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Summer TCA Tour 2015: Highlights from the MTV, Comedy Central, National Geographic, Discovery, UP, HBO, BBC America, Starz and AMC Presentations

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Twice a year various cable and networks attend the Television Critics Association’s Press Tour where they promote new and returning television shows through panels and exclusive preview clips.  It provides a way for television shows to get traction and attention of the hundreds of TV critics who then in turn will hopefully write about and promote those shows to their various audiences via online and print media outlets. This Summer’s TCA tour included presentations from a multitude of cable channels, including: MTV, Comedy Central, WGN America, National Geographic, Hallmark, Discovery, UP, El Rey, HBO, BBC America, Starz and AMC.

Here are some of the featured television shows and specials that caught our attention during the 2015 Summer TCA Press Tour:

Todrick (MTV)
MTV’s new docu-series “Todrick” takes viewers behind-the-scenes into the personal and professional life of YouTube star and sensation Todrick Hall.  Growing up on Broadway as well as taking a turn as a AMERICAN IDOL semi-finalist, Todrick Hall has been professionally performing for a good portion of his young adult life.  To date, his amazing talent has drawn millions of views and loyal followers on his journey and are known as Toddy’s. While fame and fortune have pushed Todrick into the spotlight, Todrick Hall was quick to reassure that he never forgets while working on all of his video projects and for his new television series that everything he does should make his family back home proud.  He also emphasized that while he is working on the “Todrick” series for MTV, he is not giving up his YouTube audience and that the full length videos that he and his team work on for “Todrick” will be exclusively available on his YouTube channel for after achieving such hard-earned success through his YouTube audience, wants to reward those fans. In addition, thanks to his work on YouTube, Todrick knows exactly what what it takes to make a video go viral: to have a strong concept and understand your audience.  Similarly, he knows how to share his success and how to best promote it, for example, he was cheeky enough to invite a whole room of press journalists over this his home to do a flashmob.  Accompanying Trodick on panel presenting the new “Todrick” show included: Todrick Hall, Chester Lockhart, Shawn Adeli, Nicole Faulkner, all who work on the show along side of Todrick and who he was quick all contribute significant time, energy and talent to make the show and the videos the best it can be.    Personal observation:  What I liked best about “Todrick” as a television series is that it offers an inspirational behind-the-scenes look at how tenacity and pursuit can make dreams come true. Plus, Todrick conveys boundless energy and youthful enthusiasm that is immediately infectious to all around him.  His joyous spirit alone makes you want to dance along with him.  (“Todrick” premieres August 31st on MTV.)

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah (Comedy Central)
Looking to make the transition from John Stewart to new host Trevor Noah in taking over the reigns of The Daily Show, Comedy Central smartly invited Trevor Noah to talk directly with the press about what the show will be like once John passes the torch.  Trying to establish his unique take and tone for The Daily Show, Trevor first acknowledged that today there are many ways that viewers are consuming news today and the significant effect of social media in the midst of it.  But he was quick to distinguish that, “I’m not in the news business; I’m in the comedy business.”  The fact that The Daily Show has never been a source of pure news and it has been a source of excellent comedy about current news and that distinction is one that Trevor intends to uphold.  He views his job is first and foremost is as a comedian and an entertainer.  So when pressed about some of his polarizing early social media posts, Trevor emphasized, “I’m not worried about people taking it in the wrong way, if we are delivering it in the right way.” He also clarified that the particular brand of comedy that he brings to The Daily Show is really about: “Find[ing] your truth in your comedy, and what I find funny may not be things we usually laugh at every day.”  So while predecessor John Stewart was critical of Fox News, Trevor will focus more on tackling the likes of Buzzfeed and Gawker.  Unlike when Stewart took over The Daily Show, the emerging 24 hour news cycle has changed dramatically with the advent of social media platforms and alternate news sources; and Trevor laughingly said, “luckily Comedy Central hasn’t limited me to 140 characters so I should be able to say things in a well formed way.”  Less enamored with the popular social media platform that has sent more than a handful of prominent celebrities fleeing from it, Trevor also noted that for many,  “Twitter has become a largely negative place.” Personal observation: After observing Trevor Noah’s piercing and insightful skewering of various news outlets, I found it on-point and charming, and that charm goes a long ways to add to his brand of humor.  Comedy Central may have just struck gold twice. (The Daily Show With Trevor Noah begins September 28th on Comedy Central.)

National Geographic
Constantly looking to expand their creative slate and satiate their viewers with new and unusual perspectives on the world we live in, National Geographic strives to provide the most resonant and vital brands. In fact their motto is:  “Chasing a life worth living.”  As a network, it aspires to be bold, distinctive and awe inspiring.  So looking to do just that, in the new NatGeo series “Star Talk,” host Neil deGrasse Tyson’s first guest is former U.S. President Bill Clinton (schedule to air October 25th). Then the second series NatGeo is launching is called “Breakthrough Prize,” hosted by Seth MacFarlane, honoring mathematicians and scientists with $3 million prizes for their achievements. (“Breakthrough Prize” airs November 15th.)  Next is NatGeo’s third series hosted by Morgan Freeman called “The Story of God,” as it explores why so many human cultures believe in God.  (“The Story of God” will air sometime in 2016.) The fourth and potentially the most exciting new series NatGeo is launching is the Ron Howard/Brian Grazer helmed miniseries that offers a fictional look at colonizing Mars, entitled “Red Planet.”  It should be noted that “Red Planet” is both scripted and unscripted in that it will include documentary interviews with scientists working the possibility of colonizing Mars, woven into its fictional future tale.  (“Red Planet” will also debut in 2016.)

In the meantime, debuting this Thanksgiving is the two-night event series entitled “Saints & Strangers,” which is the tale of those who ventured out to the new world to find freedom and fortune in the new world and which stands as the foundation of the nation we now live in. “Saints & Strangers” seeks to shine light on the struggles and accomplishments of the venturous few who started out on a journey and ended up nowhere they expected to be and yet persevered and carved out a whole new nation.  A few familiar faces include Ron Livingston, Vincent Kartheiser, Anna Camp and Raoul Trujillo.  In a nutshell, “Saints & Strangers” tells the story of first settlers of the Plymouth Colony.  (“Saints & Strangers” premieres November 26th.)

The most hair-raising and perhaps with the most vital impact in today’s world is the upcoming episode of NatGeo’s “Explorer” series, entitled “Explorer: Warlords of Ivory,” where investigative reporter Bryan Christy took it upon himself to find an ingenious way to expose the treacherous underground world of illegally smuggled ivory from Africa through China, which slaughters 30,000 elephants each year and funds terrorist organizations around the globe.  By simply using modern technology, Christy used a GPS device embedded in fake elephant tusks to track the illicit movement and sales through an smuggling route that has eluded authorities across two continents for decades.  NatGeo promises that viewers will be fascinated to find out the results of Christy’s investigation.  (“Explorer: Warlords of Ivory” is scheduled to air August 30th on National Geographic.)

NOTE:  In response to the recent outrage over the wrongful and illegal killing of Cecil the Lion in Africa, NatGeo Wild will be airing a one-day marathon called Big Lions Day on August 10th.

Quick take aways from Day 1 of the Summer 2015 TCA cable presentations were:

(1) Todrick Hall is set to break out to be an even bigger star than he already is thanks to his youthful exuberance and incredible talent.

(2) The NatGeo film “He Named Me Malala” based on the true story of Malala Yousafzai will make you both cry and your heart burst with pride. It will be theatrically released October 2, 2015 and will air exclusively on NatGeo in 2016.

Personal observation:  Both Todrick and Malala are voices of their generation and serve as fantastic source of inspiration in the power of pursuing your dreams — no matter what the obstacles.  Also “Red Planet” for NatGeo could be a break out hit given how much we all want to believe that space travel and space colonization will be our future.

Discovery Communications

Taking a hard-hitting approach to the state of the world and political affairs, the upcoming American Heroes Channel will feature on “Castro: The World’s Most Watched Man,” which will reveal just how closely monitored and scrutinized Fidel Castro has been for the past 60 years, as well as just who is now that Castro’s health continues to deteriorate.  Interestingly in “Castro: The World’s Most Watched Man,” the show relied upon information from former CIA officers Felix Rodriguez and Brian Latell who were able to provide an inside look at how the U.S. Government tracked the most feared man in the world.  They should know: that was their job.  (A date for this special has not yet been announced yet, but will air on American Heroes Channel sometime later this year.)

Investigation Discovery

Investigation Discovery (ID) is introducing a weekly news-driven series reporting on current headline cases.  In addition, they are publishing a series of books and journals, based on their series “Unsolved” and “Vanity Fair Confidential.”  Other upcoming specials to be featured on ID include: “Death By Gossip” (October 9th premiere) and “Do Not Disturb – Hotel Horrors”  (October 13th premiere), and “Barbara Walters Presents: American Scandals” (November 2nd premiere).

Discovery Family Channel

The most exciting thing upcoming on Discovery’s Family Channel is its new series “From Wags to Riches,” which features a family that rescued dogs and trains them to be in Broadway shows.  It is a truly inspirational and touching series that illustrates that animals can be saved and have remarkable lives.  From the show’s TCA presentation, it was interesting to find out that it is much easier to rescue and train dogs for Broadway performances, but not as easy with cats.  In fact, they explained, “when we train a cat, we have to find a cat who thinks he’s a dog.”  Personal observation:  My sister’s kitten would be perfect for the “From Wags to Riches” show since he really thinks he is a dog and bosses around the other five dogs in my sister’s house.  An important take away from the show is:  It only takes one person with a big heart to save lives when it comes to animal rescue and I wish more people who could open their hearts and homes that way.  (“From Wags to Riches” premieres August 6th on Discovery’s Family Channel.)

Science Channel

Upcoming on Science Channel is its new series “Secret Space Escapes,” which features former astronauts Robert Curbeam and Scott Parazynski and will air starting this Fall.  Personal observation:  It is a remarkable day when there two ex-CIA officers and two former NASA astronauts are presenting on new television shows. Absolutely fascinating experience.  (“Secret Space Escapes” premieres November 10th on the Science Channel.)

UP Channel

In bold move, UP Channel announced it had acquired all seven seasons of “Gilmore Girls” to air on UP starting this Fall. Personal observation:  I approve. Smart choice. I find it tremendous that UP is actively trying to engage new audience with so many cool new family-films, new original TV series and new content.  Another TV show that UP should consider adding to its line-up is the WB series “Everwood.”  It is a truly insightful and heart-warming series that would fit well with UP’s brand.

Three previous UP films worth checking out, include: “A Girl’s Best Friend,” “Love Finds You In Charm,” and “Love Finds You in Sugar Creek,” all adorable and uplifting.  So I was excited to hear that UP will debut its third “Love Finds You” film: “Love Finds You in Valentine” in Spring 2016. Such a lovely film series.

Then “Ties That Bind” is the new UP Channel family series starring Luke Perry and Kelli Williams. Luke Perry fans can also look forward to the new UP film “Welcome Home” debuting later this year, which looks super cute and heart-warming.

UP’s new drama series “Ties That Bind” is tale of cop who puts her own brother in jail and then takes on raising his two children. It is the ultimate tale of family and love. Personal observation:  Known for her performances in from such strong TV shows as “The Practice” to “Lie To Me,” Kelli Williams is known to bring such heart to her performances. So it is a smart choice to cast her to helm UP’s first drama series in “Ties That Bind.”  (“Ties That Bind” premieres August 12th on UP Channel.)

“Welcome Home” is an upcoming UP film also starring Luke Perry, who plays writer who helps homeless family that he finds out had been the prior owners of his new home that were evicted after their father died of cancer.  One can only admire how candidly, proud and fiercely Luke Perry declared that he hates cancer and he wanted the “Welcome Home” story told no matter what. (“Welcome Home” premieres September 13th on UP Channel.)

Finally, “Last Hope With Troy Dunn” is an inspiring UP’s series that reunites abducted or adopted children with their biological families, such as Troy Dunn had just found a boy, missing since he was 4, as a thirty-something adult living in a foreign country.  To date, Troy Dunn’s team has reunited over 40,000 people with their biological families. Personal observation:  Frankly, what Troy Dunn and his team do is tremendous and amazing work. They perform miracles. (“Last Hope With Troy Dunn” premieres September 10th on UP Channel.)

HBO

Coming up in 2016, HBO has two new series: “Vinyl” and “Westworld.”

“Westworld” is premised on a future where a corporate offers the 100% full-immersion experience.  Imagine a futuristic “Fantasy Island” tale with a dash of “Twilight Zone” flavor where you go on vacation and all the people you encounter are 3D-printed, live-action A.I. robots that look, sound and feel like real human beings.  But the twist is that someone is going into these full-immersion experiences and killing off participants and characters.  The series stars James Marsden and comes from executive producers Jonathan Nolan and J.J. Abrams.  Personal observation: If you loved “Inception,” you’ll love “Westworld.” It comes across like a tremendously exciting, mind-tripping and mind-bending “Inception”-style type of sci-fi show. I know I will be in for the ride. For those wondering, unlike the book from which the show is based, the television show will be told from point of view of the robots and androids; and based on its presentation, I got the sense that HBO’s version of “Westworld” will diverge widely from the source material and that the new series will be its own creature.

The new “Vinyl” series, executive produced by Mick Jagger and Martin Scorcese, is a drama reflecting back on effects of sex and drugs on the music industry back in the 1970’s.

HBO also announced that its Emmy-winning series “Banshee” will return for fourth and final season in January 2016, and will air exclusively on Cinemax.

Quick take aways from Day 2 of Summer 2015 TCA cable presentations were:

(1) Any day you find yourself in a room with two former CIA officers and two former NASA astronauts is an incredible day and you had better pay close attention for that kind of access and insight into two very elite professions is rare and valuable.  Both “The World’s Most Wanted Man” and “Secret Space Escapes” will be eye-opening and illuminating for those tuning in.

(2) UP Channel’s bold move to offer more original content and family-viewing is making great strides this year and I am looking forward to watching more of their shows and movies in the next year.  There is such a demand for good family-programming.

BBC America

From previews, BBC America’s drama series “The Last Kingdom” looks like an intense, violent, brutal and yet powerful tale of a time of swords and axes. Coming from “State of Play” producer Gareth Neame, “The Last Kingdom” it is the story of how England initially came to be created and was inspired by “The Tudors.”  Neame described it as  the story of a man and his destiny.  It should be noted that since the show is adapted from a book series of the same name, the show will go through approximately two books worth of the story each season. (“The Last Kingdom” premieres October 10th on BBC America.)

Returning this Fall is BBC America’s flagship sci-fi series “Doctor Who.”  Looking ahead at Season 9, executive producer Steven Moffat described it as that for this upcoming season The Doctor is less on a charm-offensive and is instead just on the offensive.  So The Doctor is no longer concerned with winning people to his side, instead he is just taking on his enemies head-on.  When asked specifically about the upcoming special appearance by “Game of Thrones” star Maisie Williams, Steven Moffat would only commit to saying that she is not a character from The Doctor’s past.  The other question Moffat refused to directly address was how long Peter Capaldi will continue in the role of The Doctor.  Yet, interesting, star Peter Capaldi said he was only committed through September.  Trying to diffuse the tension, Moffat laughing said: “It’s the only job in television where everybody asks when you’re leaving!”  One more tidbit  that was gleaned when Capaldi admitted, “I had no idea how to play how to play The Doctor; even today I’ve got no idea. He’s mysterious.”  As to the addition of the character of Missy aka The Master, portrayed by Michelle Gomez, Capaldi could only describe her as: “She’s so annoying, wonderful, funny, clever and evil.”  But Moffat said that he loved that she could be feral and frightening at the same time. As to the them of Season 9, Moffat described it as: “The glory days of The Doctor and Clara. They’re having the best time ever.”  Personal observation:  If the theme of Season 9 is “they are having absolutely the best time ever” — what could possibly go wrong?  (“Doctor Who” returns for Season 9 on September 19th on BBC America.)

Starz

Having made great strides in acquiring new subscribers in both 2014 and 2015, Starz now boasts being the Number 2 premium subscription cable service.  Clearly, the addiction of “Outlander,” “Power,” “Survivor’s Remorse” in 2014 — joining their established series “Black Sails” and “Da Vinci’s Demons” — brought in quite a few new subscribers.  So as Starz continues to broaden and strengthen its original programming, it is launching three new series, including the hotly anticipated “Havana Quartet” starring Antonio Banderas (based on Leonardo Padura’s detective novels), the ballet drama series “Flesh and Bone” (a gritty ballet drama co-starring Sascha Radetsky from the film “Center Stage”), and the upcoming “American Gods” series from Bryan Fuller.

In another gutsy and strategic programming move, Starz will make the third and final season of “Da Vinci’s Demons” and the first season of its new series “Flesh and Bone” available for binge-viewing on the first day of their release. “Da Vinci’s Demons” Season 3 will be available online starting October 24th, and “Flesh and Bone” Season 1 will be available online starting November 8th.  So mark your calendars and binge-watch away!

The Starz drama series “Survivor’s Remorse” is less a sports drama and more about the issues that arise when a family who encounters fame and fortune, and how their own pursuits entangle them in sticky predicaments.  One polarizing topic addressed in Season 2 is domestic abuse, but seen through the lens of when a sister punches her brother in the nose and how an overly ambitious District Attorney decides to prosecute it as an example of domestic abuse.  “Survivor’s Remorse” may use an unexpected angle to address domestic abuse, but ultimately it seeks to emphasize that adults, no matter what gender they are, are accountable for their actions and how unwanted physical contact can be actual and legal domestic abuse.  It is a risky subject matter for the show to tackle, but still brave of them to do so.  Another storyline that will be explored in Season 2 is the difficulties and rewards of what is like for an African American young woman to decide to let her hair go “natural.” There is a lot of drama that arises from every day situations, but when you throw in fame and fortune, the kaleidoscope shifts slightly and comedy can explode out of it. (“Survivor’s Remorse” returns for Season 2 on August 22nd.)

As a Halloween treat, Starz’s new drama series “Ash vs Evil Dead” stars genre-favorites Bruce Campbell and Lucy Lawless.  For those doubtful that the television series could sustain the sheer level of mass blood fans have come to expect from the films, Bruce Campbell was quick to assure that there is so much blood used on his scenes that when he opened his eyes he could not even see and there was one occasion that he nearly choked to death after filming a scene where he was practically swimming in blood. Personal observation:  my take-away is that “Ash vs Evil Dead” looks outlandishly grotesque, but I suspect that is what its audience is looking forward to.  So for the horror fans that love blood, guts and gore — with a bit of cheeky dialogue — this new TV series delivers all that in spades.  (“Ash vs Evil Dead” premieres October 31st.)

Finally, Starz’s new dance drama “Flesh and Bone” looks spectacular and intense.  It promises to not be a glossy and ethereal ballet story, and instead will offer the gritty underbelly of what professional dance life is actually like. While other dance projects have been known to either stay on the surface or dive too deep, “Flesh and Bone” will not shy away from how brutal professional dance can be — because one injury can disrupt career momentum and destroy a dance career, there is a lot of hiding injuries in the dance world. Starz president Albrecht said “Flesh and Bone” was cast with real dancers and described it as “TV without a net.”  Prepare yourselves as executive producer Moira Walley-Beckett says the first episode are the lightest in tone and that the story plunges into darkness as it goes on.  She emphasized:  “This isn’t a show about ballet. This is character drama, and ballet is the backdrop for the drama.” Personal observation Starz’s new ballet drama series looks addictive and compelling with inside and brutally truthful look at the dance world. It also offers truly phenomenal dancers whose heart-felt performances and characters that you cannot take your eyes off of.  (“Flesh and Bone” premieres November 8th.)

AMC

AMC’s new martial arts drama series “Into the Badlands” is a dystopian look at the world in the near future.  From the clips and previews shown during the AMC presentation, I can say I was a hell of a lot more impressed and excited to see “Into the Badlands.”  Specifically, AMC showed a clip from a bar fight in which the female lead known as The Widow, methodically and efficiently took down over twenty criminals to a particularly rousing music track.  It was ballet in its own right and with enough gushing blood to rival any horror movie.  Yet its stylized visual look make it enthralling to watch. “Badass” is the only word to describe it.  My take away from watching the presentation and the clips was AMC’s “Into the Badlands” is visually stunning, ruthlessly bloody, violent — and yet leaves you breathlessly cheering for more. Suspect it is going to be a phenomenal television series.  As star and executive producer Daniel Wu explained: “I knew the action had to be kick-ass, but also knew we really needed a compelling story.” So “Into the Badlands” is not just a show about marital arts fights, it offers a dense story of survival amongst warring clans and a lone hero trying to escape the war-torn life he has been forced to fight amongst.  Appearing for the TCA panel were star and executive producer Daniel Wu along with co-executive producers Al Gough and Miles Millar, fight director Stephen Fung, and castmates Marton Csokas, Aramis Knight, Emily Beecham.  Also co-starring but not at the panel was former “The Tomorrow People” star Madeline Mantock, who will make a tremendous addition to the show.  (“Into the Badlands” premieres November 15th on AMC.)

Lastly, the final presentation was for AMC’s new prequel series “Fear The Walking Dead.”  In an attempt to distinguish the show from its flagship series “The Walking Dead,” it should be noted that in “Fear the Walking Dead,” the characters are not seasoned survivors like in “The Walking Dead.” Instead, it offers every day people who are watching their society implode as the viral outbreak hits the tipping point and humanity hits its breaking point. No one yet fully knows and understands the viral outbreak will decimate humankind and that only the strong and ruthless will survive.  So in “Fear the Walking Dead,” anxiety and paranoia are spotlit as those are the prevailing emotions that accompanies this kind of outbreak.  As executive producer David Alpert noted, “the infected are equal-opportunity consumers.” (New verbiage to become familiar with, they call the zombies “The Infected” and not “Walkers” in “Fear the Walking Dead.”)   Also to distinguish the show, it is set in Los Angeles and not in the rural South like “The Walking Dead.”  Executive producer Dave Erickson said, “We wanted an urban backdrop and a direct counterpoint to the original show . . . [and] the show will not reveal the origins of the zombie apocalypse, but we’ll see the early aftermath of its effects.”  He said that because Los Angels is a city of 14 million people, there are plenty of opportunities their characters to encounter zombies.  The show will also explore the types of police and government response to the rising zombie apocalypse.  Personal observation: It is great to see former “The Finder” star Mercedes Mason now co-stars in “Fear The Walking Dead” — especially after just seeing her recent guest appearance in “Astronaut Wives Club.”  Also noteworthy, AMC is so confident in the new prequel series that they have pre-ordered a second season of “Fear The Walking Dead” ahead of its first season premiere, ordering 15 episodes for Season 2.  So Season 1 will be six episodes and Season 2 will be 15 episodes.  (“Fear The Walking Dead” premieres August 23rd on AMC.)

Quick take away from Day 3 of Summer 2015 TCA cable presentations was:

(1) Big risks and big swings are still the trademark of cable and it is smart. From Starz’s “Flesh and Bone” to AMC’s “Into the Badlands,” the passion woven into every fiber of these series is sure to guarantee viewers tune in and stay tuned in.

That’s a wrap on the cable presentation days from the Summer 2015 Television Critics Association tour.  Be sure to mark your calendars for these upcoming new series and specials as you do not want to miss out on the next great TV show that everyone will be talking about!

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