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Remakes, Breakups and Bad Blood Highlight News Out of Summer Press Tour 2015

The broadcast and cable networks and Internet streaming outlets have wrapped up the 17-day promote-athon known as the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour. Many shows were touted by many creators and stars in many panels and parties — so many, it was easy to get lost in the swirl of it all. So here’s a blitz recap of 10 of this year’s top news bites.

Lee Daniels says it’s inevitable, “without question,” that his massive hit “Empire” yields a spinoff. That spinoff will be a prequel that delves into the life of everybody’s favorite flamboyant Cookie, Taraji P. Henson’s one-of-a-kind matriarch character. No word on when the new series will come along, but “Empire” returns Sept. 23.

Jimmy Fallon has signed on to keep doing “The Tonight Show” into September of 2021.

Donald Trump has definitely been fired from hosting “Celebrity Apprentice.” NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt told critics the show will be back in 2016 with a new host, someone who must be big and make a lot of noise.

Maybe there will be a “Downton Abbey” movie. Executive Producer Gareth Neame says there’s been talk of a film and it just might happen, though there is no script or projected start date. Putting money on this one doesn’t seem like a good idea. Nevertheless, it takes a teensy bit of the sting out of the forthcoming farewell at the end of season six (which begins airing on PBS Jan. 3).

THE MUPPETS - The Muppets are back in prime time like you've never seen them before. Romance! Breakups! Success! Failure! Muppets are opening the doors to their homes and offices in this fresh documentary style series that explores these beloved characters as they live their lives in Hollywood. This real-world Muppet series will have something for kids of all ages. (ABC/Andrea McCallin ) DENISE, MISS PIGGY, JANICE

Denise, Miss Piggy, Janice “The Muppets” (ABC/Andrea McCallin )

Kermit and Miss Piggy broke up and he’s purportedly dating a pig named Denise in the ABC marketing department. Well, we all know how celebrities gin up their feuds to create interest in their new movies and shows. Would anyone be surprised if the showbiz savvy Piggy was behind this tactic to bring attention to their new “The Muppets” coming up on ABC Sept. 22. Co-created by Bill Prady (protege of Jim Henson who went on to create shows including “The Big Bang Theory) and Bob Kushell, the new “Muppets” looks like a good prospect for another TV hit.

Louis K.C. is going to take an extended hiatus after season five of his award-winning FX show. He wants to focus on other things and there is no telling when he’ll resume.

FX Chieftain John Landgraf believes that with all the outlets scrambling to put on more and more — and more — shows, we’ve reached a point of “Simply Too Much Television,” so expect a dropoff. But Showtime President David Nevins contends “There may be too much good TV. There’s never enough great TV. We’re trying really hard to make great TV.” So there.

There’s certainly a lot of retread TV. For example, Showtime has a “Twin Peaks” revival going into production next month for a 2016 debut. In addition to “The Muppets,” there’s “Heroes: Reborn” launching Sept. 24. Come midseason, we’ll see the return of Craig T. Nelson as “Coach.” “Prison Break” will return to Fox next year. Everyone involved wants to do a “Law & Order” revival, if the timing can be worked out, according to super producer Dick Wolf. And NBC’s Greenblatt raised the frightening prospect of a new “Alf.”

Wolf also disclosed plans for crossovers between his series, including a “jumbo” four-way crossover, with a story shared by “Chicago P.D.,” “Chicago Fire,” the new “Chicago Med” and “Law & Order: SVU.” That will be in February. In time for sweeps, of course.

Britney Spears will be on the CW’s “Jane the Virgin.” “The Muppets” guests will include Imagine Dragons and Nathan Fillion. But no show is a match for “Empire” when it comes to featuring famous names. This coming season, the show’s Who’s Who includes Pitbull, Chris Rock, Alicia Keys, Al Sharpton and Lenny Kravitz.

With ‘Mulaney,’ Elliott Gould Busy 2 Series Star

Elliott GouldA month shy of turning 76, Elliott Gould is quite pleased with himself for having two — count ’em, two — high-profile television series gigs simultaneously. Showtime’s excellent “Ray Donovan” has been using the one-time counterculture icon to great effect as the aging Hollywood power lawyer who is Ray’s (Liev Schreiber) mentor and boss. And, come October, he’ll be seen as Oscar, the flamboyant, advice-giving neighbor of John Mulaney in that “Saturday Night Live” alumnus’ new Fox sitcom, “Mulaney” — along with Nasim Pedrad, Zack Pearlman, Seaton Smith, and Martin Short.

The two shows have been cooperating on Gould’s schedule “so I get to play different characters in two different series,” explained Gould the other day, following the “Mulaney” panel at the Television Critics’ Association summer press tour.

What accounts for his being so busy at this stage of the game? “My answer to that question is, my mother never gave up, and I have to be the way I am,” replies Gould in one of his trademark convoluted answers.

He adds, “And as far as my own ignorance and lack of perspective and judgment through a good deal of my career, it’s taken me forever to attain this character. And therefore, to have this opportunity to have the nature and the strength and the health to work in these productions.”

That makes sense if you recall Gould’s roller coaster career trajectory. He spent 20 years attaining the status of top in-demand film star with “M*A*S*H” and “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,” only to become a pariah overnight after the shut-down of his big-budget “Glimpse of Tiger” amid rumors of a breakdown or drug problem. “It had been a week rife with reports that…he was behaving strangely…walking around with a pacifier in his mouth, blowing whistles during camera takes, flying into screaming rages at director Tony Harvey,” wrote Marilyn Beck. He did, of course, eventually work again, logging dozens of film and TV roles, but it was never the same. Decades of forgettable roles and near-misses followed before Steven Soderbergh cast him as one-time casino owner Reuben Tishkoff in his 2001 “Ocean’s Eleven,” and its follow-ups.

Now Gould is enjoying playing two series characters that are nothing alike. According to him, his “Ray Donovan” character will be more prominent in the future. “Ezra is a very serious character, a rather pios character. He’s a highly successful, deeply-connected person. We haven’t seen too much of Ezra, but we will see more of him since his brain tumor is corrected,” he says. As far as “Mulaney,” “With Oscar, you see all of Oscar’s inside. Oscar expresses what he’s feeling. This character is a highly original character for me to do.”

Another difference: “Mulaney” is being shot before an audience with multiple cameras. It’s a challenge. However, says Gould, “I enjoy working and a challenge for me to work with these young people. I enjoy the opportunity and I work at it.”

As for how he maintains his vigor, Gould says, “What do I do – I have a family, I have grown children, and I have a very good relationship with nature. To me, it’s all about the family and mostly about chemistry and being honest and true.”

Of course.

How We Watch TV is Changing, Says NBC Exec

Do you watch TV on your tablet, use Video On Demand, download shows? The tectonic shifts in viewing habits among U.S. TV audiences are speeding up precipitously, according to Alan Wurtzel, President, Research & Media Development, NBC Universal. For example, as he pointed out during NBC’s TCA day, smartphone viewing is on the rise. “It hardly existed in 2008. Today half of the population has it. And that’s definitely going to grow by the end of the year…. One out of five people watched a TV show or a movie on a smartphone in the past seven days.”

Wurtzel points out, “It’s very interesting, kind of counterintuitive ‑‑ most mobile consumption doesn’t occur outside; it occurs in the home. 61% of consumption is in the home, 39% out of the home. Where is it basically consumed? Half of it’s consumed in the bedroom. By the way, it’s consumed around a little after 10:30. I won’t make any further comments about that.”

And you probably thought you were the only one looking at your phone in bed.

Why ‘Sean Saves the World’ is Bringing Linda Lavin Back to TV

sean saves the worldLinda Lavin offers a very simple explanation for her return to series TV in NBC’s forthcoming “Sean Saves the World” with Sean Hayes:  “I go where the material is best,” says the Tony winner and American Theatre Hall of Famer.

The actress who ruled the airwaves as title star of the classic sitcom “Alice”’ from 1976-1985 plays Hayes’ sometimes contentious, often pushy mother in the October 3-debuting show.

She tells us she’s been offered other roles of mothers.  However, “This is the first best mother I’ve read in television in a very long time — because she’s not a joke, or the butt of a joke.  She’s not a simplification.  She’s a full-blown human being, and I choose to do women who are looking for their own identity beyond being someone’s mother,” adds Lavin, true to her consciousness of female equality that “Alice” fans no doubt recall. 

She goes on, “Who she is, is an evolving, opinionated, alive, lively, sensible and attractive woman who wants to have a full life with her son, with her grandchild and for herself.  I think she’s extremely identifiable with this generation of women who have adult children and grandchildren and are saying to the world, I’m also somebody – not just your mother, not just your grandmother.  My identity, and her identity is very respected by the writer, Victor Fresco, and that means a lot to me.”

“Sean Saves the World” is getting much attention for bringing the gifted Hayes back to the tube, of course – in the role of a divorced gay dad who is attempting to balance his demanding job, his teenaged daughter and, yes, his mom, who is such a woman to be reckoned with.  Lavin says she and Hayes hit it off like long-time friends right away.

She looks younger than her septuagenarian status.  But she shrugs off compliments.   “I know I’m aging, and I know my body is changing and my face has changed, but I’m happy with being here and being accepted and being alive and being well and working.  I think a lot of that is why I have the energy I do.”

As for returning to the situation comedy game itself, it sounds as if Lavin finds it like riding a bike.  “The process is the same.  There’s a script, there’s a sit-down at a table, there’s rewriting, there’s rehearsal, there’s an audience.  It’s not a whole different world.”

EATING SPORTS FOR BREAKFAST:  With NBC’s Sunday Night Football ready for its new season – launching with its Thursday night (9/5) NFL Kickoff show with the Baltimore Ravens vs. the Denver Broncos – Al Michaels seems to be loaded with vitality.  How does he account for that at age 68?

“I eat no vegetables,” he answers.  “The guys I work with will tell you.  I eat a lot of steaks and chops, fish and all that stuff.”  Yikes!  “No,  I don’t know what it is.  I’m just lucky.  I married the right woman, so that has a lot to do with it.  I’m just lucky – very, very blessed.  I’ve had a lot of good things that have happened.” 

 

 

Al Roker, Mannheim Steamroller’s Chip Davis Talk Turkey Day

Al Roker will be all over NBC’s holiday programming again this year – starting with today’s 86th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  It’s a job the “Today Show” weather man took on with relish.

 “My father always loved the holidays.  He used to take us to see the Macy’s Parade and the lighting of the Rockefeller Christmas Tree, and we’d watch the Rose Parade on TV — but never in my wildest dreams did I think I would do any of these events, let alone all of them,” Roker let us know.

In fact, he told us that the holidays mean more to him every year — especially since his beloved dad passed away. “It was an odd, poignant holiday, the first one where he wasn’t there.  That becomes a reason to appreciate the occasion and the family and friends you’re celebrating with that much more,” noted Al.  “Those times you think, ‘Oh, maybe I won’t go home this year,’ you have to remember, you never know who might be missing.  Not to be macabre, but maybe you’ll be the one who isn’t around next year.”

SOUNDS OF THE SEASON:  Holiday time is hectic time for Mannheim Steamroller’s Chip Davis, starting today with the Macy’s Parade — his third appearance at the event in three years.  Davis himself is being seen with one of his performance groups on a float — even as two more Mannheim Steamroller companies are embarking on two Christmas tours that will cover  some 94 cities.

He’ll hit QVC Sunday, then go down to Universal Studios in Orlando, where “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” — a 20-minute outdoor symphonic version — is playing ’til the end of the year, with Chip conducting. “They built a venue to try it, and 25,000 people showed up to the first concert.  Then they tried eight concerts, and 25,000 people showed up for each one,” he tells us.  And thus began a new holiday tradition.

Davis has just come from Las Vegas, where he oversaw the launch of a new Mannheim Steamroller holiday show at the Venetian Hotel.

That’s five Mannheim Steamroller groups performing — the most composer-arranger-producer-musician Davis has had going at once.

It’s quite a feat for someone who recalls being “pretty much an outcast” when he was trying to get started in the recording business back in the ’70s.  None of the big record companies knew what to do with him, so Davis did something revolutionary then, common practice now — he started his own label.

“It turned out to be the greatest asset I had,” he says brightly.  “Everyone said, ‘That will never work.'”  In 1984, when Mannheim Steamroller’s first holiday album was released, “the traditional view was that artists turned to making Christmas records when they were out of ideas.”  Now, Mannheim Steamroller is synonymous with the festive time of year, and Davis has sold more than 40 million albums.

He hasn’t toured since the 2008 automobile accident and subsequent surgery that left him with limited feeling and mobility in his right arm, but keeps up a ferocious schedule this time of year nonetheless. As for what he’s most thankful for, Davis says he savors the time he spends with his three children, ages 21, 16 and 13.

SPEAKING OF THANKS:  As friends and families gather to celebrate this Thanksgiving, here are some extra notes of thanks gathered from celebrities over the last few years — in answer to our question of who they’d like to thank besides their families:
John Stamos — “I’d like to be able thank some of the older guys like Don Rickles and the Rat Pack for being such great mentors to me. Don Rickles is one of my best friends, one of the great living geniuses, a legend.  I learned so much from him and the other guys in show business who gave so much to the audience.  Not like today when comics come on and get off fast.”
Swoosie Kurtz – “I’m thankful for all the amazing people in this world who give time and energy helping children who are abused and neglected to feel loved and wanted.  I salute them and I thank them.”
Holland Taylor– I could speak of a lot of people on the personal level, but outside of that, it didn’t take much thinking to answer this. I thought of who has changed my life and changed the quality of life in our country – and that is Oprah Winfrey. In 20 years the world will be different because of her.  She knows education is how the world will change, not politics.”
Ellen Burstyn — “I’ll always thank Lee Strasberg.  He was such an incredible, probably the most important, influence on my life.”
Genie Francis  — “Barbara Bass — she was my studio teacher when I was a young woman, a nice Jewish mother. I spent three hours a day with her. She was one of the only people who was capable of not losing sight of who I was.  Just about everybody else seemed to let that slip by in the midst of the fame.  She had an ability to separate me from that, to see just me, to take care of me as if I was her own daughter.  She was there for all the trials and tribulations.  Without her loving guidance, I don’t what I would have done.  I thought I lived to make money and be a celebrity.  She opened my mind to the possibility that I was worthwhile for myself.  I was damn lucky to have her.”
Nikki Blonsky — “I’d like to thank God for another year with my wonderful family.”
Hear, hear!