The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Jack Davenport (“Smash”)

Jack Davenport may not formally qualify for the descriptor “television staple” in the U.S, given that the majority of his Stateside series have lasted a single season or less, but between “Swingtown” in 2008 and “FlashForward” during the 2009-2010 season, he’s made enough headway on the airwaves that, when coupled with a U.K. success like “Coupling” and a recurring role in Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, he’s at least in possession of a face that inspires people to wonder, “Wait, why do I know that guy?” Davenport creeps ever closer to a more immediate recognition level as he continues onward with the season season of NBC’s “Smash.” I was fortunate enough to chat with him for a bit during the January edition of the Television Critics Association press tour,  and although we didn’t get into too much detail about his current work on “Smash” (mostly because the interview took place before I’d seen any of Season 2), we still ended up discussing a fair amount of his small-screen work, along with a few stops on his cinematic efforts.

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Bullz-Eye: Your character on “Smash” is regularly described in reviews as “difficult but brilliant,” and even on the NBC website they sum him up in a single sentence by calling him “one of Broadway’s most brilliant, yet arrogant, director-choreographers.” Did you have to pay people off to get the word “brilliant” out there so prominently?

Jack Davenport: Probably, yeah. [Laughs.] You know, the way the character’s written is the way people generally refer to him, and you are to believe that the man has half a dozen Tonys, probably two musicals that are international franchises, but that also makes you cocky. Also, in the real world of show business, no one refers to anybody as talented or brilliant. But when you’re doing a show about show business, weirdly, you do have to point that out on occasion. Not too often, but it’s sort of… Otherwise, you’re not really setting the scene properly, I don’t think.

BE: True enough. A few adjectives can save the writers from having to come up with a complete back story right off the bat.

JD: Oh, yeah. And as for “difficult,” I think that one speaks for itself. [Laughs.]

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The Light from the TV Shows: Failed Pilots with All-Star Casts

As the new TV season rolls out, let’s take a look back at a few series that never actually made it on the air. Not that there aren’t plenty such series every single year, but sometimes you look back and wonder, “How could a show with all of these talented people not get on the schedule?” Not that we have an answer to that question, you understand, but at least we can all be mystified and annoyed together.

Next! (2001)

Starring: Bob Odenkirk, Fred Armisen, Zach Galifianakis, Brian Posehn, Nick Swardson
What you missed out on: After Bob Odenkirk and David Cross decided to put a bullet in their HBO sketch comedy series, “Mr. Show” (that’s right, it was their decision, not the network’s), the guys attempted to go their separate ways, with Odenkirk setting up shop at Fox with a pilot for a new sketch comedy series. If you think the above names are impressive, consider that several other “Mr. Show” alumni were in tow as well, including Jerry Minor, Jay Johnston, and Jill Talley, with Patton Oswalt also participating in some capacity or other. And, yes, if you’re wondering, Cross made an appearance in the pilot, too. So what happened? Apparently, Fox basically flipped a coin to decide which new sketch comedy series they’d add to their lineup, and “Cedric the Entertainer Presents” won the toss. Oh, what might’ve been…

North Hollywood (2001)

Starring: Jason Segel, Amy Poehler, Kevin Hart, and Judge Reinhold as himself
What you missed out on: Judd Apatow has never been ashamed to admit that the only reason that this pilot ever came into existence is that Fox refused to let him cast Jason Segel as his lead in the short-lived but highly-regarded “Undeclared,” but you can’t say he didn’t do his best to surround Segel with top-notch talent. Segel, Amy Poehler, and Kevin Hart played roommates, with Segel a struggling actor, Hart a struggling actor/comedian, and Poehler serving as Judge Reinhold’s personal assistant. There’s a more detailed look at the pilot here, but the long and the short of it is that, although Apatow admits that he really didn’t know if there was a decent series to be had in “North Hollywood,” he thinks the pilot’s pretty decent, but its tone didn’t match the sitcoms filling ABC’s lineup at the time, so they took a pass on it.

Saddle Rash (2002)


Starring: H. Jon Benjamin, Sarah Silverman, Todd Barry, Mitch Hedberg
What you missed out on: Created by Loren Bouchard, best known to animation fans as one of the creative forces behind “Home Movies,” “Saddle Rash” seemed to have all the elements necessary for a successful Adult Swim series, so why didn’t it make it beyond the pilot stage? Was it that westerns weren’t exactly in vogue at the time? Was there some sort of stigma attached to the project because they brought in country artists to continued voice work (including Waylon Jennings as a very special guest in the pilot)? Whatever the case, the pilot got aired – no doubt mostly because Adult Swim has a tendency to air just about every pilot it orders, whether it actually ends up going to series or not – but that was the end of the trail for the series.

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The Light from the TV Shows: 12 Shows to Look Forward to in 2012

Just as 2011 is sure to end in a few days, 2012 is equally likely to follow on its heels, which means that the January TCA tour is right around the corner. As such, yours truly is about to be bombarded with the best and worst that the midseason has to offer…and, fortunately, there’s a lot more of the former than the latter. Indeed, there are a couple of shows that the broadcast networks have been unjustly sitting on for almost six months, even though they’re a damned sight better than most of the dreck we got back in September. (Stand up, please, “The Playboy Club.” Or, you know, pick the program of your choice. That one’s just easiest ’cause it was the first to go.) Much as last week found me offering up 11 shows, give or take, that I was sorry to bid adieu to in 2011, this week I’ve pulled together a list of 12 shows that I’m looking forward to checking out in 2012. Keep in mind, however, that I’m basing my excitement either on a rough cut of a pilot or, in some cases, merely on the hopefulness I get when I read about the show. Yes, this does often come back to bite me in the ass, but such is the life of a TV critic. If I’m wrong, I’ll roll with the punches. In the meantime, though, these are my personal picks for what’s looking good in the new year…

The Firm (NBC)

So sayeth the network: Based on the best-selling novel by world-renowned author John Grisham, “The Firm” is a new drama series that continues the story of attorney Mitchell McDeere (Josh Lucas), who, as a young associate 10 years earlier, had brought down the prestigious Memphis law firm of Bendini, Lambert & Locke, which had been operating as a front for the Chicago mob. After a difficult decade, which included a stay in the Federal Witness Protection Program, McDeere and his family now emerge from isolation to reclaim their lives and their future — only to find that past dangers are still lurking and new threats are everywhere. Abby McDeere (Molly Parker), Mitch’s supportive, smart and resourceful wife, who had helped her husband expose Bendini, Lambert & Locke, is excited to start a new life in Washington, D.C., as a school teacher and mom to their daughter, Claire (Natasha Calis). Ray McDeere (Callum Keith Rennie) is Mitch’s charming, yet volatile, older brother whose work as an investigator in Mitch’s office is uniquely informed by his past stretch in prison for manslaughter. Despite a gritty past that stands in stark contrast to that of his Harvard-grad brother, Ray shares one key quality with Mitch – a loyalty that is unbreakable. Tammy Hemphill (Juliette Lewis) is Mitch’s feisty, sexy receptionist whose work life is made all the more tumultuous by her on-again, off-again relationship with Ray. With a personality as arresting as her ever-changing hair color, Tammy is leery when Mitch accepts a deal to partner with a top law practice, as she’s not cut out for the conservative culture of a white-shoe firm.

My take: I literally only just got the pilot episode this morning, so I haven’t had a chance to check it out yet, but the combination of Lucas, Parker, and Lewis has me very intrigued, and the fact that Grisham himself is part of the mix makes me hopeful about the possibilities of where this series could go if it’s given the chance. That’s a big “if,” though, because this isn’t the first time a Grisham novel has made the jump to the small screen. Anyone remember “The Client,” with JoBeth Williams and John Heard? It’s become so obscure that there’s neither a Wikipedia page for it nor even a clip from it on YouTube. Let’s hope “The Firm” gets a better go of it than that.

(Premiere date: January 8, 9 PM; regular 10 PM timeslot begins January 12)

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