Long gone, it seems, are the days when summer was a television wasteland filled with repeats. In fact, the small screen is beginning to rival the big screen with one potential blockbuster after another hitting the airwaves.
Just this month alone, big-budget, heavily marketed new shows including Starz’ “Power,” TNT’s “Murder in the First” and “The Last Ship,” ABC’s “Rising Star,” Syfy’s “Dominion” and BBC America’s “The Musketeers” have already bowed.
Tuesday night sees the premiere of two more new programs on opposite ends of the viewing spectrum that will appeal to different audiences. Both come from highly experienced producers in their respective genres: FX’s “Tyrant” and truTV’s “Motor City Masters,” both slated in the 10 p.m. ET/PT timeslot on their respective cable networks.
“Tyrant” is from acclaimed writer/producers Howard Gordon (“24,” “Homeland”) and Gideon Raff. It tells the story of an American family thrown into the political power plays of a dictator-ruled, fictionalized Middle East nation, echoing themes from “The Godfather” of a son being forced into a brutal family business.
The dictator’s son, Bassam “Barry” Al-Fayeed, played by Adam Rayner, is a California pediatrician who left his homeland as a young man and comes back 20 years later with his American wife and two teenage children for his nephew’s wedding. The homecoming reveals a dramatic culture clash as he is uncomfortably thrown into the midst of dysfunctional family dynamics and violent political rivalries he left.
Particularly difficult is Barry’s relationship with his heir-apparent brother, Jamal (Ashraf Barhom), a trigger-happy hothead who flaunts his enormous wealth and power and appears to be modeled on Uday Hussein.
“Tyrant’s” backstory is nearly as dramatic as its plot. A bidding war for the material broke out, with FX claiming victory over HBO. (Showtime recused itself because it already had a Middle East-themed drama in “Homeland.”) Gordon and Raff reportedly had a falling out over creative direction. Oscar-winning Ang Lee was originally on board to direct but changed his mind before production started. The pilot was shot in Morocco but production had to move to Israel because of a lack of infrastructure.
The show’s depictions of its Arab characters have already drawn the ire of the Council on American-Islamic Relations regarding potential stereotyping.
“In the pilot of FX's 'Tyrant,' Arab Muslim culture is devoid of any redeeming qualities and is represented by terrorists, murderous children, rapists, corrupt billionaires and powerless female victims," said CAIR national communications director Ibrahim Hooper. "In 'Tyrant,' even the 'good' Arab Muslims are bad."
Gordon and the writing staff have consulted with two other groups, the Muslim Public Affairs Council and Muslims on Screen and Television, as well as with historians, experts and scholars on the Middle East.
Back to the show and its inherent drama. Killing off characters has become quite fashionable of late. No spoilers here, but two, yes two, major players do not make it past the closing credits of the first episode. And one spectacular and shocking scene involves a very hot car.
That brings us to “Motor City Masters,” a reality competition show in the vein of “Project Runway,” which aims to find America’s next great automotive designer by pitting 10 contestants against each other in testing their design expertise and creativity in timed tasks.
Like “Project Runway,” it is produced by Bunim/Murray Productions, one of the top marques in the reality biz often credited with creating the genre with the hit MTV series, “The Real World.” The show is hosted by Brooke Burns. In each episode, the contestants vie to create new concept cars based upon Chevrolet bodies with a different theme each week.
In addition to Chevy, there’s more product integration. One of the challenges involves a theme tied in to the release of the upcoming film “Transformers: Age of Extinction.” Another revolves around a Mattel Hot Wheels tie-in. The design elements include the interior and exterior of the vehicles, paint jobs, technology, functionality, body trim and even tires.
The designs will be judged by Jean Jennings, former editor-in-chief of Automobile Magazine, and renowned car designer Harald Belker, known for his vehicle design in films including “Minority Report” and “Batman and Robin.”
The competition narrows until it’s down to two competitors who face off in front of Chevy’s top design experts. The winner receives a 2014 Camaro Z28, $100,000 and becomes a brand ambassador with the opportunity to showcase their designs at major auto shows.
“I think it will be exciting to everyone,” said Jennings. “In every one of the 10 episodes, we were always excited to see what the designers had done, under pressure, whether they would rise to the challenge or come apart at the seams.”
A different celebrity judge will join her and Belker each week, a group that includes actor Jesse Metcalfe, actress Melissa Joan Hart, Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz, baseball great David Justice and former NASCAR driver Robby Gordon.
So ladies and gentlemen, start your engines.