Deggans TCA Day One: Chillin' With Jeff Goldblum at the Friars Club
LOS ANGELES -- There are times when there is no cooler job on the planet than mine.
That thought came, unbidden, Sunday night as I stood in the middle of the legendary Rat Pack-era hangout The Friar's Club, watching actor Jeff Goldblum lead a crack quintet through a sprawling set of '50s and '60s-era jazz tunes which included playful, swinging takes on the theme to Bonanza and Mr. Lucky.
The occasion was an inspired party for the AMC channel's ambitious new series Mad Men, focused on a bristling group of young guys from the 1960-era "golden age" of advertising, when the '50s were becoming the '60s and Madison Avenue first became a symbol of outsize, world straddling capitalism. (see a sample here)
Because Goldblum shares an agent with Mad Men creator (and former Sopranos scribe) Matt Weiner, he offered up his band The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra to entertain a room packed with TV critics, actors, networks executives and assorted scenesters. The location -- a cozy, faded Hollywood hangout that once welcomed showbiz royalty such as Sinatra, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar and a host of entertainers from a certain age -- proved the perfect home for a parry celebrating a long-gone era.
Goldblum, sporting a geek chic look complete with tan sportcoat, jeans, tie and shades, was intent on having fun with his band -- shrugging off substantive questions about the failure of his own NBC show Raines and the sporadic nature of his group's unannounced gigs with that spacey, charming vibe he works so well onscreen.
"There's no rhyme or reason to of any of this...We don't advertise (shows). I'm just enjoying myself," Goldblum said, loosing a goofy grin while telling a long story of how he bonded with director and noted film expert Paul Schrader (who wrote Taxi Driver and directed American Gigolo) by asking Schrader to name the films he felt were most important and watching them. The actor asked the same thing of Spielberg when the two worked together on the Jurassic Park movies, and he would up with 15 laserdics of films ranging from Guns of Navarone to Vertigo.
The Orchestra turned out to be a hip, informal group of hard-swinging musicians led by Goldblum's chunky, syncopated piano work. Later, the lanky actor led a select group of us to the Friar's upstairs Sand Room -- a private billiards room Sinatra himself reportedly ordered covered in sand so the Pack could flick their butts to the floor without worry. These days, the walls are covered with framed, informal photos of greats such as Lucille Ball, Elizabeth Taylor and Red Buttons and the floor is still blanketed with sand -- allowing special guests to savor a unique connection to Hollywood's last Golden Age.
What does any of this have to do with Mad Men -- a complex, well-developed drama most TCA members already seem to love for its warts-and-all exploration of late '50s sexism and consumerism? Admittedly, not much -- beyond demonstrating the lengths some programmers will go to impress the nation's TV writers.
In these moments, the press tour unfolds as a combination schmoozefest and industry convention, allowing us all to chat up assorted celebrities, executives and producers while trading ideas with each other on the increasing flood of product we are asked to navigate every year.
As I noted in a column today, there's not much among the fall series we're loving. An informal poll of pals writing for outlets ranging from USA Today and TV Guide to the Boston Globe and Kansas City Star revealed buzz over no new network TV series beyond ABC's surreal drama Pushing Daisies; instead, cable seems to have stolen broadcasters' buzz by delivering quality goods during the summer doldrums.
I came to TCA midday Sunday, the last of four days devoted press conferences for the cable networks. Here's some tidbits I scarfed up within minutes:
-- Here's what you don't do when facing a roomful of TV critics during a press conference: Get cute about answering the one question they have for you. Former View co-host Star Jones found that out the hard way during a session for her new talk show on the former CourtTV (now called truTV) where she antagonized the crowd by taking a half hour to admit she had promised Glamour magazine an exclusive report on her freakish weightloss -- and thus, could not discuss it at TCA. "Do you realize the public relations damage you've done by being coy about this upcoming interview," groused one critic, long minutes before Jones revealed the magazine which would publish her account.
-- Jones wouldn't admit to being P.O.'ed at either Barbara Walters, who fired her, or longtime nemesis Rosie O'Donnell, but she did admit to one disappointment with the new View: "if you want to know something I'm disappointed in, it's the fact that there is no person of color who has been permanently placed as a part of the cast of "The View." And I'll tell you why. Not just for aesthetic purposes, but one of the roles that I played was in an editorial purpose. We all sat in the back and brought different values to the table and when you are putting forth a show, you need to make it look like the fabric of society and not just look that way from the outside, but feel that way from the inside. So that's the only thing that I would encourage; that a permanent person of color who is a professional because that was my job, to bring the facts to the forefront."
-- Project Runway's star designer Tim Gunn, who will debut his own Tim Gunn's Guide to Style on Bravo Sept. 6 (think What Not to Wear, but with kinder, gentler fashion advisors) has just one celebrity on whom he wants to perform a fashion emergency intervention: Meryl Streep. "I've been loathe to mention her name because I have such incredible respect for her work, (and)...she has to self-declare,
and I don't think she will...She's a woman of incredible talent and intelligence and experience, and her fashion sense must be by design. It's certainly not because she's misguided, and I think her message is 'I'm too smart to care about this.'"
-- Black Entertainment Television tried to shrug off complaints about its yet-unaired show Hot Ghetto Mess, declining to show clips during a 90-minute presentation and instead focusing on an ambitious slate of new shows including an animated show, BUFU, an American Idol-style gospel competition and Hip Hop vs. America -- a public affairs program featuring the Rev. Al Sharpton and rapper Chuck D. One colleague noted: If any other TV outlet tried introducing a slate of black-focused shows with a presentation including a gospel choir and catfish lunch, they'd have a riot on their hands. But BET just gets shrugged shoulders and disappointed sighs.