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TCA Winter 2016 Tour: Quick Takes from BET, TVland, MTV, Lifetime, A&E and NatGeo 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 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 Winter’s TCA tour included presentations from a multitude of cable channels, including: BET, TVland, MTV, Lifetime, A&E and NatGeo, who presented on the second day of the tour.  Here are some of the featured television shows and specials that caught our attention:

BET

BET boasts that it is among the Top 15 cable networks  for 18-49 demographic.  It also claims to have outpaced all other networks in growth in final quarter of 2015, with key demos up across the board.  As expected, BET’s hit drama series BEING MARY JANE was renewed for Season 4.  (Fun fact:  BET’s BEING MARY JANE trended in US and worldwide for each week it aired this past Fall. Given the strong network show competition by the Big 5, that is impressive.  Clearly, BEING MARY JANE resonating with social media audience and viewers.)

ZOE EVER AFTER is BET’s newest comedy series starring Brandy Norwood, who portrays a single mom embracing her career and romantic dreams.  Co-starring Dorian Missick (who I remember fondly from Season 3 of HAVEN), the show sparkles with humor and warm camaraderie. (Fun fact: producers behind the show are same producers for CBS’ SCORPION and come from backgrounds such as working on COUGAR TOWN and SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS — nations have king-makers, but television has hit-makers — so very promising start for BET’s latest comedy series.) ZOE EVER AFTER currently airs Tuesday nights at 10:00 p.m. on BET.

TVland

TVland credits YOUNGER, IMPASTOR and THE JIM GAFFIGAN SHOW for bringing in more viewers last season and dropping the median age of its viewership by 7 years.  TVland also continues its comedy hot-streak by announcing the pick-up of the new Melissa McCarthy-produced comedy series NOBODIES and the premiere of the new George Lopez comedy series LOPEZ coming in March 2016 on TVland.

Joining the strong comedy slate, TEACHERS is TVland’s newest comedy debuting January 13th, paired with the break-out hit YOUNGER.  TEACHERS is comprised of The Katydids — which is the group name for the six stars of the show who all have a variation of the name “Kate” in real life:  Caitlin Barlow, Katy Colloton, Cate Freedman, Kate Lambert, Katie O’Brien and Kathryn Renee Thomas.  With all of them having nearly the same sounding name, it is fun that they adopted the term Katydids to humorously refer to themselves. TEACHERS debuts Wednesday, January 13th at 10:00 p.m. on TVland.

In surprise announcement, capitalizing on its popularity, TVland announced that YOUNGER has been renewed for Season 3 ahead of the Season 2 premiere coming January 13th followed by YOUNGER Season 3 premiere coming Fall 2016. Preview clips foreshadow tough and possible break-up times ahead for Liza (Sutton Foster) and Josh (Nico Tortella) as they struggle with their age difference and the difficulty of keeping Liza’s secret in Season 2, which could bode well for Team Charles (Peter Hermann) fans. (Personal observation:  no matter where Liza’s heart leads, it is sure to sizzle!) YOUNGER Season 2 premieres January 13, 2016 at 10:30 p.m on TVland.

MTV

THE SHANNARA CHRONICLES just made its big debut Tuesday, January 5th on MTV.  Paired with MTV’s long-running hit supernatural show TEEN WOLF, THE SHANNARA CHRONICLES is poised to soar.  The world-building alone with its stunning visuals and cinematography makes SHANNARA CHRONICLES incredibly compelling to watch.  Add in a complex mythology with appealing characters — all heroes in the making — SHANNARA CHRONICLES aims to capture all its viewers’ hearts.  Coming from Al Gough and Miles Millar, who also just launched the new AMC series INTO THE BADLANDS, it is fantastic to see that both THE SHANNARA CHRONICLES and INTO THE BADLANDS showcase female characters who are both bad-ass and who can kick-ass.  Plus, you have to admire the audacity to tell complicated stories of mythology — trusting that modern audiences, including Millennials, will keep and enjoy the layered stories.  THE SHANNARA CHRONICLES airs Tuesday nights at 9:00 p.m. on MTV.

Lifetime

Perhaps one of the most critically-acclaimed television shows of 2015, Lifetime’s UnREAL was an unexpected break-out hit.  Credit rests largely on the shoulders of the actors who brought such relish, delight and remarkable talent to their roles and bringing the outrageous behind-the-scenes antics of reality television to light in the fictional world of reality TV dating shows.  After so spectacularly blowing up the relationships and construct of the show-within-a-show known as “Everlasting,” UnREAL looks to set up another season of dating exploits, but with a different male suitor vying for the affections of celebrity-starved and limelight-seeking women.  Co-executive producer Marti Noxon emphasized that UNREAL is ultimately about sexual politics and the human wreckage in the after-math of reality television shows. To which co-executive producer Sarah Shapiro stated that it is a topic that is so long overdue and needs to be talked about.  As to where the show can go from where it ended in Season 1, co-executive producer Carol Barbee also said that while Season 1 of UNREAL was about the princess fantasy, Season 2 focuses on masculinity and how the current men’s rights movement intersects with feminism. Per Shapiro, the princess fantasy is “the idea that one guy can show up and change your life — and how much that fucked us all up” and per Noxon in UNREAL, “The women are the deciders; the men are the reactors and they react to what the women do.”  Interestingly, as far as real-world ramifications, Noxon also noted that a prominent reality TV personality privately told her UNREAL events felt very real and star Constance Zimmer said that she has also gotten quite a bit of feedback from viewers who say that UNREAL has changed how they now watch reality TV shows. Understandably, UNREAL has not only struck a chord, it has touched a nerve out there with viewers and former reality TV contestants.  Looking ahead, as a teaser for Season 2, Barbee foreshadowed: “Jeremy (Josh Kelly) comes back pretty angry and gunning for Rachel (Shiri Appleby).”  Co-star Craig Bierko chimed into to add that his character Chet goes on a paleo diet and joins a men’s group. (Observation: As to whether Season 1 co-star Freddie Stroma will be reprising his role as Adam, it seems unlikely as the show moves forward in Season 2 with an African-American bachelor and his female suitors — and the fact that Stroma is currently working on GAME OF THRONES.) Look for the Season 2 premiere of UNREAL coming Summer 2016.

Also announced at TCA, Lifetime will air an exclusive interview with Hilary Clinton as part of “Conversation With Amanda de Cadenet” on January 13th at 10 p.m. on Lifetime.

A&E

Picking up after the 1976 film “The Omen” and ignoring any subsequent films after the original, the A&E drama series DAMIEN sets itself up as a sequel.  In the series, Damien is now a young man and a war photographer. He finds himself surrounded by people in pain and people have to explain the bad stuff he did when he was young — and Damien has repressed all the evil things he did as a kid and has no idea his destiny is to be the Antichrist. But with that duality tugging on his soul, Damien must wrestle with his foretold destiny.  (Personal observation: with the charming Bradley James starring as Damien, good chance that this series will be mesmerizing to watch.) DAMIEN premieres March 7th at 10:00 p.m. on A&E, following the Season 4 premiere of BATES MOTEL.  

Also coming as a new supernatural television series on A&E is THE FRANKENSTEIN CHRONICLES starring Sean Bean.  It focuses on a English inspector back in the 1800’s who finds a child’s body made up of different body parts and how his quest to track down those responsible for the heinous crime takes him into the underworld of crime and societal decay.  There is also a demonic power or presence at play that adds to the supernatural spookiness of the series.  Watch for the premiere of THE FRANKENSTEIN CHRONICLES later in 2016 on A&E.  

In an ambitious, 4-part mini-series, A&E tackles bringing the greatest book ever written to television in its epic and visually-stunning version of WAR & PEACE.  Starring Lily James (last seen in DOWNTON ABBEY) and James Norton (last seen in GRANTCHESTER), WAR & PEACE is romantic and sweeping tale of the fall of the Russian Empire in 1812. Written for screen by Andrew Davies, who also wrote the 1995 adaptation of PRIDE & PREJUDICE, Davies made sure to write in a perfect Russian Mr. Darcy role to help capture the romance of the era and to draw the audience into their crumbling world.  WAR & PEACE, part 1, debuts January 18th at 9:00 p.m. on A&E, airing simultaneously on A&E, History and Lifetime — parts 2, 3, and 4 follow each subsequent Monday for 3 more weeks through February 8th in 2-hour blocks.

National Geographic (NatGeo)

In 2015, there were 750 non-fiction shows on TV and more than 350 of them were new TV shows. Couple that with the the fact that interest in male-skewing reality shows has been waning, NatGeo has made a concentrated effort to focus on offering shows with bigger and more distinct subject matter. Accordingly, NatGeo will continue to expand and partner with more original and documentary-style content across all its platforms and channels.  So in 2016, NatGeo will seek to transcend and rebrand and change the perception about what it is and what it offers. 

Another interesting fact is that NatGeo currently has 250 million aggregate social media fans between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, SnapChat and YouTube, making it Number 1 in social media ahead of any other competing network.  

Striving to keep its strong social media presence and answer the need for unique content that appeals to all audiences, NatGeo and NatGeo WILD are offering in 2016: CESAR 911, STAR TALK, BRAIN GAMES, EXPLORER, NO MAN LEFT BEHIND, THE STORY OF GOD, BLOOD IVORY (new scripted thriller), along with numerous other TV programs fans have loved and tuned in for over the past few years on NatGeo and NatGeo WILD.

To highlight a few, be sure to watch for:
  
 – As a treat for dog lovers, the new season of CESAR 911 on NatGeo WILD will feature hilarious guest appearance by Jerry Seinfeld and his nightmare dog on February 19th. 

– The inspiring and true story of Malala Yousafzai comes to television in the premise of the film “He Named Me Malala” on NatGeo. See story of how one teen girl refused to be silenced in her quest to bring attention to the fact that young girls and women in Pakistan are still denied access to education.  (Personal note:  It is appalling and terrifying that women are still denied access to getting an education in places around the globe in today’s world.)  Look for “He Named Me Malala” to make its television premiere on February 29th on Nat Geo.

– STAR TALK WITH NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON has been renewed for Season 3 and a companion book has been order to release in conjunction with the third season in Fall 2016 on Nat Geo.

– NatGeo is partnering with FX to produce its first scripted drama series BLOOD IVORY, which will be an intense story of the “massive global web of contraband wild animals and ivory, linked closely with the trafficking of narcotics, people and weapons” and “exposes the shocking underworld that rewards greed and bloodshed that funds the madness of terrorist regimes.” (No release date has been scheduled yet.)

That’s a wrap on the network and studio presentations from Day 2 of the Winter 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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