TV

TCA Summer 2016 Tour: Quick Takes from the HBO, NatGeo and EPIX Presentations

Westworld HBO

Twice 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 HBO, National Geographic and EPIX Presentations, who presented on the fourth day of the tour. Here are some of the featured television shows and specials that caught our attention:

HBO EXECUTIVE SESSION

HBO announced the upcoming premiere dates for its new Fall series:

WESTWORLD premieres October 2, 2016
DIVORCE premieres October 9, 2016
INSECURE premieres October 9, 2016

Other news announced:

BALLERS renewed for Season 3.
Alan Ball’s new family drama series has been green lit. HBO happy to reunite with the TRUE BLOOD/SIX FEET UNDER creator.
GAME OF THRONES Season 7 will only be seven episodes. No decision on number of episodes for Season 8 yet, but HBO is happy to take as many as show wants to do for its final season. HBO confirmed that Season 8 will be the final season. Spinoff possibilities have been discussed, but no decisions made yet.
THE LEFTOVERS Season 3 will be its final season with 8 episodes and will air in 2017 on HBO.
The DEADWOOD movie is currently being written and, if and when it is done, it will air on HBO.
As to TRUE DETECTIVE, HBO is open to the possibility of a Season 3, but does not know when or if it will actually come to fruition.
THE NIGHT OF is currently only a 8-part limited event series. HBO is thinking about a second season, but no plans to continue it beyond the one season at this time.

WESTWORLD (HBO)

Created by Jonathan Nolan (PERSON OF INTEREST) and Lisa Joy, and based on the Michael Crichton book, WESTWORLD stars Anthony Hopkins, James Marsden, Evan Rachel Wood, Ed Harris, Thandie Newton, Jimmi Simpson and many more. WESTWORLD is a sprawling western on one side and a high tech sci-fi thriller on the other. The story is about a massive amusement park filled with androids/robots that look and feel like humans — and for a hefty fee — the rich can pay for a fantasy come-to-life vacation amongst them. Know as “hosts,” the androids meld seamlessly with the “guests” and hundreds, if not thousands, of scenarios are programmed into the “hosts” to make each guest’s ultimate fantasy come true. The first few episodes move quickly to introduce characters and preview how the guests’ dark desires for power, sex, and domination can be seen as an oppressive and brutal life inflicted on the “hosts,” who are programmed to not harm the guests. But what makes the show compelling and addictive is seeing how a rogue bit of coding seems to be infecting and affecting the actions of the “hosts” and those glitches create an unpredictability to the standard stories of unbridled dark desires. It helps level the playing field and you find yourself watching to see if the “hosts” will fight back against the guest’s who inflict pain and suffering on them, just because they can. It will also challenge your perception of: who is a villain and who is hero, and why. Lisa Joy described it as: “With the A.I. … It’s like a child – it can develop in ways you did not anticipate.” She added: “It’s the constant examination of that line of where does consciousness begin and end?” (Impression: I found first few episodes of HBO’s WESTWORLD highly entertaining. Its multi-layered sci-fi/western style and story arc really hooked me. WESTWORLD feels reminiscent of a mix of Fox’s DOLLHOUSE concept in a JURASSIC WORLD setting with humanoid robots instead of dinosaurs. Point of caution: The issues of whether humans have right to use and abuse human-looking androids, as were addressed in the film EX MACHINA, AMC’s HUMANS, Syfy’s BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and Fox’s DOLLHOUSE, are raised in WESTWORLD.) WESTWORLD premieres Sunday, October 2, 2016 on HBO and runs 10 episodes in Season 1.

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CHANNEL

Upcoming NatGeo series and specials:

MISSION CRITICAL: PANDA BABIES premieres August 28 2016.
9/11: THE LONGEST WAR premieres Sunday, September 11th.
KILLING REAGAN, starring Tim Matheson and Cynthia Nixon and based on the Bill O’Reilly book. NatGeo just released the date for its film “Killing Reagan” which will premiere October 16, 2016.
EXPLORER returns as a weekly series in November 2016, after a 5 year hiatus.
MARS premieres November 2016.
CONTINENT 7: ANTARCTICA premieres in November 2016.
NAT GEO WILD’s SAVAGE KINGDOM premieres in November 25, 2016. (Narrated by Charles Dance.)
GENUIS, which focuses on the life of Einstein and based on Walter Isaacson’s book, premieres 2017. (First episode directed by Ron Howard.)
THE LONG ROAD HOME is 8 hour “event series” based on Martha Raddatz’s book, which will premiere in 2017.
NatGeo is developing an untitled drama series tells the story of four young British citizens, who journey to Syria and join ISIS, which premieres in 2017.
Then Graham Yost will help Nat Geo adapt Michael Crichton’s soon-to-be-published book DRAGON TEETH for television focusing on early paleontologists to premiere in 2017.

MARS (NatGeo)

The latest ambitious TV series MARS combines scripted drama and interviews with those leading today’s efforts to make life on Mars a reality. The series combines narrative storytelling with some documentary sequences; meaning it is a scripted drama from Brian Grazer and Ron Howard that embeds documentary footage and interviews with real people. In order to make the story and performances more reality-based, the cast of MARS actually attended the official Space Boot Camp and trained in a swimming pool to learn how to walk and move in a Mars type environment. NatGeo’s MARS is inspired by the Stephen Petranek book “How We’ll Live on Mars.” Accordingly, NatGeo describes the series as “science fact, not fiction” with the story taking place in 2033, flashing back to 2016. It is a 6-part series the combines futuristic space-colonization drama with documentary portions. MARS stars Ben Cotton, who previously starred in the BATTLESTAR GALACTICA series “Blood and Chrome,” and co-stars Olivier Martinez. (Impression: I am excited NatGeo is jumping further into scripted TV world with debut of its drama series MARS and look forward to seeing what story it tells.) MARS premieres in November 2016 on NatGeo Channel.

EPIX EXECUTIVE SESSION

9 years ago, EPIX launched and today, it is set to premiere three new TV series — two of which are EPIX’s first foray into scripted programming: BERLIN STATION and GRAVES.

Additional upcoming docu-series:
UNDER THE GUN, addresses the fact that there are more guns on the streets of America than there are people.
SERENA, looks at the remarkable personal and professional life of Serena Williams.
SCHOOLED, spotlights the big business of college sports.
4% GENDER PROBLEM, highlights the gender disparity in Hollywood in directing and other professional roles.

AMERICA DIVIDED (EPIX)

The new docu-series looks at a wide array of issues in education, housing, healthcare, labor, criminal justice and the political system that still separate our country, focusing on: gentrification, racial bias, water shortages, prisons, voting rights, addiction crisis, and labor disputes. A total of 8 segments, the AMERICA DIVIDED series utilizes a variety of famous faces to champion and investigate these issues, including: Norman Lear, Shonda Rhimes, Common, America Ferrera, Peter Sarsgaard, Jesse Williams, Amy Poehler and Rosario Dawson. Each segment had to have three key criteria: offer the roots of problem, results of problem, and potential solutions to problem. AMERICA DIVIDED premieres September 2016 on EPIX.

BERLIN STATION (EPIX)

EPIX’s new drama series BERLIN STATION is a modern day spy thriller about an agent attempting to track down a leak in the CIA. Stars Richard Armitage, Richard Jenkins, Tim Griffin, Rhys Ifans, Michelle Forbes and filmed in Berlin with a total of 10 episodes. Creator Olen Steinhauer credits inspiration for the series when he saw bumper stickers in Berlin that read: “A Bed for Snowden.” Richard Armitage said he was attracted to this script because it gave him the opportunity to portray a “human being, who had flaws” and he felt stretched and challenged by that. He also said that unlike his previous roles, this story was far less action-based and more an intellectual game. Co-star Tamlyn Tomita described her role as being an integral part of running the station even though her character is not a spy, the information she has can be weaponized. Then co-star Richard Jenkins chimed in to add that he was surprised to learn about spycraft that you cannot to trust anybody. He laughingly said: “I don’t know how spies live their lives.” Michelle Forbes that the challenge for her character is: “How do you maintain a steady moral compass, when you’re always asked to betray your ethics to achieve a goal?” To which, Richard shared: “There’s a lot of interesting betrayal — betrayal for a reason.” It is a twisty tale of spies spying on spies with betrayals lurking around every corner. (Impression: BERLIN STATION just made my must-watch list. Note-worthy: William Sadler also co-stars. ) BERLIN STATION premieres Sunday, October 16, 2016 on EPIX.

GRAVES (EPIX)

The new EPIX comedy series GRAVES is a no-holds barred story of an ex-president who decides to use his remaining years rehabilitating his legacy and do some good for the nation that regards him as the worst president in U.S. history. GRAVES is a fictional story, but in light of what we have seen in the current presidential election seems to pointedly poke fun at candidates who do nothing that they promised to the voters. GRAVES dares to ask: “What if you were president and 25 years later realize that all you did was screwed up the country?” Starring Nick Nolte, Sela Ward, Chris Lowell, the show utilizes all their natural charm and comedic timing perfectly. (Impression: For political junkies in search of a good laugh, GRAVES is worth a peek.) GRAVES premieres Sunday, October 16, 2016 on EPIX. [Full disclosure: GRAVES gave me a complimentary apple pie, but the pie was not very good. In spite of that, I found the show very funny and look forward to watching more of it.]

That’s a wrap on the network and studio presentations from Day 4 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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