Tuned In: 'Sharknado' director moonlights with television critics

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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- One of the stranger discoveries of the Television Critics Association summer 2013 press tour is that the director of the Syfy social media hit cable flick "Sharknado" is one of us.

"Sharknado" director Anthony Ferrante is not a member of TCA, but he's a familiar presence at press tour as a journalist credentialed by the networks to cover the event.

And it turns out, he's also the director of several low-budget horror films.

Mr. Ferrante said he was attending the current press tour, while juggling meetings thanks to the "Sharknado" success, because he had previously scheduled assignments for Geek magazine. Over the years he has also worked or freelanced for Cinescape, If and Assignment X.

He started working on movies eight years ago doing special-effects makeup and second unit work while his day job as a journalist paid the bills.

"Sharknado" was the second film he directed for Syfy, and he said he has written five or six others.

As for the social media success of "Sharknado," it caught him by surprise.

"I thought people would go, 'These guys are high. It's unhinged,' " he said, particularly because there are no military or science types in the movie to address the notion of sharks caught up in a tornado over the ocean then dropped onto land.

"With Syfy, you pitch a lot of crazy stuff," Mr. Ferrante said. "Sooner or later you'd end up with sharks in a tornado."

His favorite pitch Syfy didn't bite on: "Benjamin Frankenstein."

Mr. Ferrante said he thinks "Sharknado" became a buzzy hit because it's a "safe" disaster film: Viewers don't have to worry about anything they see in it ever happening in real life.

Now he says folks in Hollywood are coming out of the woodwork wanting to have meetings with him, which he is taking but without forsaking his prior commitments. "Sharknado" was shot in 18 days on a $1 million to $2 million budget. Now Mr. Ferrante just wants to direct more movies with bigger budgets. His dream goal: directing a superhero film based on Marvel's "Moon Knight," his favorite comic book.

Mr. Ferrante said he's not yet signed for "Sharknado 2," but it sounds like he expects to be back. The concept is to move the film's setting to New York, and although he admits it may be difficult to come up with anything more outrageous than Ian Ziering chain sawing his way out of a shark, he has dreams of a "Towering Inferno"/"Die Hard"-style scene of sharks in a skyscraper. "Sharknado 2" will air on Syfy in July 2014.

With his directing career poised for liftoff, Mr. Ferrante acknowledged this may be the last TV critics press tour he's able to attend. Or maybe he'll be back for a panel on "Sharknado 2" at the January TCA, moving from his seat among journalists in the audience to the stage where stars, writers, directors and executives sit during press conferences.

"That would be the most bizarre thing," he said. "We'll see where everything heads."

Interest in "Sharknado" continues unabated. The movie hit a ratings high -- 2.1 million viewers -- in its third airing on July 27. Shortly after that, Syfy announced plans for "Sharknado" merchandise, including possibly T-shirts and posters. The Hollywood Theater in Dormont will play "Sharknado" at 7 and 9 p.m. Friday.

"A woman came up to me at Comic-Con and said, 'Thank you for making this movie. I've seen it six times,' " Mr. Ferrante said. "When you make movies you want to get a reaction, and to think I made some lady happy with this silly little movie, that made my day."

'Masterchef' with kids

Fox's "Masterchef Junior" (8 p.m. Sept. 27) looks cute, and I'm sure children, who watch more Food Network than you'd think, will love it, but I'm still not a fan of putting kids on reality shows.

Children may think they want to go on TV as themselves, but they don't consider the consequences of opening themselves to abuse. At least child actors are shielded somewhat by playing characters; kids on reality shows are just themselves. So when viewers inevitably tear them down on social media sites, there's no artificial barrier to protect them.

Consequently, I'm not a fan of the casting of "Masterchef Junior" regardless of how entertaining it may turn out to be. But I have no doubt a little blond girl named Sarah will be the show's breakout star. She's a firecracker.

"I've seen almost all of Gordon Ramsay's shows, but I wasn't really frightened about it because he can't be really mean cause we're kids!" Sarah said.

Mr. Ramsay said he didn't think he swore while filming the show, although the kids corrected him and said he swore twice.

"I think he got frustrated with some of the waiters, but it was never toward us," said young Dara. "He has kids."

Mr. Ramsay said he thinks pressure on kids is healthy, whether they're playing basketball or competing on "Masterchef Junior." He also tried to frame it as an educational exercise in learning to cook for the show's young contestants, who range in age from 8 to 13.

'The Goldbergs' on ABC

ABC's "The Goldbergs" (9 p.m. Sept. 24), a family comedy told through the lens of a video camera-toting preteen son, has the potential to be a hit -- if it doesn't give viewers headaches.

Based on the childhood of executive producer Adam Goldberg ("Breaking In"), the Goldbergs have a tendency to yell. A lot. Probably too much in a pilot that's otherwise sweet and nostalgic.

Jeff Garlin ("Curb Your Enthusiasm") stars as the voluble family patriarch. He defended the show's sound level.

"There are a couple quiet moments. Did you ever watch 'Seinfeld'?" Mr. Garlin said. "Yelling's good. Yelling is funny. When it became annoying I'll stop and I'll be the first to notice. Until then, I'll yell. ... Jews and Italians -- we love our yelling."

Mr. Goldberg said his real-life family, who are featured in the pilot's end credits, is fine with him cherry-picking from their life, even his brother, who became a sister for "The Goldbergs."

"His only issue is he does not run like a tool. He wanted everyone to know that," Mr. Goldberg said. "My mom was most excited. This just validated everything she ever did."

Some viewers are sure to see some similarities to "The Wonder Years" -- albeit instead of an '80s show looking back at the '60s, this is a 2010s show looking back at the '80s -- which producers used as part of their pitch for the series to ABC.

"Enough time has gone by that you look at it fondly," said executive producer Doug Robinson. "I think what's old becomes new again. Every 25 years, people are ready to look back."

Pittsburghers on 'Street'

PBS's "Sesame Street" returns for its 44th season on WQED on Sept. 16 with several Pittsburgh icons making guest appearances and a new Cookie Monster segment, "Cookie's Crumby Pictures."

This new five-minute Cookie Monster segment is designed to provide children with strategies and activities that promote self-regulation.

In addition, a new Latino neighbor, Armando (Ismael Cruz Cordova), moves onto the block.

Steelers star safety Troy Polamalu and "Mike & Molly" star Billy Gardell, a Swissvale native, will be among the celebrity guests in the show's new season.

Pop culture spoofs scheduled to air include "Homelamb" (a take-off of "Homeland") and "Sons of Poetry" (a riff on "Sons of Anarchy").

Channel surfing

An alternate ending to MTV's "The Hills" will air as part of "RetroMTV Brunch" at 11:30 a.m. Friday.


A portion of this column originally appeared online in the Tuned In Journal blog. Post-Gazette TV writer Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour. Follow RobOwenTV at Twitter or on Facebook. You can reach Rob at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com.


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