The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Theresa Russell (“Liz & Dick”)

Theresa Russell has spent far more of her career on the silver screen than the small screen, so when she takes on a TV role, it’s a pretty big deal. Of course, “Liz & Dick” was already destined to be a big deal whether Russell had been cast as Elizabeth Taylor’s mother or not, simply by virtue of Lindsay Lohan playing Liz, but that doesn’t make it any less lovely to see Russell turn up.

With “Liz & Dick” now available on DVD, Russell kindly set about doing a bit of press for the production, and in chatting with Bullz-Eye, she discussed how working alongside Lohan caused her maternal instincts to kick in, revealed how serious funnyman Bill Murray can be, and detailed the good and the bad about her short-lived stint as a series regular on The WB’s “Glory Days.”

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Bullz-Eye: I feel like I’m the only TV critic who didn’t get a chance to watch “Liz & Dick” when it originally aired, so I’m glad they sent me a copy of the DVD release in time to watch it before you and I talked.

Theresa Russell: And…? [Laughs.] What did you think?

BE: I enjoyed it well enough.

TR: It’s entertaining, I think.

BE: Well, I tend to enjoy bio-pics in general, if only just to see how a cast and crew decide to tackle the challenge of bringing someone’s life story to the screen.

TR: Yeah. I think Lindsay did a good job. And I didn’t realize that (Elizabeth Taylor’s) mom was so involved her life, either, until doing that, so I thought it was interesting. I actually met Liz. My former husband, Nicolas Roeg, did…I think it was for CBS, but it was Tennessee Williams’ “Sweet Bird of Youth” with her. She was just a wonderful woman. I even tried on that damned diamond. [Laughs.] She goes, “Here, try it on!” I was, like, “Oh, my God…” We were standing around her pool. I put it on, and the thing was…I’m not a big jewelry person, so I thought it would look like a hunk of glass, but it didn’t. It was beautiful. I mean, looking into it was like looking into infinity. It was unbelievably beautiful. She was a trip, though. She was an amazing woman. She really was special. A special creature.

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The Light from the TV Shows: Pilot Season Ahoy!

It’s a sure sign that spring is on the verge of emerging when the networks start to let slip the names, premises, and attached actors for all of the pilots under consideration for the next TV season. Most of these pilots go nowhere, which is the way the cookie has always crumbled, but a few lucky programs end up getting the go-ahead for a series commitment. I don’t claim to have any real idea how the networks think – as a critic, it’s pretty much a given that I never know what the networks are thinking (and, in turn, they don’t care what I’m thinking) – but that doesn’t mean I’m afraid to give my thoughts on 15 of the pilots that I’d like to see come to fruition and join the fall schedules of their respective networks. You can check out a much fuller list from The Hollywood Reporter by clicking here, but in the meantime, here’s the stuff that I’m hoping to be TiVo’ing in a few months’ time….

1. Gilded Lilys (ABC)

It’s been quite awhile since a broadcast network has managed to sell viewers on a period piece set prior to the 20th century, so the fact that ABC is even considering this series, which takes place in 1895 and revolves around the first luxury hotel in New York, is proof of how much pull executive producer Shonda Rhimes has with the American Broadcasting Company. In truth, the big selling point for me is John Barrowman. This doesn’t exactly bode well for another season of “Torchwood,” but the dude deserves a big U.S. break. You never know: this could be it.

2. Untitled Louis C.K. / Spike Feresten Comedy (CBS)

Go on, admit it: you were sold the moment you saw the name “Louis C.K.,” weren’t you? And Spike Feresten isn’t bad, either. Seeing these two guys attached to this project is the only reason why it stands out, since the only real description available is that it’s an an ensemble comedy about a bunch of twentysomethings trying to make their dreams come true despite today’s crappy financial climate. But, damn, after two seasons of “Louie,” the idea of Louis C.K. putting his spin on anything makes it something that’ll surely be worth seeing. With that said, however, I hope Dan Byrd ends up not being available to do the show, as that will mean that “Cougar Town” has been renewed.

3. Animal Kingdom (NBC)

Two words: Tyler Labine. I mean, come on, America, what more does this loveable teddy bear of a comedy actor have to do to get a show to stay on the air for more than a season or two? NBC is, if memory serves, the last of the broadcast networks that has yet to cancel a series out from under Mr. Labine – “Invasion” was on ABC, “Reaper” was on The CW, “Sons of Tucson” was on Fox, and “Mad Love” was on CBS – and, frankly, this could be his last stop before the autograph-show circuit. Doesn’t Tyler Labine deserve a better fate than that? You’re damned right he does.

4. Untitled Kevin Williamson serial killer drama (Fox)

The man behind “The Vampire Diaries” brings Kevin Bacon to the small screen to play Ryan Hardy, a former FBI agent on the hunt for serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), who’s busy building himself a whole cult full of serial killers. If that isn’t enough to sell you, the cast also features Natalie Zea (“Justified”).

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Bullz-Eye’s 2011 Fall TV Preview: What’s New for The CW

Monday

Hart of Dixie

(9 – 10 PM, Sept. 26)

The competition: Dancing with the Stars (ABC), Two and a Half Men / Mike & Molly (CBS), The Sing-Off (NBC), House (Fox)

Starring: Rachel Bilson, Jaime King, Wilson Bethel, Cress Williams, Scott Porter

Executive producers: Leila Gerstein, Josh Schwartz, Stephanie Savage, Len Goldstein and Donald Todd

What the network says: “Fast-talking New Yorker Zoe Hart has her life all figured out: after graduating top of her class from medical school, she’ll follow in her father’s footsteps as a cardio-thoracic surgeon in New York City. But life has other plans for Zoe. Turned down for the prestigious fellowship she had been certain she would get, Zoe is without a job and without a plan. Desperate, she decides to finally respond to the kindly stranger, Dr. Harley Wilkes, whom she met at her medical school graduation and who had offered her a place at his small medical practice in Bluebell, Alabama. She swallows her considerable pride and heads down South – temporarily, she assures herself.”

What we say: If you thought the worst thing about “Hart of Dixie” would be trying to buy Bilson as a surgeon, you’re wrong. In addition to painting the character of Zoe with the sort of broad strokes where she starts the pilot as a complete bitch who’s dismissive of living in a small Southern town and ends it as a thoughtful young woman who believes the people of Bluebell just might have a few life lessons to teach her, the proceedings tend to be little more than cornpone cliches slathered atop a heaping helping of schmaltz. There are a few clever lines and amusing characters, like the mayor of Bluebell, a former football player who regularly refers to himself in the third person, but viewers below the Mason-Dixon line will likely sneer at the way they’re portrayed, while everyone else will just roll their eyes and switch over to…well, just about anything else, really.

Tuesday

Ringer

(9 – 10 PM, Sept. 13)

The competition: Dancing with the Stars (ABC), NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS), The Biggest Loser (NBC), New Girl / Raising Hope (Fox)

Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nestor Carbonell, Mike Colter, Ioan Gruffudd

Executive producers: Pam Veasey, Jon Liebman and JoAnne Colonna

What the network says: “Bridget Kelly is a recovering addict, struggling to turn her life around. She’s six months sober, and beginning to get back on track, when she witnesses a professional hit. She’s placed in federal protection under the watch of Victor Machado, an agent determined to see that justice is done. But Bridget knows that Victor can’t keep her safe and she flees, telling no one, not even her close friend and Narcotics Anonymous sponsor Malcolm Ward. Hoping to buy some time, Bridget contacts her identical twin sister, Siobhan Martin, and joins her in New York City, reuniting with her for the first time in six years. Siobhan is fabulously wealthy, with a strikingly handsome husband, Andrew, who has no idea that Bridget exists. When Siobhan suddenly disappears, seemingly taking her own life, Bridget makes the split decision to take on her sister’s identity.”

What we say: With so many unabashed “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” fans among the writing staff, no one wants to see Sarah Michelle Gellar succeed in a series more than Bullz-Eye, but for that to happen, viewers are going to have to get past the painful sequences at the beginning of the pilot where Gellar interacts with herself. If you can get beyond that, Gellar’s interactions with the trifecta of Carbonell, Colter, and Gruffudd may offer enough charisma to keep people coming back, but given that we weren’t even halfway through the pilot before we started wondering incessantly just how long Bridget was going to be able to perpetuate her chicanery, things are going to have to get really interesting really quickly for the show to maintain the initial “welcome back to the small screen, Sarah Michelle” momentum in the ratings.

Wednesday

H8R

(8 – 9 PM, Sept. 14)

The competition: The Middle (ABC), Survivor (CBS), Up All Night / Free Agents (NBC), The X Factor (Fox)

Host: Mario Lopez

Executive producers: Mike Fleiss, Lisa Gregorisch-Dempsey, Mario Lopez and Jeremy Spiegel

What the network says: “Celebrities are constantly in the public eye – but not everyone is a fan. Each week, celebrities from the world of television, sports and music will come face-to-face with their biggest ‘haters’ to try to win them over.”

What we say: All we’ve seen thus far is a “presentation” to give us a feel for what the show will be like, but it now appears that the season premiere is going to feature the same material, namely Snooki from “Jersey Shore” and Jake Pavelka from “The Bachelor” each confronting a “hater.” The concept itself isn’t so awful – it’s about time some of these internet trolls were taken to task by the people they’re mouthing off about from the safety of their computers – but based on the sampling of future “stars” who’ll be appearing on the show, it’s clear that the word “celebrity” is going to be pretty relative. Given the competition, it’s hard to imagine that reality-show alumni facing off against their “haters” are going to pull sufficient ratings to make much of a ratings dent against actual reality shows like “Survivor” and “The X-Factor.”

Thursday

The Secret Circle

(9 – 10 PM, Sept. 15)

The competition: Grey’s Anatomy (ABC), Person of Interest (CBS), The Office / Whitney (NBC), Bones (Fox)

Starring: Britt Robertson, Thomas Dekker, Gale Harold, Phoebe Tonkin, Shelley Hennig, Jessica Parker Kennedy

Executive producers: Kevin Williamson, Andrew Miller, Les Morgenstein and Gina Girolamo

What the network says: “Cassie Blake is a normal, happy teenager, leading an everyday life with her devoted single mom, Amelia. But when her mother dies in what Cassie thinks is a tragic, accidental fire, her world is turned upside down. Cassie moves in with her warm and loving grandmother Jane in the beautiful small town of Chance Harbor, Washington – where the residents seem to know more about her than she knows about herself.”

What we say: The fact that it’s from Williamson, most recently known to CW viewers as the man who brought them “The Vampire Diaries,” may lead everyone who’s aged out of their teens to believe that “The Secret Circle” will be at best no more than another guilty pleasure that they’ll never publicly admit to watching. “Circle,” however, begins without the bandwagon-jumping feel that “Vampires” had at the outset – “It’s just like ‘Twilight,’ except it’s on every week!’ – and instantly offers a dark, intriguing premise as well as all the teen angst you’ve come to expect from a Williamson project. Yes, many oldsters will smile knowingly at the similarities to “The Craft” when the bitchy teen witches hit the screen, but it feels more like an homage than a rip-off. This could prove to be one of the more enjoyable series of the season. Stay tuned.

  

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