Have you noticed a flurry of TV news in the last couple of weeks? That would be due to the Television Critics Association winter press tour — the semi-annual conference where network executives and stars appear in front of TV reporters to promote their new shows — which concludes this week in Pasadena, Calif. If you lost track of the “#TCA14″ hashtag on Twitter, we rounded up 10 of the most interesting stories that emerged over the last two weeks.
* “Peter Pan” will be this year’s “Sound of Music” for NBC
Though critics torched Carrie Underwood’s lack of acting skills as she starred in NBC’s “Sound of Music Live!” this winter, the show got about 18 million viewers — so obviously, the network immediately started plans for another musical special. And that’s going to be “Peter Pan Live!,” airing Dec. 4. Casting is on a fast track, though any actor who saw the nasty stream of tweets about Underwood will probably think twice.
And yes, execs have noticed it’s another Mary Martin production: “In the hopes that lightning strikes twice, we think we’ve landed on another great Broadway musical — which ironically also starred Mary Martin — that is a timeless classic for all audiences, young and old, who just never want to grow up,” NBC entertainment Robert Greenblatt said in the announcement.
* The subject of nudity on HBO’s “Girls” can still send the Internet into a frenzy
At a session for HBO dramedy “Girls,” a reporter asked Lena Dunham (on stage with producers Judd Apatow and Jenni Konner) a question that started with, “I don’t get the purpose of all the nudity on the show. By you particularly”; included a “Game of Thrones” comparison; and ended with, “And your character is often naked at random times for no reason.” According to the reporter’s take, Dunham — who frequently appears sans clothing on the show, no doubt — seemed angered by the question, and Apatow later called it “sexist and offensive.” Konner said the query sent her into a “rage spiral.” The incident sparked a tidal wave of essays about the appropriateness of the question; analyzing Dunham’s reaction; and a debate about a subject that we thought peaked when the show debuted almost two years ago.
* HBO is saying some big farewells in 2014
HBO started off the first day of press tour with a bang, confirming that awards-favorite mob drama “Boardwalk Empire” will end in 2014. A few days later, the network also announced the end to “The Newsroom” in the fall. (This is in addition to “True Blood,” already scheduled to end this year.)
* More details revealed about “24: Live Another Day”
Yes, Jack Bauer will be back — there’s a date and everything. Fox’s “24” update will air Monday nights at 9 p.m., though debuting on May 5 with a special two-hour episode at 8 p.m. (The show will once again show events that take place over a 24-hour period, but this time over just 12 episodes.) In addition to Kiefer Sutherland, Mary Lynn Rajskub and Kim Raver reprising their roles, the show added Yvonne Strahovski as a CIA agent, and Tate Donovan as a political adviser married to Bauer’s former flame.
* Yet another singing competition show in the works, and this one sounds crazy
Paul Lee, president of ABC Entertainment Group, compared his network’s new singing competition series “Rising Star” to a “modern Colosseum.” That’s because it’s pretty intense: While a contestant is singing, people will vote live to either keep them on or kick them off the show, and all results are visible in real-time on a giant screen. Of course, the network doesn’t have all the kinks worked out quite yet (i.e. how this will work across multiple time zones).
* It’s never a good idea for a TV critic to respond to a devastating personal story by saying, “That’s all very nice, but…”
During Discovery’s turn at the press tour, MSNBC’s Tamron Hall ended up in the headlines when a reporter asked how she “balances” for her work at NBC Universal and serving as host of Investigation Discovery’s “Deadline: Crime with Tamron Hall.” Hall answered by explaining her ties to the ID show, which involves the fact that own sister was murdered. According to reports, the reporter responded with, “That’s all very nice. But can you explain the relationship between your job and NBC and your job at Discovery?” Cue: Lots of outrage.
* “Parks and Recreation” is almost certainly going to be renewed
The aging, ratings-challenged (but critically beloved) Amy Poehler series is one of NBC’s few comedy gems — and as multiple outlets reported, network entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt told reporters that the show “is going to have a seventh season.” (But apparently “Community” is just a “strong possibility.”)
* Billy Bob Thornton is the latest to explain why TV is actually a really great idea for movie actors
Movie stars making the jump to TV is a really, really old phenomenon. But while promoting his “Fargo” remake during FX’s day at the press tour, Billy Bob Thornton gave his take anyway. ‘‘If you want to be an actor, get on a really good series in television because there’s where it’s at,” he said, according to AP, adding, “The entertainment business can pretend all they want, but the movie world has changed drastically, particularly in the last five or six years.”
* Ken Burns takes on country music — but not until 2018
Okay, this was announced awhile ago, but now the acclaimed documentary producer has a target date for his next big PBS project. In the midst of working on films about the Gettysburg Address (airing this spring), Jackie Robinson and Vietnam, Burns will explore the history of country music. As PBS says, the doc will explore the evolution of country music “from southern Appalachia’s songs of struggle, heartbreak and faith to the rollicking western swing of Texas, from California honky tonks to Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry.” We’re guessing it will skip over the frat boy party music that’s all the rage these days.
* Showtime has a new series about affairs; is also re-introducing Josh Hartnett to the world
While we’re still getting over that dreadful “Dexter” series finale (though execs defended it), Showtime is giving us more to look forward to: Such as “The Affair,” a juicy new drama starring Joshua Jackson and Maura Tierney that “explores the emotional and psychological effects of an extramarital affair.” Meanwhile, the network is bringing back former teen heartthrob Josh Hartnett as he stars in psychological thriller “Penny Dreadful,” premiering May 11.