July 31--ALL OVER THE LOS ANGELES METROPOLITAN AREA: In a break from the usual location for the Television Critics Association press tour panels -- the Beverly Hilton Hotel ballroom -- Wednesday was a day full of bus rides to studios hither and yon.
We started out at Universal Studios, where the streets are named after such stars as Gregory Peck and James Stewart. The stars and producers of "The Mindy Project," my nomination for last season's Most Improved Show, answered questions in relaxed, good-natured fashion.
Creator/producer/writer/star/very busy person Mindy Kaling still had the short hair her character revealed in the Season 1 finale, but Kaling confessed it was a wig. We learned that, come Season 2, the character of Dr. Mindy Lahiri will be in Haiti with her boyfriend, Casey (Anders Holm), but they come back earlier than planned.
"Mindy gets to be single again," Kaling said.
"I don't die, though," said Holm.
Oh, and James Franco turns up. But then, where doesn't he turn up?
Ike Barinholtz, who plays live-wire male nurse Morgan, and is an executive story editor on the show, was just as loose as his character. He jokingly referred to Holm's character as "this member of the Hitler Youth."
The cast seemed to enjoy teasing Chris Messina, who plays Dr. Danny Castellano, one of the partners at the OB/Gyn practice that is the show's workplace setting.
Riffing on a question about what guest stars the cast would most like to have on the show, Barinholtz suggested Messina's dream guest star would be Lee Strasberg, come back from the dead. The late Strasberg is the acting coach associated with helping popularize "the method" acting technique, and his list of students included such greats as Paul Newman, Montgomery Clift, and Marilyn Monroe.
Messina is normally known for dramatic roles -- he also plays Reese Lansing, the soulless corporate-minded president of the cable network on "The Newsroom" -- but his deadpan comic style is a highlight of "The Mindy Project."
After giving the guest star question appropriate thought, Messina then said, "Sean Penn would be good."
"The hilarious Sean Penn," Kaling added.
On a more substantive note, Kaling admitted that the character of Mindy Lahiri had become more traditionally likable as the season went on, a reflection she said, of becoming aware that if you're a female character, audiences don't want you to be unlikable.
Kaling said we need to work on stretching the idea of how female characters can be portrayed. And she's right -- with TV full of antiheroes, surely there's room for women characters who aren't "lovable."
Ultimately, since her character is a professional, an OB-Gyn, "you want the lead character to be someone you respect." So "the lead character has evolved a little bit."
Asked about his character on "The Newsroom" and his "Mindy Project" character, Messina speculated that if Dr. Danny met Reese on the street, "Danny might punch him."
Beyond that, he deadpanned, "They're very similar, in that they're both played by me."
When the questions were over, Kailing and Barinholtz talked to reporters as we visited the soundstage where the show's sets -- the medical office, Mindy's apartment, Danny's office -- are built. Messina, who heaved a visible sigh of relief when the interview session concluded, wasn't there.
Note: The set of Mindy's apartment was decorated with wedding party regalia and gifts. Kaling responded to reporters' questions with a wry, "Well, that was bad planning." Since the cake -- which is in a, let's just say, untraditional shape -- has Mindy and Casey's names on it, that would seem to indicate this is a wedding party for the duo.
But it seemed pretty obvious that a life of wedded bliss for the couple isn't in the cards. Especially when Kaling said, "I miss Mindy's bad behavior. I've been longing for some good, old-fashioned, terrible behavior."
Season 2 of "The Mindy Project" begins Sept. 17.
Next on the bus cavalcade: The Sony lot, where we visited the spacious, swellegant set of "The Queen Latifah Show," a new syndicated daytime talk show. Not only is there a main set, with couch and cushions, there's an "Auntie Mame"-style curving staircase, cozy sitting area with two chairs, a dining room, and an upper-level study. Done in warm neutrals of brown, gold and beige, the set, as Queen Latifah told us, was designed by Lenny Kravitz' design firm.
"I call it 'Big Sexy,'" she said.
Queen Latifah made her entrance, with a red boa tossed over her black pants and black-and-white top ensemble, as she sang special lyrics to her big number from the movie version of "Chicago," addressed to the TV critics in the room. "You're my favorite demo," she said, "hot, smart and middle-aged."
Joining Latifah was Jada Pinkett Smith -- she and husband Will Smith's production company co-produce the show -- who expressed her support for Latifah as a talk-show host. As you'd expect -- since she also said Latifah was her friend.
"The Queen Latifah Show" debuts Sept. 16.
Frank Darabont and fellow "The Walking Dead" alums Jon Bernthal and Jeffrey DeMunn on "Lost Angels": Actually, we're not sure if the final title of the series will be "Lost Angels." As Darabont told us, that may change, as it was the choice they came to after not being able to use "L.A. Noir," the title of the John Buntin book that serves as the show's inspiration.
At Red Studios, Darabont -- whose films include "The Shawshank Redemption," and who made a major TV splash when he developed and served as executive producer for "The Walking Dead" in its first season before parting ways with AMC -- talked about his love of film noir. He hopes the 6-episode "Lost Angels" -- which is scheduled to premiere on TNT in December -- will continue, and tell more stories based on the history of corrupt, on-the-take cops in postwar, 1940s L.A., and the mobsters who were infiltrating the city.
The panel included Darabont's old colleagues from "The Walking Dead," Jon Bernthal and Jeffrey DeMunn. Bernthal said Darabont and he walked on the beach discussing the project, in which Bernthal plays the lead, a World War II vet-turned-L.A. detective. Darabont told him the role would be a challenge. As Shane, the tortured zombie apocalypse survivor in "The Walking Dead," Bernthal was playing what Darabont characterized as a caged animal. In "Lost Angels," Darabont told the actor, Bernthal is playing the cage.
Other actors in the period drama -- whose sets include a nightclub that functions as an across-the-board meeting place for all sorts of late '40s Angelenos -- include Edward Burns as real-life mobster Ben "Bugsy" Siegel, Jeremy Luke as Mickey Cohen, and Neal McDonough -- last seen making our blood run cold as a crazed bad guy in "Justified' -- as real-life L.A. Police Captain William Parker.
-- Kristi Turnquist
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