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Liveblog: NBC’s Fall Preview at the TCAs

August 1st, 2011 by Ben Collins Editor

Ah, fall previews. We’re being prematurely shot forward into a future where the leaves are a reddish hue and Cedric the Entertainer magically morphs into a Playboy Bunny.

Yep, NBC is promising that sort of magic while pitching their fall shows at the TCAs here at the Beverly Hilton today. Magic and jelly beans and lox and free hand massages, at least.

Hulu editor Rebecca Harper and I are partaking in two of those activities. (You pick.) We’re also liveblogging over the course of the day. We’ll try to best convey those lox through your work monitor.

Oh, and hit us up @hulu and we’ll respond and post your comments in this here liveblog.

The Playboy Club

Rebecca: NBC promises real bunnies in this fall’s Playboy Club, perhaps in a move to make it more appealing for the Utah affiliate who famously said “no way” to the series?

There’s a promise that the similarities to Mad Men end at the era. It’s more of a soap than a period drama. They used Playboy archives in Chicago to fact-check all the details.

Intent of this show is to show characters at a certain time, a certain place. Not the spirit of the show to be racy. It’s a lot of fun, a ton of music…. “it’s a great ride for an hour.”

Network says show is empowering women, but the audience may disagree. Lots of press are finger-pointing about this.

Jenifer Lewis plays Pearl, the seamstress in the Playboy club and its backstage Mother Hen. “She represents many African-American women of the era, coming off welfare, getting jobs. Yes, the sex will be there as it is everywhere, in every show. This show is about the women. It’s the civil rights movement, the show is going to have that in its history.”

Then she has the quote of the morning: “I think I’m gonna be fabulous in it.” Sounded convincing.

Ben: Welp, here comes The Playboy Club. From the idea of it alone, we’re pretty excited about it.

This is only because they really just started listing all of these women as “real bunnies.” They bring up a lawyer who was a “former real-life bunny” and Rebecca and I have been trading barbs.

“I demand a lettuce recess!” “The defendant is guilty—of being soft as hell!”

Oh, sorry. Here’s a real quote: “This show is about empowering women.”

Sorry. We don’t mean to laugh here, under our breath.

We’ve gone to our civics classes, read our World According to Garps, heard all angles. We understand all sides here.

To call living in a house with your breasts pouring out at all times in exchange for food and shelter a “new opportunity for women in the 1960s” is hilarious.

It’s the oldest opportunity.

Ooh, finally, there’s some response here. A fella up front raised his hand.

“But about the women having all the power—that’s just not true,” he says.

Amber Herd responds: “These women were financially independent.”

Financially in…dependence of Hugh Hefner’s whim. Yes, correct, right.

I was previously excited about this show. I’m relatively convinced this is entirely horses–t.

Other notes: Quick timeline:

11:10Jennifer Lewis: “As you might know, I’m a thespian from the theatre.”

Immediately thereafter: Rebecca, looking at her IMDB: “Looks like she’s on State of Georgia.”

Free Agents

Ben: I have no idea if I’m going to watch this show. But Hank Azaria is a really nice guy.

“Is there a little Mad About You in this? No. I’m going to go with no.”

I kind of love this guy.

Rebecca: Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn star in this one. Yeah, we all know Azaria’s voice from The Simpsons (and of course he was on Friends). But Kathryn Hahn? Oh yeah, she was in Anchorman. Or, as she puts it: “I’m usually the girl with long armpit hair in the movies.” She promises she gets to “glam it up” on this series. So that means no armpit hair?

So what’s it about? Not spies, like I expected. And the preview we watched here at the Beverly Hilton (home to the Golden Globes!) didn’t really clear it up for me. Fortunately the cast filled us in: “Their jobs are damage control, but their lives are completely out of control,” Hahn says. Apparently they visited a consulting firm that really creeped Azaria out.

Now we get to the real gist: the leads work together and have slept together. They’re both messes. But this so-called “anti-romantic comedy” (does that mean it’s not going to be funny?) isn’t your standard “will they or won’t they” fare. Instead, it’s “they did it. Now what?”

Heck, I’m just excited to see Anthony Head (Buffy’s Giles) back on U.S. TV again.

Ben: Joe Lo Truglio, who you might know from The State but definitely know as the guy who hits Michael Cera with his car in Superbad and the intensely high guy in everything else, just pulled out a line during this panel that is going to make me watch this show:

“For my first ComicCon, you guys like amazing.”

Okay, let’s do some flash grades on what we’ve seen today:
Free Agents: Rebecca – B / Ben – B+

We’re both certainly rooting for this thing. We liked everybody up on that stage. We just think it’s going to take a little bit of time to get its legs. We don’t know if anybody has that time anymore, though, let alone a network.

Playboy Club Rebecca – C / Ben – D-

This is coming from a few people who had some expectations that this would be impressive. It looks like a 13-episode PR grab for Hugh Hefner. Massive disappointment.

Whitney

Ben: The first joke we hear is this: “Half of all marriages end. If half of all planes crashed, would you continue to fly?”

Woof.

This seems like a fake sitcom that somebody on another sitcom would try out for.

– I think Rebecca and I both wish this show was just Whitney Cummings hanging out talking to people. She’s much cooler than the jokes written for her.

Rebecca: Fun fact about Whitney Cummings and why I’ll give her show a chance: While she was writing the script for NBC’s Whitney, she also met with Michael Patrick King of Sex and the City fame. She bought Christian Louboutin shoes to meet with him (but of course) and planned to return them the next day. But here’s why I like her. She admitted to a room full of TV critics that she sweat in those (presumably $700) pumps so badly, she had to keep them. Not that she needs to worry about it … NBC picked up Whitney and CBS picked up Two for Broke.

Whitney and her co-star Chris D’Elia (who plays her boyfriend/future husband) saw each other every night in L.A.’s comedy clubs, so they grew up and developed together. She wrote the show with Chris in mind, saying “He is the most talented young comedian working. Besides me.” More about her background: Mad About You was a big deal for her, that and the Cosby Show. She was on with a bunch of comedians. That got her interested in standup.

Also good news: Maulik Pancholy is a co-star but he won’t be giving up his role as Jack Donaghy’s assistant on 30 Rock.

Up All Night

Ben: Granted, Will Arnett could fix his pantleg and I’d laugh, but this show looks so very good. The preview clips weren’t much. I wasn’t truly looking forward to this. Then we saw these clips, which looks like actual, funny 30-year-olds parenting in 2011.

It’s the first show here that could actually be anywhere close to groundbreaking.

Rebecca: As Ben pointed out, Will Arnett is back. This time as a house husband. We actually heard real laughs from the audience when they played a little promo piece for the show. (Hey, we laughed, too!)

Since Christina Applegate and Will Arnett were largely quiet through much of the panel, it was a walk down memory lane for Maya Rudolph, who later admitted she was still in a daze having just had a baby. We heard about Oprah’s response to Maya’s impression of her (she was grateful Maya didn’t wear a fat suit). Lorne Michaels said he thinks 30 Rock is on solid ground these days, though he still watches rough cuts of the show. In all, a funny promo; a less-than-exciting panel.

Ben: Ditto, Rebecca. Lorne Michaels did accidentally say something to Maya Rudolph that could truly piss off almost everybody he employs. It’s this:

“She could keep (going on SNL), but then, well, you have a variety star. But they’re not making that sort of show anymore and you kind of wonder why.”

Isn’t that like a mayor saying, “Well, we need a fire department, but do we really need firefighters if we have all these hoses?”

Grimm:

If you don’t know what this show is about—and we sure as hell don’t!—executive producer and writer David Greenwalt just provided the catchphrase for us. (He actually said this sentence.)

“He’s not a child molester, even though I say that. He’s just a guy who needs something to eat.”

Basically, it’s a show about a big bad wolf who eats children (but maybe molests them first?) for sustenance, but “goes to pilates at night (and) tries to eat vegetarian.” David from Road Rules tries to find the child murderer in an adorable, aw shucks sort of way.

Somebody just called this show goofy in a question and Greenwalt visibly wanted to punch the guy out, so…

THIS SHOW LOOKS WONDERFUL OUR GRADE IS A+ WATCH AWAY. Rebecca?

Rebecca: Yeah, so we’re all aware that this fall marks the return of the fairy tale. There’s the competing Snow White movies. There’s ABC’s “Once Upon a Time,” which we’ll learn more about early next week. Then there’s also “Grimm” on NBC. It has impressive lineage: David Greenwalt from Buffy and Sean Hayes from Will and Grace as Executive Producers. Strange bedfellows, I say. But I’m a sucker for dark fairy tales.

With over 200 Grimm stories out there, they should have plenty of fodder to keep this series going. The premise: a police procedural where the crimes are Grimm fairy tales come to life — well, at least those available in the public domain. Expect to see Easter eggs that nod to the Grimm Brothers, from bees (mentioned in most of their stories) and familiar lines like, “someone’s sleeping in my bed.”

The critics noted the dark tone and setting (the show is shot and based in Portland). Greenwalt said we won’t see all the gore that’s found in the Grimm fairy tales, but they’re not shying away from violence, either. Perpetual creepy guy Silas Weir Mitchell (My Name is Earl, Burn Notice, 24) stars as a “big bad wolf” who may not be so bad after all, even if he does prey upon young children. Hey, a guy’s gotta eat, even if he is a wolfman.

Prime Suspect

Ben: I ran out to make a phone call and came back post-trailer. I’m going to try to deduce what this show is about based on the questions and answers. Rebecca’s going to tell me where I went wrong. Here’s what I got:

In a microscopic world with no female detectives, men in a tiny room rarely leave the office to drive their matchbox cars. And everyone is named Barney Miller.

Tiny people. All of them named Barney Miller. None of them female. Only on NBC.

Rebecca: Nope. It’s the Jetsons as cops.

George is really a woman who has to dress as a man to fit in at the precinct. Rosie is a robot by day/superhero at night. Together she and George scurry around in their hover matchbox cars and solve crime.

But, really, this is same old, same old. Think The Closer set in NYC. It’s like this:

She’s a tough-as-nails cop who moves from a midtown NYC unit to a precinct in a bad neighborhood. All of the men in her new unit are sexist, so she has to prove herself. And she apparently lives a nice life outside of work because she’s dressed up in a cocktail dress in one scene. Only on NBC.

Ben: The Jetsons idea sounds so much better.

Rebecca: In light of that exchange, I figure we’re due for a little Prime Suspect 101. It’s based on the UK series with Helen Mirren. This time, though, Maria Bello’s Jane is a tough NYC detective who is trying to fit in at a new precinct. Bello kicked ass in the promo, dressed down and no-nonsense in a fedora, but she looks radiant in a green dress on stage. And hey, it’s the guy from Fringe, Kirk Acevedo! Oh, and there’s a friend of Hulu, Peter Berg (he directed our first TV spot; now he’s behind the scenes on this show). And Ben Collins is back!

It’s another procedural — something’s gotta fill in for all the Dick Wolf series, after all — but I get the sense this one’s going to have a sense of humor. “We’ve got a lot of really juicy cases that we’re going to break down in each show [to appeal to fans of procedurals]. We’re going to have a lot of fun with Maria and her [character’s] personal life, we’re going to get to know more about the other cops and their personal lives. We’re going to go home with them too,” executive producer/writer Alexandra Cunningham said.

My take: “The Closer” meets Manhattan, with a bit of “Southland” thrown in for good measure. Maria Bello’s character is grittier than “The Closer’s” Deputy Chief Brenda Lee Johnson and has to work harder to prove herself to her new unit. She’s funnier than Helen Mirren’s Jane in the U.K. original — as evidenced when Bello jokes that she wishes she had Mirren’s body on today’s panel. (Full disclosure: I haven’t actually seen the original series.)

The Sing-Off

Rebecca: While I haven’t see the original Prime Suspect, I have to admit that I’ve seen every episode of The Sing-Off. There, I said it. It’s a hazard of the job, I guess.

We kicked things off with an a cappella rendition of Maroon 5’s “This Love” from last season’s winners, Committed. (Side note, this network loves Adam Levine. He’s apparently working on a karaoke series for them in addition to his stint on The Voice.)

And here are our judges, Shawn Stockman, Ben Folds, and newcomer Sara Bareilles, plus newlywed Nick Lachey. (And producer Joel Gallen.) The show returns this fall, with 11 episodes, including one focused on guilty pleasures.

I was never musically inclined, so I may be in the minority here, but what I truly like about this show are the judges (though I’m not sad to see Nicole Scherzinger go) and Nick Lachey. Shawn is earnest and has street cred thanks to his days with Bel Biv Devoe. Nice-guy Nick Lachey is a way better host than Carson Daly, I guess because he knows he isn’t too cool for this sort of gig. And Ben Folds is just, well, pretty freaking awesome. He knows his craft and he’s always good for an eggheaded laugh. Jury’s still out on Sara Bareilles, but she seemed poised. Will I miss Nicole Scherzinger’s non-sequiturs? Not so much.

Best question of the panel came down to favorite TV theme songs. Folds’ pick: Sanford and Son. Stockman: Night Court, for its sick bass line, which reminded Sara Bareilles of The Cosby Show theme.

Ben: Oh, Ben Folds is here, and we need to talk.

Ben, my brother: Dig through some old albums, the ones where you’re in some guy’s garage beating away at an out-of-tune piano. Or even the ones a little bit after that. Those ones were kicked out from your gut. Nobody disagrees.

This show is not the same thing. It is so very much not the same thing.

Go get sad again, hide in your room and punch out a typewriter. Remember when you had problems? Stop encouraging college students who don’t.

God, I wish this show was Tiny Barney Millers instead.

Oh, damnit, he just said something funny.

As some acne’d boy named “Prescott” will sing on this show at some point, don’t phunk with my heart. Don’t remind me of what we once had, Benjamin.

Some guy just lobbed him a softball. They asked how he kept his lips sealed about the results, since the show was already taped and it airs in September.

“Ten-thousand people knew about the Manhattan Project,” he says. “Nobody said a thing.”

ROMANCE ME, FOLDS. TAKE ME BACK TO THE BEGINNIN’.

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