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January 8, 2013

7 Highlights of the Television Critics Association Press Tour

Another Television Critics Assoc tour is underway, and we have the scoop on networks’ presentations of what’s to come. Here’s a continuation of our TCA coverage, with highlights from HBO, Discovery Communications, Sundance Channel, BBC America, IFC and Starz. For complete coverage check out CableFAX Daily.
HBO: Al Pacino joined critics by satellite to discuss his performance in “Phil Spector” as the rock legend and convicted murderer (premieres Mar 24). Pacino said playing a real-life character requires a balancing act. “You walk that line of trying not to do the exact mimic of the person, but rather to find… the internal subtext of the character,” he said. Also upcoming: Liberace biopic “Behind the Candelabra” starring Michael Douglas as the artist and Matt Damon as Liberace’s lover. Damon is seen in just a beaded mankini at one point—not the actor’s usual on-screen attire. But despite the glamour of fur coats, jewelry and sculpted brows (“I spent more time in wardrobe than I did in the last 15 projects”), Damon insisted he and Douglas took the relationship very seriously. “We weren’t giggling about it. These were people’s lives and we wanted to get it right and we wanted to get the script right… because we know how rare something like this is.” Director Steven Soderbergh stressed that the relationship was like any other. What’s unique is the environment in which it takes place, which executive producer Jerry Weintraub once called “la cage aux folles on steroids.”
Discovery: Remember demolition derbies? Well, they never forgot about them in Utah where the locals take the sport extremely seriously—to the point of spending 60-80 hours souping up a car for just one event. The derby obsession is the subject of Velocity’s “Kings of Crash” (premieres 1Q). And competitor Ryan Sweat may have put it best to critics with: “Every kid wants to break something,” he said. “We’re just showing them how to do it.” A clip shown to critics included a scene in which Sweat punches out a rival driver, who had heckled his wife. “You don’t mess with my family,” he said.
The most surprising aspect of interviewing all 19 living White House Chiefs of Staff for Discovery Channel’s “The Presidents’ Gatekeepers” (premieres 3Q) was “just how forthcoming they were,” said exec prod Chris Whipple. Some were more candid than others. “Rahm Emanuel was a challenge,” said Whipple, likening his testimony to “a 3-hour interview in about an hour and fifteen minutes.” Then there was Dick Cheney, who shocked them all by speaking for 7 hours.
Sundance: Showrunner Ray McKinnon admits that viewers often “want order over justice… we want things framed,” which provides a sense of closure. But the philosophy of storytelling he’s taken in Sundance Channel’s “Rectify” (premieres Apr 22), the net’s 1st wholly-owned scripted series, doesn’t necessarily subscribe to that. “I’m not so sure I want to abide by those convictions,” he said. The series follows a man who’s been exonerated from death row after 19 years and returns to his hometown. Actor Aden Young said he looked to the words on the page. “So much of the role was embedded in the script itself,” he said.
BBC America: Matthew MacFadyen was drawn to the role of Inspector Edmund Reid, a lead investigator in the quest to capture Jack the Ripper in BBC America’s crime thriller “Ripper Street” (premieres Jan 19) because it’s far from a stock character. He’s a “very freethinking, forward-looking kind of man,” said MacFayden. The series was shot in Dublin in an old Victorian barracks. Rather than speculating on The Ripper’s identity as other productions have done, creator Richard Warlow aimed to “tell stories about the streets down which he walked,” and the police who “tried and failed to catch him.”
“Wild Things With Dominic Monoghan” (premieres Jan 22) takes viewers on an exploration of creepy crawlers and fear-inspiring animals across the globe, in an effort to educate the masses and dispel fear, which Monoghan believes is created through negative associations and experiences. “It’s a call to arms for people to go explore,” he said. A large part of the show is the journey getting there and interacting with the locals. Animal Planet legend Steve Irwin was a major influence on Monoghan. “He meant a lot to me, and I think he was a superb human being across the board.” In some ways, the show is a “love letter to Steve Irwin as a person.”
IFC: Animation’s all the rage, and IFC will soon launch its own unique version exploring ever-awkward adolescence with “Out There” (premieres Feb 22). The title has a double meaning. Not only is it based on creator Ryan Quincy’s upbringing in a small Nebraska town but also his social isolation. Even more unique is the animation style, which borders on abstract. “If they looked like humans, they wouldn’t have the same oomph,” he said of characters whose resemblance to various animals match their personalities. “They’re more interesting to me, characters with claws and cat noses and everything else.”
Starz: Starz chief Chris Albrecht seems anxious to gain independence as a public company, which happens this month. “So yours truly here will be the CEO of a public company, which is a daunting but exciting challenge,” he told critics, noting that “we will now be in charge of our own balance sheet, and be able to dramatically accelerate our ramp-up into original programming, which we clearly see as the main thrust of Starz’s future growth, immediate and long term.” With 55mln subs between Starz and Encore, the brand certainly has potential, with Albrecht pointing out that its authenticated “Play” product should hit 85% deployment by year-end.
Among Starz’s new bets is the ambitious “DaVinci’s Demons,” which explores Leonardo DaVinci’s younger and allegedly wilder years as an artist, inventor and engineer. Interestingly, it’s helmed by David Goyer, who co-wrote the Dark Knight series of Batman movies with Christopher Nolan, and told critics that DaVinci “was kind of super-hero-y anyway. Of course, that doesn’t mean he didn’t take creative license. “I’m not calling it a historical piece,” he said, noting that he “embellished” various facts and rumors about the renaissance man. “This is historical fantasy.” The use of CGI is rather stunning: One scene in which a young maiden poses for DaVinci against the rolling hills of Florence, was actually shot in a parking lot against a green screen.

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