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5 Things We Learned From TCA 2019: Day 1

NBCUniversal kicked off the Television Critics Association press tour’s winter session with panels including NBC comedies (“Superstore” and “Abby’s”), reality programming (“Listing Impossible,” “Project Runway”), and upcoming dramas (USA’s “Suits” spinoff “Pearson,” Telemundo’s “La Reina Del Sur”). There was not, however, an executive session from new NBC chairmen George Cheeks and Paul Telegdy, who succeeded Bob Greenblatt after he stepped down in September.

Here are five things we learned from Tuesday’s session.

The #MeToo Movement Is Being Felt on Sets

Eighteen months after the allegations against Harvey Weinstein galvanized the #MeToo movement, NBC drama actresses Jennifer Carpenter (“The Enemy Within”), Retta (“Good Girls”), Lorraine Toussaint (“The Village”), and Susan Kelechi Watson (“This Is Us”) said they can feel the impact on set. In particular, they praised the efforts of their male co-stars to better understand what working in Hollywood as a woman is truly like. “Obviously it was serious and becoming more and more obvious that more and more women experience it,” said Retta. “Guys were actually asking us about it, guys who couldn’t believe it.”

“Many men didn’t even know that this was inappropriate or offensive. It has been so commonplace,” added Toussaint. “So part of what’s happening is the re-education of men in the workplace.”

Project Runway” Aims for More Inclusivity 

A revamped “Project Runway,” coming back to Bravo after a detour to Lifetime ended with longtime host Heidi Klum and mentor Tim Gunn leaving the franchise, wants to prove that it’s a new and improved version of itself. Some designs will be made available to purchase online after the corresponding episode airs. New mentor Christian Siriano affirmed his respect for Gunn, but also added that he has a different and potentially more valuable perspective to offer contestants as a designer working in the industry. New judge Elaine Welteroth, formerly editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue, emphasized the production’s renewed commitment to inclusivity, while returning favorite Nina Garcia added that they will also have a transgender model walking the runway for the first time.

“Abby’s” Wants to Shake Up Sitcom’s Multi-Cam Format

“Abby’s,” a new sitcom about a backyard bar from Josh Malmuth and producer powerhouse Mike Schur, wants to counter potential skepticism toward multi-cams with some twists on the traditional format. The series isn’t just set outside, but is shot in front of a live studio audience on a sprawling outdoor set on the Universal lot. “It was wonderful to get to rehearse outside and be outside,” said star Jessica Chaffin. “Usually you’re in a soundstage all day, which is like you could be in Vegas, you could be 8 a.m. or 2:00 in the morning, and it all feels the same.”

Something else that sets “Abby’s” apart is the character that both the bar and show are named after, played by Natalie Morales. As her co-star Neil Flynn pointed out, she is now the first Cuban-American lead of a sitcom since Desi Arnaz. “Which is crazy!” Morales laughed. “That was in black and white.” Morales is also excited to play the first openly bisexual lead of a broadcast network sitcom without that being the only interesting thing about her. “Yes, [Abby] may date women. She also dates men. So what?” Morales said. “She was also in the Marines. She was also a bartender. There are many, many things about her. We are all multifaceted people.”

Gina Torres Will Be “Behind the 8-Ball” in “Suits” Spinoff “Pearson”

“Suits” spinoff “Pearson” centers on Jessica Pearson (Gina Torres, who also co-executive produces) and will debut approximately three years after her character left the original USA drama. Executive producer Daniel Arkin said the new series is “a very different show” but still has the DNA of “Suits.” While “Suits” was set in the world of “high-rise corporate law,” as executive producer Aaron Korsh pointed out, “Pearson” will be more at the ground-level. Jessica left New York City to “do good [and] get to the core of why she wanted to be a lawyer,” Arkin said, and the new show will see her coming up in the corrupt political world of Chicago, where she will often be “behind the 8-ball.” “You do now get to see…a fully fleshed out woman and what it costs her to be at the top of her game,” Torres said. “She was always in service to the firm but now she’s in service of her own life and what does that look like?”

“La Reina del Sur” Kate del Castillo Has Hope for Better Latinx Representation

Kate del Castillo, star of the Telemundo drama “La Reina del Sur,” told the TCA crowd that she is proud to have played a big part in broadening the horizons of female characters in Spanish-language TV. The crime boss Teresa Mendoza — which del Castillo played in the smash hit 2011 series and will reprise in a sequel later this year — was an unprecedented anti-hero who had many more flaws than virtues. That was a big leap for Spanish-language TV that inspired other series creators, del Castillo asserted.

“Now we’re still the prostitutes and still the maids but we are (also) architects and lawyers,” del Castillo said. “Everything is changing. For me, it’s still too slow. But we are making a change.” The actress, who’s also known for the drama in her private life, admitted to having a special affection for Mendoza and the many twists and turns of the character. “I’m running around, I’m trying to get back my kid, but I always have time for sex,” she said of Mendoza’s story. “I love my job.” 

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