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TCA Winter 2016 Tour: Quick Takes from the FX 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 FX, who presented on the twelfth day of the tour.  Here are some of the featured television shows and specials that caught our attention:

EXECUTIVE SESSION

After creating buzz around the idea of “peak TV” during the Summer 2015 TCA tour, FX CEO John Landgraf leaned more into the concept by acknowledging that in 2015 there were 412 original scripted television shows — up from the 409 that FX had initially counted after they added in three more TV shows that they forgot to include: one by Pivot (“Fortitude”) and two from Netflix (my guess is that “Between” and “Hemlock Grove” may have flown under the FX radar).  Landgraf explained that from a business standpoint and a consumer standpoint, it has become unsustainable.  There is simply too much of everything and not enough human attention available to watch it all.  He also acknowledged: “It is hard to launch shows and harder for consumers to see good shows.” However, unlike many of the naysayers claiming that the bubble is about to burst and proclaiming that television is on verge of collapse, Landgraf said he did not foresee a collapse, but he did see an inevitable contraction in television as 412 scripted television shows is just too many to watch.  He predicted that over the next year or so that scripted television could contract back to possibly 350 scripted television shows.  (Notable:  Due to the shift in TV viewing patters due to time-shifting, both FX and Fox now have stopped releasing live-same day TV show ratings.  Instead, they are releasing ratings after the live+3 days and live+7 days ratings are available as a more accurate measurement of their TV show ratings with viewers.)

Talking briefly about FX’s drama series FARGO, Landgraf said that Season 3 will not be released until 2017 and is expected to take be set in the year 2010.  Addressing the crazy “spaceship scene” from Season 2, Landgraf noted that random acts of God or unexplainable incidents have always been used in the FARGO world to emphasize humankind’s smallness in the face of the broader universe.  He then deferred to creator/executive producer Noah Hawley to further explain how the UFO scene may or may not be relevant in Season 3.

In addition to FARGO, Noah Hawley’s new drama series LEGION, which is a spinoff from the popular “X-Men” films, is expected to premiere in late 2016 — though Landgraf emphasized that LEGION has not been fully ordered to series quite yet. But he is very excited about all the scripts he has seen and feels confident that it will be greenlit and casting soon.  It should also be noted that in LEGION, the world at large is unaware of the mutants and only the government knows of their existence, so the story is premised in a different or parallel universe than that of the films.

FX also announced that its new series TABOO, a series about the war of 1812, is filming right now, starring Tom Hardy.

THE AMERICANS

Returning for Season 4 on March 16th, FX’s drama series THE AMERICANS jumps right back into the world of spy craft and the covert world of KGB agents operating on U.S. soil in the 1980’s.  Starring Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as the Soviet agents willing to abduct, kill and steal to protect their motherland and preserve their family at all costs, THE AMERICANS is an enthralling tale of spies living amongst us.  During the Season 4 preview, there is an ominous voiceover by Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) where she says: “We are in trouble.”  The question will be: is this the season that the Philip and Elizabeth Jennings’ covers are blown? Has Paige inadvertently put a target on her parent’s backs?  The stakes are raised even higher with the introduction of a biological weapon storyline that also puts them all at risk.  Talking about what is upcoming, executive producer Joel Fields emphasized that the show is about relationships in heightened circumstances and how the characters react to that pressure.  So Philip and Elizabeth’s debate on whether to have told their daughter about their true identities has long-reaching echoes and ramifications throughout Season 4.  Keri Russel added that, unfortunately, there is still a lot of resentment between Philip and Elizabeth about telling Paige that they are Russian spies.  The series will also finally address the consequences of Philip and Elizabeth’s actions, which they have survived virtually unscathed so far.  And then, while Philip and Elizabeth are distracted as to Paige, their son Henry will also become an inadvertent threat as he spends more and more time with their neighbor.  Matthew Rhys noted that for his character Philip, his priorities have shifted and Philip’s ultimate priority is now to protect his family above all else.  Keri chimed in to add that the show is ultimately about the emotional cost on this family as a result of all the actions taken over the past three seasons and, unfortunately, for Elizabeth, she is a better soldier and is able to distance herself a bit more from the upheaval in her family.  As to the fate of Nina (Annet Mahendru), Joel Fields said that they are telling a character story, and Nina starts to realize that she has been experiencing the same cycles in her relationships.  So we shall see if Nina finally breaks and if she does, how does that work out.  Matthew also added regarding the Philip and Martha (Alison Wright) relationship, that Philip was operating a bit naively in manipulating Martha initially and he begins to feel the weight of responsibility for using her and putting her in such a precarious position. Joel Fields also clarified that Philip absolutely cares for Martha and said, “It all can’t be fake if you keep doing it.” There is a connection there and that will also be an issue for Philip as he tries to keep her safe.  Looking towards the future, Joel Fields said he anticipates that THE AMERICANS could go as far as Season 5 or 6 before reaching the end of the series.  He also revealed that the upcoming season will include historically significant moments such as former U.S. President Regan’s “Star Wars” speech pertaining to anti-ballistic missiles and the airing of “The Day After” television special.  Finally, briefly commenting on whether Keri Russell’s real-life pregnancy will affect her ability to finish the current season, Joel Fields said that they are in the midst of episode 8 and Keri’s pregnancy will not be written into the show.  Matthew Rhys then impishly quipped, “She’s now terribly effective with a blowdart from a seated position!”  (Observation: If the preview clips are any indication, Philip and Elizabeth look to be on the run in Season 4 as they have finally been exposed and it will push them even farther than before to protect themselves and anyone in their path is likely to find themselves in the receiving end of a bullet.)  THE AMERICANS returns for Season 4 on Wednesday, March 16th on FX.

THE PEOPLE V. O.J. SIMPSON: AMERICAN CRIME STORY

FX’s new limited-event series THE PEOPLE V. O.J. SIMPSON is a 10-episode look at one of the most controversial court cases of the past century.  Starring Sarah Paulson, Cuba Gooding Jr., John Travolta, Courtney B. Vance, Sterling Brown, David Schwimmer and Malcolm-Jamal Warner, the series strives to revisit both sides of a case that to this day still sparks passion on both sides.  The show also sought to turn the spotlight back the victims who seemed to have become a footnote in history when the case ultimately should have been about them.  Based on the book by Jeffrey Toobin, the story focuses heavily on the people and their journey, not just the evidence presented during the trial. (Observation: With the recent popularity and interest in true-crime stories, this series is likely to touch another nerve with viewers and reignite the debate about how the case was handled and prosecuted all over again.)  THE PEOPLE V. O.J. SIMPSON premieres February 2nd on FX.

That’s a wrap on the network and studio presentations from Day 12 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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