Hillary Atkin

A Roundup of Some of the Most Promising New Cable and Streaming Shows Previewed at TCA

Aug 11, 2015

Anyone looking for a showdown at the cable portion of TCA between Michael Lombardo and Chris Albrecht and their respective networks, HBO and Starz, was destined to be “balled out” and possibly have a case of “survivor’s remorse.”

During the first week of the summer press tour being held at the Beverly Hilton, HBO programming chief Lombardo was asked about [what turned out to be a false report of] a press release that reportedly compared his network’s “Ballers,” starring Dwayne Johnson as a former NFL player, unfavorably to Starz’ “Survivor’s Remorse,” focused around a young NBA player and his family in Atlanta.

Lombardo’s response indicated that he wasn’t very familiar with the Starz comedy series. And when a reporter tried to get Starz chief Albrecht, a former chairman and CEO of HBO into a manufactured spat, the game was over.

“So, I landed in town late last night and saw this nonsense. I have nothing but respect for Michael Lombardo and shame on whoever framed that question. These people don’t need to be ambushed by a silly question. I haven’t seen ‘Ballers,’ but I assume it’s good, because HBO picked it up for a second season,” he said, before admonishing the assembled press, “Please, I’m serious. People are here to talk about their shows. Behave yourselves. Ask appropriate questions.”

And for the most part, they did as Netflix and cable nets including National Geographic Channels, Viacom, WGN America, Discovery Communications, UP, El Rey Network, AMC Networks and BBC America presented program clips and panels with creators and talent throughout the week.

Some, like Hallmark Channel and FUSE, opted to showcase their programming during evening events. And Comedy Central used the press tour to introduce the new host of “The Daily Show,” Trevor Noah. (See related story here: https://www.tvweek.com/open-mic/2015/07/trevor-noah-jon-stewarts-replacement-as-daily-show-host-opens-up-about-racism-the-twitter-controversy-and-how-he-will-be-different-from-stewart/)

Here are some of the programs we’re most looking forward to seeing:


A scant three years after becoming a player in original programming, Netflix presented the most panels of any network — 11. Chief content officer Ted Sarandos said Netflix will offer 16 scripted comedy and drama series and 475 hours of original programming this year.

Included are the 10-episode “Narcos,” premiering Aug. 28, a thriller based on real stories about the rise of Medellin drug cartel chief Pablo Escobar and his ilk in the late 1980s and the law enforcement officers who try to thwart the Colombian drug trade, forcing brutal conflicts. At stake is the effort to control the world’s most powerful commodity, cocaine — a struggle that led to political, military, legal and civilian clashes that continue into the present day. The series has two parallel narratives, the DEA and the drug kingpins, and there are no clear-cut lines between the good guys and the bad guys.

“There’s never been so much money made so fast in the history of mankind,” said executive producer Jose Padilha. “Those guys didn’t really know what they had until cocaine hit Miami. It’s almost like, if you were a fisherman, you go out in a lake and there are so many gigantic fish in the lake, but you don’t have a clue, and you throw your bait and start getting incredibly big fish. You’re just amazed at how many fish you get. That’s what happened with Pablo and money.”

WGN America

As if the beginning days of the Manhattan Project weren’t dramatic enough as chronicled in the first season of “Manhattan,” the next episodes, premiering Oct. 13, are bound to be explosive as the time draws closer to the Trinity Test and dropping the first atomic bomb 70 years ago.

John Benjamin Hickey plays the brilliant physicist Frank Winter. “As zealous as Frank was in the first season, by any means necessary to achieve his end, he’s setting out to prove that closure is the right path. For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. At the end of season one, we find him in a heap of trouble. He does a big 180, and finds himself being ruthless, but he’s just seeing that the world is in a different way,” Hickey said.

“It felt a little bit like a show with a trick up its sleeve from the beginning, which it presents itself as a show about World War II,” said Sam Shaw, the show’s creator, writer and executive producer. “But I was always much more interested in the question of what came next.”

National Geographic Channel

The network’s first scripted series, “Saints & Strangers,” is a four-hour miniseries set to debut this Thanksgiving. It focuses on the first settlers at Plymouth, people searching for a new life in an unexplored land. Half of the group of 101 people who landed on a chartered ship in a place they had never seen were known as pilgrims, religious separatists who abandoned their previous lives for new ones of religious freedom. The others, known as adventurers, were apparently motivated by real-world material objectives and not spiritual ideals. This culture clash creates complex struggles as the group seeks to establish new identities in a new colony, compounded by a complicated relationship with Native Americans.

Vincent Kartheiser, of “Mad Men” fame, plays the English separatist who becomes governor of Plymouth Colony, William Bradford. “He begins the journey not as the leader,” said executive producer Gina Matthews. “What’s incredible is to see Bradford, who he becomes and the trajectory. He ultimately goes to some dark places, but has a moral compass. Vincent has this incredible quality to be both. He has this open quality that draws you in.”

Discovery Channel

The team behind the Oscar-winning film “The Cove” brings us the groundbreaking documentary “Racing Extinction,” which exposes the hidden world of endangered species and the battle to protect them from mass extinction. The film reveals never-before-seen footage from around the globe as filmmakers infiltrate the world’s most dangerous black markets. The plan is to bring the documentary, which premiered at the Sundance film Festival, to 220 countries and territories on Dec. 2 with a call to action to ignite a global movement. It’s especially timely considering the recent killing of Cecil the Lion.

“We have the biggest network in the world behind us, we have the potential to change the world, geologically speaking. This is the biggest story in the world, bar none,” said director Louie Psihoyos. “We are the only generation that can save species for millions of years going forward — this movie, this network, and the people in this room.”


Race relations in Yonkers, New York, in the 1980s were strained by the implementation of low-income housing. In the center of it all was a young mayor, Nick Wasicsko, faced with a federal court order and tasked with building a small number of such housing units in white neighborhoods of the city. From creator David Simon (“Treme” and “The Wire”) and director Paul Haggis (“Crash”), and based on a book by Lisa Belkin, “Show Me a Hero,” premiering Aug. 16, is a six-part miniseries that explores the notions of home, race and community through the lives of politicians, bureaucrats, activists and ordinary citizens.

“We’re dealing with a government in Yonkers that was wholly white,” said Simon. “That was the reality and part of the problem. There was no outlet for black political action. I don’t begrudge the truth of the fear that those white residents felt when they were told this was coming, but it’s one thing to acknowledge the fear and another to let it guide us.”


A mashup of the classic film “Network” with elements of “The Newsroom,” “Blunt Talk,” bowing Aug. 22, is a half-hour comedy series starring Patrick Stewart, who plays a Brit intent on conquering the world of U.S. cable news through the platform of a nightly interview show. He’s on a mission to impart his wisdom and advice on how Americans should live, think and behave while fending off network bosses, a dysfunctional staff and numerous ex-wives and children. His biggest support comes from the heavy-drinking manservant he imported from the U.K. to join him in Los Angeles. Jacki Weaver co-stars as Blunt’s tough-talking producer/manager. Comedian Richard Lewis will recur as his appointed therapist.

While it’s a comedy, there are some very serious moments. “We are in an absurdist and comical world, which at times seems difficult to understand how it holds together,” Stewart said. “But it does, because every single one of the principal characters is passionate and deeply serious about what they do. So there is nothing funny about the show. It’s one serious situation after another that has to be resolved. That’s how it feels to me.”


It’s shades of “Tootsie” as David Krumholz stars in the comedy series “Gigi,” premiering Oct. 1. Gigi is a recently widowed grandmother who discovers a new lease on life with the help of a secret bank account discovered in her late husband’s will, amounting to millions of dollars that let her experience everything she’s deprived herself of in her past. Now living life to the fullest, she ignores her doctor’s orders and turns the ideas of aging upside down with her razor-sharp tongue and a trusted assistant played by Ricky Mabe along for the ride.

“The first season is about her searching for love, things that remind her of her youth, falling back in love with experiences and also finding love for herself,” said Krumholz, who also is an executive producer with Tim Gibbons. “She accidentally discovers Internet porn and that requirements sexually have changed, including what positions she can get into.”


“The Walking Dead” fans rejoice, ”Fear the Walking Dead” is almost upon us, premiering Aug. 23. Set in Los Angeles, “Fear TWD” takes us back to the beginning of the zombie apocalypse before anyone understood exactly what was happening and life was upended in ways that no one could’ve imagined. While the first run will encompass six episodes, a second season of 15 has already been ordered.

While it’s a companion piece to the most popular show on television, AMC boss Charlie Collier said it should be considered a standalone series. It takes place roughly during the four-week time period when “TWD’s” Rick Grimes was unconscious in the hospital.

“By the end of Season 1, we know the world has changed and it is the end of the world as we know it, but it’s not yet at the point where Rick woke up in Georgia,” said showrunner Dave Erickson. “We come to realize the world has changed, but our characters are still insulated from all of what has happened.”

BBC America

The new original series ”The Last Kingdom,” bowing Oct. 10, is already being compared to “Game of Thrones.” Set in the ninth century, the eight-part drama — from the producers of “Downton Abbey” — is described as a story of redemption, vengeance and self-discovery set at the time of the birth of England. It follows a young hero and outsider on a fierce mission to reclaim his birthright and is based on Bernard Cornwell’s best-selling franchise ”The Saxon Stories.” It combines historical figures and events with fictional characters during the reign of Alfred the Great, who as King of Wessex fought off a Viking invasion.

“Alfred is like the English George Washington, in the sense that he is a name all English people know of, and really know nothing about,” said Gareth Neame, who said he was inspired by “The Tudors” and noted that while “GoT” is a fantasy, this is not. “This idea grabbed me as soon as I was introduced to the books. For people in the United States, England is that place that’s always been there. The idea that there was a time before it even existed was intriguing to me.”

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