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TCA Winter 2016 Tour: Quick Takes from Starz, WGN America, BBC America, Sundance Channel, 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 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: Starz, WGN America, BBC America, Sundance Channel, AMC, who presented on the fourth day of the tour.  Here are some of the featured television shows and specials that caught our attention:

Starz

Starz president Chris Albrecht acknowledged that having a long-running successful TV series is the toughest accomplishment in the entertainment business, and after watching the phenomenal social media frenzy that broke out with the success and popularity of OUTLANDER and BLACK SAILS, he now sees social media as the primary way that audiences are spreading word about television shows and, for Starz, having a core fan-base helps as it acts like an “adjunct marketing team” — which worked well for both POWER and ASH VS. EVIL DEAD. 

BLACK SAILS returns with full force and fury of Captain Flint (Toby Stephens) and introduces the return of Blackbeard (Ray Stevenson) as an all-out pirates war is brewing on the horizon.  Executive producer Jonathan Steinberg described it as: “Flint is seen as a monster by everyone but himself.” Of Flint’s journey, star Toby Stephens said that as much as Flint tries to run and as much as he rages, everywhere he goes, Flint cannot escape his human side — as much as he wants to.  So Season 3 really demonstrates the struggle for Flint, Vane (Zach McGowan), Rackham (Toby Schmitz), Silver (Luke Arnold), Bonny (Clara Paget) to retain their humanity as they fight to survive.  Clara Paget revealed for Anne, her biggest struggles are her newfound sexuality and the burden of enormous wealth.  EP Jonathan Steinberg said that BLACK SAILS would not be complete without bringing Blackbeard into it at some point and Season 3 was the perfect time. For anyone under delusion that Blackbeard’s appearance bodes well in Season 3, remember that he brings dire and dark things.  Newcomer Ray Stevenson insightfully shared: “These men created their own legends — they were living in violent times — so they could create their own stations in life which had been denied to him in decent society.”  The greatest threats all the characters will all face will include: surviving through a massive storm, surviving Blackbeard’s plots, and a new ruthless English governor intent on killing every pirate he finds.  There is also a big intersection of the personal and political machinations this season and the season follows that story until those connect in a violent way. BLACK SAILS returns with its Season 3 premiere on January 23rd on Starz.

OUTLANDER returns for Season 2 with two big stories to tell. One, it will address what is going on back in Claire’s original timeline with her husband Frank (Tobias Menzies) when Claire finds herself unexpectedly reunited with him, as well as following Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire (Caitriona Balfe) as they attempt to find a way to change the future.  As Claire asks Jamie in the sneak peek trailer:  “Since when were you not up for a challenge?”  So Claire and Jamie will attempt to rewrite history.  Sam Heughan shared: “There is a great revelation that cures him and brings back the old Jamie. . . Jaime is still affected by the trauma, but ultimately he puts his soul into the mission . . . and he finds healing.”   Sam Heughan said he admires Jamie’s ability to keep going along with his pure tenacity and his dedication and love for Claire.  Unfortunately, Caitriona admitted, when Claire is reunited with Frank, Claire cannot help but see Black Jack in him and that will affect their relationship.  For fans of the books, executive producer  Ron Moore said that he consults closely with Diana Gabaldon about the “butterfly effect” of any small changes they want to make on OUTLANDER and what ripples that may cause in the future stories in the books.  As to Claire’s pregnancy, which will be a large part of the season, Ron could not reveal much without getting into serious spoilers.  A few spoilers that were shared was Sam revealed that Season 2 is about discovering a side of the character that he did not know was there — such as, Jamie learning to be deceitful.  He also said, “We certainly go back to Scotland where we go back to the mud and blood and gore . . . but that the danger in Paris is less physical and more politics and backstabbing and poison. It’s more hidden.”   OUTLANDER returns in April 2016 on Starz.

Then as a special movie premiere, Starz is airing the film “The Dresser,” starring Ian McKellen and Anthony Hopkins.  During the Q&A, McKellen and Hopkins commented on the question of why actors pursuing a career in acting when it is so hard, and cheekily replied that is very question that “The Dresser” answers with great humor.  Hopkins also candidly remarked that acting has in fact given him a tremendous life and admitted that he thinks every day about quitting, but then “they come up and offer me a job and I say okay, because I’m an actor… we’re mad.”  “The Dresser” is a theatrical play about a King Lear production that continues on even as the World War II bombs are dropping around them in England.  “The Dresser” delivers phenomenal performances by both Hopkins and McKellen.  Look for “The Dresser” to premiere this Summer on Starz.

THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE limited-event series is inspired by Steven Soderbergh’s film by the same name, and the series explores the inner-world of a young woman living two lives: one as a student and one where she engages in “transactional” relationships.  For those not yet aware, GFE (the girlfriend experience) is another way of referring to escorts and prostitution.  So THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE ventures into one woman’s attraction to the darker world of GFE and her innate desire for power and love of manipulation.  Star Riley Keough said that she was drawn to the role as it felt like the character was channeling a more masculine viewpoint.  She also describe her character Christine as very driven and loves power and gets off on being in control of everything around her. (Observation:  The series reflects shades and visits themes of Soderbergh’s first film “Sex, Lies & Videotape.”)  The THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE debuts April 10th on Starz and all 13 episodes will also be available for binge-watching that same day on the Starz Play app.

It was also announced that the new drama series AMERICAN GODS will begin filming shortly and will hopefully premiere later in 2016.

WGN America

WGN America’s new drama series OUTSIDERS depicts a gypsy clan living in the mountains of Kentucky fighting to stay on their land after a large corporation buys their mountain.  Yet this is no ordinary family living on the mountain.  They are gifted in ways not quite explainable and those that try to eradicate them fight themselves beset with seemingly supernatural problems.  There are times when the clan seems to be able to commune with wolves and make other fantastical events happen. So the key thing to know about WGN America’s new series OUTSIDERS is that there is a strong supernatural element — be even after watching quite a few episodes, I am just not sure what it is.   Starring Joe Anderson (THE RIVER and THE DIVIDE) along side of Ryan Hurst (SONS OF ANARCHY), the OUTSIDERS has a rough-and-tough feel to it.  Hurst describes the clan as a bit of hillbilly type gypsies.  (To me, it felt a bit more like the gypsies right out of the Netflix series HEMLOCK GROVE.) There is also the fact that the clan refuses to use electricity and other modern convinces, but they have an extreme fondness for driving and jousting with ATVs (rough terrain vehicles).  That dichotomy can be very disconcerting.  OUTSIDERS premieres on January 26th on  on WGN America, and the first 3 episodes of the series will be available for streaming and binge-watching also on January 26th on Crackle, Facebook, WGN America online, Sony’s YouTube Channel.  

UNDERGROUND is WGN’s new drama about the Underground Railroad that was established back in the pre-Civil War era in order to assist those seeking to escape slavery in the U.S. southern states.  It is a raw, brutal and savage look at a time that is a dark stain on the history of the United States.  Per executive producer Misha Green, “It’s not about the occupation. It’s about the revolution.”  Star Aldis Hodge said that “mental slavery” is shown in UNDERGROUND as the powerful method of used to coerce these people to stay and serve.  It was out of ear of retribution towards their families and those they love that kept them from running and thus it took incredible strength to break free of that mindset and fear.  Co-star Chris Meloni also expressed his awe of how the characters struggled with the question of: “Who do you trust?” Yet they did, just to be free. Aldis Hodge added, “Not everybody believed they were worthy of being free, or being treated as humane.“ (Observation:  WGN America’s UNDERGROUND is visually stunning, but terrifying in its portrayal of time that brings shame and haunts us to this day.  It frequently brought the actors to tears while filming the series, and it is sure to bring tears to your eyes too as you watch.)  UNDERGROUND episodes will stream on Crackle, Facebook, WGN America online, Sony’s YouTube Channel on March 9th on WGN America.

BBC America

Boasting 11 straight years of growth, BBC America is inordinately pleased with how far they have come and the quality of creative content they have brought to the screen.  In order for a show to air on their network, the only requirement it must satisfy is that it punches through with originality.  That is the key ingredient.

In 2016, look for the following BBC America premieres: LONDON SPY premiering January 21st, ORPHAN BLACK Season 4 premiering in April, the new series UNDERCOVER also coming in Spring, TOP GEAR returning in May, THE HUNT premiering in Summer.   BBC America also introduced Chris Evans as the new host of its long-running, hit series TOP GEAR and announcing that the DOCTOR WHO spin-off CLASS, written by Patrick Ness and produced by Steven Moffat and Brian Minchin, has been green lit for 8 episodes.  

PREY, the 6-part mini-series starring John Simm, Philip Glenister and Rosie Cavaliero serves as a bit of anthology series.  Instead of offering a reunion of John Simm and Philip Glenister, co-stars from LIFE ON MARS,  Simm stars in the first part of the PREY series, and Glenister in the 2nd part of the series.  PREY’s first part is about police detective that becomes the primary suspect in his wife’s murder and his efforts to clear himself.  PREY’s second part of the series is about a police officer whose path crosses with an unstable female inmate. PREY premieres February 25th on BBC America.  

UNDERCOVER is another BBC America mini-series, which stars Sophie Okonedo, Adrian Lester and Dennis Haysbert in drama essentially about “secrets, lies and the law.”  It is premised on the real world tale about how the British government employed male police officers to change their identities and go undercover and marry women in key positions of power around the country.  In UNDERCOVER, the story is about a woman who has just been appointed as the most powerful prosecutor in the U.K. and she finds out that her husband is not who he says he is and has spying on her at the government’s request for years.  Peter Moffat created UNDERCOVER specifically to tell the story about a policeman who falls in love with a woman he’s spying on and the ramifications of it. Story is intended to be large-scale political thriller.  UNDERCOVER premieres Spring 2016 on BBC America.  

BBC America’s new limited- series LONDON SPY is a deeply personal, highly complex tale about love, murder and espionage. Starring Ben Whishaw,  Ben describes the show as a dark “Alice in Wonderland” and mind-trip down the “rabbit hole.”  It is about young man’s quest for truth after his lover is murdered and the layers of lies that he uncovers about what happened and why. Executive producer Tom Rob Smith said that continuing the story beyond its limited-run did not seem necessary as the story had come to its natural end. He felt that continuing it beyond the first season meant that it lost “the clarity of that journey” for Danny. LONDON SPY premieres January 21st on BBC America.

Sundance Channel

Sundance Channel’s new series HAP AND LEONARD is described as “a deliciously disturbing drama about friends who kill for each other” and as “vintage pulp.” Star James Purefoy (THE FOLLOWING) laughingly admitted:  “There is a whiff of DUKES OF HAZZARD [about it] and I’m delighted by that — it’s a very beguiling piece of television.”  In addition to Purefoy, also co-starring are Michael Kenneth Williams and Christina Hendricks. The show is about two guys given the chance to improve their financial situation when a femme fatale appears and offers them the criminal opportunity of a lifetime to get rich and the ensuing escapades as things definitely do not go according to plan. The show is set in Texas and it uses that natural scenery beautifully to back-drop the lunacy and antics that break-out as Hap and Leonard try to escape with their dignity and skins intact.  HAP AND LEONARD premieres March 2 on Sundance Channel.

Then Sundance Channel’s new limited-event series THE LAST PANTHERS is a gritty jewel heist thriller, also where everything goes completely wrong. It is all about the race to catch the Panthers after a deadly jewel heist.  It plays out as a dark noir of cat-and-mouse throughout Europe.  It stars Samantha Morton, John Hurt, Tahar Rahim, and Goran Bogdan. THE LAST PANTHERS premieres April 13th on Sundance Channel.

Sundance Channel also announced that RECTIFY will return for 4th and final season coming Fall 2016 and that the mini-series REBELLION regarding the 1916 rising in Dublin, Ireland will air on April 24th on Sundance Channel.

AMC

During preliminary announcements, AMC said that the first 7 episodes of FEAR THE WALKING DEAD Season 2 will begin airing April 10th with the final 8 episodes to air later in 2016.   In addition, TURN: WASHINGTON SPIES returns for Season 3 on Monday, April 25th on AMC.

AMC is excited to premiere THE NIGHT MANAGER, which is a limited-event series based on the John LeCarre spy novel, which is a post-Cold War story about arms dealing & government corruption.  With the stellar cast of Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie, Olivia Colman and Tom Hollander, THE NIGHT MANAGER will likely draw both the curious and loyal fans — though it may trip out HOUSE fans to see Hugh Laurie in such a darker, ruthless, scary role.  Some of the changes from the original LeCarre book include: geographically placing the story in the Middle East, setting it in modern times, and the television series deviates from the book for the final two episodes.  Another notable change, Olivia Colman’s role was original written for a man — and when they cast Olivia, who was very noticeably pregnant at the time, they chose to add that to the story which they felt helped emphasize the inordinate risk in the world her character takes and the high-stakes involved.  AMC’s THE NIGHT MANAGER premieres John le Carre espionage tale on April 19th on AMC.

PREACHER is a dark, twisted new drama series developed for television by Seth Rogen and his creative partners Sam Catlin and Evan Goldberg.  It is based on the graphic novel of the same name and will follow the exploits of a priest with a less-than-saintly past.  Lest you think AMC’s PREACHER is too grounded in reality, there is a vampire character and Heaven and Hell have a large part to play. (Observation:  AMC’s PREACHER will greatly appeal to the BREAKING BAD and THE WALKING DEAD fans – blood, guts, and gore with a side of retribution.) PREACHER will make its debut at SXSW prior to its premiere on AMC later this year.

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