Dangerous, Dirty & Dysfunctional: The Ed Koch NYC Years on PBS

Those who lived in New York City during the Ed Koch years will have a visceral reaction to a new documentary about the man once called America’s Mayor in a Time magazine cover story.

For everyone else, the feature-length “Koch” will give a fascinating look back at a time in American history when crime ran rampant in its largest city – which had teetered on bankruptcy – minorities struggled to have their voices heard and their concerns addressed, graffiti and filth marred its subway system and gay activists launched protests to combat the sweeping AIDS epidemic.

More than that, the film, part of PBS’s POV series and directed by Neil Barsky, gives viewers a warts-and-all look at the man who ran the Big Apple during what the first-time director called dangerous, dirty, dysfunctional but magical days from 1978-1989.

Like many things about New York during his three terms, people either loved or hated Koch, emblematic as he was of the city’s brashness, bluntness, combativeness and shrewdness — but most heartily approved. In 1981, he was reelected with a staggering 75% of the vote; in the second reelection, the margin rose to 78%.

In a signature tactic which became almost cliché, he would stand on street corners and asked passersby, “How am I doing?”

So we asked Barsky, who had unprecedented access to the still-active former mayor for a year and a half until shortly before he died in February 2013 at the age of 88, about Koch’s legacy— just how did he do. Overall, he credits Koch with planting the seeds of New York’s recovery, leading it to become the overwhelmingly safe and prosperous metropolis it is today.

“He did a phenomenal job of restoring the city’s fiscal condition as well as injecting New York with a much needed boost of adrenaline and morale building,” said Barsky, who lived in NYC during the Koch years as a student and then a newspaper reporter, although he did not cover City Hall. “His greatest achievement was a $5.5 billion dollar program to rehabilitate and build housing for low to moderate income people, which reshaped the city. However, he was thrown out of office because of his inability to relate to many communities who turned on him.”

Throughout his public life, Koch was dogged by questions about his personal life, specifically his sexual orientation. It was widely thought that he was closeted gay. But when asked about it in the 1980s, he said he was heterosexual and late in his life when questioned by Barsky, he said, “It’s none of your fucking business.”

In the 1977 Democratic mayoral primary that had pitted Koch—who made appearances with former Miss America Bess Myerson at his side– against incumbent Abe Beame, Bella Abzug and Mario Cuomo, signs were posted that said, “Vote for Cuomo, not the homo.” They were disavowed by the Cuomo campaign and quickly taken down, but the damage was done.

“It was a very potent accusation. At the time, you could be gay or mayor but you couldn’t be both,” Barsky said. “There was an ugliness to it, and it was the root of his anger toward Cuomo– even though towards the end of his life, he endorsed Mario’s son Andrew for governor of New York.”

Despite the fact that Koch pushed through an ordinance prohibiting discrimination against gays and lesbians in 1986– revolutionary at the time – the LGBT community held him responsible for not doing enough to fight AIDS.

“The backlash to his reaction to the AIDS crisis obscured and overwhelmed his achievements on the civil rights front,” said Barsky. “I think it goes to empathy.  All he had to say was, ‘This is a tragedy of epic proportion.’ He did eventually. He didn’t show the leadership. If you interview members of the AIDS activist community, he is reviled. Larry Kramer, author of ‘The Normal Heart,’ was very tough on Koch. Eventually the city caught up, but it took too long.”

The black community also turned against Koch after several incidents that created large street protests– the closing of Sydenham Hospital in Harlem and the 1989 murder of a young black man, Yusef Hawkins, by a group of white teenagers.

“He could’ve said it was a travesty and tragedy and mourned with the family, and he would’ve been reelected,” Barsky said. “Instead he said not to march through the neighborhood where it happened. Each of these times, he was not able to relate to people on a human level.”

Also in his third term, a municipal corruption scandal, including the suicide of one of the accused, Queens borough president Donald Manes, rocked the administration– although Koch himself was clean.

When Koch ran for a fourth term in 1989, he was defeated by David Dinkins, who went on to top Rudy Giuliani in the general election and to become New York’s first black mayor.

But as viewers will see in the film, which was released theatrically last year on what turned out to be the day he died, Koch did not ride off quietly into the sunset after he was denied a fourth term.

The lifelong Democrat who had served in the Army during World War II remained politically active, endorsing candidates– including Republicans Rudy Giuliani and later Michael Bloomberg for mayor of New York — appearing as a commentator on talk shows, lecturing and writing books.

“Once we started shooting the film, it became clear just how personally compelling Koch—then 87—still was,” said Barsky. “He tirelessly hopped from campaign stop to campaign stop, from speaking engagement to speaking engagement. He bared his teeth at anyone who challenged him in a public forum; he still shined brightly when he was the center of attention. And he could not walk down a New York City street without being approached by an admirer.”

The energetic Koch, who apparently planned never to retire, was a partner in a law firm, an adjunct professor at NYU and a visiting professor at Brandeis University, served as the judge on “The People’s Court” from 1997-1999, hosted a highly-rated radio program and an online movie review show called “Mayor at the Movies.”

“New York loves to see itself the center of the world, even if it’s not,” said Barsky. “But to us New Yorkers, it’s the world capital, and it tends to attract larger-than-life characters. Ed Koch’s story is in many ways the story of the city. To this day, I cannot think of a New Yorker as popular or as polarizing.”

(“Koch” airs Monday, September 22 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on PBS stations. Check local listings.)

–Hillary Atkin

Crime, Corruption and Cockiness: The Whitey Bulger Story

His name was once second on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, right after that of Osama bin Laden. But even with notorious gangster Whitey Bulger captured, convicted and behind bars for the rest of his life in a federal penitentiary, the families of those he mercilessly killed are not convinced that justice was done.

Every aspect of Bulger’s life is over-the-top dramatic, from his beginnings as a young thug in South Boston, to a stint at Alcatraz for bank robbery, to his decades-long reign of murder, extortion, racketeering and drug dealing as leader of Boston’s infamous Winter Hill Gang, to his capture by the FBI after living an apparently ordinary life in Santa Monica, Calif. with his decades-younger girlfriend, Catherine Greig.

Inside the rent-controlled apartment, where the couple had lived under the names Charlie and Carol Gasko, authorities found $822,000 in cash and 30 weapons hidden in the walls.

Bulger had been on the lam for more than 16 years, fleeing Boston on the eve of an indictment after being tipped off by an FBI agent he had apparently bought off.

The circumstances were so dramatic that Bulger’s 30 years as an organized crime kingpin were the inspiration for Jack Nicholson’s character in the 2006 Oscar-winning film “The Departed.” In another star turn, Bulger will be portrayed by Johnny Depp in a Warner Bros. film called “Black Mass” scheduled for release next September. Boston natives Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are also reportedly developing a feature film.

But it is the real-life drama of what transpired after Bulger’s takedown in June 2011 that runs through the new documentary, “Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger,” from CNN Films, directed by Joe Berlinger and produced by Berlinger and Caroline Suh.

It chronicles the sensational 2013 trial in Boston federal court in which Bulger stood accused of 19 murders and 32 counts of racketeering, money laundering, extortion, narcotics distribution and weapons charges.

Berlinger was in the courtroom for what promised to be the most explosive Boston trial since the Sacco-Vanzetti armed robbery murder case in 1920.

“It was an amazing experience, 30 years of history converging,” Berlinger said in a phone interview. “A lot of observers were disappointed that there was not a deeper inquiry into what made Bulger possible. It was a foregone conclusion on guilt, but my overwhelming feeling was that to go through the trouble and expense of trying an 83- year old, there should have been a fuller, deeper probe into corruption. The families deserve to know why he wasn’t taken off streets earlier.  It made me realize not to do a bio of him, but to raise questions of corruption in law enforcement that enabled him.”

As the film opens, we hear a Boston liquor store owner describe the violent extortion Bulger visited upon him and his family, coming to his door and threatening to take control of his business and kill his children.

Bulger operated in Boston’s criminal underworld for three decades without encountering even a single indictment or misdemeanor prosecution, a crime lord who until his arrest and transfer back to his hometown had not seen the inside of a prison cell since 1956.

“Bulgerʼs story represented to me a nexus of the two major thematic threads that have dominated my documentary filmmaking endeavors – true crime and institutional corruption,” Berlinger said. “As a storyteller, I was also fascinated by the uniquely mythic status that Bulger has obtained in the public consciousness. Despite being accused of pathological brutality, he was also celebrated by many as a folk hero – a ‘good’ bad-guy. A Robin Hood of sorts, helping the poor and elderly and keeping his Boston neighborhood of Southie clean of drugs –myths that would later be debunked in the trial that is the subject of this film.”

One of the most remarked upon elements of the film, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was released theatrically earlier this year, is that the audience gets to hear Bulger’s voice for the first time.

It happens in a phone call to his defense attorney, who allowed Berlinger’s crew to tape the conversation, the notorious gangster’s first-ever media interview. In the time between the verdict and his sentencing, Bulger discusses his relationship with investigators, his negotiations with prosecutors and his proposal to plead guilty in exchange for absolving his girlfriend of any charges—and he professes his love for her.

“The goal of including Bulger in the film was not to take sides or to diminish his crimes. Generally, we have never heard his point of view. Now that he’s in the custody of the federal government, no one will have access to him,” said Berlinger. “Bulger is a brutal killer and deserves to be behind bars. However, the families of the victims deserve to hear why Bulger was allowed to kill with impunity.”

The general consensus was that Bulger was an informant for the FBI, instrumental in helping the G-men take down leaders of the Italian Mafia in Boston, all the while being allowed to freely operate his criminal enterprises and murder at will. Yet Bulger claims he was never an informant and that law enforcement– Massachusetts State police, Boston police, the ATF and the FBI gave him information in exchange for money.

“I took care of everyone, in cash, $25-$50,000,” he said in the taped interview, and claimed he had a deal of immunity with the U.S. Attorney’s office because he protected a key official from Mafia retribution.

That viewpoint was never allowed to be presented in court – the judge nixed it before the trial began, thus Berlinger said, cheating the citizens of Massachusetts out of an opportunity to hear the whole truth fully aired.

The documentary raises questions that are not definitively answered, like how Bulger could be an informant if he never got paid, and if he was, why was he allowed to kill instead of being targeted and prosecuted?

Part of the answer seems to lie in the law enforcement fixation on the Italian Mob while looking the other way at the Irish gangsters.

If it all unraveled, the government would lose all of its Mob convictions—upon which many careers were made– and be held liable.

“In Boston, the Mafia generally hired Bulger’s gang to do their assassinations. The defense maintained that Bulger made a deal in exchange for not being prosecuted,” Berlinger said.  “That’s exactly the issue, the government picking winners and losers. They shouldn’t be in that business if someone is a killer. The importance of the Bulger saga is how he was aided and abetted by the very same institutions that finally brought him to justice as an 83-year-old man who lived his life to the fullest.”

“What makes this trial extraordinary – and really crazy – is the defense is defending him from an assertion that he was in an informant, even though it is not a charge,” said David Boeri, senior reporter for Boston’s WBUR radio, one of many Beantown journos who have been on the Bulger beat for years. “It’s not about guilt or innocence in this trial. It’s about his legacy, of wanting to establish that he wasn’t a tout, a rat, an informant.”

It should be noted that two of the three prosecutors in the case (Brian T. Kelly and Fred M. Wyshak, Jr.)  worked for two decades to bring Bulger to justice, and Berlinger said they deserve tremendous credit for fighting against the institutional resistance that prevented this indictment from moving forward in the early years of Bulger’s reign.

“In many ways, they are heroes,” he said. “But the prosecution in this trial also seemed to be simultaneously turning a blind eye to the deeper and troubling questions that have yet to be answered about the nature and extent of the government corruption that may have surrounded this case.”

Bulger did not take the stand in his own defense and later called the entire trial a sham.

For Berlinger, the most searing memory of the trial was the fact that the victims’ families took the side of the defense and not the prosecution. “They were angry that the prosecution was limiting the scope of the trial and therefore rooting for the very guy who killed their loved ones.”

(“Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger,” premiered on CNN September 18 and will encore Saturday, September 20 at 9 p.m. and 11 p.m ET.)

–Hillary Atkin



Ken Burns Gets Intimate With the Roosevelts on PBS

Just as “The Civil War” and “The War” before it, master documentarian Ken Burns’ “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History” is turning out to be a massive blockbuster for PBS.

The sprawling documentary chronicling the lives of Theodore, Franklin Delano and Eleanor Roosevelt began Sunday night with the first of its seven, two-hour episodes, which garnered a 5.8 rating and an average audience of 9.06 million viewers, according to Nielsen Fast National data, Live + SD.

Before the first chapter aired, more than 200,000 views of trailers for “The Roosevelts” foretold the strong demand for the series.

Burns, whose other recent documentaries include “Prohibition” (2011) and “The Dust Bowl” (2012), said that releasing a film is like having a conversation with your closest friends and family. If, of course, they number in the millions of people.

“I’m always struck by the thoughts and comments and how engaged the American people are,” he said. “The fact that such a large audience tuned in the first night is all the more rewarding. We hope more people have a chance to watch on all of the platforms PBS has set up to share the work.”

In addition to the broadcasts which run through September 20, the 14-hour series is streaming at pbs.org/theroosevelts, PBS stations’ digital platforms, Roku and Apple TV– and will be available through September 29.

“The Roosevelts,” written by Geoffrey C. Ward and narrated by Peter Coyote, spans more than 100 years, from Theodore’s birth in 1858 to Eleanor’s death in 1962, vividly bringing to life the history of two presidencies, multiple family tragedies, Prohibition, the Depression and two world wars.

With never-before seen photographs and vibrant but silent film, the first chapters chronicle the life of Teddy Roosevelt, born into a world of privilege, who became America’s 26th president in a term that began 113 years ago almost to the day, on Sept. 14, 1901, after President William McKinley was assassinated.

He was, at age 42, the youngest person to become president. Overcoming severe asthma as a youth, the ambitious Roosevelt had already made a name for himself as a New York City police commissioner, an assistant secretary of the Navy, governor of New York and vice president.

His cowboy persona, epitomized by forming the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War, and his large ego were legendary. His most famous slogan, “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” resonates to this day. Other catchphrases, indicative of his boundless energy, were “Bully!” and “Dee-lighted.”

Roosevelt ate a dozen eggs for breakfast every morning, drank coffee from a massive mug and dictated 150,000 letters in his lifetime, which the Theodore Roosevelt Center in Dickinson, ND is trying to get all online.

But as Burns does so well, and with Roosevelt brought to life in his own words by the voice of Paul Giamatti, viewers get a detailed, insightful, 360-degree version of Theodore—including his battles with depression, his tragic loss of both his first wife and his mother on the same day and an assassination attempt—which contribute to a greater understanding of one of the most prominent leaders in U.S. history.

As the docu-series moves on to the era of Franklin and Eleanor, Theodore’s distant cousin and his niece, viewers will hear them come to life, voiced by actors Edward Herrmann (who played FDR in the landmark 1976 miniseries “Eleanor and Franklin”) and Meryl Streep.

The stories of the more modern-era Roosevelts, well-chronicled as they have been for decades, are even more captivating on Burns’ canvas, with images and video so clear they feel almost contemporary.

(“The Roosevelts: An Intimate History” airs on PBS stations at 8 p.m. PT/ET, 7 p.m. C through September 20.)

–Hillary Atkin

Carnage and Courage in HBO’s ‘Terror at the Mall’

We have just commemorated the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, yet many people may not realize that September marks another such tragic milestone. It’s been one year since an Al Qaeda-linked terrorist group based in Somalia attacked a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, leaving 71 people dead and hundreds wounded.

A new documentary airing on HBO and then on CNN, “Terror at the Mall,” takes a harrowing look inside the siege by Al-Shabaab militants at the upscale shopping center known as Westgate, which lasted for a staggering 49 hours before the situation was brought grimly under control.

Directed by Dan Reed, who also helmed HBO’s 2009 Emmy-nominated “Terror in Mumbai” and 2003’s BAFTA-nominated “Terror in Moscow,” the film recalls the horror of the attack and the courage of ordinary citizens who were caught in the middle of a murderous rampage of civilians–people who had been going about their daily lives on a typical weekend afternoon.

“Somehow, it really got to me. It’s a universal location meant for all of us, and this is a mall looks like any other in Europe or America,” Reed said in a phone interview. “It was a Saturday lunchtime, people doing what they’re doing, walking around with their kids, shopping. There was a generic significance that made it chilling.”

The London-based director started working on the film right after the attack and made five trips to Kenya, using footage from more than 100 security cameras, which recorded hours of surveillance video, along with extensive photographs taken during the siege. He tracked down and interviewed many of the survivors and some of the rescuers, who reflected on what took place, why it happened the way it did and how their lives have changed in the interim.

“We recorded 82 interviews but met 150 people involved,” Reed said. “My film tries to create an account of what it was like to experience the attack. It was designed to be a claustrophobic experience. These are important events for us to understand and that’s why I try to have material that gives you an incredible inside view and allows you to piece together a complex event that unfolds in a rapidly changing scenario.”

The terror began out of nowhere at 12:30 p.m. when a shopper passed through a security check to enter the mall, heard a loud explosion, which turned out to be a grenade, and then saw the guard who had been searching him fall to the ground. Witnesses recalled that gunfire quickly erupted and footage shows patrons in a restaurant diving for cover or being knocked to the ground.

As the security camera videos dispassionately reveal, chaos engulfed the mall, with frightened shoppers running for their lives, unsure of the origin of the attack. Many tried to find hiding places within the shopping center, including under display tables, while literally hundreds of terrified people fled into a giant two-story supermarket, Nakumatt.

There were four terrorists responsible for the rampage. Two of the gunmen made their way toward the supermarket while two others headed for the mall’s rooftop, where a children’s cooking competition was underway.

A 15-year-old girl who was shot in the stomach, thigh and foot clearly recalled one of the terrorist’s chilling battle cries. “The only thing he said was that we are here to kill. You killed our people in Somalia. We normally don’t kill women and children but you kill ours in Somalia and so we are here to take revenge.”

In October 2011, Kenya had marched into Somali to combat Islamist jihadists who had been kidnapping Westerners in its border region, but Reed said there was little evidence of Kenyan civil rights abuses of Somalis during the incursion.

Meanwhile, inside the supermarket, 20 people had hidden behind the meat counter when the terrorists started shooting them, letting some go who said they were Muslim. One woman who was protecting her young daughter and son was shot through the pelvis.

Outside the mall, 45 minutes after the shooting began, Kenyan security forces tried to decide how to proceed, as time ticked away for the wounded waiting to be rescued.

“We laid there for very long time,” recalled one woman who was trapped on the upper level. “You would expect to see a lot of armed soldiers coming up the ramp. Maybe that’s what we were expecting, but that didn’t happen.”

It’s painful to watch the injured struggling, but as the security forces dawdled, a handful of plainclothes police and civilians decided to act—seven in total—going into the mall and rescuing seriously wounded people who had been clinging to life amid the carnage.

The obvious question arises. Why were Kenyan forces so impotent in stopping the attack, preventing further carnage and rescuing the victims?

“It’s not that easy to compare the response to what the American or British response would be,” Reed said. “The institutions in Kenya, sadly, are very dysfunctional. The military and the police are not oriented toward saving lives. The long and short of it is the priority was not to save lives–people were basically covering their asses not wanting to take a risk,” he said of the security forces.

Some of the most graphic and gut-wrenching security camera footage shows one man being repeatedly shot at close range just inside the mall’s entrance, seemingly as he is about to escape. He had been a driver for an American charity. Reed interviewed the man’s daughter.

“He didn’t realize there were two pairs of gunmen. He thought the terrorists were behind him and mistook the two other armed men for cops before they casually shot him at point blank range,” said Reed.

Part of the process in producing the documentary involved much forensic work, analyzing imagery and investigating obscure elements that can lead to useful conclusions.

“As we’re confronted with these hugely impactful events, it’s important to understand the cruelty and brutality but also the astonishing courage and selflessness of people who worked together to survive,” Reed said.

He points with admiration to three women who were there with their children. “It gave them the ability to focus on survival that they wouldn’t have had if they had been there alone,” Reed said. “It supercharged their senses and really helped them to survive. That’s something that gives me hope, a redeeming side of the story. I find that a reason to be optimistic about the human race.”

This may also be a fitting conclusion to the horrifying story of terror at the mall. On September 1, Ahmed Godane, the leader of Al-Shabaab and the apparent mastermind of the Westgate attack, was killed in a targeted U.S. military airstrike in Somalia.

(“Terror at the Mall” premiered Sept. 15 on HBO and has a number of rebroadcast dates lined up on the pay-cable network, including Sept. 18, 21, 23 and 27, with additional screenings on tap on HBO2. The program will also run on CNN Sept. 26 at 9 and 11 p.m. ET.)

–Hillary Atkin

Big Men: A Story of Greed and Corruption Unfolds When Big Money is at Stake

One of the things that POV on PBS, now in its 27th season, does best is showcasing the work of the world’s finest independent documentary filmmakers, and the upcoming “Big Men” is a prime example.

Airing Monday, August 25 on PBS, the documentary is a nail-biting exposé of the global dealmaking and the dark underside of what happens when the US oil industry goes into Africa to drill. It becomes a contest for money and power that reshapes the landscape of underdeveloped countries like Ghana and Nigeria.

“Big Men” is directed by Rachel Boynton and executive produced by Brad Pitt. Filmed over a period of five years, Boynton explores what happens when a small Dallas company, Kosmos Energy, develops Ghana’s first commercial oilfield.

“The world of international oil deals is not an easy one to enter with the camera,” said Boynton, who was most often accompanied only by her cameraman. “And I knew no one in the oil business, or in Africa when I began this film. I wanted it to take you into exclusive and dangerous worlds, to put you into the room right as events are unfolding. The film does this in scene after scene – introducing you to presidents and gun toting militants and letting you eavesdrop on businessmen making multibillion-dollar deals.”

As she quickly found out, money motivated everything involved in a place where so many people have so little and many of them resort to illegal activities– like stealing oil– to survive. She also discovered a world filled with endemic corruption.

“A huge portion of public funds were siphoned off by officials trying to make money on the side or were wasted by contracts awarded to people with great connections and no capacity to actually accomplish the work. It was like a heightened version of a world I knew – an example of capitalism taken to an extreme, where rampant individualism takes root and larger connections between people fall apart.”

In Dallas and in New York, Boynton got unprecedented access to meetings and behind the scenes dealings of the Kosmos team, which was focused on investor risk and return.

But in Ghana, the events following the discovery of oil turned into a white knuckle roller coaster ride for Kosmos, with the 2008 financial crisis, wild fluctuations in the price of oil, and a new government demanding a new deal for its portion of the profits.

“For me, the safe card against divisive self-interest lies not in denying that we’re all looking out for ourselves, but in recognizing and valuing what connects us,” the director said. “”What does this very basic motivation – the pursuit of profit – do to the way we all behave? And when maximum individual profit is the ultimate good, isn’t it inevitable that a very few will have more while a great many will have infinitely and tragically less?”

The 82-minute documentary explores all these issues in a riveting tale that chronicles the little-seen machinations that are a byproduct of discovering, drilling and distributing oil.

Yet ultimately, “Big Men”– the title comes from individuals wanting to make themselves bigger– is as much about shared human nature as it is about oil.

– Hillary Atkin


Variety TV Summit: The Future of the Business on Multiple Platforms

Variety is known for putting on top-quality entertainment industry conferences and last week’s TV Summit was no exception.

The all-day series of seminars got started with a keynote address from Marc Juris, president and general manager of WeTV – a warm-up act, if you will, for a conversation between Conan O’Brien and Variety’s Cynthia Littleton.

For anyone who had not had enough morning coffee at that point, Conan’s humor and insights woke them right up.

O’Brien talked about transitioning from the old ways – when he used to check the overnight ratings for his late-night show – to the new, led by the impact of social media and particularly for him, Twitter. He said in the period between his failed Tonight Show outing and landing in his new home on TBS, he put out a tweet that ended up selling out an entire national comedy tour– and learning almost immediately about digital distribution. He now has an entire group, Team Coco, dedicated to digital content around the show that has been very successful.

“Now when people get excited about something, they make it their own. They grab it, they share it with their friends. It’s a much more intimate experience,” he said.

O’Brien also reflected on his career, which has had him on the air for 21 years now. When David Letterman steps down, he will be the longest running late night host, not counting that gap between gigs, of course.

“I came into this business at a high point, when people were put to bed by a talk show host,” he said, reflecting on watching Johnny Carson with his dad. “I had this idea that I wanted to be that guy. I adjusted my dream. There was a period when I thought my dream had been smashed. But I realized my job is to entertain people and make them laugh.”

Heavyweight topics like the future of the television business and the advancing frontier of multiplatform pay TV were all explored before lunchtime, along with a panel called “TV’s Reality Rainmakers,” featuring executives from Fox, Freemantle, MTV and the producers behind the ultra-successful reality skein “Pawn Stars.”

An outdoor buffet lunch under umbrellas at the Intercontinental Hotel in Century City was a chance for participants to network with each other and with panelists at the exclusive event.

After lunch, it was time to get down to brass tacks and ask people for their help in fighting runaway production from Los Angeles and California by expanding and enhancing the state’s tax credits to production companies. They were asked– and we will spread the word– to sign a petition hat can be found at www.filmworksca.com

“It’s very simple. This (Los Angeles) is where the most talented and best crews are,” said Scott Rosenbaum, executive producer of Fox’s “Gang Related.” “You want a great product? This is where you get it.”

A panel on social media and other digital offerings becoming destinations of choice for television audiences was moderated by Variety’s Andy Wallenstein and featured executives from Twitter, Facebook, NBC, YuMe, Gray Media and Generator.

The conversation turned to digital strategies around NBC’s hit “The Voice” and the implementation of having the audience vote through social media.

“Anything that gives a fan more is effective– they’re sharing it,” said Jared Goldsmith, VP of digital marketing for NBC Entertainment. “We are working on creative that’s customized and tailored.”

The data that is derived from digital is also being used to make strategic programming decisions and fostering loyal communities around shows.

During the next panel on programming, executive producer Betsy Beers (“Scandal,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “How to Get Away with Murder”) echoed some of those sentiments on how important digital strategies are becoming.

“Our guy who does ancillary – his work on social media went from 10% to 90% of his job,” she said. “The appetite seems to be endless. They want more.” She also noted that digital media keeps people engaged and brings in new eyeballs including those who are catching up with a show.

“It’s instant touching of content – they can touch the show,” said Audrey Morrissey, EP of “The Voice.”

“Comedy has taken the place of music and the fabric of social is curating and sharing,” said Kent Alterman, president of original programming at Comedy Central. “What matters most is point of view.”

Yet he noted that what’s missing from digital data is the energy that comes from seeing what a live audience responds to.

The day’s final panel, titled “TV’s Creative Trailblazers” brought together those from series drama, comedy and reality for an entertaining discussion moderated by Variety’s Jenelle Riley.

Featuring Anthony Anderson, EP and star of ABC’s upcoming comedy “Black-ish,” Erin Levy, supervising producer of “Mad Men,” EP and host of “Flipping Out,” Jeff Lewis, Elwood Reid, EP of “The Bridge,” Nicole Richie, EP of “Candidly Nicole” and Paul Scheer, EP of “Hot Wives of Orlando,” the conversation was injected with humor, particularly from Anderson and Scheer– also included weightier topics.

“I’m a refugee from broadcast,” Reid remarked in discussing the freedom in producing his drama on FX, to which Scheer agreed that the cabler’s chief exec John Landgraf “wants you to keep pushing it.”

“It’s about being authentic and truthful. Audiences can see through BS,” said Anderson.

Underscoring that, Lewis said, “Every time you see me acting like an asshole, I am.”

Regarding social media, Scheer said, “When it feels weird, social media is not doing its job. It’s not addressing the audience.”

“None of it matters if the scripts are shit,” said Reid, who also noted that when he’s asked for social media ideas he said he doesn’t have time to develop them– that he concentrates on the writing for his show.

–Hillary Atkin



Just in ‘The Knick,’ Steven Soderbergh Takes Viewers to a Forgotten NYC

Cinemax is going in an entirely new direction tonight with the premiere of the ten-part series “The Knick,” from director Steven Soderbergh and starring Clive Owen as a brilliant, renegade and opiate-addicted surgeon wielding a scalpel in turn of the 20th century New York City at a fictional hospital called the Knickerbocker.

It’s a show that could have easily been on sister network HBO, but Soderbergh and network executives thought it would stand out more on Cinemax, which has so much confidence in it that it has already renewed it for a second season of ten episodes.

“I kind of wanted to be a big kid at a small school,” Soderbergh said at the recent Television Critics Association panel for the show, which also included executive producers and writers Jack Amiel and Michael Begler, Owen and co-star Eve Hewson. “I’m glad it worked. It allowed for a smaller teacher-to-student ratio.”

Owen said it took him only about 40 minutes to decide to take the role. “It was clear that they done a phenomenal amount of research, and where they wanted to take it was incredible,” he said.

Get ready for graphic surgery scenes that may be offputting to some viewers, performed as they are without gloves and with electricity running through rudimentary equipment that sometimes burns the patients. There were no antibiotics in those days and the mortality rates from what are now considered typical ailments were sky-high.

Surgeries were performed in a theater with spectators and doctors like Owen’s John Thackery were the stars of the show, just as Owen—an actor known mainly for film roles–is the undisputed star of this television drama.

Dr. Thackery is a riveting character–a passionate man with deep ambitions to make medical history who unexpectedly loses his revered mentor to suicide and takes over his role as chief surgeon at the hospital. It’s located in lower Manhattan amid communities of immigrants and constantly struggles to attract wealthy clientele and maintain its reputation for quality care while often finding it difficult to literally keep the lights on.

“The hugely challenging thing is he’s a complex, difficult character, trying to forward medicine and save people’s lives,” Owen said about playing Thackery. “He’s a functioning addict. It’s not about being likable.”

And yes, viewers may cringe at the overt racism the character and his medical colleagues display when a black physician, Harvard graduate Algemon Edwards (Andre Holland) is thrust into the staff by the hospital’s wealthy benefactor, a shipping tycoon. It turns out Dr. Edwards is the son of one of their household staff and that the benefactor’s daughter, Cornelia Robertson (Juliet Rylance) is hell-bent on making sure he is accepted as an equal.

Let’s just say Dr. Edwards finds a way to circumvent the discrimination that is showered upon him and to treat patients in a makeshift facility of his own devising where he also invents some medical techniques and new equipment.

The story takes us everywhere from the old money mansions of the Upper East Side to opium dens, whorehouses and tenements 50 blocks south in an age when horse-drawn carriages were the favored mode of transportation and the telephone was just coming into widespread use.

One of the subplots involves an Irish ambulance driver who looks to sell bodies to the highest bidder and a nun who makes money on the side by performing acts that would get her instantly excommunicated. Watch what happens when these two team up, as well as the other interesting and unexpected alliances that are formed between people of different classes and races.

“The Knick” is a fascinating look at a bygone era when cocaine use was widespread, syphilis was devastating and typhoid could be spread by homemade ice cream. Even if you look away during the bloodiest of the surgeries.

(“The Knick” airs on Cinemax at 10 p.m. PT/ET beginning August 8.)

–Hillary Atkin


Deep Dive With James Cameron to the Ocean Floor in ‘Deepsea Challenge 3D’

Everyone who heard James Cameron proclaim “I’m the king of the world” after winning the Oscar for “Titanic” knows he has a huge pair.

But what many don’t realize is that prepping the 1997 blockbuster, which brought in more than $2 billion worldwide, was also a touchstone in his lifelong wanderlust to explore the deepest, darkest recesses of the ocean.

The audacious director’s quest to make a solo voyage to the bottom of the Mariana Trench is chronicled in the new “Deepsea Challenge 3D,” a dramatic 90-minute documentary of his odyssey in theaters nationwide August 8. It was a journey of historic proportions and risk, with the thrill of its many discoveries captured on camera. Tragedy also struck. Along the way, two of his crew members were killed in a helicopter accident.

The forbidding and mysterious trench is located in the Western Pacific east of the Philippines and is nearly 7 miles deep, deeper than Mount Everest is high – 36,000 feet. Think of the altitude a jetliner flies and that’s how far under the ocean we’re talking about.

For Cameron, it was a very personal journey to go to a place where only one expedition had been before, and that was 50 years ago.

U.S. Navy Lieut. Don Walsh and Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard had explored the trench in 1960, and Walsh was part of the Cameron team whose goal was to make the director’s journey the deepest solo dive in history.

He and his team of engineers and scientists built a submersible called the Deepsea Challenger, outfitting it with cameras inside and out that allow viewers to ride along on the exploration and experience the thrill of true discovery under the sea.

The film was produced by National Geographic and directed by John Bruno, Ray Quint and Andrew Wight, one of the two men who died in the helicopter crash while shooting aerials of the sub. The other fatality was Mike deGruy, an underwater cinematographer.

After much soul-searching, the rest of the crew and the families of the two men decided that the expedition should move forward.

“Things get real real quick,” Cameron said in an interview about the documentary. “The answer that came back from the group was to honor what Andrew and Mike stood for as explorers and complete the task.”

“Working with Jim, it’s always an adventure,” Bruno said in an interview. He’s a visual effects supervisor who has been with Cameron since the 1989 underwater adventure film “The Abyss.”

It was after “Titanic” that Cameron began devoting himself to the project and in 2005, with assistance from Australian cave diver Ron Allum, began designing the sub – paying for most of the costs himself with support from National Geographic and Rolex.

He won’t say how much the tab was but noted that the cost of similar government expeditions in today’s dollars would be $100-$150 million.

The submarine is 24 feet tall and weighs 11.5 tons. It was worked on by two teams of engineers, one in Silicon Valley and another in Sydney, Australia.

When Cameron took his solo dive in it on March 26, 2012, the thrusters failed and he was able to stay down just three hours – two hours less than he planned – before returning to the surface, which took about 70 minutes. From samples he collected from the ocean floor and analysis of HD images from the journey, at least 100 new species have been identified.

Just a day after accomplishing the historic dive, Cameron headed to London for the premiere of “Titanic 3D.” Now, he’s working on three sequels to “Avatar.” It helps him pay the bills, he says.

–Hillary Atkin

Cosmos: The Final Episode, The Final Frontier at the Paley Center

You might have thought it was Beyoncé and Jay-Z performing, by the line of fans outside the Paley Center in Beverly Hills Sunday evening —but this crowd was, well, crazy in love with “Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey.”

The final episode of the 13-part special series that aired earlier this year on Fox and National Geographic Channels globally was screened for a sellout crowd, with hundreds more viewing it from overflow area in an FYC event sponsored by the two networks.

“Cosmos” is up for 12 Primetime Emmy Awards, which will be handed out on August 25. It won the Critics’ Choice Television Award for best reality series in June and a TCA Award for outstanding news and information program last month. Naturally, with its huge critical and commercial success, there is already clamoring for another season of the show, which was inspired by the original 1980 television series presented by Carl Sagan on PBS.

The last chapter of the 2014 series, entitled “Unafraid of the Dark,” features astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson describing the human quest for knowledge from ancient times into the future, and concludes with the empty-seated Ship of the Imagination leaving our planet and traveling through space as Tyson looks on from Earth.


After the final credits rolled to a roaring round of applause, Tyson took the stage with executive producers Ann Druyan, Mitchell Cannold, and composer Alan Silvestri in a discussion moderated by science writer Jennifer Ouellette.


Much time was devoted to chronicling the lengthy journey of getting the show made.

“Seven years ago, no networks wanted to spend the money to make this,” recalled Druyan, who is Sagan’s widow, also noting the 34 years since the PBS show, “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage,” originally aired. She had also co-written that series.


Enter Seth MacFarlane, and a chance meeting with Tyson in Los Angeles at an event designed to bring together scientists and people from the entertainment industry. ”He wanted to bring it to Fox, and after being momentarily distracted by the thought of Fox News, I realized it was a brilliant idea, which would also take full advantage of the global reach of National Geographic,” Tyson said.

“Seth brought us a gift that keeps on giving,” Cannold chimed in.


“It’s made me delirious,” Dryan said, while Tyson added, “I’m still moved to tears—and I was in it.”


As Cannold noted, there was a legacy at stake. Sagan’s program had inspired a generation of people to gain more knowledge about science and astronomy. Still, he said Fox’s Peter Rice and Kevin Reilly took an enormous risk greenlighting the series, which aired on Sunday nights in primetime beginning on March 9 and concluding on June 10.


For Silvestri, well-known for scoring “Back to the Future,” “Forrest Gump,” “Thor” and two “Captain America” films, the work was a joy.


“I could have closed my eyes and scored ‘Cosmos’ because of the powerful story being told,” he said.” That was the key.”


Tyson noted that while human beings are story-driven species, in his field, unlike in entertainment, storytelling is not native–and that he aimed to do so much more than simply impart information about science. He said he was particularly thrilled to work with director of photography Bill Pope, who had done “The Matrix.”


“The camera is a player in the storytelling. The visual effects and the music create a full emotional encounter that creates an impact of strong, positive response,” he said in trying to underscore the effect “Cosmos” had on audiences.


That was evident after the screening as audience members mobbed the panelists, especially Tyson, who graciously shook hands, chatted and took photos with just about everyone who wanted one– until it was time to lift off from the galaxy of the Paley.

–Hillary Atkin


Sharks, Superheroes, Police, Presidents. They’re All Coming Soon to Your TV Screen!

The second half of the semi-annual Television Critics Association press tour may have started with the campy “Sharknado 2: The Second One,” but it ended with the real-life drama of historic events like the FDR presidency and the Watergate scandal.

In between was a vast array of programming, including three new series based upon well-known DC Comics characters, “Constantine” (NBC), “The Flash” (CW) and “Gotham” (Fox).

New and returning shows were presented by NBC, ABC and related cable channels including Bravo, Syfy, Oxygen, Esquire and ABC Family, along with CBS, the CW, Showtime, Fox, FX and PBS.

Held in the Beverly Hilton’s International Ballroom, the networks put on panels with executives, creators and talent who fielded questions– many friendly, some confrontational – from television reporters.

Here are some of the highlights:


“State of Affairs”

Poor Katherine Heigl. The panel on her new drama in which she stars as a talented CIA agent with a penchant for heavy drinking and casual sex (hmm…shades of Carrie Mathison on “Homeland?”) got a bit hijacked by questions about whether she is “difficult” to deal with–an insinuation that apparently began from her criticism of the writing on “Grey’s Anatomy,” the series that made her a star. From the TCA crowd, she also faced criticism on why her mother Nancy is an executive producer on “Affairs.”

Heigl’s response: “I can only say I don’t see myself as being difficult. I would never intend to be difficult. I don’t think my mother intends to be difficult. It’s important to everybody to conduct themselves respectfully, and professionally, and kindly. If I ever disappointed somebody, it was unintentional.”

“The Mysteries of Laura” and “Bad Judge”

Debra Messing, fresh off “Smash”– or maybe not so much– has a new home on the Peacock network as a homicide detective who’s the mother of two out-of-control twin boys and in a marriage that’s breaking up. Along with NBC’s “Bad Judge,” which stars Kate Walsh as a brilliant jurist who’s a party girl outside of the courtroom, some reporters were critical of the concept of smart, savvy career women who are hot messes in their personal lives, a sub-genre which apparently also includes “State of Affairs.”

Messing commented that like her character, her personality at home is distinctly different from the professional she is on the job. “It’s real. It’s something I relate to, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to show both worlds simultaneously,” she said.

Walsh, whose show sports the logline “Upholding the rules by day. Breaking the rules by night,” defended the premise of “Bad Judge.” “It is a given as a male archetype, but as a female archetype, we’re still exploring it,” she said using the example of Hugh Laurie’s character on “House.” “I mean, you were never waiting for that guy saying ‘If he would just get married and have kids.’”

“Marry Me”

It was probably the most comedic and freewheeling panel at TCA, with series creator David Caspe, his new wife and cast member Casey Wilson, plus Ken Marino, Tim Meadows and John Gemberling joking about the content of the single camera comedy about a couple getting married– starting with the fact that (bleeped out) f-words are used in the pilot.

“I think ‘fuck’ is NBC-friendly now,” joked Marino, while Wilson retorted, “And, if you don’t like it – fuck off!” “Not you!” Caspe hastily added, addressing the assembled critics. “We love all you – fuck on!”


“Sharknado 2: The Second One”

Part Deux hits New York City on July 30 with its potent mix of camp, chainsaws and really big frightening fish raining down on the metro area from Ellis Island to the Empire State building. Tara Reid and Ian Ziering topline again, with cameos from the likes of Judd Hirsch – perfect as a New York City taxi driver– and “Today’s” Matt Lauer and Al Roker on anxious storm watch.


“My Friends Call Me Johnny”

Centered inside the world of inveterate jet setter Jean Pigozzi, and produced by Joel Silver, this reality skein features Pigozzi interviewing his A-list celebrity friends. Pigozzi, who started his career on the Fox lot in accounting and publicity, claims he took the first selfie in 1975 with Dolly Parton at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

“Successful people are more interesting to hang out with. They have more interesting stories than the guy who works at the post office or as a mortician,” Pigozzi said, noting the first famous person he met was Andy Warhol, whom he says was incredibly nice and friendly. “When you want a lot of friends, be generous. A lot of rich people have no friends, because they’re dull. You have to be relaxed and fun.”



A 13-year-old black kid tells his parents he wants a bar mitzvah and his father responds by throwing him a hip-hop bro-mitzvah, setting a high water mark amongst his Jewish friends. That’s just one of the scenarios mined in this sitcom about a wealthy African-American family which features Anthony Anderson and guest star Laurence Fishburne– who are executive producers along with Larry Wilmore and Kenya Barris.  Tracee Ellis Ross plays the mixed race mom in the family, based on Barris’ wife, a physician, and life with their kids. Anderson said the bro-mitzvah was something he gave for his son and that he pitched the idea for the show with a photo album from the event.

“The show celebrates blackness as a cultural rather than a race thing. When you give your kids too much, sometimes something is lost when they assimilate. It’s a common thing in cultures,” said Wilmore, who after overseeing the first 12 episodes is going off to do “The Minority Report” on Comedy Central, taking the slot after “The Daily Show” when Steven Colbert leaves for CBS’s “The Late Show.”

“The universal appeal is in every single line – what it’s like to raise a family in these times,” said Barris. “We’re living in a post-Obama society.  Miley and Justin are blackish, and blended into who we are as a culture.” Then Wilmore said, “Even with Obama, we call him the first black president, but he’s mixed, so he’s really the first black-ish president.” Anderson replied, “Bill Clinton was the first black president.”


Billed as a procedural with a mythology, this drama features Ioan Gruffudd as a man who never dies, a medical examiner named Dr. Henry Morgan. Whenever he dies and shows up in another time and place, it’s in water – and he’s naked. But even though Morgan is immortal, he won’t die in every episode. Although he suffers several deaths just in the pilot.

Executive producer Matt Miller described how he got the idea for the show. “It was
pilot season and I was putting my 5-year-old son to bed. He asked me: Daddy, are you ever going to die?,’” Miller recalled, adding that he told his son: “I will die, but it won’t be for a very long time and by then you’ll probably want me dead. He burst out crying, and my wife came in and continued raising my child and I went off to write television.”

Asked if any situation could ever permanently kill Morgan, Miller, who had worked on the defunct ABC supernatural series “666 Park Avenue,” simply said, “Cancellation.”

“How to Get Away with Murder”

Shona Rhimes is overseeing ABC’s entire Thursday night lineup, “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal” and this new show, slated for 10 p.m. The legal thriller stars Viola Davis as a brilliant criminal defense professor whose university students become entangled in a murder plot.

Regarding the lengthy title, Rhimes explained that EP Pete Nowalk had come to her and said “I have a show, and I wanted to call it “How to Get Away with Murder,” which is also the name of the class being taught by Davis’ character. “One-word titles feel tired now,” Nowalk said. “I hope that’s what makes us stand out.”

Said Davis, a two-time Oscar nominee: “I wanted to be the show – to have a character that took me out of my comfort zone, and that happened to be on a Shonda Rhimes show. So I did the only sensible thing and took it.”

“Manhattan Love Story”

It is territory that’s been exploited in multiple movies and TV shows, but New York City loves stories never seem to lose their appeal, although that’s always a possibility. This one stars Analeigh Tipton and Jake McDorman as a couple embarking on a relationship in which the audience can hear their unfiltered thoughts. Other cast members include Nicolas Wright, Jade Catta-Preta and Chloe Wepper.

“We picked people whose inner thoughts don’t terrify,” said creator Jeff Lowell about the series, which like many before it, makes NYC a character in the story.


“Madam Secretary”

Starring Téa Leoni and Tim Daly, the series created by Barbara Hall is about a female Secretary of State balancing international crises while navigating her personal life. It begins with a kidnapping in Syria, with other situations that are inspired by real life events.  Morgan Freeman is an executive producer.

“We decided to create a world that has three levels,” Hall said.  “One is the level of global politics, problems of foreign relations.  The other is inter‑office politics. The third element is the issues of home life that take on different meaning when you juxtapose them with the responsibility of being Secretary of State.”


“NCIS: New Orleans”

The latest entry in the popular franchise takes over the Big Easy and environs with Scott Bakula’s character based on a retired agent named D’Wayne Swear, who is a consultant. Also starring are Lucas Black, CCH Pounder and Zoe McLellan.

“Everything won’t always happen in the French Quarter,” said EP Gary Glassberg.  “We’re really infusing the stories with local color and flavor and culture as much as we can, and you have to keep in mind that their jurisdiction literally goes from Pensacola all the way around the Gulf to Texas.”


“Battle Creek”

Vince Gilligan wrote the script for this detective show 12 years ago, but gives all the credit to EP David Shore, who has taken the reins while he works on AMC’s “Better Call Saul.” Starring Josh Duhamel, Janet McTeer, Dean Winters and Kal Penn, it’s a drama set in one of Michigan’s best-known cities, world headquarters of the Kellogg Company.

“It’s hard to play a guy like this, he seems to be perfect,” said Duhamel of his character. “There’s definitely cracks in the façade that make him interesting.”

“Dean’s character is sort of kind of the everyman character that most of us relate to, the underdog, and this feels like a city of underdogs.  In this this fictional version of Battle Creek, it feels like a police force of underdogs,” said Gilligan.

“NFL Thursday Night Football”

Pro football fans will have a new night to get their fix and CBS brought out head honcho Les Moonves, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and CBS sports chairman Sean McManus for a play-by-play.

“We are huge believers in broadcast television.  We believe that a distinguishing factor between the NFL and many other sports is that we continue to be successful on broadcast television,” Goodell said.

“We believe that this partnership with CBS will bookend our weekend to continue to allow us to have the most primetime hits of any other program,” said Kraft, while Moonves noted the full support of his network’s promotional efforts, entertainment shows and talent behind Thursday night football.

The CW

“The Flash”

For those not familiar with the DC Comics legend, CSI investigator Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) becomes “The Flash” after being struck by lightning and waking up from a nine-month coma to discover he now possesses the gift of super speed. He takes on the persona of The Fastest Man Alive to protect his city. “The Flash” is a spinoff of “Arrow,” an established hit on the network.

“We’re incorporating almost everything from the mythology into it and have added a whole new backstory,” said DC Entertainment chief creative officer Geoff Johns.

““You will see — organically — characters shifting over, villains shifting over back and forth between ‘Flash’ and ‘Arrow.’ We will be introducing more villains that are part of the DC Comics universe,” said CW president Mark Pedowitz.

“Jane the Virgin”

Here’s the premise of this Americanized version of a Venezuelan telenovela: Jane Villanueva, played by Gina Rodriguez, works at a hot new Miami hotel while studying to become a teacher, and has dreams of being a writer. Although she has been “saving herself” until she and her fiancé are married, Jane’s life is turned upside down when her doctor accidentally impregnates her with an artificial insemination specimen meant for someone else.

“I wanted it to have a whimsical, fairytale like quality,” said EP/writer Jennie Snyder Urman, while co-EP Ben Silverman, who brought “Ugly Betty” to ABC, acknowledged the series is off brand for the CW but hoped it would find an audience there amongst the superheroes and vampires.



Brody is dead, his family is out of the picture, except for the baby of his that Carrie bore and left stateside to take her new CIA post in Pakistan. It’s a whole new world for Season 4 of “Homeland,” perhaps also complicated by the death of the actor who played Carrie’s supportive father, James Rebhorn.

“Carrie has dealt with her mental illness,” said writer and EP Meredith Stiehm. “She’s steady going in.” But in the first-look trailer shown to TCA, she’s still downing meds with wine.

“But she’s still grieving,” noted showrunner Alex Gansa. “She was forced to leave her child at home.”

Viewers can look forward to half a dozen new characters, including one played by Suraj Sharma (who starred in “Life of Pi”) as a medical student who becomes a valuable source to Carrie and Corey Stoll as her CIA station chief in Pakistan. Mandy Patinkin’s character Saul also returns.

While not giving away much intel on anything else, predictably, Gansa bottom-lined “Homeland” this way: “It’s about the private and public costs of keeping America safe.”

“The Affair”

Set in Montauk, New York, this deeply personal drama explores two marriages and the emotional and psychological effects of the affair that disrupts them.  The 10-episode series, which stars Maura Tierney, Dominic West, Ruth Wilson and Joshua Jackson, will be told from both the male and female perspectives.

“We’re really interested in telling a story in a kind of Rashmomon structure, because I think storytelling in general is driven by perspective, and there are two sides at least, to every story,” said creator and EP Sarah Treem. “But when you’re having an affair, you don’t even have access to what your lover is experiencing when you’re not around.  So for the characters, that felt like kind of the richest situation to put them in if we really wanted to tell a story from two perspectives and really play around with how differently people can experience the same situation.”



The much awaited Batman origin story reveals an entirely new chapter featuring legendary DC Comics superheroes and villains in a bygone era, following one cop’s rise in a dangerously corrupt city torn between the forces of good and evil. It stars Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue and Jada Pinkett Smith.

“I don’t think fanboys will back away from it,” said EP/writer Bruno Heller when asked about a superhero show technically without a full-fledged superhero. “The interesting parts are the origin stories. This is how all these people got here.”

“It’s ‘Chinatown,’ Jake,” Logue said. “There’s moral relativism in this world.”


From writer/comedian John Mulaney, this could be “Seinfeld” for a new generation. The multi-camera ensemble comedy centers on a rising standup comic trying to take his career to the next level and his interactions with the circle of friends and mentors, who include Martin Short and Elliott Gould and Mulaney’s former “Saturday Night Live” castmate, Nasim Pedrad, who left “SNL” to take the role.

“I wanted to do the kind of show I grew up on, with audiences,” said Mulaney, known for creating the character of Stefon on “SNL.” “It’s an updated version of an old-school sitcom.”



Surpise! “Fargo,” the miniseries based on the Coen Brothers 1996 film is returning, potentially in the fall of 2015, with a completely different true crime story–and unlike FX’s anthology “American Horror Story,” a completely different cast. Set in the 1970s in Sioux Falls, it will again be shot in Calgary. It will feature the character of Lou Solverson as a 33-year-old man recently back from Vietnam and a woman who is Molly Solverson’s mother. When asked about casting, EP/writer Noah Hawley said it would be “gimmicky” to have Allison Tolman play her mother.

FX CEO John Landgraf compared “Fargo,” which starred Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman, to HBO’s “True Detective,” but said he’s not sure the new “Fargo” needs big stars to succeed.

“Sons of Anarchy”

Going into its seventh and final season, the motorcycle gang drama will feature new characters played by Courtney Love and Marilyn Manson and will complete the saga of Jax Teller and his mother, Gemma Teller Morrow (Charlie Hunnam and Katey Sagal) after the violent deaths of both of their spouses last season. Spoiler alert for those not caught up: Gemma murdered Jax’s wife – with a carving fork– after Jax killed Clay, Gemma’s estranged husband and the former leader of SAMCRO.

“This show is a pulp novel each week,” said creator Kurt Sutter, who remarked that his wife, Ms. Sagal, is now being asked to autograph forks. “My goal isn’t to disturb people, but when Opie was killed, people fucking hated me. They were upset they lost a friend. That means you’re writing characters that are believable and relatable.”


“Downton Abbey”

Season five – or Series 5 as they call it across the pond– of the wildly successful and critically acclaimed period drama, now well into the 1920s, sees Lady Mary finally over her grief of husband Matthew’s death and “getting some of her bite back,” according to Emmy nominated lead actress Michelle Dockery.

She and several other cast members who appeared at TCA with EP Gareth Neame are especially sensitive to revealing any spoilers since the series runs in the UK months before it premieres in the U.S.  (January 4, 2015)—and PBS is intent on keeping it that way, despite the criticism, and probably because of the huge winter viewership.


Executive producer Rebecca Eaton said there is a wealth of programming queued up to take the prime Sunday night timeslot. She unspooled clips of “Grantchester,” “Poldark,” “Indian Summers,” “Death Comes to Pemberley” and the Johnny Worricker trilogy starring Bill Nighy as an MI5 officer with other cast including Ralph Fiennes, Christopher Walken and Helena Bonham Carter.

“The Roosevelts: An Intimate History”

The latest from master documentarian Ken Burns, the seven-night, 14-hour special event examines the lives of three members of one of America’s most influential families: Theodore Roosevelt, his niece Eleanor Roosevelt and the distant cousin she married, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It vividly brings to life their history for more than a century against the backdrop of two presidencies, multiple family tragedies and two world wars, spanning Theodore’s birth in 1858 to Eleanor’s death in 1962.

Amongst other never-before seen photographs and vibrant but silent film of Teddy Roosevelt, Burns and his team uncovered new footage of FDR which hauntingly shows how he struggled with his polio-derived disability, all while the public was never the wiser.

“POV Koch: New York’s Legendary Mayor”

Who was the Big Apple’s finest mayor? Subject to argument, it wasn’t Rudy Giuliani or Michael Bloomberg. It was Ed Koch, the “How am I doin’?” mayor who led New York City out of its desperate straits of the mid and late 1970s. But this is a warts and all piece, including new interviews taped with Koch before he died several years ago.

“Dick Cavett’s Watergate”

Another throwback to the 1970s, this documentary chronicles the scandal that brought down Richard Nixon through the eyes of key guests including Gordon Liddy and John Haldeman who appeared on Cavett’s ultra-popular talk show. There’s even an episode taped in the Senate chambers where the infamous Watergate hearings were televised live and riveted the nation. How did they let him do that, with an audience no less?

–Hillary Atkin