TV Directors and 'Lake' Ladies Among Press Tour Highlights (and Lowlights) From Day 5

Top of the Lake China Girl - Cannes Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

The first weekend of the 2017 Television Critics Association's summer press tour began with an eclectic day of cable panels, including a conversation with a quartet of fantastic directors — Anthony Hemingway, Michelle MacLaren, Daniel Sackheim and David Slade — and a foursome of late-night comedy writers.

The afternoon included panels from within the IFC/AMC/SundanceTV family, culminating in a star-studded session with the stars of Top of the Lake: China Girl.

Some highlights and lowlights...

A rose by any other name. I've generally tried to write about "televisual" language instead of referring to TV as "cinematic," as if TV's ultimate aspiration were to be cinema, but all four DGA panelists were fine with using "cinematic" to describe their TV art. Good to know, I suppose.

Medium cool. Television has, of course, been generally considered a writer-producer's medium, but that is shifting. Many of my favorite interviews in recent months — Keith Gordon, Phil Abraham, Dearbhla Walsh — have been with TV directors. Of shifts in the medium, MacLaren, whose next credit is the pilot for HBO's The Deuce, said, "Not that we’re sitting up here thinking we’re gods or anything like that, but television has evolved. It’s very cinematic today. And when we’re fortunate enough to get great scripts, we’re hired with the responsibility to collaborate with all the other members of our team to take this script and put it on the screen in the most cinematic way possible, the best way to tell this story, and we are on the set, we are the leaders of making that happen. And in today’s world, writers are incredibly collaborative on a lot of shows that we’re fortunate enough to work on, and they want they hire us, and they want us to bring our expertise and our knowledge and our spices, as Anthony [Hemingway] was saying, and give it our flavor. And it’s a wonderful medium as directors to be working in today."

Blessing and a curse. There's little doubt that this is a fertile moment for late-night comedy and that late-night comedy writers rarely suffer for lack of material thanks to our current administration, but that doesn't mean those writers are giddy when a presidential tweet upends the news cycle. "I think, for me, my first thought is always, 'We’re all going to die.' That’s my first thought with every story. And it’s, like, you get to process it as a person first and then remember, like, 'Oh, yeah, is there anything there for us to pull from?'" said The President Show head writer Christine Nangle. Noted The Daily Show scribe Hallie Haglund: "I feel like the tweets usually come in, like, right as we’ve finished our morning meeting and just planned the entire show for the day, and then they come in. It’s like, 'Well, fuck that. We shouldn’t have even had a meeting, because now we have to do all this stuff.'"

Downton but not out. Man, we asked Joanne Froggatt a lot of questions about Downton Abbey, given that the former Mrs. Bates has a new show, the thriller/mystery Liar, premiering on Sundance this fall. Bottom line: She doesn't know anything about a Downton Abbey movie, she's honored to have been part of such a beloved program and she gets heart palpitations whenever someone brings a long, black dress near her. Anyway, Liar seems promising. [Our full Liar panel coverage.]

Game recognize game. It's always fascinating, to me at least, when an acclaimed and highly successful filmmaker/storyteller is in awe of something new in the medium. Paradise Lost co-director Joe Berlinger has, himself, inspired countless documentarians. At Sundance's panel for Cold Blooded: The Clutter Family Murders, Berlinger gushed, "The thing which I revere and thought it was just amazing and wish I had done it, was the 30 for 30, O.J.: Made in America. I think that really was a game-changer in taking a look pulling back and really giving some context to the time the crime happened and fitting that crime within the larger context of what’s going on in the culture. So I think that film sort of helped launch this ability to take the time and look at other old crimes." That's a good way to celebrate something you love and to inspire people (or critics like me) to be curious about your new project.

Made it, ma! Top of the Lake! SundanceTV will premiere Top of the Lake: China Girl on Sept. 10, and while co-creator/co-writer/co-director Jane Campion wasn't able to make it to the press tour, actresses Elisabeth Moss, Nicole Kidman, Alice Englert and Gwendoline Christie made for a powerhouse panel and, apparently, a powerhouse on-set team. "We just got along like gangbusters from the get-go, and we laid it all out on the floor in that rehearsal and then formed a gang that was formidable," Moss said. On what has drawn her to increase her TV profile, Kidman pointed out, "I love that for the two series that I’ve done on TV, I’m sitting with women up here." Of the gender-focused shift in the medium, Moss added, "When you look at the landscape of television now and how much content is led by women and made by women, it’s exactly where we should be going because that’s what the audience wants to see. And I think that all that’s happened is the people that hold the purse strings, the people who can give the money to do these projects, have finally, sort of, started to realize that they make money and that people want to watch them. And it’s a very obvious thing in film and television that these things make money, Wonder Woman being the most obvious recent example. So I think that they are finally, sort of, just catching up with something that the audience has always wanted to see."

Check back Monday for PBS highlights and lowlights!