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TV Critics Tour: A death in 'The Simpsons' family

Will Krusty the Clown die?

(Credit: Fox Broadcasting)

Beverly Hills -- Fans of "The Simpsons" learned some time ago that the show would "kill off" a key character this season -- "kill off" being but a transitory condition in the realm of animated series often but not always measured in episodes, or until the fan outcry is so annoying that the creators have no choice but to relent and bring the deceased back to life. 

 But that's beside...

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James Garner: An appreciation

James Garner, in character, on April 7, 1982.

(Credit: AP / Anonymous)

Combative, intelligent, sensitive, hard-driving, tough and above all talented, James Garner -- who died Saturday at the age of 86 -- did share one trait in common with so very many gifted people: He was complicated. He took a cauldron of life experiences and turned them into choices that defined to some extent what we see on television today, for the rootstock of Walter White is indeed, to some not so remote extent, Jim Rockford. (Both shared one thing certainly in direct proportion -- the double wide trailer...)

Garner came from Norman, Oklahoma and it is fair and accurate to say that Norman, Oklahoma never left him. He arrived -- one of three brothers, to a mother who would die by the time he was four -- in a world that was about to be desperately impoverished.

The land would be scoured to the bone by prevailing winds that would turn the middle of the country into a stretch of dust and sand. His father was an alcoholic and his step-mother a monster -- or so he would recall in his late-in-life memoir (that in parts doubled as payback.)

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Garner learned to use his fists and discovered, and maybe feared, a temper that he couldn't always control.

Garner was also one quarter Cherokee -- the tribe brutally decimated, then "forcibly removed" by Andrew Jackson to a place no one wanted: Oklahoma. He was deeply proud of his Indian heritage (and named his production company, Cherokee.) Hence, the idea of Garner as a Western TV "hero" in a '50s era serial certainly had intriguing if not in the moment exactly promising potential -- especially considering the casual and implicit racism that haunted the TV western over its long run.

He didn't want to play Maverick. He was a contract player for Warner Bros. and he was told to do it -- no discussion, no negotiation. It was a studio play that turned him against the System and ultimately forged one of Hollywood's most litigious stars. Garner wasn't exactly the Curt Flood of movies and TV, but he was certainly part of the wave -- initiated first by Cary Grant -- that ultimately broke the studio's iron hold over stars and talent. "Maverick," in which Garner appeared in only 52 episodes, was actually an important part of that history.

Garner, of course, didn’t play Maverick like the usual laconic white hat, who rode into town, ordered a whiskey and then promptly -- or eventually -- put a bullet in the guy wearing the black hat. He was witty, bemused, ironic, suave, intelligent, and full of a sense -- not explicitly stated -- that the world was mad and he was just another member of the asylum. You could almost apply the exact same description to Jim Rockford, who arrived over a decade later.

Garner's best roles, or certainly his most memorable roles, reflected Garner to greater or lesser extent. That was part of his appeal, part of his enduring success. Write what you know, writers are told. Garner acted what he knew.

As mentioned, Garner was conflicted; that's no surprise and you could see it on screen. He wanted the money and success that came along with the major roles -- but he didn't want the indentured servitude, as he thought of it before he sued the studios to release him from both "Maverick" and "The Rockford Files."

It's hard to know who was in the right or wrong over those long ago and now forgotten lawsuits, but it's easy now to take Garner's side. After all, who's going to take the side of a studio run by someone like Jack Warner? In fact, Garner had badly damaged his knee in basic training years earlier, and had other assorted injuries during a brutal tour of duty in Korea, as an infantryman. (He was nearly killed, twice, by the way, and had a pair of Purple Hearts as testament. )

Garner was hospitalized at one point for the bad knee -- he did many of his own stunts on "Rockford" -- and the studio, Universal, interpreted that as work stoppage. It sued, Garner counter-sued. "Rockford" was dead, except as a series of movies that kept the franchise going. "I'll accept a lot before I snap," he once said. "But I do snap."

Rockford and Maverick, as characters, broke a long tradition of the hero-as-violent: Who used the gun as a means of settling any argument or removing any impediment. Garner said he was proud that he rarely used his gun as Rockford, and never shot anyone. Rockford hated guns, and in fact he would often be on the receiving end of violence. But like Garner, if pushed, Jim shoved back.

Rockford endured because he had a certain magic that only a gifted actor can instill. But he also endured because the man who played him knew him so intimately. Viewers thought they were seeing someone entirely real, or thought they were.

It's also worth noting in this all-to-brief appreciation that some of Garner's big screen roles were jewels -- at least three were classics, "The Americanization of Emily," "The Great Escape," and "Murphy's Romance," for which he received a late-in-career best actor nod.

Nevertheless, it was TV that would provide the mirror of the man. That mirror reflected one of TV's finest actors who helped to expand the boundaries of what was possible on the medium. Garner will be missed, and in fact already is.

James Garner dead at 86; a look back at his iconic roles

Actor James Garner, left, smiles as he holds

(Credit: AP / Lennox McLendon)

James Garner, one of TV's great and iconic actors, has died age 86 — and before we get to the appreciation, please appreciate these series of clips that illustrate Garner's natural ability to convey sex appeal, intelligence, authority and, above all, charisma in dozens of TV roles, and many, many movie ones as well.

As his old pal (and co-star) Julie Andrews has written of Garner, "he owns...

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TV Critics Tour: New Showtime series, 'The Affair,' to be shot on LI

British actress Ruth Wilson, who will star in

Beverly Hills -- "The Affair," a Showtime newcomer arriving in October and starring Ruth Wilson and Dominic West, will be shot over the full 10-episode season in Montauk, showrunner Sarah Treem said yesterday.

And yes - that is unusual because the Hamptons and points east are considered (in fact are) enormously expensive places to shoot a series, while other LI-based series, like "Royal Pains"...

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TV Critics tour: 'Homeland' arrives in October

This photo released by Showtime shows Claire Danes

(Credit: AP)

Beverly Hills -- "Homeland" will be back Oct. 5 -- a Sunday, so don't bother checking the calender. The return date was announced here Friday, and just to add a little salt with that pepper, Showtime also unveiled the first new season tease (see below).

This season -- by the way -- is currently in production in South Africa... South Africa? Yes, South Africa, and not because the storyline...

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TV Critics Tour: Wentworth Miller joins 'The Flash'

Wentworth Miller as Michael Scofield on Fox's "Prison

(Credit: Fox)

Beverly Hills -- CW's "The Flash" - easily one of the more enjoyable new pilots (and hopefully series) of the 2014 fall season - will add Wentworth Miller to the cast, as Leonard Snart, or perhaps better known to fans as "Captain Cold." Announced Friday by the showrunners, who already had strewn a handful of other Easter eggs throughout this newcomer, for fans of both the long-running DC Comics...

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TV Critics Tour: Mark Harmon to appear (sporadically) in 'NCIS: New Orleans'

Scott Bakula joins the new CBS "NCIS" spinoff

(Credit: AP)

Beverly Hills -- And now, "NCIS: New Orleans." Not to be confused with "Los Angeles" or simply "NCIS" - the mother ship that itself was spawned from a long-ago CBS procedural, "JAG," and which proved that there's no such as a good and well-executed idea that can't be repeated over...and over...and ...over again.

"NCIS" doesn't get a whole lot of critical love, or Emmy love, but both are utterly...

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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.

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