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Stars work without a script at TV conference

August 9, 2013

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) — So, all you actors and other folks with TV shows to promote, what do you have to say for yourself?

Their proving ground was the just-ended Television Critics Association summer meeting, at which the TV industry paraded the stars and creators of next season’s fare to produce newspaper ink or blogs or tweets that might entice viewers to tune in.

It turned out some celebrities, familiar faces and new ones, can be charming, funny or impressively honest without a script. Here are some of the breakout moments, possible clues to the shows to look for in the 2013-14 season.

— Michael J. Fox, patiently explaining that, yes, he has Parkinson’s disease and, yes, it’s OK to make his life with it part of his NBC sitcom. “It is what I deal with. It is my reality and my life, but it’s not horrible. ... There’s nothing on the surface horrible about someone with a shaky hand.”

— Jeff Garlin of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” fame, stealing the session for ABC’s “The Goldbergs” with good-natured, high-decibel razzing of reporters. “It’s very unsettling to be up here and have half of you playing poker,” he bellowed at reporters peering at their laptop screens.

— The women of PBS’ “Downtown Abbey,” upstairs and downstairs. Laura Carmichael, aka the downtrodden Lady Edith, dazzled in chic hair and dress as she proclaimed that in season four Edith would prove “the Carrie Bradshaw of the ’20s.” On-screen servants Daisy, Mrs. Hughes and Anna, played respectively by Sophie McShera, Phyllis Logan and Joanne Froggatt, looked like a million bucks — or pounds — each.

— Robin Williams, politely sedate, until one reporter lit the fuse by comparing the star of CBS’ “The Crazy Ones” to a sad clown. Replied Williams, gleefully: “Especially a sad clown you wake up next (to) and go, ‘Oh, my God. What are those big feet doing in the bed?!’”

— Tennis great Billie Jean King, winning skeptical media hearts with her candor and courage. The first sports figure profiled on PBS’ “American Masters,” King, who fought for women’s rights on and off the court, said she overcame her self-described “homophobia” to become comfortable as a lesbian in middle age.

— Arsenio Hall, looking sharp and fit for his return to late-night television and sharing startling gossip about his competitors: Jay Leno offered contacts for writers on his staff who were forced out during layoffs, while Jimmy Kimmel wrote a check to support Hall’s charity when he won “Celebrity Apprentice” last year.

— The cast and producers of Fox’s sitcom “Enlisted,” promising the show would be better than the pilot. The cast and producers of Fox’s sitcom “Dads,” slammed in early reviews for being sexist, crass and more, promising much the same.

— Spike Lee, playing video Boswell to Mike Tyson’s chipper Samuel Johnson as the pair touted the boxer’s one-man stage show coming to HBO. Tyson said he couldn’t wait to perform each night and “just like in a fight, I wanted to kill everybody in the room — by my performance, of course.” Some kidder.

— Collectively, the pint-sized charmers of Fox’s “MasterChef Junior,” who took the sting out of tough guy Gordon Ramsay. “He can’t be really mean because, like, we’re kids,” one of them explained, then corrected Ramsay’s claim he never swore. “Twice,” she said.

— The joy of British wit, as exemplified by Max Irons when asked about his nudity in Starz’ “The White Queen” series and how dad Jeremy Irons may react. “I’d refer him to his back catalog,” Irons said, alluding to the elder Irons’ explicit sex scenes in films including 1988′s “Dead Ringers.”

— The joy of British charm, courtesy of London cabbie Tony Walker, among the group whose lives have been chronicled by filmmaker Michael Apted in his “Up” series, with “56 Up,” the latest chapter on PBS. Whether explaining “reluctantly and with respect” that he’s never watched “Downton Abbey,” or describing his up-by-the-bootstraps life, Walker was a winner.

— Wit, American superhero style: Co-creator and executive producer Jed Whedon, explaining how ABC’s “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” can maintain the high production standards of the pilot: “In future we will use coupons.”


Lynn Elber is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. She can be reached at lelber@ap.org and on Twitter@lynnelber.

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