TCA: HBO, Showtime, and FX

John landgraf at TCA. (LA Times)
John Landgraf at TCA. (LA Times)

The crown jewels of quality television – HBO, Showtime, and FX – held their presentation at TCA earlier this month:


This session wasn’t exactly an upbeat one as HBO brass were still mourning the loss of James Gandolfini, the actor who helped put HBO on the map with his portrayal of Tony Soprano in The Sopranos. Network execs at the session said they have yet to decide the fate on a project Gandolfini was involved in (Criminal Justice.) Execs also confirmed a third season of The Newsroom, but the jury’s still out for Family Tree. As for Game Of Thrones and True Blood, the programs would continue “as long as there is a story”, HBO CEO Richard Pleper noted. Pleper also said HBO is close to signing a pilot deal with David Milch for drama The Money.

Many were critical of HBO’s overall presentation at TCA. Several reporters questioned the wisdom of  an all-white cast in a upcoming Muhammad Ali movie about refusing to serve in Vietnam due to religious grounds, a fight he took to the Supreme Court. Larry David wasn’t exactly a crowd pleaser when he punted on if he would do another season of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Critics also asked why Ray Donovan star Liev Schreiber was omitted from David’s Clear History movie (Donovan airs on rival Showtime – maybe that had something to do with it?)

But at least someone fought back against the snarky critics – although for a bizarre reason.  Filmmaker Spike Lee, who directed the upcoming Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth movie for HBO, slammed reporters for not giving the one-time boxing champ a standing ovation when he appeared at the panel (Tyson is a convicted rapist – maybe that had something to do with it?)


Showtime president David Nevins said at the exec session a Dexter spinoff could be a possibility, with the series finale airing Sept. 22. Showrunner Scott Buck has signed a multi-year deal to stay at Showtime. Nevins also explained to anxious critics why Homeland star Damian Lewis was held out of the first two episodes of Homeland, whose new season debuts Sept. 29 (the showrunners did so for “creative” reasons.) Nevins also announced he ordered a new drama (Penny Dreadful, a new show in the horror genre, which stars Josh Hartnett and Eva Green.) Nevins also talked about Netflix’s original shows (he likes them, but offers a choice to view one at a time or binge on VOD – funny, so does Netflix); and forget about the Showtime Anytime app becoming a standalone sub anytime soon – Nevins said he’s more focused on distribution. However, Nevins said Showtime’s live feeds -east and west coast – would be available on the app.

The panel that attracted the most attention at the Showtime presentation featured perhaps the most sexiest program in television history! (OK, maybe not.) But Masters Of Sex takes an explicit look at William Masters and Virginia Johnson’s research. And yes, there’s a lot of sex and sex talk on this show. In fact, there’s more sex talk in this show than Dr. Ruth and Phyllis Levy could dish out in an hour. The show is based on the 2009 book Masters Of Sex: The Life & Times Of William Masters And Virginia Johnson: The Couple Who Taught America How To Love, by Thomas Maier.

Some reporters asked many absurd questions (“were you embarrassed with all the sex scenes?”) and others cringed at some of the language. An awkward panel all around.


FX CEO John Landgraf declared the “nuclear arms race of darkness has ended”, referring to the “anti-hero” type of characters dominating cable dramas for the past decade or so, declaring Breaking Bad’s Walter White the darkest character of all time at FX’s exec session (Breaking is in its final season.) Landgraf confirmed The Strain will be a limited-run series, with no more than 65 episodes produced, if it is picked up.

Landgraf also discussed the upcoming launch of FXX on Sept. 2. Landgraf hopes This channel – along with FX and FXM (movies) would increase its the potency of its overall brand by splitting them up among certain demos.

During a panel for his new FXX series set to debut Sept. 4, W. Kamau Bell said he was more than happy to have a nightly show as opposed to a weekly one: “You can talk yourself out of a dangerous idea …a provocative idea you would have done [if the show ran as a strip.] For comics, less time to think is generally a good thing.”

While Bell doesn’t see Jimmy Kimmel or Jimmy Fallon as competition, Arsenio Hall is – his new show goes up against Bell’s in many large markets (including Chicago.) And similar-formatted Don’t Sleep With T.J Holmes on BET was canceled earlier this year. Could be an uphill battle for Bell.

The Bridge of course, is the latest series the critics are going ga-ga over. Hoping to avoid the mess AMC’s The Killing had on its hands after a cliffhanger debacle, the producers of Bridge said its storyline (involving the murder of someone who was found on a bridge between El Paso, TX and Cuidad Juarez, MX) would be be solved before the conclusion of the first season and the second season won’t be fixated on a single case, according to producers Elwood Reid and Meredith Stiehm. Bridge has been a surprise hit for FX, drawing more than five million viewers – with nearly half of them in the adult 18-49 demo.

While promoting her appearance as a Louisiana socialite on American Horror Story: Coven in October for FX, Kathy Bates just couldn’t resist taking a final dig at NBC for cancelling Harry’s Law, a show she was cast in: “I think they treated us like shit. They kicked us to the curb. They disrespected us – they disrespected our seven [to] eleven million viewers I think they’re getting what they deserve this year. Thank you.”

No Kathy Bates….thank you.