10:28am PT by Daniel Fienberg
TCA Summer Press Tour Day 4 Quotes: HBO's Sexual Violence Controversy, Eczema and Nick Nolte's Warning
After two days of educating and occasionally enlightening reporters, PBS departed the Television Critics Association press tour and the cable portion began.
The first day of the CTAM-run cable days started with HBO, including an inaugural TCA press conference for new chief Casey Bloys that didn't go exactly as planned. HBO's morning also included the introduction of Issa Rae, star of the new comedy Insecure, the return of Sarah Jessica Parker of Divorce and more. Saturday (July 30) afternoon featured NatGeo and Epix's first TCA as a scripted programming producer.
Here are a few of Saturday's highlight quotes/moments:
*** Casey Bloys' first HBO executive session was going well until he hit a string of questions about sexual and sexualized violence in the network's drama, a particularly germane query line given that HBO was presenting only two dramas at press tour and both dramas — The Night Of and Westword — use acts of violence with sexual components as a narrative catalyst. To the second of three questions Bloys replied, "Again, I don’t necessarily see it as specific to women. Again, I think the point is there is a lot of violence in Westworld and in Game of Thrones, yes. But I don’t necessarily think that it’s specifically or isolated to women." Asked if the same level of violence would impact men, he replied, "We’re going to kill everybody."
Joking in a conversation about sexualized violence in which you have no tangible answers or responses prepared is a bad idea.
By the third question on the subject, one that asked if men would/should be subject to similar conditions on HBO dramas, Bloys got to the point he maybe should have started with, "But to your larger point of is it something we think about, yeah. I think the criticism is valid, you know. So I think it’s something that people take into account. It’s not something we are wanting to highlight or trying to highlight. But I think the criticism is point taken on it."
For future reference, Bloys should be reminded that while it's definitely true that violence, again sexual and sexualized violence involving women, plays an all-too-central role in HBO's drama slate, the network was previously the home of Oz, a show more seriously interested and invested in exploring all dimensions of sexual violence against men than any series in TV history. Oz was a long time ago and certainly had its problematic elements when it came to rape, but it's a landmark show and part of HBO's network conversation on the topic. One can also look at each of HBO's dramas and examine, on an individual basis, the thematic reasoning behind each act of sexual violence, which is different whether we're talking Game of Thrones or Westworld or The Night Of. But then you have to stop and ponder whether being the network that has the most varied representations of sexual violence is actually aspirational.
Personally, I don't think HBO's drama output requires scrapping or a top-to-bottom overhaul and HBO is far from the only network drama whose shows turn to rape and sexual violence with disturbing frequency, but it's a conversation that is valid and one Bloys didn't come to press tour prepared to engage in.
*** Like I said, Bloys was going well until he was derailed by the trio of sexual violence questions. Regarding the un-renewing of Vinyl, following previous HBO un-renewings like The Brink, Luck and Tell Me You Love Me, Bloys explained, "I don’t know if I would call it [a thing.] It is something that has happened. Put it this way. I’d like to not have to do that again. So, if anything, I think going through this with Vinyl, we will kind of more carefully consider going forward. But you make the decisions when you need to do it. But it’s not something that I like to do or relish doing, going back on things." [More from the Bloys executive season.]
*** Guilt and innocence play a major role in The Night Of, but HBO's legal drama is perhaps equally intrigued by itchy feet, specifically the eczema that John Turturro's character is battling.
"[I]n the British series, he does have eczema. I think there’s one shot of it. And when I say we ran with it, it kind of gradually became a kind of symbol," said series co-creator/director Steven Zaillian, adding that Peter Moffat, creator of the original BBC Criminal Justice, had suffered from eczema himself. He continued, "I think when you have a malady that’s so personal and it becomes part of who you are. I always put asthma sprays in what I write because I have asthma. But the asthma spray in this was in the original. It seems to me that the eczema once I started reading the reviews, people picked out that the eczema was a metaphor, you know, for the frustration of finding a solution, you know. And it’s sort of a metaphor for the entire frustrating judicial system. And I guess it is, although somebody said, 'I always wait for my reviews to come out to see what I wrote about it.'"
In my THR review I wrote, "Is it the thing that makes Stone an outsider and thus a sympathetic peer to Naz? Is it a rashy metaphor for Stone's itch for justice? Is it a more elevated metaphor for any compulsive quest for answers, the sense that any malady ought to be curable, that any crime ought to be solvable?" [Our full The Night Of panel report.]
*** HBO's Insecure star Issa Rae was asked for an alternative word for "diversity" that could be used for shows in a changing Hollywood. "I guess for an alternative word just 'normal' would be great," Rae said. Based only on the pilot so far, Insecure has a lot of potential. [More from the Insecure panel.]
*** NatGeo's Killing Reagan was likely to be a conversation starter this election season anyway, but the release of attempted Reagan assassin John Hinckley Jr. (played by Kyle S. More) puts it more in the spotlight." I don’t think it makes any difference to the story we’ve told. It better not since the movie is done and delivered. It is extraordinarily timely. That is the power of maybe Bill O’Reilly has got a lot of strings that he pulled to get Hinckley out," cracked director Rod Lurie. "He’s not coming to the premiere. I’ll tell you that." [Our full Killing Reagan panel report.]
*** Complaining about the temperature in the TCA ballroom is one of our favorite things to do, but it becomes hard to be taken sympathetically when NatGeo panels Continent 7: Antarctica, a series shot in a place of genuine frigidity. Series star Peter Beggs offered on "How Cold Is It?" story, "One of the things that we have to be quite weary of is that in Antarctica, it’s such a pristine environment, any amount of waste, be it human waste including, is taken off the continent. So when we need to go to the bathroom, we do it in a bottle. And when we sleep at night, we can’t get up and go to the bathroom across, as you say, minus 20 degrees. So we get out of our sleeping bag, and we pee into our bottle. And if you leave that bottle outside of your sleeping bag, then it freezes. And if you leave it and need to go again in the morning, you can’t get the lid off, and that’s sometimes a challenge. You have to ask your teammate, 'Can I borrow your pee bottle, because mine’s frozen,' so a little humbling"
*** Let's close with fatalistic words from Nick Nolte, star of Epix's Graves. Apropos of very little, Nolte, who plays a former president in the half-hour comedy, growled, "We forget every day how lucky we are to be alive. Every one of you in here. You’re only a breath away from death. You are, you know?" To which co-star Chris Lowell chipped in, "That’s a threat, by the way. You f—ing better write the greatest reviews of this show or you are a breath away from death."