The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Alan Spencer (‘Bullet in the Face’)

I’ve said before – if not in this column, then certainly elsewhere on the ‘net – how a great deal of my long-term tastes were established during my teen years in the ’80s, and one of the shows that was must-see TV for 16-year-old me was the ABC sitcom Sledge Hammer!, created by Alan Spencer. As a result, my eyebrows shot skyward when I first learned about the IFC series Bullet in the Face, since the press release prominently featured Spencer’s previous credits. Too bad the network’s programming and promotional departments weren’t quite as enthused as I was: the show’s six-episode season was noticed by precious few, resulting in a quick departure from the airwaves.

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Thank goodness for Shout Factory, then, a company who knows a future cult classic when they see one: they released Bullet in the Face on DVD a few weeks back – sorry, I was at the TCA tour at the time, or I would’ve been able to promote it more heavily right as it hit the shelves – and were kind enough to set me up with an interview with the aforementioned Mr. Spencer.

After discussing his most recent endeavor in considerable detail, you will be unsurprised to learn that I took a bit of time to geek out as well, enjoying the opportunity to learn more about his friendships with Marty Feldman, Andy Kaufman, and Anthony Perkins, and to find out if we’re likely to ever see Sledge Hammer! return.

Bullz-Eye: How did Bullet in the Face originally come about? It seems to owe at least a spiritual debt to Sledge Hammer!, but from what I can tell, it appears that the project existed in some form – if only as a vague concept – before you ever came aboard.

Alan Spencer: Well, first of all, there’s nothing spiritual about Sledge Hammer! [Laughs.] Basically, the IFC network… An executive I knew at the IFC network said they had a concept in development that wasn’t working. It was called Dieter Horn in Night Port, and if you Google it or use any search engine, I think you can see information about it. They had made a two-minute trailer – kind of a sizzle reel, as people are wont to do – and a Canadian production company was behind it. The trailer shows a spoof of ‘80s tropes about a German cop called Dieter Horn, who was apparently a bad guy who became a cop, and it’s heavily rooted in the ‘80s. It’s never explained why it was German, by the way. I couldn’t figure that out. But it’s a spoof of a Miami Vice sort of city, and it was…  A lot of people are doing ‘80s parodies – MacGruber, and there’s a miniseries now (The Spoils of Babylon) – and it was an ‘80s spoof, and…that didn’t interest me. And I guess they developed scripts for it and it didn’t work, so it was a piece of… The term is “broken development.”

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Since I’m one of the few people that had done and sustained a successful half-hour action comedy, they came to me and asked if I’d be willing to supervise the writers and retool this. It was basically… I was given, like, carte blanche for whatever I could come up with to fix this. So, anyway, I took the one kernel, one idea from it, and threw everything else out. And the only kernel from it was the German, formerly a bad guy, turning into a cop. So that was it. I threw everything out, re-titled it, and came up with all new characters, an all new milieu, and the kind of a graphic-novel city I set it in.

I also threw out the ‘80s baby with the ‘80s bathwater, because a lot of people can’t reference the ‘80s. I lived through the ‘80s already, and that didn’t interest me to go through it again. I don’t have that hair anymore, I don’t wear the pastels, I wear socks… [Laughs.] So I didn’t want to deal with that at all. I wanted something new and fresh. Also, since I had some creative freedom, I really wanted to go for it, so they were kind of thrilled when I decided to write it myself. I just said, “Let me write it,” as opposed to going through the machinations that we would’ve to find some writers. So they were surprised and happy, but I think that was their agenda all along, to have me write it myself.

So I indulged myself. I didn’t imagine this getting made, so I wrote something very, very extreme, and going further than the restraints that I was used to working on in network television. And then, lo and behold, I was surprised. I got a call from the network saying, “We’re not going to make a pilot for this.” I said, “Oh, all right.” They said, “We’re going to go straight to series!” So it was a six-episode order with the contingency that I write them all. I knew something was up before I got that call, because on Facebook all of a sudden I was being getting friended by IFC executives. [Laughs.] That was kind of the hint that something was in the works. That’s how social media works now, right? If social media was existing during World War II, and if all my Japanese friends were unfriending me, I think I would’ve anticipated Pearl Harbor. That’s sort of how it works.

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The Light from the TV Shows: Chatting with Lara Pulver about ‘Fleming,’ ‘Da Vinci’s Demons,’ and more

Lara Pulver made her first TV appearance in 2009, but she’s quickly racked up a list of credits that’d impress just about any TV viewer, including roles on Robin Hood, True Blood, MI-5, Sherlock, Skins, and Da Vinci’s Demons. In addition to popping up briefly in the current run of Sherlock and returning to Da Vinci’s Demons for its upcoming sophomore season, Pulver can also be found in BBC America’s new limited-series event, Fleming, playing Ann Charteris, the woman who – 62-year-old spoiler alert! – eventually went on to be Mrs. Ian Fleming. Bullz-Eye was fortunate enough to chat with Pulver at the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Pasadena, and we asked her about all of the aforementioned small-screen roles while also touching on her film work with Idris Elba, Michael Sheen, and Tom Cruise.

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Bullz-Eye: So how much did you know about Ian Fleming’s life before you signed on to this project?

Lara Pulver: As a Brit, I knew his novels, I knew he was behind the Bond franchise, but I knew nothing about the man.

BE: How surprised were you to learn about him?

LP: I found him fascinating. Like, from a psychoanalytic point of view. His relationship with his mom, the depressive arrogance, his ego when it came to women, his failure as a man when it came to finding an occupation, finding his niche in life… And yet he never really lived long enough to find out the true success of what we now celebrate as 50 years of Bond as a franchise. So I found it fascinating.

BE: Were you a Bond fan going in?

LP: It’s definitely in British arts and culture history. It’s on TV at Christmas. There’s always a Bond movie. And it’s quite fascinating how they’ve been able to reinvent to make it so current 50 years on.

BE: Were you familiar enough with the franchise to recognize the bits and pieces of it that turned up in his real life?

LP: Yeah, and it’s also so interesting, having done Fleming, to see a Bond movie now. That’s even more interesting.

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Bruce Boxleitner

Bruce Boxleitner has been making a living as an actor since the early ’70s, but there are many who consider the ’80s as the era when he really hit his stride, thanks to him having starred as the title character in “TRON” and following up that success with four seasons as Lee Stetson on CBS’s “Scarecrow and Mrs. King.” Then, of course, there’s his work during the ’90s as John Sheridan on “Babylon 5,” and…well, basically, what we’re saying is that Bruce Boxleitner’s fanbase is multi-generational.

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Currently, Boxleitner is a regular on the Hallmark Channel original series “Cedar Cove,” but he also continues to keep busy on other projects, including a new holiday film called “Silver Bells,” which makes its small-screen debut on UP TV on Dec. 1. Bullz-Eye had a chance to talk to Boxleitner about both of these projects, along with several other items from his back catalog, but there were actually two conversations: one in person, one on the phone. The first one took place during this summer’s Television Critics Association press tour, and the second…well, I’ll explain about that one when we get to it.

For now, though, here’s our chat from the TCA tour…

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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: Jack McBrayer gives thanks for ‘The Middle’ and other post-”30 Rock” roles

It’s been a few years since Bullz-Eye last chatted with Jack McBrayer…and by a few years, we mean more than half a decade: the previous occasion was when both the second season of “30 Rock” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” – both of which featured McBrayer, in case you’ve forgotten – were making their DVD debut. Since then, “30 Rock” has taken its final bow, leaving McBrayer without a full-time TV gig, but lord knows the man hasn’t been lounging around doing nothing. In addition to a very high-profile role in last year’s “Wreck-It Ralph,” either his voice or his actual physical being have turned up on Adult Swim’s “Childrens Hospital” and “NTSF:SD:SUV,” Comedy Central’s “Drunk History,” and, to bring this intro in for a landing, ABC’s “The Middle,” where, as part of his recurring role as the dentist for whom Frankie Heck works, he’ll be turning up for the annual Thanksgiving-themed episode, airing on Wednesday at 8 p.m.

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Bullz-Eye: Well, I was able to watch the Thanksgiving episode of “The Middle” this morning, thanks to the kind folks at Warner Brothers, and I’m happy to say that it lives up to the high standards the series has set for its holiday episodes.

Jack McBrayer: Oh, good! I haven’t even seen it! [Laughs.]

BE: So how did you find your way onto “The Middle” in the first place, coming off of “30 Rock” as you were?

JMcB: Well, I had been a fan of the show from way back. I’m friends with Neil Flynn, who plays Mike Heck. I’ve been a friend of his from way, way back. From Chicago days. He was in Second City. We were at Second City at the same time: he was performing, I was in classes. And, of course, Patricia Heaton we’ve all known for years and years. And the show in general just kind of struck a chord with me, growing up in Georgia, in a small town, with parents who were overextended and always tired, and, you know, we’d eat cereal for dinner and…it all hit home to me! And, also, I happen to know a couple of the writers. Robin Shorr is a writer over there. So I think when they knew “30 Rock” was over and that some of the cast members would be available, they were, like, “Oh! What can we do?” [Laughs.] So I was happy to say, “Yes!”

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