This week got off to a very strong start for two network presidents, the CW’s Mark Pedowitz and Showtime’s David Nevins.
Their respective networks shared a day at TCA’s summer press tour held at the Beverly Hilton hotel.
Pedowitz got the party started by discussing the network’s recent decision expanding to a sixth night on Sundays, adding two hours of prime-time programming. He said the addition of a new night got a terrific reception from advertisers, whose revenue represents more than 50% of the CW’s.
““Between that and the affiliates, they were thrilled. They were thrilled that we had grown,” he said. “They were thrilled that we were making a positive statement about broadcast. The advertisers went out and really supported us.”
Expanding the DC Comics-inspired universe of superheroes that is rapidly becoming the CW’s hallmark, Pedowitz talked about production on an upcoming “Batwoman” series, saying the character, a.k.a. Kate Kane and just cast with Ruby Rose in the role, will be introduced on a big crossover event in December.
Showtime’s Nevins also talked about expansion, in terms of more investment — and more reasons for viewers to subscribe to the premium cable network.
“Streaming has enabled Showtime to go from a luxury item to a bargain,” he said. “Competition has driven our penetration to all-time highs and we will soon be available in several national hotel chains and on college campuses. Streaming has clearly disrupted TV in ways to our advantage.”
Mirroring what FX’s John Landgraf said in response to the pressure to compete with the sheer volume of Netflix programming, Nevins said, “We are chasing distinctiveness, not tonnage. Our quality and inventiveness will be the important brand differentiator.”
He noted that Showtime has four of the top six scripted drama series on television: “Shameless,” “Billions,” “The Chi” and “Homeland,” which he announced would be ending after its upcoming eighth season.
“I can’t say enough about how much it’s meant to me — it’s the first show I greenlit,” said Nevins, who told the assembled reporters that showrunner Alex Gansa and star Claire Danes decided to end the show.
Nevin also announced development of a series based on the videogame “Halo,” which sent a ripple of excitement through many of the critics. Although not in production yet, he promised the show would be a big one.
Here are some of the other programming highlights presented:
The CW’s new high school football drama, “All American,” is based on the life of NFL player Spencer Paysinger, who is a consulting producer along with EPs Greg Berlanti and April Blair. L.A. Galaxy soccer player Robbie Rogers is also a producer. All of them appeared on a panel to discuss the drama, along with cast members including Taye Diggs, Daniel Ezra, Samantha Logan and Bre-Z.
Everyone agreed it would not be like “Friday Night Lights” or “The O.C.” The creators say it’s a tale of two cities and that it delves into the disparity between them.
“This is about a boy straddling two worlds. He does not leave his family behind. He struggles to maintain his life in both places,” Blair said, noting it will be a 60-40 split in terms of time in South Central Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, where Diggs plays the football coach who mentors the talented young player, portrayed by Ezra.
Diggs said a lot of things have changed since the other football shows were on the air, including issues of identity, race and sexuality. “We’re all forced to look at it differently. It forces the show to be different as well,” Diggs said.
There was no footage to show but interest was high for the CW’s upcoming “Legacies,” created by Julie Plec, who took reporters’ questions alongside stars Matt Davis and Danielle Rose Russell.
Perhaps with a nod to the characters of “X-Men,” but spring-boarding off of “The Vampire Diaries” and “The Originals,” it takes place in the Salvatore School for the Young and Gifted on the edge of Mystic Falls, where the locals think it’s a school for troubled rich kids.
But Plec said that inside are a wonderful cast of characters of young supernatural beings who have either been cursed by genetics or cursed by supernatural bloodlines.
“They all have it in them to be the villain of our story,” she said. “But through the love and the acceptance and being embraced and being around like-minded people and the tolerance and all the things that come along with being supernatural, because it’s a boarding school, we are hoping that we can show the path to all of them individually being the heroes.”
The CW also presented panels on “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” the acclaimed comedy-musical set in Chino, Calif., which is heading into its final season, “Charmed” and “Riverdale,” with an emphasis on meeting the parents of the kids, who include Luke Perry, Robin Givens, Mark Consuelos and Skeet Ulrich.
Showtime presented just two programming panels, but both were very high-profile in terms of the subject matter and the star power on them.
“Escape at Dannemora” dramatizes the incredibly riveting 2015 true crime story of two murderers escaping from the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York — with the help of a prison employee who smuggled in tools and had a sexual relationship with both of them.
There was wall-to-wall cable news coverage at the time of the daring escape and the ensuing manhunt for the two killers in the heavily wooded environs near the prison, located near the Canadian border. No spoilers, but facts are facts. One was caught. One was killed.
Funny enough, executive producer and director Ben Stiller was out of the country at the time and missed the initial coverage, but caught up with extensive research in the town of Dannemora. Given his background, he said some residents were trepidatious because they thought somehow the project — eight episodes premiering Nov. 18 — would have a comedic angle. Clearly, that is not the case.
With a script by acclaimed writers Michael Tolkien and Brett Johnson, who also act as executive producers, the miniseries stars Benicio Del Toro as convicted killer Richard Matt and Paul Dano as the other murderer, David Sweat. Patricia Arquette plays the prison employee who helped the men escape and hatched a plot with them to kill off her husband.
“There is no more important research than taking a tour of the prison,” Dano said. “This story was so sensational, and the script was really fun to read, but it’s super heavy, it’s bleak and they’re broken people.”
“They’re childish and emotionally limited,” Del Toro said of the two prisoners. “There’s something that makes you laugh but it’s not really funny. Paul, Ben and I tried to bring that to life.”
“In prison, there’s an adrenaline drip every day. You need to find somebody. These two guys needed to find each other,” added Dano.
Most prison break projects do not have a lead female character. Arquette discussed her experience on the five-month shoot.
“It felt kind of desolate and sad with a ripple effect on people working in the prison. There’s also the effect of the intense cold of that area,” she said, and described her character this way: “She was bored and she wanted to feel alive. It was interesting to explore sexuality as a middle-aged woman who doesn’t have the kind of body that Hollywood admires — to explore the need for love and wanting to feel it with these men and have it somehow triangulate, although she’s different with each man. She takes care of her needs before anyone else’s.”
Jim Carrey toplines “Kidding,” premiering Sept. 9, in which he reunites with “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” director Michel Gondry, who executive produces with writer Dave Holstein. Catherine Keener and Judy Greer co-star.
It’s Carrey’s first series regular role in more than 20 years. He plays Mr. Pickles, a children’s television icon who sports a unique haircut and practically defines kindness and wisdom for America’s kids — and their parents, who grew up with him.
And then his world begins to implode.
“The idea of a search for identity of who we are and what’s an authentic person has always been attractive to me. There’s something in this piece that calls to me,” Carrey said. “Being hit by a freight train and hanging on to what you were before is an incredible concept. Michel was the linchpin.”
“I just have to tell Jim what I want. He will try anything. He has no ego,” Gondry remarked.
“You learn to trust somebody and that has a lot to do with it. ‘Eternal Sunshine’ didn’t make sense, and he said ‘try it’ — and he was great,” Carrey said.
“It would be easy to make this ‘Mr. Rogers’ becomes ‘Bad Santa,’ but that’s not what we’re doing,” said Holstein.