The 10 Nerdiest Moments of the 2014 Summer TCAs

Gotham, Det. Jim Gordon vs. Batman Villains

This is gonna be a big year for television. Three new comic book shows, Game of Thrones catching up to the books, and digital platforms giving us more new shows in an instant are things I never would have imagined growing up programming my VCR to record The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. and taping a note on the TV warning my parents not to change the channel. We’re going to get a peak at a lot of these shows this weekend at Comic-Con, but for an even more in-depth television preview, I spent the last two weeks with the Television Critics Association.

I’ve only been an official member of the TCA for two years but I’ve been covering it since 2006. Even before the TCA accepted me, the networks would invite me to attend their sessions. The Television Critics Association is made up of some 200 North American journalists who write about television. Twice a year, they have a press tour in Los Angeles where each network presents a day of panels on their shows, and the creators and stars mingle afterwards. Comic-Con is four days of nerd overload, but TCA is two weeks of pure TV.

And it’s not just comic book shows and Syfy Channel. PBS gets in on it too and there are tons of reality shows these days. Sorry, The Situation, you did not make my top 10 list. But the 10 other awesome moments of TCA get me really excited about staying home on weeknights this fall. You can even check out some of these shows this weekend at Comic-Con, but some were total once-in-a-lifetime surprises even for me. Spoilers for new fall pilots follow, including some easter eggs for The Flash. Sorry, I just had to.

10. Doctor Who’s Companion Learns Twitter

Karen Gillan stars on ABC’s comedy Selfie. The show is named after out tendency to take self portraits, and refusal to say the entire phrase “self portrait.” Gillan is quite good at comedy, portraying this social media egotist who is terrible at getting along with people in real life. She is so adorable, we just have to forgive her.

On the panel for Selfie, I asked Gillan if she’s learning new words from the show, and she confirmed that “jelly” and “doof” have now entered her vocabulary. After the panel she talked about Doctor Who and Guardians of the Galaxy. You may be intrigued to learn that the glorious red hair you see on Selfie is actually a wig Marvel made out of Gillan’s actual hair, which they shaved off for her to play Nebula.

Of course she loves Peter Capaldi as the new doctor. She was even there to film Matt Smith’s last episode and see Capaldi take over. “I was actually there when Peter Capaldi walked onto the set for the first time with the costume on and it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen,” Gillan said. “It’s in safe hands.”

9. The New Immortality Show Makes More Sense Than Highlander

Forever stars former Mr. Fantastic Ioan Gruffudd (pronounced Yohan Griffith if you’re wondering) as a man in present day New York who can’t die. That does sound awfully familiar, but where Highlander made its relatively simple premise more insane over four sequels and two TV serieses (three if you count the cartoon), Forever has a clear set of rules.

Every time Dr. Henry Morgan (Gruffudd) dies, his body (and all the clothes/possessions) disappear and his living self reappears in the nearest body of water. Unfortunately, that’s the East River. That might be some convenient nonsense, but at least they’ve thought about it and decided this is how it’s going to go for the rest of the series.

“I had a muscle suit on in Mr.?Fantastic,” Gruffudd said. “[Executive producer] Matt [Miller] has me stark naked coming out of the East River in this one.”

8. Games of Thrones Will Stick to the Books, Even if George R.R. Martin Hasn’t Written Them Yet.

So HBO has caught up with author George R.R. Martin. We knew this would happen. We all called it. They’re making seasons five and six of Game of Thrones, and then Martin may not be finished with book seven by the time they need it. HBO president of programming Michael Lombardo said not to worry.

“We’re not off on our own,” Lombardo said. “Obviously, George is an integral part of the creative team on this. So at least with respect to next season, every step, every move is being choreographed very closely with him. Certainly after next year, we will have to figure it out with George if his book’s not finished at this point, but we’re in conversations with him. We’re not concerned about it.”

HBO CEO Richard Plepler emphasized that GOT show runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are also in constant touch with Martin. As for Martin’s comments that he wants the series to end with a movie, Plepler said he’s got to finish the books first.

“I can only tell you this,” Plepler said. “In my conversations with George, and I think Mike would corroborate this, he is 100 percent focused on his books and the series and has only held out the movie concept as something way down the road. So their fundamental focus is him finishing the book and then getting to the next season of the series. Would you agree with that?”

Lombardo slew hopes for a Game of Thrones movie, at least for now. “No, there’s no conversations going on about a movie,” Lombardo said.

7. Miss Piggy And President Camacho Host The Awards Show.

Miss Piggy and Terry Crews backstage at the TCA Awards

Oh yeah, in addition to spending two weeks inside a living television Dreamatorium, the TCA also gives out awards. It’s not exactly the Emmys and we certainly don’t televise it, but when the TCA gives awards to our favorite shows and actors, they do show up to accept and put on a good show for us. Last year, Amy Poehler mimicked Bunheads star Kaitlyn Jenkins pirouetting across the stage. Following the comedy rule of threes, Carl Reiner then imitated Poehler. Last year’s hosts Key & Peele brought the house down with their riffs on Netflix’s secretive ratings, so that’s the kind of room it is.

This year, Terry Crews, Idiocracy‘s President Camacho, was our fearless leader. He even surprised us when he brought out Miss Piggy for a duet about binge-watching that name dropped Mad Men, The Good Wife, Breaking Bad, all the Netflix series and the quickly canceled Rake. The best lyric had to be, “Kiss this television critics ass… ociation.”

Crews accused Miss Piggy of having an affair with the TCA president, but Piggy thought she was co-hosting the airport security awards anyway. It all built to a live martial-arts demonstration when Piggy karate chopped Crews off the stage.

Guess he was expendable after all.

6. South Park Is On Hulu Because Their Tech Is Better Than Comedy Central.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone gave a surprise panel to announce the complete run of South Park episodes will now live on Hulu. They explained that they chose Hulu over the Viacom owned Comedy Central and South Park Studios sites simply because Hulu had a kickass video player. This is all very techie from the guys who created the Human Cent-iPad.

“The Viacom team had their own their own video player,” Stone said. “It was in the early stages of the technology of a video player back then, which we had nothing to do with what the Viacom team did. It was pretty rough, you know. I mean, we would go to our own site, and there would be glitches and bugs. Hulu right out of the gate, like, had a really better technical experience than anybody. I think that we were always looking at Hulu’s player kind of with jealousy, with envy, that we were, like, ‘Man, we want our show to always have the best possible presentation.’ Even though I think South Park translates really well to phones and screens and everything else, we always like it to look the best and play the best.”

Hulu also gave out bags of Cheesy Poofs at their evening TCA party. Yeah, I want Cheesy Poofs, mom!

5. Number Six Is Coming Back To Sci-fi, And Syfy.

Syfy Channel’s new series Ascension stars Tricia Helfer, she of their acclaimed Battlestar Galactica reboot. This time, it’s not the distant future, but an alternate present that’s got a time warp all its own. See, the spaceship Ascension launched in 1963 under JFK. It’ll take them 100 years to get to planet Proxima, so they’re only halfway there. Helfer will play the captain’s wife, Viondar, a woman born on Ascension and dominating the society of the ship.

“They both started out on the lower decks, and it’s a hierarchal society,” Helfer said. “They’re both driven people, and they have worked their way up to the position of power. Also there’s genetic linking. So it’s basically arranged marriages for people for the best genetic outcome. These two have given up their right to have a child, but they’re a power couple. Viondra will do anything to stay in power, and maybe in one way, it’s her own way of they are in the middle. She wants their life to have some meaning as well, and she will do anything she can to stay in power.”

Sadly, the Number Six hair is gone, but at least we get to see Tricia Helfer on a spaceship again, and maybe wearing groovy Austin Powers spandex handed down from the JFK era!

4. Constantine Cast Shakeup Will Make It More Like the Comics.

Days before NBC’s presentation of Constantine, they announced that Lucy Griffiths would be cut from the cast. She was a new character in the pilot, but she won’t be around very long. This will allow them to bring on the Hellblazer character Zed, and the panel announced the casting of Angelica Celaya as Zed.

Producer Daniel Cerone explained why Zed would be a much better match for John Constantine. “We wanted a more dynamic relationship as opposed to someone who was always a teacher, a mentor, and a student,” Cerone said. “It just didn’t feel as rich and fertile an area as just a strong man and a strong woman who were both very different. One of the things, as we talked about her character and that we loved, is Constantine. Look, he’s a con man. He’s a spiritual grifter. He’s a supernatural fixer. He is a bullshit artist. Zed is the kind of character who is an…she’s intuitive. And she can detect bullshit. So she’s the perfect person to call him on the stuff.”

Sitting on the panel, series creator David S. Goyer confirmed that Doctor Fate was not just a throwaway Easter egg. He might actually show up in the first season. “We wrote in the pilot that the Doctor Fate helmet, which is another character from the comic books that may show up later on but we wanted to put that in the pilot, and then Geoff [Johns] said, ‘Hey, why don’t we throw in a bunch of other Easter eggs from the DC universe, and we’ll have our sort of creative department 3D print them up?’ So there’s actually a half dozen other ones.”

3. Gorilla Grodd Is Out There.

Well, I didn’t want to spoil this when I previewed the pilot of The Flash, but everyone is talking about it now. You’ll surely notice that after the S.T.A.R. Labs disaster, Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) and Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) pass by an empty, broken cage with a sign reading GRODD. The producers of The Flash confirmed that they are interesting in having the Flash fight a giant, super-powered gorilla. Man, did they have to fight to keep that in the pilot.

“Obviously that easter egg means the world to us,” producer Andrew Kreisberg said. “All along the way, there are people who are less familiar with the mythology, who were like, well, we could save ten seconds if we cut that. And we’re like, nnnn, you can cut anything else. You know, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is out now, and hopefully they’re doing the R&D for us so that one day we can see exactly what jumped out of that cage.”

This is also the panel where they announced Wentworth Miller as Captain Cold in episode four. Wentworth Miller will also be played by Andy Serkis in a motion capture suit (not really, but that would rule, right?).

2. Syfy’s 12 Monkeys Series Was Originally a Different Show.

When we heard there was going to be a 12 Monkeys TV series, that seemed random. I mean, it’s an awesome movie but it came out at the end of 1995. That’s a lot longer than it took Buffy or even Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chroncles since its last movie sequel. It turns out the series didn’t even start as a 12 Monkeys TV show. Terry Matalas and Travis Fickett wrote a different pilot, and 12 Monkeys producer Richard Suckle thought, “Why not just do 12 Monkeys?” As one does.

“It was about a government program,” Matalas sadi. “It was a time travel thriller, but one of the themes that was similar was the go back and kill Hitler and stop World War II theory of it.”

Suckle said, “In the film, you have Cole put to a time machine and sent back to the past. While we have that here, Cole himself is the time machine as well, molecularly. That really is going to allow us to play with a lot of different ideas and new things where it affects him. It affects his body. It affects him molecularly. He is a part of the time machine as much as the physical instrument that you see in the pilot. That was something that Terry and Travis created, and I really was drawn to that.”

Oh, and when Bruce Willis accidentally ended up in WWI in the movie, that’s going to happen more in the show, so we’ll get to travel to other cool times. “And he won’t always go on purpose,” Fickett said.

1. We Will Decide Which Batman Villains Appear in Gotham.

Obviously the most anticipated new show this fall is Gotham, and that’s a big deal when it’s one of three new comic book shows. Batman is a lot more famous than even the Flash and certainly John Constantine. Since Gotham is about Jim Gordon as a detective, Bruce Wayne is only a kid. The show opens with the Wayne parents’ murder, and also introduces the Penguin right away.

Series creator Bruno Heller said he had to start with the biggest character he had (The Joker is off the table until later), but now will tease other potential villains and just see who the fans like the most. “One of the joys of TV series is you can respond to what pops with the audience or what actor pops,” Heller said. “So the first year is very much about the rise of the Penguin and his titanic struggle with Fish Mooney. But other characters will be introduced as we roll along through that first season. We’ll respond to what’s working and what isn’t.”

Fish Mooney is a new character played by Jada Pinkett-Smith. Robin Lord Taylor plays Oswald Cobblepot, and they’ve already got Edward Nygma, Selina Kyle and Ivy Pepper popping up around Gotham City. “As the show rolls on, we’ll be far more careful with how we roll out the villains in what way. There will be more fun and more surprises and tricky ways of getting them in, rather than just presenting them. These are the origin stories of these guys. So the Penguin comes pretty much fully fledged in front of us. For that reason, you have to show your best cards up front here. But as we roll on, like I said, slower rollout.”

Also by Fred Topel

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