TV

TCA Summer 2016 Tour: Quick Takes from the Fox and FX Presentations

LETHAL WEAPON: L-R: Damon Wayans and Clayne Crawford in LETHAL WEAPON coming soon to FOX. ©2016 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Richard Foreman/FOX

jonTwice a year, various cable and networks attend the Television Critics Association’s Press Tour where they promote new and returning television shows through a series of daily panels and exclusive preview clips spanning over a two week period.  The tour presentations provide 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 Fox and FX, who presented on the thirteenth and fourteenth days of the tour.  Here are some of the featured television shows and specials that caught our attention:

FOX EXECUTIVE SESSION

Upcoming dates:

September 19th – GOTHAM and LUCIFER return
September 20th – BROOKLYN NINE-NINE and NEW GIRL return
September 21st – LETHAL WEAPON premiere, EMPIRE returns
September 22nd – PITCH premiere, ROSEWOOD returns
September 23rd – THE EXORCIST premiere
September 25th – Amy Schumer will guest star as animated guest on all four of Fox’s Sunday night animated series
October 5th – Mariah Carey to guest appear on EMPIRE performing a duet with Jamal.
October 11th – special crossover episode of BROOKLYN 99 and NEW GIRL
October 20th – THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW LIVE premiere
January 2017 – THE SIMPSONS airs its first-ever one-hour episode 

Announcements:

Fox has the youngest demo of the 4 broadcast nets with median age of 48.
Fox has top 4 streamed SVOD shows last season with: EMPIRE, LUCIFER, SCREAM QUEENS, THE X-FILES.
Fox is in discussions to do more of THE X-FILES, but coordinating talent schedules remain an issue and Chris Carter has yet to actually write new episodes.
FoxNow app and Hulu digital/online viewership has doubled in last two years.
Fox’s new drama series 24: LEGACY will have a VR experience launched along with the show.

Tackling the sensitive topic of why Fox is having trouble launching a new comedy series, CEO Dana Walden noted that viewers feel more “urgency” to watch dramas than comedy shows, which is problematic as because viewers not watching within 7 days means that Fox has no way to monetize those viewers, which is necessary to sustain a TV show.  In addition, Walden noted: “Peak TV is a challenge. It’s trying to staff shows with experienced writers for 22 episodes.”  In addition, the proliferation of TV shows on broadcast, cable and streaming sites has meant there is not enough skilled on-screen talent (writers, directors, crew) to hire for new TV shows. So delayed-viewing and lack of skilled labor is critical concern in green lighting new shows or sustaining existing shows.

As to the decision to renew SLEEPY HOLLOW, Fox President David Madden said that the producers made a passionate pitch on how Season 4 had a new story to tell and focuses on Crane (Tom Mison) heading to Washington, D.C.  Referring to to the decision to continue the series without its female lead, Madden added: “It was difficult to figure out if it was the right thing to do.”  (It had been previously announced that Nicole Beharie had requested to leave SLEEPY HOLLOW in order pursue other opportunities.)  SLEEPY HOLLOW is scheduled to return in mid-season 2017.

LETHAL WEAPON

In its reboot of the popular buddy-cop film franchise as a TV series, Fox’s LETHAL WEAPON is just what everyone is hoping for: action, thrills, chills, and a reason to root for its heroes. Executive producer McG said when casting the pivotal roles of Riggs and Murtaugh: “We wanted to play into Damon [Wayans] and Clayne’s strength . . . and it [created] an emotional viewing experience.  I didn’t expect that.”  Co-executive producer Matt Miller added: “Really, it is about two guys that are broken for different reason and they need each other to become whole again.” So when casting for Martin Riggs’ character, Miller commented re Clayne Crawford: “We found him on an indie film. From that moment on, we knew we had our guy.” Clayne Crawford admitted that for him: “It’s scary going to work every day” knowing the weight of the intense character and expectations of the fans and studio in relaunching such an iconic series and character.  In fact, before even accepting the role, he said he had to “go to the mountaintop” to think about it carefully.  (He has a home on a farm in Alabama and that is where he was when the role was offered to him.)  Co-star Damon Wayans said that the success of LETHAL WEAPON rests on: “The secret sauce is heart. People want that warm fuzzy feeling . . . and nostalgia brings that.”  As to the question of how a film series can be sustained as a television series, Miller said:  “The idea is that there will be cases of the week. That said, there is a season long arc that we will be telling.” During the press scrum, co-star Kevin Rahm, who portrays Captain Avery, was asked about whether he would be continuing his role on MADAM SECRETARY simultaneous to working on LETHAL WEAPON, and he said that he hopes to do both roles throughout next season.  Rounding out the great LETHAL WEAPON cast are:  Keesha Sharp, Jordana Brewster, Chandler Kinney, and Johnathan Fernandez.  (Impression:  Fox’s reboot of the popular film series is fantastic.  Folks who loved the films will enjoy the TV series and new viewers are in for a treat.  LETHAL WEAPON looks great and I was surprised by how much I loved it. It offers tons of big action and the buddy-comedy aspect is deftly added in.  It also smartly relies on strong chemistry of Clayne Crawford and Damon Wayans as the iconic roles of Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh. They make great team.  Side-note: Astounded that the producers were not familiar with Clayne Crawford’s performance on RECTIFY, which offers some of Crawford’s best work before casting him in LETHAL WEAPON.)  LETHAL WEAPON premieres September 20, 2016 on Fox (before leading into the EMPIRE Season 3 premiere).

PITCH

Fox’s new drama series PITCH is not really a show just about baseball — it is described as the story of a woman on the verge of breaking out in her dream career as the first female pitcher for a major baseball league.  It is not an easy journey and her trials and tribulations ultimately lead to triumph, but she has to earn it first. Executive producer Dan Fogelman described it as “a young woman coming of age in the world’s eye.”  PITCH stars Kylie Burnbury as Ginny Baker, along with co-stars Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Michael Beach, Mark Consuelos, Ali Larter and Mo McRae.  (Impression:  This is not an easy show to watch as reaching for your dream can be a painful, emotional process. Plus, the initial male chauvinistic attitude towards Ginny as the first female in the MLB is hard to stomach. But there is a twist that makes it interesting.  Side-note: Fantastic to see Mo McRae again. He had previously appeared in TNT’s MURDER IN THE FIRST Season 2 as the criminal-mastermind, Sugar.) PITCH premieres September 22, 2016 on Fox (following the ROSEWOOD Season 2 premiere).

THE EXORCIST

Fox’s horror series THE EXORCIST is a reboot from the film franchise of the same name and should feel familiar to fans of the movies.  THE EXORCIST stars Geena Davis, Alan Ruck, Alfonso Herrera and Ben Daniels.  (Impression:  Fox’s attempt to relaunch the classic horror story of demon-possession wreaking havoc on a family is a “miss.”  I found myself nodding off every time I attempted to watch it.) THE EXORCIST premieres Friday, September 23, 2016 on Fox.

LUCIFER

In Fox’s drama series LUCIFER, Season 2 throws yet another wrinkle in Lucifer Morningstar’s vacation from Hell with a visit from his mother.  It’s perhaps his worst nightmare — especially when his mother shows up in the body portrayed by Tricia Helfer.  Executive producer Joe Henderson admitted that they were specifically looking to make her sons uncomfortable by finding the hottest mom ever.  Henderson explained that the appearance of Lucifer’s mom is the “big driver” of next season.  Like, can Lucifer get to know her? Mom is the “stick of dynamite” to blow things up on the show.  As if that were not enough and things could not get more uncomfortable for Lucifer with his mother coming to town, another sibling pops up — just what Luci (Tom Ellis) needs: another brother.  Michael Imperioli joins LUCIFER for Season 2 playing the angel, Uriel.  Tom Ellis gleefully noted: “The fact that [the show] is funny is its saving grace.  It does not take itself too seriously.”  Henderson explained: “It lures audience in. People are invested in these characters. As much as its a story about the devil, it’s a story with a lot of heart.”  He added: “We see Lucifer processing things and experiencing human emotion. It’s fun to make the Devil care.”  LUCIFER stars Tom Ellis, Lauren German, Lesley-Ann Brandt, D.B. Woodside, Rachael Harris, Tricia Helfer and Michael Imperoli. (Impression:  I loved the pilot episode for Season 1 and every episode since then has only gotten better.  So I am eagerly anticipating Season 2 and more grand, hilarious adventures of Lucifer Morningstar as he struggles with his darker side and secretly yearns to be more human.)  LUCIFER Season 2 premieres Monday, September 19, 2016 on Fox.

GOTHAM

Fox’s drama series GOTHAM returns for Season 3, and as executive producer John Stephens described it, the continuing theme is: transformation.  For example, the character of Ivy has changed a bit, including the casting of newcomer Maggie Geha.  As executive producer Ken Woodruff explained:  “We took Ivy from the 15-year-old odd girl . . . to maybe someone darker.”   Co-executive producer John Stephens added: “Ivy has a lot of abilities. . . There is a coming of age story that happens very fast.”  He also mentioned that a foreshadowing of the character Harley Quinn may be seen as well.   Star David Mazouz shed a little light on the surprising twin of Bruce Wayne, revealing: “Bruce’s doppelganger is not evil.  He is more lost — looking for a purpose. He may take a dark turn.” In addition, Bruce Wayne will start to build his playboy persona this year and he is going to get lost and maybe  cross a line in the process.  Teasing further iconic villains, John Stephens said: “We wanted to cultivate the myth of the Joker over seasons — you will see different versions of the myth.”  Also looming is Solomon Grundy’s origin ties to what happened at Indian Hill and The Court of Owls, which is upcoming in Season 3.  (Impression:  GOTHAM’s focus on the darker, seedier side of the rise of the villains and their dominance in the Dark City is a crazy world that feels like it is spiraling out of control, but it does help emphasize the necessary rise of Batman and the deep roots of evil in Gotham. I am still in for the wild ride.)  GOTHAM Season 3 premiere is on Monday, September 19, 2016 on Fox. 

FX EXECUTIVE SESSION

Upcoming on FX:

FARGO Season 3 starring Ewan McGreggor
TABOO starring Tom Hardy (co-produced BBC One miniseries, executive produced by Ridley Scott)
LEGION starring Dan Stevens (from DOWNTON ABBEY)
ATLANTA  starring Donald Glover (from COMMUNITY)
BETTER THINGS starring Pamela Adlon (from executive producer Louis C.K.), 
AMERICAN HORROR STORY not ending any time soon (as long as Ryan Murphy has ideas, show will keep going)

Announcements and Q&A:

John Landgraf proudly said that 2016 has been the “best calendar half that I’ve had in my 12 years at FX. . . and the 56 Emmy nominations speak volumes about talented artists working at FX.”  

However, rather than continue to simply focus on FX’s strengths and achievements, Landgraf chose to use his executive session to raise the alarm re FX’s competitor, Netflix.  Landgraf announced that Netflix currently has 71 scripted series to air in 2016 alone, not including kid’s shows, documentaries and international TV shows, which is more than all the total original programming aired by HBO, Starz, Showtime and FX combined in 2016.  Landgraf also noted that, if Netflix becomes the premiere or sole destination online streaming service for original content, then the exorbitant budget that Netflix is spending on original content will have been worth it.  And if that does happen, then Landgraf’s second concern was that Netflix would have a monopoly on original content.  He felt strongly that no one network (content provider) should have a monopoly on original content.

Having trumpeted the rise of “peak TV” last year, Landgraf said with over 500 projected original scripted TV shows total coming from the combined broadcast, premium, basic cable and streaming services, there has to be a point soon where viewers reach their breaking point.  He estimated: broadcast = 150, pay cable = 50, cable = 180, online services = 130 (roughly 510 scripted original TV shows). There are 417 scripted series projected this year , but there were only 304 scripted shows on TV by this time last year.

The third point Landgraf wanted to emphasize was about Hollywood’s “diversity” problem.  After the spotlight was turned on FX’s abysmal history of all-white male hiring practices, FX actually made a determined effort to rectify the problem this year.  As Landgraf said, if you try to hire more writers, directors and showrunners — who are not white male — then you can.  However, I take issue with Landgraf’s claim that FX made great strides to fix this problem as the real question: Is FX hiring 50% women with equal pay? And, unfortunately, as of today, FX employs only 29% of women as directors — less than 1/3.  When women make up over 50% of the population, women should make up 50% of the jobs too — and at equal pay.  Until FX can match that, then it has a long way to go in its attempt to diversify and in providing equal opportunities.  

Another area of pertinent interest was the fact that neither Landgraf, or any of the network executives, addressed the increasing carriage wars — the now routine and frequent disruption of access to channels due to fee disputes between the networks/studios and cable and satellite providers, which naturally is one of the reasons viewers and consumers are fleeing to Netflix.  Speaking for myself, my Netflix viewing went up 99% this summer due to the ongoing Dish/Tribune carriage war, which started in June and is still unresolved 8 weeks later.  In addiction, viewers are seeking better alternatives to Dish/DirecTV and other cable providers to escape high fees as well a the lack of channels or inability to view content.  Is it any wonder that consumers are fleeing to Netflix? 

FX’s John Landgraf wonders WHY Netflix is making so many originals, but the answer is simple: Netflix is making so many TV shows because its subscribers audience want more shows. It is the rise of the cord-cutters.  The popularity of Netflix is simple math: paying $7.99/month vs. $100/month for cable or satellite access to TV shows (not to mention the extra fees to add on HBO/Showtime to a cable or satellite subscription package).  TV viewers and consumers seeking refuge from the high cost of cable fees and add-on premium cable to watch TV shows are happily paying for Netflix instead.  It is cost-effective and is guarantee to content they want to watch — with the added perk that Netflix can deliver anywhere, anytime original content.  You do not have to just watch from you home and not tied to the cable or satellite service.  Netflix is portable and offers significant value for its monthly price.

THE STRAIN

The vampire-apocalypse series THE STRAIN returns for Season 3 with more blood, guts and gore.  Fortunately, it also has a core group of heroes that are trying to survive and who viewers can root for to keep the show from getting to campy.  In hopes of getting new viewers to jump in, THE STRAIN has a quick intro that plays in the beginning of Season 3 that briefly recaps the events of the prior two seasons, which makes it easy to pick up from right then and follow the Season 3 story with the characters. Executive producer Carlton Cuse said this next season will test whether the heroes have what it takes to stay together and hold onto their humanity in the face of this parasitic threat.  He is pitching the Season 4 storyline to FX and hopes that will secure one more season to conclude the show.  Starring in Season 3 of THE STRAIN are: Corey Stoll, Kevin Durand, Natalie Brown, David Bradley, Richard Sammel, Miguel Gomez.  (Impression: If you can stomach the gore and the grotesque monsters, THE STRAIN is a pretty good apocalypse thriller.) THE STRAIN Season 3 returns August 28, 2016 on FX.

THE AMERICANS

The Emmy-nominated drama THE AMERICANS has 2 more seasons before it wraps, but it is certain that it when it returns for Season 5 in Spring 2017 more viewers than ever before will be tuning in as the show was finally nominated for Best Drama in the 2016 Emmys and nabbed top nominations for its stars Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell.  The show about a couple who are Russian spies actively conspiring against the U.S. government has finally seduced the Emmy voters and it is about time.  THE AMERICANS stars Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Noah Emmerich, Margo Martindale, Holly Taylor, Alison Wright, Frank Langella.  Season 5 will address: Paige’s further recruitment, more suspicions by the Jennings’ neighbor Agent Beeman, and Henry’s possible loss of innocence re his parent’s activities.  (Impression:  THE AMERICANS has been on my Top TV list for the past 3 years and will more than likely be on it again this year.  It is that amazing.) THE AMERICANS Season 5 premiere in Spring 2017.

That’s a wrap on the network and studio presentations from Day 13 and 14 of the Summer 2016 Television Critics Association Tour.  As a reminder: be sure to mark your calendars for the 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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