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TV Notes
Bianculli's Best Bets
By David Bianculli, - Jan. 27, 2015

NBC, 8:00 p.m. ET

Two more episodes are shown tonight – and in one of them, Leslie organizes a rally to try and save her favorite diner, with a “Save J.J.’s” campaign. Hey, I know how she feels – if I ever felt Egg N’ You in Ft. Lauderdale was threatened, or Twohey’s in Alhambra, or Ponzio’s in Cherry Hill, I’d be right there on the front lines…

ABC, 9:00 p.m. ET

There aren’t many more episodes for this spinoff series to earn a renewal, so its ratings, and other key metrics, have to improve, and fast. That’s the stark reality – and tonight, the tycoon in hiding, Howard Stark himself (played by Dominic Cooper), makes an appearance, finding Carter (Hayley Atwell) to, perhaps, help save the day.

Showtime, 9:00PM

Now this will be interesting. It’s a one-hour special devoted, as always this time of year, to just one game: in this case, an advance analysis of Sunday’s Super Bowl XLIX. And this is one place where, for sure, the very latest in Deflategate will be debated and, most probably, deflated.

FX, 10:00 p.m. ET

The final season continues to build momentum. Tonight, it’s not only Raylan’s investigation that begins to deepen and darken, but also Boyd’s own problems, conflicts and adversaries. These include Mary Steenburgen, who’s having a field day, and so much fun playing against her usual sweet-as-can-be type, portraying Katherine Hale, a woman with an icy heart and a coldly calculating illegal business scheme to match. And wait, that’s not all: Here comes Sam Elliott…

TCM, 10:00 p.m. ET

This 1976 movie, one of my all-time favorites, is a superb condensation of one of the most important crime stories of the 20th century – one that reached into the Oval Office, altered the course of history, and inspired a generation of journalists, including myself. Nowadays, you can watch it as a quaint reminder of how information was sought, and obtained, before you could type words into an Internet search engine – and how the cinema once lionized not superheroes, but everyday ones. Even ones with a press pass…
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Nielsen Overnights (18-49)
‘Super Bowl’s Greatest Commercials’ surges
CBS special averages a 2.1 in 18-49s, up 11 percent from last year
By Toni Fitzgerald, Media Life Magazine - Jan. 27, 2015

With the winter storm hitting the East Coast Monday night, viewers were apparently happy to stay in and watch ads of Super Bowls past.

The CBS special “Super Bowl’s Greatest Commercials” drew its best numbers since 2010.

“Greatest” averaged a 2.1 adults 18-49 rating at 8 p.m., according to Nielsen, up 11 percent from last year.

It also hit five-year highs in total viewers (10.77 million) and 25-54s (3.1).

Elsewhere Monday, ABC’s “The Bachelor” was up a tenth from last week, to a 2.2 in 18-49s, tying a season high.

The CW’s lineup surged, boosting the network to its best Monday in total viewers (1.65 million) since October 2011.

“The Originals” hit a season high with 1.7 million viewers and was up 17 percent week to week in 18-49s (0.7).

Lead-out “Jane the Virgin” built on last week’s growth, hitting its second-best viewership (1.6 million) and 18-49 rating (0.6) and tying a series high in 18-34s set last week with a 0.6.

Fox’s “Sleepy Hollow” also rebounded from last week’s low, rising a tenth to a 1.4 at 9 p.m. despite a slightly smaller lead-in from “Gotham,” which slid a tenth week to week to a 1.4.

ABC led the night among 18-49s with a 1.8 average overnight rating and a 5 share. Fox was second at 1.7/5, NBC third at 1.6/5, CBS fourth at 1.5/4, Univision fifth at 1.2/4, CW sixth at 0.4/2 and Telemundo seventh at 0.6/2.

As a reminder, all ratings are based on live-plus-same-day DVR playback, which includes shows replayed before 3 a.m. the night before. Seven-day DVR data won’t be available for several weeks. Forty-nine percent of Nielsen households have DVRs.

At 8 p.m. ABC was first with a 2.2 for “Bachelor, while CBS and Fox tied for second at 2.1, CBS for “Greatest” and Fox for “Gotham.” NBC was fourth with a 1.8 for “Celebrity Apprentice,” Univision fifth with a 1.4 for “Mi Corazon es Tuyo,” CW sixth with a 0.7 for “Originals,” and Telemundo seventh with a 0.6 for “Los Miserables.”

ABC was first again at 9 p.m. with a 2.3 for more “Bachelor,” followed by NBC with a 1.9 for more “Apprentice.” CBS and Fox tied for third at 1.4, CBS for a repeat of “Scorpion” and Fox for “Hollow.” Univision took fifth with a 1.3 for “Hasta el Fin del Mundo,” CW sixth with a 0.6 for “Jane the Virgin” and Telemundo seventh with a 0.5 for “Tierra de Reyes.”

At 10 p.m. CBS, NBC and Univision all tied for first, each with a 1.0 rating, CBS for a repeat of “NCIS: Los Angeles,” NBC for “State of Affairs” and Univision for “Que te Perdone Dios.” ABC was fourth with a 0.9 for a “Castle” rerun and Telemundo fifth with a 0.8 for “Dueños del Paraiso.”

CBS was first for the night among households with a 5.3 average overnight rating and an 8 share. ABC was second at 4.6/7, NBC third at 3.7/6, Fox fourth at 3.2/5, Univision fifth at 1.6/2, CW sixth at 1.0/2, and Telemundo seventh at 0.8/1.

* * * *

Nielsen Notes (Cable)
Strong DVR growth for Fox’s ‘Empire’ premiere
By Media Life Magazine Staff - Jan. 27, 2015

Fox has had early success with its new drama “Empire,” and the premiere episode also performed well among DVR viewers.

The series premiere posted a 5.6 live-plus-seven-day DVR playback rating among viewers 18-49, according to Nielsen, up 47 percent, or 1.8 ratings points, from its original 3.8 live-plus-same-day rating.

The 1.8 growth was the third-highest during the week ended Jan. 11, behind ABC’s “Modern Family” and CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory,” which each grew by 2.2 ratings points with seven-day DVR viewing added in.

“Empire” was also No. 5 for the week in DVR growth among total viewers, adding 4.05 million with seven-day DVR playback for an L+7 total of 13.95 million. [CLICK LINK BELOW TO SEE CHARTS]
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TV Notes
R.V.s and Stolen Kidneys: Life on the Fringes in ‘Justified’
By Jeremy Egner, The New York Times - Jan. 25, 2015

The FX crime drama “Justified,” which began its sixth and final season last Tuesday, unfolds in a fictional version of Harlan County, Ky. — a place of cellphones and late-model sedans that nonetheless “may as well be wherever ‘Harry Potter’ takes place,” said Jere Burns, whose conniving Wynn Duffy is a fan favorite. “I don’t know what that’s called, but it may as well be that, because you have people there who would not seem to exist anywhere else.”

Such eccentrics are key to the gonzo tone of “Justified,” which is based on stories by the crime laureate Elmore Leonard. Timothy Olyphant, as Raylan Givens, and Walton Goggins, as Boyd Crowder, represent the bourbon-soaked yin and yang of the series. But a galaxy of guest stars — whether fretting over stolen kidneys, living in R.V.s or stuffing bills into dead pigs — have over the years added both outré detail and a geographical constancy to what might otherwise be a more methodical, rural cops-and-robbers show.

Most began as bit players well aware of the fragility of life on a series with a high body count. David Meunier, who played Johnny Crowder, Boyd’s cousin-emy, said that a seemingly innocent inquiry — Have you read the next script? — became a frequent joke among the guest stars.

“The response was: ‘No I haven’t, do I die?! Am I dead?’ ” he said. “There was always that sort of hanging question.”

But due in part to a fluid production process, which welcomed last-minute script tweaks and input from all participants, most of the characters here had multiple death sentences commuted — those who grasped the show’s morally complicated, Leonardian sensibility could be un-terminated with extreme prejudice.

“If you get that tone and can be believable and funny and scary, and all of those things at once,” Mr. Burns said, “then they’re going to hold on to you.”

(This article may contain spoilers.)

JERE BURNS, Wynn Duffy

Mr. Burns, a sitcom star in the 1990s, has found a second career playing villains on cable series like “Burn Notice” and “Bates Motel,” as well as “Justified.”

Wynn Duffy, an arch, scheming middle manager in the show’s Dixie Mafia, arrived in Season 1 for what was supposed to be a two-episode arc ending in a fatal standoff with Raylan. But a writers’ reprieve kept him around, and he’s since been at least tangentially connected to nearly every criminal enterprise on the show.

A confirmed murderer, drug dealer and extortionist, Duffy remains oddly likable, something even Mr. Burns has a hard time explaining.

“Maybe everybody relates to Duffy’s just trying to figure out a way to survive,” he said. “If he has to kill people, so be it. If he has to grovel, so be it. If he has to live in a motor home, so be it.”

Ah yes, the motor home, which is Duffy’s permanent residence in an inspired bit of quirky detail that also has logistical production benefits. “We can just drive the motor home to wherever we happen to be that day and shoot a Duffy scene,” Mr. Burns said.

He can’t reveal whether Duffy survives the final season, but he did suggest what a happy ending might look like for him, whether it ever comes to pass: “Just getting out of Harlan with a little cash and some dignity intact.”

“Well no, dignity doesn’t really play into it,” he corrected. “Getting out of Harlan alive, with some cash and a full tank of gas in the Winnebago.”

DAVID MEUNIER, Johnny Crowder

Mr. Meunier’s Johnny Crowder, the sometime sidekick, sometime Judas to Boyd, reached the end of his rope last season when his cousin killed him in a Mexican desert.

Making it that far was an achievement, however, considering that Bo Crowder, Boyd’s dad, blasted Johnny off a porch with a shotgun at the end of Season 1. True to the fluid nature of the show, Mr. Meunier went home after filming, not knowing if he’d ever be back. “They said, ‘We don’t know if Johnny’s going to live or die,’ ” he said.

Months later, Mr. Meunier had given up on returning when he was suddenly asked to report to the set the next day. He arrived for his costume fitting, confused to find “a whole rack of sweatpants and pajamas and bathrobes,” he said.

“The costume designer said: ‘Oh you don’t know? You’re in a wheelchair with a colostomy bag,’ ” he said. “And I went: ‘Great! I’ll take the sweatpants.’ ”

Mr. Meunier is the only one of the “Justified” actors assembled here to have died before this season, but he doesn’t expect to get lonely in the boneyard. The producers have said that they aim to take things back to the core three characters from the pilot — Raylan, Boyd and Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter) — which means “the landscape has to be stripped clean,” Mr. Meunier said. “I imagine everyone’s gonna get taken out.”


Ms. Miller’s Ellen May, a sweetly dim, doe-eyed prostitute with a knack for seeing too much, was marked for death so many times, a reporter can be forgiven for forgetting recently that the ax never actually fell.

“It doesn’t surprise me that you thought I was dead,” Ms. Miller said, kindly, responding to a misguided query. “I seriously almost died four or five times.”

Ellen May arrived in Season 2 and went on to witness multiple murders, the primary source of her troubles. The writers planned to kill her off twice in Season 3 and at least twice more in Season 4, Ms. Miller said, before deciding to keep her around to contribute comic relief and a little heart.

“The story became, when are we going to kill her?” she said. “And then it just never happened.” Season 4, her last, ended with Ellen May in protective custody.

Ms. Miller still marvels that a one-episode bit part blossomed into a role that was pivotal by the end of her run. Though she hasn’t been tapped for the final season (yet), she wishes that Ellen May, wherever she is, would hang up her hooking shoes for good and maybe start a family.

“I hope she has a good life,” she said. “She probably doesn’t, but I hope for her sake that she does.”


Oh, Dewey.

“Justified” is full of untimely demises, but Dewey Crowe’s, in Tuesday’s season premiere, felt like one of the show’s cruelest cuts. Because for all of the villainy Dewey aspired to as a would-be pimp, gangster or white supremacist enforcer, his general ineffectualness made him more of a sacrificial lamb, or a “mangy dog,” as Mr. Herriman put it. “You kind of feel sorry for the dog, because it’s pathetic.”

A sort of dunce Zelig since the pilot episode, Dewey probably peaked early last season, Mr. Herriman said, when a court settlement allowed him to buy the local bar and brothel. “That’s about as successful as that guy could imagine being,” he said.

That dream lasted about as long as it took for Raylan Givens, his perpetual tormentor, to shoot a hole in his above-ground swimming pool. But the character’s showpiece came in Season 3, when Dewey’s knack for both baroque victimization and abject gullibility coalesced in an episode in which he was convinced that his kidneys had been stolen. (Spoiler alert: They hadn’t.)

On Tuesday, Dewey was perhaps a coal-mine canary for the final season, clinging to the old days while everyone else was moving on, including Boyd, who executed him. Mr. Herriman allowed that finally letting go of the character felt strange but “satisfying as well.”

“The Dewey Crowe story, from the pilot through to the end, was such an amazing experience for me,” he said. “I can’t feel anything but satisfaction.”


A few years ago Graham Yost, the creator of “Justified,” called Mr. Williamson with a proposition to play a “black hillbilly godfather.”

“He says, ‘Don’t laugh,’ and I said, ‘Well I gotta get the laugh out, because it’s pretty funny,’ ” Mr. Williamson said.

Ellstin Limehouse, who will have a significant role in the final season, emerged more or less as advertised: the boss of an insular African-American community who dabbles in protection, underworld banking and world-class barbecue. His porkers are the Swiss Army knives of the operation, serving as dinner, authentic piggy banks — their carcasses are occasionally stuffed with cash — and cleanup crew. “All those hogs are there for more than just barbecue — Limehouse will make you disappear,” Mr. Williamson said.

This season brings a “more elevated level of desperation,” Mr. Williamson said, and he promised plenty of machete play for Limehouse, something loyal viewers will recall from the Season 3 finale. That was when, in one of the show’s more outrageous moments, Limehouse quite literally disarmed a sleeve-gun-wielding mobster played by Neal McDonough. Mr. Williamson recalled that an excited Mr. McDonough, an old friend, called him after reading the script.

“He screams, ‘Dude! You’re gonna chop my arm off!’ ” he said. “There’s so much cool stuff going on with this show — it’s gonna be missed.”

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TV Notes
Katie Holmes returning to TV with big Showtime role
By James Hibberd,'s 'Inside TV' Blog - Jan. 27, 2015

Katie Holmes is returning to TV to join the third season of Showtime’s Ray Donovan.

Marking her first major series commitment since her breakthrough role on teen drama Dawson’s Creek, Holmes is set to appear in a season-long arc as a “shrewd and chic businesswoman and the daughter of a billionaire producer (played by another recent major hire for the drama series — acclaimed actor Ian McShane) who enlists fixer Ray’s (Liev Schreiber) services.

Holmes had a small-screen role in the 2011 cable miniseries The Kennedys and is known for film roles like The Ice Storm and Batman Begins. Ray Donovan is now Showtime’s second most-watched series after Homeland and is expected to return this summer.
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TV/Business Notes
‘Wolf Hall’ Dueling Debuts Pit Big-Bucks Broadway Versus Free TV
By Jeremy Gerard, - Jan. 27, 2015

EXCLUSIVE: These days, theater buffs can choose between two versions of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into The Woods — Rob Marshall’s big-screen extravaganza with tons of stars and the Roundabout Theatre Company’s off-Broadway presentation of loosey-goosey Fiasco’s stripped-down, story-theater version with no stars at all, at the Laura Pels. But that’s small beer compared to the coming showdown between the dueling productions of Wolf Hall, each offering lavish takes on Hilary Mantel’s best-selling novels — one free, the other really expensive. Isn’t it bliss?

As you know, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s two-part, six-hour production of Mantel’s drama of intrigue, lust, betrayal and general bad behavior in the court of Henry VIII is coming to Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre. It’s one of the biggest cross-the-pond events since the RSC’s Life And Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby sailed over back in the day when Roger Rees could play a juvenile. Like Nick/Nick, Wolf Hall arrives with “hit” stamped all over it (the two books, Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, both won the Man Booker Prize). And like that RSC production of the Dickens novel, Wolf Hall comes with a flotilla of rave reviews for Mike Poulton’s deft adaptation and Jeremy Herrin’s staging, including from you-know-who at the NY Times. The $4.5 million show begins performances on March 20, officially opening April 9. The lead producers are man-about-Broadway Jeffrey Richards and his partner Jerry Frankel.

But hold on! A few days ago, another Wolf Hall adaptation opened, on TV in the UK, courtesy of the BBC Two via Colin Callender’s Playground Entertainment and Company Pictures. (Colin Callender! Wasn’t he instrumental in bringing Nick/Nick to the television audience? Indeed he was.) The six-part miniseries, filmed on location (castles, horses, etc.), stars two-time Tony winner and deliverer of arcane acceptance speeches Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell; Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn; and another Tony owner, everybody’s favorite Miss Saigon Engineer, Jonathan Pryce, as Cardinal Wolsey.

The first hour in the six-part series kicked off January 21 and man booker, the critics were shouting hallelujah. “This is event television, sumptuous, intelligent, and serious, meticulous in detail but not humourless or po-face,” wrote Sam Wollaston in The Guardian. (“Po-face“?) Not to be outdone, the Sunday Mirror‘s Kevin O’Sullivan called it “a masterpiece” that is “close to perfect television.”

Speaking of masterpiece, the series will have its American debut on the Public Broadcasting Service’s Masterpiece — beginning April 5. That’s smack in the middle of the Broadway previews. Broadway producers generally hate it when there’s competition from movies or TV, even though Mamma Mia!, Chicago and Hairspray all benefited at the box office from revived interest after the movie versions came out. But those shows were already in profit when the films were released. In the case of Wolf Hall, which needs to fill the Winter Garden’s 1,526 seats (non-premium orchestra seats are $250 for both parts), customers will have to decide between navigating the Broadway gauntlet to see the live performance or putting on those Royal Family Coat-Of-Arms pj’s and snuggling up in front of the curved-screen HDTV.

In truth, it’s no laughing matter. PBS depends on such British imports for support as much as Broadway producers depend on ticket buyers. So is it a competition?

Not at all, says Richards, who has emerged in recent years as one of Broadway’s go-to guys for risky shows. “They’re two entirely separate entities. I can only hope one seeds the other.” He said that the show has a healthy advance, though I can attest that it’s not doing the $13.5 million reputed to be the record-making advance sale so far for Larry David’s upcoming debut, Fish In The Dark. But it’s respectable.

Richards did admit that the timing is curious. “We heard the PBS series might be in the fall, and then they changed it to the spring,” he said. “They planned it that way.”

“Wolf Hall was briefly considered for the fall schedule, but the April date was settled on months ago,” says Ellen Dockser, a spokesman for Boston-based WGBH, which presents Masterpiece for PBS. “We put it in the spring schedule so it could be eligible for the 2015 Emmys. The scheduling of the TV show and the play is a coincidence. Of course, we hope it’s a happy coincidence that benefits both productions.”

Callender — while all but howling over what he called “the tsunami of reviews” from the UK TV critics — also didn’t want to look like he was, er, reigning on Broadway’s parade. “We had no input on the scheduling decision made by PBS,” says Callender, a former head of HBO Films, before going all diplo on me. “I think the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts,” he said, dubbing it “WolfHallMania in Manhattan.”

Said the ever-optimistic Richards, “People can’t get enough of something when there’s interest.” Especially when there’s interest in the principles.

And here’s the latest stop-the-presses update that makes Wolf Hall particularly of-the-moment: “The BBC adaptation of Wolf Hall is a deliberate ‘perversion’ of historical fact, Professor David Starkey has said, as he argues its star shows too much emotion,” howls The Telegraph.

“Prof Starkey, the academic and broadcaster, said the television adaption of Hilary Mantel’s award-winning novels had ‘not a scrap of evidence’ behind some scenes.

“Saying the stories, about the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell in the Tudor court, were ‘wonderful fiction,’ he added the characters of Cromwell and his arch enemy Thomas More had been misrepresented.”

Call Joe Califano!
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Nielsen Notes (Cables)
Cable News Ratings: CNN Surges, MSNBC Struggles in January
By Jordan Chariton, - Jan. 27, 2015

In a month where the terror attack at the office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo dominated cable news for weeks, CNN saw the most gains.

The network went wall-to-wall with Anderson Cooper, Chris Cuomo, Jake Tapper, and others on-the-ground in Paris to cover the attack and its aftermath. Viewers responded: compared to January, 2014, CNN was up 63 percent in total viewers during the day, attracting 516,000 viewers, and up 71 percent in the coveted 25-54 demo with an average of 168,000 viewers.

In primetime, the net grew 48 percent in viewers, averaging 602,000 viewers, and up 72 percent in demo viewers with an average of 225,000 viewers. Sister network HLN also had a strong start to the year, up double digits in all measurements. The network, which premiered social-media-laced shows “The Daily Share” and “Jack Vale: Offline” in January, was up 39 percent in total viewers and 32 person in the demo during the day. In primetime, HLN was up 19 percent in viewers and 12 percent in the demo.

CNN saw the most growth, but Fox News remained number one, marking 157 months atop the cable news ratings heap. Even with the milestone, FNC was down in every measurement except for primetime demo viewers compared to the same time a year ago. Fox was up three percent in the primetime demo, averaging 272,000 viewers.

But in total day, Fox lost 11 percent of its viewers, averaging 972,000 viewers, while also losing 13 percent of its demo viewers, attracting 191,000 viewers. And in primetime total viewers, FNC was down 13 percent with an average of 1,475,000 viewer. In early primetime (7pm-11pmET), Fox ranked third in all of basic cable in total viewers.

It’s important to note: part of Fox News’ decline can be attributed to the network being blacked out on Dish Network for three weeks as the two sparred over a new contract. Dish has over 14 million satellite subscribers, so the lack of Fox News availability for three quarters of the January was a definite factor in the network’s declines.

And for MSNBC, who’s in the midst of a noticeable on-air change geared toward more in-depth reporting and less punditry, it was not the strongest start to 2015.

The network—who sent daytime anchor Ronan Farrow to Paris in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack—was down double digits in all measurements: down 20 percent in total day viewers (323,000 viewers); down 37 percent in the 25-54 demo (93,000 viewers); down 23 percent in primetime viewers (518,000 viewers), and down 39 percent in the primetime demo (141,000 viewers).

Although the month wasn’t great for MSNBC TV, MSNBC’s “The Shift”—which debuted in December— helped see significant growth on the night of The State of the Union. From 9-11pmET, total unique visitors grew 130 percent and total video starts were up 267 percents vs. last year’s State of the Union.
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TV Notes/Q&A
Sam Elliott on Joining Justified, His Mustache, His Voice, and The Big Lebowski
By Bruce Fretts, (New York Magazine) - Jan. 27, 2015

Don’t be fooled by online impostors claiming to be Sam Elliott. “I don’t tweet, I don’t do Facebook, I don’t do any of it,” growls the 70-year-old character actor whose famously smoky voice is the exact opposite of a Twitter. Nearly as much as his voice, Elliott is known for his bushy walrus mustache, which is why he’s almost unrecognizable on Justified, as he plays the clean-shaven Markham, a pot baron who returns to his old Kentucky hometown to stir up trouble in the sixth and final season of FX’s crime drama (Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT). With his character making his debut tonight, Elliott talked with Vulture about the show, his voice, and hipsters with facial hair.

Were you familiar with Justified before they cast you on the show?
I was. I watched it early on, then I got away from it. I’m not one to sit around and watch anything religiously on TV. But I was fascinated with the quality of it from the get-go. I was tickled when they came my way, to be honest with you.

How does it feel joining the show in its final season?
I tell ya, it’s ****in’ chaos at the moment. [Laughs.] Walton Goggins is off doing a movie [The Hateful Eight] with [Quentin] Tarantino in Colorado, so everybody was scrambling to get him out of town. The last few days have been particularly difficult for everyone. It’s the nature of the beast, with the ongoing writing right up until the moment of shooting and a lot of different characters to satisfy on both sides of the camera. It’s a challenge, but it’s a treat. For someone who’s been in this game as long as I have, to get back into doing some regular television work, it’s a great experience. It’s a different world from when I was doing TV years ago.

Do you feel like the whole industry has changed?
The game has changed. The worm has turned, no doubt about it. Simply by virtue of the digital world, it’s opened a lot of doors.

Did they explain to you what your character was up to before you signed on, or are you learning as you go along?
We’re all learning as we go along. He had money and got out of Harlan, figuring he was going to get fingered for some crime, and went to Colorado and got into the legal dope business. That’s what brings him back to Harlan: He’s going to try and start buying up land to be ahead of the curve when it gets legalized in Kentucky. I learned that much about him, and the rest unfolds as it goes along. Nobody gets out of there alive, it seems like, so I’m expecting to be amongst the dead before it’s over.

Why did you decide to play this character without your trademark mustache?
I didn’t have it when they cast me, and I didn’t have time to grow one that I wanted to wear on weekly episodic TV. So I left it off, and I’m glad I did. It helped me a lot with this guy to look different than I did in most of the work I’ve done. And I never combed my hair straight back, either, so that’s a new thing. That seems absurd, probably, but it’s that little subtle stuff that makes all the difference in the world.

I don’t know if you’ve been to Brooklyn lately, but facial hair is all the rage with hipsters. How do you feel about that?
We’re all a bunch of lazy bastards. We’re too lazy to shave anymore. I see all these people with 12 o’clock shadows or whatever they’re supposed to be. They’re on every TV show, and now it’s in commercials as well. It’s like, Jesus Christ! I was one of the first guys who grew hair on his face in the old days. There’s a lot of weird **** going on out there these days that I don’t understand.

Your voice is so distinctive. How old were you when it changed?
I was pretty young. I was in cherub choir — my mom dragged me to church when I was 4 years old. It started to develop, and when I was in middle school, it dropped. I wasn’t going to sing tenor anymore after that. It’s served me well.

Do people recognize you as soon as you open your mouth?
That’s the joke around my house, especially since I shaved off my mustache. Just keep your mouth shut and everything will be cool.

You’re the voice of Smokey Bear. I read you two were born on the same day: August 9, 1944. Was this fated to be?
I didn’t know that until last year, when Smokey turned 70. So the cat’s out of the bag on how old I am. I knew about him when I was a kid because my dad worked for the Fish & Wildlife Service, and I spent a lot of time in the Sierras. Every once in a while, you’d see these wooden statues of Smokey. The fact that the campaign started the same day I was born is quite a trip.

You narrate The Big Lebowski as the Stranger. Does it surprise you that movie is bigger than ever 17 years later?
It’s surprising to be part of something like that. The Coen Brothers are ****in’ geniuses, and that’s no secret.
They’ve been making good movies from the get-go, and they continue to do so. Everything about that movie spoke to someone. [Jeff] Bridges is the Dude, like it or not. It’s really nuts. They have these reunions every year all over the country, these Lebowski-fests. It’s like, what? Really? Everybody wears bathrobes and gets sloshed on White Russians and sits through a midnight screening. But I’m not surprised. Good work has a way of hanging around.

Do any of your other movies rival its popularity?
It’s The Big Lebowski, Road House, and Tombstone. That’s the big three. And it’s really because they repeat that **** all the time. None of them had great box office, and I wasn’t so good in any of them. You just can’t escape them. They keep showing up.

Your first credited movie appearance was in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, so you got off to a good start.
That did well, but I was literally a shadow on the wall in that movie. I had one line, and it was off-camera.

Even though your wife, Katharine Ross, starred in that movie, you didn’t meet her until you made the horror flick The Legacy together in 1978. Do you ever wish you had met on a better film?
The Legacy, for what it was, was all right. Therein lies the legacy. The legacy was my life with Katharine. I can’t pooh-pooh the movie. I have in the past, but you get smarter when you get older. I look back fondly on falling in love with Katharine that winter in England. It wasn’t a bad place to be.

What’s the secret to your marriage’s longevity?
We stay out of town, and we don’t get in too deep. We don’t believe all the **** in the rags. And we work hard. Katharine and I have a lot in common. We’ve got a 30-year-old daughter [Cleo] that we’re deeply in love with and still incredibly close to. Life’s good. We live in Malibu and have horses and dogs and cats and chickens. We shovel ****, man. That keeps you humble.
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