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ABC-Disney contains multitudes.
Discussion at the network/studio’s Television Critics Association winter press tour day on Tuesday ran the gamut from talking pooches (ABC’s Downward Dog), Bella Thorne’s Snapchat feed (as part of Freeform’s Famous in Love) and time-traveling Jack the Ripper (ABC’s Time After Time) to the substantive critiques in ABC’s When We Rise and American Crime.
So the day’s highlight quotes are sometimes serious, sometimes frivolous and, in one case, not a quote at all.
*** More than half the questions at the Scandal panel related to the incoming Trump administration and how the ABC drama will play with and against the changing real-world governmental paradigm. Most of the answers tiptoed around the issue innocuously.
Bellamy Young probably had the best partial answer on the subject: “I really feel like I’ve been having this conversation with a lot of my friends lately about what is the purpose of art? Are we sitting down to escape? Are we sitting down to be informed? Are we sitting down to motivate ourselves. But in terms of our narrative, I think we’re all at this place together, a reflection point, because we’ve already finished a lot of our work that everyone will see to begin with, and we’ll see what’s to come. Our writers honor our stories and honor the characters in them first and foremost. But we all do live in the world, so it really will be interesting to see from this point on how this season develops.”
[Our full Scandal panel coverage.]
*** When you have Jenna Elfman on a panel to talk about the show in which she has to interact with an animated character who resembles a talking, hairy tofu blob, it’s impossible (or irresponsible) not to ask her about the last time she acted opposite a character who wasn’t really there. I’m referring, of course, to Josh Gad in 1600 Penn.
But seriously, the Imaginary Mary star weighed in on how her experience on Looney Tunes: Back in Action informed her upcoming ABC comedy.
“When we were filming Looney Tunes, we had men in green suits, greenscreens, green little balls on sticks. There was a lot of, in the real world, greenscreen elements when we were filming this because it’s CGI. It’s a whole different sort of approach to animation. We had rehearsal with a stuffed, life-size puppet, and we had an amazing puppeteer, so we would rehearse with her. And we had a comedic actress on set to do all the lines, so I felt like I had a comedic partner, because Rachel [Dratch, who voices Mary] is in New York. And then we would film one take with the puppet so that the animators had a reference for her in that live space. Then they would take her away, and there would be nothing. So I didn’t even have a green ball. I had nothing. It was like nothing, an independent chair. And then she’d be walking across the room, and she’d hop up on furniture, and then she’d come near me. So oftentimes I’d have several different eye lines in the set with different dimension focal points doing a scene with him, and he can’t see her, so it was actually a really great challenge comedically to maintain the scene with her, and the believability, the focal points, while doing the scene with him and the kids. But that’s how it was different: I literally had no reference except during rehearsal.”
*** Pretty Little Liars is coming to an end this year, and more than a few casual fans (not the obsessive ones) are confused by many of the twists and turns the Freeform drama has taken over the years.
At least as a joke, star Lucy Hale wants to reassure you that you’re not alone if you don’t quite know what’s happening.
“I am equally as confused, and I’m on the show,” Hale kidded. “No. It’s very fun. We actually were just sitting backstage saying, like, ‘Wait. Who did this? Who killed who?’ So it’s been very fun. We almost need graphs and grids, to sort of understand what’s going on, but I’m always constantly impressed that the people who have watched from the very beginning, and that’s why I love our fans. They don’t watch here and there. They watch West Coast feed. They watch East Coast feed. They watch it, and they really put the pieces together. They’re very passionate, very smart. They come up with even their theories and, you know, they’ve changed our lives. This has been such an amazing ride, and it’s been so fun, and it truly is all because of them.”
[Our full Pretty Little Liars panel coverage.]
*** Dustin Lance Black’s When We Rise doesn’t necessarily seem like the kind of thing you’d expect to see on ABC, but the ambitious gay rights miniseries’ creator says that he always intended the project for network TV.
“I pitched this show to one network — to ABC — for a reason,” Black explained. “I grew up in the South. I grew up in a religious home. I grew up in a military home. I grew up in a conservative home. My family is still religious and Southern and conservative, and I love them, and I treasure them, and I treasure much of what I learned and how I was raised in that world. And so I wrote this for my cousins and my aunts and my uncles and my family. I wrote that for my family from that other America to say, ‘Hey, we’ve got more in common than you think, and we can actually speak the same language.’ That’s why I thought ABC was important because, historically, ABC has been the network that we trust to tell us family stories. So I thought if there was a network where I could finally say, ‘Hey, I’d like to introduce my family,’ you’ve got to do it on ABC. And so this is the story of my family and families, and it’s being told to and written for my actual family. So, as I was writing, yes, I think about my aunts and uncles and cousins.”
[Our full When We Rise panel coverage.]
*** The star of ABC’s summer comedy Downward Dog was not on our panel.
Sure, a very bearded Lucas Neff (“I was like, ‘Is the homeless magician market taken?'”) and a long-way-from-Fargo Allison Tolman (“I wanted to be a leading lady. I didn’t want to take a secondary role.”) were there, but Ned the Dog didn’t even make a cameo appearance.
That left the cast to talk about his canine thespian greatness.
“He is like a young Brandog,” Neff punned. “He loves to smell my armpits. That was the main thing, my relationship with the dog.”
Tolman insisted, though, “I think it’s a talking-dog show that’s not about a talking dog. I think that’s really helpful. I don’t know. It’s about humanity, and it’s about humanity through the eyes of this dog who can look at us and see things that we can’t say and say things that we can’t say about each other. I think that’s what ultimately works so well.”
Added co-creator (and voice of Marvin, the dog) Samm Hodges: “I think that from the very beginning, we wanted to do something that was the opposite of how talking dogs are usually done. And me and Michael [Killen] started playing with some ideas. It was kind of like if a dog had all the modern anxieties of a modern human being, and kind of like by putting in a character who wants to matter and be remembered and has a really big ego into the mouth of a dog. And it kind of allows you to see very human anxieties in a different way. And I think Martin is very self-obsessed and very like drawn to his own ego. And I think that’s playing against his hype.”
[Our full Downward Dog panel coverage.]
*** I like to give casting directors credit because they’re too often unsung, so kudos to American Crime creator John Ridley for immediately pushing credit in that direction when I asked about the show’s season-to-season ensemble, especially when it comes to new, less experienced additions.
“The praise goes to Kim Coleman, our casting director,” Ridley said. “Kim has presented us with, I would say, young and/or new actors or faces that you may not be familiar with, not only talented people. We’re very fortunate to live in a space where there’s amazingly talented individuals but the right person for the right role, and this year we were so challenged. Mickaelle [X. Bizet], you can speak to this — but to find an individual who can play someone from Haiti, French-speaking, French/Creole, and an amazing talent, Kim Coleman. So I did nothing but sit in a room and watch some amazing talent come through and go, ‘There you go.'”
[Our full American Crime panel coverage.]
*** This isn’t a quote, but I’d be remiss to write about ABC’s TCA press tour day without mentioning the hour at the top of the network’s evening party when even as the event was happening within the Langham hotel ballroom, a couple dozen reporters and publicists and stars stood outside watching President Obama’s final address on a pair of huge TVs.
On one hand, this feels like a fulfillment of so many liberal Hollywood cliches. On the other, I’d also add how many dozens of ABC stars and publicists walked right by the TVs and straight into the party and how many stars stopped in front of the TV to loudly engage in unrelated conversations. There were many more stars and reporters inside the party than outside, but the group gathered outside included actors such as Felicity Huffman and Mary-Louise Parker, plus creatives like Dustin Lance Black, and by the end of Obama’s speech, there were more than a few people crying and shaken before strolling into the crowded, loud fiesta.
It isn’t that common for the press tour to pause and leave TV and entertainment behind, but this was one of those moments.
Stay tuned tomorrow for coverage from Fox’s press tour day.
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