Tuned In: Larry David curbs 'Curb' for HBO cable movie

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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Viewers who have been pining for more episodes of HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" will have to be content with HBO's "Clear History" (9 p.m. Saturday), a cable movie that plays very much like an overlong episode of "Curb."

Larry David, star of "Curb," stars in "Clear History" as a character similar to his "Curb" alter ego. He plays long-haired bearded Nathan Flomm, an electric car marketing executive who gets into an argument with his boss (Jon Hamm, "Mad Men") and winds up giving up his stake in the company just before it takes off. Flash forward to 10 years later and Nathan, tired of being humiliated for his bad decision, has changed his name to Rolly -- and his look to that of classic Larry David -- and moved to Martha's Vineyard where his past threatens to catch up with him.

Directed by 1986 Carnegie Mellon University grad Greg Mottola ("Adventureland"), "Clear History" isn't all that different from "Curb," down to the cringe humor and dum-de-dum background music. At least one "Curb" cast member, J.B. Smoove, also has a role in "Clear History," which further emphasizes the similarities.

At a late July HBO press conference, Mr. Mottola said he had concerns about both similarities and dissimilarities to "Curb."

"What kept me up at night was the worry that the movie was going to be either too much like 'Curb' or not enough like 'Curb,' " Mr. Mottola said. "There was no right answer trying to do any of it."

For his part, Mr. David said he was torn between making another season of "Curb" and making a movie.

"I thought, perhaps it's time I tried something else," he said. "So I decided to do the movie. It's not like, 'Oh, I have these ideas that I can use on 'Curb,' but I want to do them in a movie.' Because I wasn't thinking that way. I was thinking either of doing either one or the other, and I just thought it was time to try something else."

Like "Curb," "Clear History" was entirely improvised.

"There's a 35-page treatment which had all the scenes and what was going to happen in the scenes," Mr. Mottola said, "but none of the dialogue."

Mr. David hasn't settled on whether he'll return to "Curb" now that he's done with "Clear History."

"I really don't know," Mr. David said. "I couldn't say. Ask me in six months. ... I'm just an indecisive fellow. You should see me at a restaurant."

Mr. Mottola isn't the only person attached to "Clear History" with Pittsburgh ties. Pittsburgh native Michael Keaton has a small role in the film. It was Mr. Mottola's second encounter with the actor.

"I was a fan since I was a kid," Mr. Mottola said. "My first ever job was working as an extra on the movie 'Gung Ho.' There's a scene where I walk straight into [Mr. Keaton] and he picked me up and put me aside and somehow that shot ended up in the film."

Mr. Mottola shared that incident with Mr. Keaton when they met on the "Clear History" set.

Mr. Keaton plays a crazed backwoods character with a "Beetlejuice"-esque voice.

"In the script, he was described as a cross between Robert Shaw from 'Jaws' and Captain Ahab," Mr. Mottola said. "Michael brought a lot of his own ideas, that jumpsuit and the glasses and we talked about doing a kind of voice, and it does have a little 'Beetlejuice' in there, but Michael just has ways of doing things like no other person. No other actor would make the choices Michael would make."

PBS import challenges

When it comes to "Downton Abbey," PBS has no plans to move up the American premiere despite seasons airing in England several months earlier, leading to the potential for spoilers and pirating.

And why should they? "Downton" ratings keep rising even when the show airs in the U.S. months later. If an American viewer doesn't want to be spoiled, don't troll British websites or follow blabby Brits on social media sites.

But with "Sherlock," PBS executives are taking a different approach. There's especially keen interest in "Sherlock" because new episodes have not aired in the U.S. since 2012. Production on new episodes continues in England and the Brits have not yet set an airdate for these episodes.

"Masterpiece" executive producer Rebecca Eaton indicated the Americans and Brits are trying to work together to find a way to air "Sherlock" in the U.S. closer to when it debuts in England.

"We are very aware of the concern about the distance between the British broadcast and our broadcast," Ms. Eaton said Tuesday night. "Everyone -- PBS, [production company] Hartswood [Films], and the BBC -- all of us are working very hard to figure out the best way to handle this that will do the best by the fans and the best by the show. It's a little bit still mysterious, but we are still working on it."

Stay tuned.

'PBS NewsHour' changes

This week PBS executives announced the first national news broadcast anchored by two women when it named Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill as co-anchors and managing editors of "PBS NewsHour" beginning in mid-September.

"We would like for the day to come that that's not news anymore," said Ms. Ifill, "that two women seated side by side who have the depth of experience we have would just be another thing."

Ms. Woodruff wanted to set the record straight.

"We're not really the first. It was Amy Poehler and Tina Fey," she said, referring to the one-time pairing on the "Saturday Night Live" "Weekend Update" segment. "Clearly women have come a long way. This is just one more barrier that's been broken down. We celebrate that. So now it's time to get to work."

In addition to the new anchor pairing on the weekday "NewsHour," a half-hour weekend edition debuts Sept. 7. Pittsburgh's WQED will carry the weekend broadcast at 6:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Channel surfing

History's American "Top Gear" returns for a new season at 9 p.m. Sept. 3. ... PBS's "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" will air a new episode, "Neighbor Day," on Sept. 2, about acts of neighborly kindness. ... Discovery Channel's late-night "Shark Week" talk show "Shark After Dark" has been doing well in the ratings. Monday it beat "The Daily Show," "The Colbert Report," "Watch What Happens Live" and "Chelsea Lately" in viewers, households and several key demos.

On the web

Read more coverage from the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Tuned In Journal at post-gazette.com/tv.


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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