“Extant” is basically “The Astronaut’s Wife” meets “A.I.” And I kinda dig it. Credit: CBS
All About [TV]’s Summer Genre Series Watch
Plus: Summer TCAs highlights and industry news
These days, I can’t help but reminisce about the good ol’ days, back when summer was once a television graveyard. People would take vacations, ride a bike and go to oodles of movies, while the small screen took a backseat and reruns reigned supreme.
Corey Stoll plays a quick-witted CDC expert in Guillermo del Toro’s “The Strain” on FX. Credit: Mirada/FX
Not that I exactly yearn for those days of television yore, but they were far simpler.
Granted, it’s been a very long time – more than a decade in fact – since cable networks first started using the summer months as easy-target launch pads for their original programming.
Now, after a moderate transition, we’re officially in the full-blown, year-round programming cycle that’s been touted for years. And I don’t know about anyone else, but it’s starting to feel like an overwhelming spiral.
How does one keep up with all the options out there?
According to Indiewire, FX Networks CEO John Landgraf said at a “Produced By” panel in June that “350 scripted original series [will be] produced and marketed in the American television market this year.”
Landgraf, a highly respected industry leader, went on to estimate that the number of produced series could jump to 400 in 2015.
When the Emmy nominations were announced, the list truly looked like an over-stuffed subway car full of quality content that one might never have time to view.
But let’s get real. As Todd VanDerWoof (@tvoti) explains in great detail at Vox, the Emmy nomination process is pretty nuts. And that’s likely not going to change any time soon, especially since serials on ALL platforms have been welcomed into the crowded party with open arms.
Pierce Gagnon stars in CBS’ “Extant,” and has a knack for playing the cutest creepy kids ever. Don’t believe me? Go watch “Looper.” Credit: CBS
Still, in regards to new projects that are in development and awaiting pick-ups, it’s probably daunting for creators who are looking to make their mark. Indiewire offers tips for how new television series can gain traction in the crowded television landscape.
Reporter Liz Shannon Miller highlights tactics like early season renewals, which younger networks Pivot and El Rey have used to demonstrate unwavering faith in their new programming.
However, as time marches onward, it continues to look like there’s no longer a guaranteed formula for TV success. Though some elements certainly help, with name talent remaining at the top of the list. (Sure, quality characters and stories help, too.)
CBS’ “Extant” with Halle Berry is a mainstream example on a broadcast network of how such talent can really catapult a series, not just into earning an initial pick-up, but also in getting much-needed buzz prior to debuting.
“Extant” is, at first blush, a mix of several big-budget concepts that have made it to the big screen, and indeed the show has a pristine, polished, cinematic look that sets it apart from many other broadcast series out there.
It’s very clear that no expense was spared in the series’ production. (Thank you, Mr. Spielberg.) That highly level of quality may lend itself to “Extant” being taken more seriously among both eagle-eyed genre fans and broader audiences.
Tatiana Maslany is truly “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” on BBC’s “Orphan Black.” Credit: BBC
Over the last several years, broadcast networks have lost ground in live viewership and Emmy recognition, while basic and premium cable networks continue to see a meteoric rise – followed closely by Netflix.
So, the fact that “Extant” remains steady (so far) since its premiere of 9.4 million viewers is promising.
As Geek Host Alice has mentioned in past conversations, genre series have historically been neglected by critics and Academy members, despite how many viewers they may garner. That’s certainly shifted a bit as buzzworthy shows like “The Walking Dead” and “Game of Thrones” – both being adaptations – remain at the top of viewers’ and critics’ lists.
Still, the perceived slights to genre series like the BBC’s “Orphan Black” continue to sting among audiences and critics who will likely stage a global clone attack in 2015 if Tatiana Maslany is snubbed for a third time.
FX’s “The Strain” (also an adaptation, sheesh) seems to be following along the same vein as TWD, by attracting an ardent, growing horror audience, while still blending intriguing storylines and complex characters. The Guillermo del Toro series mixes a fairly common premise with a unique style, and according to The Hollywood Reporter, 8 million viewers watched the series premiere, with time-shifted and encore viewing taken into account.
“The Strain” introduces the audience to the brilliant and highly-sought-after CDC team leader Dr. Ephraim Goodweather as he struggles to save his crumbling marriage, while also navigating the bizarre creatures who instinctively seek to breed and feed on humans.
Rhona Mitra stars as the well-connected Dr. Rachel Scott in “The Last Ship” on TNT. Credit: Platinum Dunes/TNT
Stoll often plays secondary characters in projects I’ve watched, so it’s nice to see him take the lead as an awkward, fast-talking genius in the premiere.
“The Last Ship,” starring Eric Dane, Rhona Mitra and Adam Baldwin, has also performed well for TNT, prompting a second-season order of 13 episodes, up from this season’s 10 episodes. The series, produced by Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes production company, follows a Navy crew’s desperate search for the cure to a worldwide pandemic.
Much like “The Strain,” it’s a tried-and-true concept with a somewhat different – and certainly more blockbuster movie-esque – take on the story.
Dane, Mitra and Baldwin do well in their roles, but for me, the series is just a bit too much and tries a bit too hard, with the same bombastic, in-your-face, cine-stagecraft one expects from a Michael Bay production.
And, to be fair, that kind of storytelling may work well for me on a 30-by-70-foot movie screen with digital surround sound and popcorn at my fingertips. But on my 42-inch TV screen (and 23-inch computer monitor, and tablet, and iPhone, etc.), I often find that the old adage is true: Less is more.
Though TNT is running steady with its existing crop of successful dramas, “The Last Ship” has proven to be an extra high-energy kick for the network as they continue to introduce broad, high-stakes series to their slate.
Justin Theroux plays an emotionally wounded small-town cop in HBO’s “The Leftovers.” Credit: HBO/Paul Schiraldi
HBO’s “The Leftovers” (another adaptation!), features a star-studded cast in a dark, dark world that’s still reeling from the mysterious disappearance of 2 percent of Earth’s population three years prior. It’s basically a post-apocalyptic premise with a twist, since there was no meteor, no nuclear holocaust, no alien invasion or Second Coming.
Created by Damon Lindelof of “Lost” fame and the original novel’s author Tom Perrotta, the series moves from one quiet, desolate character to the next, slowly unraveling until we finally see how everyone – and perhaps everything – is truly intertwined.
Of this summer’s genre series to premiere so far, “The Leftovers” definitely feels like the most promising and poignant.
More on the All About [TV] Summer Genre Watchlist
At the top of the list is Starz’s “Outlander,” another adaptation for TV, this time from Ron D. Moore. You just really can’t go wrong with a historical drama centered around time travel and an epic romance. “Outlander” premieres Aug. 9.
“Dominion,” an apocalyptic, supernatural, action series based on the film “Legion,” explores the trials of Alex Lannon, a young soldier in a war-torn world following God’s disappearance. Filming in Cape Town, South Africa, the Syfy drama takes place 25 years after the 2010 film starring Paul Bettany and Adrianne Palicki. Alex is the adult version of the baby the film’s protagonists strive to protect, and he soon discovers that he may be humanity’s savior – whether he likes it or not. “Dominion” premiered June 19.
David Alpay and Marley Shelton star in Lifetime’s dystopian thriller, “The Lottery.” Credit: Warner Horizon Television/Lifetime
“Halt and Catch Fire” may not technically be considered a genre series, but the newest AMC period drama at least highlights the nerds who helped revolutionize the world with the personal computer. Starring Lee Pace and Mackenzie Davis, the series focuses on the tech innovators of Silicon Prairie of Texas in 1983.
The stakes are clearly raised beyond a simple “control+alt+delete” function to attract a mainstream audience, but critics hail the series as immensely well-acted, which is definitely incentive to check it out. “Halt and Catch Fire” premiered June 1.
Lifetime’s “The Lottery,” created by Timothy J. Sexton (“Children of Men”), fast-forwards a mere decade into the future to a world where women have not given birth to children in several years. Dr. Alison Lennon, played by Marley Shelton, successfully solves the global fertility issue in her lab, but then finds herself fired and her research seized by the Fertility Commission.
It’s a truly far-fetched concept that doesn’t seem to have any legs – or eggs, apparently – but it may be worth a shot. “The Lottery” premiered July 20.
Syfy’s “The Almighty Johnsons” is intriguing, if only because it’s a comedy hailing from New Zealand that was nearly canceled in its own country about two or three times (a la “Futurama” and “Family Guy”). It now has a shot at new life in the North American market thanks to an undoubtedly cheap acquisition by Syfy. “The Almighty Johnsons” is likely too campy for me, but I might stick it out for the cute guys and Kiwi accents. (Yes, I am that shallow.) “The Almighty Johnsons” premiered July 11.
Highlights from the Summer Television Critics Assoc. Tour
“Ascension” stars Tricia Helfer and Brian Van Holt, and debuts on Syfy November 2014. Credit: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
- Syfy got quite a bit of buzz for their new miniseries, “Ascension,” developed by producer Jason Blum of “The Purge” and “Insidious” fame, and starring BSG’s Tricia Helfer.
- Syfy’s “12 Monkeys,” executive produced by Richard Suckle (production executive on the original 1995 film), has also garnered some attention. Though, according to Deadline, Suckle told reporters that the new series is a “complete reimagining” of the Bruce Willis film and not a remake.
- Chris Carter’s spanking-new sci-fi project, “The After,” Amazon’s most ambitious series yet, is set to debut in 2015, and it continues to make headlines – particularly with Carter’s 99-episode plan.
- The 30th annual TCA Awards: “Breaking Bad” won TCA Program of the Year, “True Detective” won for Outstanding Miniseries and “Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey” won an award in the News and Information category.
Other genre TV and industry newsy nuggets
Do you have any other shows that belong on All About [TV]‘s Summer Genre Watchlist? Any TCA, genre series or industry news that’s worth discussing? Post your suggestions in the comments section below!