Globe and Mail television critic John Doyle is attending the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Pasadena, Calif., this week.
We, the gathered TV critics, are here to talk about TV shows and the TV racket, not celebrities. But sometimes the celebrity thing gets in the way. Let me explain.
Back in the summer when this TV-critics-on-tour thing took place in the environs of Beverly Hills, Calif., I was kinda smitten. This sort of thing happens all the time in the 90212, as the whole world knows.
I was smitten with New Girl and the show’s star, Zooey Deschanel. Yeah, me and millions of other people. The pilot episode was a small masterpiece of silliness. Deschanel played Jess, a gal with a broken heart who moved into an apartment with three guys and everybody tried to be nice to each other. If you didn’t see it, no point in explaining.
Since then, stuff happened. New Girl debuted to great ratings. An instant hit. Lots of people fell for it and a small handful of ridiculously grumpy critics hated it. The show quickly evolved. It became less about Jess and more about the guys she lived with – Schmidt (Max Greenfield), the guy who thinks he’s hot and keeps taking off his shirt; Nick (Jake Johnson), who is all brokenhearted and sweet; and Winston (Lamorne Morris) the athlete who is easily bored. All hilarious.
Other stuff that happened included Deschanel separating from her husband of two years, filing for divorce and having her finances splashed all over the entertainment news. Oh, and several Golden Globe nominations for New Girl.
On this TV-critics-on-tour thing we are ensconced in the more sedate environs of Pasadena. No matter where we are, the central rule holds – we talk to the stars about the show, not about their personal lives. And they talk to us about the shows, not their lives, messy or otherwise. It’s don’t ask, don’t tell.
Thus it was peculiar to watch things unfold over a 24-hour period on Sunday and Monday. Zooey Deschanel turned up three times in that period.
First, Fox organized a panel of people from three sitcoms: New Girl, Raising Hope and Breaking In. Actors and creators sat and joshed for an hour. Deschanel and New Girl creator Liz Meriwether, who appear to be joined at the hip, talked about the Golden Globe nomination. Deschanel said she had slept in and missed the news. But she’s looking forward to Sunday’s awards event and has no fear of zingers from host Ricky Gervais. “I can’t wait. I worship Ricky Gervais, and I can’t wait to hear any insults that he might have. Him insulting me is the best problem I could possibly get.”
On Sunday evening Deschanel was at the Fox party along with several of her co-stars. She had her photo taken on the red carpet. “Zooey Deschanel Doing Well Post Divorce” was the caption on one celebrity-obsessed website. “Zooey Looks Adorable” said another.
At the party, Deschanel talked to the critics for a few minutes and essentially said she was totally enjoying New Girl. That’s it.
On Monday afternoon most of the critics got on a bus and went to the sprawling Fox lot where we visited the set of New Girl. Deschanel wielded a microphone and showed us around. She took us into Jess’s room and showed us the unfinished knitting project that Jess was working on. She told us she does some knitting too and sympathized with Jess for not getting it finished. Everybody thought that was way cute. Which it was.
Asked about how much she and other actors contribute to the show’s script and humour, Deschanel said, “We’re allowed to be actors and contribute. And I think it’s not always that way. I think a lot of actors feel, you know, stifled. And this is such an open atmosphere. We have so much freedom. We’re allowed to play and have fun. And it’s a wonderful atmosphere to work in.”
While all of these press events unfolded for the critics, Deschanel’s personal life was the subject of fevered discussion in other media. Apparently when her lawyer filed for her divorce from husband Ben Gibbard (from the band Death Cab for Cutie), he included papers that revealed her finances and expenses for the world to see.
So anyone who is curious – and many are, judging by the copious coverage – knows that the actor makes about $95,000 (U.S.) a month, has expenses averaging $22,550 a month. And she has three credit cards, AmEx, Visa and Mastercard, all of which have a zero balance. In her bank account she has $1,578,000. She has stocks and bonds worth $1,645,000 and personal property valued at $693,300. She drops $1,000 on groceries and household supplies a month, spends $500 eating out and $800 on utilities. Her monthly phone bill is $300. She also donates $1,500 a month to charity.
The detail is highly unusual and her lawyer probably made the document public entirely by accident. But the info is out there. Deschanel is being called “thrifty” all over the place.
And yet over those 24 hours and all the encounters with us, nobody asked her about the divorce or her personal finances. Nobody.
After the visit to the set, the bus was stuck in traffic. It took hours to get back to Pasadena. Some of us chatted. A fellow critic told me that after that comedy panel on Sunday he’d been waiting for a word with Deschanel. Another reporter got there first. After asking something about the Jess character, the reporter also asked, bizarrely, if Deschanel had “dating tips” she wished to impart. Deschanel stared at her, said nothing, turned around and walked away.
That’s fine. That’s the way it should be. Don’t ask, don’t tell on Zooey Deschanel. There might be an elephant in the room as far as some media are concerned, but we are, after all, critics.
INSIDE THE TV RACKET
Bill Lawrence, co-creator and producer of the ABC show Cougar Town, is miffed that ABC has put the show on hiatus, reduced the number of episodes airing this season and been vague about a return date. So he crashed the TV Critics Tour. Lawrence threw a cocktail party for critics in the hotel bar the night before ABC’s presentation, bringing cast members Courteney Cox, Busy Philipps and Christa Miller. Asked if he might be annoying ABC, Lawrence said he didn’t care – “I think you could run over someone’s dog, but if you have something that’s worth money they’ll put it on [the air] the next day.”
ABC Family Channel president Michael Riley describes the shows The Secret Life of the American Teenager and Switched at Birth – “groundbreaking storytelling,” “iconic characters” and “warm, positive, optimistic environment.”