Blogging the TCA, Part 6: “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Private Practice,” and Kate Walsh

 
 

This is a live blog from the bi-annual Television Critics Association conference.
See more TCA live blog posts here.

The last panel of the day — and the three-week TCA conference —
is the much-anticipated Grey’s Anatomy spinoff Private Practice, starring Kate Walsh (#14 on The AfterEllen.com Hot 100 List, for good reason).
There are double the normal number of people in the audience, and on the stage,
with creator Shonda Rhimes in the middle flanked by Taye
Diggs
and Kate Walsh.

ABC rolls the promo for Private Practice, and it focuses mostly on
Addison’s story line on Grey’s Anatomy. Clearly they’re still retooling
the spinoff after the critical lashing the back-door pilot received in May.

Shonda fields a few questions about how she’s handling the pressure, but she
doesn’t really say much. Not saying much, I’m about to discover, is her MO.
When it comes to saying something while saying nothing, the woman has skills.

Kate’s asked about her reaction when she found out about the spinoff, and she
says she was "in bed at 3am reading it like a teenager emitting screams
of joy, like a super-top secret diary of someone else’s that I’d just found." I start to picture that scene, but stop when I realize it’s interfering with my ability to focus on the panel.

A reporter asks why Audra
McDonald

replaced Merrin Dungey
, and after Shonda jokes, "I
don’t think we can go wrong with a four-times Tony winner," she says they
were rethinking the character of Naomi and needed someone "strong and tough."
Um, have you ever seen a show called Alias? Evil Francie can kick some
serious ass!

There are more questions about how much this will be the Addison show vs. an
ensemble, and a comment on the fact that Grey’s seems to have a more
humorous tone than Private Practice. Shonda explains the promo was
just meant to answer the question of "why Addison", and talks about
what an amazing group of actors she has, blah blah blah.

Finally, the unavoidable Isaiah Washington question is asked:
what was Shonda’s reaction to NBC’s Ben Silverman saying he approached Isaiah
while he was still on Grey’s? "I guess I don’t really have a reaction.
He’s a very talented actor, I hope the Bionic Woman does really well,
just not as well as Private Practice." (Later, after the panel,
she elaborates
on her response to the Isaiah Washington situation. Sort-of.)

Back to the tone of the new show. Shonda says, "Grey’s is high
school with scalpels, and practice is more grown-up, more like a squabbling
family."

A reporter asks whether the talking elevator will be back. Shonda hedges. She
won’t commit one way or the other. Look, Shonda, you’re obviously extremely
talented, and I’m a big fan of your work, but you can’t even make a definitive
statement about an elevator?

Does Shonda feel confident in her ability to run both shows, someone asks?
Shonda says yes, and defends the last season of Grey’s for the first,
and surely not the last, time during this session. "I read the blogs, the
responses on the Grey’s blogs, I take very seriously what the fans
say, what that means to me is they’re watching it and they care about it. Do
I feel we went wrong at the end of the season? No…it was the journey we had
planned to take all along. It was a darker journey, but it was the journey these
characters needed to take."

But the reporters are just getting started. Was Shonda prepared for the negative
reaction to the George and Izzie romance? "The characters are flawed and
human," she says. "I’m not necessarily say George and Izzy are the
love story of the century, but it’s an interesting thing to explore when you
decide your best friend is your soul mate."

Enough already! Let’s get back to Kate Private Practice!

But it’s not to be. Will next season of Grey’s Anatomy return to a lighter tone? More
ducking and weaving from Shonda. "Season 3 is a darker season," she
acknowledges, adding "it was necessary, but I want to get back to having
fun."

Spoiler: Shonda has no plans to cross over characters from Grey’s to Private
Practice.

Another question about elevators, and how many scenes in Shonda’s shows take
place in them. "I guess I have a thing for elevators," Shonda finally
admits. You think?

Kate chimes in that "there are supply closets, too." She’s so cute. They could film all her scenes in a supply closet and I’d still watch.

A reporter asks the question I’ve been wanting to ask since for months: what
happened to the strong and decisive Addison fans loved on Grey’s, and
why wasn’t she in Private Practice? Shonda and Kate rush to Addison’s
defense, saying she is strong and decisive as a doctor, just not as
a person. Kate says all the characters, including Addison, are "at the
apex of their careers but sort of a mess personally." Nothing a nice lesbian
affair won’t cure, Kate!

A question now for Amy Brenneman about her character’s love
life on the spinoff. She gives an answer that doesn’t really say anything, but
she’s very spirited about it. Amy gets a question about the timing of her decision
to return to TV after Judging Amy was canceled, and she gives the standard
"I have two small children so it would have to be a perfect fit" answer,
but adds that she passed on several roles, including some that were the "wifey"
roles woman are so often confined to. She seems a little bitter. I like it.

Now Tim Daly talks about how, when he was offered the role,
Shonda said she could tell him about his character but nothing about the show.
He says he suddenly started watching a lot of Grey’s Anatomy after
that.

Spoiler: we see Addison tender her resignation to Richard in the season
opener of Grey’s Private Practice.

There’s a question about the poster for the show, which has "Private Practice"
emblazoned on a beach with a shot of a sexy woman’s stomach at the bottom.

Shonda thinks it’s "fine." It’s almost enough to make you long for
the ridiculous analysis of gender differences offered by the Women’s
Murder Club
and Cashmere
Mafia
panels.

There’s a question about what it’s like to work with a cast populated by such
veteran actors. Shonda talks about it as an "all-star team," and says
the characters on Grey’s are all very "fresh and new, whereas
these characters are…" Amy interjects, "tired and old." Lots
of laughter. That Amy is a fiery one. I approve.

Tim Daly jokes that "the fact that the trailer was all
about Kate, Kate, Kate didn’t bother any of us!" Everyone laughs. A reporter
asks whether Tim was frustrated with the way The Nine ended. There’s
a long pause as Tim seems to be searching for the right words. Finally he says,
"I’m trying to think of a way to congratulate myself on my Emmy nomination."
When the laughter dies down, he says yes, it was frustrating, and describes
acting as "constantly slamming your head against a brick wall." Hee.
Wings was lame, but I liked him in Eyes and The Nine.
I miss The Nine.

Shonda says she came up with the idea for the spinoff when she was watching
Kate "doing something great" in a scene, and she just started writing
what eventually turned into the back-door pilot. I’ve
had some ideas about Kate while watching her doing something great in a scene,
too, but probably slightly different ones than Shonda had.

Did I mention that Buffy’s Marti Noxon is on the
panel, too? Apparently she’s an executive producer on Private Practice.
A good sign!

The inevitable Veronica Mars question for surfer boy Chris
Lowell
: was he cast before the show was canceled? Yes, he says, because
he wasn’t sure if they were bringing him back to Veronica Mars for
the next season even if it was renewed. Who cares, Piz was annoying.

Kate is asked about her reaction to the fact that her career has skyrocketed
in such a short time. "I could have never dreamed it," she says happily,
then adds, "I don’t mean to sound Pollyannaish about it, because I’m not,
I’m a cynical bastard with a cold black heart, but I really feel like I’m living
a great dream." Best. Answer. Ever. I seriously love this woman.

Shonda talks about the chemistry between Kate and Tim, watching them kiss in
the stairs, blah blah…when’s Addison going to hook up with a woman on the
show, damnit? Why doesn’t someone talk about that?

But no, we’re back to questions about the genesis of the spinoff. How did Shonda
convince ABC President Steve McPherson to let her do it? Shonda says she likes
her job, so she’s not going to talk about the dinner, but ABC is really receptive
and supportive, it’s all hearts and roses, yada yada yada.. Here’s an idea to
be receptive to: Addison and Naomi deciding they should take their friendship
to the next level.

Back to reality, and a question about how Shonda’s going to "make up ground"
after "the rough season for Grey’s, from the Isaiah Washington
controversy to unhappiness around storylines to unhappiness with Private
Practice
." Shonda trots out the now-automated reply (I’m expecting
to hear it on MovieFone the next time I call): "Yes, it was a difficult
season for us behind the scenes, but creatively it was the direction we had
to move." Then she’s talking about characters growing and changing, and
changing and growing, and whatever, I’m just going to admire Kate’s dress.

Another question about whether Shonda’s going to split her time evenly between
the shows. Let me save you the suspense: yes.

Finally the panel ends, and the reporters mob the stage. I head for my hotel
room, and a nap. No one told me covering television would be so much work!

That’s it for this summer’s TCA press tour. Look for more TCA coverage
in January.

 
 

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