Ruffalo and Kitsch in 'The Normal Heart'
Ruffalo and Kitsch in 'The Normal Heart'

“The Bay area is where the whole hippie movement started, so these guys up there have to shroud their capitalism in the idea that they’re making the world a better place, and that can be funny,” says Judge.  

“Looking,” which premieres Jan. 19, revolves around three gay men exploring the options available to them in current-day San Francisco.  “I’d never really seen the San Francisco I knew portrayed on screen.  It was always just the postcard shots.  We wanted to show the rough edges and lived-in side of the city,” said creator and writer Michael Lannan.  The actors say they immersed themselves in the local way of life while shooting on location, living in the Mission district and frequenting karaoke clubs on weekends.  

“All the characters are gay men in their 30s and 40s, but they’re not still grappling with that,” says actor Jonathan Groff.  “Their problems are about everyday life.”  The other two roles in the central trio of friends are played by Murray Bartlett and Frankie J. Alvarez.  

Writing about gay life in the age of legalized marriage is different, says Lannan.  “It’s sort of like, welcome to the mainstream. What do we do now? We’re trying to present the most contemporary version of what life for these characters is like.”

A hard-hitting look at an earlier era, when the AIDS crisis gripped the nation in the early 1980s, propels “The Normal Heart,” a movie for HBO set to air in May, adapted from Larry Kramer’s play about activist Ned Weeks (Ruffalo), a polio-stricken doctor (Roberts) and others who battled for resources to fight the plague. “To win a war you have to start one” is the tag line of the film, which recalls the terror and urgency of the dawning realization that AIDS would become a wide-spread epidemic.

Ryan Murphy (“Glee,” “American Horror Story”), director and exec producer of the movie, said he spent three years working on the script with Kramer after he acquired the rights to the play.  “I lost a lot of friends to AIDS, including one who even on his deathbed would not admit that’s what he was dying of,” says Murphy.  “I feel like what those (activist) guys did, and what Dr. Emma Brookner did, really paved the way for the life I have today – married with a child – and I feel indebted to them.”  

He adds that he’s shown the movie to gay men in their 20s who have seem to have little awareness of the struggles of 30 years ago, or of “the shoulders that they stand on.”

“Storytelling is about finding the thread that connects us, so that it’s impossible to turn your back on somebody, and this movie does it in such a profound way,” said Roberts.

Actors Jim Parsons and Matt Bomer, both openly gay, responded to a question about whether they’d ever expected to be able to play roles such as these.  “I don’t’ bring gay qualities or straight qualities to a role,” said Parsons. “I just figure out what’s going on and deal with it.”

Showrunner and writer Damon Lindelof (“Lost”) makes his return to television with “The Leftovers,” an eerie, disturbing dramatic series set to debut this summer about the mysterious disappearance on a single day of two percent of the world’s population, and the effect of that vanishing on those who remain.  Justin Theroux stars as a police chief and father of two who tries to maintain normalcy.  It’s based on the novel by Tom Perrotta (“Election”). 

Perrotta, who wrote the pilot with Lindelof, says the sci-fi premise was inspired partly by the events of Sept. 11, 2001.  “It explores a huge collective trauma and the various ways a community deals with it,” he said.

Lindelof called the challenging show “a bit of a Rorschach test.”  “Some people will find it confusing and some will be captivated by it.  It’s a grower, not a shower.”

Lena Dunham in "Girls" Season Three
Lena Dunham in "Girls" Season Three

The panel to present Season Three of critics’ darling “Girls” got off to a vigorous start when a questioner challenged Lena Dunham about the show’s frank and frequent use of nudity – particularly on the part of creator and exec producer Dunham, as lead character Hanna Horvath.

“It’s a realistic expression of what it is to be alive.  If you’re not into me, that’s your problem,” said Dunham.  She was then hit with a question about whether she even likes the show’s four main characters, neurotic and self-involved New York women in their 20s. 

“I love them, and I think that they accurately reflect people I know,” Dunham replied. “They’re trying their hardest, which is the most you can ask of people in your life.”

“I like flawed people,” exec producer Jenni Konner threw in.  “I don’t know what a person who isn’t flawed would look like.”

“People say, ‘How do we sympathize with them?’ and I say, you seem to like Walter White,” said Dunham.  HBO announced that a fourth season of the Emmy-winning comedy has been ordered.

British comic and writer John Oliver (“Community”), who did a stint as guest host for Jon Stewart this past summer on “The Daily Show,” will star in an untitled comedy series currently being devised, to premiere this spring or summer. “The format does not exist at the moment – we’re working it out,” said Oliver. “It will consist of making fun of things.”

“After seeing what he could do in the host chair of ‘The Daily Show,’ we realized we wanted him on our network,” said HBO exec Nina Rosenstein.  ‘Daily Show’ head writer Tim Carvell will head up the writing staff with Oliver.