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NYTVF: Pushing Daisies premiere (aka how to tick off Barry Sonnenfeld)

by Joel Keller, posted Sep 11th 2007 3:21PM
Pushing Daisies panel
If you've been following my posts from the New York Television Festival, you may remember my mentioning that I'd post details of the Chuck premiere the festival was going to hold on Friday. Well, that didn't really turn out as planned. The "premiere" turned out to be just a screening: no red carpet, no panel, no one involved with the show attending. So I decided to skip posting about that (though I enjoyed the pilot, which is one of the few I haven't seen) and move right along to the premiere for Pushing Daisies, which was held on Saturday night.

You've already read a little about it, as I had director Barry Sonnenfeld address stories about cost overruns on the show. But, as I also said, that wasn't the only thing I asked him that peeved him a little bit. More on that after the jump.

Cheryl Guevara
First, a little fun: PR rep Cheryl Guevara let everyone on the red carpet know that Jim Dale, who narrates the show, was the first to arrive. I knew what the guy looked like, but I guess these days most people know him from his voice, as he's best known now for narrating the Harry Potter books on tape. If Cheryl ever decided to get out of PR, she'd likely have a lucrative career as a ring card girl at Madison Square Garden.

Jim Dale and wife Julia
Here's Jim Dale with his wife Julia. I actually know him more for when he did Barnum on Broadway in the eighties (I never saw it, but the commercials were everywhere on New York TV), so I asked him if he had any plans to do more shows. In the spring, he'll be in a revival of Busker Alley, a musical written by the Sherman Brothers, who wrote the score for Mary Poppins, among other Disney movies. When I asked him if he was going to do any more TV (aside from Daisies, which he'll continue to narrate), he said, "No, no plans to do more TV. I'm taking it easy in my old age." He loved the script for Daisies, and called star Lee Pace "the new Cary Grant of television." (Who was the old Cary Grant of television?)

Barry Sonnenfeld
Here's something that I learned on that red carpet, probably something that makes a lot of sense to most, but I guess not to me: don't tell a director that his work reminds you of the work of one of his contemporaries. Makes sense right? Each director thinks his vision is unique, which means none of them want to hear that their work reminds people of someone else's, especially if that person is the same age.

Anyway, after I hit Barry Sonnenfeld with the question about the show's cost overruns, I mentioned that I thought the pilot for Daisies, which he directed, was very reminiscent of Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands. Oops. Sonnenfeld was good-natured about that, but made sure I knew how he felt about my observation. "I think it's very Barry Sonnenfeld-like," he said. "If you've seen any of my (movies)... and, look at the stuff I've done with the Coen Brothers (he was their director of photography)... To me, it's very Raising Arizona... Listen, if I'm compared to Tim Burton... we share a lawyer, and I have great admiration for him, so..."

As for how he'll make sure the series' other directors will keep the show's unique look and feel consistent, Sonnenfeld has it all planned out. "I've written sort of an instruction manual on how to direct the show, which every director gets. I've been on the set; I directed the second episode and was on the set of the third. I'd e-mail the actors almost every night when I see the dailies, often telling Lee that his hair should be more messed up; in some angles it's too flat. So I'm very, very involved, and the directors want me to be, so it's a really good situation."

He has nothing but praise for creator Bryan Fuller, giving me a dig while praising his creative partner. "A lot of what I get credited for -- or what Tim Burton gets credited for -- he should get the credit." He also mentioned the Tim Burton observation during the panel -- this time in a less cheery manner. Luckily he didn't tell the audience that the observation came from an impolite reporter on the red carpet. The look on his face when he mentioned it during the panel told me that I wasn't the first to make that observation; I was just the latest.

Bryan Fuller
It was pretty damn hot out Saturday night; add the lights and the fact that most of the people on the red carpet (except Lee Pace, who is on the right in the above picture) were wearing suits, you can understand why Fuller is wiping his brow in this picture. Fuller was a mensch, sticking around at the after-screening party long after his co-workers left, constantly surrounded by a group of well-wishers, people who had pilots entered in the festival, and pesky reporters like me. He was so nice, he even took the time to answer a festival volunteer's question about some continuity in the pilot (she didn't want to ask him, but me and another reporter encouraged her). He gladly answered her by telling her how it will be addressed in one of the early episodes.

Anyway, the idea for Daisies was born from a spin-off plot he was writing for his previous series, Dead Like Me. "There was going to be an arc where George, the girl who died and became a Grim Reaper, was finding that someone was sniping her souls. and then she'd meet this guy who would touch people and bring them back to life. Then he would touch her, she'd go back to her family for part of the second season, then he'd touch her again and she'd go back to her reaping duties." When Dead Like Me got cancelled after the first season, he "put the idea in my back pocket," and took it to Warner Bros. as a pilot idea (he apparently brought pie to the pitch meeting, as we found out during the panel). Fuller gave me a few more tidbits, especially on how the comic for Daisies came about; I'll post that later in the week.

A few fun details came out of the panel, which also included executive producer Dan Jinks and was moderated by USA Today TV writer Gary Levin. The most interesting part to me was some tips Sonnenfeld gave on how to properly direct comedy. I'll leave those details to Liz, who asked Sonnenfeld some questions about his work with the Coen Brothers. For now, I'll just show some pies:

Yes, they served pies during the after-party, to echo the profession of Pace's character Ned, who owns a place called "The Pie Hole." I saw apple, cherry, and pecan; not sure if there were others. I guess ice cream was a little too much to ask for...

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I thought the pilot episode was heavily inspired by that French movie Amelie. It's going to be very hard to shake off comparisons.

September 12 2007 at 10:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Richard Keller

A bit off topic, but Jim Dale's work on the Harry Potter CD's is just phenomonal. His characters are really first rate, and the way he paces the story keeps it very interesting. Everytime I read a Harry Potter book his voices are what I think of when the characters speak.

I'm looking forward to hearing him on the Deathly Hallows CD (which, according to the library waiting list, will be sometime next year)

September 11 2007 at 9:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Let's hope the rest of the series is better than the first episode.

September 11 2007 at 4:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Toby OB

I hope they had rhubarb pie - it gets mentioned in the pilot, even if it does get turned down. (I'd have gone for it; I love rhubarb pie!)

September 11 2007 at 4:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Sonnenfeld is ticked off because you compared his work to Tim Burton's? Hmm ... I'd rather have made "Edward Scissorhands" than "Men In Black." Still, his own comparison to "Raising Arizona" bodes well.

If you really want to tick him off, call him "Sweetie" or tell him his gadget reviews in Esquire are derivative.

September 11 2007 at 4:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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