Final Episode of “Royal Pains”

Posted on July 6, 2016 at 8:00 am

I have really enjoyed “Royal Pains,” and it is bittersweet to see it come to an end tomorrow, July 6, 2016. Mark Feuerstein plays the “concierge doctor” helping patients, mostly very wealthy ones, in the gorgeous Hamptons. The sumptuous, sun-drenched settings added a lot of interest to the story of doctor Hank Lawson, his enterprising brother Evan (Paulo Costanzo), their physician’s assistant Divya (Reshma Shetty). The series blended long-term arcs and the personal and romantic lives of the characters with the kind of solve-the-disease drama that has been a staple on television since the days of “Marcus Welby, M.D.” and “Dr. Kildare.”

Last week, there was a delightful musical episode featuring Oscar-winner Cloris Leachman.

And things seem to be moving toward a happy ending for everyone. Evan and his wife Paige (Brooke D’Orsay) are expecting a baby at last, Divya is about to deliver a fourth child for her blended family and start medical school, the Lawsons’ dad (Henry Winkler) is happily re-married, and Hank is ready to move on.

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Interview: James Levine, Composer of “American Horror Story,” “Royal Pains,” and “Glee”

Posted on May 12, 2014 at 8:00 am

Composer James S. Levine worked on two of my favorite television series, so I was especially delighted to get a chance to speak to him.  I love “Glee’s” fabulously curated choral selections.  And I love the soundtrack to “Royal Pains,” which so perfectly matches the sun-drenched Hamptons setting and the slight humorous, outsider-y edge of the Lawsons. Levine has also worked on other hit series, including “American Horror Story,” “The Closer,” and “The Blacklist.”

What was the first instrument you ever played?

Piano.  I had to ask for piano lessons. I was the youngest of three.  I started asking for piano lessons when I was about seven and started when I was about nine.  I had this great little local teacher, classical at first.  Then I started bringing in pop songs that I wanted to play. My sister was a singer in high school and used to be in musical theater.  I wanted to accompany her so I’d learn the song she was singing, show tunes, some pop songs as well.

When I was 13 I switched to a different teacher.  I wanted to learn jazz and improvisation and so I switched teachers.  He became a mentor to me and I studied with him through college.

What did you study in college?

I decided to get a Bachelors degree in American Studies. I really got into how music functions in society, so I studied music from that perspective. the function of music and culture and then the actual nuts and bolts of musical training I did with this fantastic teacher who I studied with until I was 23.

And when you thinking about music in society, where you very aware of music in movies and television?

Of course, yeah. Totally always very aware of that, sort of loved doing that or thinking about doing that while playing in bands or playing in shows and playing songs, writing songs, that sort of stuff. Sort of anything I could do I would do, that sort of thing.

Why is it that we no longer have the distinctive TV theme songs as we used to in the 60’s and 70’s?

I think that there is this sort of push to get to the show right away so you don’t lose the viewer.  And there is a fear of making a definitive statement out of the gate. I think people are afraid that if you establish a tone that’s too specific immediately you might turn off a bunch of people.

One thing I love about Glee is the way it crosses so many categories with the music on the show — pop, rock, hip-hop, show tunes, songbook.15053_1383850133

You can’t be afraid of that.  I have worked with people, Ryan Murphy being probably one of the most well-known that is  not afraid of making a statement and sort of making people uncomfortable and sort of redefining himself with each show.  With American Horror Story, each season, we totally reinvent ourselves.  So he trusts that you make something that’s compelling.  

When you are working on a series like “The Blacklist,” where do you begin?

I think you definitely start with characters and the story and from there I think about  themes for characters, I think about the overall tone of the show and sort of what components make up the show.  On a lot of these shows like “Major Crimes” or “The Closer,” which I worked on for a long time, there is always the case and then you also have the specific character beats and character pieces and those can help define the character.  You sort of ride the line between propelling the case forward in those shows and also getting and giving character information.

Going into a new season of a show, there is always an overall goal of the writers and the creator and producers like this season is going to be about fulfillments and so and so’s drives to find his long lost mother. Okay now within that we are going to have 18 or 22 or 13 episodes of different procedural cases but the overall arc is something that helps you think in a more global sense and sort of maybe grow the music forward a little bit and stretch it.

So just as the writers and the creators might want and usually need to like feel as though they are stretching their muscles and expanding the sort of mythology of the story, that composer can see like we have that opportunity too.  You know you have to take chances to do that. So sometimes you might take the chance and be like, “This is not our show! This is unlike anything we do.” And sometimes too like, “Oh, that’s a really cool idea and it totally works!” And it feels like it’s evolving so it’s sort of a case-by-case basis.

media-7172696582638589181-240000-7426-RoyalPains_S5_VOD_keyart_2048x1024_2048x1024_22602059One of the things I love about “Royal Pains” is that it has this very specific setting that is not like anything else on television.  How do you think about adding the overall distinctive quality to the music?

We keep it breezy and fun and then.  The goal at the beginning was to make it light.  There’s obviously the medical drama case stuff, which sort of exists in its own way and that’s sort of a procedural element that show so the music sort of functions in that way.   But the rest of it is like placing characters. And I always wanted to feel like there is sort of a central core group of four or five characters, a small little breezy sunshiny Jack Johnson, James Taylor, rock band. It’s like sort of an acoustic rock sort of score but it’s evolved and we sort of drift in and out of more serious moments and pull it in either direction.  We keep it like a beach party a little bit.  To keep the sunshine and all of that. The story gets serious but sometimes you don’t have to play serious on top of serious to get the point across and often times it’s not necessary; because it’s a well-written show and they are good actors.

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Composers Interview Music Television

Summer Series — Television

Posted on May 29, 2012 at 3:47 pm

I’m old enough to remember when summer television meant nothing but reruns.  So it always seems like a special bonus to me when we get a whole extra season with returning favorites and promising new shows.  While I wait to see whether Victoria got off the plane before it exploded in “Revenge” and try to imagine what Jay will think about Gloria’s big news on “Modern Family” I’m excited about:

1. Royal Pains (USA Network) I’m hoping for more Hank and Divya and less of Evan and Paige (and Paige’s family) this year in this series about the “concierge doctor” to the wealthy residents of the Hamptons.

2. Drop Dead Diva (Lifetime) I love the story of the beautiful model whose soul enters the body of a plus-size lawyer, mostly because Brooke Elliot is so endearing  the effervescent spirit of Deb and the integrity and intelligence of Jane.  I’m also a fan of April Bowlby as Deb’s best friend and fellow model Stacey and Ben Feldman as Deb’s guardian angel.  I’m not looking forward to guest star Kim Karsdashian but have high hopes for upcoming appearances by Serena Williams, Patty Duke, Lorraine Toussaint, Ian Gomez, Valerie Harper, and John Ratzenberger.

3. Necessary Roughness (USA Network) Sports psychotherapist Dani Santino (warm and wise Callie Thorne) is the lead in this engaging series.  I am looking forward to seeing her make progress with brilliant but volatile football player Terrence “TK” King (Mechad Brooks).

4. The Newsroom (HBO) If Aaron Sorkin is writing it, I want to see it.  One reason is his highly literate scripts but another is that those scripts attract the best acting talent.  Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer, Sam Waterston, and Jane Fonda star in this new series about the news — and how we learn what we know.  (And if you haven’t watched Sports Night, crank up your Netflix cue.)

5. Political Animals (USA Networks) Signourney Weaver stars as a one-time Presidential candidate and ex-wife of a President who is currently Secretary of State.

6. Bunheads (ABC Family) comes from “Gilmore Girls” creator Amy Sherman-Palladino.  It stars my favorite Broadway performer, Sutton Foster.  It co-stars Kelly Bishop of “Gilmore Girls” and “Dirty Dancing.”  Oh, yes, I am on board.


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What I’m Looking Forward to in Early 2012

Posted on January 1, 2012 at 8:00 am

January is chronically the worst month of the year for movies as the studios release their back inventory of duds.  But this month looks unusually promising.  “Beauty and the Beast 3D” opens on January 13.  That ballroom scene is going to be thrilling in 3D.  And I can’t wait to tell you more about “Joyful Noise” with Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton as feuding gospel choir leaders.  Parton has written three terrific new songs and the movie is a shot of sunshine to warm the chilliest winter day.  I also loved “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” with Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock and junior Jeopardy champion Thomas Horn as a boy trying to make sense of his father’s loss on 9/11.  Viola Davis and Max von Sydow give performances of heart-wrenching beauty.  “Red Tails” is the story of WWII war heroes the Tuskegee Airmen.  “The Undefeated,” coming out late January, is an uplifting documentary about the dedicated coach and players of a Memphis football team. “Carnage” has Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet in the story of two couples whose thin veneer of civility dissolves in a dispute over a schoolyard fight involving their sons.

And there’s some good news on television, too.  One of my favorite new series of 2011 returns for a new season.  “Switched at Birth” quickly transcended its outlandish premise for an engrossing drama about two very different families struggling to realign after discovering that their teenage daughters were — see the title.  One family is wealthy and the other is not but the bigger divide is that one of the girls is hearing-impaired.  The series’ respect for deaf culture is especially welcome.  The exceptionally strong cast includes Katie Leclerc, Lucas Grabeel, Sean Berdy, and Constance Marie.

I’m also looking forward to the return of Royal Pains, though I hope there’s less Evan/Paige/Paige’s family drama, more for Hank to do than treat the patient of the week.  I want to see lots more of Divya, too.  Another of my favorites, Downton Abbey, returns to Masterpiece on January 8.  Change comes even faster to the Earl of Grantham, his American-born wife, and their three daughters — beautiful and accomplished but unable to inherit the estate because they are female.  WWI changes everything as men go off to war and injured soldiers are cared for in rooms once reserved for elegant tea service.  (Fans must check out the hilarious Downton Abbey parody video produced as a charity fund-raiser.)

Project Runway All-Starslooks like fun, with fan favorites like Anthony, Sweet Pea, and Mondo and fashion superstar Isaac Mizrahi as one of the judges.  The debut I am most eagerly anticipating is Smash, the backstage story of a Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe, produced by Steven Spielberg and starring “Will and Grace’s” Debra Messing, plus Oscar-winner Anjelica Houston, and American Idol star Katharine McPhee.

Here’s to a great year!

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