The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with James Brolin (‘Christmas with Tucker’)

James Brolin has been a star of TV and film since the ’60s, rarely disappearing from either for very long before popping back up somewhere or other, and tonight at 9 PM he can be found starring in “Christmas with Tucker,” the debut original movie from the Hallmark Movie Channel (which, just in case you aren’t aware, is a separate entity from the Hallmark Channel), playing a gruff but loveable grandfatherly type fella who gets to have a lot of scenes with a very cute dog. I was fortunate enough to chat with Brolin for a bit when he attended this summer’s Television Critics Association press tour in Beverly Hills, and – as you’ll read below – I was even more fortunate to be able to continue the conversation a bit later.

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Bullz-Eye: So you’re in a dog movie, but are you a dog guy by nature?

James Brolin: Yeah, but guess what? I don’t have a dog right now. But I’m kind of shopping! The thing is, I’m not sure where I’m going to be next, and I kind of hate to go off and leave a dog once I have it. I’ve found that didn’t work well in the past. But I got my wife a dog. And the dog is… I can’t believe she’s had it 10 years now. And it sleeps right here. [Points to his head.] It likes the top of the couch or the head pillow. So usually, if you roll over it or around it, it gets out of your way and just goes down to the other end. Anyway, I’ve been moved to the back seat of the car now. [Laughs.] Those two run things.

BE: Yeah, we just got a dog a few months ago, so I know what you mean.

JB: Oh, yeah. If it ain’t a baby, it’s a dog. [Laughs.]

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BE: How was this dog, Tucker, to work with?

JB: Fine! Really good natured. He would do all the things, and then when you’d go to shoot, sometimes the dog would have a little brain fade or confusion, but it’s not unusual. You just keep going. You have the trainer keep going, you run the camera, and now with digital, you can just turn the camera on and let it run for two hours, and then you go in there, wade through it, and pick out just what you need. But that’s Filmmaking 101, in a way. If you have time for that, you do that. And if you’re doing a dog picture, you make time. And the kids… Anyone youthful who was involved was just right on. Gage (Munroe) is just like a honed pro, so that wasn’t an issue. Kids weren’t an issue. But animals are always an issue, and you just need to schedule the time to shoot and shoot and shoot a little bit.

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The Light from the TV Shows: TGS: 30 Great Shows (That Don’t Actually Exist)

With “30 Rock” departing the airwaves after a not-unrespectable seven seasons – a particularly incredible achievement when you consider what an incredibly off-the-wall, insider-y sort of sitcom it was throughout its run – it seemed only appropriate to offer up some sort of tribute to the show in this week’s column. Unfortunately, since everyone else seems to have swiped all of the good angles that are 100% show-specific (indeed, I actually wrote a piece on the 30 best “30 Rock” guest stars for the “Today” blog, The Clicker), I had to think a little bit outside the box, but since a key aspect of the series was its show within a show, “TGS with Tracy Jordan,” it seemed like a perfectly reasonable concept to spotlight 30 of TV’s great fictional TV series. Lord knows these aren’t all of them, of course. Hell, even limiting myself to a one-fake-TV-series-per-real-TV-series rule…with the only exception being “30 Rock,” which seemed only fair, given the reason for the list in the first place…there are still thousands of omissions, so feel free to offer up your personal favorites that didn’t make the cut, “Family Guy” fans. (There’ve been so many on that show, I didn’t even know where to start.)

1. TGS with Tracy Jordan (“30 Rock”)

For those who can remember back to the pilot of “30 Rock,” Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) was originally in charge of a not-terribly-great sketch comedy series called “The Girlie Show,” but when GE’s new Head of East Coast Television and Microwave Oven Programming, Jack Donaghy made an executive decision to add the completely unpredictable Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) to the show, the comedian’s ego necessitated a change in the show’s title to feature his name more prominently. 136 episodes later, we’ve scarcely seen a single “TGS” sketch in its entirety, and what bits we have seen have rarely been funny (at least not intentionally), but the shenanigans surrounding the series have been consistently hysterical.

2. The Alan Brady Show (“The Dick Van Dyke Show”)

Dick Van Dyke has discussed on many occasions how many TV writers have come up to him over the years and told him that the biggest reasons they decided to break into the business in the first place was because Rob Petrie and his cronies on Alan Brady’s variety show made it look like one of the most entertaining occupations in the world. Strangely, he hasn’t spoken nearly as much about how many of those writers finished their comments by yelling, “Thanks for nothing, you big liar!” I’m betting it’s about 50/50.

By the way, although “The Alan Brady Show” wasn’t real, the folks at MeTV talked Carl Reiner into doing a promo for the addition of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” to their line-up where he reprised the character. Funny stuff.

3. Invitation to Love (“Twin Peaks”)

If you’re not a David Lynch obsessive, you may not remember this soap opera, but those with keen eyes will recall that it turned up at least once in each of the first seven episodes of “Twin Peaks.” It’s also worth noting that “Invitation to Love” pointedly features identical-twin characters played by the same actress, which – in no way coincidentally – was more or less what Sheryl Lee did as Laura Palmer and Maddy Ferguson.

4. The Adventures of Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy (“Spongebob Squarepants”)

The best bit about this cartoon-with-a-cartoon was the fact that the “Spongebob” show runners reunited former “McHale’s Navy” co-stars Ernest Borgnine and Tim Conway to prove the characters’ respective voices. It doesn’t get much cooler than that.

5. The Terrence and Phillip Show (“South Park”)

Disproving a longstanding theory that Canadians can’t be funny while cementing the not-really-in-question suspicion that farts are always funny, it need only be said that Terrence and Phillip are a stone-cold gas. Sadly, this clip is from their movie, “Asses of Fire,” rather than their series, but it’s basically the same thing. Y’know, except filthier. Much, much filthier.

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The Light from the TV Shows: Gifts for the TV Geek

You’ve no doubt already seen the TV-DVD recommendations in Bullz-Eye’s Holiday Gift Guide, but what if you’ve got a TV geek on your gift list who already has every single DVD set on our list? Fortunately for you, I’ve rounded up a few not-at-all-cheap suggestions.

“Community” Holiday Exclusive Gift Set

Features a “Troy & Abed in the Morning” coffee cup (“With a generous capacity of 15 ounces, refills are not needed!”), a Warhol-inspired Troy & Abed poster, a t-shirt featuring the Greendale Seven in video game form. and a plush Human Being…which, if you’re not already a fan of the show, probably warrants a bit of explanation. Per the NBC online store, “The Greendale Community Human Being plush mascot reflects the diversity of Greendale and our species by being nothing at all. Now you can have your own creepy version!” If that doesn’t sound like the icing on a delicious “Community” cake, then…well, uh, you’re probably not the target demo. But maybe you know someone who is, so keep it in mind just in case. ($50.00)


“Dexter” LOOK/SEE Limited Edition Sunglasses

Described as “perhaps the greatest Dexter usable collectable out there,” what you get is a set of sunglasses with white frames spattered in blood, stored in a wooden case which, not coincidentally, looks quite a bit like Dexter’s “trophy case.” The case also includes blood slides and a syringe. Move fast, though: it’s a limited edition set – there are only 500 units being produced, and each wooden case is individually numbered. ($149.95)

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A chat with Yvette Nicole Brown, Gillian Jacobs, Ken Jeong and creator Dan Harmon of “Community”

America loves an underdog; cult TV fans only love underdogs. So it’s no wonder that suddenly almost everyone seems to love “Community.”

TV’s backhanded salute to two-year colleges comes by its underdog status honestly. Seemingly cursed with underwhelming ratings despite wide acclaim, it was put on indefinite hiatus late last year after an outstanding musical episode gleefully spoofing “Glee.” Hollywood naysayers to the contrary, there was clearly plenty of life left in the highly imaginative, frequently surreal show set at Colorado’s fictional Greendale Community College, a sort of academic “Green Acres” where normal logic is permanently suspended.

The show, which airs Thursday at 8:00/7:00 central and is also viewable via Hulu and NBC.com, returned in mid-March to a surprise — extremely healthy Nielsen numbers (2.2/7 in the advertiser beloved 18-49 demo). The credit, the show’s makers agree, goes largely to the intense activist fan base.

“Community” stars comic Joel McHale (“The Soup”) and an outstanding ensemble cast with an ethnic makeup that, shockingly, actually resembles a typical suburban community college. Aside from the three cast members we spoke to, the show also features gifted former “3o Rock” writer and actor Donald Glover, Daniel Pudi, Alison Brie (aka Trudy Campbell of “Mad Men“), and some guy named Chevy Chase. Speaking of Mr. Chase, just as the original version of this piece was posted, the Bullz-Eye staffed noticed a burgeoning net-storm over what sure sounds like a pretty ugly altercation between Chase and executive producer Dan Harmon with possibly inevitable repercussions that we can only guess at.

Nevertheless, spirits were high one sunny Sunday afternoon in Anaheim just a couple of weeks back at the 2012 edition of WonderCon as a bunch of mostly fannish writers met with just a few of the very talented people behind “Community.” Yvette Nicole Brown plays the outspoken, devoutly religious, and disarmingly maternal Shirley Bennett; Gillian Jacobs is high-strung former anarchist Britta Perry; and “The Hangover” heavy and former real-life practicing M.D. Ken Jeong inhabits the role of Spanish teacher turned security guard Señor Ben Chang. Also present was affable seemingly affable creator and showrunner Dan Harmon. As befits a production that blends real intelligence with anything-for-a-laugh energy, everyone had something interesting to say to a table full of committed fans and this enthusiastic “Community” newbie.

Yvette Nicole Brown on the good ratings news.

2.2 is massive…for us that’s like the stratosphere. You could say, “Oh, we’re so fabulous.” No. The fans are fabulous. This is 100 percent flash mobs, black goatees, Subway sandwich buys. They really blanketed NBC and Twitter with their love for the show. I think it made people who had never heard of us go, “Huh. Let’s see what this is.” I’m praying they come back next week.

Creator Dan Harmon on the surprisingly good ratings for the show’s return episode.

I never thought our ratings made sense when they were as low as they were, but now I don’t think that these make sense. It was like a 50 percent increase or something. It was insane. I don’t know who got a Nielsen box or whose cat stepped on the remote. I hope that we can keep it up.

Ken Jeong on the show’s perceived near-cancellation.

The events that have transpired since December have only brought the show and the fans even closer. We have even more love out of it. In hindsight, this has all been such a blessing. You really get to feel the love right now.

Gillian Jacobs on the the role of improvisation on “Community.”

I would say that there’s a lot of goofing around. There’s not a lot of actual improv with the lines. Maybe two percent of what you see in the show is improv. It’s scripted; we try very hard to get it word perfect. It’s just a lot of us making up stupid songs. Stupid raps… We quote the show to each other and we become obsessed with certain lines and repeat them. Lines that probably nobody else cares or remembers, we repeat daily. It’s like jokes on joke on jokes on jokes and we can’t even remember the origin of them anymore.

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Bullz-Eye’s 2012 TV Power Rankings

So…where were we?

Oh, fine, let’s go ahead and deal with the elephant in the room: it’s been nine months since Bullz-Eye doled out its last TV Power Rankings. What can we say? There were a lot of good shows on the air between May 2011 and February 2012, and somewhere around late October, it just kind of reached a point where we said, “You know what? It’s way more fun to watch TV than it is to write about it.” Eventually, though, the powers that be pried us off the couch (there’s still an indentation where we were sitting), set us back in front of the computer, and said, “Look, the readers demand to know Bullz-Eye’s take on the best shows of the past year* and, frankly, they’re starting to get a little belligerent about it.”

(*Rounded up for statistical purposes.)

So here we are, ready to offer up our list of the 25 best shows on television** as well as several shows bubbling just under our list, plus a new section called “Still Too New to Call,” where we praise shows that seem pretty damned good after their first few episodes but simply haven’t been around long enough for us to feel comfortable including them in the other two lists.

(**Okay, technically, it’s the 24 best shows on television plus one show that hasn’t been on since 2010, but we’re so excited about that particular show coming back that we included it, anyway.)

All told, we hope you’ll walk away from this piece either nodding your head in agreement or wondering why you haven’t been watching some of these shows. If not, however, there’s a perfectly good Comments section that’s just waiting for your opinions about what’s good on TV.

Everybody ready? Then let’s get this thing started…

25. The Big Bang Theory (CBS)

No, it’s not quite the same show it used to be, owing to the fact that the cast now consists of almost as many women as it does men, but with the series now in its fifth season, the trio of Kaley Cuouo, Melissa Rauch, and Mayim Bialik have probably infused “The Big Bang Theory” with more laughs than the it would’ve had at this point if it had stuck strictly to the original four geeks. The only question now is how much longer we’ll have to wait for Raj to come out of the closet…because, seriously, you don’t need to possess gay-dar to see that that’s what they’re leading up to.

24. Weeds (Showtime)

When we first picked back up with Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker) for the seventh season of “Weeds,” she’d spent three years cooling her heels in the clink while the rest of the Botwin clan had been chillin’ in Copenhagen, but with Nancy being shifted to a halfway house in New York City, a family reunion was only inevitable. Big shock: Nancy started selling pot again. Possibly bigger shock: even going into its eighth season, “Weeds” is still reliably entertaining.

23. New Girl (Fox)

When it comes to watching “New Girl,” one’s level of appreciation is directly proportionate to how one feels about the concept of “adorkability,” which Zooey Deschanel brings to the small screen in seemingly limitless quantities as Jess, a too-cute twentysomething who moves in with a trio of guys on the heels of an excruciatingly bad breakup. As with most ensemble comedies, it’s taken time for the chemistry of the cast to find its feet, but it’s coming along nicely.

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