Monday was the first of two days of NBC Universal networks panels at the TCA Press Tour. The day started with Community star and The Soup host Joel McHale delivering a standup act (somewhat awkwardly reading from a teleprompter) that playfully ribbed NBC, its shows and the journalists in attendance. He called TCA “summer camp for shut-ins” and said that NBC’s strategy is to simply wait for CBS and ABC viewers to die. Not far from the truth on both points. Then followed an executive session with new NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt laying out his programming strategy and hopes for the fall season. He’s well aware that NBC is fourth in the big four networks and he’s got some plans — none of them particularly groundbreaking — for turning it around. He hopes to inject some EXCITEMENT! into this season’s fall shows.
The panel for The Playboy Club came out next, and it wasn’t pretty. (Well, star Amber Heard is incredibly pretty.) Most critics seemed really down on the show, and the panel spent most of the time fending off comparisons to Mad Men and trying to convince the press that Playboy Clubs were empowering — not exploitative — to women. Wasn’t happening. I really hoped one of the actors — Eddie Cibrian, maybe — when asked about sexism would break out the “What’s wrong with being sexy?” quote from This Is Spinal Tap. Wasn’t happening, either.
Free Agents was next, starring Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn. Azaria calls it an “anti-romantic comedy” in that the main characters have already lived the storybook romance and had it end. This cast had a lot more laughs on the panel, though critics seemed lukewarm on the show. Azaria was cool enough to hang out after the panel and take Simpsons questions from a few of us geeks. He even broke into the Comic Book Guy voice. Worst interview ever.
Lunch was held during the NBC Sports panel, which included Sunday Night Football broadcasters Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth and sideline reporter Michele Tafoya. NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus announced that Versus will change to NBC Sports Network. Why it took them this long to decide on such an obvious name, I do not know. He also announced a new NFL Turning Point, which combines behind-the-scenes footage and mic’d up players to show how critical moments and plays developed. I talked with Collinsworth a little after the panel. He’s got Packers and Patriots in the Super Bowl in February. He loves him some Aaron Rodgers. Wanted to chat more, but couldn’t get a word in against reporters who wanted to talk about Tom Brady’s Justin Bieber hair.
The panel for Whitney was next. While star Whitney Cummings thinks that the multicamera format works better for comedians in sitcoms, there aren’t enough cameras on Earth to make this show funny to me. Lots of talk about the distant future storylines for the show, but it’s pretty pointless. Whitney won’t see five episodes.
I was excited for the Up All Night panel, since I’m a Will Arnett fan and really liked him in this show. Arnett said he was literally up all night taking care of his sick kids. As a new parent, I know what he’s talking about. I also know where the show is coming from. Arnett told me last year that people think he only plays jerks, and he says that it’s refreshing to play someone more in line with where he’s at in real life. I asked him how he’s going to get David Cross on Up All Night, and he lamented that it’s probably not going to happen. But he did say he was in London recently shooting scenes for Season 2 of IFC’s The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret with Cross. As for Up All Night, they reshot scenes in the pilot to give a bigger role to Maya Rudolph’s character, and they changed her job from a Hollywood publicist to a daytime talk show host.
Grimm and Prime Suspect came next. Grimm was described as a “police procedural with a hint of fairytale.” Hopes were not high among critics, given the show’s Friday night timeslot. Lots of the discussion about Prime Suspect centered around comparisons to the original version that starred Helen Mirren. Lots of Twitter discussion centered around the fedora that Maria Bello’s character wears.
The Sing-Off host Nick Lachey (one critic accidentally called him “Drew,” setting off a Twitter firestorm) and judges Ben Folds, Shawn Stockman and newcomer Sara Bareilles were among the panelists for the reality competition series, which returns in September for a much longer run than its short Holiday season stints. We were treated to a fine a capella performance by last season’s winners, Committed, who sang some Maroon 5. Ben Folds said Ben Folds Five reunited to do some secret recordings recently. All I wanted to know is if Folds ever got back his money or his black T-shirt from that bitch.