Television

The HBO Superstar Afternoon Cavalcade, Starring Al Pacino's Sunglasses

Al Pacino.

hide captionAl Pacino spoke to the Television Critics Association yesterday.

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

I must apologize for the lack of blogging yesterday; since my internal clock got serious about adjusting to the time change, I've lost valuable work time between 4:30 and 7:00 in the morning, which has made it more challenging to keep you up to date.

But let's talk about yesterday. Yesterday morning was given over to Discovery Networks, which brought us exotic-pet owners, people married to prisoners, and news that TLC is indeed developing some sort of new show with Kate Gosselin, though they declined to say exactly what it was, and it's not clear whether they even know. (My suggestion involves a crossover with PBS's show about marauding pythons, which we heard about on Wednesday.)

Then yesterday afternoon, HBO brought out its dazzling array of talent, guaranteed to impress. Among others: Claire Danes and the real Temple Grandin from the upcoming HBO film Temple Grandin; David Simon and Wendell "The Bunk" Pierce from Simon's new New Orleans drama Treme (pronounced "Tra-MAY," incidentally, if you are in training for it); Al Pacino, Susan Sarandon, and others from the movie You Don't Know Jack, about Jack Kevorkian; Rosie O'Donnell and her teenage son, talking about her upcoming special about lots of kinds of families; Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, and oh yes an actual World War II veteran talking about the new miniseries The Pacific; and Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant on The Ricky Gervais Show. Obviously, we'll talk about these shows in greater detail as they get closer, but for now, let's talk about the panels.

Al Pacino, Ricky Gervais, and Tom Hanks talks about "context," after the jump.

Now, even the people at press tour were willing to admit that they were pretty impressed by Spielberg and Hanks. You know, we're not made of stone over here. Tom Hanks actually did much of the talking, especially in the early going, in the discussion of production decisions. The comedy highlight was a question about why this miniseries, unlike Band Of Brothers, includes expositional material at the beginning of each episode about what the time period is and what was happening in the war. Hanks said:

We bowed to the pressures of our studio, HBO. I'm joking. And, yet, there is truth to that. By and large, there was a thought that it would be hard to get people excited about a battle over a place like Guadalcanal or Peleliu without some context, some historical context to why our soldiers are fighting at Guadalcanal on Peleliu. There were those of us on the producing team that felt that context was a waste of time and once we got involved in this story, the context would be obvious.

Now, in order to understand the comedy here, you have to imagine gigantically sarcastic finger-quoting every time he says "context." In other words, "We figured people have heard of the war, but okay."

Things got a little unusual with Pacino. When asked whether doing an HBO movie is any different from doing a feature, he said, "Well, it's television. It's HBO, and so HBO is television. And television is ... you have to do a lot in a short period of time so that's the difference, the only difference. Otherwise, it's the same." That's what's in the transcript, anyway. I have to say, it really felt at the time like he repeated the words "television" and "HBO" more times than that, but I'll take the transcribers at their word.

What was also odd was that Pacino was in sunglasses, which is a first for me at indoor press-tour panels, though I am told it is not unheard of. Pacino seemed to be sporting some kind of slightly unusual accent that some of us were speculating might be related to some role he's currently playing. Not sure what that role would be, but when asked to describe it, I came up with "Minnesotan vampire" while another critic said it had "a touch of Marge Gunderson," so perhaps a consensus will form around "something in the Upper Midwest."

Rosie O'Donnell, during a discussion of a special that was inspired by her affection for Free To Be You And Me, became the latest panelist to come out firmly on the side of Conan O'Brien, if you follow that sort of thing. Asked whether she'd ever do late night, she made a joke about how right now, this is like asking about vacationing in Haiti (which got an uncomfortable laugh), but then she went on:

I am a huge fan of Conan O'Brien and that's a franchise that has been 60 years with NBC. And if you're privileged enough to ask to drive the bus, you should say "thank you" and drive it to the best of your ability. And when it's time for them to hire a new driver, you should say "Thank you for allowing me to drive this for as long as I did" and pass the keys to the new guy — with red hair — and try not to flatten his tires before he even gets going.

We ended the day with Gervais and Merchant, which isn't a bad way to end the day for a room full of grumpy, tired people who have been sitting in a big room in hard-backed chairs since nine in the morning. Their upcoming HBO show is an animated adaptation of their widely loved podcast, and they talked quite a bit about that, but they talked about other things, too. if you've ever wondered whether Ricky Gervais really does that high cackle-laugh spontaneously when he thinks things are funny, he really does. It's both unnerving and wonderful.

The best part came at the end, as there was time for one more question, and no one had one at hand. (Sometimes, this indicates boredom; here, I think the issue was that people had been laughing rather than writing more questions.) The journalist who asked the previous question said he'd just ask another, to which Gervais sarcastically said, "Well, don't force yourselves." He went on to tease about the barrage of questions for others — "'Oh, Mr. Spielberg!' 'Oh, Mr. Hanks!'"), at which point Merchant reminded him, "You are aware of what those two men have done, aren't you?"

As it turned out, the writer's additional question was "Could you elaborate on that?" "That's not even a real question!" Gervais said indignantly. "He couldn't even pretend to be interested. 'Another question: Yeah, and ... what else?'" By the time Gervais offered to actually return to whatever the previous question had been in order to "elaborate," the chastised writer meekly said, "Never mind," which made Ricky Gervais crack up royally. And that, essentially, was our afternoon.

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