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Paley Festival: "Pushing Daisies" Panel

I've been going to the Paley Festival for a few years now, ever since I moved out here from New York about, oh, six years ago now. (Good god, has it really been that long?) Even when the panels aren't that, well, exciting, they still manage to entertain and provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse at some of your favorite series.

I needn't have worried about Saturday evening's Pushing Daisies panel being dull, especially with the uber-talented Bryan Fuller and nearly the entire cast--save narrator Jim Dale and Swoozie Kurtz (sadly at her ailing mother's bedside)--assembled at the historic Cinerama Dome at the Arclight in Hollywood. I cannot explain how magical it was to see Fuller, writer Peter Ocko, Lee Pace, Anna Friel, Chi McBride, Kristin Chenoweth, Ellen Green, and executive producers Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen all up on stage together as their series is about to begin its second season. (Take that, cancellation mongers!)

Instead of screening an entire episode (like the series' beautifully filmed pilot, directed by Barry Sonnenfeld) as these events typically do, the team assembled a clip package that offered some plot points from the first nine episodes and some character-specific clips. While it seemed a little like an EPK to me, it was great to see some of the scenes and memorable moments from Season One play out on the Cinerama's screen. (And the clip package was preceded by a fantastic Lee Pace scene from Fuller's Wonderfalls. )

Overall, I did feel that moderator Kristin Dos Santos (of E!'s Watch with Kristin) was perhaps a tad too chummy with her subjects (recounting several times her dinner with Fuller before he pitched Pushing Daisies to ABC) but she was head and shoulders above some of the other moderators who have taken the stage at this events. (I won't name names but longtime readers know of whom I speak.)

The good news: the writing staff is back at work on Pushing Daisies' second season (kicking off this fall on ABC) after the strike and Fuller admitted that the downtime helped them reevaluate the plot and tone of the second season and take a step back to see what worked and what didn't during the series' freshman year. "We got to look back over the first season to see what worked and what didn't work," said Fuller. "The [Season One] arc was more of a soft romance, and we want to do something harder--a more aggressive style of storytelling--in the second season. I think we learned a lot of lessons."

As for what to expect during Pushing Daisies' second season (which starts shooting June 17th), Fuller and co-producer/writing partner Peter Ocko (who created CBS' short-lived 3 Lbs.) were notoriously tight-lipped. But they did say that Chuck will definitely find out that Aunt Lily is her birth mother (the audience found this out in the "Corpiscle" episode that will now function as Daisies' first season cliffhanger).

While the reveal of Chuck's parentage was originally intended to be a minor storyline, its prominence at the end of the truncated first season has now thrust it into the spotlight and Fuller and Co. have reconfigured the second season to play up this reveal. "It's going to be interesting to see how she reacts to that information and how the Pie Maker tries to control her trajectory and how that will complicate their relationship," said Fuller. "There are going to be some nice surprises."

Chuck may also learn that her resurrection has some unintended side-effects, like never growing old, alluded to by fellow alive-again Digby's youthful visage. Also on deck for Season Two: Emerson's tantalizing sub-plot, which involves his missing daughter: the very reason he became a private detective in the first place. And we'll finally learn that, yes, Ned does not eat meat. Fuller intended this to be explicitly stated in a scene which had appeared in numerous episode scripts this past season but always ended up getting cut. "Yes, he is a vegetarian," said Fuller, "because whatever he ate would crawl right back out..." (Ick.)

Meanwhile, for those of you hoping to hold the first season DVD in your greedy little hands, you'll have to wait a little while; Fuller announced that a release is planned for September in the US. (Brits, you're a little luckier: Pushing Daisies' DVD release for Blighty is slated for June.) And, oh, a soundtrack--which would definitely feature the musical stylings of Kristin Chenoweth and Ellen Greene--is said to be in the works as well.

The oft-repeated question of where the inspiration for Pushing Daisies came from was asked: "Dead Like Me was about a girl who died and became the grim reaper and took lives," Fuller recounted. "It was only natural to consider the inverse of that, where a guy who touches lives can bring them back."

While that character was planned for Dead Like Me, Fuller kept the idea in his pocket when he departed the Showtime series and held onto it for several years. And, wouldn't you know it, just happened to pitch Daisies to ABC just when the network was looking for a television series in the vein of Amelie, one of his favorite films.

To keep things interesting while writing the pilot episode, Fuller inserted all of his quirky, whimsical likes into the script, including making Ned a piemaker. "I was just putting as many things that would make me happy as I could in the pilot: dogs, bees, honey and pies," recounted Fuller. "I shoehorned them all in." (Ahem, and monkeys, as Fuller had recounted to me.) Fuller also listened to the soundtrack for Barry Sonnenfeld's The Addams Family continually on a loop while writing the pilot script.

What else did we learn?

-That Ellen Greene laughs like a donkey and said that most people had thought she "was dead." The stage fright-prone actress (best known for her role as Audrey in the original Broadway production and subsequent film of Little Shop of Horrors) was absolutely articulate, touching, and lyrical about the nature of acting, why characters burst into song ("when they can't speak, they sing and when they can't sing, they dance"), and how producers Bruce Cohen and Dan Jinks promised her she could sing for sweeps. (And sing she did, memorably singing "Birdhouse in Your Soul" with Chenoweth in the episode "Pigeon.")

-That Percocet is a miracle drug. This fact courtesy of Chenoweth, who recounted the painkiller's magical effects, which she experienced first-hand after she broke a rib and then had to shoot the Olive-centric episode "Girth" early on in Season One. She and McBride have a hilarious, teasing relationship. Chenoweth joked that she could tell when he needed to trim his nose hairs; he fired back that he could eat crackers off the top of her head. (Yes, they are funny and adorable.)

Chenoweth also joked that she wanted to do some scenes with Young Ned and Chuck--Field Cate and Sammi Hanratty, both in attendance--as they were all the same height. Chenoweth currently has blonde hair extensions (put in for her role as Reese Witherspoon's sister in the upcoming film Four Christmases) and joked that the hair came from a Russian girl named Svetlana and recounted that she once set her hair on fire after the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade during a bout of tummy upset. But don't get too attached to her shoulder-length tresses; it hasn't yet been decided whether she'll keep them for Pushing Daisies' second season.

-That Lee Pace and Anna Friel do accidentally touch while filming scenes together. Friel is supposedly the bigger offender ("I always do it," she admits); Fuller joked that she was a fraterist and always rubbing people. Pace said that he uses the constraint to inform his movements in the scene and often sits on his hands for fear of accidentally ruining a shot by brushing against Friel.

-That Chi McBride is absolutely hysterical (which I discovered when I interviewed him last year), especially when he's poking fun at himself and the rest of the cast. One of the many highlights of the evening: McBride's ongoing joke about none of the cast looking to do television until Pushing Daisies came around. (McBride said he needs someone to pay for his kid's future tuition at Dartmouth... or he'll end up going to DeVry.)

After Anna Friel's British accent elicited gasps from some audience member who assumed she was American, McBride quickly tried to clear up any confusion about Friel's Blighty heritage: "Anna is from Long Beach and she's rich," deadpanned McBride. "Those are real diamonds she's wearing!" Friel's reaction? She shimmied the rhinestone-laden white dress she had poured herself into earlier that evening. Really, the woman is absolutely gorgeous.

-SPOILER ALERT! For fans of The Nine ("the first network show named after the audience," joked McBride), McBride revealed one pivotal plot point that had puzzled the series' relatively small coterie of fans. "I did it!" he proclaimed. "[Malcolm] had too many bills." That's one mystery solved.

-That Pace's favorite moment of the series so far is in the pilot episode, when Ned holds his own hand and pretends it belongs to Chuck, unaware that Chuck is doing the same thing. "I just remember kind of doing it and looking at Anna and going, 'God, I hope this goes!'" said Pace. Aw!

-That Fuller's wish list for guest stars includes Carol Burnett, whom I would absolutely love to see drop in at The Pie Hole. (Fingers crossed that Fuller can make this one happen!)

All in all, a fantastic evening revolving around one of my favorite new series on television today (or, hell, any day). While it's going to be quite a few more months until we can see new episodes of Pushing Daisies, I for one am already giddy with anticipation about catching up again with Ned, Chuck, Emerson, Olive, Aunt Lily and Vivian, and all the rest. Even if it means waiting until this fall...

What's On Tonight

8 pm: How I Met Your Mother/How I Met Your Mother (CBS); My Dad Is Better Than Your Dad (NBC); Gossip Girl (CW); Dancing With the Stars (ABC; 8-9:30 pm); Canterbury's Law (FOX)

9 pm: Two and a Half Men/New Adventures of Old Christine (CBS); Deal or No Deal (NBC); Pussycat Dolls Present: Girlicious (CW); The Bachelor: London Calling (ABC; 9:30-11 pm); New Amsterdam (FOX)

10 pm: CSI Miami (CBS); Medium (NBC)

What I'll Be Watching

8 pm: Gossip Girl.

It's another chance to catch up on the teen soap. On tonight's repeat episode ("Seventeen Candles"): Blair tries to conceal tensions with Nate as her 17th birthday approaches, Dan brings Vanessa to the party so that she can Serena can spend some time together.

9:30 pm: Old Christine.

On tonight's episode ("Burning Down the House"), Christine tries to prove to Barb that she has a wild side.


Anonymous said…
I am so jealous that you got to go to this panel. Why does everything cool have to happen in LA? Thanks for the write up for those of us who couldn't make it across the country for this. I miss Pushing Daisies and reading this made my day.
Anonymous said…
Great post. I too wish that I could have been there and tried to get tickets ahead of time. Let's hope that PD stays around long enough to warrant another Paley Festival panel.
The CineManiac said…
thanks for the write-up. Wish I could've been there and I'm completely jealous you're going to the Chuck panel Tuesday.
I'll be looking for you on Thursday.
Anonymous said…
Agreed with all - it was SUCH a good panel.

Chi cracked me up. I love him.
Truly an enjoyable event. It was nice to see such a funny and well-connected cast being both sweet and goofy together. And Bryan Fuller is truly amazing. I really miss the show and am so glad that it's coming back for a second season!
Anonymous said…
Lucky bastard. Wish I was there.

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