Hillary Atkin

Cable Nets Strut Their Stuff: The Glossiest of the Upcoming Shows Take the Spotlight at TCA

Jul 16, 2014

“I write as slow as mud,” said Vince Gilligan, in explaining the delay of the highly anticipated series “Better Call Saul” — a companion piece to the vaunted “Breaking Bad” — now set to air next year on AMC after being moved back from its original premiere set for this fall.

Gilligan’s discussion of his meticulous creative process with writing/producing partner Peter Gould was just one of the highlights of the cable and digital portion of the semiannual Television Critics Association press tour, which began July 8 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

A slew of cable networks including National Geographic, Ovation, Al Jazeera America, Discovery, WGN America, BBC, Turner Networks, El Rey Network, HBO, VH1, MTV, Pivot, Starz, WE tv, Sundance and AMC presented panels with executives, creators and talent from new and returning programs who showed clips and fielded questions from television reporters.

Digital platforms DirecTV, Amazon Studios and Hulu also presented programming. Other cable networks, including Bravo, Syfy, Oxygen, Esquire, ABC Family, Showtime and FX are presenting this week into next at TCA.

Here are some of the highlights:

National Geographic Channels

“American War Generals” (September)

From Vietnam to the Cold War to Desert Storm to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the film features new interviews with 10 of America’s most noteworthy generals in a look back at 50 years of military battles and the transformation of the U.S. military. The politics of war always generates heated debate, and their expertise will offer fresh insight into current foreign policy.

“We tried to institute a modern democratic state on top of a culture that was ill disposed to it,” Gen. Barry McCaffrey told reporters about the Iraq war. “We’re seeing faultlines develop on World War I boundaries. In 10 to 25 years, the Middle East will rearrange itself in unpredictable, bloody ways. The same thing will happen in Afghanistan.”

“Sleepless in America” (November)

This thought-provoking and potentially life-changing piece examines the science of sleep, and how the lack of it — which is epidemic in our society — affects health, well-being and safety. Through its portrayal of cutting-edge research and compelling stories, it will illustrate the consequences of not getting enough sleep and explain what we can do to get a better night’s rest.

“The philosophy of ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ actually makes the quality of life worse,” said Matthew Walker, the director of the sleep and neuroimaging lab at UC Berkeley. “Humans are the only animals that willfully deprive themselves of sleep.”

“Eat: The Story of Food” (November)

Eating is the most important thing you do every day, even more so than sleeping — unless you asked the previous panel. This six-part miniseries explores the evolution of how food has defined human civilization and tells the unexpected stories of the trials and tribulations behind every morsel of food on your plate.

One of the segments is “Eric Greenspan is Hungry,” hosted by the well-known chef, who owns Los Angeles eateries The Foundry, The Roof and Greenspan’s Grilled Cheese. Greenspan goes across the country, traveling off road into unexpected places to find the most mouthwatering recipes around.

“If we all ate together more often, the world would be a much better place,” said Andrew Smith, a food historian who appears in the program.

“Urban Jungle” (August)

Guided by big cat tracker Boone Smith, “Urban Jungle” (to be simulcast on Nat Geo Wild as part of Big Cats Week on Aug. 3) takes a closer look at cities including New York, Mumbai, Las Vegas, Chicago and Bangkok that humans consider their own but are now overrun with wildlife. Viewers will see animals living in our cities, suburbs and the outskirts of town, even walking down city streets and entering buildings.

“These animals have us figured out,” said Smith. “It’s a whole new environment.”

WGN America

"Manhattan" (July 27)

Set against the backdrop of the race against time to build the world's first atomic bomb in Los Alamos, the one hour drama follows a group of brilliant scientists and their families as they navigate a world where secrets and lies infiltrate every part of their lives. Once inside "The Hill," a neighborhood enclave in the foothills outside of a town that is so secret it's not even on the map, the characters realize the scope of deception in working on the first nuclear bomb.

BBC America

"The Game" (Fall)

This early 1970s-era spy drama tells the story of how the British intelligence agency MI5 battled to protect the UK from the threats of the Cold War after a KGB defector reveals this existence of a devastating Soviet plot called Operation Glass. The charismatic but paranoid MI5 chief, played by Brian Cox and known as Daddy, assembles a secret group to investigate and uncover traitors in their midst.

"A Poet in New York" (Fall)

Marking the 100th anniversary of poet Dylan Thomas' birth, the telefilm explores his final days before his premature death in 1953 at the age of 39. Already a world-renowned poet in the era depicted, Thomas, who is portrayed by Tom Hollander, penned some of the most famous verses in the English language. Flashing back to Thomas' past in Wales, the drama explores how his destructive personality contributed to his demise.

"Intruders" (August 23)

Set in the Pacific Northwest, this paranormal thriller focuses on a secret society devoted to chasing immortality by seeking refuge in the bodies of others. It's based on a bestselling novel and stars Mira Sorvino and John Simm. The eight-parter entwines strange, unrelated events across multiple storylines, including a missing wife, an assassin and a runaway child.


"Legends" (August 13)

Actor Sean Bean — famously beheaded in "Game of Thrones" — comes to life as an undercover FBI agent who has the ability to transform himself into a completely different person for each job. As the drama builds, he begins to question his own identity when a mysterious stranger appears and suggests he is not who he believes himself to be.

Bean was asked about his favorite of his on-screen deaths. "I liked ‘Lord of the Rings.’ That death. Big death.”

El Rey

“Matador” (premiered July 15)

A spy story in a soccer setting, this second original series from Robert Rodriguez’s network — already renewed for a second season — stars Gabriel Luna as Tony “Matador” Bravo, an undercover agent who infiltrates a team whose billionaire owner is an international bad guy (Alfred Molina) involved in many nefarious activities. In balancing dual roles as a spy and a soccer player, Matador confronts questions of his true identity as he embarks on a dangerous mission.

“It fits right in with our network. It’s kickass, the characters are really engaging — it’s your dream kind of show to do,” said Rodriguez.


"Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways" (October)

The eight-part miniseries follows Dave Grohl to cities across the U.S. as each location serves as the locale for a song to be on the next Foo Fighters album. Each is inspired by the history and heritage of the music of each respective city: New Orleans, Austin, Chicago, Nashville, Los Angeles, Washington and New York.

"Olive Kitteridge" (Fall)

Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins star in this miniseries based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a placid New England town wrought with illicit affairs, crime and tragedy, told from the point of view of the title character. Her sharp wit and harsh demeanor mask a warm but troubled heart.

"The Comeback" (Fall)

Lisa Kudrow is back as B-list TV personality Valerie Cherish, a pioneer in the reality genre. Ten years later, she wants back in to the biz. But what has she learned in a decade? Desperate to stay in the spotlight, she may be repeating mistakes of the past — to great comic effect.


"The Knick" (August 8)

A period psychological drama set in a hospital called the Knickerbocker at the turn of the 20th century, it stars Clive Owen as a brilliant doctor who's a cocaine addict and leads a staff of nurses and surgeons who push the boundaries of medicine in a time of high mortality rates and no antibiotics.


"Finding Carter" (premiered July 8)

The unconventional family drama centers on a teenage girl who lives with her single mom until a police bust at a high school party reveals she was in fact kidnapped by the woman as a toddler. The show follows her quest to rejoin her family of origin, and to keep the person she thought was her mom from being arrested for her abduction.


"LeAnn & Eddie" (July 17)

The new reality skein follows LeAnn Rimes and Eddie Cibrian, a couple who have been famous for years, but whose fame blew up when they became a couple — and the tabloids became enamored of their every move.

Showing their public and private lives, the couple pokes fun at what it's like to be a high-profile pairing with a lot of misinformation surrounding them.


"Survivor's Remorse" (Fall)

The half-hour series follows the exploits of Cam Calloway, with Jessie T. Usher portraying the basketball star in his early 20s suddenly thrust into the limelight after signing a huge contract with a pro team in Atlanta. He and his family confront the challenges driven by his newfound success, including their ties from the impoverished community they're from.

"The Chair" (Fall)

From producer Chris Moore, of "Project Greenlight," this docuseries pits two aspiring filmmakers in competition with each other as they each make a version of the same screenplay with the same budget (about $900,000). Through multi-platform voting, the audience will determine which is awarded a $250,000 prize.

WE tv

"The Divide" (July 16)

This drama, the network’s first scripted, explores morality, ambition, ethics, politics and race in today's justice system through the eyes of a caseworker with the Innocence Initiative and an equally passionate district attorney. They both face questions of one man's guilt or innocence and struggle between right and wrong in a quest for justice.

“Every life affected by a violent crime is extraordinary,” said Tony Goldwyn, writer and EP with Richard LaGravenese. “The ripple effect on all those lives is extraordinary. It’s a great milieu for a provocative TV series.”


"The Honorable Woman" (July 31)

The miniseries depicts a wrenching tale of deception and betrayal against a backdrop of international espionage. The thriller stars Maggie Gyllenhaal as a character who as a child witnessed the assassination of her father, an arms dealer. Her appointment to the House of Lords creates a political maelstrom.

“I was attracted to the whole spectrum of what was available to the character — being childish, hungry and desperate,” Gyllenhaal said. “I don't buy just being a powerful woman.”


"Better Call Saul" (early 2015)

A spinoff of "Breaking Bad" set in 2002 and utilizing nonlinear storytelling, the series focuses on flashy, smarmy attorney Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) before he became Walter White's lawyer. Michael McKean will play Goodman’s brother, Chuck. Other cast members include Jonathan Banks as Mike Erhmantraut, the fixer from “Breaking Bad,” Rhea Seehorn, Patrick Fabian and Michael Mando. Ten episodes will make up Season 1; AMC has already ordered a second season of 13.

"We’re trying to make something that stands on its own that has an entertainment value that is not just about seeing a series of old favorites," co-creator Peter Gould said. "It's not the series equivalent of a clip show. We're trying to balance these things out."

Added Vince Gilligan, “It's a leap of faith or stupidity into the unknown.”


“Living With the Jacksons” (November 18)

This six-part series follows the saga of Michael Jackson’s nieces and nephews, one adopted, the rest fathered by two of his brothers by the same mother, Alejandra. Viewers will get to know her and her kids, Jaafar, Donte, Genevieve, Jermajesty and Randy, as they move out of the Jackson Hayvenhurst estate in Encino into a beachfront home and pursue life out of the blazing spotlight that surrounded Michael.

Amazon Studios

"Bosch” (2015)

Based on Michael Connelly's best-selling Harry Bosch series, “Bosch” follows a relentless LAPD homicide detective (Titus Welliver) as he pursues the killer of a 13-year-old boy while standing trial in federal court on accusations that he murdered a suspected serial killer in cold blood.

“The After” (2015)

From “The X-Files” creator Chris Carter, the upcoming series focuses on eight strangers  thrown together by mysterious forces who must help each other survive in a violent world. Carter said the concept for the post-apocalyptic drama came to him years ago after a construction worker dropped a box of nails in the Sepulveda Pass that practically brought Los Angeles to a standstill, making him realize how quickly chaos could ensue from something as low-tech as nails.


“The Hotwives of Orlando” (July 15)

A parody of the “Real Housewives” franchise, “The Hotwives of Orlando” promises to take viewers inside the uber-exclusive and glamorous world of six hot housewives livin’ large in Central Florida's sexiest city, Orlando. The show follows a cast including Casey Wilson, Kristen Schaal and Angela Kinsey as they fight over pretty much everything except their love of shoes, plastic surgery, and the pursuit of spending all of their husbands’ money.

“South Park” (streaming)

For its final act, Hulu announced that 244 episodes of "South Park" will now be streaming on the platform. Matt Stone and Trey Parker, in the house as surprise guests for the announcement, reflected on when they started the animated comedy 18 years ago with a 5-minute short, “The Spirit of Christmas,” which became viral before there was viral video — in the days when people made copies of VHS tapes.

“We had very few options after Fox said no — either MTV or Comedy Central,” said Parker. “If we would have had the ability then to launch as an Internet show, it would have been even crazier.”

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