Summer Programming Produces Drama

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Photo by Margie Barron

Tyra Banks.

Summer TV programming has changed tremendously over the years. When I was a kid it was nothing but reruns. Decades later, broadcasters got smart and started offering fun summer fare to keep viewers tuned in and entertained. Nowadays there’s a strategically planned trend towards introducing scripted dramas before the fall season sneaks up on us. CBS’ ratings sensation Under the Dome is a great example of giving the summer viewers a show with meat on its bones, rather than a puff pastry. Not surprising the Stephen King story has been renewed for a second season, but fans will be happy to hear there will be some crucial answers by the end of the Dome’s initial 13-episode run.

“Now if you really want great drama, tune in,” Tyra Banks told me after she fiercely strutted down the red carpet at the CBS-CW-Showtime Summer Stars Party. She was talking about the latest edition of her CW network hit America’s Next Top Model, and although the reality competition show is not really scripted, “there’s so much drama that goes on when we have the guys competing against the girl models, working together and living in the same house.”

It’s the landmark Cycle 20 edition of the show that Tyra created and she’s excited about adding the guys to the mix of models vying to launch a career in the world of high fashion. She’s also added a few new words to the models’ vocabulary. Tyra says, “When I tell the boys they have to work it just like the girls, I teach them to ‘smize,’ smile with their eyes. For great photo shoots the girls ‘tooch,’ that’s making their bootie pop out a little more. The boys’ manly version of that is ‘booch.’ And I emphasize to all of them to be ‘flawsome.’ That’s being yourself and taking your flaws and turning that into being awesome.” The premiere episode of ANTM Cycle 20 was certainly awesome, and the unscripted drama was fun too.

Now for the outstanding scripted dramas this summer: among several gripping new series is Broadchurch which just debuted on BBC America. The British mystery stars David Tennant (Doctor Who) and Olivia Colman who investigate the murder of a boy. Everyone in the tight-knit seaside town is racked with grief, yet they all look suspicious. The exception is the boy’s mother played by Jodie Whittaker, who has the most heart-wrenching scenes, yet she says, “There’s humor and other wonderful moments. You need some relief.” The eight-hour series is a great whodunit, comparable to the acclaimed Prime Suspect series.

Broadchurch is a great addition to the BBC America schedule, which has also given us Orphan Black, Copper, Luther, and the long running (50 years!) Doctor Who series. They also presented the fifth not-to-be-missed final season of the U.K. hit Being Human, the intriguing drama about three freaky roommates — a vampire, werewolf, and ghost. But if you missed it, Being Human Season Five is now out on DVD, and it’s fantastic for fantasy lovers.

Over to the critic’s cable network darling, AMC has just premiered the gritty new crime drama Low Winter Sun. The setting is Detroit with all its problems, and it begins with the murder of a corrupt cop by a fellow detective. The line between cops and criminals is blurred as deception and revenge rear their ugly heads. What makes this show exceptional is the lead actor Mark Strong, a U.K. import who starred in the British series that inspired this show. Strong (and handsome!) made the transition to the Americanized version of the drama with aplomb and is believable as a Detroit native. He even defends the troubled city saying, “The first thing I came up against was people’s perceptions of Detroit. Everybody said, ‘Don’t go there. It’s an awful place, and there’s nothing there for you.’ The opposite is true. It’s a pretty fascinating place because it has everything, and they welcomed us with open arms.”

Regarding the return of the Old West era drama Hell on Wheels, AMC president Charlie Collier says, “A new episode of ‘Hell on Wheels’ on Saturday night after a full day of western classics and fan favorites is going to be like the saddle on top of the horse. This is a programmer’s dream – to have a genre specific, 14-hour lead-in to one of your highest rated originals series. We are so excited about this opportunity to entertain AMC’s audience in a new way.”

Hell on Wheels producer-showrunner John Wirth says the new season “will be a Western about work, the building of the railroad, the binding of the nation after the Civil War, and the rehabilitation of the men who lived and fought their way through those exploits. This season we’re placing Cullen Bohannon at the center of the show, and taking him away from the revenge motive which propelled him into the series.” Wirth praises AMC and notes they have “raised the bar for television dramas, they’ve set the gold standard. There’s nothing else like this on television.” With AMC shows such as Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Killing, and The Walking Dead, that’s great dramatic programming all year long.

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