'Mr. Mercedes,' Morgan Freeman Among Press Tour Highlights (and Lowlights) From Day 1

Network executive hyperbole, the fate of a 'Project Greenlight' winner and more from the first day of the Television Critics Association summer press tour.
Courtesy of DirecTV
'Mr. Mercedes'

The summer 2017 Television Critics Association's press tour kicked off Tuesday morning in Beverly Hills.

Over the next two-plus weeks, I'll be focusing on some of the highlights and lowlights of the press tour, panels and stars that did a spectacular job of selling themselves to a room full of reporters from around North America and panels and stars that maybe weren't so successful.

Up first, an explanation for how Epix's Get Shorty is and isn't like the book and movie, the wisdom of Morgan Freeman and some extreme hyperbole from the head of Audience Network.

Shorty's not a shorty no more. Epix's Get Shorty looks and feels a bit like Elmore Leonard's Get Shorty and the successful feature film. It just has different characters and a basically different plot. Creator Davey Holmes emphasized that this is a series "inspired" by the property, similar to what Noah Hawley has done with Fargo. Star Chris O'Dowd summed it up the distinction, "The way I like to think about it is that we’re both obviously using the same original material with the book, but it’s like visiting a bar at a different time of the week. So the movie's kind of like going to a bar on a Saturday night when everybody's looking well. There are chat-up lines. They're work is a treat, and the night is their oyster. And we kind of visit the bar at 3 a.m. on a Thursday, when the floor is kind of sticky. You're fighting with your girlfriend. And the bar bill's about to arrive and you can't afford to pay it. That's essentially how it feels to me."

Nick of time. Epix's Graves is returning for a second season in October and at the panel, it took until the final question before co-stars Sela Ward and Skylar Astin opened their mouths. This is what happens when Nick Nolte is giving extended answers looking back at Rich Man, Poor Man or talking about his recent cataract surgery. Most reporters, unfortunately, won't be able to get content from answers like, "It's rather fun and scary at the same time because they wipe out the retina with a laser. So you see it go 'blook,' and that part’s gone, 'blook,' that part’s gone, and then it's black. And then you can't see anymore out of that eye. That's why they do one eye at a time. They separate them by a month." (I'm truly curious on the transcribing decision to go with "blook" for Nolte's chosen sound effect.)

Opposition research. Comedy Central used its press tour panel to announce that its new 11:30 p.m. show will be called The Opposition With Jordan Klepper. The series, which will lampoon extreme provocateurs on each side, was born at least partially from Klepper's time on the road as a correspondent for The Daily Show. He explained, "I went to Trump rally after Trump rally, in New Hampshire, in Tennessee, in Wisconsin, and I talked to folks day in and day out. And I watched this normalization wash over the country. [Barack] Obama being a secret Muslim was a belief held by some, but very few. And then, by the end, it was something that was emblazoned on T-shirts and hats. The media started out covering these events, and by the end, they were the No. 1 enemy of these events. I was even called 'fake news,' which, to be fair, is completely accurate, but it still stung."

Curb your enthusiasm. For network executives, TV shows are like babies, and every executive is going to insist he or she has the cutest baby, but when it comes to hyperbole, allow me to caution a proud papa against telling a room full of critics still huffing the fumes of the recent Handmaid's Tale, Leftovers and Better Call Saul that your new Stephen King adaptation is "one of the best shows I've ever seen on television." Thus spoke Audience TV chief Chris Long on the network's upcoming Mr. Mercedes. Is Mr. Mercedes one of Audience's most promising shows thus far, a drama with a couple of great performances and some interesting expansions from King's novel? Absolutely! But is it "the most provocative, thrilling, 10-episode drama that you will ever see"? Not so far! To be fair to Long, though, if the six Mr. Mercedes episodes I've yet to see are, indeed, "the best thing you will see on television this year," I'll acknowledge it. But man, that's a high bar to voluntarily force your network's show to meet. [Our full Mr. Mercedes panel coverage.]

Mann alive. You may recall Jason Mann from the fourth season of Project Greenlight. Anti-social guy? Forced Matt Damon to play heel? Really wanted to shoot on film? He's alive and he shot second unit on Audience Network's upcoming dark comedy Loudermilk. This information was revealed by Loudermilk exec producer Peter Farrelly, who recalled of his truncated experience as Project Greenlight mentor, "I was disappointed that it turned out like that, because I really was looking forward to doing it, and I just wanted to work with some young filmmakers, and then I realized very quickly it was turning into, like, a Housewives-type show. And I wanted out. I just remember for about a week I could see where it was going, and I would be lying in bed and my stomach aching, and I have kids. I have teenage kids and social media and all this shit. I was thinking, 'Oh, my God. How do I get out? What do I do?' And then I just remember thinking, 'You quit.' I just remember feeling so relieved. And I went to sleep. I woke up in the morning and said, 'I'm out. I'm done. I'm not doing it.' And they said, 'No. No. You don't quit.' And I said, 'No, I'm done. I don't want to play a game.'"

Critic, critique thyself. Ron Livingston's character in Audience's Loudermilk is a pretty awful guy. How do you know he's awful? He's a critic, or at least a former critic. He's also a critic who probably wouldn't do so well at the Television Critics Association's press tour. "I think not only is he not a TV critic, I don’t think he's even a TV guy," the actor told reporters, stabbing us in the collective heart. "I don't think he watches. I always had the thought that there's a little bit of territoriality as far as, like, there was really only room in pop culture for one sort of crown jewel, and music was it. And so he's not a movies guy. He's not a television guy. Doesn't read novels. It's music to him."

Representation of us. With his Story of franchise, as well as productions like Madam Secretary, Morgan Freeman has been a press-tour regular in recent years. Promoting his latest NatGeo offering, The Story of Us, Freeman delved thoughtfully into how his acting and hosting work have dovetailed. He observed, "I think what I've always wanted to do in film is sort of revisionist history. In film, I just need to belong. I grew up in the movies, watching them and not seeing enough of me, none of me. So my film career is actually predicated on being able to see me. That doesn't cross over to this line of fire. This is a completely different set of rules, I guess, I can use to live by. Now what I'm getting the most joy out of is meeting all of these different people, sitting down and having a one-on-one conversation with them, and realizing that, 'Hee, I just talked with someone from the other side of the world, and they are saying pretty much the same thing. They are just using a different language.'"

Stay tuned on Wednesday for highlights from Discovery, ESPN and HBO ...

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