TV Column

July 28, 2011

AMC, the new darling of TV critics, found itself on the receiving end of some actual non-fawning questions at Summer TV Press Tour 2011.

Specifically, the TV critics, reporters and bloggers were still in a state of high knicker-knottedness over June’s first-season finale of “The Killing.” Specifically, their undies are still in a bunch because the murder-mystery series wound up the season with a cliffhanger, rather than tying up in a neat little bow the case of murdered Rosie Larsen.

Plus, critics, reporters and bloggers were in a state of high anxiety over the recent, unexpected departure of Frank Darabont, the creator of the network’s hit zombie series, “The Walking Dead.”

To his credit, AMC’s senior vice president of original programming, Joel Stillerman, announced he would take questions on both subjects for 10 minutes, instead of using the usual, “Normally I would love to take your questions, but we’re here to talk about our new programming” gag favored by cable-network suits at TV Press Tours.

On the other hand, in those 10 minutes, Stillerman said nothing.

Except, that is, to extend the network’s “heartfelt thank you” to Darabont for his contribution to the show — Darabont, the “visionary writer and director” whose “fingerprints are all over” the adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s comic-book series.

And, of course, to reiterate what AMC suits have already said about the outrage over “The Killing” season finale:

A. “We hear you.”

B. “If we had to do something differently, we would have taken a different approach with respect to managing expectations with what was going to happen in the season.”

C. “It was never intentionally meant to mislead people.”

D. “Our goal was to create a brilliant — if I can be so humble — piece of character-based storytelling mixed with a genre we all love: the murder mystery.”

E. “You will find out who killed Rosie Larsen in Season 2 — definitively.”

Somebody’s missing

After that exercise in question non-answering, AMC moved on to the business at hand: plugging its new period drama series, “Hell on Wheels,” about the building of the Transcontinental Railroad and the tent city that moved along the railroad as it was being built.

Right off the bat, the press wanted to know why there are no Chinese immigrant characters in the series, given that Chinese labor played a big role in the construction of the cross-country railroad.

More accurately, the question put to the show’s creators, Joe and Tony Gayton, was: “I’m like, ‘Where are the Chinese? . . . I mean, it was a major part of the thing!’ ”

“I predicted this is probably going to be the first question we were going to be asked,” creator Joe Gayton said proudly. “And probably rightfully so,” he added graciously, “because I think what a lot of people think of when they think about the Transcontinental Railroad is the contribution of the Chinese immigrants.”

But, he explained, “one of the things that really caught me is, just, it’s just so American, the idea of a tent city that packs up and moves, you know. And it’s violent, and it’s given to vice and gambling, but there’s churches there. And there was just something about that that caught [us], and I think that’s probably the reason.”

This cleared things up not at all.

“And just, budget-wise and time-wise . . . we could really only concentrate on one side of [the railroad building], and that’s probably why we, you know, that’s why we chose the [emanating from the East Coast] Union Pacific as opposed to the [emanating from the West Coast] Central Pacific.”

Now clear as mud.

“The genesis of the railroad started in the East,” said Tony Gayton, taking a whack at the question, which, to refresh your memory as we travel further and further down the Gayton Family Rabbit Hole, was, “Why no Chinese characters?”

“It was Abraham Lincoln’s idea, and we’ve likened it to JFK, you know, saying, ‘We are going to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade,’ ” Tony Gayton prattled on merrily.

“And it was very similar. So it just seemed a good starting point.”

But, he promised, “The Central Pacific will be a hint in the show. I mean, we will know that they are out there, building.”

“Having said that, we did write the Central Pacific into the pilot,” Joe Gayton jumped back in, sensing the explanation was not going over as well as might be hoped.

“And people asked us if we were insane, if we were trying to get both of the stories — service both of the stories — in a one-hour pilot. So they ended up getting excised.”

And there you have your answer, at long last: The Chinese characters? They got “excised.”

BBC’s ‘Copper’

BBC America has ordered its first original scripted series, “Copper,” from Barry Levinson (“Good Morning, Vietnam,” “Rain Man,” “You Don’t Know Jack”) and Tom Fontana (“Homicide: Life on the Street,” “St. Elsewhere”).

“Copper” captures the immigrant experience in 19th-century New York City through the eyes of a young Irish cop. It’s set to debut in the summer of ’12.

‘The show maintains our U.K. connectivity” and allows the network to cast actors from both sides of the Atlantic, BBC America General Manager Perry Simon told TV critics and columnists and bloggers at Summer TV Press Tour 2011.

“I didn’t want our first original series to be the London cop who got transferred to Las Vegas. I really couldn’t do it,” Simon joked.

Simon, a longtime NBC programming executive, has a long relationship with Levinson and Fontana; he was head of drama series development at NBC during its “Homicide” years, and was head of Viacom’s TV production when that division took over production on their HBO series “Oz.”

“Copper” is being produced by Canadian company Cineflix Studios, whose executives include Christina Wayne, the former senior vice president of scripted series at AMC, where she shepherded two of its most successful series, “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad.” Wayne is one of the producers of “Copper.”

A disappointed Belafonte

Singer Harry Belafonte, subject of an upcoming HBO documentary about his political activism, was asked what he would say to the White House and Congress about the gamesmanship in which they are engaged over the national debt.

“My question would be, to Congress and the president: What happened to moral truth? What happened to moral courage?” Belafonte said.

He’d also like to tell them: “Politics without moral purpose, really more often than not, winds up as tyranny.”

“Barack Obama and his mission has failed because it lacked a certain kind of moral courage, a kind of moral vision . . . a kind of courage we are in need of,” said the King of Calypso.

“When he said ‘Yes, we can,’ it was politically clever, but he never defined what it is we can do. So we filled in those spaces — what we thought he meant — only to find we were disappointed, because none of those points was satisfied.”

Steinem on bunny nostalgia

Feminist Gloria Steinem, who is the subject of another upcoming HBO documentary, called “Gloria: In Her Own Words,” and who famously worked as a bunny for the Playboy Club to write an article about the bunnies’ labor conditions, was asked Thursday what she thought of NBC’s new “Playboy Club” series, as well as ABC’s 1960s stewardess romp “Pan Am,” and the remake of “Charlie’s Angels.”

“Are they aggrandizing the past in a nostalgic way, or are they really showing the problems of the past in order to show we have come forward? Somehow I think the shows are not doing that,” Steinem said, noting wryly that when times get tough, the “white male response” tends to swing to either sadomasochism — or nostalgia.

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