"Superstore" gets a super spot this Friday


I'm back now from the Television Critics Association sessions in Los Angeles. The 17 busy day were stuffed with interviews and more. In the previous blogs, you'll see the stories I've sent to papers so far. There are a lot more coming, however; here's another: 

 

By Mike Hughes

Imagine that your
uncle's bail-bondsman just landed an ad in the Super Bowl. Or your
3rd-grade music teacher will be opening for Beyonce.

Now you're ready for
a new “Superstore” episode, in the middle of NBC's Olympics
coverage.

Yes, that's a
mismatch: A typical “Superstore” episode last season reached 6.6
million viewers; a recent Olympics night averaged 28.8 million.
Consider this the result of new math and old problems.

“We think that
'Superstore' is really something special,” insists Alan Wurtzel,
NBC's research chief.

Especially if you
remember what happened in recent years. “Everyone who had been ...
through this comedy roller-coaster (said), 'Finally, this feels like
back to an NBC smart, specific show that has heart,” said Jennifer
Salke, the president of NBC Entertainment.

The “must-see”
network of “Seinfeld” had became the must-flee network of “Animal
Practice.” After all its troubles, NBC wants to consider
“Superstore” a hit; after all:

-- Yes, it finished
No. 66 in total viewers; seven shows with more viewers were
cancelled. But if you only consider ages 18-49, which advertisers
prefer, it moves up to a tie for No. 42.

-- Then there's the
notion of the “long tail.” If you include that, said NBC
Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt, “the 'Superstore' pilot
actually equaled the 'Voice' season premiere.”

The number of people
who saw the show later – as many as four months later -- matched the
number who saw it the first night. “The Voice” doubled
“Superstore” in instant ratings, but in long-range viewers, the two
were almost the same.

Those viewers found
a show set among workers and shoppers in a big-box store. “We're
representing working-class people, in ... the intersection of
American consumerism,” said America Ferrera, who stars. “You'll
see every race, religion, background, class. And it's so ripe to have
any conversation.”

On Friday, the
conversation turns to the Olympics. Filled with patriotic zeal, Glenn
(Mark McKinney), the store manager, plans a special promotion; some
others are skeptical.

This plays through
the rich variety of the cast. McKinney and Lauren Ash (who plays
Dina, the assistant manager) are Canadian. Ferrera – the only star
with America for a name – is the daughter of Honduran natives. Nico
Santos was born in the Philippines and moved to the U.S. at 16; he plays Mateo
... who, we'll learn Friday, is undocumented.

“Superstore” has
been built on contrasts. In its first moments, Jonah (Ben Feldman)
displayed a sort of middle-class arrogance toward his job. The
contrasts are easy to play, the actors said.

“My mom actually
works at a big-box store,” Santos said. “She works at Home Depot.
So every time she sees an episode, she'll call me, excited.”

Feldman – who grew
up in the Washington, D.C., area, where his dad ran an ad agency –
has opposite roots ... which the Canadians will gladly point out.

“Ben started a
sentence by saying, 'I believe it was Shakespeare who said ...,'”
Ash recalled.

Added McKinney:
“We're not going to get out of here today without him quoting
Latin.”

Colton Dunn, who
plays Garrett, recalled the time actors were chatting with a crew
member about driving a stick shift. “Ben's like, 'Oh, I can be
included in this conversation, because I learned how to drive stick,
too. I learned it when I was in France, in the back country.'”

It was in Provence,
a long way from any big-box store. That's the sort of contrast
“Superstore” savors.

-- “Superstore,”
new episode at 10:30 p.m. Friday, NBC.

-- Second season
starts at 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 22. For the first five weeks (when
CBS has Thursday football), it will have a comedy monopoly. Then it
collides with “The Big Bang Theory.”

On the superhero shows -- change, change ... plus gay character, musical numbers, more


(The final day of the Television Critics Association session has brought a flood of news about superhero shows. For other stories from these session, look at the previous blogs ... and keep an eye out for future ones. Meanwhile, here's the story I sent to papers.)

By Mike Hughes

LOS ANGELES -- Life
keeps transforming wildly inside the “Arrowverse.”

Time bends,
dimensions shift, things explode. And next season? One character will
explore a gay sexuality; also, many will burst into song.

That's in four CW
shows -- “Arrow,” “The Flash,” “Legends of Tomorrow” and
now “Supergirl.” In some future season, there might be more.

“One thing about
the Arrowverse (is), we get to see all these characters,” said CW
programming chief Mark Pedowitz. “Now, if someone pops, then you
re-examine.”

All of the shows are
based on DC comics and all are produced by Greg Berlanti, whose other
work has ranged from “Brothers & Sisters” to “Blindspot.”
Now he has a string of changes, including:

-- The gay
character. Berlanti isn't saying who, but promises “it's a
signifigant character.”

-- The musical,
which will be in the second half of the season. It starts with
“Supergirl” and goes to “Flash” -- both starring “Glee”
alumni. “Melissa (Benoit) and Grant (Gustin) are fabulous singers,”
said producer Ali Adler, as are Laura Benanti, Jeremy Jordan (both of
“Supergirl”) and more. Other shows might cross over. “Victor
Garber (of “Legends”) pitched me a couple songs,” Berlanti
said.

-- Another crossover
– this one without songs, in late November. It starts briefly on
“Supergirl,” then spreads across the next three nights.

-- The arrival of
Superman – played by Tyler Hoechlin, who was Derek in “Teen Wolf”
-- in the “Supergirl” season-opener Oct. 10. “She has a famous
cousin,” Adler said, “so why not use him?”

-- More changes for
“The Flash.” Last year, Barry Allen bent dimensions to save his
mother. The new season will have major complications ... and will
introduce Kid Flash, who is Barry's grandson.

-- Other time-travel
complications, especially with the “Legends” Time Masters. “We
blew them up,” said producer Phil Klemmer. “Now the Time Masters
don't exist any more.” That's no solution; now the team has the
responsibility of holding time together.

-- Big changes in
“Arrow,” the show that started this superhero surge. This will be
the last season of flashbacks, producer Marc Guggenheim promised.
This year, those follow Oliver's time in Moscow, becoming part of a
secret organization; in present-day, he's now the mayor, leading a
fresh batch of vigilantes. “So we see him as trainer and trainee.”

-- Plenty of
villains, complications and guest stars. On Flash, Barry must worry
about both Doctor Alchemy and Savitar. On “Legends,” there's
Obsidian, played by Lance Henriksen; on Arrow, it's a Russian, played
by Dolph Lundgren. On “Supergirl,” Sharon Leal (Zuri in “Grimm”)
is Miss Martian.

-- One person not
there as often. When “Supergirl” moved from Los Angeles to
Vancouver, Calista Flockhart (married to Harrison Ford) cut back to
only a recurring role. Part of the season's drama, producers said,
involves who will take her spot as boss.

For now, the new "Star Trek" series is a journey into the unknown


By Mike Hughes

LOS ANGELES -- The
new “Star Trek” series is only four months away, but fans still
don't know many of the basics.

Some of that is a
choice by the “Trek” people. “You'll get a little more
information in October,” producer Bryan Fuller told the Television
Critics Association. “We'll keep building the ... reveal.”

And some is by
circumstance: He doesn't know all the answers, either.

The lead character,
for instance, may or may not be a minority. “We haven't cast her
yet,” he said, “so we don't know what level of diversity she will
be.”

And the scripts are
still fluid. Usually, Fuller molds the first one alone, he said, but
that's not possible “at the pace at which we are launching this.”

In its first two
years, CBS All Access has been a spot to stream what has already
aired. Most people view recent episodes, said All Access chief Mark
DeBevoise; 10 per cent dive deeper into the library.

But now comes its
first original series: “Star Trek: Discovery” will air its opener
on CBS in January; after that, all the episodes (13 per season) will
only be on the $6-a-month All Access.

“We think there's
the potential for 15 million-plus viewers on our premiere episode”
on CBS, DeBevoise said. So there will be no dallying; here's what
Fuller told reporters:

-- For the first
time, “Trek” won't center on a captain. “We've seen six series
now, from captains' points of view. (Now we want) to see a character
from a different perspective on a starship.”

-- And for the first
time, this will have a heavily serialized first season. There will be
other stories along the way, but the season will focus “on a
journey that is going to teach her how to get along with others in
the galaxy .... To truly understand something that is alien, she has
to first understand herself.”

--This is set about
a decade before Kirk becomes captain. By some counts, that makes it
about 2256; that's about 90 years after the “Star Trek: Enterprise”
series begins and 85 years after the Romulan War.

-- Yes, these people
could meet Kirk's crew ... but not in the first season, which will be
too busy.

-- The crew will be
more diverse than usual. “We'll probably have a few more aliens
than you normally do in a 'Star Trek' cast. Usually, you've got one
person with a bumpy forehead and then seven others who look
relatively human.”

-- A least one
person will be gay. Fuller -- who's gay and a life-long Trekker --
remembers his first gig on a”Trek” series. “I still have, in a
file folder in my garage, the hate mail that 'Star Trek: Voyager' got
because there was a rumor that Jeri Ryan's character was going to be
gay.”

-- Then there's that
name. “Trek” fans sometimes go with initials – TNG (“The Next
Generation”), DS9 (“Deep Space 9”) and such. Now “Star Trek:
Discovery” steps in. “There's a reason we call it 'STD.' It's not
a nebular you're flying through; it's cloudy discharge.”

That comment
reflects Fuller's approach. Many of his shows -- “Pushing Daisies,”
“Wonderfalls,” “Dead Like Me” -- reflect his offbeat wit.
“Brian Fuller is weird, funnier than anyone you'll ever see,”
said Alex Kurtsman, who is producing the new show with him.

“Trek” has had
some funny moments in the past; “'Bride of Chaotica' is hilarious,”
Fuller insists. Many, however, have been about as funny as a Vulcan
zoning commission meeting.

For now, Fuller
might sideline his humor. When “I got to do 'Hannibal,' (it) was a
completely different muscle.” (“STD”) will be “almost like a
hybridization of those lighter tones with the darker tones.”

CBS' quick-fix: For now, this is a white-male domain


By Mike Hughes

LOS ANGELES -- The
commotion at CBS lately has been a quick-fix – hurriedly adding
minority actors to new and returning shows.

“We need to do
better,” said Glenn Geller, the network's programming chief.

In fact, he said it
five times today (Wednesday) to the Television Critics Association.

That need becomes
obvious with the six shows CBS will introduce this fall; each centers
around a white male. Viewers will have to wait for mid-season to see
a lead role going to an actor who is black (Justin Cornwell in
“Training Day”) or female (Katherine Heigl in “Doubt”). The
other networks, by comparison, keep having both in starring roles.

For now, Geller can
merely:

-- Try a second
pilot for “Superior Donuts,” aiming for mid-season. It has “the
amazing young comedic talent Jermaine Fowler,” Geller said. “There
were many things we liked, ... especially Jermaine.”

-- Plug lots of
people into shows, sometimes moving them from recurring to regular
spots. There are 16 people being added; some are white, but the list
is strong on Latino actors (Wilmer Valderrama and Jennifer Esposito
on “NCIS,” Adam Rodriguez on “Criminal Minds,” Christina
Vidal on “Training Day”) and blacks. That includes Duane Henry
on “NCIS,” Boris Kodjoe on “Code Black,” Nelsan Ellis on
“Elementary” and more. Aisha Tyler will double on “Criminal
Minds” and “The Talk”; Justin Hires jumps from starring in the
failed “Rush Hour” to supporting in the new “MacGyver.”

In supporting casts,
Geller said, “we are actually more diverse than last year;”

That brings back the
old image of TV as a place where whites star and blacks are
sidekicks. Once “Rush Hour” vanishes (Aug. 20), CBS will have
only three shows -- “NCIS: Los Angeles,” “Elementary” and
“Scorpion” -- in which a minority is in a lead role.

Most lead characters
are also male and heterosexual, leading people to wonder what
happened.

For almost a decade,
the programming chief was Nina Tassler – a diverse person whose
mother was Puerto Rican and who has studied to be a cantor. Among
other things, she nudged CBS to its first superhero, with the
“Supergirl” series.

Geller, who took
over the job 11 months ago, was expected to continue that push. He's
gay and said diversity is “obviously a very personal subject to
me.”

Some new shows
(“Bull” and “The Great Indoors”) have gay characters, he
said. On existing shows, “Code Black” viewers will learn than
Malaya (Melanie Chandra) is gay and “NCIS: New Orleans” viewers
will meet a new gay character, an FBI agent played by Vanessa
Ferlito.

Then there's “Doubt”
co-star Laverne Cox. “She's going to be the first transgender
actress ever to play a transgender series regular character,”
Geller said. “I mean, that is huge.”

She's also black,
but the most diverse shows will wait until mid-season. For now, CBS
is all about white male heterosexuals.

In a way, that's
part of the super-safe approach Geller took to his fall schedule. The
science-fiction shows are gone -- “Limitless” cancelled,
“Supergirl” shuttled to CW – and familar faces prevail.

CBS is pushing Kevin
James, Matt LeBlanc, Joel McHale and Michael Weatherly. It is a safe
schedule, the type that raises few objections ... except that now,
it's raised some big ones.

Hip hop is born (again) on TV, amid endless optimism


By Mike Hughes

LOS ANGELES -- At first, Nelson
George didn't know he was witnessing a revolution.

Like his friends, he
was grasping for a world beyond Brooklyn. “We were talking about,
'How do we get on? How do I get to be a writer? .... How do I move
into the city.'”

Then, in the late
'70s, he saw music people with that same passion. It was the birth of
hip hop, which the lush Netflix mini-series “The Get Down” now
details. At its core, George said, was “that energy of
possibility.”

He's a “Get Down”
writer and consultant – logical for a guy who lived in the
epicenter of hip-hop. More surprising writer-producer-director Baz
Luhrmann, who's from the other part of the world.

“I grew up in a
very small country town (in New South Wales, Australia), in the
middle of nowhere,” said Luhrmann, 53. “Eleven houses; we had a
black-and-white television.”

Luhrmann would go on
to make colorful movies -- “Great Gatsby,” “Romeo + Juliet”
and more. He was sitting in a Paris restaurant, he said, when he
spotted a photograph of early hip-hoppers.

“I remember
thinking, 'Gee, how did so much creativity come from New York in that
moment?'”

George, 58, has
written books on hip-hop, but doesn't have a quick answer. In part,
he says, it was a fortunate blend of styles (rock, disco, R&B)
and of cultures.

Grandmaaster Flash,
58, was born in Barbados, but grew up in the Bronx. DJ Kool Herc, 61,
was born in Jamaica and moved to the Bronx at 12. One night, Luhrmann
said, Herc confided that hot dogs were at the core of this
revolution:

“He said, 'My
father, who was from Jamaica, ... helped me build my first music
machine and said, “Why don't we play music to get the kids off the
street, and Mom will make hot dogs.”'”

George vividly
recalls the first time he saw a Herc event: “A white van pulls up.
This really tall Jamaican guy gets out with his boys. They pull out
these giant speakers. They bring out milk crates ... full of records
and plug it in. They unplug the bottom of the light speaker, pull it
through, and – boom, the get-down is happening.”

Soon, others
mastered turntables and old records. “We didn't have musical
instruments,” Grandmaster Flash said. “Our instruments were
turntables, mixer .... I came up with a system that allowed me to ...
by the movement of my hand, extract that drum beat.”

To do that, he kept
grabbing more vinyl. “Flash was going to record stores and buying
... what they call 'cut-out records,” George said.

Back then, George
was an intern at the New York Amsterdam News, a black newspaper based
in Harlem. At a place called Downstairs Records, he said, someone
told him: “These kids ... are buying all these $1.99 records. They
are cleaning me out. Whar are they doing with them?”

George didn't know,
but he soon found out: They were changing America, first with
turntables and dance moves, later with rap.

Now that's been
re-created by Luhrmann, using lush visuals, driving music and
(mostly) fictional characters played by unknown actors.

“We have this
incredible young cast,” George said. “So when you look at it, ...
you're seeing youth, you're seeing energy. You're seeing optimism.”

-- “The Get Down”

-- 12-part
mini-series, on Netflix beginning Friday