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The Wall Street Journal Mentions Pivot’s ‘Please Like Me’

Summer TV Gets Serious

TV Networks aren’t waiting for fall to release big new shows. A look at the season ahead.

By John Jurgensen

The Wall Street Journal – May 22, 2014 –

The broadcast networks have trumpeted plans to take pressure off the traditional fall premiere season by rolling out new shows throughout the year. The summer will test that strategy. Starting this month, the five broadcasters are scheduled to premiere 13 scripted series over the course of the season, up from 10 last year.

Last summer, CBS scored with “Under the Dome,” a Stephen King adaptation that benefited from the network’s marketing clout and held viewers’ attention with a season about half as long as that of a typical network show. It marked a victory in the broadcasters’ ongoing effort to reclaim the season. For years, summer had been the province of cable channels, which took advantage of the big networks’ off-season reliance on reruns and reality shows. More than a decade ago, USA’s summer detective series “Monk” helped spark the onslaught of original cable programming. Showtime planted a flag with “Weeds” in August, 2005, and AMC launched “Mad Men” in July, 2007.

Now, a new bottleneck is forming. Not only do cable channels have to deal with increased competition from each other and the resurgent broadcasters, there are new channels that didn’t exist last summer. Pivot, a new cable channel aimed at millennials, this August offers a second season of “Please Like Me,” a coming-of-age comedy that sneaked onto critics’ “best of” lists last year. More channels are jumping into the fray of original programming. “Manhattan,” a July drama about the development of the atomic bomb, is only the second original series from Tribune’s WGN America. Meanwhile, there are the buzzy offerings from streaming services such as Hulu and Netflix, which is resurrecting “The Killing” (Aug. 1) after it was canceled twice by AMC.

After making a critical splash last summer with its first original drama, “Rectify,” Sun-danceTV is hoping to grow the show’s viewership. “There’s a lot of competition and a lot of smart scripted drama in the summer,” said SundanceTV President Sarah Barnett, “but there’s still a little room there.” Here’s a selection of the coming series drawing attention.


May 30, NBC

Four months after Starz set forth “Black Sails,” a Jerry Bruckheimer series about swashbucklers, John Malkovich lends his star power to NBC’s pirate story set in 1712. He plays Blackbeard, who happens to sport a white goatee. Lording over a pirate colony in the Bahamas, he covets an elaborate chronometer that holds the key to British sea power. He’s prone to headaches, scary visions and such mouthfuls as, “I should be obliged to see hell visited upon you.”

‘Halt and Catch Fire’

June 1, AMC

In Dallas, 1983, two restless men try to leapfrog into the PC business by illegally reverse-engineering an IBM computer. A Centipede arcade game, feathered hairstyles and a soundtrack of vintage synth-pop provide period details. But the producers strive to say something about how we live now with our technology. As one character stresses to his partner, “Computers aren’t the thing. They’re the thing that gets us to the thing.” The first episode is streaming on AMC’s Tumblr page.


June 7, Starz

If it wasn’t on a pay channel, certain lyrics in the show’s theme song (by executive producer 50 Cent) would have to be bleeped out. Omari Hardwick stars as Ghost, a New York nightclub owner who also operates a drug ring. It is a busy life that involves removing the expensive suit he wears to his club’s grand opening to avoid blood splatters while dealing with a low-level rival. “Power” creator Courtney Kemp Agboh is a veteran of “The Good Wife” writing staff.

‘The Last Ship’

June 22, TNT

TNT wants a ratings boost, along with more of the buzz and young, male viewers that go for shows like “Sons of Anarchy” (FX) and “The Walking Dead” (AMC). The channel recently rolled out a new tagline—”TNT Drama. Boom”—and is working with Michael Bay, an executive producer known for explosions, on the first in a new set of action-driven shows. “The Last Ship” focuses on a Navy destroyer carrying survivors of—and potentially a cure to—a pandemic that has wiped out the majority of the world’s population.


June 24, FX

The estranged son of a Middle Eastern dictator returns to his home country after avoiding it for 20 years while living in the U.S. With his wife and two kids in tow, L.A. pediatrician Barry Al Fayeed (Adam Rayner) gets trapped in a volatile land where his older brother, an apparent sociopath, is poised to take control. “Tyrant” is set in a fictional country but takes place after the real-life uprisings of the Arab Spring. The show was created by Gideon Raff, whose Israeli series “Prisoners of War” served as the basis of “Homeland.” Overseeing production is “Homeland” co-creator Howard Gordon.

‘The Leftovers’

June 29, HBO

Cross Tom Perrotta, a novelist known for exploring the psychology of the suburbs, with Damon Lindelof, one of the writing forces behind “Lost,” and the result looks to be one of the most wrenching HBO dramas since “Six Feet Under.” Based on Mr. Perrotta’s 2011 novel of the same name, the series revolves around the disappearance of 2% of the world’s population. Three years later, the people remaining, including a small-town police chief played by Justin Theroux, struggle with the mass departure and how to carry on.


July 9, CBS

Last summer CBS got out of its comfort zone with “Under the Dome,” which had a highly serialized sci-fi story and a compact 13-episode run (compared with the traditional 22). The network hopes to replicate the success of “Dome” (returning June 30) with “Extant.” Steven Spielberg is an executive producer of the 13-episode series, which stars Halle Berry as an astronaut who returns home after somehow getting pregnant during a solo year in space.


July 15, El Rey

The fledgling network (co-founded by filmmaker Robert Rodriguez) was able to snag this series from Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, whose credits include “Star Trek” and Fox’s “Sleepy Hollow,” when they were between studio contracts. “Matador” features Gabriel Luna as a CIA operative who works under the guise of a pro soccer player. Alfred Molina stars as a team owner/criminal mastermind. El Rey vice chair Scott Sassa says he gave these instructions to the writers: “If you ever get stuck, take two steps toward crazy, because that’s how we’re going to stand out.”

‘The Knick’

Aug. 8, Cinemax

After his Liberace biopic “Behind the Candelabra” won a passel of awards for HBO, Steven Soderbergh did a miniseries for sister channel Cinemax. “The Knick” is set in New York in 1900 and stars Clive Owen as a doctor trying to change surgery from a gory trial-and-error practice into a science. Mr. Soderbergh, who has ostensibly retired from making feature films, directed the 10-episode TV series and brings some auteur cred to Cinemax, whose handful of original shows have been more action-oriented.

‘The Honorable Woman’

July 31, SundanceTV

This eight-part miniseries (co-produced by the BBC) stars Maggie Gyllenhaal as the daughter of an assassinated arms dealer who inherits his business. She transforms the company (laying data cable between Israel and the West Bank) and lands a political appointment that puts her at the center of an international fracas. Like last summer’s “Top of the Lake,” a miniseries led by Elisabeth Moss, “The Honorable Woman” could almost be considered counterprogramming, given the many male antiheroes who have become a cliché of cable dramas. “There’s a lot of dark male stories out there, so there’s something great about signaling quickly that this is different,” says Sun-danceTV’s Ms. Barnett.