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Christopher Guest Heads to the Small Screen with New Series ‘Family Tree’ at HBO’s TCA Panel

Christopher Guest Heads to the Small Screen with New Series 'Family Tree' at HBO's TCA Panel

While the stand-outs of HBO’s panel at the TCA Winter Press Tour were the star-filled movies, the premium network also had series to present, including “Family Tree,” the new show from Christopher Guest and what’s essentially his first new project since 2006’s “For Your Consideration.” Starring Chris O’Dowd, who also plays a role in HBO’s “Girls,” the comedy series follows 30-year-old Tom Chadwick (O’Dowd) as he begins investigating his roots, prompted by a break-up and the inheritence of a box of mementos from a relative he didn’t know. After a trailer that looked perfectly in line with Guest’s films, the ferociously dry and deadpan Guest presided over the panel, joined by his longtime collaborator Jim Piddock and O’Dowd. “I don’t remember you doing TV series before,” said one journalist. “No, I don’t remember either,” he replied.

Guest said that the show came from a person experience: “My dad, who died 16 years ago, left a tremendous amount of material. I knew some of the contents of these boxes, but there were many, many things I didn’t know, which led me on my own search. There were certainly things I did know, but there was a great deal that I still haven’t discovered. In what we’ve done with Chris, we’ve had some interesting, funny turns, I hope, that make this amusing. And given Chris’s situation in our show, he’s lost his girlfriend and his job at the same time, and that propels him to look into this chest that he’s received because he doesn’t really have anything else going on in his life at the time.”

READ MORE: Soderbergh Goes ‘Behind the Candelabra’ and Mamet Explores ‘Phil Spector’ at HBO’s TCA Panel

Guest emphasized that his style of improvised comedy hasn’t changed in this shift to the small screen and addition of new actors in addition to some of his regulars: “It’s based in some kind of reality even though it’s funny. And Chris is a wonderful actor, and he’s also very funny — that was the key thing in this case. [He’s] able to improvise brilliantly as well, and that’s a vital thing because, otherwise, there’s no show. Jim and I wrote the outlines for the eight shows. Four of them have already been shot in the U.K.” “In terms of the intimidation, it’s tricky because everybody else is so good and I am new to it. Obviously, there are scripts of a kind, so we know storywise what’s going to happen, but you don’t know what’s going to happen in the moment in a specific scene — and you are meeting these characters in this journey for the first time. You don’t know what the characters are like and where they are going to bring it.” “Family Tree” is set to premiere in the spring of 2013.

“Vice,” a news show from the hipster magazine turned media empire, is also set for spring. Founder Shane Smith and chief creative officer Eddy Moretti attracted a little pushback in person for a series that looked promising footage-wise, as it hops from the tensions of the India-Pakistan border to wrestling in Senegal to gun production and violence in the Philippines. “We practice a type of journalism we call immersionism, where we go and stay in the area for long periods of time with local people,” said Smith. “We have local stringers. We dress the part. We don’t try to be intrusive. And we just try to be smart about it. We’re not action junkies or anything like that. We just want to get the good story. Smaller crews help, and now cameras can high quality cameras can be just a 5D.”

In terms of what’s covered, Smith explained, “A lot of the stories that we have, the first criteria is, does it punch you in the face? And is it unlike anything you’ve seen anywhere else? Confused? We go in before and we go in after the news cycle. We just offer a different view or a longer point of view or a different point of view.” The pair were quick to back away from the attitude that earned them a smackdown from the New York Times’ David Carr in the documentary “Page One,” “There’s some great mainstream news out there,” said Moretti. “I think our job is to tell the stories on the fringes that aren’t getting told to represent the diversity of the human experience and to do it in our own style, in our own voice, not copying the rhetorical devices of other broadcasters or news outlets. And I think it’s been working for us.”

READ MORE: Teaser for HBO’s Period Miniseries ‘Parade’s End,’ Starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Written by Tom Stoppard

Set for a U.S. premiere on February 26, with subsequence parts airing on the 27th and the 28th, World War I miniseries “Parade’s End” is a BBC/VRT co-production that’s already aired in the U.K., a tony period adaptation of Ford Madox Ford’s tetralogy novels written by Tom Stoppard. The playwright and star Benedict Cumberbatch attended via satellite connection, while cast members Rebecca Hall and Adelaide Clemens and director Susanna White were present in person. “Christopher is a man with a huge heart and empathy for those near to him,” Cumberbatch explained.

He went on that “Of all position and status and importance in his life, whether it be a wet nurse, his son who may or may not be his son, his wife, his love of this new woman and his men in war, he’s a very generous, big hearted sentimental man who Ford describes in the books as being one to cry to a piece of music or art.” Describing the role she plays as his compelling, unfaithful wife, Hall said that “She’s slightly before her time, so if she existed even 20 years after the fact, she probably would have done a lot better. She’s very emotionally intelligent, very able, but she has no education and no career, and all of that resource goes untapped. She has no analytic capability, so it goes into manipulation and generally turning into a demon.”

Stoppard noted that despite the challenges of adapting the books in terms of their length and their structure, “it was just the happiest job I’ve had for years. I loved, just loved the job. I loved the book. I loved working on it. I felt I got lucky with the people who finally came on board to do it.” “The thing about ‘Parade’s End,’ and indeed, about the entire war, because unlike the Second World War, it was not a cut-and-dry good-and-evil picture. The point about ‘Parade’s End’ and Ford Madox Ford and the fact that we’re talking about him as a modernist is that he saw the moral ambiguity in everything.”

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