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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.

Tom Bergeron Sparkler on 4th of July

bergeron pbsTom Bergeron expects to touch down in Washington, D.C., today, July 1, to start the whirlwind of activities leading up to his hosting of this year’s “A Capitol Fourth” gargantuan Independence Day concert on PBS. “I’ll do some satellite TV interviews alongside Kermit the Frog on the 2nd,” he reports, speaking of the greenest member of his talent line-up. “On the 3rd we do a dress rehearsal to which the public is invited, which is the whole show except the fireworks. And on the 4th of July, obviously, we do the live show.”

Bergeron credits the “Capitol Fourth” team for doing “all the heavy lifting, all the hard work” in preparing the concert that’s beamed around the globe each year. This year, the affable “Dancing With the Stars” and “Funniest Home Videos” host will be joined by Frankie Valli, Patti LaBelle, Phillip Phillips, Jordin Sparks, Michael McDonald, Sara Evans, Kendall Schmidt, Kelli O’Hara, the National Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Jack Everly — and John Williams in a special tribute to the National Anthem — plus The Muppets’ Miss Piggy as well as Kermit.

“There are so many lures involved in doing this. The fact that it’s live TV is certainly one. The fact that it is America’s premiere birthday party on PBS is another,” Bergeron says.
When the party is through, Bergeron and wife Lois will be taking a vacation on the West Coast for three weeks, and then he will shoot his final season of “America’s Funniest Videos.” He announced earlier this year that he was going to call it a wrap as host of the show that, as he’s pointed out, often revolves around someone taking a hit to the head, gut or groin. His feelings about ending his run now?

“Well, you know, it was my decision,” he says. “It’s the show’s 25th year. It will be my 15th year hosting, and it just felt like a good time to, as I’ve said, pass the pinata stick to somebody else.” As for who will be the new host, he says, “I’m hoping that will be part of what plays out during the season. They’ll be auditioning people, some tongue-in-cheek and some legitimately.”
Then it will be on to season 19 of “Dancing With the Stars” — coming off one of its best and best-rated seasons in recent years. The team is still enjoying the afterglow of viewer adoration for winners Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Meryl Davis, and for dazzling Paralympian Amy Purdy. “There were a number of other elements that people brought to their hearts this season, but I think those two were the key,” Bergeron says.

He does hear rumblings about celebrities who may become contenders for next season, but “I always play dumb,” he admits.

“It’s always better to unveil them all at once if possible. In late August, I imagine, we’ll announce the new cast. And they’ll have about three weeks to rehearse and get ready. Typically, it’s the middle of September that we premiere.”

When it comes to celebrities he’d like to see on “DWTS,” Bergeron thinks of “a friend of mine who I’ve often cited — he’ll never do it — William Shatner. I thought he would be great. He has said he’s willing to be a guest judge, but he’s not willing to put himself through all that hassle of actually competing. I can understand why. It becomes all-consuming, and more so as you get deeper into the run of the season because you’re doing more dances and it takes more of your time and commitment. But he’d be a riot.”

How about a Shatner guesting on “America’s Funniest Videos”?

“I would love to have him,” says Bergeron. “The stage we’re on is right next to where ‘Boston Legal’ used to shoot, so he’s familiar with the neighborhood.”

Gary Sinise Talks Memorial Day Concert, ‘Forrest Gump’ Re-release

 mantegna sinise           Never say never. A few years ago, an online movie pundit declared that “the theatrical re-issue is dead” — and added, “Do not expect to see ‘Forrest Gump’ on its 20th anniversary back on the screen.”  It turns out, a theatrical re-issue is in the cards for the iconic film that was originally released July 6, 1994 — and went on to win six Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director for Robert Zemeckis and Best Actor for Tom Hanks. “Paramount Pictures is going to re-release the film for its 20th anniversary celebration in the fall,” reports Gary Sinise, who, you’ll recall, was also an Oscar nominee for the film. “It will first be coming out in the IMAX theaters and then it will be rolling into theaters across the country as a special 20th anniversary look at ‘Forrest Gump’ again.”
            Sinise already celebrated “Gump’s” special year the way he does best: his Gary Sinise Foundation coordinated a multi-day “Hollywood Salutes Heroes” celebration in February, with some 100 wounded service members being flown to L.A. for a VIP holiday. They made trips to Disneyland, enjoyed Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. feasts, and were honored at a big celebrity-filled party and “Forrest Gump” screening at Paramount Studios that reunited Sinise with Hanks and the movie’s “Bubba,” Mykelti Williamson. A concert by Sinise and his Lt. Dan Band followed.
            “Gump,” of course, is the film that started a life’s work for Sinise — with the real-life military, especially wounded warriors, embracing his Lt. Dan character as their own rough-hewn phoenix rising from the ashes of the battlefield. Today, Sinise is constantly involved in efforts to support such veterans via his Gary Sinise Foundation and a never-ending string of fundraisers with his band. He hasn’t acted since “CSI: New York” wrapped production in February 2013 — and doesn’t foresee himself acting again for awhile. “I’m too busy now. It’s very full-time for me with the military support work and the Foundation work we’re doing,” he explains.
            He will, however, be seen on PBS Sunday (5/25) as he cohosts The National Memorial Day Concert from Washington, D.C., with his long-time pal Joe Mantegna.
            “This will be my 10th year, my 9th year as cohost,” says Sinise. “They always have extraordinary-talented performers. Whoever wins ‘American Idol’ will sing the National Anthem, the winner of ‘The Voice,’ will perform, Megan Hilty will perform, Gerald McRaney, a wonderful actor, Dianne Weist, General Colin Powell — he never misses because he knows how important it is to keep awareness up of all the sacrifices that are made to maintain our freedom. That’s what Memorial Day is all about — honoring those who have served. That’s why I won’t miss it.”
            Looking back on some of the most memorable moments in the concert’s history, Sinise says, “One that comes to mind is Charles Durning who was on this concert for so many years, and who passed away last year. Charlie — one year he told the story of hitting the beach at Normandy and fighting his way into Germany. He told his own story. It was so powerful and so moving. These are the stories we need to keep reminding people. This freedom is precious.”
            The Concert’s Executive Producer, Jerry Colbert, also recalls the special peformances that have highlighted the event. “There have been many over the years, but a few that have stood out for me include Forest Whitaker, who did a story about a gentleman with PTSD and TBI that was an incredibly moving performance,” he says. “Katie Holmes and Dianne Wiest told the story of Jose Pequeno, about major traumatic brain injury, which showed tremendous sacrifice and dedication of the families. Also Colleen Dewhurst, who was on the first Memorial Day Concert 25 years ago.”
            According to Colbert, probably the biggest challenge he’s had to face came not from performers or their handlers, but from mother nature — “the rain that happened in 2012. There was such severe lightning and thunder that the program was closed down half-way through and the grounds evacuated. But with the great support of the crew, we were able to edit together the first half of the 2012 concert that aired live, followed by a seamless transition to footage of the full dress rehearsal from the night before. So viewers were still able to see the entire show.”
            Sinise is fresh from a Lt. Dan Band concert to raise funds for the building of an adaptive home for a wounded veteran in Lancaster, CA, when we settle down for a morning’s chat. The vet, he says, is “confined to a wheelchair. He’s paralyzed. He’s missing an arm. He has limited use of his right arm. He’s got traumatic brain injuries. He has two kids and he’s living in this cramped up trailer,” adds the actor. “The local high school kids out there found out about him and they started raising money to build him a house. I found out about it. My foundation is involved all over the country in building homes for the wounded. I called him up and volunteered to do a concert to raise money.”  Additionally, Sinise’s foundation reportedly kicked in $60,000.
            As far as “Forrest Gump” and its re-release, Sinise notes, “Having traveled all over the world performing for troops — you know many of them weren’t even born or were just being born when ‘Forrest Gump’ came out.  But even with that, I’m always hard-pressed to find a young person who hasn’t seen the film.
            “So there’s an entire generation of folks who’ve never seen the film on the big screen, so this will be an opportunity for them to see this beloved film. I think folks feel it’s a great time to put it out in theaters.”

Joe Mantegna Talks Memorial Day Concert, ‘The Fallen’ Follow-UP

hosts-vert01 (2)Don’t be surprised if there’s a follow-up to Joe Mantegna’s acclaimed “The Fallen” episode of “Criminal Minds” when the show returns this fall.

The November, 2012 segment that got into his character, David Rossi’s, background as a Vietnam vet also shined a spotlight on the problems of homeless veterans — with Meshach Taylor guest starring as Rossi’s former Marine officer whom he finds living on the streets.  Mantegna, who suggested the original, envisions a follow-up “that kind of shows what happened and how he has thrived, how he recovered from that situation, which will give hope to those in similar situations.”

He notes that Taylor “has been my dear friend for over 40 years.  He’s the godfather of my daughter, I’m the godfather of his son.  Our relationship in the episode mirrors the relationship we have in life.”

The episode also showcased the work of veterans’ organization New Directions in Los Angeles, which Mantegna was delighted to be able to do.

Right now, the brilliant and beloved actor is in Washington, D.C., getting ready for The National Memorial Day Concert, which he is cohosting with Gary Sinise for the 9th time.  In fact, Mantegna has been a part of the annual event honoring the military’s fallen since 2002.

“I had absolutely no idea it would become such a part of my life,” he tells us.  “It started when Charles Durning, a dear friend, asked me if I’d come in and read a segment for the concert.  Just the experience of doing it changed my life.  It had such an impact on me I said, ‘Look, I’d be glad to participate as long as you’d like me to.”  His third year, after former host  Ossie David passed away, he was asked to continue on as host.  “On the fourth year I decided I’d like to bring someone in on this who feels as passionate about it as I do.”  That was Sinise, who brought along his Lieutenant Dan Band. “Afterwards, he said, ‘Joe, this is so important, I’d like to be involved as long as I can be.”

And so it is.

This year’s concert features Ed Harris, “American Idol” winner Candice Glover, “The Voice’s” Chris Mann, Broadway stars Katherine Jenkins and Alfie Boe, Colin Powell and many more.  There will be a special segment in tribute to Korean War service members on the 60th anniversary of that conflict.  And, Mantegna reports, there will be a segment on the difficult subject of the high incidence of suicide among veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “We’ll highlight that — there are some important things that will also be helpful, hopefully, for people watching the show. There will be highlighting of ways to get assistance for those going through these troubles associated with their time in the military.”

Hosting such segments is difficult, he acknowledges. “That whole thing of being in front of a live audience of 300,000 people, let alone the television audience.  It’s pretty awesome, an awesome responsibility.”

Once the concert is through, he’s taking his family to visit his cousin, who owns a resort in Southern Italy.  Then he’ll be shooting episodes of his antique firearms show for the Outdoor Channel in Italy and Germany, then on to Monte Carlo and London to do “Criminal Minds” promotion work.

As for “Minds” future — Mantegna is confident that the show will not only get an early pickup next year, but that his popular CBS drama will go right on through both Season 9 and Season 10.

He saw this year’s slower renewal coming, he says, “just because of the sheer volume of things that had to be worked on.  All of our contracts — all the actors and the showrunners’ contracts — were up.”  But now they’re all tucked in again with two-year deals.

“After that, we’ll see,” he says.

Mantegna never thought that the wrangling would lead to the series’ demise.  “I’ve been in this business long enough to know the value of certain things.  In this instance, even if CBS had for some reason said, ‘We don’t see you on our schedule,’ ABC would have picked us up in a heartbeat because we’re carried by ABC internationally.”

The nice guy actor always seems to be lending his celebrity to veterans’ and autism causes (one of his daughters is autistic) when he isn’t working.  He says that’s partly because the older he gets, the more he feels “I want to give something back, to leave something behind.  I read a quote that the noblest thing you can do is leave the planet in better shape than when you go there, and that’s what I think about.  Of course there are people doing infinitely more than I am in any of the areas I’m involved in.  I feel so grateful for the opportunity to be able to do something.”

Lesley Nicol Values ‘Downton’ Fans’ Passion, but Reminds: ‘It’s a Show’

“Downton Abbey’s” Lesley Nicol tells us she missed out on the big public clamor over the Season 3 finale in the U.K..  She was here in the States when she learned from her agent about fans being so upset over a character’s being killed off the show, there were complaints on the internet that the Christmas Day episode had ruined people’s holiday.

“This is a sticky one.  I value their passion but a part of me can’t help saying, ‘It’s a show.  It’s an actor,’” admits Nicol, known world-wide as blustery cook Mrs. Patmore.  “And an actor has to be allowed to move on if he wants to.’”

Nicol has no such desire, we’re glad to report.  “It’s lovely to work on this show.  It’s a privilege to be on it.  It’s a very good cast, a wonderful crew…We just want to make it better and better if we can.”  She was, however, here taking meetings with Hollywood executives about work outside of “Downton Abbey” — and tooling around town in a borrowed gold Jaguar.

“I was a nervous wreck because it’s a lovely car and the roads are quite scary in L.A., but I got used to it,” she says.

One result of her time here is that Nicol will be heading to Vancouver shortly to film an episode of ABC’s “Once Upon a Time.” After that, she flies to Chicago for a concert appearance.  And after that, it’s back to the U.K. to begin filming the fourth season of “Downton.”

Season 3 begins airing here Sunday (1/6) and there is much to relish, including the fun of Dame Maggie Smith crossing verbal swords with Shirley MacLaine, who has come aboard as the mother of American Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern).  For Nicol, Season 3 opens up even more aspects of Mrs. Patmore’s personality.  She will be seen at the side of rival Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan), the head housekeeper, as Mrs. Hughes faces cancer.  And later in the season, it appears a bit of romance will be entering Mrs. Patmore’s life.

Nicol credits show creator Julian Fellowes for giving “everybody a proper journey.  He never leaves characters in one kind of groove.  He shows their different sides, just as we all have different sides to our characters.  To begin with, I was just this red-faced, angry bully.  But no one is just that.  The reason she behaved like that was, at that time, in that house, there would be no room for mistakes.  You couldn’t have people saying dinner at Downton Abbey wasn’t very good; it had to be the best show in town.”