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TV Critics Tour: Morgan Freeman may join cast of CBS' 'Madam Secretary'

Morgan Freeman and Tea Leoni speak during the

(Credit: AP / Invision / Richard Shotwell)

BEVERLY HILLS -- Morgan Freeman, one of the greats, has not really spread all that much greatness to TV in recent decades, other than his ongoing role in "Through the Wormhole" (though not as an actor, but host). So that makes his presence at a "tour" for TV programming all that much more intriguing: As is, why exactly is Morgan Freeman here? 

He's here because he's one of the executive producers, along with Barbara Hall, of CBS' new drama, "Madam Secretary," starring Tea Leoni as secretary of State. Nevertheless, why? (Lori McCreay, Morgan's production partner at Revelations Entertainment, is also an executive producer of "Madam Secretary.") 

When asked whether he might have an on-air role, he said, "not at this point" -- "at this point" being one of those pregnant phrases chock full of ambiguity and promise.

He was earlier asked whether he might at one point play the president in this ensemble cast. (Keith Carradine is currently in that role.) Evoking the Shadow's old line, said he: "One never knows, do one?"

Well, the Shadow knows. Freeman hasn't spent a lot of his career behind the scenes in a production capacity -- but he has on occasion. For example, he was an executive producer of his film "Invictus." He also starred on "Invictus."  

Freeman was asked whether he watched much TV. He paused, thought, then noted that he loved "The West Wing" -- which isn't a CBS series. He then quickly added "The Good Wife" to that short list.

Otherwise, no he doesn't -- just news.

TV Critics Tour: CBS 'Late Late Show' host could come from politics

TV personality Stephen Colbert at the 65th Annual

(Credit: Getty Images / FREDERIC J. BROWN)

Beverly Hills: All bets are off - or perhaps all bets are on - regarding the future of CBS's "Late Late Show," CBS Entertainment chief Nina Tassler told TV writers here a little while ago. The network's exploring new formats, new ideas for hosts, and possibly a whole new way of presenting something that - in basic outline - hasn't changed all that much on the broadcast networks since the era of...

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Cory Monteith's mother, Ann McGregor, speaks about son to 'GMA'

Cory Monteith. The actor was best known for

(Credit: Fox)

Cory Monteith -- star of "Glee" who died of a heroin overdose on July 13, 2013 -- was memorialized by his mother during an interview on "Good Morning America" Thursday, although in point of fact this was not so much a memorial as a cautionary to other parents whose children are struggling with drug addiction.

It's certainly grim and sad, but his mother, Ann McGregor, has a message as well. It's up to viewers to determine how hopeful that message is.

Cote de Pablo to return to CBS in 'The Dovekeepers' mini

5. Cote de Pablo: No one leaves TV's

(Credit: AP)

Cote de Pablo, who mystified/astounded the TV world when she walked away from the most viewed drama series on TV, "NCIS," will return to the network she spurned next year, in a four-hour adaptation of Alice Hoffman's "The Dovekeeper." 

 The return -- just as a sidenote -- does appear to indicate no hard feelings on CBS's part, although why she left in the first place remains one of those odd little mysteries that seemed to have nothing to do with the usual suspect, money. Even CBS said it wanted her to stay as Ziva David, a popular character on the hit...so the assumption has been ever since that the decision was hers. But who knows. The real story remains untold. 

 No matter -- show biz goes on, and so does de Pablo...In this mini from Roma Downey and her husband Mark Burnett, based on Hoffman's account of the seige of Masada, she'll play -- per the network -- "Shirah, one of the four women, who is a sensual, mysterious and fiercely independent single mother with uncanny insights and a quiet and mysterious power. She is derided by many as the “Witch of Moab,” as she covertly practices forbidden ancient rites of magic and is keenly knowledgeable about herbal remedies. However, those in need don’t hesitate to approach her for her help and generosity of spirit." 

 Arrival date: 2015.

Viola Davis back on TV in ABC's 'How to Get Away with Murder'

Viola Davis arrives on the red carpet for

(Credit: AP / Jordan Strauss)

Beverly Hills: Two-time Oscar nominee Viola Davis will mark her return to TV this fall with a starring role in ABC's "How to Get Away with Murder." Or let's make that THE starring role, which is about to catapult her into rarefied company, as only the third African-American female lead on a major broadcast drama - the others, of course, are Kerry Washington, who just picked up another Emmy nod last week for "Scandal," and Halle Berry in CBS's new summer hit, "Extant."

Some perspective on this. Before "Scandal," the last time there was a black female lead on a primetime show was back in the mid-'70s, when Teresa Graves starred in the the long-forgotten "Get Christie Love!" Soon there will be three, and TV, and culture, will change ever so perceptibly. Or, in fact, maybe it already has...

Davis Tuesday met the assembled TV press here to explain the role, and why she chose it. But the woman who put here there,  Shonda Rhimes -- overseer of "Grey's Anatomy" and "Scandal" -- first got the black-female-lead question, and dismissed it out of hand. Rhimes doesn't much like critics and doesn't much like their questions -- too many years of "Grey" bashing maybe? -- or maybe she just doesn't even think it merits attention: Let the show and material speak for themselves!

 But she was in no mood Tuesday to explore the Sociological Significance of it All: "There are no lessons" to be drawn,she said flatly. "I feel like the shows should speak for themselves." And so they should, but still...television hasn't always been known for breaking glass ceiling, and this particular one just got shattered.

That's just one reason why so much seems to be riding on this ABC mystery/thriller about a law professor and the students who may -- or may not -- abet her in the commission of a murder. The show will be written by a veteran writer on "Grey's," Peter Nowalk. And the other is Rhimes,  who will soon have three dramas on ABC. She has been called the new Aaron Spelling of the network -- or the black female one, in any case. (Rhimes Tuesday downplayed that too. "I'm feeling like I'm getting to go to work every day," but conceded that "It's exciting and a great vote of confidence fro ABC.")

Meanwhile, Davis, who plays lead Prof. Annalise Keating, was a bit more expansive on her reasons for being here: "The attraction was the material, yes. I think the day of choosing TV over film and TV somehow diminishing your career as an actor or actress, I think, has changed. I think people migrate towards material, especially after they reach a certain age, certain hue, certain sex.

"And I have to say, and I will be bold enough to say, that I have gotten so many wonderful film roles, but I’ve gotten even more film roles where I haven’t been the show. It’s like I’ve been invited to a really fabulous party, only to hold up the wall. I wanted to be the show. I wanted to have a character that kind of took me out of my comfort zone. And that character happened to be in a Shonda Rhimes show in “How to Get Away with Murder.” And so I did the only smart thing that any sensible actress would do, and I took it. I dove at it. And I love the fact that she’s messy and mysterious and you don’t know who she is. She’s not necessarily nurturing and “Come sit on my lap so I can talk to you, baby.”

Is the show actually any good? It is certainly promising (and intriguing) and I'll get into more detail about that later. But Davis is particularly good. This newcomer and its lead -- to use the old line -- appear to have legs.

 ABC, by the way, announced yesterday that "Murder" will launch Sept. 25.

Fox News host Bob Beckel apologizes for racial slur

From left, Kimberly Guilfoyle, Bob Beckel, Eric Bolling,

(Credit: AP, Invision / Carlo Allegri)

Bob Beckel, one of the hosts of Fox News' hit series, "The Five," on Monday apologized for a racial slur that he uttered - then retracted - on the air last week during a rant about China. (You can see the clip of his apology here, or below...) The bizarre episode occurred when Beckel was just warming up his anti-China diatribe, when he slipped in the term "Chinamen" -- a slur that seemed to have...

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TV Critics Tour: Meredith Vieira's un-talk show

Meredith Vieira speaks during a "The Meredith Vieira

(Credit: Getty Images / Frederick M. Brown)

BEVERLY HILLS, California -- We all remember the "uncola." Now enter, stage left or right -- your choice -- the un-talk show. A show with talk but without talk. A show that wants to be called something -- but just don't call it a talk show. Call it instead "The Meredith Vieira Show." That's good. That should do... 

 Vieira met up with the press here today aware that she would get...

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Katherine Heigl addresses 'difficult' reputation: 'I don't see myself as being difficult'

Co-stars Katherine Heigl and Alfre Woodard on the

(Credit: Getty Images / Frederick M. Brown)

Katherine Heigl? Difficult? The association of her name with that adjective is hardly surprising given the history of stories that have chronicled her relations, occasionally tempestuous, with showrunners and their shows, from "Grey's Anatomy" to whatever movie ("Knocked Up"), added fuel to the fire. But that was then, this is now, and Sunday, Heigl arrived at TCA to sell her new series -- "State of Affairs" -- but also to establish that point, while dispelling any impression that her rep was justified or even relevant.

"State of Affairs" is pretty much NBC's biggest new drama and a shot at redemption for the star. But what's intriguing here is what won't always be seen on screen -- specifically her mother, Nancy, who's reputed to be one of the toughest stage moms in Hollywood and who will in fact share an executive producer credit on this series. Nancy Heigl has been a fierce protector of her daughter and her career -- all certainly admirable traits -- but an executive producer? The first instance in all of TV history when the lead actor of a series will have a parent as backstop on the production staff? Not sure, but it is extremely unusual.

I asked NBC Entertainment chief Jennifer Salke about this earlier. Said she: "They worked together in the past. And they are, in their personal life, also incredibly intertwined. So I would call her mom-ager, her best friend, her confidante, her . . .  helping raise their children. I mean, she’s a partner in her life. So I didn’t find it surprising, and I think they have a very natural shorthand and so far, so good."


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I later asked Nancy: "Katie and I obviously have a partnership where we work in the business together. So they came to us with this maybe two and a half years ago. We loved the concept. We loved the people ... I am her mother for sure. So, of course, I care about her interests. But I’m just learning about executive producing. We’re really in the process, and I’m learning from those who really know and from NBC and Universal, and it’s been fun. It’s been interesting. I’m the newcomer to it."

It was then left to Eric Deggans of NPR to ask about the elephant in the room, her rep, as in "difficult." The question was artfully phrased -- along the lines that she had this "difficult" persona but that others had come to her defense saying that she was just someone who happens to speak her mind, and Hollywood doesn't like women who speak their mind. Or words to that effect.

Heigl took a deep breath. Exhaled. Took another. Then ... this: "I think I said [in the recent Marie Claire piece] that I felt I had stopped challenging myself ... I love doing romantic comedies. I love them, and I love watching them. But I stopped sort of exercising different muscles of my ability. And then in that moment I felt that I was sort of letting down my audience, that I wasn’t challenging them either. Why this show, why come back to television? Because it’s an extraordinary role, and it’s an extraordinary opportunity and it’s an extraordinary story. And it’s an opportunity for me to flex some different muscles and show a different side of myself as an actor and performer and storyteller that I hope my audience will be excited and love. As far as your other questions go, I can’t really speak to that. I can only say that I certainly don’t see myself as being difficult. I would never intend to be difficult. I don’t think my mother sees herself as being difficult. We always, I mean, it’s most important to everybody to conduct themselves professionally and respectfully and kindly. So if I have ever disappointed somebody, it was never intentional."

'Doctor Who' Capaldi trailer arrives, with a dinosaur, and a horse and ... Capaldi

Glasgow-born actor and Oscar winner Peter Capaldi in

(Credit: AP)

One of the great outstanding questions in all of television -- what about this guy Peter Capaldi as the 12th Doctor Who? We'll, or at least viewers in the U.K., will know much more in late August -- the 23rd -- when the eighth season (out of what? 50 seasons?) arrives on BBC One.

But in the meantime, the first full-length Capaldi trailer arrived over the weekend, and in fact during Sunday's World Cup finale telecast. This trailer -- which you can see here or here -- is certainly intriguing: This is a Who who may be full of remorse, but who is probably not, but who certainly knows how to ride a horse but who may not know how to ride a Tyrannosaurus Rex or engage an army of 'bots that look suspiciously like recombinant R2-D2s. Confused? As well you should be. Take a look, but this (and Capaldi) does appear -- to offer a Britishism -- smashing: 

 

TV Critics Tour: Christopher Walken to star in NBC's 'Peter Pan Live'

Actor Christopher Walken at the premiere of "Seven

(Credit: AP / Matt Sayles)

Christopher Walken as Captain Hook in "Peter Pan?" There is something deliciously obvious about this -- so obvious that it will in fact happen.

Walken-as-Hook was arguably the big TCA news Sunday -- and a surprise, too. (As a sidebar, NBC confirmed it had approached Kristen Bell for the role of Peter Pan; she demurred due apparently to work conflicts...) NBC's live telecast of 1954 musical...

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