We’ve shifted from giant broadcast networks into a few days of cable here at the TCA conference, as indicated by the fact that the coffee service finally disappeared for a few hours this morning. Nevertheless, the TCA journalists soldiered onward. The day kicked off with an early 8 a.m. start with Matthew Perry, Katie Holmes, and director Dan Cunnan from Reelz Channel’s upcoming The Kennedys: After Camelot, in which Perry portrays Ted Kennedy and Holmes not only plays Jackie Kennedy (again), but directed an episode. It premieres on Sunday, April 2. Perry joked about his efforts to mimic Ted Kennedy’s pronounced Hyannis accent, which he said first resembled “Foghorn Leghorn.” Holmes said that she soon discovered that she was a fan of the “mirror shot,” so look for those in her episode. But Perry commanded the stage, reminding us all why he was far and away the best Friend. At last the final question was asked, he looked around and despaired, “That’s it? We got up at 7 a.m. for this?”
BBC America soon took the stage, with announcements about the upcoming season of Doctor Who, which will be Stephen Moffat’s last, and its spin-off, Class. Broadchurch will return for a third season, which with any luck will focus on the murder of child killer Joe Miller, with the entire town guilty, Murder On The Orient Express style. Then the BBC showed off some awe-inspiring footage of Planet Earth II, followed by a panel that had presenter Sir David Attenborough broadcasting in via satellite. Executive producer Mike Gunton scoffed that only the Great British Bake Off beat out Planet Earth in ratings, but shrugged, “That’s the British for you.” It premieres on February 18 on BBC America, AMC, and Sundance simultaneously.
WGN America’s panel wasn’t as chock full of charts as FX’s, but the network did present data on its expansion. The digital platform’s viewership has grown over the last year, and WGN America is now in over 83 million homes nationwide. (It will also be available in Australia soon enough). The two dramas that are drawing those eyes were presented in complementary panels this morning. Outsiders executive producer Peter Tolan noted the series’ contemporary relevance, saying “any number of news events fall directly into what we’ve created. People will kind of go, ‘You clearly got that from what is happening in the news.’” A network executive promoted Outsiders as being the most accurate representation of the working-class struggle. Underground’s executive producers, including John Legend and Misha Green, also talked about the pertinence of their series’ subject matter. The fight for equality has been an ongoing one, said Green, so there’s no need to sensationalize the lives of historical figures like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, who were plenty “badass.” Outsiders returns January 24, while Underground will kick off its second season on March 8.
Other channels like El Rey and A&E’s Viceland (whose giant ID slide stated: “It’s a TV channel”) announced various new programming: El Rey has two new unscripted series, while Viceland devoted its valuable panel space to Desus & Mero, in which the two uninhibited comics offer “a blend of entertainment and enlightenment,” according to executive producer Erik Rydholm, as they welcome various guests and riff on the news of the day.
A&E’s other two channels, Lifetime and History, also dedicated primo panel space to one premiere show: Lifetime to its Beaches remake and History to Six, which involves the military effort to rescue a kidnapped former Navy SEAL, played by Walton Goggins. Goggins was not at the panel, but his castmates enthusiastically raved about the show, then hit the ground to pull off an impressive 15-pushup salute. The Beaches cast was just as excited about their new production, which will include cast member Idina Menzel’s version of “Wind Beneath My Wings” and “The Glory Of Love,” as well as a new song for the soundtrack. It airs January 21.
Looking toward the future, Lifetime wants continue its relationship with James Franco. The Why Him? actor recently remade the classic Lifetime film Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?, though he won’t just be participating in films that double as queries. But neither will Franco’s new project stray too far from the network’s established formula: he’s set to star in and executive produce High School Lover, which will see him play father to another teen (Paulina Singer) who wants to date an inappropriate suitor (François Arnaud). No word yet on whether he’ll throw in vampires or werewolves for good measure.
National Geographic channel kicked off its session with its first scripted series, Genius, which tracks the life of Albert Einstein as a young man, played by Johnny Flynn, to an older one, played by Geoffrey Rush, as directed by Ron Howard. The cast, with Geoffrey Rush in full-on Einstein hair, spoke via satellite from Prague, where they are filming. Howard enthused about this rare foray into television for him: “National Geographic felt like the perfect home for Genius. It set the bar very high for integrity and authenticity.” It airs this spring. The channel then followed with presentations on its various documentaries, including the upcoming Gender Revolution.
Crackle also presented a handful of panels during cable TV day at the TCAs. The Sony-backed network announced the renewal of the sexy StartUp series, and talked up the second season of Matthew Senreich’s SuperMansion, which will feature the voices of Chris Pine, Yvette Nicole Brown, and Keegan-Michael Key. When Bryan Cranston, who voices Titanium Rex, walked onstage, he immediately recognized the weary expressions on critics’ faces. He told TCA members they we’re “going to make it through the day,” and we/they believed him. In addition to all these returning series, Crackle teased the arrival of Snatch, the (loose) Guy Ritchie adaptation that stars Rupert Grint and Luke Pasqualino as the two blokes who quickly end up in over their heads. Chuck Bass himself, Ed Westwick, will be on hand as a Cuban-born crime lord character the actor says was modeled after Pitbull. The 10-episode first season will be available on March 16.
Viacom’s session ended the day with a variety of channels: Highlights included VH1’s new scripted series Daytime Divas, based on Star Jones’ memoir Satan’s Sisters, which she also produces. VH1 is pushing another scripted series, The Breaks, which premieres February 20 and follows three friends trying to break into hip-hop. BET is promoting two new mini-series: The New Edition Story, which starts January 24, and Madiba, which features Laurence Fishburne as Nelson Mandela, which kicks off on February 1. Spike is focusing on summer series The Mist, which stars Morgan Spector, Alyssa Sutherland, and Frances Conroy. The network stressed that this new Mist effort is based on Stephen King’s novella, not the film (which had a much different ending). Even more powerful is Spike’s Time: The Kalief Browder Story, a documentary mini-series produced by harvey Weinstein and Jay Z, that tells the harrowing tale of a young man who wound up incarcerated for years for a crime he didn’t commit and wound up committing suicide. It premieres on March 1.
Comedy Central ended the day, bravely facing a bleary-eyed crowd with panels for Detroiters, starring real-life best friends Sam Richardson and Tim Robinson, that starts February 7, and Doug Benson’s The High Court, in which he’s a judge that rules on small-claims court cases while smoking weed (premiering February 27). By this point, the exhausted room of TV critics was on hour 10 of viewing panels, and would have laughed at anything, but Detroiters’ producer Jason Sudeikis and Benson completely milked the crowd. Day closer TV Land’s late-night skit show Throwing Shade kind of suffered by comparison, but don’t worry, Throwing Shade. It was a really long day. (Its second season premieres January 17.) Fortunately, we ended on an up note with the Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone-produced Nobodies, which kicks off on March 29 and has already received a second season order.