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Animal Planet, Discovery, TLC, and HBO - TCA Report

by Kristin Sample, posted Jul 11th 2008 8:39AM
Whale Wars I attended the TCA Cable Press Tour at the Beverly Hilton yesterday where I learned about the following shows:

Whale Wars on Animal Planet
Secrets of the Dinosaur Mummy on Discovery
Ashley Paige: Bikini or Bust on TLC
Ricky Gervais Comedy Special on HBO
Little Britain, USA on HBO
Generation Kill on HBO

And there's more. Believe me, there's more.

Okay, you've got whale pirates, mummies, bikinis, Ricky Gervais, vampires, and Marines. Unfortunately, none of those shows combine all six of those things / people. After the jump, find out about these new shows and the people who make them...

It was a long day. So it's a long report. Feel free to scroll up and down to any shows you think might be interesting. Also, please sound off in the comments about which shows you are looking forward to or which shows you could do without.

Animal Planet

Whale Wars
(premieres November 2008)
"Whaling has no place in the 21st century. Sea Shepherd will not stop until the killing ends." -- Captain Paul Watson

The show follows Captain Paul Watson and his Sea Shepherd Conversation Society. Basically, it's like good-guy pirates; they're out on the open sea using aggressive (sometimes violent) methods to stop illegal whaling. Japanese and Norwegian whaling ships are killing endangered species of whales under the guise of "scientific research." You'll follow this ship on their two month voyage in the Antarctic. The Sea Shepherd's methods are so confrontational that the Japanese and Norwegian ships have started striking back. The captain was shot in the chest (he was wearing a bullet proof vest) and one of the cameramen was blown off his feet while filming an incoming grenade.

Here's something interesting about the show: Captain Paul Watson was a co-founder of Greenpeace, an organization he no longer belongs to. He left Greenpeace because he was sick of watching whales get killed while he sat and protested. He says there's only so much pushing for legislation can do to help these animals. He adds that the companies who kill these whales understand profit and loss. Through the work of the Sea Shepherd, some of these companies' profits have been cut in half. Greenpeace, however, does NOT support Watson's work.


Secrets of the Dinosaur Mummy (premieres Sunday, September 14th at 9 p.m. ET / PT)

One of the network's execs started the panel by saying that Discovery's goal is to "find the interesting in the everyday and find the awesome in the extraordinary." The show Dinosaur Mummy is nothing short of extraordinary.

Researchers in Montana have uncovered a mummified dinosaur they affectionately named "Leonardo." The skin and muscles are still in tact. They even know what the dinosaur ate for dinner the night before it died. This is the most important dinosaur find in history; Discovery is touting it as the "holy grail of paleontology."

Robert Bakker, who is leading the investigation, says that the show is ER meets CSI meets Jurrasic Park. (Incidentally, Bakker wrote the 1986 groundbreaking book that inspired Crichton's novel called The Dinosaur Heresies.) Bakker says that the CSI part of the investigations is the most puzzling. How did Leonardo die? How was his carcass preserved and protected from scavengers? This show sounds really interesting, especially for those of you who love all things dinosaurs.

Into the Unknown with Josh Bernstein (premieres August 18th at 10 p.m. on Discovery)

The concept for this show is broad and a bit nebulous. Josh Bernstein, a host that John Ford (President and General Manager, Discovery Channel) calls the "embodiment of the Discovery brand," goes all over the globe exploring the world's natural wonders and mysteries. Bernstein says that the criteria for the show are (1) international travel or exotic location, (2) a compelling question, and (3) beautiful surroundings to be captured by the HD cameras.

I'm not sold on this one. The episode they showed in the video package was about gladiators in Ancient Rome. Not that I know everything about gladiators (although I have seen the Russell Crowe movie several times), but are Roman gladiators a burning international mystery? The show does have a few original mysteries that they'll seek to unlock. For example, they go to New Guinea and explore an ancient tribe's process of mummification--one never seen before on TV.

TLC Overview

Here's the TLC overview. We didn't get anything in-depth about the following shows. Anything below interest you?

Ashley Paige: Bikini or Bust is about a successful fashion designer who's so successful, she can't pay her rent. She sells bikinis to celebrities but has no sense of business. She's surrounded by wonderful characters (especially her mom who provides the voiceover for the show). From the video package we saw, the mom does look really funny. She laments how skinny some of her daughter's models are. Then she goes outside to the audition line and gives them doughnuts. The show premieres tonight at 10:00 and 10:30 p.m. ET / PT on TLC.

Say Yes to the Dress is a show about choosing a wedding dress. The show features every type of bride from the New York bride whose rite of passage includes a trip to Kleinfeld's to a bride who was a breast cancer survivor. Say Yes premieres July 15th at 8:00 p.m. ET / PT. I'm over it already.

Rock the Reception will air right after Say Yes to the Dress. This show will follow two engaged couples as they try to stage an energetic first wedding dance at their receptions. They'll learn their dances from So You Think You Can Dance choreographers Tabitha and Napoleon D'Umo. I'm not a huge fan of Tabitha and Napoleon's hip-hop choreography on SYTYCD; it's hit or miss. But I think this show will be cute. I like that TLC found a choreographing couple to work with these future brides and grooms. Rock the Reception premieres on July 15th at 8:30 p.m. ET / PT.

I've already reported on TLC's Must Love Kids which premieres July 15th at 9:00 p.m. ET / PT. The series will document the journey of three single moms who are trying to get back into dating. The entertainment level of this show will hinge on how compelling the three moms are. I know that's kind of obvious but it's important for a show like this.

HBO's new shows...

Ricky Gervais, comedy special (premiering in November)

The Emmy-winning star of the acclaimed HBO show Extras will make his American TV debut in a solo stand-up performance. "I love everything about stand-up, except the standing up bit," quips Gervais. The performance will take place at the WaMu Theatre at Madison Square Garden. Prior to this performance, Gervais has headlined three sold-out tours in England: Animals, Politics and Fame (the last was the fastest selling live tour in British history). Gervais was on hand at the Beverly Hilton to answer some questions about the show.

He says that he chose Madison Square Garden because he just bought an apartment near it. "I can walk," he joked. The Office star also talked a lot about American comedy, "All my comedy heroes I think are American." He listed Laurel and Hardy, the Marx brothers, Arrested Development and Entourage as some of the artists and shows of which he is a fan.

Little Britain, USA (premieres Sunday, September 28th at 10:30 p.m. ET / PT)

Matt Lucas and David Walliams are bringing their irreverent sketch comedy Little Britain stateside. The six episode season will include characters like Dafydd Thomas, the self-proclaimed "only gay in the village," Marjorie Dawes who leads the Fat Fighters and many others. The American version will feature guests Paul Rudd, Rosie O'Donnell, Vivica A. Fox, and Sting. David Schwimmer (Run Fatboy Run) directed the studio segments here in L.A. Of Schwimmer, Lucas and Walliams said he was very funny and would give great advice. Walliams quipped, "I didn't realize but he was on Friends."

The show has a laugh track which Lucas and Wallaims swear is genuine laughter from the studio audience and not just lifted from The Flintstones. Also, the pair is clearly not afraid of pushing the envelope and presenting more adult scenes. The video package contained one locker room scene with the pair in full muscle suits with small penises.

One member of the press joked about why Brits feel the need to dress in drag for comedy. Lucas said, "Then we don't feel the need to do it in real life." They also pointed out that the drag can't be the funny part. The character has to be funny.

Thank You, Mr. President: Helen Thomas at the White House (debuts on August 18th at 9:00 p.m. ET / PT)

This documentary, directed by Rory Kennedy (JFK's niece), will focus on the "First Lady of the Press" Helen Thomas, a reporter who has sat in the first row of the White House press room since Kennedy's presidency. The show will tell the story of the reporter's modest beginnings as the daughter of illiterate parents and follow her ascension as one of the most fearless journalists, known for asking the hard questions and standing up to the most powerful men in the world. The show looks inspiring. How could something about a person so extraordinary not be? Thomas says in the footage, "I think that presidents deserve to be questioned. Maybe irreverently, most of the time. Bring 'em down a size." Kennedy was asked if Helen Thomas ever mentioned anyone by whom she was intimidated. Kennedy answered quickly with a smile, "No."

True Blood (series premiere on Sunday September 7th 9:00 p.m. ET / PT)

Okay, here's the premise of the show which is based on Charlaine Harris' popular vampire books. In the near future, vampires live among us and no longer need to feed on humans because of the mass production of synthetic blood. Still, they can only come out at night and they aren't welcome by humans who are suspicious of them. The main character, Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin, X-Men), is a waitress in the backwoods of Louisiana who can read minds. Her life gets even more interesting when the 173-year-old vampire Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer, The Starter Wife) comes into her restaurant. The two are joined by a host of other HBO actors including Chris Bauer (The Wire) who plays a detective, William Sanderson (Deadwood) as Sheriff Bud Dearborne and Alex Skarsgard (Generation Kill) as Eric, a Nordic vampire.

At TCA, series creator Alan Ball, Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer were on hand to talk to the press. About the graphic sex in the pilot, Ball says that he couldn't avoid it as he is dealing with a sexually compulsive main character. He adds that sexuality was prevalent in the world of the novels.

How did Ball, who created Six Feet Under, find the novels? He was early for a dentist appointment and puttering around in a Barnes & Noble. He made a few changes for the show though. The biggest is that in the novel, Sookie is the narrator so you don't see characters unless they are with her. Alan Ball decided to flesh out some of the less represented characters. By the end of the show's twelve episode run, we'll see a lot more of Bill's story.

Paquin mentioned that the hardest thing about getting into character was mastering the Louisiana accent, one laden with musical cadences. She described the sound as "laid back from the overwhelming heat" and said the accent was a huge part of the character. Fans of Paquin will want to know that she is now blonde and tan for the role.

Generation Kill (premieres Sunday, July 13th at 9:00 p.m. ET / PT)

Generation Kill is a seven-part miniseries based on Evan Wright's book of the same name. Wright is a journalist for Rolling Stone who was embedded with the First Marin Recon Battalion to invade Iraq. According to the press release, "Real events are depicted. Real names are used. As much as possible, the film employs the precise dialogue reported by Wright."

The panel shared how just the other day they screened the film in front of Marines. "There were several hundred Marines. It was fucking awesome," an excited Wright said. David Simon, screenwriter and executive producer, added that it was gratifying to see the Marines nod their heads as they watched, to see them laugh at all the right moments, and to observe their quiet during the combat scenes.

Eric Kocher, a former US Marine of the real First Recon Battalion and advisor to the film, said that he's heard from his fellow soldiers that Wright and Simon's dialogue is spot on. Kocher was also present for the boot camp training with the actors. And he retold how he got to relive the combat while they filmed GK. "Except without worrying about dying," he joked. "And with catering," Simon added.

Alexander Skarsgard was asked if his famous dad gave him any advice for his part (he plays Sgt. Brad "Iceman" Colbert). Skarsgard laughed that his dad offered no advice and he was terrified. He got the part and took a flight the next day to where they were shooting in Namibia. The actor described how he had seven gigantic scripts and Wright's book to read during the flight.

Lee Tergesen, who plays Evan "Scribe" Wright, was also on the panel. Simon joked with Wright that of all the character schematics he was asked to write up for the casting process, the one for himself was the longest. Wright said it resembled a Playboy centerfold with everything from interests and hobbies to favorite colors. You probably know Tergesen from HBO's Oz where he played Tobias Beecher for six seasons.

That's it for me. Any of these shows sound interesting to you? I think I will definitely be watching some of the HBO premieres. Generation Kill starts this Sunday and I will be checking that out. From what we saw in the video package, it looks like it will be a hit. The panel talked at length at how they painstakingly checked every detail. They didn't want other war movies or shows to be their reference point. They wanted the reality that these Marines and Evan experienced to guide their way. I highly recommend it.

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Little Britain, USA!!!!!!!!

I'd (almost) subscribe to HBO just for that show alone! Uber-stoked about that show

July 11 2008 at 2:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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