It all started with an acceptance speech. After “Breaking Bad” alum Bryan Cranston told a quick story during one of his many Emmy win speeches about being a “sneaky kid,” Sony Pictures Television President Zack Van Amberg sensed opportunity. So he called Cranston the next day to propose a TV show about a sneaky kid who only got worse as the years wore on. Cranston took it from there, bringing in co-writer David Shore and creating “Sneaky Pete,” which premieres on Amazon Jan. 13 and features a con man who steals an ex-prison cellmate’s identity to hide out from the mob. “In essence, it’s a bad man looking for possibly ways to become good,” Cranston told us at a pre-TCA roundtable on Thursday in L.A. But when CBS didn’t pick up the pilot, Amazon jumped into the fold. If it sounds like Breaking Bad in reverse, that’s by happy coincidence—but it’s Giovanni Ribisi, not Cranston, who plays Pete. Cranston as producer and writer has a smaller on-screen role as the mob boss who has kidnapped Pete’s brother to reel him in. As Ribisi tells it, “Everybody has that part of them. As far as the sense of bad or good, for all of us it’s a survival thing.” Conning people “is the way he knows how to survive.” A-list showrunner Graham Yost, who entered the scene when Amazon asked for a serialized version, prompting the more procedural-minded Shore to bow out, says the attraction to the project was simple: “For me, it’s the free two-day shipping,” he joked, noting more seriously that it was the intricate con games among the characters that got him excited, along with the cast. Is there more pressure in this era of “peak TV” in which viewers can choose between more than 450 scripted shows? Sure, he says, but “you’re always trying to do your best and do a show that you can believe in. And you just hope it connects.” Judging from the pilot, this one just might. – Michael Grebb

“Bright Lights,” Saturday, 8pm, HBO. This intimate, compelling portrait of Debbie Reynolds and daughter Carrie Fisher wisely was moved up in HBO’s schedule after their recent deaths. Loaded with vintage clips and brimming with emotion, the film at times feels like “Grey Gardens.” For Reynolds and Fisher fans, it’s a must-see. Others may find it fascinating and sad. — “Inside the Actors Studio: Viola Davis,” Sunday, 6am, Bravo. Many actors do their best to dodge James Lipton’s pointed questions. Not Viola Davis, who addresses her poverty-filled early life with directness and energy, qualities that have helped make her a successful actor. Davis’ openness, her fabulous story and Lipton’s apposite queries make this a terrific and informative hour. — “Blaze and the Monster Machines,” Friday, 11:30am, Nickelodeon. We can’t recall spending keystrokes on an animated preschool series, but we’ll make an exception when Melissa Rauch of “The Big Bang Theory” joins the cast. We knew Ms. Rauch’s voice is far different from the high-pitched screech she affects as Big Bang’s Dr. Bernadette Rostenkowski-Wolowitz. It would have been easy for her to phone in that voice for this truck-based Nickelodeon series. Instead she adopts a different pitch to play a marsupial with a penchant for snatching light bulbs. The actor’s voice is barely recognizable here. That’s why they call it (voice) acting. – Seth Arenstein

The Daily

Subscribe

Sinclair Signs Sports Betting Deal With Bally’s

Sinclair and Bally’s have entered into a long-term strategic partnership that will combine the latter’s sports betting technology with Sinclair’s broadcast nets, RSNs, streamer STIRR and more. Bally’s

Read the Full Issue
The Skinny is delivered on Tuesday and focuses on the cable profession. You'll stay in the know on the headlines, topics and special issues you value most. Sign Up