Do you geek out when you’re sitting 50 feet away from your favorite TV stars at Comic-Con? Well, I get to geek out for a living, and I get a lot closer than 50 feet. The past two weeks have been the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour, and as a working journalist and TCA member, I’ve been immersed in a world of actors, producers, writers and executives like Marty McFly overloaded with stimuli in the distant future of 2015.
The Television Critics Association press tours are always my favorite events of the year to cover. Twice a year, in the summer and winter, some 160 television reporters from around the country (and Canada) gather in Los Angeles. The networks, including cable and PBS, present panels with the actors and producers for each of their new shows. Unlike Comic-Con, however, these events aren’t open to thousands of fans. It’s an exclusive Q&A with industry professionals. After each panel, the talent stays for about 10 minutes to mingle further in what reporters affectionately call a “scrum” or “gaggle,” which means a bunch of journalists surrounding a star up close and firing questions until a network publicist pulls them away. Most networks throw an evening party where the TCA can get further interviews with the stars – more scrums!
The TCA press tour may be a business event, but when you love television and have found a job doing what you love, it’s like your ultimate holodeck program, only real! Geek bloggers are welcome and indeed carry a lot of the conversation regarding any shows like Fringe, Revolution, Grimm, Once Upon a Time, Arrow or The Walking Dead. This January, the winter press tour included lots of nerdy shows, and some of our favorite geek stars this side of Felicia Day. We had to narrow it down to 10, which shows you how much great geeky stuff is on TV this year!
10. Uncovering Da Vinci’s Demons.
David S. Goyer wrote the Blade trilogy, which we can credit with introducing all the Marvel comics that followed. He also co-wrote the Dark Knight trilogy, and a Magneto script that was never made, but he wasn’t here to talk about comic books, rather, his new Starz show Da Vinci’s Demons, coming in April. Of course thanks to The Da Vinci Code, everyone now knows Leonardo Da Vinci was more than just a painter. Goyer’s show turns him into Sherlock Holmes, but the Robert Downey Jr. action hero Sherlock Holmes, not the literary brainy Sherlock Holmes. While inventing all his ahead of their time devices (if you don’t know about these, go watch Hudson Hawk!), Da Vinci (Tom Riley) will solve a royal conspiracy and fight bad guys with swords and parkour!
“People have said that aside from Christ, he’s the most recognized historical figure in the world, so in that regard, my approach to it was not dissimilar to adapting Batman or Superman,” Goyer said. “Obviously we did a lot more historical research. I would say 80, 85% of what’s in there actually really happened, and then we’ve embellished it with a little bit of what I’m calling historical fantasy, or things like that. But he has a pretty incredible life. We didn’t have to embellish as much as you would think.”
9. Desiring the NeedWant from Defiance.
Syfy’s upcoming series is most ambitious. They created a new TV series and a new third-person MMO video game set in the world. Defiance is about an American town in an alien-terraformed future, where six new species of aliens cohabit with humans; one of the main characters is a kickass alien girl with red hair and a cro-magnon forhead. A key setting is the NeedWant, a brothel bar, so Syfy dressed up the Langham hotel’s Viennese ballroom as the NeedWant. I had a blue absinthe drink that felt very futuristic, and tasted like the future too, but they didn’t go the extra mile of hiring high-priced escorts and dressing them like alien species.
While the Defiance talent mingled, Trion video game developers demoed some early game levels. Once the game launches in April, players can meet some of the characters from the show to get their in game missions, but don’t worry, the show will make sense without playing the game. As if that’s a worry for hardcore gaming sci-fi fans, but it makes the rest of the world feel better.
8. Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy earn a whole new Following.
The Following is one of the biggest new shows of the season, partly because of its pedigree, but largely because as a violent serial killer show, it’s the scapegoat in the current media vs. guns debate. Kevin Bacon stars as Ryan Hardy, a former agent who caught serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), and now must work with him to stop Carroll’s proteges from future killings. In a lighter moment from a very serious panel, Bacon and Purefoy kissed on the mouth in front of reporters to show what great chemistry they had. Mr. Six Degrees himself and and Solomon Kane/Kantos Kan lightened up a grim session. The show is excellent though.
7. Getting under Stephen King’s Dome.
Stephen King’s latest 1000-pager is becoming a summer TV series from CBS. They start shooting in February, but they had a video of Stephen King talking about the show, with series producer Brian K. Vaughan. It’s basically the plot of The Simpsons Movie: a town becomes encased in an invisible dome. This is the scary version, though, where their electronics stop working, they run out of food and start killing each other. Some of the early animatics show a cow sliced in half by the descending dome, a plane crash into midair and EMP effects disabling pacemakers. King seemed maniacally gleeful about the adaptation, which he hopes could run even longer than the book.
6. Farscape’s revenge.
Rockne S. O’Bannon, creator of Farscape, developed the new CW series Cult. Cult is about a show on the CW called Cult whose fans may be involved in kidnapping and murder. It’s a meta show within the show, and it comes out of O’Bannon’s experience with Farscape fans. Don’t worry, O’Bannon still thinks Farscape fans were all lovely, but O’Bannon imagined if they were nefarious it would make another great show. I agree. The pilot is awesome!
“The origin of the show actually did come out of my Farscape experience, where I witnessed the kind of incredible fan passion for a show and the ability of fans to kind of find each other through social media and connect up,” O’Bannon said. “In the instance of Farscape, which is a very kind of benign science-fiction adventure show, but it started me thinking what if the show were something with a little bit darker edge and what kind of fans would that then draw? And so Farscape obviously was the kind of catalyst for the idea.”
5. The Bates Motel re-opens.
Norman Bates is coming to television. A&E’s series about the relationship between Norman (Freddie Highmore) and his mother (Vera Farmiga) opening the Bates Motel comes in March. The stars were on hand to discuss the show, with the Viennese ballroom dressed up like the Bates Motel dining room (versatile room!) They really broke out the fancy ’50s era centerpieces, even though the new series is updated to present day. It felt like Hitchcock’s production design; all that was missing were taxidermied birds.
Oh, and Highmore was sure to drop the line “We all go a little mad sometimes” in the press conference. Psychophiles swooned at that.
4. Doctor Who’s companion in an odd place.
Okay, nothing about The Carrie Diaries is geeky, right? It’s the prequel to Sex and the City with a cadre of beautiful young CW talent. Well, there’s one geeky person on Carrie Diaries. Freema Agyeman was the Doctor’s companion during the David Tennant years, and she plays Carrie’s New York fashionista mentor Larissa Loughton on the show. We got to chat with Agyeman and she was a delight, even telling us that she’d be making some promotional appearances for the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary this year, because how could you not acknowledge you were part of something that huge? Alas, The Carrie Diaries is her fulltime gig now, so David Tennant’s companion won’t be meeting Matt Smith’s Doctor.
3. Amazon, shipping.
With the success of Arrow, of course the CW is going to make another superhero show. Their next plan is a Wonder Woman prequel called Amazon. If you happened to see a bootleg of David E. Kelley’s rejected NBC pilot, you know anything’s gotta be better than that. CW president Mark Pedowitz said Amazon would be set in the present day, she will be called Diana (casting reports called her Iris) and that it would be an origin story like Smallville. He also said Kelley gave them his blessing, and invited Kelley to pitch any project he wants to the CW!
2. JJ Abrams twice.
J.J. Abrams has three geek shows on TV, and he came to TCA for two of them. For NBC’s Revolution, he sat on a panel and stayed a few minutes afterwards chatting with reporters. For Fox, he came to the evening party to talk about the final episode of Fringe. In both cases, 90% of the questions were about Star Trek Into Darkness, and he gave nothing away. He wouldn’t even talk about Daniel Craft, the Star Trek fan to whom he showed a rough cut of the film before he passed away last week, out of sensitivity to the Craft family.
One thing he did say is that it’s no easier to make a sequel just because he’s made the first one. “Honestly, it’s never easier the next time, ever, for anything,” Abrams said. “You always think, ‘Oh, I’ve done that, it’ll be easier the next time.’ No, it’s harder the next time. But it’s important that every character need to be in the story, otherwise they shouldn’t be. But I wouldn’t say it was easier.”
1. S.H.I.E.L.D. shcuttlebutt.
By far the network with both the biggest and the geekiest show is ABC, with the S.H.I.E.L.D. series in development. In his executive session, ABC president Paul Lee said he’s fast tracking the pilot and it will be the first one he looks at for pickup consideration in the fall. Joss Whedon would have to fail colossally for this not to happen. Later that night, IGN found Lee at the ABC party and got him to confirm that the series takes place AFTER The Avengers’ New York City battle, Agent Coulson and all. Man, when S.H.I.E.L.D. comes to summer TCA, that’s going to be the geekiest TCA ever.
“The truth about Joss is he has some great relationships in it,” Lee said. “So there are a lot of really funny male/female relationships, some very flirtatious ones that go through it. But it’s also Joss, too, and it’s Marvel, and there’s a lot of action to it. So we haven’t yet seen the pilot. We fast-tracked that before the others. We are going to see it a?lot earlier than the others and we are very hopeful that that’s going to move forward to series, and we will build our marketing campaign early for it. And by the way, the script is great. So I don’t want to jinx it because that may not mean a good pilot or a good series, but we are very excited about it, and Joss is wonderful to work with.”