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

TruTV

The new comedy coming from TruTV is THOSE WHO CAN’T is about the antics of three teachers who may be a bit more obsessed with practical jokes than their students.  Starring Adam Cayton-Holland, Andrew Overdahl and Ben Roy (all three known for their stand-up comedian routines in Denver), THOSE WHO CAN’T is burst-at-the-seams funny.   TruTV is so confident and excited about this new series that they have already picked it up for Season 2. (Heads-up: it does offer NSFW-style comedy and jokes. THOSE WHO CAN’T fits the TruTV brand, which includes BILLY ON THE  STREET and ADAM RUINS EVERYTHING, which piercingly pokes fun at real-life situations.)  THOSE WHO CAN’T premieres February 11th on TruTV.

TNT

During the executive Q&A session, TNT/TBS president Kevin Reilly admitted that both networks have struggled in the ratings in recent years and in order to correct that viewer-erosion, the networks are raptly rebranding in order to appeal to a younger and more tenacious audience.  The four tentpoles of his rebranding strategy include: increasing “premium” original content, improving consumer “experience,” implementing a new business paradigm, and committed investments in growth.  He wants to clearly define what TNT and TBS are and strive to meet viewer demands. So Turner is investing $1 billion in “premium” original content.  Reilly further acknowledged that in order to accomplish a successful rebranding, TNT and TBS will need to up their presence in the cultural conversation.  He freely admits that the entire transformation for TBS as destination, cutting-edge, adult comedy will take estimated 3 years.  It could take TNT the same amount of time, but TNT and TBS are working towards their future as content providers that viewers will want to spend time with for a long time to come.  Reilly also stated that in order to improve the consumer experience that they are going to reduce the advertising/commercials on the networks by 50% and add back-in 8-10 minutes of program time. Further, while TNT had relied on “closed-ended” procedural shows, which tend to develop and attract audiences slowly, all their new shows will focus on serialized storytelling.

One of new series that Kevin Reilly hopes will help TNT transition is the new M. Night Shyamalan revival of TALES FROM THE CRYPT.   Also debuting Summer 2016 are the new drama series ANIMAL KINGDOM and GOOD BEHAVIOR.

ANIMAL KINGDOM focuses on a highly dysfunctional family, who specialize in violent crime.  The family matriarch, portrayed by Ellen Barkin, rules with an iron-fist her sons, who are described as “dripping with danger.”  (Initial reaction:  TNT’s ANIMAL KINGDOM is darker than most shows TNT typically airs.  It will be jarring to see Scott Speedman and Shawn Hatosy playing roles where the characters embody such razor-sharp edge of unexpected danger.  Oddly,  Barkin’s character goes by the name of Smurf.  It will be hard to get around the cartoon associations every time you hear the name.  But, as a reminder, this is a very violent show with deep levels of emotional cruelty.  It is not a heist series or crime-of-the-week type show, it is about a very twisted family and their daily dynamics.  You are warned.)

GOOD BEHAVIOR is a look into the dark world of a female con-artist who indulges in casual, risky sex and high levels of alcohol abuse.  It makes her a naturally suspicious of others and when she has a one-night run encounter with someone very dangerous, she is torn on whether she should do the right thing or trust her instincts and run.  (Initial reaction:  Viewers are going to be very shocked watching Michelle Dockery’s transformation from DOWNTON ABBEY’s Lady Mary to a very promiscuous and thrill-seeking grifter who finds herself in the odd position of trying to save a family from a killer — but her character’s Good Samaritan act has terrifying consequences. The show’s promo tagline: “I am perfectly, utterly me” haunting foreshadows her characters downward spiral.)

If previews for TNT’s new series GOOD BEHAVIOR and ANIMAL KINGDOM are an indication, the network will soon have a very FX-slate of shows.

With TNT, USA Network, Lifetime rapidly shedding their blue-sky shows, viewers will be turning to alt networks for lighter TV fare.  In fact, present Kevin Reilly admitted that the existing TNT shows may not align with this new look of more “prestige” dramas.  So probably a good thing that MAJOR CRIMES fits into the new grittier/edgier programming slate that TNT is striving for and TNT happy to keep it for now.   But for shows that do not fit into that new programming mold, those shows’ days may be numbered.

TBS

ANGIE TRIBECA is a comedy show that appreciates good old-fashioned spoof-humor.  As creator/producer Steve Carrell describes it, “none of the characters know they are in a comedy.”  Styled like such shows as  GET SMART and POLICE SQUAD, ANGIE TRIBECA appreciates a good in-joke and physical comedy.  It also delves deeply into absurdist humor.  Point in it favor:  it hired Jagger, the police dog on the show and he is a fantastic scene-stealer.  (Fun fact:  Jagger appeared with the cast and producers at TCA and not only knew to jump up into his designated chair without cue, but he also knew when it was his time to leave after one of his co-stars took a “personal call” for him.  That’s right:  Jagger is a dog, but what a dog he is!  Smart, funny, attractive and he will steal lime-light and scenes from all his co-stars — as if he instinctively knows that is not only his job, but how to stay employed.  Smarter yet:  ANGIE TRIBECA hiring him.  2nd fun fact: Jere Burns, who JUSTIFIED-fans many fondly remember as Wynn Duffy, co-stars as well.) To help fans late getting introduced to the show, TBS is running a 25-hour marathon of the entire first season of ANGIE TRIBECA on January 17th leading into the show’s Season 2 premiere.

Making its debut is the new TBS docu-comedy FULL FRONTAL WITH SAMANTHA BEE, which in one episode offered piercing take-down of the Veteran Affair’s inability to provide medical care for U.S. women vets.  In another episode, FULL FRONTAL WITH SAMANTHA BEE took on Comic-Con culture that objectifies and over-emphasizes unreal sexual representations of women.  From previews, FULL FRONTAL WITH SAMANTHA BEE looks to offer a female-oriented perspective of the type of issues addressed on HBO’s LAST WEEK TONIGHT WITH JOHN OLIVER. As Samantha Bee describes it:  “We want to take stories that don’t get much notice and stab them with the hot poker of comedy.”  FULL FRONTAL WITH SAMANTHA BEE premieres on February 8th on TBS.

HBO

HBO announced that Season 6 of GAME OF THRONES premieres Sunday, April 24th, followed by the season premieres for VEEP and SILICON VALLEY. It also verified that GIRLS has been renewed for a sixth season, which will be the final season for the series, and that will air in 2017.  (GIRLS Season 5 premieres February 21, 2016.)

HBO’s new dramatic film “All The Way” stars Bryan Cranston, portraying President Lyndon B. Johnson, and Anthony Mackie, portraying Martin Luther King, Jr.  When Cranston as LBJ says, “If you get in my way, I’ll crush you,” you really believe him — after all, Cranston was Walter White in BREAKING BAD.   The film “All The Way” offers a behind-the-scenes look at LBJ and MLK’s efforts to get the Civil Rights Act passed in a time when the entire nation was still shell-shocked from the death of President Kennedy and at time when our nation was caught in the crosshairs of riots pushing for civil rights for every person in our nation.  (Observation: Previews for the new series look riveting.)  “All The Way” airs in May 2016 on HBO.

HBO’s new film “Confirmation” starring Kerry Washington (who portrays Anita Hill) is tremendous. It offers a powerful look into the Anita Hill sexual harassment allegations during the Senate confirmation hearings of current Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.  The film does not seek to provide an answer as to he-said/she-said aspects of the allegations, but hopes inspire more current conversation about the events that happened and why is sparked such outrage in our nation and the subsequent wave of sexual harassment laws and affirmation of rights that came out of it.   “Confirmation” also stars Wendell Pierce (who plays Clarence Thomas), Greg Kinnear (who portrays Joe Biden), Jeffrey Wright, Eric Stonestreet and Jennifer Hudson. (Observation:  Definitely take the time to watch it. Kerry Washington’s performance is astounding.) HBO’s film “Confirmation” debuts April 2016.

That’s a wrap on the network and studio presentations from Day 3 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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