10 Things We Learned From CBS’ Summer Press Day About Extant, Under the Dome and More

Under the Dome Season Two

The networks are finally learning that people actually do watch TV during the summer – I wish they had figured this out back when I actually had summer vacations off and had plenty of time to watch TV! Nowadays I work full time, but it’s cool because I work in the media so having more new shows on is a good thing.

This week, CBS held a press day to introduce their summer shows to the press. Two of those new shows are relevant to our interests, Extant and Under the Dome, which you’ll see below, but I found out about even more – like Sleepy Hollow, Scott Bakula’s thoughts on a Quantum Leap reboot, and even the upcoming Spider-Man spinoff Venom movie – from the stars and producers in attendance…

It was like TCAs in that the shows gave a panel and then further interviews, but this wasn’t an official Television Critics Association event. Those are only in July and January. It’s still a day of news though, and for an evening party, they also brought all the stars of their fall series to mingle, so I was able to find out 10 juicy tidbits of entertainment news: not just TV and not just CBS. Spoiler alerts for any show or movie mentioned below, although don’t worry too much about the pilots because those are all just setting up future episodes anyway.

10. Halle Berry Loves E.T.

Halle Berry and Steven Spielberg on the set of Extant

Easily the most anticipated show of the summer is Extant, starring Halle Berry as an astronaut who comes home from a 13 month stint on a space station… pregnant. More on Extant below as it’s our number one pick, but in discussing the show, Berry revealed her own childhood nerd-out. Of course she’s been an X-(Wo)Man and a Bond girl, but she grew up phoning home like the rest of us.

“I was a big E.T. fan,” Berry said. “That’s my version of science fiction, which is why when I heard Steven [Spielberg] was involved, I was really excited because that’s the kind of science fiction I think I really like. It has a lot of heart but it is sort of supernatural. That’s what hooks me.”

Oh yeah, Spielberg is producing Extant, though it’s not like he showed up to shill the series. He didn’t even send a video, which he has done for shows like Smash and The United States of Tara. Anyway, Berry’s costar Goran Visjnic is a fan of literary sci-fi: he’s a big reader of Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov and a new author named Peter F. Hamilton.

9. Where Mary Jane Would Have Been in Amazing Spider-Man 2 + Venom Update

Last year, it was big news when Shailene Woodley was cut out of The Amazing Spider-Man 2. This is an Oscar-nominated star playing a well-known character in the Spider-Man universe, Mary Jane. Even if it was only a cameo, how do you cut both Woodley and Mary Jane out? Well, if you saw the cluttered Amazing Spider-Man 2, you know it could only have been worse if they’d set up another character. Screenwriter Alex Kurtzman told me where Woodley’s three scenes would have fit into the original cut of ASM2

“The Mary Jane scenes were runners that came in the first act, in the middle of the movie and one at the end,” Kurtzman explained. As he was attending the CBS party as producer of Scorpion and Hawaii Five-O, I got to ask Kurtzman about his prep for the Venom movie he is writing and directing, without his longtime collaborator Roberto Orci.

“I’m about to start writing it with Ed Solomon so I’m very excited about it,” he said. “I think that going on a deep dive of the Venom comics has been really a great joy. There’s a lot of iterations. It’s gone on for a while, leading all the way up to the new lethal projector series. I feel like we’ve come to a really, really compelling story that I’m very excited about.”

Kurtzman also confirmed he is focusing on Venom, not writing Amazing Spider-Man 3 at the same time, though he wouldn’t say whether Venom falls between Spidey films or after the third. Whatever you think of the blockbuster duo of Orci and Kurtzman, I was shocked to hear that they were ending their screenwriting partnership to go solo. I will still defend their script for Transformers: it has the Spielbergian heart of a boy’s coming of age, in this case getting his driver’s license and a new car. I even love the backyard scene. Of course the first Star Trek is pretty universally beloved. However, if the end of their partnership means we never get another The Island, Cowboys & Aliens or Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, that’s fine by me.

When movies start coming out that are just by Orci or just by Kurtzman, will we be able to tell the difference? “That’s a great question,” Kurtzman said. “You’re going to have to give me the answer to that question over time. I think it’s inevitable now that we’re not writing movies together anymore but we are still working on television together and we’re still producing a lot of movies together.”

8. Under The Dome Still Looks Stupid

I watched the first few episodes of Under the Dome last year and gave up. I don’t care that it departed from the Stephen King book. Art does that, and I’d rather not see exactly the same thing done again. However, I still want the new version to be good. When CBS proudly premiered the opening of the new season of Under the Dome, I was only reminded why I don’t watch this show anymore.

So, Dale Barbara (Mike Vogel) is standing in the gallows about to be hung by Big Jim (Dean Norris). White lights and weird sounds start coming from the dome, causing half the town to pass out (really?), and Junior (Alexander Koch) says the dome is talking to him. It all leads to the trio going to the edge of the dome and seeing a magnetized dome sucking metal objects towards it. This includes tricycles, wheelbarrows and grills, as well as Barbara’s handcuffs and the cops’ guns.

Just imagine grown adults mimicking being sucked towards a wall, and dodging flying grills. It’s embarrassing. Plus, a character is killed by getting crushed by a truck pulled towards the dome, and they had PLENTY of time to get out of the way. It’s just to blatantly serve up a character death, and producer Neal Baer says we might see the dead characters again because anything’s possible under the dome. They can’t even commit to it. They’re hedging.

Still, it’s a hit show so I don’t want to shit on the people who do like it, and we got some promising tidbits about the upcoming season. The biggest one is that Stephen King himself is directing the season premiere. Yes, that means he shot that ridiculous scene of grills and tricycles sticking to the dome, but it also means that he’s endorsing the series’ departures from his book, and he makes a cameo. While they may not be permanent, Baer promised two character deaths this season, one of which you’ll see in the first episode back. Eriq LaSalle is directing episode 10 with an appearance from his old ER costar Sherry Stringfield. Dwight Yoakam is also coming on.

Under the Dome is introducing a character via Twitter: in episode three you’ll hear about the character Hunter online, but he won’t appear on the show until episode eight. Baer suggested someone either getting out of the dome or coming in, and promised ecological disasters of biblical proportions like pestilence and bloody rain. Somebody tweet me if it rains frogs, and then I might give it a second chance.

7. CSI Is Going Online

First, there was CSI. Then, there was CSI: Miami. Then, there was CSI: New York. Then and CSI: NY were cancelled. One CSI is not enough for producer Jerry Bruckheimer, so it’s time for a new one, and I have to say I like the direction this one is going.

Cybercrime is such bold new territory, CSI: Cyber has a good chance of being a CSI show we’ll actually watch. But, how much of it will just be actors staring at computer screens? “Hopefully not a lot,” Bruckheimer told me. “Not any more than we have on CSI.”

Patricia Arquette headlines CSI: Cyber and you’ve already seen her in the backdoor pilot episode on CSI this year. “You watch it and you tell me if it was too much of the computer screen,” Arquette said. “It didn’t feel like it was that much of that. Crimes happen online but then you’ve got to play them out in the real world. They don’t just stay there. If they did, they wouldn’t hurt anybody.”

Maybe I should clarify. I’m not complaining about a detective show on a computer screen. We love computers, so the more computers the better. “It’s kind of in a way a departure a little bit from CSI because we live in our own countries, but when we’re on the Internet, we’re actually a new country,” Arquette continued. “We’re this cyber country. People are dating from Russia to China and all points in between, meeting each other and becoming friends. It’s kind of mind-boggling, this whole world and how it’s connected and how our governments are connected. So I was excited about the franchise because they know what they’re doing, they do it really well but it was also a new spin on it that was really different. They also know how to entertain people and I was excited about the whole combination.”

6. New Monsters Coming to Sleepy Hollow

Sleepy Hollow is a Fox show, so how did I find out anything about it at a CBS event? Well, as you saw above, television mogul Alex Kurtzman produces two CBS shows, Hawaii Five-O and the new cyber thriller Scorpion. More on Scorpion below. But first, an update on the Fox show entering season two.

Kurtzman said they are five scripts into season two, and creating some new monsters for Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) and Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) to face. “We wouldn’t be Sleepy Hollow without new monsters,” Kurtzman said. “Some [we created]out of whole cloth, some references [to classic monsters]. Some you’ll recognize, others no. Like last season, all of our demons are physical manifestations of the characters’ inner demons. So they’re not random. They’re there for a reason, so we pick the right monster that feels like it connects to a particular thing that one of our characters is going through and that’s why they end on the show. It’s never random and it’s never just to throw a monster in.”

5. Scott Bakula Still Wants to Do Quantum Leap

Scott Bakula is headlining the latest NCIS spinoff, NCIS: New Orleans. It’s good Captain Archer is still getting work, but if you’re really a Scott Bakula fan, it’s not from Star Trek: Enterprise. It’s from Quantum Leap, in which he played time traveling scientist Sam Beckett who leapt into a new era and character every week to fix the past, guided by a holographic Dean Stockwell.

Any fan of the beloved series always wants to know if there’s a chance to bring it back. If there isn’t, it won’t be because Bakula is holding out. He wants to do more Quantum Leap, even though it went off the air in 1993. “Hope never dies,” Bakula laughed.

A few years ago, there was some scary news that Syfy wanted to reboot Quantum Leap with an all new cast. That’s not what anybody wants! We want Sam Beckett. Sadly, Bakula expects the Syfy plan is the way any new iteration would go. “I would still assume that if it ever happens that’s how it’s going to happen, because that’s what Hollywood does.”

It’s a little bit different now though. Arrested Development proved you can get the cast back together years later and keep making new shows, albeit in a slightly different format. So let’s keep reminding producers that we still want to see Bakula and Stockwell jump through time, and now there’s been 21 years of new history since 1993. “Dean and I could sit around a coffee table and just chat for a couple hours and you can run it. I have no idea. They’re missing their chance. Dean and I aren’t getting any younger, let’s put it that way.”

4. Beauty and the Beast Goes to Jail

Beauty and the Beast is on The CW, so how did I get news at CBS? Well, read my entry about Sleepy Hollow. Actually, CBS is a joint partner in The CW with Warner Bros., so they invited CW talent to the summer event too. Austin Basis plays the beastly Vincent’s scientist buddy J.T. With six episodes left in the show’s second season, Basis gave us the scoop on what’s new with Catherine (Kristen Kreuk) and Vincent (Jay Ryan), which is a lot more intrigue than kissy kissy.

“The trailers and spoilers all show Vincent in jail,” Basis said. “At the end of episode 16 or season two, he gets taken off to jail and leaves Cat. Then we pick up right where that left off. It becomes a challenge for the Scooby gang, everyone else, to figure out how to get him out of jail or vindicate him and maybe find out who put him in jail. From there, it’s about making sure he’s not going to be followed by the law anymore and finding a way to make that possible. There is obviously encounters with a lot of different people that could put that in jeopardy.”

Locked in prison, Vincent won’t have access to J.T.’s serum. “He could beast out in jail, if that’s what you’re asking,” Basis confirmed. “That’s part of the urgency and problem of him being in jail. Someone could start a fight with him and die.”

The mythology of Beauty and the Beast is getting deeper too, and if that comes along with a love interest for J.T., so be it. “There’s also the solidifying of Vincent and Catherine being a couple and being together ’til the end and making a life for themselves through all this turmoil. Similarly with J.T. and Tess, finding a new relationship and figuring out what their relationship is. Also bringing back some of the mythology that’s been uncovered this season and seeing what the pasts of beasts have been and how Katherine connects to that lineage.”

3. For Once, Michael Emerson Doesn’t Know Everything

After his playing Lost‘s keeper of island secrets Benjamin Linus, and now surveillance machine creator Harold Finch on Person of Interest, we’ve come to trust Michael Emerson as the guy with all the answers. Maybe he’s sometimes cryptic about the answers, but he knows even if he’s not telling us. At least that was true until the season finale of Person of Interest. Finch has lost the machine in such a shakeup, even he doesn’t know where season four will begin.

“I certainly think the ending of the season steers us in a whole new direction,” Emerson told me. “We can’t even use any of the sets we’ve used in previous seasons so God knows where we’ll be come September.”

Right now, only the character of Root (Amy Acker) has any contact with the machine. Emerson doesn’t even know if Finch and Reese (Jim Caviezel) will still be able to help persons of interest anymore.

“Will they? I don’t know. That’s one of the unknowns. I’ll be curious to see if we continue to do a POI every week or if we’re on a completely new format. I don’t know where we go now. Maybe Finch starts not to have answers. He’s suffered some defeats here. I don’t know if his mission can be maintained.”

Or, maybe Emerson is just messing with us. Given his character history, he may just be masterminding us this whole time.

2. Cyber Hackers Getting Fast and Furious

The new fall show Scorpion is about a thinktank of geniuses who work for Homeland Security, based on the real life Walter O’Brien. O’Brien is CEO of Scorpion Computer Services, and he came up with the algorithm that caught the Boston bombers by analyzing video footage. Elyes Gabel plays Walter O’Brien. Or maybe that’s what O’Brien wants us to think…

American Idol Katharine McPhee has the kick ass action role in Scorpion, the pilot of which was directed by Justin Lin. As long as she doesn’t do the soundtrack, we’re in.

“When we were shooting the pilot, Elyes and I were shooting the car scene and our veteran director, Justin Lin, does all the Fast & Furious movies,” McPhee told me. “I was not cocky at all, I will say wholeheartedly, because I just wanted to make it very clear that I had no idea what I was doing and that I was going to listen to everything he had to tell me, because it’s very different. When you’re supposed to be going 200 miles an hour and you’re not moving at all and all you have is wind blowing in your hair and you’re like, ‘Wait, I’m sorry, you want me to scream at the top of my lungs? That feels really uncomfortable.’ So it was a really lovely experience for me because I got to do something out of my comfort zone, something that I’ve never done before. I wasn’t breaking into song or dance. I was being stretched as an actor.”

Maybe McPhee will get to learn how to hack too. “It’s incredibly technological,” McPhee said. “My character isn’t so much in the beginning, but it’ll be interesting to see how she immerses in their world and see how she becomes part of their world. Mostly because she wants to be part of their world because they are the connection to her son that she wants so badly to have.”

1. Extant Looks Awesome

Extant actually means the opposite of extinct. Did you know that? I didn’t, so Extant is basically a show about existing. Molly Woods (Berry) returns from a 13 month mission in space pregnant. While she was alone on the space station, there is some missing security camera footage, and she flashes back to a mysterious figure appearing outside the airlock door. So, the first question is: what is this baby?

“That is an element to our show, it won’t be the entire element of our show, but there is a period that we’re going to go through where it will have elements of Rosemary’s Baby because she’s pregnant with something that is unknown,” Berry said. “It’s for us to decide throughout the course of the series what this entity is, what it wants, will it stay here, is it really her baby, is it just an offspring? What is it really? These are the questions the series is asking.”

For the scenes on the space station, Berry totally gets her Gravity on, floating weightlessly in zero gravity. Actually, she was on wires, and she’s used to that from four X-Men movies.

“I think as you can see from our trailer, we got pretty doggone close to doing something that is on par with any film you’ll ever see,” Berry bragged. “I like to say Gravity was our benchmark and I think we tried very hard to hit that mark the best that we could. I think our space looks as good. I think our spaceship looks as good. There was no expense spared. Luckily because I had been Storm, I was used to flying. So I had a lot of wirework and a lot of experience that way. So putting on that harness and those wires just seemed like something I was used to doing. I did actually take a real zero-G flight so I have really experienced being weightless and understanding what that is so that sense memory certainly helps me, when I have those wires on, be able to assimilate me in a weightless environment.”

But Extant is not just about secret space babies. Back home, Molly’s husband (Goran Visjnic) has designed an A.I. toddler, Ethan, so the show asks all the pertinent questions associated with that too.

“I don’t think there’s one thing that makes us human and I think that’s what this series is all about,” Berry said. “We’re discovering that as we’re portraying these characters and telling this story. What does make us human? That’s a good question and one of the questions that the series poses is can this robot become human? Can we teach it to become human? Can we teach it to love? Can we give it free will? Can it act as human being act over time? And can we as humans love that that is not real, that is fabricated? These are all the questions that we’re asking. I struggle with if a robot would evoke the same kinds of feelings from me. Would I really be able to love a machine? Those are the questions I ask myself and Molly is asking herself in the show.”

So, tune in this summer to Rosemary’s Baby A.I. produced by Steven Spielberg himself!

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