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TCA Winter 2015: Quick Takes From Lifetime, A&E, History Channel, POP TV, Pivot, TV One, Starz’s TCA Presentations

Outlander_ Jenny Fraser (Laura Donnelly) and Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe)

Outlander_ Jenny Fraser (Laura Donnelly) and Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe)

On Day 3 of the 16-day biannual Television Critic’s Association Winter 2015 Press Tour, Lifetime, A&E, History Channel, POP TV, Pivot, TV One, and Starz introduced their featured programming, and the following are quick takes of their new and returning series.

Lifetime

In effort to continue their expanding brand with original content, the new TV series coming in 2015 on Lifetime included: “UnREAL,” The Lizzie Borden Chronicles,” “Damian” (based on the film “The Omen”) and “Clan of the Cave Bear,” along with returning original series “Devious Maids” for its third season.

Premiering Summer 2015 is the new dramedy series “UnREAL.”  Starring Shiri Appleby and Constance Zimmer, the series focuses on a behind-the-scenes producer and staffer on how they manipulate reality TV show contestants to get the most salacious and exploitive sound-bites as well as outrageous emotional reactions for the camera.  For, apparently, good reality TV depends on pushing-the-buttons of people eager to get their 15 minutes of fame.  Lifetime’s “UnREAL” is a dark satire of what happens behind-scenes in making a reality TV show that exploits people’s flaws and weaknesses. Shiri Appleby’s character in “UnREAL” is both the angel and the devil who pushes the buttons of reality TV dating show contestants. There is an utterly fascinating dynamic between Shiri Appleby’s character and Constance Zimmer’s character in”UnREAL” as you just never know who is out to destroy who.  In some ways, “UnREAL” feels like a spoof of “The Bachelor” and it hilarious. “UnREAL” provides a great prism to peek behind the curtain of how such a reality TV show could be filmed and viewers are going to wonder throughout the entire series if any of it is real — like is Shiri Appleby’s character  really falling in love or it it all just a game for the fake Ever After show. (Observation: “UnREAL” is reminiscent of the 2004 TV movie “I Want To Marry Ryan Banks” starring Bradley Cooper, Jason Priestley, Emma Caulfield.  Very cute film.)

Also debuting in 2015 is “The Lizzie Borden Chronicles,” which offers eight new episodes, continuing from where the 2014 mini-series “Lizzie Borden Took An Ax” left off.  It reunites stars Christina Ricci and Clea DuVall as the Borden sisters, and joining the show is Cole Hauser as a Pinkerton detective intent on stopping Lizzie’s murderous rampage. Also joining show are Jessy Schram and Jonathan Banks. Fans can look forward to “The Lizzie Borden Chronicles” offering much more murder and mayhem.  But, per Christina Ricci, the true heart of the story is the relationship between the sisters.  So show is “historical fiction,” it is based on actual events that did happen in Lizzie Borden’s life.  She was the epicenter of a number mysterious and heinous deaths. So the series delves into that.  “The Lizzie Borden Chronicles” premieres in April 2015 on Lifetime.

A&E

Mark your calendars: “Bates Motel” returns for its third season and “The Returned” (U.S. version) debuts immediately following on the night of March 9th.  So both Carlton Cuse shows will air back-to-back on Monday nights.

A&E‘s version of “The Returned” explores idea of what if the people we lost were returned to us — would it be as joyous and wonderful as one would think, or would there be dark ripple-effects from it?  For those who watched French version of “The Returned,” A&E’s version follows very closely for the first six episodes and then begins to diverge and takes the stories in a totally different direction. Watching the first episode, the show feels simply incredible to watch with its deeply compelling characters.  Mark Pellegrino noted that “The Returned” unmasks the characters in unexpected ways and it is the various reactions of characters upon seeing the returned that captures our attention — and those reactions change as series goes on.  Ultimately, A&E’s “The Returned’s” theme is: “be careful what you pray for.” The return of dead loved-ones may not be as happy as thought, and there may be dark ripple-effects.  Co-star Jeremy Sisto humorously commented on the idea that if such a situation happened in his real life that his immediate reaction would be: “Always call the police. When in doubt, always call the police.”  But he also thoughtfully noted that, “emotionally, it would be an upheaval.” It would have an immediate and sometimes disastrous affect on everyone’s lives. Executive producer Carlton Cuse said he was intrigued by the original French version of “The Returned” because it did not take the expected twists and turns.  So part fun of this show is wondering how these people have changed and if (when) they are going to become dangerous.

History Channel

As previously announced, “Vikings” returns for its third season on February 19th.  

Coming in 2015, the new mini-series “Texas Rising” premieres May 25th (Memorial Day).  On heels of the success of its previous series “Hatfields & McCoys” and “Vikings,” the next big series on History Channel is the 8-hour mini-series “Texas Rising.” Based on the infamous Victory Or Death Letter (“remember the Alamo!”), which arrived too late, “Texas Rising” is tale of how the heartbreaking loss at the Alamo inspired the rise of the Texas Rangers and Texas Revolution.  After reading the script, the only studio note was:  “fucking awesome!”  Appropriately, History Channel’s sizzle reel invokes that joyous love for its new mini-series “Texas Rising” and making it look incredibly badass. Clearly, “Texas Rising” is an excellent fit for network that airs the blood-thirsty series “Vikings.” “Texas Rising” is is the story of the Texas Revolution (just after the Alamo) and the subsequent rise of the Texas Rangers. The mini-series looks brutal, tenacious and completely awesome.  In fact, History Channel so confident in its new series “Texas Rising” that part 1 of the 8 episodes is being released in movie theaters.  Casting is also quite extraordinary, including:  Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Oliver Martinez, Bill Paxton, Ray Liotta, Brendan Fraser, Thomas Jane, Crispin Glover, Jeremy Davies, Max Thieriot, Chad Michael Murray, Robert Knepper, Jeff Fahey, Rob Morrow, Kris Kristofferson, Jonathan Schaech, and Cynthia Addai-Robinson. (Observation:  Will debuting event TV shows in movie theaters be the next “big thing” to reinvigorate consumer interest in going out-to-the-movies?  From “Doctor Who” to History Channel’s “Texas Rising,” going out to movies to watch TV-event is becoming more and more popular. Curious.) (Prediction: Every male member of my family will be circling around TV together for History’s “Texas Rising.” They love their westerns.)

POP TV (formerly TV Guide Channel)

After being acquired by CBS, TV Guide has been made-over and rebranded as Pop TV.  They wanted to move away from being a reference source that refers viewers to other channels to instead being a destination channel and source of entertainment.  It’s target audience is the 35-45 year olds, people who grew up in the 1980’s and are now in their 30s and 40s.  Pop TV’s motto is: “What would Jimmy Fallon do?”  So, in 2015, Pop TV is debuting its new comedy series “Schitt’s Creek” (a riches-to-rags comedy, premieres February 11th), its new drama series “Queens of Drama” (former soap stars unite to try to create their own soap show to star in), a breaking news show “PopSugar Now,” a singing competition series “Sing On It,” and examines the power and phenomenon of fandom with its two series “Rock This Boat” (fan cruises with celebs) and “The Story Behind” (behind the scenes of televisions most iconic shows).  Also returning for Season 2 is the reality series “Unusually Thicke” featuring an inside look of the life of Alan Thicke and his grown children and all their celebrity friends.

Pivot

For 2015, Pivot has three new series, including its first scripted drama “Fortitude.” “Fortitude” is a psychological thriller set in the Arctic after a brutal murder shakes a small community.  Co-starring Stanley Tucci, Christopher Eccleston, Richard Dormer, “Fortitude” will follow how murder investigation that uncovers a wide-array of dark secrets.  In a freezing climate where there are 3,000 polar bears and only 2,000 people, Mother Nature is a constant and deadly threat.  Then also looming is the reality of economic collapse as the town’s financial stability is about to topple due to the decreased demand for coal and the need for a new resource to exploit, whether it is building a tourist resort or making a stunning scientific discovery that had been buried for thousands of years under the ice.  So just who is pushed over the edge and takes a human life, whether out of desperation or necessity, becomes the question.  “Fortitude” premieres January 29th on Pivot. (Observation:  “Fortitude” is a slow-build, but intriguing.  Stanley Tucci, Christopher Eccleston and Richard Dormer bring a gravitas and credibility to it. Plus, icy scenery is amazing.)

TV One

African-American viewers watch 37% more television, and realizing that buying power is respected and desired by advertisers, TV One seeks to provide a venue to reach that coveted audience.  Accordingly, TV One offers two new movies in 2015:  “Hear No Evil” and “White Water.”  “Hear No Evil” is about a hearing-impaired teen girl who suddenly can hear everything around her and her struggle to adjust to the noisy world we live in as well as the question of whether she is the recipient of a genuine miracle — and whether God is speaking directly to her.  Then “White Water” is the story of a young boy who only wants to be able to drink from a water fountain marked “white’s only” and the societal groups and pressures that rise up to stop him.  Unexpectedly, “White Water” has a whimsical tone infused with lots of charm and humor. In addition, viewers are going to fall in love with the young twins Amir and Amari O’Neil, who portray the young boy who wonders if “white water” tastes any different. “White Water” airs February 7th and “Hear No Evil” airs February 14th on TV One.

Starz

“Black Sails” returns for its second season on January 24th.  It averaged 5.3 million multi-platform viewers per episode in Season 1.  “Black Sails” is a tale of pirates, but redemption is elusive for them all as death comes a knockin’ before they can save their own souls.  Toby Stephens said, unfortunately, there is no future redemption for his character Flint as Flint’s story ends before he can achieve that.    He further noted that, in Season 2, Flint has killed his best friend and all he has left is John Silver, which is a sticky and undesirable position to be in.  Laughing, Luke Arnold said he loves how much Silver drives Flint absolutely crazy in Season 2 and said it is a really fun part to play. Also in Season 2, “Black Sails” strives to be uncompromising in how they depict the battle scenes. They wanted to be bigger, louder and deeper in each battle.  These are pirates, after all.  Hannah New also noted that Eleanor has never been no more alone in her life in Season 2 since she has lost all her protectors. It forces Eleanor to rely on Vane more and more out of last-resort desperation in order to survive.  Fortunately, as Zach McGowan note: “Vane is not afraid of dying.  He is just looking for a good death.”  (Observation:  “Black Sails” remains one of the most gorgeously filmed and visually stunning pirate series I have ever seen. You just can’t look away. “Black Sails” also offers some of the richest and conflicted pirates on screen — although is hard to know exactly who to root for.)

Fans never had any doubt, but “Outlander” has exceeded Starz’s expectations.  With over 5.1 million viewers tuning in across all platforms for each of its first 8 episodes, “Outlander” has taken off as a global television phenomenon. CEO Chris Albrecht admitted he hopes that “Outlander” will be around forever and that the show will get a chance to go through all the “Outlander” books. The new preview clip included this profound quote:  “Love forces a person to choose and do things you never imagined you’d to.”  Truer words never spoken.  It is the overall theme of the entire series and continues to be the reason so many fans have fallen in love with the story of Claire and Jamie in both the books and the television show.  And it is not just women who are drawn to the books and show, author Diana Gabaldon noted that currently 47% of the television fans are male, which has led to a huge increase of male fans for the book series as well.  She is thrilled by this.  Then, as the show works towards the storyline in the second book, Ron Moore explained that while the bulk of the television series will continue to film in Scotland in Season 2, they are scouting other locations for the Parisian parts of the story.  He also said that there is a full time historian on set, which they consult with for all the show scripts. As fans look forward to Season 1B for the final eight episodes, fans may be interested to hear that the show will not revisit Frank’s story again ’til Season 2 — though, undoubtedly, Captain Black Jack will be around.  Talking about working on the show, Caitriona Balfe said, “This character showed me how much strength and resilience I have. Claire has brought my inner strength out.” As for Jamie’s upcoming journey, Sam Heughan said, “In the second part of the [second half of the] season, we find out a lot more about Jamie. We see his stubborn side and his pride. . . We start seeing his failings . . . he is finding his place in the world. He’s got new responsibilities.” Worse yet, Sam added,  “In the second part of the season, Jamie goes through a lot of injuries. It will be shocking.”  What fans can also look forward to is the infamous spanking scene, which will not be as erotic as you might imagine (especially since we have seen how much the show loves its eroticism).  Sam Heughan said that as a result of the spanking scene, that both Claire and Jamie learn a lot about their relationship and it strengthens their relationship. (On the fun side, just sharing this tweet exchange that occurred online during the “Outlander” panel at TCA:  My tweet, “Hey @RonDMoore:  @ThePaulCampbell (Billy Keikeya in #BSG) promised to check out #Outlander since he loved the books. Hold him to it!”  Reply from @ThePaulCampbell:  @TVwatchtower @RonDMoore I deny none of this. I shall watch and I shall undoubtedly enjoy.”)  Look for “Outlander” to return April 4th on Starz.

That is a wrap on Day 3 at TCA Winter 2015.  Look for more upcoming snapshots from TCA on the new shows and TV specials coming up for Winter/Spring 2015 here at Seat42F.com.

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