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January 2013 Archives

"30 Rock" had plenty of ups and downs during its seven-year run. But with Thursday's finale, it stuck the landing.

The hour-long episode was full of the ingredients that made NBC's irreverent comedy work so well -- meta humor, social satire, insider jokes, physical gags, Tina Fey. It even threw in a bonus existential crisis, along with lots of references to reward loyal fans of this TV show about a TV show.

Here are the finale's top 10 moments:

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'You're the dad'
After getting into a heated exchange online with SAHMs (stay at home moms) and WPs (working parents), Liz shows up at a park to smack down a SMB (smug mommy blogger), who turns out to be her husband, Criss.
"It's OK to want to work," Criss tells Liz. "One of us has to. We just got it backwards. You're the dad."
Liz agrees: "I do like ignoring your questions while I try to watch TV."
One of the things I love most about "30 Rock" is how it deftly tackled gender roles and what it means to be a feminist. I'll miss this giant piñata stick, repeatedly poking fun at the notion that women can have it all.


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I-love-you-but-not-like-that speech
Jack Donaghy's velvet-covered-gravel voice has delivered some great soliloquies over the years. His ode to Liz Lemon ranks up there with the best of them.
"I'm going to use this word to describe how I feel about you in the way our Anglo-Saxon forefathers would have used it in reference to, say, a hot bowl of bear meat," Jack says to Liz from the deck of his yacht.
"I love you too, Jack," Liz shouts down from a bridge.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the best platonic TV couple since Mary Richards and Lou Grant.


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No-no words
For seven seasons, "30 Rock" has delighted in mocking the TV business, especially broadcast. Kenneth's list of TV no-no words -- quality, complex, high concept, edgy -- is a parting swipe at the industry as a whole, NBC in particular. The peacock net has made no secret of its plan to move away from insidery, niche shows like "30 Rock" in favor of broad comedies designed for mass appeal. Note the laugh track, lame jokes and animal humor at work in that clip from the toe-cringing multi-camera sitcom of the future, "Grizz & Herz," at the end of the finale.
Cue Liz Lemon's Yoda voice, "Dark times are these."


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Revenge is a dish best served by Blimpie's
It was disrespected Lutz's turn to pick the last lunch for the writers' room, which meant one thing: payback in the form of Blimpie's subs.
"I want you to feel what I have felt for the last seven years: anger and disappointment and regret," he tells his horrified co-workers. "When that sandwich slides out of you after a week, look at it. Because that is Lutz's revenge!"


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Strip club reunion
"30 Rock" came full circle when Liz tracked down Tracy Jordan at a strip club -- the same place she and Tracy went in the pilot when Liz begrudgingly hired the unpredictable comic for her live TV show.
"Working with you is hard Tracy," Liz told him during a poignant moment among the poles. "You frustrated me and you wore me out. But because the human heart is not properly connected to the human brain I love you, and I'm going to miss you."


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Conan encounter
Liz, notorious for holding a grudge, ignored ex-boyfriend Conan O'Brien in the elevator.
"You can't pretend I don't exist," Big Red protested to Liz, although he just as easily could have been talking to the net that broke up with him for Jay Leno. "We dated for a year! We were going to lose our virginity to each other. Now I'll never lose it."


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A vanilla-caramel sex swirl
I would have preferred dapper Jon Hamm to pop in for a final farewell, wondering where the free appetizers are. But at least we got to check in with a couple of Jack's old flames. The Kabletown CEO fulfilled the "sex and relationships" slice of his Six Sigma Wheel of Happiness Domination -- classic "30 Rock" corporate humor -- by having a rendezvous in a Puerto Rican prison with Latina sex pot Elisa (Salma Hayek) and Boston Nancy (Julianne Moore).
"And I got rid of their accents," Jack bragged.


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Jenna sings "Rural Juror"
In a nod to "30 Rock's" first season when Jenna starred in the hard-to-pronounce film "Rural Juror," Ms. Maroney belts out an emotional -- and largely garbled -- song from the movie's musical adaptation.
"I will never forget you, rural juror," Jenna crooned to shots of Liz, Kenneth, Jack and Tracy during happier times. Before it got too sentimental, a teary Jenna ended her musical tribute singing "these were the best days of my ... flurm."


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Busted by a minivan
Poor, downtrodden, henpecked Pete. He finally escaped his domestic prison only to get busted by wife Paula and his children while out for a jog, enjoying his new life. It's a humorous harkening back to the pilot when Pete thought he was fired. The then-family man told Liz he didn't mind because it would allow him to spend more time with his kids.


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Kenneth and the snow globe
Holy head-trip of an ending. Kenneth clutched a snow globe in a clever reference to the 1988 finale of "St. Elsewhere," in which viewers were left to believe the entire medical drama had taken place in the mind of a blonde autistic boy. Meanwhile, a bespectacled descendant of Liz Lemon pitched Kenneth a TV show based on her great-grandmother's stories at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Jetsons-like spaceships travel in the background but Kenneth didn't look a day older, lending credence to his frequently referenced immortality.
"I love it," Kenneth said, flashing a toothy grin to future Ms. Lemon.
I want to go to there.

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It's finally here: the 30 Rock series finale. Follow below as members of our staff live-blog the episode and share your thoughts along with them. Be sure to also check out our staff's favorite clips and Thomas Conner's top 7 musical moments from the show.

FX debuted its 1981-set domestic drama/Soviet spy thriller on Wednesday.

If you didn't catch it, you can watch the pilot here. Give it a try. It's worth it, according to my 3.5-star review.

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Tonight, the beloved cult sitcom 30 Rock comes to an end and Sun-Times TV critic Lori Rackl as well as other staff members who are huge fans of the show will live-blog as we bid Liz Lemon and her crew adieu. But before we get to those final, tearful moments, we wanted to look back at our favorite clips from the show throughout its hilarious seven-season run. You can also check out Thomas Conner's Top 7 musical moments in the show's run.

Thomas Conner and Lori Rackl

Thomas: Yes, Tracy's on drugs and doing wacky things, but the dynamic between Jack and Liz is taking root -- earthy Lucy, dandy Ricky -- as Jack asks Liz to write some jokes for an upcoming speech. Which must be tonight, right? Cuz Jack's putting on a tux? No, it's days later.

Liz (exasperated): Then why are you wearing a tux?

Jack (cucumber-cool): It's after six. What am I, a farmer?

You know, back when the 1 percent was HILARIOUS!

Lori: The Liz and Jack dynamic has always been the strongest part of the show. This exchange, however brief it may be, encapsulates their wildly divergent world views and lifestyles. Fey and Baldwin have such a fantastic rapport and play off each other so well.

Darel Jevens

Alec Baldwin went out on a treacherous limb in the 2008 episode "Rosemary's Baby," helping Tracy through a therapy session by role-playing his irascible dad (in the voice of Fred Sanford), his beleaguered mom, the angry Hispanic neighbor upstairs and even the patient himself. Grotesque stereotypes all, but all it took to stir childhood memories for dotty Tracy and trigger a breakthrough. "30 Rock" demanded silly things of its stars, and Baldwin never failed to deliver.

Tina Sfondeles

This is Liz Lemon. Awkward, charming and hilarious. I dare you to watch this and not laugh

Marcus Gilmer

Following up on what Tina said about Liz. And kudos to Tina Fey for eschewing the typical ego issues most television stars face: taking themselves - and their characters - too seriously.

Last week's episode of "Downton Abbey" had me wondering if the period drama had lost some of its umph. For the first time since I started watching the PBS series, I found myself getting, dare I say it, bored.

Then Sunday night's episode came along, and I fell in love with the show all over again.

I've never been a big fan of Sybil, as my recent story about TV's five most annoying daughters will attest. I found the youngest Crawley sister to be a bit too perfect: beautiful, selfless, kind, generous, utterly unswayed by the finer things in life despite being raised surrounded by them. In other words, she always struck me as too good to be true and far less interesting than her two sisters, Mary and Edith.

That's not to say I wanted Sybil killed off, or that I wasn't moved to tears watching her convulse and die after giving birth. Well played, "Downton." You have my full attention once again.

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Finding a replacement for long-time "Check, Please!" host Alpana Singh won't be easy.

Singh, who is leaving WTTW's popular program after a decade to focus on her new eatery and wine bar, brought a balance of expertise and inclusiveness to the restaurant-focused show.

The master sommelier and epicure had a knack for sharing her extensive knowledge in a down-to-earth way, in keeping with the show's relaxed, homey tone. She could keep the conversation flowing, which isn't always easy when three strangers -- often with divergent palates -- come together to promote their favorite restaurants on TV.

"She really elevated the show into a brand that people have a warm relationship with," said "Check, Please!" creator and executive producer David Manilow. "She helped me make the show into something that connects with viewers."

Singh joined "Check, Please!" in its third season, replacing original host Amanda Puck. She will remain on the show for the rest of this season, which has a half-dozen new episodes left to air, including one at 8 p.m. Friday.

Leaving the show after 10 seasons is bittersweet, Singh said Wednesday.

"It's a chapter that's closing," she said, "while another one opens."

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Based on a rough cut of the pilot, I'm really looking forward to Showtime's summer drama "Ray Donovan."

Set amongst California's rich and famous, Ray Donovan is the titular character who does the dirty work for L.A.'s top power players. The hour-long drama series stars Liev Schreiber as a go-to guy who makes the problems of the city's elite disappear. The family drama unfolds when Ray's father (Jon Voight) is unexpectedly sprung from prison, setting off a chain of events and unresolved issues.

It debuts on Showtime at 9 p.m. (CT) Sunday, June 30, following the season 8 premiere of the premium cable net's most popular show, "Dexter" (starting earlier than usual).

(Interesting trivia: Ryan Gosling (lead singer of the band Dead Man's Bones) wrote and performed the song played with the show's trailer.)

Donovan is a fixer (a grittier Olivia Pope), but there won't be a crisis-of-the-week, EP Ann Biderman says.

"I never saw this as being procedural," Biderman says. "It unfolds over this huge canvass and I think that's what's so thrilling about it." She wants each one to feel like a "small film but it's highly serialized."


shameless_303_3168r.jpgSHOWTIME® 2013 ORIGINAL SERIES PREMIERE SLATE

(All times ET/PT)

JANUARY
Season 3 of SHAMELESS starring William H. Macy and Emmy Rossum premieres Sunday, January 13th at 9:00 p.m. along with the second season of HOUSE OF LIES followed at 10 p.m., and the sixth season of CALIFORNICATION at 10:30 p.m.

FEBRUARY
INSIDE COMEDY will premiere season two of its critically-acclaimed documentary series on Monday, February 11th at 11 P.M. The ten, half-hour episodes will feature David Steinberg along with a line-up of comedy luminaries including Louis C.K., Steve Martin, Tina Fey, and Will Ferrell.

CBS' summer schedule

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CBS ANNOUNCES PREMIERE DATES FOR SUMMER

From CBS press release:

New Reality Competition Series Based on the Hit UK Format "The Great British Bake Off," Premieres Wednesday, May 29, 8:00-9:00 PM

"Under the Dome," a New Drama Based on Stephen King's Best-Selling Novel and Produced by Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment,

Debuts Monday, June 24, 10:00 PM

Expanded "Big Brother" Gets an Earlier Summer Premiere on

Wednesday, June 26 at 9:00 PM

The Second Season of "Unforgettable" Premieres Sunday, July 28, 9:00 PM

Sun-Times TV critic Lori Rackl is out in Los Angeles at the Television Critics Association winter press tour and is tweeting from the festivities. Follow those below and check out other posts here on her blog for ongoing posts throughout the day.

CBS

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CBS' Entertainment President Nina Tassler is touting the net's achievements: It's still America's most-watched network with 4 of the top 5 comedies, 17 of the top 30 shows overall. NCIS continues to be huge and Big Bang Theory (which has hit series highs for the past 2 weeks) is getting even bigger: It's jumped ahead of ABC's Modern Family in the key 18-49 demo.

"Our network will once again be the most watched network for the 10th time in 11 years," she says.

The net is down about a tenth from where it was last year in the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demo, Tassler said, and she's not too concerned about it. Says CBS "wants everybody," not just younger adults.

As in previous TCA sessions, Tassler was asked what impact the recent events in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., have on the network during pilot season?

"I'm a parent, I'm a mother," Tassler said. "What happened has shaken me and all of us to our core." There's a "renewed sensitivity" when people come to work now. "It's an ongoing conversation."

She says nothing on the air at CBS is inappropriate (I would counter "Criminal Minds" toes that line), and ultimately, parents have to control what their kids see.

"What my child does or doesn't watch is my prerogative," she says.

'The Job' CBS

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CBS is capitalizing on the anemic employment market with a new Michael Davies ("The Glee Project") and Mark Burnett-produced reality show that has qualified candidates competing against one another for careers. Lisa Ling hosts.

Premieres Friday, Feb. 8.

The first episode has contestants going for an assistant manager gig at The Palm restaurant in NYC. The second episode has folks vying for a job at Cosmopolitan magazine.

Creator Michael Davies said the genesis of the show came from his work on "The Glee Project," which is basically an extended job interview for a role on "Glee."

"No one has ever made a show about interviewing for a job," Davies said. "People are going to learn about interviewing, preparing their resumes."

Added Mark Burnett: "Nobody's ripped down" in the show. "America doesn't want that."

Out of 40 candidates, 16 people have been offered jobs over the course of eight episodes. In some episodes, one person gets a job. In others, as many as three get hired.

'Golden Boy' CBS

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CBS' newest procedural "Golden Boy" tells the story of a rookie homicide detective on his way to becoming the youngest police commissioner in New York City. It stars Theo James (the short-lived Pamuk in "Downton Abbey") as Det. Clark and Chicago-native Chi McBride as his veteran partner.

"I was on the screen for about 20 minutes and I still get people going, Mr. Pamuk?" James said about his role on the beloved British drama.

CBS Entertainment President said that when the network first bought the show, it was a "single star vehicle." While shooting the pilot there was a "palpable chemistry" between James and Chi McBride, changing the tone of the show. (I've seen two episodes and McBride does shine as James' world-weary partner in the homicide division.)

Executive producer Nicholas Wootton started on police dramas 17 years ago with "NYPD Blue."

"I have no agenda about policing in New York City," Wootton said. He just wants to tell the most interesting stories from policing, like a story he heard from a technical consultant who said you never sit down with a confidential informant alone because you might be tape recorded.

"Golden Boy" is set in the present and toggles between that and seven years in the future.

The midseason drama debuts Feb. 26.


ABC Entertainment Chief Paul Lee says the net has "a lot to do," but he also trumpeted ABC's success stories of the fall season.

Says he was disappointed in the performance of "Dancing With the Stars" All-Stars' performance. "Turns out people like to see bad dancing as much as they like to see good dancing."

"Revenge" moved to its new Sunday night time slot this fall and Lee said it paid off. The Hampton's set drama grew 17 to 20 percent (even though the second season isn't as good as the first).

"Nashville" is doing well with with the millennials but the net "really wants to build those 35-49 numbers."

Said the fall was an incredibly disruptive launch schedule with the hurricane and the election.

Lee seemed committed to the under-appreciated "Happy Endings," one of my personal favorites. Putting it on Sundays and Tuesdays increases its odds of sampling, he said. Hope he keeps that one around.

See my Twitter feed for more ABC tidbits out of today's executive session...

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Fox's low-rated drama "The Mob Doctor," starring Jordana Spiro and set and filmed in Chicago, ended its beleaguered 13-episode run this week.

I asked Fox Entertainment Chairman Kevin Reilly what went wrong.

"It was a confluence of things," Reilly said. "All I can tell you is every time we screened it for an audience either in a promo or the show, the audience said, 'We really like that.' It was actually a pretty good show. I think in the time slot it came on - against Monday night football and against "The Voice" at the high water mark - and then we gave it a title where, in the world of choices, a lot of people said, 'I'm not sure what that is or I'm not sure if it's for me.' And it just fell right through the cracks. It was really unfortunate. I didn't know whether it was going to be a hit or a not a hit. But I certainly thought it was a good show that would at least find an audience. It found an audience, but a very modest one."

Earlier in the day Reilly summed up the name of the show this way: "The worst title in the history of the world."


'Mistresses'

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ABC's latest attempt to fill the "Desperate Housewives" void is "Mistresses," debuting this summer. It's based on a six-episode BBC show but in the U.S. version, "we have familiar sign posts who loved the BBC version" but viewers will also "be very surprised" by the differences, said EP K.J. Steinberg.

It stars Alyssa Milano ("Savi" Davis) as a Type A attorney who has a one-night stand and is trying to have a baby with her adorable Aussie husband. Adultery is a theme that carries through into the lives of her girlfriends, too: Yunjin Kim (Karen Kim) and Rochelle Aytes (April Malloy). Savi's free-spirited sister, Jes Macallan (Josslyn Carver), gets the best lines of the bunch.

'Zero Hour'

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While Red Widow looks promising, I'm not so sure about ABC's other midseason drama, Zero Hour, starring Anthony Edwards as Hank, the publisher of a paranormal enthusiast magazine.

Hank has spent his career debunking myths and solving conspiracies, so we're told. But when his wife Laila (Jacinda Barrett -- remember her, "Real World" fans?) is abducted from her antique clock shop, Hank gets sucked into a worldwide mystery that goes back centuries (Da Vinci Code style).

Contained in one of his wife's clocks is a treasure map, "and what it leads to could be cataclysmic." Hank has to decipher the symbols and unlock the map's secrets while ensuring the answers don't end up in the wrong hands.

'Red Widow'

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ABC's new drama "Red Widow," from "Twilight Saga" films writer Melissa Rosenberg (also of "Dexter"), debuts March 3 with a two-hour premiere in its Sunday night time slot. It's based on a Dutch series called "Penoza."

"Red Widow" stars Radha Mitchell ("High Art") as Marta, a woman who seems to have the perfect life -- three kids, gorgeous husband, even more gorgeous home in California's Marin County -- but her idyllic world comes crashing down when her dope-exporting husband is murdered and she's plunged into the world of organized crime.

Netflix's turn at TCA. The panel has reps from three of the streaming subscription service's new offerings: "Derek," "Hemlock Grove" and the fourth season (14 episodes) of "Arrested Development."

First up is Ricky Gervais' "Derek." Netflix's description of the new comedy, set in an old folks' home:
"Derek," the new show from "The Office" creator Ricky Gervais, is a bittersweet
comedy drama about a group of outsiders living on society's margins. Derek
Noakes is a tender, innocent man whose love for his job shines through.
Working in a retirement home, Derek cares deeply for the old people, because
they are kind and funny and tell him stories of what life used to be like. Alongside
him works Dougie (Karl Pilkington), his landlord who is one of life's unlucky
individuals; Kev (David Earl), a loveable train wreck; and Hannah (Kerrie
Godliman), a care worker in the home and Derek's best friend. She is smart, witty
and hard-working, but unlucky in love, and, like Derek, always puts other people
first.
Derek is a show about kindness. It uses humor to deal with the real issues of
everyday life. The uncaring outside world popping in and out will boil your blood
and the residents inside will break your heart.
The series is written, directed and stars Ricky Gervais.

"It's very funny, it is a sitcom," Gervais told TV critics, adding that it also has a dramatic component. "It's set in an old people's home. They die sometimes."

This show is more improvised than "The Office" (UK version) or "Extras," but it's mostly scripted.

"Everyone thinks all my shows are improv, they thought 'The Office' was improv and it wasn't," he said.

Now, onto more serious fare: "Hemlock Grove." There will be 13 episodes. It's essentially a 13-hour film adaptation of a mystery novel.

Netflix's description: From executive producer Eli Roth and based on Brian McGreevy's novel of the
same name, "Hemlock Grove" is a riveting one-hour murder mystery that revolves
around the residents of a former Pennsylvania steel town. When 17-year-old
Brooke Bluebell is brutally murdered, any of Hemlock's peculiar inhabitants - or
killer creatures - could be suspect. Through the investigation, the town's seamier
side is exposed, revealing nothing is what it seems. Beautiful, terrifying and
graphic, "Hemlock Grove" is unlike anything else in its genre.

The series kicks off when a high school girl is murdered in the town of Hemlock Grove. The murder happens at the same time a gypsy character moves into town.

The trailer looks intriguing but they often do. Looking forward to checking out an actual episode.

And now, for the main course: the long-awaited reunion of the Bluth clan in Netflix's 14 new episodes of the former Fox comedy "Arrested Development." It will premiere -- all 14 episodes at once -- some time in May.

Netflix's description: The highly anticipated fourth season of the Emmy Award winning comedy
"Arrested Development" comes to Netflix and will premiere in spring 2013. The
entire cast and series creator Mitch Hurwitz have reunited for brand new
episodes. Arrested Development centers around Michael Bluth (Jason
Bateman) and his eccentric family comprised of his son George Michael (Michael
Cera), his father George Bluth Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor), his mother Lucille (Jessica
Walter), his brothers George Oscar Bluth II (Will Arnett), Buster Bluth (Tony Hale)
and sister Lindsay Funke (Portia de Rossi), and Lindsay's husband Tobias (David
Cross) and their daughter Maeby (Alia Shawkat). Mitch Hurwitz, Troy Miller, Ron
Howard, Brian Grazer and Francie Calfo are executive producers on Arrested
Development.

Creator Mitch Hurwitz and the cast (minus David Cross and Tony Hale) were being extremely spoiler-sensitive and coy about what to expect in what has been misinterpreted as "season 4."

"We're telling a complicated story that jumps around in time and intersects," Hurwitz said.

Episodes will be around a half hour each and be told from different characters' POVs. They can be watched in any order. Portia de Rossi said in one episode she takes something her mother said as sarcasm, for example, and viewers will find out in another episode that she misunderstood her.

Hurwitz said he always knew there would be 14 episodes released simultaneously, not 10. Thought it would be a fun surprise for fans to deliver more than expected.

Netflix has become the poster child for the increasing trend of binge viewing -- something Portia de Rossi is a fan of.

"I spent the entire summer watching 'Breaking Bad,' from the first episode to the last one," she said.

In some ways, the panel raised more questions than it answered. But they did leave us with an outtake, which was pretty damn funny: Lucille Bluth smoking a cigarette but she's not allowed to, so she exhales into the open mouth of Buster, who repeatedly blows said smoke out the French doors.

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FX's TCA panel on its upcoming drama (Jan. 30) "The Americans" got off to a good start, with waiters passing out caviar on blinis to TV critics in keeping with the Russian theme.

The show focuses on a married couple (Keri Russell and Welsh actor Matthew Rhys, who's fantastic) who are Soviet spies -- sleeper agents -- living in America as a typical Washington, D.C. suburban couple with two kids.

"We want you to root for the KGB," laughed creator/executive producer Joe Weisberg, who worked for the CIA from 1990 to 1994.

The show has a cloak-and-digger thriller element to it, but it's every bit as much a domestic drama.

"It's a show about marriage, which is an allegory for international relations," executive producer Joel Fields said.

The show is set in 1981 at the height of the Cold War.

"If you tried to tell a story like this about al-Qaeda now it would be impossible," Weisberg said. "Enough time has passed" where we can view Soviets more as people than enemies.

There are several compelling facets of the show, not least of which is seeing how this couple deals with living in -- and raising children in -- a capitalist country that represents everything their homeland abhors. Rhys' character seems far more amenable to the American way than his more strident wife, played by Russell.

"We thought a lot about who was going to be the more stalwart, tried and true KGB agent," Weisberg said. "Something about it seemed a little fresher and more powerful if it was Elizabeth (Russell)."

"She scares the sh-- out of me," Rhys joked.

The '80s soundtrack delivers a great blast of nostalgia. So does the '80s fashion, even if it's limited largely to high-waisted jeans.

"Putting a gun in her waistbelt makes it incredible difficult," Rhys joked about his co-star's wardrobe.

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The Chicago Bears' season didn't end well, but it's all "Happy Endings" this Sunday for linebacker Lance Briggs.

Briggs will be in Sunday's episode (9 p.m. CT) of ABC's Chicago-set comedy, now in its third season.

The episode is titled "Kickball 2: The Kickening."

Nice to Chicago's mark all over this TCA panel: Evanston and Winnetka native Jake Johnson from "New Girl," North Sider Ike Barinholtz ("Mindy Project") and South Sider Echo Kellum ("Ben and Kate").

Mindy Kaling and Ike (now a series regular) are here on behalf of "The Mindy Project," which has really hit its stride recently.

Kaling said Seth Rogen will guest star in an upcoming episode. He'll play her first kiss at Jewish summer camp.

"New Girl's" Johnson and Zooey Deschanel talked about their will they/won't they dynamic.

"I think it's a lot of fun. The writers are putting us together a lot more this season," Johnson said.

Nat Faxon of "Ben and Kate" is enjoying the increased exposure the show has brought him:

"I've been the super hot guy's fourth friend in a lot of things," Faxon said about life before the show -- and his "Descendants" Oscar.

While Kaling is focusing on making her show a hit, she says she'd love to go back to "The Office" before it wraps its final season...

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Fox's singing competition returns Jan. 16 with a new panel of judges designed to shore up the show's eroding (but still massive) ratings.

Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj, Keith Urban and veteran Randy Jackson talked to TV critics Tuesday morning about what's in store for the show's 12th season. (More singers than usual got the golden ticket to Hollywood, for one. A total of 276 go to Hollywood -- and roughly 50 of them came from the Chicago auditions.)

Much has been written about the Mariah/Nicki feud, and the panel was asked about whether it's trumped up for ratings or authentic. (As if they'd admit it's fake...)

Mariah: "This is a very passionate panel. I think there are a lot of strong personalities. The fighting is what it is. This is American Idol. It's bigger than some trumped up stupid thing."

Mike Darnell, president of alternative entertainment for Fox, said "This panel has reinvigorated the show." He acknowledged there are too many singing shows on air and they're cannibalizing each other, but this is still the king of them all.

Producer Nigel Lythgoe admitted the show has had a "real spate of White Guy With Guitar" winners, but Jackson said this season is "the girls' to lose."

Mariah said she had a hard time learning how to say "no" to hopefuls. She said she would duck her head when doling out rejection.

"As a kid you get turned down a lot," she said, referring to her start in the music industry. "It's tough to get that rejection."

Nicki Minaj said she had no problem sending hopefuls on their way if they didn't have the chops.

"I don't feel the need to send a person through just because of a great story," Minaj said.

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It's Fox's turn at TCA today and there's nothing like starting the morning with a panel about the creepiest new midseason premiere, "The Following," debuting Jan. 21.

The gory thriller from Kevin Williamson ("Scream," "Vampire Diaries") follows a former FBI agent (Kevin Bacon) called back to duty to track down an Edgar Allen Poe-worshipping serial killer (James Purefoy), the guy (cult leader) behind a growing web of murderers.

"These are people who don't need the slightest bit of convincing to do what they do," Purefoy said about his character's "following." "These are absolutely willing accomplices."

He and Bacon have an obvious cat and mouse dynamic, but they also have an interesting chemistry with one another -- a point a TV critic raised, prompting Bacon to lean over and plant one on the lips of Purefoy.

"Rule nothing in, rule nothing out," Purefoy said.


USA Network is branching out into comedy, and a Chicago-based show about self-destructive EMTs could shape up to be a key part of the cable network's plans.

"One-hour drama has been our bread and butter, but we are creating more storytelling options for our audience," network co-president Chris McCumber told TV critics. "USA is diving into comedy and reality in a big way in 2013."

A while back, the basic cable net acquired syndication rights for ABC's "Modern Family." It's looking for original comedic content to pair with that blockbuster sitcom when it starts airing in the fall.

"To take advantage of this extraordinary launch pad, we are looking at a couple of comedy pilots right now," USA co-president Jeff Wachtel said.

One of those is "Sirens," from executive producers and co-writers Denis Leary ("Rescue Me") and Bob Fisher ("Wedding Crashers").

PASADENA, Calif. -- Kathy Griffin's primetime chatfest on Bravo returns at 9 p.m. (CT) Thursday for a second season and this time, the unpredictable comedienne's hour-long talk show will air live.

Her first guests are Lisa Kudrow, Jane Lynch and Liza Minnelli. The Oak Park native said she'd welcome Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on a future episode.

"Of course I would have Rahm Emanuel on," she said. "Plus his brother [Ari] is my agent. I think I have to invite him."

What would she ask him?

"I would ask why he almost forcibly moved me away from [Fox News Channel President] Roger Ailes at a [White House] Correspondents Dinner," she said.

At the dinner, President Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett asked Griffin if she knew Ailes.

"Being a liberal I said, 'Oh yes, I know Roger Ailes and I know his game,'" Griffin said. "Roger Ailes said, 'You used to come on 'Fox and Friends.' I said, 'That was before you turned so far right.'"

That's when Rahm stepped in.

"Rahm took my shoulders and said, and I quote, 'We're not doing this now,'" she recalled. "He stopped the conversation. He's got a little big of the old school Dick Daley in him, the 'moxie' as my mother would say.'"

Griffin's mother, fan-favorite Maggie, will be back this season, too.

"She's 92 years young and enjoying a box of wine as we speak," Griffin said.

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Chicago native and Mount Carmel High School grad Daniel Sunjata ("Rescue Me") stars as legendary FBI agent Paul Briggs in USA's upcoming drama "Graceland."

(In other "Rescue Me"-USA news, the network's co-presidents said Denis Leary's upcoming show "Sirens," shot in Chicago, will be a big part of the net's increased focus on comedy this year.)

The hour-long drama "Graceland," inspired by a true story, comes from executive producer and creator Jeff Eastin ("White Collar") and also stars Aaron Tveit ("Les Miserables").

"Graceland" follows the lives of a diverse group of undercover agents from the FBI, DEA and U.S. Customs, whose worlds collide at a repossessed Southern California beachfront mansion in Manhattan Beach (the actual shooting location is in Florida) called Graceland (the house got its name when the authorities seized the house from a drug lord known to be an obsessed Elvis Presley fan). While the title might be a little misleading in evoking Elvis, Eastin said the working title "Safe House" "was a little dull."

"You're dealing with a house full of people who lie for a living," Sunjata said. "Briggs is an incredibly complex character. His dimensions are revealed over time. He's certainly not what he seems in the beginning."

The pilot looks decent, especially if you're into crime shows and surfing. And Sunjata.

"It is a dark show," Eastin said. "It's not just a dark show but it's also a pretty funny show. Instead of the laughs coming out of jokes it comes out of the reality of the show."

The cable net describes "Graceland" like this: Graduating at the top of his class, FBI rookie Mike Warren (Tveit) anticipates a traditional D.C. desk job when he's unexpectedly shipped to Graceland. Immediately thrown into his first undercover assignment, he relies heavily on the guidance of legendary FBI agent and mentor Paul Briggs (Sunjata). Briggs is an unusually Zen-like senior agent who notoriously hates the rule book and will go to any length to protect Graceland from the outside world. With an ensemble cast, the series also features Vanessa Ferlito ("Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps") as strong-willed DEA agent Catherine "Charlie" Lopez; Brandon Jay McLaren ("Fallen Skies") as quick-tempered U.S. Customs agent Dale Jakes; Manny Montana ("Chicago Code") as the fun-loving prankster and FBI agent Joe "Johnny" Tuturro; and Serinda Swan ("Breakout Kings") as intuitive and merciless DEA agent Paige Ark.

"I don't think it's typical television storytelling," Tveit said. "A lot of things you don't expect to happen, happen."

In other USA news, the network picked up "Necessary Roughness" for a third season today.

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NBC's musical drama that helped inspire the term "hate-watching" is back for season 2 on Feb. 5 with changes both in front of and behind the camera. The series has a new showrunner ("Gossip Girl's" Josh Safran) and new guest stars, including Chicago's Jennifer Hudson whose multi-episode arc starts in the season premiere. She plays Veronica Moore, a Tony Award-winning Broadway star.

"She's in 3 out of the first 4 episodes," Safran said about Hudson. "She sings a lot. She acts a lot. She dances a lot."

"It was incredible to get to hear her up close," "Smash" star Megan Hilty (Ivy Lynn) said. Her voice is unlike any other. And she brought such a great energy to set, too."

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A justice-seeking woman uses false pretenses to penetrate the inner circle of a family of 1 percenters living in a New York mansion.

Sound familiar? It's the premise of "Revenge" rip-off "Deception," a new NBC drama making its mid-season debut Monday at 9 p.m. (CT).

Executive producer and writer Liz Heldens ("Friday Night Lights") told TV critics Sunday that ABC's "Revenge" wasn't her inspiration. A couple of films were.

"I asked myself, 'Could 'Donnie Brasco' and the movie 'Sabrina' have a baby?'" Heldens said. "That was how it happened."

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"Revolution" returns to NBC March 25 after a long break.

Are executive producers worried about the four-month hiatus?

Executive producer Eric Kripke: "A lot of the shows I'm watching on cable run this model." When "Revolution" picks up again in March, the battle against the Monroe Republic kicks off in earnest. They've finally found the brother (Danny), too, so this was a natural place to take a break, he said.

"The other thing this little break has afford us is the ability to take a breath, look at what we've done. I think we've done a lot of things right, but I felt like we could pick up the pace of the stunning revelations. Maybe the pace of the shocking surprises were a little slow." He promised a second half that's bigger, better, more exciting.

NBC Entertainment Chair Robert Greenblatt confirmed that the network's new Michael J. Fox show, pitched to them by the actor with Parkinson's disease, has started production.

NBC Entertainment President Jennifer Salke says the show is inspired by Fox's real life. He'll play a dad and husband who grapples with a disease along the lines of Parkinson's. Fox will be a newscaster, not an actor, in the series.

Fox's character will have recently stepped down from his job but will be trying to get back in the game thanks to a new medication that helps him better control the symptoms of his disease.

"He laughs at himself and his kids joke about him," Salke said.

The show is shooting in New York and is written by Sam Laybourne ("Cougar Town").

NUP_152482_0210 (2).JPGIt's NBC day at TCA, the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Pasadena, Calif., and the morning starts off with coffee, croissants and the cast of the upcoming all-star season of "Celebrity Apprentice."

This is the 6th installment of "Celebrity Apprentice," the first all-star edition. It starts March 3.

The Donald isn't here, but most cast members are. They include Chicago's own Marilu Henner, Omarosa, Trace Adkins (who's looking very serious on the panel in his cowboy hat), Stephen Baldwin, Gary Busey (who can never look serious anymore), Penn Jillette, Lil Jon and Lisa Rinna.

Henner said it was a different way to play the game this time because there are no rookies -- everyone had played before. "The tasks were harder but it was so much more fun than the first time I played."

The question that keeps getting asked is, "Why come back and do the show again?"

Jillette said it was simple: "It's the most honest show I've ever heard about."

"The reason I did the show is I didn't have anything else to do," Busey said.

Lil Jon said he went back on the show to raise awareness about diabetes.

"It took my house to burn down to get me to come back," said Adkins, who's playing for the Red Cross, which helped him out after his house burned down.

Omarosa owes her fame to "The Apprentice." She said she's playing "for the love of my life," referring to former South Sider and actor Michael Clarke Duncan, who died last year after suffering a heart attack.

"I'm playing for Michael Clarke Duncan Charity, the Sue Duncan Children's Center on the South Side of Chicago," she said. "Michael actually was an alumni of the center, and they have 178 children, and they feed them. They give them clothes. They tutor them. So I'm playing for the love of my life, and I would hope that you would all go and look up Sue Duncan Children's Center and see the work that they're doing for those children in that community."

Omarosa said she had several run-ins with Piers Morgan this season, who's on the show in a mentor-like capacity.

"I fought with everyone," she said.

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