There’s always plenty of surprises, who-knew and they-said-what moments during the parade of TV show panels at the Television Critics Assn. press tour. Day two of the summer tour that runs through Aug. 9 featured presentations from Discovery Channel, Science Channel, Animal Planet, Investigation Discovery, ESPN and HBO.
Here are five things we learned from Wednesday’s sessions:
1. Investigation Discovery is taking time out from its steady diet of murders, murders and more murders for a documentary take on the First Amendment and the challenges it faces in the digital era and at a time of rising distrust of the media. The multipart series targeted to debut next year is dubbed “Don’t Stop the Presses.”
2. The panel for ESPN’s “30 for 30” documetnary on Ric Flair, the pro wrestler known as “Nature Boy,” provoked a surprising level of excitement among the TCA crowd. Flair told the crowd he would dearly love to get back into the ring but “they won’t let me.”
3. Mark Duplass had a TCA double-header, appearing during Discovery’s “Manhunt: Unabomber” session and again during HBO’s presentation for his new anthology drama “Room 104,” which bows July 28. The show, co-created with his brother and longtime collaborator Jay Duplass, is a look at strange things that happen in the same room of a nondescript motel chain. Each half-hour seg is completely different in tone, style and look from up-and-coming directors chosen by the brothers. “It’s great for us to be able to get weird and have HBO give us money to do it,” Mark Duplass said.
4. Speaking of directors, HBO’s roster includes a 150-minute documentary on the career of Steven Spielberg. Producer-director Susan Lacy credited the renowned filmmaker with giving her plenty of access — including 17 lengthy interview sessions — with no strings attached. Nor did the Oscar-winner try to steer the content of “Steven Spielberg.” Her subject didn’t see any of the film until the doc was complete, which was a relief for Lacy. “What happens if Steven Spielberg doesn’t like your movie,” she recalls asking herself as he screened the finished product. “If I had thought about that I think I would have been frozen and immobilized and not able to do it.”
5. The weightiest panel of the day was the discussion of “Baltimore Rising,” a documentary on the city in the aftermath of the unrest provoked by the 2015 death of African-American man Freddie Gray while in police custody. Director Sonja Sohn, a co-star of HBO’s “The Wire,” took on the project as a means of highlighting the grassroots work that is being done to advance social justice in the city. Amid the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement, “people in Baltimore were engaging in a much more sophisticated argument than I was hearing in other cities,” Sohn said. Baltimore activists Kwame Rose and Makayla Gilliam-Price and Baltimore Police community policing chief Melvin Russell, all featured in the doc, also testified to the importance of focusing on change at the local level, as “Baltimore Rising” documents. “There is a lot of good work happening in Baltimore that gets zero (media) coverage,” Rose said.
(Pictured: “Baltimore Rising’s” Sonja Sohn and Melvin Russell)