Tracy Morgan's Return, Tiffany Haddish's Rise Among Press Tour Highlights (and Lowlights) From Day 3

Plus, Ike Barinholtz braves a broken neck and Kevin Reilly hobnobs with Snoop Dogg.
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Tiffany Haddish

Thursday's (July 27) third day of the Television Critics press tour in Beverly Hills covered a wide range of programming between the Turner family and Hulu, still basking in the glow of its Handmaid's Tale spring breakout. 

Panel notables included a respected executive trying to banter with a legendary rapper, the return of Tracy Morgan, the recovery of Ike Barinholtz and attempts to explain why Hulu's Runaways isn't a superhero show. 

Some highlights and lowlights from press tour Day 3...

The hero we need. We've definitely had actors absent themselves from TCA press tour panels for colds or headaches, but mere weeks after breaking his neck doing a stunt on the upcoming movie The Pact, Ike Barinholtz was sitting on the Beverly Hilton dais cracking jokes in a neck brace. It was appropriate that Barinholtz wouldn't let fractured cervical vertebrae stop him from making the last TCA panel for The Mindy Project, because he's always been a survivor on a show that has gone through more than a few supporting actor changes over its run. A glance back at the first Mindy Project TCA transcript is to be reminded of former players including Anna Camp, Zoe Jarman, Amanda Setton and Stephen Tobolowsky. Barinholtz's only contribution on that first panel was to say that if the Mindy cast were Ocean's Eleven, he would be Elliott Gould. "I stand by that," Barinholtz said on Thursday when I suggested he might elevate himself to the Matt Damon or the acrobat who folds himself into boxes. Perhaps we can ask Elliott Gould when he's at press tour for his upcoming CBS comedy. [Full Mindy Project panel coverage.]

Has success spoiled Tiffany Haddish? In January, Tiffany Haddish was a press tour MVP, appearing on three panels and telling us a story of adopting one of the Keanu kittens. Now, Haddish has a new show in TBS' upcoming Tracy Morgan vehicle The O.G., but she's also suddenly a movie star with a breakout role in the well-reviewed, sure-to-be-ridiculously-profitable R-rated comedy Girl Trip. Did Haddish return to press tour with a swelled head? Nah. She still had reporters in stitches. "They all treat me the same," she said of her co-stars. "I hang out with them all the same. It’s no different. I’m same ol’ Tiff. I mean, my bank account, it don’t show 'movie star' yet. That’s the part I’m waiting on. When do that happen? They say nine months. I’m like, 'It’s like a baby. I’m waiting for the delivery.'"

Sharing the spotlight. TBS' The O.G. is a big comeback vehicle for Tracy Morgan, his first extended TV return since the accident that nearly took his life. However, the series isn't just a Tracy Morgan vehicle. Executive produced by Morgan, Jordan Peele, John Carcieri and Eric Tannenbaum, it surrounds Morgan with other actors capable of earning spotlight moments, including Haddish, Cedric the Entertainer and Black-ish and Survivor's Remorse scene stealer Allen Maldonado. On his decision to share the comic wealth here, Morgan said passionately, "Maybe I’m just a better man now since the accident. Maybe I’m just a better man. It ain’t about me. It’s bigger than me. I’m just thankful — I’m fortunate to have these folks around me, bringing the vision that me and John and Jordan had, and Eric, that we had. We just lucked up and got what we wanted with the people, the folks that could do it. I’m just a better man now. I know it ain’t about me. It’s bigger than me. I thank God for that."

Life of Reilly. Kevin Reilly is respected pretty much across the board as one of the most TCA-polished executives in the business, which may be why reaction to his Turner executive session, complete with guest star Snoop Dogg, was so surprising and so negative. I was out of the room doing an interview, but a fellow critic told me, "It was just terribly scattered. Snoop came out like a minute after he was supposed to, Reilly babbled and their Q&A — 'How long have you liked TV?' —  was really bland. When Reilly finally started speaking solo and answering questions, he was just throwing out poorly phrased platitudes about how linear ratings are down (we know) and how cable companies with 'six, eight, 15 networks' were going to see a contraction. The latter seemed like a direct dig at NBCU, since most other cable suites have a similar channel load to Turner."

Work to be done. Turner had much more success with a network-spanning panel focusing on its strong female writers (like Megan Martin of Animal Kingdom and Janine Sherman Barrois of Claws) and lead actresses, including Michelle Dockery of Good Behavior and Olivia DeJonge of Will. It was a smart conversation about changes in the industry and the work still to be done. It also ended up being a great platform for the great Niecy Nash, who said, "We were talking backstage, and I was saying that a lot of times I’d do interviews, and the one thing that they always say is, 'Oh, but there’s so many women of color working in television now. You got Viola and Kerry Washington' you know what I mean? “Taraji P. Henson, and there’s you.” And I’m saying, 'That is wonderful, but the world is so much bigger than just black and white women.' There’s a whole lot of women whose stories are not being told. And while we have made some advances and baby steps is still progress, but we still have a way to go."

Every sperm is sacred. I'm just going to leave this quote from Ben Karlin, showrunner of Hulu's sci-fi comedy Future Man sitting here. "I think a good joke is a good joke," Karlin remarked on a particularly graphic visual gag in the pilot. "And there’s bad dirty jokes, and there’s good dirty jokes. So I think we probably enjoyed trying to make good dirty jokes. But semen actually plays an instrumental narrative role in this show."

Chris Gethard's long game. Like Wednesday's panel for Curb Your Enthusiasm, truTV's attempt to introduce The Chris Gethard Show to reporters who don't necessarily know its history and evolution was characterized more by giggles and oddness than anything necessarily quotable. Gethard talked about growing up as a bit of a nerd, explained which celebrities have understood his show's vibe and how being live on truTV might hurt some online and international viewers. As he put it, "Now that we’re on a network with as much reach as tru, we’re psyched that we get to just put it out there as the live platform. But it will be a little less internet-driven than it was and a little bit more legit television platform supporting it, which is good. And also, for some of our fans who are super young millennials, frustrating, I’m sure, but they are supportive. They’ll get on board." Little in the panel is likely to get written up, but the chemistry with Gethard, Murf Meyer and Shannon O'Neill, plus the oddness of special in-character guest Vacation Jason may pique long-term interest, which may beat short-term newspaper inches.

Check back tomorrow for A&E and Starz highlights...

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