BBC America at TCA
BBC America’s 1st original series “Copper” (premieres Aug 19) is essentially a cop show—albeit one set in 1864 New York City. “It’s is the anti-CSI,” said co-creator/exec producer Tom Fontana at the Television Critics Association Press Tour Wednesday. “There’s no DNA. It’s really about the detectives having to use their minds.”
The first clips shown at TCA looked gritty, dirty and appropriately colored with sex and murder in the tough Five Points neighborhood notably depicted recently by Martin Scorsese’s ’02 movie Gangs of New York. “Personally, I just love the fact that we’re writing a series where there’s no cell phones,” said Fontana, calling BBCA’s enthusiasm for its 1st original series “intoxicating” (The net was set to bus critics to a bordello-themed party Wed night—a nod to a key storyline in Copper).
Exec producer Barry Levinson said creating a world set in the 1800s on a TV budget was challenging. “You have to be somewhat inventive and nimble in terms of how you put it together, but also create a time and place that gives it some credibility,” he said, noting the irony that it’s a British-owned net and not a U.S. one that’s betting on a show about American history.
Richard Hammond’s Crash Course
The 2nd season of “Richard Hammond’s Crash Course,” currently in the early stages of filming, moves from tackling America’s most dangerous vehicles in season 1 to Hammond’s greatest fears—and the mother of all of them is stand up comedy. Naturally, in the series’ New York episode the host finally faces it. “I spend my life doing things I’m not good at—it’s great,” Hammond told critics.
So what’s the through line, beyond Hammond facing his fears? Engaging in quintessential American activities—like being a cowboy, or a cab driver in New York. Hammond said he uses “the every man approach….I’m empowered and entitled to ask the dumb questions, because I’m not American.” The surprising result, he added, is that the series is ultimately “showing America itself.” Particularly important to executive producer Ellie Hakami is looking for activities that Hammond strongly connects with, in either a positive or negative way. “When there was that immediate connection, it was kind of what we went for—whether it was risky or heartwarming.”
A sequel to series “The Hour” returns to Dramaville, and picks up 10 months after the conclusion of season 1, in late 1957 Britain. Sputnik is about to be launched, the Cold War looms and themes such as immigration and Hollywood are immersing into British life. “This is more about the coming of glamor and Hollywood aspiration….and how news keeps up in a changing world,” said writer Abi Morgan. “It’s less about the espionage, bureaucracy and aristocracy…. it’s more global.”
Actor Dominic West (best known for his role as Jimmy McNulty in HBO’s “The Wire”) found his character’s arc this season—which includes loads of debauchery and late night clubbing—interesting in that it addresses his marriage this time around. “Last season he treated his wife terribly,” West said. According to co-star Romola Garai, West was also fond of the dancing girls in the club scenes. “When we were in the nightclub we did lose Dominic’s attention completely.”
On whether the show has led to more work or recognition in the U.S. for the actors Garai replied, “I don’t get recognized here at all. The trouble with me is the jobs I get, I’m usually wearing enormous hats”—so that really doesn’t help. West, however, still gets recognized for “The Wire”—most recently the night before the panel, by someone who had just started watching the series. “I thought our shelf life was over,” he said. As if on cue, a critic whooped from the back of the ballroom, “McNulty! OW!” to which he replied, “Thanks.”
Spies of Warsaw
The net also showcased “The Spies of Warsaw,” based on the Alan Furst novel and focused on spies working against Nazi occupiers. The show’s actually filmed in the Polish city itself. “It’s like a time bubble in the middle of Warsaw,” said actor David Tennant, who plays a French spy. Writer Ian La Frenais agreed: “You point the camera anywhere in town, and it’s 1937.”
Interestingly, the show includes actress Janet Montgomery, who earlier in the tour impressed critics with her mastery of a Jersey accent for CBS’s new law drama “Made in Jersey.” She’ll be much more British on BBCA.