The Television Critics Association press tour is underway in southern California and CableFAX writers are on the ground reporting on the newest shows from cable nets. The following are six new series presented by Turner, A&E and Nat Geo Channels. For full coverage of the tour this week read CableFAX Daily.
Nerd Power. Turner is expanding its unscripted slate with 3 TNT shows and TBS’s “King of the Nerds.” The latter series, (Jan 17 premiere) is a reality competition show where the best nerd wins. Hosts and executive producers Robert Carradine and Curtis Armstrong, two original cast members from the 1984 film Revenge of the Nerds, take 11 contestants through unique, intellectual challenges. “The idea is to celebrate nerd culture,” said Armstrong. Exec prod Ben Silverman added that from an industry advertising perspective, the much-coveted nerd demo is “watching more content than ever,” but on various platforms. “It’s just about where the show is,” he said, and he praised cable’s “opportunity to tell stories in new environments.”
Medical Malpractice. No, we don’t really need more medical dramas, but TNT’s “Monday Mornings” takes a decidedly fresh look at the hospital game by focusing on the weekly closed-door meetings doctors hold to assess medical errors—and put themselves on the spot. Based on a book by CNN medical contributor Sanjay Gupta, the show sheds light on a little-known aspect of hospital life, with exec prod David E. Kelley joking that exec prod Gupta is so involved in the show that “he’s probably the highest paid P.A. we’ve ever had.” Star power includes Alfred Molina, who noted that he likes retaining his natural British accent for the role because it creates “distance” between his hard-edged character and the rest of the staff. “I can be sexually ambivalent as well,” he joked. “There’s gay, and there’s straight, and there’s British.”
Cougars on Cable. TBS showcased its broadcast acquisition “Cougar Town,” which used to air on ABC and will on Jan 8 become a major part of TBS’ comedy block. Exec producer Bill Lawrence famously went rogue during the last winter tour as ABC was dithering about whether to renew the series, bringing in the cast himself and booking an entire bar out of his own pocket for critics. When ABC dropped the show, TBS pounced. It didn’t hurt that Lawrence took the show on the road to build support with fans, although he noted wryly to critics that he never found a single fan with a Nielsen box.
O’Reilly’s Lincoln. NatGeo’s “Killing Lincoln” (winter ‘13 premiere), based on Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly’s historical narrative of the same name, focuses exclusively on the assassination, according to writer Erik Jendresen. The film will show a “very intimate look” at the president and portray “the man at home,” he said. Jendresen compared the political climate and viewpoints of the time to today’s, evening likening JWB to modern-day conservatives. “He could be a poster child for the Tea Party,” he said. Actor Billy Campbell of AMC’s “The Killing” fame told critics his portrayal of Lincoln was inspired by the script alone, which “was so brilliant and deep in its own way…It was all on the page… And it was Erik in my ear. That was all of it for me.”
Walk This Way. Get out the parachute pants and bad hairstyles for NatGeo’s mini-series “The ‘80s” (premieres Spring), which takes a sometimes light and sometimes serious look at the decade. Exec producer Jane Root of Nutopia said she avoided mostly trivial subjects (like that horrible hair) and instead focused on trends that greatly influenced the modern world. For example, Jane Fonda injured herself on the set of The China Syndrome and then “stumbled upon aerobics” to get back in shape for her next role. “Gyms happened as a result of that accident,” said Root, not to mention a home video market after her aerobics tapes hit the streets. Another example: When hip-hop group Run-DMC produced an updated version of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way,” whose video in which a wall comes down between the 2 acts is credited with merging rap and rock. “When we knocked the door down, that’s what we were doing with music,” said Run DMC founder Darryl McDaniels.
Pre-Psycho. A&E takes a dark turn with its new thriller series “Bates Motel,” best described as an updated (and completely re-imagined) prequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece Psycho. Exec prod Carlton Cuse of “Lost” fame said it’s a complete departure from the Psycho films, and that setting the series in modern times instead of the ’60s “gave us the freedom to take these characters wherever we wanted to… Making it contemporary was a way to really become liberated from the original movie.” That also means some amped up violence, including a brutal sexual assault in the pilot, but exec prod Kerry Ehrin insisted “this show isn’t about violence” but rather exploring the intricate (and uncomfortable) relationship between future serial killer Norman (Freddie Highmore) and his soon-tobe- stuffed mother (Vera Farmiga). OK, maybe it’s a little about violence. Despite the heavy subject matter, Cuse kept the panel light, at one point assuring critics who thought “Lost” was a bit cryptic that he’ll keep things less confusing this time. “No polar bears, no smoke monsters,” he said. “Time travel? I don’t know.” He was kidding. We think.