FX yesterday closed out the cable portion of the Winter 2010 Television Critics Association tour with a presentation on behalf of an upcoming show that generated more interest among critics and reporters than any other new scripted series seen here since the tour began.
The show, titled Justified, is an action drama created by Graham Yost (The Pacific) that is centered on Raylon Givens, a Kentucky-based Deputy U.S. Marshal with a troubled past who was created by and has appeared in several stories by acclaimed crime novelist Elmore Leonard. Givens is played by Timothy Olyphant, who was recently seen in a supporting role on FX's Damages and, before that, HBO's Deadwood. Leonard is among the series' executive producers.
It seems to be the consensus here that Justified will be a perfect addition to FX's stable of franchises built around strong men who bend the rules when times get tough, from The Shield to Rescue Me to Sons of Anarchy (and, back when it was good, Nip/Tuck). There have been many stand-out programs previewed here during the last ten days, including the documentary miniseries Life on Discovery and the World War II epic The Pacific on HBO, but there hasn't been a new ongoing series that has made so immediate a positive impact on so many critics as this one.
Of course, it helped tremendously that FX did such a good job introducing the show. To begin with, the network took over a three-hour block of time on Sunday, a day during which other networks had refused to schedule sessions because they thought TCA members would be too busy with the Golden Globes. (They were wrong.) It would have been a very dull day had FX not stepped up, offering a Q&A with FX President John Landgraf and sessions with the casts and producers of Damages (including Golden Globe nominees Glenn Close and Rose Byrne, who weren't too busy prepping for the Globes to stop by TCA and promote their show), Justified (including Elmore Leonard) and the upcoming comedy series Louie, starring comedian Louis C.K. (real last name Szekeley), as well as a network-sponsored breakfast and lunch.
One might say the critics came for Glenn Close (and her co-stars in Season 3 of Damages, Martin Short and Lily Tomlin, both via satellite) and stayed for Timothy Olyphant and Louis C.K. (Those who did were treated to an extremely R-rated take from Louis on the Conan crisis, as detailed below.)
Clearly, the magnificent Close is a hard act to follow, but Olyphant was right at home with the press. When one critic observed, "You don't necessarily strike me as the prototypical tough, nerves-of-steel guy," then asked, "What do you think it is about you that you project that [made] people want you in those roles?", Olyphant didn't miss a beat and broke up the room with his response:
"I think the question is, 'What are you missing that everyone else is seeing?'"
There is nothing TCA members appreciate more than an actor who isn't afraid to spar with them. Which brings me to FX's other likely break-out star, Louis C.K.
Comedian Louis C.K. stars in FX's upcoming comedy "Louie".
Best remembered by critics for his not-very-good HBO sitcom Lucky Louie, Louis seems to fare much better in his new FX comedy, which features a blend of his standup comedy and scripted vignettes based on his personal life. It'll fit right in with It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and The League.
Since the session for Louie was the last press conference of an especially lively January tour that was dominated by talk of NBC's titanic Jay Leno-Conan O'Brien blunder, and since Louis worked on O'Brien's first late-night writing staff, it was only fitting that the last question was about this fascinating mess. "I love Conan and I think he'll be fine," Louis replied. Then he went off about the fact that, through the years, people had come to refer to O'Brien's previous gig, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, simply as Conan.
"That's how much he made it his!" Louis declared. "I don't know why you'd want to give that up to host The Tonight Show. That's just this old, shitty thing. I mean, who cares? Let Jay have it, you know? It's been a traumatic thing for them all to go through. I felt for everybody, except for that Jed, Jizz, [rhymes with trucker], whatever his name is."
"Zucker! Sorry, I thought it was Jizz [rhymes with trucker]," Louis continued after helpful critics called out NBC Universal President and CEO Jeff Zucker's name. "He's just a great villain. I don't know the guy. He's probably a great guy, but he's just doing all these crazy things and making everybody mad. He's great!"
Louis paused, and then went after Leno. "Jay is a driven American guy," he said. "He's working class. He's from Danvers, Mass., which is close to where I grew up. He's a Boston comic, which is what I am, and he's like, 'This is my show. I'm [rhymes with trucking] holding onto that show.' He's not kidding around! He's just holding on, and he won. I mean, it's pretty impressive, what he pulled off.
"Conan will be fine," he continued. "He's a rich, Harvard-educated, well-heeled, milk-and-honey-fed fella, so he'll be okay. And he'll be the first one to tell you that. I think he'll end up somewhere else, and he'll go back to doing Conan. It's hurting him inside because he wants to be the host of The Tonight Show.
"It's a little presumptuous for me to tell him that his dreams are misguided," Louis concluded, to much laughter. "But they are. I'm certain of that."