PTR Senior Staff Writer
We here at PTR love TNT.
We really do.
We're not just saying that because we were cordially invited to attend a special press day set visit at Raleigh Studios in Los Angeles (okay, we were, which helps in feeling the love).
No, we love TNT simply for their slate of programs - several of which are PTR Faves (whether that be with original programming or syndicated shows). Top to bottom, TNT has what people really like to watch, and they have single-handedly set the bar for all the other basic cable networks. If it weren't for The Closer, are we really sure we'd have Saving Grace, FX's Damages and now USA's In Plain Sight - three other shows lead by three other top drawer actresses who wouldn't normally wind up on the small screen? Me thinks not. Or, me thinks ode must be given to Kyra Sedgwick and Co. for showing us all that: a) not everyone who watches television is 20-years-old; b) people like seeing strong, fierce, fabulous women front and center; c) you can put quality writers alongside quality producers alongside quality actors without succumbing to a procedural formula trap; and, d) a cable show can go toe-to-toe with any network show on air at the moment and wipe the floor with said network's standards and practices.
Network television should wake up. The best shows are on cable right now, and at the forefront of that excellent slate of programming is TNT.
Now, our set visit experience encompassed visiting three shows: the new Steven Bochco legal drama Raising the Bar, starring Mark-Paul Gosslear, Gloria Reuben and Jane Kaczmakerk set to premiere in September; Holly Hunter and Co. over at Saving Grace; and BJ and Co. - er, I mean, Kyra Sedgwick and Co. - over at The Closer.
I'm going to break my report into separate parts (read: give you a little this week, a little next week) so as to give each show its adequate due, but here are some highlights:
Raising the Bar: How often do you get to have one of the greatest television producers sit down next to you for a chat? Steven Bochco did just that, and can I just say ... awesome? This cast is a great group of young, talented actors alongside seasoned veterans like Reuben and Kaczmarek. Enthusiastic and fun, they're quite passionate about the show that will follow the lives of young lawyers who work on opposite sides, the Public Defender's Office and the District Attorney's office, as well as those who sit in judgment over their cases. Stay tuned.
Saving Grace: OK, we know how I wrote off Grace at the end of the first season - so much so I didn't even watch the four additional "bonus" episodes in December because I was fed up. I had not found anything redeeming about Grace, couldn't figure out why anyone should care one way or the other as to whether she gets saved, ya-da, ya-da. Well, I may have to eat my words. After listening to the entire cast talk about their devotion, passion and outright love of being able to do this show, I may have to give it a second chance. And sorry folks, this set asked we not take photos. So alas, you'll just have to take my word that sitting in Grace's apartment talking to Grace (Holly Hunter) and Ham (Kenneth Johnson), sitting in the bar talking to Earl (Leon Rippy) and Rhetta (Laura San Giacomo), sitting in the conference room talking to Butch (Bailey Chase) and Captain Kate (Lorraine Toussaint), and sitting in the squad room talking to Leon (Bokeem Woodbine) and Bobby (Gregory Norman Cruz) really is as cool as it sounds.
The Closer: Rounding out our day with lunch on set at this PTR Fave ranks up there with Best. Experience. Ever. Not to mention a full room-by-room set tour takes the cake against the other two visits (no offense, folks). But I have just two words: Jon Tenney. As if we didn't love Special Agent Fritz Howard enough here at PTR (and Lord knows we do given we want to clone him and send him over to Lilly Rush on Cold Case), the actor who portrays him is just ... well, genuinely awesome. He took some extra time to chat with me about Fritz - appreciating so much that we love the very real, organic, tangible and ever-so believable relationship his alter-ego shares with Brenda. The two of them work hard to create this dynamic for us, and it was somewhat of an honor (can I even say that?) to seemingly let him know there is a serious devoted following to the handy work. With any luck, we here at PTR might be hearing a bit more from Jon (along those exclusive interview lines). Stay tuned.
And now for a comical blow-by-blow (may be slightly spoiler-ish, but only in a minor way):
5:00 a.m.: Alarm goes off. Wow, I don't normally get up this early.
6:30 a.m.: Leave for LA from my locale in the OC (and yes, it can take 3 freakin' hours to drive 50-something miles on a weekday morning even during summer, when school is out; welcome to the LA/So Cal traffic life).
8:17 a.m.: Make it to LA in plenty of time and spend the next 45 minutes hitting the Ralph's on 3rd and La Brea to get some breakfast.
9:07 a.m.: Arrive at Raleigh Studios. Meet my Turner Network publicist (who is wonderfully nice and genuinely cool). This studio is one of the oldest around, and thus, is pretty small. Sort of squished onto Melrose and Van Ness. Like, blink and you'll miss it. Paramount Studios, on the other hand, sits just down the road like some sort of palace.
9:15 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.: Mill about. Snap a few photos. Board the bus. Get a look at the other press folks. I'm kinda new, so I'm sort of by myself. But the other folks seem to know each other from previous meetings, so there's lots of chatter.
9:45 a.m.: Buh-bye, Raleigh. We veer through the streets in and around the studio back to the Hollywood Freeway 101 North to head over to Raising the Bar. We get some snacks, a press kit, view the trailer for Raising the Bar and start tuning into the season premiere of Saving Grace. The TNT folks take good care of us.
9:52 a.m.: Point of Interest (for me, anyways) ... drive by Barham Boulevard exit on the 101 North. Warner Brothers studios sits just over the hill, which is where the Cold Case folks film. Hello Lilly and Co.
10:09 a.m.: Arrive at Riverfront Stages, which is one of those nook and cranny filming locations for which LA is famous. Not all shows, especially when starting out, get the luxury of filming at a Warner Brothers or Paramount. Even Cold Case had to schlep it to Raleigh in Manhattan Beach their first season. This is when PTR Fave Kathryn Morris (commuting from Silver Lake) got by on
10:15 a.m.: Off the bus to awaiting iced coffees. Sweet. Even though I don't drink coffee, nice gesture. Ushered into a big ol' room with a ton of food for our rotating/round table interviews.
10:15 a.m. - 11:20 a.m.: Round table interviews with Raising the Bar cast. All lead actors make their way from table to table. We're so ensconced, we can't eat the mound of bagels, pastries and fruit piled before us. We're introduced to head of ABC publicity (who sits at our table). We prepare out digital voice recorders hoping the loud sound carry/echo won't screw up our recordings. We start with Jane Kaczmarek and Jonathan Scarfe. Jane is always funny. She has a quirkiness about her, but her answers are straightforward and genuine. When Steven Bochco sits down next me, I know I'm in a good seat. I didn't tackle him to tell him how much I loved NYPD Blue, but thought about it (okay, not really). Gloria Reuben has one of the softest voices I've ever heard. We remember her from her ER days, then leaving the show to go sing back-up for Tina Turner. The woman has serious talent.
11:20 a.m. - 11:25 a.m.: Tour the main set, which is a courtroom. Seems huge and makes me feel like I should be saying, "Um, your honor, if it pleases the court ...." Snap some pics. The cast is nice enough to gather and pose for me. Like I said, a very cool bunch.
11:27 a.m.: Heading back to the bus when dufus here (that would be me) realizes she left her notebook on the set when she set it down to take the cast photo. Duh. I'm lucky to have such a good publicist run back and get it for me. Major thanks to her.
11:34: Back on the bus, heading over to Saving Grace. We're asked not to take photos at their set - a request from the Grace folks. To be fair, I can't believe we're even being allowed to take photos at all, so it's no bother to me and/or I'm not disappointed. We're also asked not to ask Holly Hunter personal questions. Since I'm not that kind of journalist, no problems here. I've never done the whole go-after-the-personal crap, but hey, call me old fashioned. I prefer to let an interview take its own course as opposed to poking and prodding people. You get much better stuff when you do not irritate the heck out of the people.
11:48 a.m.: Arrive at Delfino Studios in Sylmar, which seems like a hole in the wall in the middle of nowhere. JAG's set was like this.
11:50 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.: Mill about as we wait to go into the various set locales for our rotate-it-around interviews. Crew is busy - ladders, lights, cameras, security, extras seem to be moving in this carefully choreographed sequence. If you've never been on a set before, you have no idea how hard these guys and gals work to keep everything humming like a finely tuned engine. No show can exist with out the crew as its backbone. That said, the cast members begin to emerge and are sent to their respective "sets" to await "us." Holly Hunter walks right by me. Can I just say that Holly - love her as I do - is absolutely tiny? As in, she seems to be about three feet tall. I feel awkward that at 5'8", I feel more like 6'7" as I seemingly dwarf her.
12:00 p.m. - 1:15 p.m.: Round table interviews with Saving Grace cast whereby we rotate to four different sets to awaiting interviewees. We start in the bar with Leon Rippy and Laura San Giacomo. She is flippin' funny, especially when a fellow journalist tells her she is in the 40-and-over sexy group. "I'm in that group?!?! No way?!?!" Leon Rippy is a sweet guy. Quiet, unassuming. Kinda like Earl. His voice is to die for, but don't tell Bill Nighy I said that. We move on to Holly Hunter and Kenneth Johnson, who are sitting in Grace's apartment. As we introduce ourselves, I tell Kenny I appreciated his time as Joseph on Cold Case, and he's genuinely grateful - "Aw, thanks a lot! I appreciate that!" Holly's pretty lively - energy up the wazoo. You can tell she loves the character, but when I asked her where Grace ranks compared to all the characters she's played, she says she can't - and doesn't - really rank any of her characters. Each holds a special significance at that precise moment she portrays them. Even now, when she watches herself in something like The Piano or Broadcast News, she can instantly transport herself back into being Ada and Jane, respectively, and thus, one character portrayal never overrides another. Kenny talks about how this is the first time he's gotten to play alongside a leading lady for any extended period of time. He says he got to do a little bit on ... wait for it ... Cold Case. It's at this point I have to restrain myself from saying, "Don't get me started on the why-can't-Lilly-Rush-keep-a-decent-guy thing." Kidding, of course, but I thought it a compliment to the Joseph character that Kenny considers that portrayal the heftiest, leading lady co-star role he had up until his time on Grace. Argh, as if I needed any more reason to ask he be brought back to Kathryn Morris. Alas, he's with Holly these days. We move onto Bailey Chase (Butch) and Lorraine Toussaint (Captain Kate) in the conference room on the squad/station set. Lorraine is a kick. She's so thrilled to be on a show that has a strong, over-40 woman as its main character and thinks cable is way ahead of the networks in terms of knowing that people want to see this kind of thing. We all really aren't 20-years-old (amen to that). Bailey is equally as supportive and talks about the collaborative nature they enjoy with the writers and producers. As in, get to suggest plot idea, changes, wish lists. Gee, Cold Case should take notes. We end with Bookeem Woodbine (bad guy Leon) and Gregory Cruz (Bobby). Both are genuinely blessed to be on the show. It's changed them personally and professionally. You see why the cast makes me want to give Grace another chance?
1:20 p.m.: We get a fruit cup and board the bus to head back to Raleigh and visit The Closer. Kenny Johnson boards our bus to check out the digs and thanks us for visiting. So does Gregory Cruz. A nice bunch of folks.
1:38 p.m.: Back at Raleigh and The Closer awaits. It's lunch time, and it seems like everyone and their brother is out at the catering truck. We're ushered into a secluded little restaurant/private dining area. Kinda a veranda thing. There's chocolate goodie centerpieces on our tables. Yum. We get divided up, and like with Raising the Bar, we sit whilst the actors rotate to us.
1:45 - 2:15 p.m.: Round table interviews with the cast of The Closer. We start with Lieutenant Flynn (Tony Denison), Lieutenant Provenza (G.W. Bailey), Detective Daniels (Gina Ravera) and Buzz (Phillip Keene). Some funny stuff is slated for an episode titled "Dial M for Provenza." G.W. says Provenza sees his character being more vulnerable this year - even with all the old man jokes. Gina speaks to the mess that will be the fallout of the Daniels-dates-Gabriel thing that started up last season. In short, Brenda's worst fears are realized after these two co-workers bond. Buzz is heading out of the electronics room and will actually make it into the murder room. Go Buzz! We then get treated to executive producer James Duff (who, like Steven Bochco, sits right next to me; is it my day for rubbing shoulders with the showrunners?), as well as Commander Taylor (Robert Gossett), Lieutenant Tao (Michael Paul Chan), Chief Pope (J.K. Simmons) and Detective Sanchez (Raymond Cruz). Everybody speaks to the quality of writing on the show, and how the balance is maintained between the cases and the personal tidbits that get revealed via the overall dynamics of the show. I ask James Duff to elaborate on his comments that the theme of power and/or the perception of how much control we have over our lives will dominate this year. He does, which can be summed up by saying it's an illusion. Situations change us, and how they change us based on our perception of how much control we have over that situation is what will be explored. He then goes on to talk about the collaboration with the actors (hmmm, are we noticing a theme here? COLLABORATION WITH ACTORS makes for awesome show dynamics and/or fabulous television viewing). He says it's easy to write for this level of quality actors who are, essentially, all well-trained theatre actors). "We have a very tight, creative relationship. And we work until we find something better. I have such an appreciation for them. Every season, we work more closely." Gee, sort of like the total opposite of where some shows are at the moment (ahem, Cold Case ... am I bagging too much on them? Oh well, too bad. These guys are making them look old, stodgy and boring.) We then end with BJ (Kyra Sedgwick), Fritzy (Jon Tenney) and Sergeant Gabriel (Corey Reynolds). Great group, even if Kyra had to be airlifted out early (okay, excused politely). Since we were an all women group of journalists at the table, Kyra said we were automatically the best. Right on. Like Holly Hunter, Kyra oozes passion for Brenda and the show. She repeatedly mentions how much she's never gotten to play someon elike this before, and how she's grown from it. I ask Jon and Corey to talk about the chemistry overall with Kyra - which is when I get into the aforementioned appreciation re: the Brenda/Fritz relationship, how well its done, how real it is, etc. Jon says, "It's really wonderful to hear you say that." Corey elaborates further into how open and free Kyra is, and how they sort of serve/volley off one another in any given scene. They all react so well, and pick up nuances from each other that make their interaction that more tangible, that more electric and engaging.
2:20 p.m: We finish and get some food (finally). The cast mills about for a bit, and we're allowed to ask additional questions. We're also told we'll have the set tour after lunch. I am hungry, but I bypass food for a bit to see if I can snag Jon Tenney for a photo (or two). He is ever so gracious. He talks a bit further about how much he appreciates hearing that we love the Brenda and Fritz dynamic. I tell him I loved him from his Tombstone days. This brings up some discussion as to the history buff in me, and I look to see if we can't perhaps do a one-on-one QA in the not-to-distant future. He's game.
2:27 p.m. - 3:15 p.m.: I finally sit down to eat something and visit with a couple of fellow colleagues. I tell them I'm new, but they don't buy it - in a nice way of course. I guess I do sound like I know what I'm doing. I meet a couple of other colleagues, exchange business cards.
3:19 p.m.: We head over to start touring The Closer set. And I do mean tour. Producer Andrew Sacks graciously takes us through everything, narrating tales of set construction as we go. It's very, very cool. I snap photos to document for our readers. What can I say, I like the behind-the-scenes stuff.
3:38 p.m: That's a wrap! We're done for the day. We say our goodbyes, thank the TNT publicists for all their hard work in putting this thing together (and it is a lot of work; I've been there, done that). I make my way back to my car. The parking attendant guys think I work for TNT. Don't know how that happened. Told them I was here just for the day, but I guess I could try and go back and see if they'll let me on the lot. Not.
Below are the behind the scenes photos from the set of The Closer.
Our great thanks to the good folks at TNT for inviting us along and taking quite good care of us. Look for my additional write-ups on the set visit happenings from Raising the Bar, Saving Grace and The Closer over the next week.