Pasadena, CA -- How does a "new" network pop at a massive television event? The "new" network Pop (formerly TVGN) showed the others how it's done the other day at the Winter 2015 Television Critics Association tour. Making its impact all the more impressive is the fact that it hasn't yet formally rebranded yet from TVGN to Pop. (That happens on January 14.)
The press conference portion of the Pop experience opened with a performance by a large group of young singers who call themselves The Nor'easters. They're from Northeastern University and will be seen in the network's docu-series that currently has the working title "Sing It On." The show will follow six collegiate singing groups gearing up to compete in an acapella championship. After a brief welcome from Shenae Grimes-Beech, whose show "90210" will be one of several "modern classics" featured on Pop, and who is one of the hosts of the network's signature entertainment news series "PopSugar Now," Pop Entertainment President Brad Schwartz did a Q&A (something very few basic cable network chiefs actually do, FX's John Landgraf being the most notable exception). During his session Schwartz made sure that everyone in the room heard about all of Pop's programming.
A session with Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara and Chris Elliott followed about their upcoming sitcom "Schitt's Creek." This session reminded those of us who have been TCA members for more than 10 or 20 years that once upon a time most of the people who appeared here were performers with some kind of noteworthy history in the television business (rather than twenty-something actors of limited experience and reality "stars"). Levy and O'Hara enthralled the room with tales of their days in SCTV while Elliot reminisced about his many years working on David Letterman's late night shows. Levy also talked about his years with John Candy playing the Shmenge Brothers. The resultant interest in "Schitt's Creek" was instant and palpable.
At the elaborate luncheon that followed, there was much enthusiasm from the press for Pop's reality series "Queens of Drama," about current and former actresses from soap operas attempting to produce their own primetime serial. The cast includes Donna Mills (currently a recurring player on "General Hospital"), Vanessa Marcil (formerly of "GH"), Lindsay Hartley (formerly of "Passions" and "All My Children") and, in the first episode, the legendary Joan Collins of "Dynasty." Pop also previewed "Rock this Boat: New Kids on the Block," a docu-series about those popular NKOTB ocean cruises.
This was also a good TCA tour for A&E Networks, which generated significant interest in its made-for-TV movie "Whitney" (about the late Whitney Houston and her tumultuous marriage to Bobby Brown); its upcoming dark comedy series "UnREAL," about the tyrannical producer (played by Constance Zimmer) of a relationship-driven reality television series, and "The Lizzie Borden Chronicles," a miniseries that continues the violent drama of last year's hit TV movie "Lizzie Borden Took an Axe," once again starring Christina Ricci as the fearsome title character.
A&E presented a panel for the upcoming supernatural series "The Returned," based on the successful French series (seen here on Sundance) about deceased individuals who mysteriously return to life (but are not flesh-eating zombies). Executive producer Carlton Cuse and his first-rate cast -- including Jeremy Sisto, Mark Pellegrino and Mary Elizabeth Winstead -- put to rest any fears that this remake of a little-seen but critically praised foreign series would turn into another unfortunate "Broadchurch"/"Gracepoint" situation.
"The Returned" will debut on Monday March 9, immediately following the season premiere of "Bates Motel," which is also produced by Carlton Cuse, who is well on his way to becoming the Shonda Rhimes of A&E.
Rounding out A&E Networks' portion of the tour was a lavish party for History's drama series "Vikings," which begins its third season next month. It was good to see the press pay special attention to the cast of this well-produced show, which remains one of the most under-appreciated scripted series on television.
Also making an impressive impression at this tour was Starz, which brought in the cast and producers of three established drama series – "Outlander," "Power" and "Black Sails" – for press conferences and a reception. It should go without saying that Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan, the sexy stars of "Outlander," were mobbed at the event, as were Diana Gabaldon, the author of the "Outlander" book series, and Ronald D. Moore, the executive producer of the series (and formerly the executive producer of the modern classic "Battlestar Galactica"). The charismatic Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, an executive producer of "Power" who also plays a role on that series, also had the press buzzing.
On Saturday, AMC did a very impressive job of introducing its upcoming "Breaking Bad" spin-off "Better Call Saul" and bidding farewell to its first great drama series "Mad Men." If there was a recurring line of questioning in the "Saul" session it involved the possibility of characters from "Bad" making appearances through the series, which is a prequel to that instant classic. Jonathan Banks will reprise his role from "Bad" of hit-man, fixer and all-around sketchy guy Mike Ehrmantraut on "Saul," but series creator Vince Gilligan wouldn't make any promises about Walter White, Jesse Pinkman or anyone else. As for "Mad Men," that session deserves a column of its own .
BBC America presented well-received panels for two upcoming series, the reality car show "Mud, Sweat and Tears" and the fantasy "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell," as well as the third season of "Orphan Back," which this year will add male clones to its storyline. BBC America can always be counted on to go the extra mile at TCA tours; this time it produced a lavish lunch that allowed plenty of time for critics to talk with the network's executives, talent and producers.
A ribald panel for the new Adult Swim series "The Jack and Triumph Show," starring "30 Rock" actor Jack McBrayer and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog (and the human behind him, Robert Smigel), agitated a number of TCA members when Triumph ripped into popular Hitfix critic Alan Sepinwall, making vicious fun of his weight and his ongoing support of "Mad Men," and later declared that "TCA" stood for "Triple Chin Association."
I think "The Jack and Triumph Show" is going to be a big success for Adult Swim.
Ed Martin is the Editor of Planet Ed and MediaBizBloggers and the television and video critic for MyersBizNet. Follow him on Twitter at @PlanetEd.
Check us out on Facebook at MediaBizBloggers.com
Follow our Twitter updates at @MediaBizBlogger
The opinions and points of view expressed in this commentary are exclusively the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaBizBloggers.com management or associated bloggers. MediaBizBloggers is an open thought leadership platform and readers may share their comments and opinions in response to all commentaries.