie or Mini-Series category for Fargo as well as Best Supporting Actor in a Movie or Mini-Series for Sherlock: His Last Vow.

“As television journalists, BTJA members live and breathe TV, and we’re excited to share our top picks from an immensely rich and diverse year of programming,” said BTJA President Joey Berlin.  “2014 has been a successful year for cable and broadcast as well as content on platforms such as Netflix and Hulu, and we look forward to celebrating all of these amazing shows and performances on June 19.”

The show will be hosted by Cedric the Entertainer and broadcast live on The CW from the Beverly Hilton Hotel at 8 p.m. PT/ET.

Here are the nominations for the 4th annual Critics’ Choice Television Awards:


  • The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
  • Broad City (Comedy Central)
  • Louie (FX)
  • Orange Is the New Black (Netflix)
  • Silicon Valley (HBO)
  • Veep (HBO)



  • Louis CK, Louie (FX)
  • Chris Messina, The Mindy Project (FOX)
  • Thomas Middleditch, Silicon Valley (HBO)
  • Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
  • Adam Scott, Parks and Recreation (NBC)
  • Robin Williams, The Crazy Ones (CBS)



  • Ilana Glazer, Broad City (Comedy Central)
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep (HBO)
  • Wendi McLendon-Covey, The Goldbergs (ABC)
  • Amy Schumer, Inside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central)
  • Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation (NBC)
  • Emmy Rossum, Shameless (Showtime)



  • Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine (FOX)
  • Keith David, Enlisted (FOX)
  • Tony Hale, Veep (HBO)
  • Albert Tsai, Trophy Wife (ABC)
  • Christopher Evan Welch, Silicon Valley (HBO)
  • Jeremy Allen White, Shameless (Showtime)



  • Mayim Bialik, The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
  • Laverne Cox, Orange Is the New Black (Netflix)
  • Kaley Cuoco, The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
  • Allison Janney, Mom (CBS)
  • Kate Mulgrew, Orange Is the New Black (Netflix)
  • Merritt Wever, Nurse Jackie (Showtime)



  • Uzo Aduba, Orange Is the New Black (Netflix)
  • Sarah Baker, Louie (FX)
  • James Earl Jones, The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
  • Mimi Kennedy, Mom (CBS)
  • Andrew Rannells, Girls (HBO)
  • Lauren Weedman, Looking (HBO)



  • The Americans (FX)
  • Breaking Bad (AMC)
  • Game of Thrones (HBO)
  • The Good Wife (CBS)
  • Masters of Sex (Showtime)
  • True Detective (HBO)



  • Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad (AMC)
  • Hugh Dancy, Hannibal (NBC)
  • Freddie Highmore, Bates Motel (A&E)
  • Matthew McConaughey, True Detective (HBO)
  • Matthew Rhys, The Americans (FX)
  • Michael Sheen, Masters of Sex (Showtime)



  • Lizzy Caplan, Masters of Sex (Showtime)
  • Vera Farmiga, Bates Motel (A&E)
  • Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife (CBS)
  • Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black (BBC America)
  • Keri Russell, The Americans (FX)
  • Robin Wright, House of Cards (Netflix)



  • Josh Charles, The Good Wife (CBS)
  • Walton Goggins, Justified (FX)
  • Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad (AMC)
  • Peter Sarsgaard, The Killing (AMC)
  • Jon Voight, Ray Donovan (Showtime)
  • Jeffrey Wright, Boardwalk Empire (HBO)



  • Christine Baranski, The Good Wife (CBS)
  • Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad (AMC)
  • Annet Mahendru, The Americans (FX)
  • Melissa McBride, The Walking Dead (AMC)
  • Maggie Siff, Sons of Anarchy (FX)
  • Bellamy Young, Scandal (ABC)



  • Beau Bridges, Masters of Sex (Showtime)
  • Walton Goggins, Sons of Anarchy (FX)
  • Allison Janney, Masters of Sex (Showtime)
  • Joe Morton, Scandal (ABC)
  • Carrie Preston, The Good Wife (CBS)
  • Diana Rigg, Game of Thrones (HBO)



·         An Adventure in Space and Time (BBC America)

·         Burton and Taylor (BBC America)

·         Killing Kennedy (National Geographic Channel)

·         The Normal Heart (HBO)

·         Sherlock: His Last Vow (PBS)

·         The Trip to Bountiful (Lifetime)



·         American Horror Story: Coven (FX)

·         Bonnie & Clyde (A&E/History/Lifetime)

·         Dancing on the Edge (Starz)

·         Fargo (FX)

·         The Hollow Crown (PBS)

·         Luther (BBC America)



·         David Bradley, An Adventure in Space and Time (BBC America)

·         Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock: His Last Vow (PBS)

·         Chiwetel Ejiofor, Dancing on the Edge (Starz)

·         Martin Freeman, Fargo (FX)

·         Mark Ruffalo, The Normal Heart (HBO)

·         Billy Bob Thornton, Fargo (FX)



·         Helena Bonham Carter, Burton and Taylor (BBC America)

·         Minnie Driver, Return to Zero (Lifetime)

·         Whoopi Goldberg, A Day Late and a Dollar Short (Lifetime)

·         Holliday Grainger, Bonnie & Clyde (A&E/History/Lifetime)

·         Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Coven (FX)

·         Cicely Tyson, The Trip to Bountiful (Lifetime)



·         Matt Bomer, The Normal Heart (HBO)

·         Warren Brown, Luther (BBC America)

·         Martin Freeman, Sherlock: His Last Vow (PBS)

·         Colin Hanks, Fargo (FX)

·         Joe Mantello, The Normal Heart (HBO)

·         Blair Underwood, The Trip to Bountiful (Lifetime)



·         Amanda Abbington, Sherlock: His Last Vow (PBS)

·         Kathy Bates, American Horror Story: Coven (FX)

·         Ellen Burstyn, Flowers in the Attic (Lifetime)

·         Jessica Raine, An Adventure in Space and Time (BBC America)

·         Julia Roberts, The Normal Heart (HBO)

·         Allison Tolman, Fargo (FX)



  • Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (FOX/National Geographic Channel)
  • Deadliest Catch (Discovery)
  • Duck Dynasty (A&E)
  • Mythbusters (Discovery)
  • Top Gear (BBC America)
  • Undercover Boss (CBS)



  • The Amazing Race (CBS)
  • Project Runway (Lifetime)
  • Shark Tank (ABC)
  • Survivor (CBS)
  • Top Chef (Bravo)
  • The Voice (NBC)



  • Tom Bergeron, Dancing With the Stars (ABC)
  • Carson Daly, The Voice (NBC)
  • Cat Deeley, So You Think You Can Dance (FOX)
  • Gordon Ramsay, MasterChef (FOX)
  • RuPaul, RuPaul’s Drag Race (Logo)
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (FOX/National Geographic Channel)



  • Jimmy Kimmel Live! (ABC)
  • The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (NBC)
  • The Ellen DeGeneres Show (Time Telepictures)
  • The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Comedy Central)
  • The Colbert Report (Comedy Central)
  • Conan (TBS)



  • Archer (FX)
  • Bob’s Burgers (FOX)
  • The Simpsons (FOX)
  • Family Guy (FOX)
  • Phineas and Ferb (Disney XD)
  • Adventure Time (Cartoon Network)



One Night Only. And What a Night For Don Rickles and Spike TV

Remember the old Dean Martin celebrity roasts that ran for 10 years on NBC starting 40 years ago, where Martin skewered the top names of the day like Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, Jimmy Stewart, Phyllis Diller, Jack Klugman and even Ronald Reagan? When it came to roasting Martin himself, it was Don Rickles who did the honors.

Cut to 2014, specifically Spike TV on Wednesday night. It is the inestimable Rickles’ turn to be the man of the hour in “One Night Only: An All-Star Comedy Tribute to Don Rickles,” in which the top names in comedy laud the man who made his fame and fortune insulting others of every race and creed.

And oh, what a night it was. Taped May 6 at the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem before a black-tie audience, the 88-year-old comedian was honored by a parade of talent, starting with a video tribute from his best friend Bob Newhart.

But what happens when you get Jerry Seinfeld, Jon Stewart, David Letterman, Tracy Morgan, Brian Williams, Johnny Depp and tag teams of Amy Poehler and Tina Fey and Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese in a room together is off-the-charts laughter, aimed squarely at Rickles, who appeared to be having the time of his life.

Interspersed throughout were boisterous bits from “The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson” on which Rickles guested more than 100 times, clips from his 1970 movie with Clint Eastwood, “Kelly’s Heroes” and Scorsese’s 1995 “Casino”–and in what Rickles considers the highlight of his career, his performance at President Reagan’s second inaugural ball in 1985.

The story goes that Frank Sinatra had been asked to perform there but agreed only if Rickles could also take the stage. Sinatra had been an early and vocal supporter of the comedian, going back to the 1950s, and for decades, Rickles used their friendship as “protection,” and fodder for his act. So much so, that he came under fire for it during the taping of “One Night Only.”

“I’ve got news for you, Don,” Letterman intoned. “Frank’s dead.”

With nicknames like “Bullet-head,” coined by Sinatra, “Mr. Venom” and “Mr. Warmth,” bestowed upon him by Carson, Rickles brought out the best from his fellow comedians—until Fey and Poehler came out on the Apollo stage and broke up the boys club.

Portraying themselves as a last-minute addition to the lineup– and it could be true, as they were not listed in the advertised bill for the evening– they pretended not to know who Rickles was or why they were really there. Until Poehler broke down and confessed how kind Rickles had been to her and supportive in the early days of her career.

The camaraderie and the comedy made the show a cross between a traditional roast (as sister network Comedy Central does so well) and a dignified lifetime achievement award which spanned emotions ranging from admiration and gratitude to, well, degradation.

And as the evening reached its climax, when Rickles got his say after all that had said about him and his nearly 60 year-long career, fittingly, he had the last laugh.

(“One Night Only: An All-Star Comedy Tribute to Don Rickles” airs on Spike TV May 28 at 9/8 Central and runs for 90 minutes.)

–Hillary Atkin

Upfronts, Center and Sideways, All Over the Map for TV Hopefuls

Attending upfronts is a bit like partaking in an all-you-can-eat buffet: something you do once a year–in which some of the offerings are pretty tasty, some inedible, several of which that are incredibly delicious and leave you hungering for more, others that can best be classified as comfort food, plus some new offerings sprinkled here and there throughout the line. It all amounts to the net effect of leaving you sated, if perhaps a bit queasy.

From NBC to Fox, Univision to Telemundo, A&E, National Geographic, TBS, Adult Swim to the CW and Mundo Fox to NBCU Cable, we traversed New York City during a late spring period that encompassed 80 degrees and sunny and devolved into drizzle and even flash flood warnings that played havoc with flight schedules.

In their presentations to advertisers and media buyers, networks compete not just with their programming, but with the events themselves, which this year were held in locations ranging from the groan-worthy Javits Center North Hall (the heart of the stabbing district, as Seth Myers called it) to theatres including the Beacon, the Hirschfeld, the Ziegfeld and New York City Center to event spaces like the Paramount Hotel, Edison Ballroom, Park Avenue Armory, Madison Square Garden and Jazz at Lincoln Center—and even a photo studio in the Meatpacking District for the Vevo NewFront.

Comedians also square off on behalf of their corporate parents – Seth Myers and Jimmy Fallon for NBC, Jimmy Kimmel for ABC, Andy Samberg for Fox and Conan O’Brien for Turner.

A number of networks pull out the big guns and the big bucks for headlining musical artists who either get the party started with a few choice songs or end the evening with a private concert.

For Fox, it was Pitbull who raised the roof at the Beacon with his hit “Give Me Everything.” Univision brought out the legendary Carlos Santana for a couple of numbers to cap off its presentation at Al Hirschfield. A&E closed its Armory upfront with a lengthy show by Vampire Weekend. The CW featured Neon Trees on stage at City Center. NBC used Fred Armisen’s 8G “Late Night” band to warm things up in the late morning and NBC Universal Cable presented Jessie J in a brief but energetic set during its cavernous afterparty at Javits.

But it was Adult Swim that reigned in the best concert category, presenting the newly regrouped and decidedly old-school hip-hop duo Outkast in a private concert at Terminal 5. Hey Ya– it was the Atlanta connection that brought André 3000 and Big Boi to the stage for the most raging party of upfronts, which kicked off with a video presentation by a cigar-chomping Triumph the Comic Insult Dog in the most minimalist and on-brand programming preview of the week.

Outkast’s hour-plus long set, which started around 11 p.m., thrilled the packed three-tiered venue with hip-hop classics including “B.O.B.” and “So Fresh, So Clean.” And of course, “Hey Ya.”

And get used to the concept and the sound of the word “eventize,” one we heard repeatedly from NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt and Fox Broadcasting chairman Kevin Reilly, to name just two of the top executives and sales managers who used it to describe not only actual events but marketing otherwise run of the mill one-offs or mid-season finales. Hey, if it gets more viewers into the tent, why not? After all, upwards of $11 billion is at stake in the upfront advertising market.

Only brief clips are shown during the sell-and-schmooze fest so it’s difficult to make predictions of what will hit and what will miss, although there were some obvious trends toward superhero stories, dark conspiracy tales and more diversity in casting, as demonstrated by NBC’s “Mr. Robinson,” the CW’s “Jane the Virgin” and Fox’s “Red Band Society” and “Empire.”

Here are some of the new shows and “events” (aside from all the hours of NFL and World Cup programming that line coffers with ad dollars) that sparked our interest:


History’s “Texas Rising,” which chronicles the often violent history of the Texas Rangers with a cast that includes Brendan Fraser, Ray Liotta, Bill Paxton, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Olivier Martinez, Max Thieriot and Thomas Jane. To balance out all that testosterone, there’s “The Red Tent” on Lifetime, a retelling of biblical tales through women’s eyes. Also announced, the new FYI network, a re-brand of Bio, launching this summer and aimed at a young, upscale audience.


Two new series intrigued, “The Flash,” a spinoff of “Arrow” and a DC Comics origin story about the fastest man alive and the comedic soap “Jane the Virgin,” based on a Venezuelan telenova about a young woman who gets pregnant under unusual circumstances. “The Vampire Diaries” and “Reign” retain their Thursday night perches while “Supernatural” enters its 10th season.


Speaking of superhero origin stories from DC, “Gotham” goes back to a time before “Batman,” when an idealistic detective (Ben McKenzie) works to solve the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne, and takes their young son Bruce under his wing. Along the way, we’ll meet the Penguin, Catwoman and Alfred the Butler in their earlier incarnations.

Also notable: “Gracepoint,” the American version of the UK’s critically acclaimed crime drama “Broadchurch,” starring Anna Gunn and David Tennant as the two lead detectives, and Lee Daniels’ “Empire,” a family drama set in the world of a hip-hop empire with Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson toplining.


The two-year old network, part of Fox Hispanic Media’s portfolio, unveiled several original  primetime series  including  the  highly  anticipated  “El  Capitán”  starring Humberto Zurita and José María de Tavira, “¿Quién Mató a Patricia Soler?” with Mexican powerhouse Itatí  Cantoral along with  returning  favorites  like “Cien  Latinos  Dijeron,”  hosted  by Marco Antonio Regil and the network’s rebranded national news division, “Noticias MundoFox con Rolando Nichols.” Also ahead, a Spanish language version of “The X Factor,” “El Factor X” and “The Golden Boys,” a boxing docu-series produced by Oscar de la Hoya and Mario Lopez.


First there was the live “The Sound of Music,” and its unexpected ratings success. Now there will be “Peter Pan” sprinkling stardust on the Peacock. Another big event—in addition to the Olympics for the next 18 years–the three-hour “Saturday Night Live” 40th anniversary special. On the comedy front, Tina Fey’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” looked weirdly funny, while “A to Z” and “Marry Me” seemed to warrant a watch. “The Blacklist” has spawned “Allegiance.” Also upcoming, “A.D.,” which producer Mark Burnett described as “Game of Thrones” meets “The Borgias” and “The Bible.”

NBCU Cable

Formerly an event just for USA, all the Comcast cable channels (Syfy, E!, Bravo, USA, Esquire, Sprout) piled on for the final upfront of the week which featured appearances from Kim Kardashian, Joan Rivers and Joel McHale to demonstrate the concept and sales pitch, “All Together.” In addition to returning favorites peppered throughout portfolio, Elizabeth Hurley stars as the queen—that’s right, the ruling monarch, in E!’s first-ever scripted drama, “The Royals,” which boasts the tagline “anarchy in the monarchy.” This could go so wrong that it could be right, right up there in our list of guilty pleasures.


TNT is getting “younger and a little louder,” according to Michael Wright, president and head of programming. Network favorite Kyra Sedgwick is producing the supernatural drama “Proof,” Sean Bean stars in the thriller “Legends,” Michael Bay is producing “The Last Ship.” Also intriguing: the 1960s-era police drama “Public Morals.”

TBS has renewed “Conan” through 2018, at which point the comedian joked he’ll look like Bruce Jenner’s mother.  Springboarding off the rerun strength of “The Big Bang Theory,” the net is bringing over new episodes of “American Dad!” from Fox. Also looking for laughs, the police procedural spoof “Angie Tribeca,” starring Rashida Jones and produced by Steve Carell.


The broadcaster announced 800 hours of original programming, led by novellas “Los Miserables” and “Dueños del Paraíso,” which features popular actress Kate Del Castillo, who starred on the net’s “La Reina Del Sur.” On the unscripted side, there’s the return of “La Voz Kids” and “Top Chef Estrellas” with the new musical competition series
Yo Soy El Artista” joining the lineup.

Next year, Telemundo and the younger-skewing mun2 will become the official Spanish-language home of the FIFA World Cup, featuring more than 550 hours across all platforms.


Not to be outdone in the musical competition front, the network—which includes 16 broadcast, cable and digital networks and 130 TV and radio stations–is bringing in Simon Cowell to do what he knows best, form a boy band in a competition series entitled “La Banda,” which will scour the U.S. and Latin America for talent. Also new, the video site Flama, four quarterly investigative specials on UniMas called “Entre Lineas”  and batch of new dramas for both UniMas and Univision, including “La Gata,” “Hasta El Fin Del Mundo,” about a sultry chocolatier, “Mi Corazon Es Tuyo” and “La Malquerida.”

–Hillary Atkin