TCA: Wasting away on the "Jersey Shore"

The Television Critics Association Press Tour came to an end on Saturday with the last three days devoted to cable networks. In the past, cable usually kicked off the press tour, but this year shoved toward the end of the twelve-day tour. Neverthless, critics stayed through the end, with the HBO presentation playing to full capacity on Saturday.

The biggest surprise at the cable portion of the tour was the absence of Turner networks, especially when TBS has Conan O’Brien’s new weeknight talk show to promote.

Other cable networks such as Comedy Central, BET, TVOne, and ESPN also skipped the Summer press tour.

Still, cable networks were plenty represented, and here is an abbreviated take on their panels and presentations, in no particular order:

MTV/Nickelodeon

While Viacom only featured two of its cablers at the press tour, they provided the most attention – and not due to MTV’s new Teen Wolf series or some kid who was featured on YouTube getting his own show on Nickelodeon. Nope, it was those wild nitwits from Jersey Shore that convinced critics to avoid leaving the tour early. The pompous jackasses had really nothing interesting to say at the tour but to stand there, look pretty, and give insipid answers to insipid questions – just like your average politician. Snooki for Governor!

FX

Fox’s answer to cable held a Sons of Anarchy panel on August 3 featuring Mr. Hellboy himself Ron Pearlman and creator and exec producer Kurt Sutter. The biker drama returns with new episodes on Sept. 7 at 9 p.m. (CT). The best part of this panel? When asked about the lack of Emmy nominations, Sutter was quoted as saying “F*** them.” You go, man!

-Also on FX’s slate are new dramas Terriers and Lights Out (a new boxing drama with Stacy Keach), the newest season of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia and comedies The League (entering its second season) and Archer, a new animated sitcom featuring the voice of Aisha Tyler.

TLC/Discovery

-No Kate & Jon and Eight (thank God) at the tour, but TLC is launching a new show called Sister Wives, featuring a man who lives with his three wives. Should be named Lucky Bastard.

– Discovery has a new reality/competition show that’s basically Idol behind bars. From Mark Burnett (who else?) it’s Talent Behind Bars, debuting this fall. Included in the competition is the “Don’t Drop The Soap” contest and Who Wants To Host A Radio Show? The winner gets to co-host with ex-con Jim Laski for a day on WGN Radio.

– Also unveiled at TCA is a new cable network targeted to children called The Hub, a joint venture of Discovery and Hasbro. The channel plans to air animated series, game shows, and live-action programs, circa Nickelodeon in 1988.

Nat Geo

– Nat Geo (a.k.a. The National Geographic Channel) plans to produce ten new episodes of Locked Up Abroad, scheduled to debut next year, and renewed Taboo for a seventh season.Meanwhile, new spin-off channel Nat Geo Wild (formerly Fox Reality Channel) plans to focus on the declining feline population with Big Cat Week (and by declining felines, I mean lions and tigers – not two sports teams in Detroit which are meeting a similar fate.)

Starz

– The party may be over for Party Down, but Starz continues its commitment to original programming with new seasons of Spartacus: Blood and Sand and Pillars of the Earth and launching a new series called Camelot with FlashForward star Joesph Finnes, who gets another chance to fail. Camelot features a contemporary take on the classic story. Also arriving at Starz doorstep is Torchwood, which moves over from BBC America.

According to Starz President and CEO Bill Myers, his network wants to pursue shows that are “epic, entertainment, and fun.” Yes, the party never stops at Starz – unless the name of the show has party in the title.

BBC America

On tap for BBC America is a new action drama called Outcasts, where as a group of survivors relocate to another planet after Earth is destroyed – the real question is, can they get along with one another? Another is, has this series been done before? The program is filmed in South Africa and features former Ugly Betty star Eric Mabius and former Battlestar: Galactica actress Jamie Bamber.

A&E

The Bourne Ultimatum director brings his first project to TV in the vein of The Unexplained. This documentary from Doug Liman examines paranormal activity and those who experienced it.

HBO

Last, but not least came HBO into TCA and held panels in front of a packed house on the last day of the tour. Among the talking points co-president Richard Plepler and programming chief Mike Lombardo pointed out in their exec session:

– The execs are not concerned about martin Scorsese’s new series (Boardwalk Empire) premiering at the same time the major broadcast nets are rolling out their shows. The series premieres Sept. 19.

– Confirmed Entourage is ending in 2011, but a movie is in the works.

– Noted 66% of HBO viewers watch their shows via DVR playback.

– The execs took the  Kurt Sutter stance on the reason why David Simon (The Wire, Treme) doesn’t get nominated for Emmys (only without using the F bomb.)

Other HBO News & Notes:

– Spike Lee told the press at TCA he actually had to add extra material If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise, which features the continued aftermath of life in post-Katrina New Orleans. Lee was nearly finished filming the documentary when the BP oil spill happened.  According to him, the reason for the extra material was to show the connection between the disaster in New Orleans (due to faulty levees) and the oil spill disaster in the Gulf – both having greed as a underlining theme. Lee also travels to Haiti to explore the aftermath of yet another disaster – the earthquake that ravaged the country last fall. The four-hour documentary airs August 23 and 24.

– Ricky Gervais will star in an HBO stand-up comedy special to be taped here in Chicago Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 and air in December.

30 Rock star Tracy Morgan will also be featured in a stand-up comedy special airing in November.

– Bruce Springsteen is featured in a documentary titled The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town, due to air in October.

– Rosario Dawson is hosting Brave New Voices 2010, a special featuring young poets from around the country competing at the national youth poetry slam in Los Angeles. Look for the special to air in November.

And that’s a wrap – thankfully – for the TCA Press Tour in 2010. Last one turn out the lights!

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