Last week, The Dolby Theater in Los Angeles was infiltrated by a slew of popular shows, their stars, and their fans for a series of panels known as Paleyfest. The creators and cast members of some of television’s biggest shows fielded questions from moderators and fans alike, giving insight into upcoming seasons and forthcoming series premieres. We’ve got all the highlights from the week for you, so let’s get started.
The large cast of EMPIRE started off the fest at the Dolby Theater, including Terrence Howard, Jussie Smollett, Gabourey Sidibe, and co-creator Lee Daniels. The woman who has stolen the show since its inception, Taraji P. Henson, was a no-show as she was busy filming in Atlanta. After a long winter hiatus, the audience was treated with the episode “Death Will Have His Day” that is set to air on the show’s return March 30.
Daniel quickly acknowledged the “elephant in the show” of too many guest stars, which caused the series to begin on shaky ground. “It was growing pains,” Daniels said. “I think it would have happened to any show. … What I’ve learned, because I’ve never done television before, is that we’re good enough.” He was also asked about the Oscar race controversy. “I’ve avoided this question for quite a while. I don’t have time to deal with racism. Am I delusional to think there’s no racism in America? Look at f**king Donald Trump. But here’s the bottom line: The minute I embrace it, it becomes real to me. I don’t have time to blame Paramount or Sony or Fox.”
BETTER CALL SAUL’s panel carried the ghost of the series it spun off of, Breaking Bad, as stars Bob Odenkirk, Michael McKean, Rhea Seehorn and creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould took their seats before the crowd. They had just shown the upcoming episode “Rebecca” which ended with the arrival of a character from the original series. Gilligan acknowledged the plans for more returns such as this but was even forced to pull back so it would not get in the way of the story they were ultimately telling.
Much of the conversation centered around “Rebecca” as it depicted another step in the relationship between brothers Jimmy and Chuck, and also Kim’s work to get out of the doghouse at work. Many viewers made their love of Kim known and their fear that she does not appear in the flash-forwards – jumping to the conclusion that she’s dead. The panel warned there are many options for the ending between Kim and Jimmy, and they’re not all worst-case-scenarios. Though Seehorn made the point to say she firmly believes Kim is alive and well.
After the panel for Saul, the tone took a huge turn with the second panel of the Saturday, as young girls wearing pink faux furs and ear muffs filled the theater for SCREAM QUEENS. Jamie Lee Curtis consistently led the charge for those in attendance to tweet everything stated as news, while creator Brad Falchuk gave tidbits about potential plots for the second season. The season would take place at a mental hospital where Emma Roberts, Abigail Breslin, and Billie Lourd’s characters would be patients. He also confirmed the return of cast members at the panel as well as fan-favorite Glen Powell.
The ladies on stage shared behind-the-scenes stories (including how Emma Roberts left a revealing script behind in a coffee shop) and inside jokes. The comaraderie the team created is clearly a driving force behind the fandom of the biggest show on social media last fall.
The conversation turned back to diversity with the cast and executive producers of BLACK-ISH. While Empire’s Daniels may be hesitant to respond to questions surrounding it, Anthony Andrews is openly trying to spark conversations around the country. This was most obvious when discussing the recently aired episode “Hope” with star Tracee Ellis Ross acknowledging that she may not agree with her character’s side of opinion, but she was proud to be a part of a show depicting many viewpoints.
If Scream Queens embodied a (nicer) girl-clique off and on-camera, Black-ish did the same in terms of family. While many had never met before, and Ross was previously not of fan of Andrews, the ensemble showed love and support to what each person brought to the show throughout the conversation.
For SUPERGIRL, those in attendance ranged from young girls with their parents, to teenage fanboys and girls, to adult comic book connoisseurs. The group on stage was clearly proud of the message they were sending of “girl-power” to their audience. The panel was a highlight of the fest.
They also looked back with star Calista Flockhart at the show that put her on the map: Ally McBeal. Just the mention of the series brought a resounding applause from those in the audience old enough to remember the dramedy and its cultural impact. They briefly discussed the differences between McBeal and her current character Cat Grant, describing Grant as ‘alone’ because “everyone in her office is under twenty-five and supermodels.”
SCANDAL is not a romance, at least not in the eyes of creator Shonda Rhimes. For the ABC soap’s panel, the audience clearly wanted answers about Fitz and Olivia. After a long build up on the show, the pair were finally put together, but within weeks they were ripped apart again. The audience cheered with fervor when the question ‘why?’ was raised. Rhimes explained that Olivia couldn’t risk “surrendering every piece of herself to be a prisoner… an appendage of [Fitz].” Then warned, “None of you do that.”
As for that controversial winter finale in which Olivia has an abortion? Rhimes says the writers have talked about whether or not Fitz needed to know but first noted, ” Does he need to? A woman made a choice about her body that she legally has the right to make.” Viewers will just have to stick around to find out as the series was just greenlit for a sixth season.
TV’s #1 comedy had some big news for fans at PaleyFest with the announcement that the show would continue to build Leonard’s family on the show, with his anthropologist father joining the cast – and that he’ll be played by Oscar-winning actor Judd Hirsch. To top it off, Johnny Galecki (who plays Leonard) proposed the role to Hirsch at NBC’s James Burrows tribute. “I did share with him, and this is true, that when we were shooting the pilot I watched the first two or three seasons [of Taxi],” Galecki said. “Not because I wanted to base Leonard on his character, but the purpose that his character served in this group of people. [He was] just as much, at times, a voice of reason as he was just as confused as everyone else.”
After nine seasons on the air, the show is still working to surprise its viewers as it introduces new characters. They previously added Christine Baranski who is now a recurring guest star as Leonard’s mother, Dr. Beverly Hofstadter.
For the second time during the week of panels, Gabourey Sidibe headed into the Dolby Theater. This time she would be joined by Billy Eichner and Julie Klausner as they discussed their show DIFFICULT PEOPLE. Where other panels were moderated primarily by entertainment journalists, this group spent the hour hanging out with comedian Patton Oswalt as they recounted their inspiration for the show.
Prior to the Hulu series, Eichner is best known for Funny or Die’s Billy On The Street, which is where the love-affair between real-life friends Eichner and Klausner grew and eventually inspired the single camera comedy.
“The can wade… We’ve figured out the best way to shoot water zombies. The don’t drown. They keep floating back up,” said creator/showrunner Dave Erickson regarding the logics of the virus-ridden world in FEAR THE WALKING DEAD. He went on to describe season two, as the survivors have made their way onto a yacht owned by the mysterious Victor Strand. “What people find out fairly quickly is that we weren’t the only people who had the bright idea to leave land,” he explained. “There is going to be threats and obstacles and conflict on sea and on land.”
When asked the question that many viewers of the series hoped for, would Fear and its parent series Walking Dead ever cross paths, Erickson gave a flat, “No. That’s the one straight answer I can give you.” He added that the two shows are geographically far apart so “finding a way to intersect them would be difficult.” The second season of the AMC horror series is currently waiting to bow on April 10.
In a time where a show’s success depends on a strong social media component from those behind the scenes, television master Dick Wolf stands on his own, having created a litany of series that mostly began in a time when audience reactions online were non-existent. His creations include the Chicago trilogy Chicago P.D., Chicago Med, and Chicago Fire, as well as the upcoming fourth addition Chicago Justice. He also is the man behind the long-running Law and Order: SVU.
Wolf was joined on stage at the Dolby Theater by a handful of stars from his various series, including Oliver Platt, S. Epatha Merkerson, Ice-T, Jason Beghe, Taylor Kinney, Jesse Spencer, Sophia Bush, and Torrey DeVitto.
Merkerson discussed her casting as Lt. Anita Van Buren on Law & Order saying, “There weren’t many female lieutenants when I started playing here. There are worse things you can do than to be able to be an actor of some substance and have people love what you do. When you watch a Dick Wolf show, you sit down to be entertained, you get up and you’re educated.”
Ice-T won a big laugh as he talked about fans who approach him on the street wanting to appear in the show, saying he replies, “Do not ask to be a corpse on my show – we will throw your ass in the East River.” The actor has worked on five of Wolf’s projects including New York Undercover, Swift Justice, Law And Order: Exile, Players, and finally Law & Order: SVU.
Bush showed her gratitude for Wolf in casting her in a role of a strong female on Chicago P.D. “It’s not an accident I play women who are strong and outspoken. I don’t know how to be anything but that. I like that my role conveys to young women that they can be the hero of their own story. It gives you purpose.”
Wolf gave credit to those he’s worked with over the years for his success. “TV is the most collaborative art form in history, more than movies. I get way too much credit but then I get all of the blame. The idea is to go eight or ten years or longer. I hire great people like Oliver Platt, who goes to hospital to meet people to research for his role. I get to to work with incredibly talented writers, producers, and actors. Peter Jankowski and Arthur Forney have been with me for years.” He also noted the importance of job creation saying, “We want to get as many people in the tent as possible every week. We’re doing 87 hour of TV this year. There have been over 40,000 actors employed on Dick Wolf shows, counting NYC and Chicago shows.”
He ended the panel by thanking his fans: “This has been the best ride that anybody’s ever had in this medium. It’s incredibly gratifying. The best stories come out of real life and real people. Great writers and actors make it fun to watch.”
The week of events closed out with FX’s AMERICAN HORROR STORY with creator Ryan Murphy in attendance along with his stable of actors. While many were hoping the writer would reveal the big theme for the next season of the series, Murphy happily disappointed, saying, “The interesting thing about the next season is that we’ve been working on two ideas at once, which we’ve never done.” The juggling act meant that Murphy’s new anthology wasn’t ready for a big reveal just yet.
Murphy did hint that the series has always been influenced by “the opera” and “the innocence of children, their wide-eyed way into it. … Both ideas we’re working with have elements of children.” He also confirmed that the panel of actors with him for the day – Kathy Bates, Denis O’Hare, Angela Bassett, Sarah Paulson, Finn Wittrock, Wes Bentley, Cheyenne Jackson, and Matt Bomer – will return next season. It was later announced via radio that Lady Gaga would be returning as well.
The week and a half of events showed not only the diverse casts, creators, and stories currently on television, but in the presentation of Dick Wolf as a centerpiece, PaleyFest highlighted television’s ability to evolve in real time with its audience and the strong relationship between the teams and their fans. Whether it was Billie Lourd borrowing a pair of earmuffs from and audience or Ice-T making jokes only fans of his twenty years of working with Wolf would understand, the fans are as much a part of the show as anyone on a panel, making PaleyFest a one-of-a-kind series.
Emily is a writer and television obsessor. If desired, Emily will talk to you at potentially-annoying-length about topics such as why the CW is her favorite channel, the current amazing state of underground comedy, and how she avoids TV/films about zombies because most of them do not chew with their mouths closed.
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Emily J | Staff Writer