Quick, read every television programming story written in the last week. Actually, now that you're done, it's the week after and you're really behind. Or, as an alternative, just start coming here on Fridays.
I'm Sam Thielman, Adweek's cable reporter, and every column after this one will pop up at the end of the week with a breakdown of what's happening in development, series orders, renewals, and cancelations. Occasionally casting, too. We're calling it The Slate – it's not meant to be exhaustive, but it is meant to be interesting and occasionally funny and hopefully predictive of what will be worth checking out in the next few months and years. I'll provide a little color rather than just rehashing press releases, and I'll also salt these items with as much related news and gossip as I can dig up, so hopefully you'll see some things you didn't know even if you already knew that, say, Game of Thrones was getting renewed, and you'll be able to check me out every Friday and feel like you're caught up on the week's programming news.
Anyway, welcome! This is my first regular column, but I've been a TV beat reporter for years and a media reporter in one form or another since 2005. Before Adweek, I was at Variety; I live in Brooklyn with my wife; and I grew up in North Carolina and Nairobi, Kenya. I like my job and the industry I cover. I don't wish I was a producer or a film reporter.
TV reporters hear from the networks at the rate of about 15 programming-related announcements per week, and some are interesting, and some are resolutely not, and I will be running them down based entirely on my own subjective ideas about what's good (Community, Futurama, Louie) and what's bad (CSI: Tupelo, America's Next Top Predator). So without further ado, here's a double dose to start off with—the last two weeks' worth of interesting programming decisions:
Game of Thrones: I have a weirdly possessive attitude toward this show, mostly because of how good the books are, but it's been quite heartening to see HBO give this series the royal treatment from the pilot forward. The two HBO shows this program has the most in common with are crazyfest Carnivale and wildly expensive period drama Rome, and both of those took massive budget cuts in their second seasons and then didn't get renewed for a third. Bearing that in mind, it's very heartening to see that HBO isn't stinting on the budgets for the new season (I've watched the first four, and if you thought the season finale had some weird stuff in it, you ain't seen nothing yet), and that it's willing to plant the renewal flag immediately after the premiere just like it did last year. Having read the books, however, I'll say that the creative team is wading into some deep waters here. Martin confirms that seaons three will be ten segs long and that he'll be writing episode seven; that means the series will have to go on for at least eight seasons in order to cover all the material in the books. And that's provided the books end at volume seven, which is also in some doubt. It's hard not to worry that Game could have trouble staying fresh for eight seasons, especially when you can't write characters out if the actors decide they want to leave. Still, it's getting great ratings for the network – (a cume of 8.3 million viewers for the season two premiere!) and as long as that doesn't change, it'll probably be around for a good long time. Speculation: I'd be surprised if this show is not getting some serious juice from HBO GO. It's serialized to the point of incomprehensibility if you're trying to go cold into the second season, and HBO has been running marathons of season one and keeping the on-demand version available, which probably helps bring in new viewers in much the same way that Netflix's huge AMC library helped bring in new Mad Men viewers after that show's 18-month hiatus.
New Girl: A lot of folks really, really wanted to hate this show, but most don't. It's cute. The jury is out on how long it can stay cute, but Fox appears to be betting that Zooey Deschanel will be adorkable for at least one more season, and I don't know. It's hard to contend that they're wrong. I basically watched for the showrunner, the hugely underrated Liz Merriwether, but the ensemble is surprisingly strong (Max Greenfield as fat-kid-turned-frat-kid Schmidt stands out) and the writing magically manages to hit that sweet spot between traditional sitcommery and skin-crawling embarrassment comedy. It also has a solid demo average (3.2 million) and at NATPE this year, people were talking about it like it was a shoo-in for syndication on account of being A) funny and B) not serialized.
Southland: A reportedly excellent cop show on TNT that hasn't gotten the attention it deserves because, well, it's a cop show on the network that airs Rizzoli and Isles and The Closer and syndicated epsiodes of Law & Order and Cold Case, among others. But to the folks who love these things the heirarchy appears to go The Wire, The Shield, Southland, so this seems to be a victory for the forces of light.
Twenty Twelve: I'm to the point where I just feel sorry for people who think that British comedy is Noel Coward and reruns of Blackadder (not that there's anything wrong with Blackadder). Hugh Bonneville of Downton Abbey stars in this thing, a mockumentary series about the preparations for the 2012 Olympics in London, and Bonneville will play the "head of deliverance" for the Olympic Deliverance Commission. BBC America will run all 12 episodes of the show starting in June, and we'll all laugh but we'll all also wonder if British white-collar workers are secretly really that dumb.
XIII: Actually more of a quasi-acquisition than a greenlight, this announcement makes it look like ReelzChannel is trying to get on the premium-cable bandwagon alongside HBO, Showtime and Starz, to which it has thus far been the pay-cable equivalent of the little bird that picks food out of an alligator's teeth. XIII, until this week, was a Canal+ show that debuted last year with Aisha Tyler and Stuart Townsend in the leads. It looks a little ham-handed, at least from the material available online, but the production company is due to bring on Roger Avary as a writer for the current season, which appears to be the first one ReelzChannel will be airing. If that sounds goofy, consider that Starz did basically the same thing with Torchwood: Miracle Day, which premiered last year—that show was technically the series' fourth season, with the first three produced in the U.K. and aired stateside on BBC America (it was originally the sexy version of Doctor Who, believe it or not). It was also, unfortunately, not as good as some of the other Torchwood material, so we'll see if ReelzChannel can pull off a better Europe-to-U.S. transition for XIII. It's based on a Belgian comics series, incidentally, and Belgian comics can be pretty great.
Dog With a Blog: Disney Channel has placed a series order for a multicamera sitcom about a dog that can talk and write, who heals the rift between two bickering siblings. It's so hard to come up with commentary on a show with a logline that sounds like a 30 Rock joke.
Betsey + Lulu: One great way to succeed as a straight male reporter covering the huge glut of women's lifestyle networks is to keep your fat mouth shut about what you think is cool and understand that basically none of it is for you and it does well anyway. Fellow male television reporters, I promise you, we're going to come home to find our wives watching this. It's about Betsey Johnson, who turns seventy this year and basically is basically Lisa Frank for grownups, and her daughter, who is pregnant. It's on Style.
Flow: Hulu had its giant upfront this week, and this was the most interesting thing to come out of it, with Michael "Dooma" Wednschuh writing. If you are going to call yourself "Dooma" you had better be either a rapper or a video game designer. Michael Wendschuh is the latter, and his developing Hulu show Flow is encouraging for exactly that reason. Wendschuh contributed a lot of the writing to the Assassin's Creed games, which is a pretty solidly written franchise, and it says something about Hulu's demographic that they think teaming up Wednschuh with David Belle, the creator of extreme running sport Parkour, will hit with their audience. Here's hoping they're right – with Legendary making a Mass Effect movie and a new BioShock game coming out this year, the time is more than ripe for TV people to start paying attention to the scripting talent in the game community.
Spies of Warsaw : A well-reviewed spy novel gets an adaptation with a Royal Shakespeare Company vet in the lead role on BBC America, which is co-producing. Normally I'd say this sounds like your mom's favorite series, but said stage actor is David Tennant, better known to U.S. audiences as the 10th Doctor on Doctor Who, and he's the Doctor for so many Americans that this stands a pretty good chance of breaking out alongside Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson's Copper, BBC America's first full-blown scripted original series. For those keeping score, yes, that's another network that is trying for the HBO/AMC/Showtime/FX look-at-all-our-awesome-dramas model. Don't get me wrong, as an avid watcher of television that is absolutely the greatest thing that's ever happened to me, but as a grouchy reporter on the television industry that is a worrying thing to watch happen. Doesn't one of you want to try a less competitive business model, like crummy reality shows or something?
Hurt People: Even HBO's sister network Cinemax is doing it now, with a new drama about a hitman and his family starring/exec produced by William Petersen called Hurt People.
Thief of Thieves: AMC teams up with Robert Kirkman to adapt another one of his comic book series after The Walking Dead exploded in a burst of rotting soft tissue all over the Nielsen ranker and ate the competition's brains (do you see what I did there?). Kirkman is a very talented writer but one of the interesting things about Walking Dead is that, like Game of Thrones, there's a huge body of plot-heavy work to pick over when you're writing the adaptation, even if all you want to do is mess with the established order of things. Thief of Thieves is on what, issue three as of this past week? No doubt Kirkman's a smart guy but there's not much to adapt at this point, so this is pretty much down to executive producer Chic Eglee, who worked on season one of Walking Dead and adapted another comic book, Powers, for FX (which appears to be either dead or a long way off – actors from the pilot told fan site Comic Book Resources they'd all been released from their contracts).
Untitled Male Model Project and Built: The former is in the lab at Bravo, the latter at Style, and both are the beefcake shows you sort of always knew these networks would get around to eventually. I have no idea what the Bravo project will look like beyond the generic logline about male models trying to succeed in a world they never made, but I saw the trailer for Built at the Style upfront and I have rarely heard people laugh that hard. In a related story, this article has been optioned for a full nonfiction book. Is it the End of Men? I feel fine, personally, but this looks like a trend in the making.
Nothing of note, but upfronts are a-coming!
Tim Minchin to Showtime's Californication Ordinarily we'll be avoiding non-lead casting like the plague, but composer/lyricist/comedian Tim Minchin is worth mentioning because he's very funny indeed and he's got a show opening on Broadway sometimes this year. And he's going to Californication, for some reason, where he'll play a crazy rock star named Atticus Fetch. Sounds about right.