TV

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ta-ta, traditional TV

Looking for quality programming? You might have to set your sights beyond your television set

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Louis C.K. and Jerry Seinfeld on a laugh-fuelled coffee run.

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Louis C.K. and Jerry Seinfeld on a laugh-fuelled coffee run.

HOLLYWOOD -- If your TV viewing is limited to the old-fashioned television set in your living room or rec room and the familiar, traditional TV networks, there is a fast-growing roster of great shows and great performances by great actors that you're probably never going to see.

The definition of "television" has changed greatly in the past few years, and will continue to evolve and expand with every new distribution platform and content-delivery option that arrives on the home-entertainment landscape.

During last week's announcement of this year's Emmy Awards nominations, TV academy chairman Bruce Rosenblum declared that the annual TV trophyfest is now "platform agnostic," having expanded its field of nominees to include shows that exist not just on conventional broadcast networks and cable, but also on websites or on content-streaming services like Netflix and Hulu.

Original scripted shows such as House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black brought an impressive 31 Emmy nominations to Netflix; Jerry Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, which exists only as an online series, is nominated (for the second consecutive year) in the category of outstanding special-class short-form non-fiction program.

And here at the semi-annual TV press tour in Los Angeles, for the first time ever, an entire day of interview sessions was devoted to programming on non-traditional digital platforms -- recent arrivals in the scripted-programming realm such as Amazon, Hulu and DirecTV. And what was interesting about this schedule of sessions for TV shows that aren't seen on TV is that it didn't involve just a bunch of fringe-y programs created by and starring C-listers who couldn't land jobs in TV's big leagues.

Far from it, in fact. The roster of interview subjects during the press tour's digital-content day included the likes of John Goodman, Jeffrey Tambor, Titus Welliver, Annie Wersching, Jason Schwartzman, Sharon Lawrence, Angela Kinsey, cartoonist-turned-TV writer/producer Garry Trudeau and The X-Files' creator, Chris Carter, all of whom were unanimous in their view that TV's new platforms and programs are the equals of the old-school mainstream networks.

"In terms of the content, I love what's happening, and I believe in this (digital) side of the street," said Tambor, who plays an in-transition transgender parent in the Amazon online series Transparent. "It's very exciting... This is all I've ever wanted to do as an actor. This reminds me, like, of Broadway, off-Broadway. It has the same nerves and the same content."

Tambor (The Larry Sanders Show, Arrested Development), a 40-year veteran of the TV/movie business who just passed his 70th birthday, called his role in Transparent "probably the most transforming experience" he's had as a performer.

"To be an actor, and to come to work with this creator and this distributor, and putting it out there, and (seeing) the confidence that these people have -- they just say, 'Go, go, go, go, go.' It's not table-reads where people are (shaking their heads). They are just saying, 'Go. Breathe. Go, go, go.'

"I'm a happy guy. This is all I've ever wanted to do."

Among the more intriguing digitally distributed shows (many of which are not accessible in Canada, yet) featured in the day's presentations were Kingdom, a gritty DirecTV drama set in the world of mixed-martial-arts fighting; the aforementioned Amazon project Transparent; a Hulu reality-genre parody called The Hotwives of Orlando, which stars The Office alumna Kinsey and Daily Show correspondent Kristen Schaal; and Alpha House, an Amazon online comedy about a bunch of misfit U.S. senators, created by Trudeau and starring Goodman, Mark Consuelos and Clark Johnson.

Tambor's Transparent co-star Gaby Hoffman was eager to reinforce her castmate's statement that there's nothing "lesser than" about working on a digital-platform show.

"This notion that is prevalent -- that we are making some sort of sacrifice by working for Amazon -- is actually completely false," she said. "I mean, I would have done this show for no pay; luckily, I'm getting very, very nicely paid. But this is a privilege working with... Amazon. We have such freedom. We talk about it every day. They are our allies and our supporters and our cheerleaders. We don't have to fight for anything. We are given everything we want and need, and they are letting the show and us be what we need to be, what we want to be, what we organically are becoming every moment, and it is 100 per cent a privilege."

It took Chris Carter a long time -- the better part of a decade, in fact -- to return to the TV-production business after his marathon run with The X-Files, and when he finally did, he chose the digital realm, and Amazon, as the venue for his spooky new (maybe) alien invasion-themed drama The After.

"The simple truth is that Amazon read the script and liked it and wanted to do it, and they were getting into the (scripted-series) business, and we are one of the first dramas, I think, that they've done," said Carter. "So it was just good fortune to be involved in what I consider to be a frontier of the business. I think it's the way people will watch television exclusively before long. So that's very exciting...

"We've been fortunate to be working with people who are smart and supportive and who make the project better, and that's really all you can ask for."

These could become great TV shows. They might even win Emmys. Just don't go looking for them on your TV set.

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 19, 2014 G1

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