‘2 Dope Queens’ rule, the King gets a new documentary, ‘Flight of the Conchords’ returns and more news from HBO’s winter press tour panels

Phoebe Robinson, left and Jessica Williams of "2 Dope Queens" onstage during the HBO portion of the Television Critics Assn. press tour in Pasadena.
(Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images)
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The fire-breathing elephant that is “Game of Thrones” was not in the room at the Television Critics Assn. press tour (at least not until 2019), but HBO still had plenty to talk about in Pasadena during its time in front of reporters at the TCA winter press tour. Some highlights:

  • The day’s biggest news came with word that HBO had signed a three-year development deal with journalist Ronan Farrow, whose investigation of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct in the New Yorker magazine helped light the fuse of the #MeToo movement of women coming forward with their experiences that continues to reverberate across Hollywood and elsewhere.
  • “2 Dope Queens” isn’t just a very funny podcast, live show and, as of Feb. 2, a series of HBO specials, it also makes for a very loose TCA panel. Livening up the midafternoon, hosts Jessica Williams (formerly of “The Daily Show”) and Phoebe Robinson (“I Love Dick”) could’ve charged a cover as they took questions on their four themed hourlong specials directed by Tig Notaro. In addition to featuring the show’s usual roster of up-and-coming stand-up talent, the show will include guest appearances from Jon Stewart, Sarah Jessica Parker and Tituss Burgess. The Queens offered riffs and encouragement (“Don’t ever neg yourself, you’re beautiful and perfect,” Robinson said to one questioner), and feigned leaving the stage after a free association by the duo on one reporter’s name was said to be substandard. “You did not have to drag us at our own TCA, I’m tweeting you after this,” Williams playfully threatened.
  • Featuring Bill Hader, Alec Berg (“Silicon Valley”) and Henry Winkler, the panel for the new dark-comedy series “Barry,” premiering in March, was similarly lively. Hader, the co-creator and star of the show who also directed a number of episodes, provided his own “woos” and arena-sized crowd noise as he approached the stage and took his seat.
  • “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” will return on Feb. 18. The only question is, where will he and his writing staff find any material by then?
  • A three-hour documentary, “Elvis Presley: The Searcher” is scheduled for April 14. The documentary was produced by Priscilla Presley and includes a raft of new interviews along with photos and footage from private collections, with music by Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready.
  • Another documentary, “Jane Fonda in Five Acts,” is scheduled for later this year and will examine the life of the actress and activist. Directed by Susan Lacy, the film was drawn from 21 hours of interviews with Fonda. Its premiere date has yet to be announced.
  • Fans of New Zealand-born musical comedy, rejoice: “Flight of the Conchords,” the cult HBO series led by Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, is returning to the network for the first time in nine years. An hourlong special — to be recorded in front of a live audience during the duo’s British tour— will air in May.
  • Before he was a filmmaker and producer, Judd Apatow was a comic who was among the many taken under the wing of Garry Shandling, who is the subject of his intimate, four-hour-plus HBO documentary, “The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling,” which debuts March 26 and 27. Apatow spoke of Shandling helping other comedians with their scripts, film edits and even their acts with a rare, giving nature that was rooted in his Buddhism. “I think the idea that he looked at stand-up as a way to learn who he was feels unique,” Apatow said. “In his journals, he basically says, “When you sit next to Johnny, just let go completely, and trust that when the time comes, you will think of the right joke.” And I don’t know if Gallagher was thinking that way.”
  • “Succession,” a profanity-laden new series due in June executive produced by Adam McKay and Jesse Armstrong of “In the Loop,” mines a similar vein of darkly comic drama as McKay’s “The Big Short.” Centering on the power struggles in a massive media family after its patriarch (Brian Cox) falls ill, the show also features “The Big Short’s” Jeremy Strong, Sarah Snook and Kieran Culkin. Though the series’ characters are steeped in extreme wealth and greed, the show resists “making a tub-thumping denunciation at every turn,” said Armstrong. McKay cited the current political climate and its income inequality as shaping the tonal balance: “What happens with comedy when the world around you gets more preposterous than comedy?”
  • Two films, both timely in their own ways, were also previewed: a new adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” and “Paterno,” a dramatization of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal at Penn State, directed by Barry Levinson and starring Al Pacino in the title role.

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