The Television Critics Association Press Tour, Part I

July 15th, 2008

This past weekend, the TCA (television critics association) held their bi-annual press tour in Los Angeles.

Each network rolls out its new programs in an auditorium, while an army of television critics, seated at long tables, ask questions. Many of the features you will read regarding upcoming television programs over the next 6 months contain quotes given during this event.

We were rolling out several of the programs that we produce for PBS, including American Masters: You Must Remember This: The Warner Brothers story; Nature: Bald Eagle; Great Performances: Cyrano de Bergerac and our upcoming series Make Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America. We also had Aaron Brown, the new anchor of Wide Angle, at a reception for the critics.

On the plane trip from NY, I watched National Treasure, a Disney release starring Nicholas Cage and Jon Voight. Our first event was the announcement of our American Masters series You Must Remember This: The Warner Brothers story.
As we went backstage to get ready, Kellie Specter, our Director of Communications, said to me, “We have a last minute addition to our panel — Jon Voight!” He has been in many films for Warner Brothers, so he came to talk about his experience with the studio.

As we chatted backstage, Jon told me he loved making the National Treasure movies–another might be on the way–but he has a hard time saying which movie is his best. Unlike some actors who never watch their own work, the Oscar winner said when he comes across one of his movies, he might stop and watch a few minutes because some scenes still strike a chord with him.

Neal Shapiro and Jon Voight

He told us a great story about making Deliverance … seems Burt Reynolds was always a prankster and loved to tease his co-stars. They were filming the movie in the gorges and canyons of Georgia, and Jon said that between takes, most of the cast would just sit on the rocks and ignore the director’s chairs with each of the star’s names that were always lowered into whatever gorge they were filming in…all except Burt Reynolds.

Every day, Reynolds would sit in Jon Voight’s chair. This went on for two weeks and Jon knew that Burt was doing it deliberately. Finally, he could wait no longer and he had to ask:

“Burt, I notice you have been sitting in my chair — I don’t have a problem with it, but I’m wondering why.” “Well, you see, Jon,” Burt said, “when I sit in your chair….I can look at the chair with MY name on it!”

The rest of the panel for our American Masters series (which will premiere in September) spanned the decades of Warner Brothers history: Richard Shickel, the Time magazine critic and director of our film; Dick Donner, producer of Superman and others; Joan Leslie, actress who starred with James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy and many others; Jon Voight; and Susan Lacy, the executive producer of American Masters. The critics loved it.

The next day, we gathered for another event, a press conference for Great Performances: Cyrano de Bergerac (which premieres in early January). I went backstage with Aaron Brown and we met with Kevin Kline, who plays the title role.

left to right: Neal Shapiro, Aaron Brown, Kevin Kline, Stephen Segaller (Thirteen’s VP of National Production), Paula Kerger (President and CEO of PBS), David Horn (Executive Producer of Great Performances)

From his movie roles, you might think Kevin Kline is funny, charming, gracious and intelligent. But when you talk to him one on one, you find out that he is …. funny, charming, gracious and intelligent.

We talked a bit about his many movie roles. I asked if he knew as he was making a movie if it was going to work or not, if the chemistry was there, and he said…Not really! He is much too gracious to name any names (though I really wanted to know) but he said he did one movie which turned out quite well but while he was making it, he was sure he had no chemistry with of his co-stars.

He certainly has chemistry with Jennifer Garner and Daniel Sunjata, his co-stars in Cyrano. He told reporters he first had some concerns about Garner, whose TV work as the star of Alias was well known, but not her theater background and training. He said his concerns disappeared because from her first read-through, she was great.

Kevin is gracious and generous in one way that many viewers may not recognize: to do plays like this, he makes far less than he could from a big movie role. He does it because he loves the theater and he loves public television’s ability to bring these plays to a much larger audience. We love being associated with him.