TCA Diary, July 16: “Get something in your stomach”

My second day at the TV critics’ press tour could hardly be expected to measure up to day one, but here’s a preview: Glenn Close, Rose Byrne, Drea de Matteo, Bonnie Hunt and Christina Hendricks (Mad Men).

First up yesterday morning was a press conference with FX’s president and general manager,

John Landgraf, who announced that Nip/Tuck just finished production on Season 5, which will premiere in January 2009 (no word on whether any “lesbian” characters will be involved, although Katee Sackhoff will be there). FX has also ordered a 19-episode final season, which will air in early 2011.

He also noted that

Marcia Gay Harden will be joining the second season of Damages, which was the first FX show to take to the stage on Tuesday. I absolutely loved Damages last year, and I can’t wait till it’s back (sadly not till early 2009). I’ve never really been a fan of lawyer shows, but this is the first lawyer show I’ve seen in which the lawyers seem both evil and totally sexy. That’s due in no small part to this amazing woman:

Glenn Close

Photo credit: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Close said that she actually watched the first season of Damages on TV with her family in Montana, and the TV critics seemed shocked that she wouldn’t have asked for screeners in advance. We were shown a few clips from the upcoming second season (minor spoiler alert!) and though most of it was vague, I can tell you this much: Ellen (Rose Byrne) joins a grief counseling group in the wake of her fiance’s death, and she goes undercover to investigate Close’s character, Patty Hewes.

Rose Byrne

Photo credit: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

After the panel I talked with series creator Daniel Zelman and asked him whether he and the other creators,

Todd A. Kessler and Glenn Kessler, had any particular inspiration in mind when they (three men) began writing about this struggle between two women. Zelman said that the concept “was based partly on our lives, our own experiences.”

Daniel Zelman: We just felt like we’ve seen power explored through men a lot, and it just seemed more interesting to explore it through women. Because ultimately the show is about power dynamics. It’s about the corrupting influence of power, the fact that when you get very successful and powerful you’re put under tremendous pressure … what that pressure then causes people to do. Some people collapse under it and some people become their better selves; some people become their worst selves. That’s really what the show is about to us in many ways: it’s power, and so, just to us it’s more interesting if we did this with women. It felt more new.

I mentioned to him that Damages happened to premiere the same year that several other TV shows debuted with powerful lead female roles, and that this year Hollywood has been all agog that female-led films such as Sex and the City can do well at the box office.

Daniel Zelman: I don’t know why that’s so amazing. Someone once said … after Titanic, someone made the comment about James Cameron, that he actually has the strongest women in movies, cause if you think of Linda Hamilton in Terminator and then you think of [Titanic], Kate Winslet‘s character is the one who’s really, you know — I mean at the end of that movie, Leonardo DiCaprio‘s got his handcuffs locked, and Kate Winslet is the one that has to — do you know what I mean?

And those are hugely successful movies. So in a way it’s like I don’t know why anyone ever thought these powerful women characters wouldn’t be interesting. It doesn’t really make sense to me. Not to mention Scarlett O’Hara. There’s just a long history in American entertainment of powerful women that people are drawn to.

Hey, not every man in Hollywood is dumbfounded that women can lead highly successful productions!

After Damages was a panel for Sons of Anarchy, a new series premiering on FX on Sept. 3 that is set in the world of motorcycle clubs. Essentially it seems to be The Sopranos on a Harley, and one of the female characters will be played by openly bisexual actor Drea de Matteo (Prey for Rock and Roll).

Drea de Matteo

Photo credit: Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images

Sadly Drea wasn’t at the press conference, but series creator, Kurt Sutter, told me that Drea plays the main character’s ex-wife. They “tried to reconcile about six months ago; she got pregnant; she has a drug and alcohol problem,” he elaborated. That problem led to the premature birth of her child. “That’s sort of one of the life-altering events that happens in the pilot,” Sutter said. Drea is in the first three episodes of this season, and they are currently still negotiating with her to return for a three-episode arc at the end of the season.

I did try to convince Sutter that he should include some dykes on bikes in the series, but I’m not sure if he’ll take my advice.

After a press conference for The Shield, which I totally zoned out of because it’s all about men (with some cameos for their wives), we went to a lunch panel where Bonnie Hunt was shilling her new talk show, The Bonnie Hunt Show, which will debut on Sept. 8 and will likely be paired as a lead-in to The Ellen DeGeneres Show this fall. I thought Bonnie was great and quite funny, but I couldn’t quite tell why this daytime talk show would differ from the others that are constantly failing (hello, Megan Mullally). Nonetheless, I wish her the best because Bonnie did seem pretty cool.

Last but not least, we went on a set visit to AMC’s Mad Men, the show set in the early 1960s in the advertising world. As soon as I got to the set I pulled aside Christina Hendricks, who plays secretary (and office hottie) Joan Holloway, to ask her about how she approached the story line from last season when Joan’s roommate suggested that she had a crush on Joan.

Christina Hendricks as Joan Holloway

Joan reacted to her roommate by immediately arranging for the girls to go out on the town and meet some men.

Christina Hendricks: I think that the story line was there to sort of give an insinuation of how people react to Joan even outside the office, not just inside the office, male and female energy alike, that she’s a charismatic person and people are drawn to her. And I think that when her roommate said that to her, I think she was really — this was a friend of hers for a really long time that’s never insinuated anything like this before, so I think she really thought she had a really bad day, she got fired from her job, she was crying, she’s coming to me to help her out.

And I think that Joan really thought she had a confused moment and was sort of like, don’t be silly, let’s fix this up, let’s take care of things and tidy everything up, and let’s go out on the town and everything will be all right once you get something in your stomach. I think she — it was too scary or too messy to really consider, so she cleaned it up real fast and moved on.

Well, that certainly gives another meaning to “get something in your stomach”!

It was a little surreal to walk around the set of Mad Men, because it really was like going into a time warp. We walked around the offices of Sterling Cooper, where cigarette butts are all over the place, and I counted at least four kinds of Scotch (Jameson, Glenlivet, J&B, Canadian Club, in case you wanted to know). As a former anthropologist I was geekily thrilled by looking in the office break room fridge and finding prop food from the 1960s.

During the visit to the set of Don Draper’s house, series creator Matt Weiner said that they tried to resist making sophomore mistakes on the series, such as making everyone friends. When he commented that they had not made Joan and Peggy roommates, for example, one of the male reporters joked that he’d almost pay to see that. Weiner said with a laugh, “Pillow fight, right?”

Good to see that things have changed so much since 1962.

Tune in tomorrow for news on ABC’s shows!