Inside the Paley Festival: Scoop on 'Glee,' 'Lost,' 'Dexter' and More
by Laura Prudom, posted Mar 22nd 2010 3:00PM
The Annual William S. Paley Television Festival (dubbed "PaleyFest" for short) is one of the highlights of any Los Angeles-based TV aficionado's calendar, offering audiences the chance to view fresh new episodes of their favorite shows weeks before they hit the air, and grill panels of actors, showrunners and writers about their craft.
This year's 13-night schedule of events (Feb. 26-March 14) included some of the most critically acclaimed, most talked-about and most unmissable shows of the year, from newcomers such as 'Glee,' 'The Vampire Diaries' and 'Modern Family' to primetime stalwarts like 'Dexter' and 'Lost.' Now that the dust has settled and the red carpets have been rolled away, we've compiled this handy list of panel highlights for some of your favorite shows, to ensure that you won't miss out on any of the scoop that was dished out at the festival.
PaleyFest kicked off with a whole lot of laughs while honoring 'Modern Family' for the opening night presentation. Although the cast was surprisingly sparing with spoilers, creator Steven Levitan did reveal that comedy mainstay Fred Willard will be reprising his role as Phil's dad in an upcoming episode, though fan favorites such as Elizabeth Banks and Edward Norton aren't so likely to reappear. "At the Golden Globes, it was just crazy the caliber of stars coming up to us saying they wanted to be a part of the show," Levitan admitted humbly, "but I don't want it to just be a parade of guest stars. The show is really about [the family] and their relationships."
Other highlights will include Julie Bowen's long-suffering Claire going head-to-head with a mall security guard in an all-out brawl -- sounds like she didn't quite get her fill of public embarrassment after the "trenchcoat in the escalator" incident. And as a testament to Bowen's comedy chops, Levitan revealed that almost every pilot script he'd come across this year called for a "Julie Bowen type" in the breakdown, so look out for more hot-but-dorky moms across the board this fall.
Perhaps the most disturbing revelation came from the creative team, regarding just how many of the cringe-worthy moments we love to live out vicariously through the Dunphy-Pritchett-Tucker clan have actually been inspired by the writers' real life experiences. From walking into a child's bedroom in their underwear during a video chat, to a wife thoroughly smashing a universal remote control, to a father shooting his son with a paintball gun, it sounds like Levitan and co-creator Christopher Lloyd are making a biopic, not a sitcom.
The hotly-anticipated 'Lost' panel proved to be the source of some grumbling after the majority of the show's epic ensemble cast failed to make the trip from Hawaii (and really, who could blame them?) to join in on the Q&A -- many fans were left disappointed that only Terry O'Quinn, Michael Emerson, Nestor Carbonell and Zuleikha Robinson were in attendance to represent the actors.
Still, the executive producers had plenty of dirt to drop to make up for the lack of star power at the panel. Viewers will find out whether Desmond switched seats or actually vanished from Oceanic Flight 815 in an upcoming episode. O'Quinn teased that he's currently playing "a guy you won't see until the final episode," and the writers are determinedly trying to write dearly departed Walt (Malcolm David Kelley) back into the show before the end, while four-legged favorite Vincent the dog will definitely be making a reappearance. And in perhaps the most bizarre observation of the night, co-creator Carlton Cuse admitted that, eagle-eyed (or eared) viewers who noticed the bird that seemed to be saying Hurley's name as it flew overhead weren't imagining things -- it was indeed calling out the fan-fave's name; in fact, a few birds have allegedly said Hurley's name throughout the show. All will be explained before the series wraps up ...
While the fifth season of 'Dexter' hasn't even begun shooting yet, the writers have broken the story, and it doesn't involve jumping forward in time to see if Dexter's spawn have inherited any of daddy's psychotic tendencies -- at least not yet. Following the shocking demise of Dexter's lovely wife Rita (Julie Benz), the show has plenty of fertile story lines to explore, with next season focusing on Dexter's emotional turmoil following the murder. Not to mention the fact that the cops will be looking at Dex as a "person of interest" in the wake of the tragedy, which might shine an uncomfortable light in the direction of his extracurricular activities.
For the time being, it also seems like Dexter's sister Deb (played by Michael C. Hall's real-life squeeze, Jennifer Carpenter) is not going to find out about her brother's messy appetite for murder. "It's important for the series that no one knows Dexter's true identity except for Dexter himself," said executive producer Sarah Colleton. "Otherwise things come into play with how everyone reacts to who he is, and that's a different story."
'The Vampire Diaries'
Over the years, PaleyFest has become synonymous with the after-panel rush for the stage, during which fans shove handfuls of merchandise up to the actors for autographs. Maybe it's just that the 'VD' cast were Paley newbies, or perhaps they were afraid they were going to get bitten, but whatever the reason, after the Q&A, the cast fled the stage like -- pardon the pun -- a bat out of hell, which caused no end of controversy. Before that, though, everyone seemed pretty loose-lipped about spilling spoilers, which puts them in our good books, at least.
Melinda Clarke will be joining the cast, "for as long as she'll have us, basically," executive producer Julie Plec told TVOvermind on the red carpet, while Spencer Locke will be making a one-off appearance, and a "smoldering, sexy" Stephen Martines is set to join the cast for a few episodes. 'Heroes' and 'Alias' alum David Anders is also locked to appear as Jonathan Gilbert, a vampire hunter who will feature as a direct rival to Ian Somerhalder's bad boy vampire Damon. Anders' character will also serve as the catalyst that brings Damon and Stefan (Paul Wesley) closer together -- the hunter intends to make Mystic Falls aware of the vampires in their midst, which is something the hunky Salvatore brothers want to avoid at all costs.
Creator Kevin Williamson also teased that an upcoming flashback episode will shed some light on the brothers' emotional back story. "My favorite is watching some of the flashbacks where you get to see Damon in such a vulnerable place," he said. "You can see his essence, you can see his relationship to Stefan at a time when their relationship was different." And for those that love season-ending cliffhangers (there's got to be someone out there who does), Williamson warned that there could be anywhere from six to nine in the season finale alone. "Not really cliffhangers," he clarified, "but big story points where we'll hopefully tease the next season, but at the same time just answer things, reveal things, create more questions and just sort of end with a bang."
It's no wonder 'FlashForward' is short on viewers; judging by the number of cast and creative members who turned up to PaleyFest, most of the world is probably working on the show. In attendance were Joseph Fiennes, John Cho, Dominic Monaghan, Sonya Walger, Jack Davenport, Courtney Vance, Gabrielle Union, Christine Woods, Zachary Knighton, Peyton List and Michael Ealy, along with creator Brannon Braga and executive producer Jessika Borsiczky, none of whom seemed too concerned about concealing spoilers.
Straight out of the gate, Borsiczky revealed that the final 12 episodes of the season will have "big answers in every show" rather than simply relying on "questions that lead to more questions." Yes, 'Lost,' we're looking at you. She also pointed out that the cartoon that is featured on the show, 'Tim Tim and Squirrelio,' not only uses the vocal talents of the cast, but also has a story of its own going on, which will come to fruition later on.
On recurring characters, Borsiczky teased that Ricky Jay and Shohreh Aghdashloo will hopefully be making returns. "Ricky Jay plays a big part on the show and I don't want to say too much about it, but he has a really cool part," she said, before hinting at a dangling mystery about Aghdashloo's character that will either be resolved this season or next.
By far the biggest night of PaleyFest (in terms of both attendance and revelations) came courtesy of 'Glee' -- every major cast member (aside from Lea Michele) appeared, as well as creator Ryan Murphy, exec-producers Dante Di Loreto, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan, and dreamy guest star Jonathan Groff (who made his debut in the April 13 episode, 'Hello,' which was previewed in its entirety for the salivating crowd of Gleeks in attendance). The biggest surprise of the panel was just how much the notoriously spoiler-phobic Murphy revealed about the upcoming episodes, with everything from guest stars (Neil Patrick Harris! Kristin Chenoweth! Julia Roberts?!) to their must-have playlist.
In addition to the Madonna-themed episode -- which will feature a whopping 10 Madge tracks, including Jane Lynch's Sue Sylvester recreating 'Vogue' -- Murphy also hinted that the writers were planning to tackle an episode featuring wholly original music, which, given the caliber of the show's writing, should prove even more spectacular than their covered tracks. Also on the horizon, an episode which honors the power of theatricality by featuring a Lady Gaga song; Kurt (Chris Colfer) performing 'Rose's Turn,' and two duets from Matthew Morrison and Neil Patrick Harris -- one by Aerosmith, the other by Billy Joel. And even though Finn (Corey Monteith) has turned his attention to Rachel following the win at sectionals, it hasn't deterred Kurt from his homoerotic fantasies one bit. In fact, our favorite fey fashionista masterminds a genius plan to hook up his single dad with Finn's single mom in an effort to move in with Finn.
Murphy confirmed that we haven't seen the last of Puck (Mark Salling) and Rachel's Jewish romance -- "Puckleberry," as the cast calls them, is set to return, along with some long-awaited resolution for the sexual tension between Artie (Kevin McHale) and Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz). Fans of The Doors, Lionel Richie and the Beatles will be pleased about the song list for the April 13 premiere, while fans shouldn't hold their breath for the music of Bryan Adams and Coldplay to appear; both turned down the show's offers to feature their tracks.
And for those of you who aspire to be the next victim of a slushie facial, Murphy also spilled the news that an audition Web site is currently being set up so that "average kids" can upload demos to win a walk-on role for an upcoming episode.
PaleyFest 2010 might be over, but all of our favorite shows are about to return! Let us know what you're most excited to see back in the comments below.
Follow Laura on Twitter: @LauinLA.