Hillary Atkin

Cable Highlights From Summer TCA

Jul 30, 2019

It’s not often when someone gets a warm round of sustained applause at the Television Critics Association press tour, but that’s what happened when HBO’s Quentin Schaffer took the stage at the Beverly Hilton last week.

The week before, he had announced his exit after 39 years as communications chief at the network and he told the assembled audience of journalists that he wanted to do one last TCA. He said it was his 100th, because he went back to the days when the confab was held four times a year and not biannually.

Schaffer is going out on a high note with not only a final TCA under his belt but a record number of nominations for the Emmys, which he said he’ll be watching at home in his bathrobe.

HBO was among a number of cablers and streamers participating in the first week of summer TCA, known as CTAM. Others included National Geographic Channels, Starz, TNT, TBS, AMC, AT&T Audience Network, Discovery Communications, A+E Networks, Epix, Britbox, Hallmark/Crown Media, Hulu, Court TV and Amazon Prime Video.

Surprisingly, given its volume of new shows, Netflix did not participate.

With five full days of panels, presentations and screenings, there were a number of program highlights presented during the confab. Here are some of them:

A+E Networks

Lifetime has likely not had such a cultural and societal impact as it did with its documentary “Surviving R. Kelly.” The powerful four-part series forced a re-examination of allegations against the popular R&B singer, who is now facing additional state and federal sex crimes charges. As the real life drama continues, so will a new documentary series, “Surviving R. Kelly: The Aftermath.”

In the same “Surviving” vein, Lifetime announced it is producing a documentary series on accused sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein, currently behind bars in New York City. “Surviving Jeffrey Epstein” will examine how the financier used his wealth and connections to powerful people to shield his alleged sex crimes with young girls, even after he registered as a sex offender in 2008.

“Patsy & Loretta” explores the friendship between two of country music’s most legendary stars, Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn, who are portrayed by Megan Hilty and Jesse Mueller in the upcoming Lifetime movie. It’s directed by Callie Khouri and executive produced by Neil Meron.

National Geographic Channels

With the excitement over the recent 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s lunar landing, it was the perfect time for Nat Geo boss Courteney Monroe to give a first look at “The Right Stuff,” which springboards off the Tom Wolfe novel. The one-hour drama follows the military pilots who train to become the first men in space beginning at the height of the Cold War.

Monroe also previewed another literary adaptation, “Barkskins,” based on Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Proulx’s 2016 bestselling novel. She said both scripted dramas could be shows that extend over multiple seasons with recurring characters.

Nat Geo is also developing a limited series based on Mark Bowden’s book “Guests of the Ayatollah,” about the 1979 Iran hostage crisis during which more than 50 Americans were taken captive at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held for 444 days.

While it’s been announced that the third run of “Genius” will focus on Aretha Franklin — although casting hasn’t — Monroe revealed Nat Geo had decided not to proceed with a season centering on “Frankenstein” author Mary Shelley, saying they couldn’t find a way to crack the story creatively for a limited series.

“Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted” premiered earlier this month and the acclaimed chef led a panel serving up some of his adventures traveling around the globe exploring different cultures, customs and cuisine unique to each location in the six-part series. The destinations include Morocco, Peru, New Zealand, Hawaii, Laos and Alaska.

The adventures all take place in the mind in a revival of “Brain Games,” (December 1) an eight-part series hosted by Keegan-Michael Key, mentalist Lior Surchard and science communicator Cara Santa Maria. They’ll challenge celebrities including Ted Danson, Rebel Wilson, Dax Shepard, Kristen Bell, Mark Cuban and Tiffany Haddish to tap into their brain power through interactive games, illusions and experiments to reveal the science of what makes our brains tick. The in-studio audience and viewers at home can play along.

Celebrity guests will also populate “Running Wild with Bear Grylls,” which moves to Nat Geo from NBC for its fifth season. Those entering the most extreme environments on the planet include Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Channing Tatum and Joel McHale—along with Alex Honnold, whose skill has already been well-documented in “Free Solo.”


The premium cabler’s sessions were a mix of comedy, drama, suspense — and HBO programming chief Casey Bloys defending the final season of “Game of Thrones” and explaining what went on behind the scenes for the second season of “Big Little Lies.”

The bottom line: fan protests, online petitions and feedback do not and will not dictate the creative direction of programming and in television, it is the showrunner and executive producers who have key creative control over the project, not the director, as he or she does in film.

“A Black Lady Sketch Show,” premiering August 2, aims to move way past any well-worn tropes about black women and into the realm of magical reality filled with hilarious characters and celebrity guests who mix it up with the core cast of Robin Thede, Quinta Brunson, Gabrielle Dennis and Ashley Nicole Black.

Laughter is also on tap with “The Righteous Gemstones,” starring John Goodman and Danny McBride as the father and oldest son in an ultra-wealthy, world-famous televangelist family whose daily actions defy the word of the Almighty. Sex, drugs, infidelity and murder are all part of the mix in the series, which bows August 18 and also stars Adam Devine, Cassidy Freeman and Edi Patterson.

Limited series “Our Boys” (August 12) is based on the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the summer of 2014 and the revenge killing two days later of a Palestinian teenager, traumatic events which led to the outbreak of war in Gaza. The co-production with Keshet Studios was filmed in Israel and focuses on the investigation into the Palestinian boy’s murder.

Genre fans will likely thrill to “His Dark Materials,” which traces the journey of a brave young woman from another world and her search for a kidnapped friend, which reveals a sinister scheme involving stolen children. The bold-faced named cast includes James McAvoy, Ruth Wilson and Lin-Manuel Miranda, with Dafne Keen as Lyra.

The superhero saga “Watchmen” takes a new turn under the leadership of Damon Lindelof while embracing the nostalgia of the original groundbreaking graphic novel— even as its co-creator Dave Gibbons refuses to be involved with any adaptations. (The 2009 film directed by Zack Snyder was one of our personal favorites.) In addition to Lindelof’s passionate following from the “Lost” days, viewers will be drawn in by the cast which includes Regina King, Don Johnson, Jeremy Irons, Tim Blake Nelson, Jean Smart, Frances Fisher and Louis Gossett Jr.


After opening remarks from COO Jeffrey Hirsch, including the announcement of an adaptation of “Dangerous Liaisons” and a new pickup of “The Girlfriend Experience,” the pay cabler devoted its entire afternoon to its powerhouse drama “Power,” which is heading into its sixth and final season. It will be broken into two parts. Ten episodes will air beginning August 25 and the remaining five will unspool next January.

But wait, there’s more – a spinoff called “Power Book II: Ghost” starring music legend Mary J. Blige.

Before that big announcement, “Power’s” powerful executive producers, Courtney Kemp and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson took questions from the assembled journalists, including a few cringe-worthy queries about why the show hasn’t received Emmy nominations. For the record, it’s received a boatload of NAACP Image awards and BET awards, so read between the lines.

The mood got more upbeat when one reporter compared Fitty’s multi-faceted music and entertainment career to that of Quincy Jones. Clad in an all-white suit, Jackson bounded off the stage and into the arms of the reporter to take a picture and memorialize the moment. “We will see what Quincy has to say about that,” Kemp harrumphed, in good fun.

A deeper dive into the drama happened when cast members including Omari Hardwick, Naturi Naughton, Larenz Tate and Lela Loren took the stage and answered questions about their characters and the influences of their real-life upbringings.

Amazon Prime Video

“Transparent” veers off into new territory with a musical finale inspired by classic film musicals. As the Pfefferman family grieves over a life-changing loss, they come together to celebrate connection, joy and just possibly, transformation.

Get ready for “Carnival Row” on August 30, a period genre love story/murder mystery starring Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne. The drama series is set in a Victorian fantasy world filled with mythological creatures who struggle to coexist with human beings. The tagline: “Different is dangerous. Monsters are real. Love isn’t dead.” A second season has already been ordered.

Ripped from the pages of the popular New York Times advice column, “Modern Love” is a romantic comedy anthology that aims to look at love and all of its complexity. Each episode is a standalone half-hour with roles played by the likes of Tina Fey, Andy Garcia, Dev Patel, Catherine Keener, Julia Garner, Shea Whigham, Anne Hathaway and John Slattery.

Rotoscope animation series “Undone” launches September 13, the first small-screen project to use the technique. It follows the journey of a 28-year-old woman after a near-death experience who travels across time, space and into magical realism to uncover the mystery of her father’s death. Starring Rosa Salazar and Bob Odenkirk as the father and daughter, the series is from “BoJack Horseman’s” Kate Purdy and Raphael Bob-Waksberg.

Amazon Prime Video also announced it ordered a fifth season of sci-fi series “The Expanse” in advance of its Season 4 premiere December 13.

No word on the premiere date of the television adaptation of “The Lord of the Rings,” but the streamer announced showrunners and executive producers J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay will lead the creative team.

Also coming from Amazon Studios, an eight-episode season of “The Banker’s Wife,” based on the best-selling novel by Cristina Alger. “Homeland’s” Meredith Stiehm will write all eight episodes and Lesli Linka Glatter, also a “Homeland” vet, will direct the entire series.


“Godfather of Harlem,” based on the true story of infamous crime boss Bumpy Johnson, premieres September 29. Played by Oscar winner Forest Whitaker, Johnson returns to his neighborhood in the early 1960s after ten years in prison to find that its streets are now ruled by the Italian mob, whom he must take on to regain control of them. Radical preacher Malcom X becomes an unlikely ally. The drama series promises to be a collision of the civil rights movement and the criminal underworld during one of the most tumultuous eras in American history.

Epix also announced that the third season of “Get Shorty” will premiere October 6. The six-part docuseries “Slow Burn” will premiere November 24. It’s based on the popular Slate podcast of the same name. “Alive,” focusing on the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, will debut November 9 and the documentary “Laurel Canyon” will air in December.

Pro football fans will be turning to Epix beginning September 11 for “NFL: The Grind,” hosted by Rich Eisen and running for 17 episodes—through the entire season. It promises to be not only a deep dive into the games but into the lives of the players, on and off the field.


The author of “Moonlight,” the adaptation of which went on to win the Academy Award for best picture, brings his first TV project to OWN beginning August 14. Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “David Makes Man” is inspired by his own life and centers on a 14-year-old boy living in a rough neighborhood in South Florida whose hard-working mother tries to bring them out of poverty as young David is coping with the death of his best friend.

More true crime tales come to Investigation Discovery with “Truth About Murder with Sunny Hostin,” whose host is a former federal prosecutor, victims’ rights advocate and legal correspondent for ABC News. The six-episode series, which bows October 22, follows Hostin as she travels across the country to explore the search for justice in “controversial” homicide cases.

“Girl Meets Farm,” Food Network’s Emmy-nominated reality series set on a sugar beet farm located on the border of Minnesota and North Dakota and more specifically, in the kitchen of Molly Yeh, drops its new season in September. Yeh’s homespun cuisine is inspired by both her Jewish and her Chinese heritage, giving a fresh spin to heartland classics. (Recipes can be found in her award-winning cookbook, “Molly on the Range.”)

There couldn’t have been a more excited group of cast members then the six TV siblings who reunite for “A Very Brady Renovation” on HGTV. Barry Williams, Maureen McCormick, Christopher Knight, Eve Plumb, Mike Lookinland and Susan Olsen will join in the spectacular renovation of one of the most photographed homes in the U.S. in a four-part series beginning September 9. While exteriors of the real home in North Hollywood were used as establishing shots in the iconic sitcom, the interior rooms were, surprise, sets. The renovation is bound to further cement the home’s place in pop culture and TV history.


1994’s “Four Weddings and a Funeral” is generally considered one of the greatest romantic comedy films of all time and now Hulu is taking a shot at an adaptation of the title in a series starring Mindy Kaling and Nathalie Emmanuel of “Game of Thrones” fame. The story (premiering July 31) revolves around Emmanuel’s character, a New York-based political communications attaché who receives a wedding invite from a college friend now living in London. She leaves her life behind and enters one in England where new relationships are forged, political scandals are exposed and love affairs are ignited before they crash and burn. Naturally, there are four weddings — and a funeral.

The Wu-Tang Clan is definitely having a moment after a recent docu-series on Showtime and now this dramatized Hulu series titled “Wu-Tang: An American Saga” premiering September 4. The show traces the Clan’s rise to fame at the height of the crack cocaine epidemic in the early 90s in New York City as the men involved are torn between music and crime but emerge to become an unlikely success story as apostles of hip-hop.

Limited series “Looking for Alaska” is told through the eyes of teenager Miles “Pudge” Halter as he begins boarding school and falls in love with a classmate named Alaska. Based on the John Green novel, the series is executive produced by a couple of people who know their way around teen drama, Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage.

Kat Dennings is the lead character Jules in “Dollface,” a comedy series which follows a young woman after she is unceremoniously dumped by her longtime boyfriend and must use her imagination to reenter a world of women and rekindle female friendships she had left behind.

Another comedy headed to Hulu, Amy Schumer’s 10-episode, half-hour series, “Love, Beth,” in which she will star, write, direct and executive produce.

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