The television networks come together twice a year for the TCA press tour, a two week event filled with presentations about new and returning programming from the cable and broadcast sides, with stars, showrunners, producers, writers and executives gathering in front of reporters to talk about their work. This year, Turner Broadcasting got the lead off slot, and the owners of CNN, TCM, Adult Swim, TruTV and other channels chose to turn the time over to TNT and TBS, two networks gearing up to premiere a new medical drama, some high profile reality series and a critically acclaimed comedy rescued from ABC.
That comedy is “Cougar Town,” the Courteney Cox sitcom about a now newly remarried fortysomething woman living in Florida with her friends and drinking plenty of wine, a fact TBS has turned into a visual motif in the ads. “A lot of shows have had weird lifespans,” co-creator and executive producer Bill Lawrence said when asked about the shift to TBS, noting that the show would in its fourth season (premiering January 8) be pretty much the same, with “a little nudity.” Co-star Busy Philipps echoed the claim that they were now able to do “a little bit edgier stuff.” New showrunner Ric Swartzlander, taking over for Lawrence this season, added that TBS had told him when hiring him that “we don’t want to see your fingerprints on this at all.” Everyone on the panel expressed their pleasure at seeing their show actually being promoted on air.
What changes will be in store for the show include Jules (Cox) and Grayson (Josh Hopkins) dealing with married life, with Hopkins promising some real weirdness from his character and Lawrence saying that he thinks there’s rich material to be explored beyond the standard “will they or won’t they”: “Sometimes we think that getting married is the finish line but it’s the start of many new trials and tribulations.” There will be a flashback episode and some smidgens of meta-humor, and Laurie (Philipps) and Travis (Dan Byrd) will finally acknowledge their own potential connection. What won’t change is the show’s title, which suggests it’s about something it isn’t and is often poked fun of in notes under the title card — per Lawrence, “We wear it as a badge of honor, but I still enjoy mocking it.”
Turner next offered up the unlikely line-up of “Revenge of the Nerds” stars Robert Carradine and Curtis Armstrong, former NBC co-chair Ben Silverman, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and New Kid on the Block member turned actor Donnie Wahlberg, as well as Brandon Johnson, Rob LaPlante and Howard Schultz. They were there to promote four new unscripted series on the two networks, though the bulk of the attention went to “King of the Nerds,” a TBS show premiering on January 17 that has contestants competing for the titular honor and a cash prize. Armstrong, who hosts the show with Carradine, was quick to point out that this was a “celebration of the nerd — the idea is not to put down nerds,” though a certain amount of confusion over the differences between geeks and nerds arose, with executive producer Silverman asking the crowd if they’d ever heard of “cosplay” and citing the coding competition scene in “The Social Network” as one of the show’s big influences.
The presentation closed out with a segment on “Monday Mornings,” created by megaproducer David E. Kelley (“Chicago Hope,” “The Practice,” “Ally McBeal”), based on a book by Sanjay Gupta and premiering on TNT on February 4. It looks like your typical medical drama, with the twist that the show includes morbidity and mortality meetings in which the doctors review their own mistakes in front of their colleages. Gupta will advise and presumably keep things more accurate — executive producer and director Bill D’Elia told a story about how a great take featuring castmember Jamie Bamber had to be redone after Gupta pointed out he’d have killed his patient.
Alfred Molina, who plays administrator Harding Hooten, got in most of the best lines in the panel, noting that what attracted him to TV, “apart from the money, was great writing and a chance to legitimately chew some scenery.” (He added that his character being English allowed him to “be sexually ambivalent as well” — “There’s gay, there’s straight, and there’s British.”) But it was Ving Rhames, who plays Jorge Villanueva, who got the last word when he slipped in at the end of the event that he was grateful TNT was “doing something on a level a bit above some of the Tyler Perry shows,” which air on TBS. Snap.