Paley Fest 2019: “Star Trek: Discovery” and the new “Twilight Zone”…

The Dolby Theatre in Hollywood; home of the Oscars… and now the Paley Festival.

Way back in March of 2006, a very good friend of ours (and convention pal) helped my wife and I secure tickets to an event for the Paley Center (then it was called the MTR; Museum for Television and Radio) honoring our favorite show at the time, Ron Moore’s revision of “Battlestar Galactica.” It was a night I’ll never forget. Took place in the Director’s Guild Theatre in Hollywood, where we saw a state-of-the-art screening of the BSG season 2 finale, “Lay Down Your Burdens” part 1 (which hadn’t aired yet) and with the full cast in attendance (!). After the screening, there was a full Q&A.

^ This was the 2006 PaleyFest for “Battlestar Galactica”.

I also remember that we saw about two rows behind writer/director/actor Kevin Smith (“Clerks” “Chasing Amy”) and his wife. After the show, there was a brief ‘mingle’ period (depending on your bravery level) where I shook hands with David Eick, producer of Battlestar Galactica (as well as “Xena” and other shows). We went home on a cloud (or a Viper?). My wife and I signed up to be Paley Center members (now named after former CBS cofounder William S. Paley). Well, events came and went, and we were never quite able to attend them as often as we wanted, so we let our membership drop.

This year, our same ever-loyal friend (who is still a Paley Center member) alerted us to this year’s schedule, which had two events we might enjoy; first, a PaleyFest for “RuPaul’s Drag Race” (my wife’s favorite show, and one that I watch over-her-shoulder on occasion), and the second event, and the subject of this article, was a dual-event for both “Star Trek: Discovery” and writer/director Jordan Peele’s new “Twilight Zone” revival, debuting April 1st, which incentivizes me to keep my CBS-All Access membership during Trek’s hiatus (I see what you did there, CBS. Well played…).

Coming April 1st, 2019… Jordan Peele takes us into “The Twilight Zone”; that legendary series (1959-1964), created by the late Rod Serling, was my very first ‘TV love’ (right before Star Trek, of course).

We got our tickets and spent the last two weekends in L.A. RuPaul’s Drag Race PaleyFest was a lot of fun, but since I’m not an all-in fan of the show, many of the in-jokes and little references were lost to me, but I still had a great time; I mean, who could not be entertained by the legendary RuPaul? You’d have to have no pulse. And have I mentioned that the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood is absolutely gorgeous??

Oh, and yes, did I mention that the Dolby Theatre is gorgeous? Once or twice? Okay, moving on…
^ Press access happens on the level below our entrance into the Dolby Theatre; you can see Ethan Peck (“Spock”), Wilson Cruz (“Culber”) and Doug Jones (“Saru”) taking questions from the press and posing for photos.
Inside the Dolby Theatre; yes, our seats weren’t terribly close, but I did my best to document what I could.
The cast and producers of Star Trek: Discovery; left to right, writer/producer Alex Kurtzman (writer/producer), producer Heather Kadin, actors Sonequa Martin Green (“Michael Burnham”), Doug Jones (“Saru”), Ethan Peck (“Spock”), Tig Notaro (“Jet Reno”), Anthony Rapp (“Paul Stamets”), Mary Chieffo (“L’Rell”), Shazad Latif (“Ash Tyler/Voq”) and Wilson Cruz (“Dr. Hugh Culber”). Forgive the less-than-sharpness, but we were kind of far back…

But yesterday’s event was all about Star Trek: Discovery and Jordan Peele’s new Twilight Zone, which I’m eagerly looking forward to (especially after seeing his brilliant new thriller “Us” only the day before this latest PaleyFest). The nearly 2 hour event was well-moderated by Daniel Holloway, who asked many good questions, though the cast weren’t allowed to give any spoilers regarding upcoming episodes (the only downside). First up was the event for Star Trek: Discovery…

Producers Alex Kurtzman (who worked on the Star Trek reboot movies) and Heather Kadin listen as Sonequa Martin Green tells of her luck in landing the lead in Star Trek, and how blessed she felt getting to work with the cast and crew who very quickly became a family to her. Both Kurtzman and SMG credited the late Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s unique optimism for the future, and how it may be a reason Star Trek (in one incarnation or another) is still ongoing 53 years later.
Doug Jones listens as SMG talks about how Ethan Peck’s “Spock” became her ‘other brother’ on the show (her first being the sweet-natured Jones). Their affection for each other was both clear and heartwarming.
SMG (her nickname) describes playing a human, raised by Vulcans, who had repressed her emotions and still sometimes comes to see their release as embarrassing.
Doug Jones describes the new challenges of playing Saru in this latest season minus his ‘threat ganglia’; the constant fear of his character once being a defining trait of his “Kelpien” species. Jones half-jokingly described how the arc of Saru learning to let go of his fear was somewhat instrumental in the actor overcoming his own fears as well. Having met Jones on two separate occasions (this past January, and once way back in 2012), I can personally vouch that he is one of the kindest, humblest, most sincere people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet in show business.
New kid on the Star Trek block, Ethan Peck, describes the audition for Spock. He auditioned for the character with Kurtzman, but Spock was given another name in the script. Peck quickly figured out who the character was after talking with Kurtzman afterward, but believed his ignorance during the read helped the producer to see his full range, rather than if he’d just done an impression of the late Leonard Nimoy.
Ethan Peck reaffirmed that his version of Spock, while based on the character as played by the late Leonard Nimoy, is an earlier version and not quite as refined as we see him in The Original Series. His journey this season is to get the character to that place. Alex Kurtzman also noted that Spock’s longer hair and beard this season are windows into the character’s currently disheveled state of mind. He watched/studied about 30 episodes of the Original Series to get into that mindset.
Tig Notaro, one of my favorite comedians working today (a master of the deadpan), jokingly talks about her struggles to learn Star Trek’s infamous technobabble, since her character (“Jet Reno”) is supposed to be an engineer. Her issues were later solved with cue cards. She also joked that after her complaints about the dialogue, Kurtzman vowed to give her more of it (!). Since the PaleyFest took place on her actual birthday, the cast/producers and the audience in the Dolby Theater all sang “Happy Birthday” to her as she rose to her feet. It was a sweet moment, and the ever-deadpan Notaro took it in her usual stride. I really hope we see more of her character this year, and throughout the run of the show.
The affable Anthony Rapp talks about how Stamets isn’t always such a “prickly dick” (moderator’s words) off-duty; only about the work. The equally lovable Mary Chieffo also described how much she enjoys playing Klingon L’Rell, who is so primal and Shakespearean in her manner (Chieffo is a huge fan of Shakespeare). Chieffo talked about how she loves the gowns made for her character and she was almost moved to tears talking about the entire cast’s affection for their leader SMG, who routinely organizes gatherings to keep them close. They’ve truly become a family.
Ever ready with a raunchy joke, Wilson Cruz quipped about his character’s resurrection, noting that all of his parts are now “pristine.” He also made heartfelt comments about working with his friend of 22 years, Anthony Rapp, and how he feels so lucky to have returned to the show after the ‘death’ of his character (only in Star Trek, right?). He was also asked how he felt ‘breaking up Star Trek’s first gay couple’ (no pressure, right?). Cruz said that playing a man reborn gives him unique emotional challenges, especially how that man would just slip back into his old life. While he didn’t seem to relish breaking Stamets’ heart, he thought Culber leaving him was something the character might do upon returning to his old life.

Most of the Star Trek panel saw the cast and producers sharing stories about the changes their characters went through this season, how grateful they are to be a ‘family’, and a lot of funny, often raunchy jokes (the best parts of the evening by far).

The cast of Star Trek: Discovery makes way for the next panel…writer/director Jordan Peele’s new take on The Twilight Zone.

The Star Trek portion of the event, which ran under an hour, quickly made way for Jordan Peele and the cast and producers of CBS-All Access’ new Twilight Zone…

The cast and producers of “The Twilight Zone” 2019: actors Sanaa Lathan, Adam Scott (who’s starring in a new version of the classic “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet”), Allison Tollman, DeWanda Wise, producer Win Rosenfeld, creator/narrator/writer Jordan Peele (“Key & Peele” “Get Out” “Us”), producer Simon Kinberg (director of the upcoming “Dark Phoenix”), producer Audrey Chon, producer/writer Glen Morgan (“The X-Files”), actors Steven Yeun (who costarred with Sonequa Martin Green for several years on “The Walking Dead”), Taissa Farmiga (sister of Oscar nominee Vera Farmiga), Rhea Seehorn (who plays “Kim” on “Better Call Saul”; one of my favorite shows) and Ike Barinholtz.
Writer/director/host Jordan Peele on remaking Twilight Zone; he said, “Who wouldn’t want to do The Twilight Zone?” Peele also commented that we are living in Twilight Zone times (complete with a reality TV-star for president!). Producer Simon Kinberg noted that many of the same issues which were topical in the 1960s are still very much with us today, but that the new incarnation of the show hopes to put a modern spin on them, while keeping true to Serling’s classic (which was also remade in the mid-1980s and in the early 2000s).
Sanaa Lathan and Adam Scott tentatively and carefully discuss their roles on the closely-guarded show. Scott (and the trailer) did let slip that he is doing some kind of remake of the William Shatner-starring classic, “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet” (written by the legendary screenwriter/novelist Richard Matheson).
Glen Morgan (of “X-Files” fame), Steven Yeun (Glenn on “The Walking Dead”) and Taissa Farmiga talked much, but didn’t, or rather couldn’t give a lot of specifics (or any real specifics) regarding upcoming episodes.
Taissa Farmiga and Rhea Seehorn (from one of my favorite shows, “Better Call Saul”) joked about playing sisters in their “Twilight Zone” episode.
Rhea Seehorn‘s “Kim Wexler” on “Better Call Saul” is one of the best-written characters I’ve seen in a long time, and I am a big fan of her work on that series (one of my faves). Here she discusses working on Twilight Zone, but how I wish there was a Q&A…would’ve loved to have asked her about “Saul.” While the Twilight Zone panel was very entertaining, most of the best commentary came from the producers, since the actors were somewhat straightjacketed by their inability to give specifics on their episodes.
Steven Yeun talks about working in Vancouver for Twilight Zone versus working in Georgia (where he shot “The Walking Dead” for nearly 7 seasons). He had very fond memories of working on “The Walking Dead”, the cast of which were like a family to him. I used to watch and love that series as well, but gave up on it when it seemed to become too enamored with its own cruelty (see: Negan).
Jordan Peele confirms that each episode of the new Twilight Zone will be roughly 40 minutes each (instead of the 30 minute-1 hour running times of the originals). Peele is, in the words of “Get Out” cast member Richard Herd (“Grandpa”), whom I talked with at a convention 2 years ago, “a genius. Simply a genius.” If ever there were a person uniquely qualified to fill the formidable shoes of the late Rod Serling, it’s this talented guy. Having just seen his new movie “Us” the day before this event, I am looking even more forward to his new take on The Twilight Zone. Peele mentioned that “Us” was loosely inspired by an episode of the original series called “Mirror Image” (starring “Psycho” costar Vera Miles and “Adam-12” star Martin Milner), which had two characters encountering their sinister doppelgängers at a bus station. But unlike the episode which inspired it, “Us” also has a profound depth and sociological underpinning that the earlier Twilight Zone episode simply didn’t have, or couldn’t adequately convey at the time.
Moderator Daniel Holloway brings up the house lights of the Dolby Theatre to make note of the late Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling’s family in attendance. I couldn’t see them, and to be honest, I’m not sure anyone else did either, but they were there…somewhere.
The architecture of the Dolby is simply magnificent; echoing the earlier grandeur of old Hollywood but with a modern slickness. I’m imagining the same will be said of Jordan Peele’s new Twilight Zone.
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