Tuned In: 'Orphan Black' deftly handles plotline of swapped identities


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BBC America's "Orphan Black" (9 p.m. Saturday) begins with a solid, well-constructed, one-hour pilot that breezily introduces the characters and the show's conceit. It does allow some questions to linger, but it won't leave viewers scratching their heads in confusion, an important distinction and a balance not all genre shows are capable of getting right.

Former foster kid Sarah (Tatiana Maslany, "The Vow") sees a woman who looks just like her step in front of a Toronto train and does what any self-respecting grifter would do: She assumes the woman's identity and, with the help of foster brother Felix (Jordan Gavaris), tricks the world into thinking it's Sarah who is dead.

It's not a bad plan because Sarah's ex-boyfriend, Vic (Michael Mando), is out to get her. But the plan grows more complicated once Sarah discovers Beth, the other woman, was a cop under investigation for a shooting incident. Assuming Beth's life becomes a challenge that leads to myriad new discoveries and a possible cloning conspiracy.

In the early going, "Orphan Black" shares some basic plot similarities with The CW dud "Ringer." Where that show was about one twin assuming the other's identity with cheesy, dull results, "Orphan Black" builds more fleshed-out characters and less convoluted stories.

"Orphan Black" benefits from a terrific lead actress in Ms. Maslany, who doesn't miss a beat as she alternates between a British accent for Sarah -- she began life in an English orphanage -- and a North American accent when she assumes Beth's life.

Of course, maintaining a conspiracy plot is a high-wire act and only time will tell whether writer Graeme Manson is up to the task over the long haul. But in its first two episodes, "Orphan Black" crackles with potential.

'The Bible: The Novelization'!

Here's the press release headline of the week: "Roma Downey and Mark Burnett's No. 1 New Cable Series 'The Bible' is also a New York Times Best-seller." But guess what? This release is not about the actual Bible. No, it's for a novelization of the History miniseries that wraps up Sunday.

How's that for chutzpa? Making a miniseries wasn't enough, they rewrote the Bible to match!

Best yet are the mocking reviews of "The Bible: A Story of God and All of Us" on Amazon.com. One anonymous reviewer says, "Thank God for this book! Finally, all the stories from the Bible have been gathered into a single text! ... Don't get me wrong, this isn't a perfect resource. I do have a few complaints/suggestions:

"• Is there a leather-bound version available? I hope there will be soon.

"• I'd like to have even more detail, if possible. Why not add more stories, along with genealogies, poetry and maybe even a few letters?"

Undoing 'Today'

New York magazine has a terrific insider piece this week (http://nymag.com/news/features/today-show-hosts-2013-4/index1.html) on the undoing of NBC's "Today" since executives replaced co-anchor Ann Curry last year. Anchor Matt Lauer comes off looking arrogant, Ms. Curry seems thin-skinned and NBC executives appear more concerned with solidifying their own power within the company than managing the morning show that's beamed out to the world.

There's even a reference presumably to WPXI general manager Ray Carter in the piece: "The network was coming under pressure from some of its own affiliates to remove Curry, with general managers complaining in board meetings that she had to go. 'Don't you guys see this?' wrote an influential G.M. from Pittsburgh."

Mr. Carter declined to comment.

Clearly there's plenty of blame to go around: Ms. Curry, although a sympathetic personality, was never a great interviewer; Mr. Lauer comes off as disloyal and NBC executives appear not to have learned from past "Today" debacles, most notably the time they replaced Jane Pauley with Deborah Norville. Speculation and gossip about the show will continue to swirl -- latest rumor: NBC execs might consider Anderson Cooper as a replacement for Mr. Lauer -- as New York Times reporter Brian Stelter prepares a book on morning newscasts, "Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV," due for release next month.

FX expands

On Thursday FX announced plans to expand its brand to two additional networks on Sept. 2.

FXX, a comedy-skewing network, will target viewers ages 18-34 and will likely take over what is Fox Soccer Channel. FX's "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" and "The League" will migrate to FXX in September, and both shows have been renewed through their fall 2014 seasons. The comedy "Legit" has been renewed for a second season and also will move to FXX. In addition, FX's "Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell" will shift to FXX and expand to five nights per week. "Brand X With Russell Brand" has not yet been renewed, but if it does come back, it also will shift to FXX.

Fox Movie Channel will become FXM, targeting viewers ages 25-54 with a mix of movies and miniseries.

Original FX will continue to target viewers ages 18-49. The network announced a new drama, "The Bridge," for July, about a murder that takes place on the Mexican-American border and investigators from both countries who work the case. FX also will expand into limited series that could go a season or three (first up: an adaptation of the movie "Fargo") and miniseries. FX announced "Justified" has been renewed for a fifth season to air in early 2014.

Programming from all three FX channels will be available the day after air via the FXNow app.

Keep or Cancel? poll

Voting is now under way online in the Post-Gazette's annual Keep or Cancel? poll. You can play TV programmer and vote for the prime-time shows to renew and those you would deep six if you were a network programming chief.

Vote today at http://old.post-gazette.com/tv/poll/default.asp.

Renewals

CBS has now renewed 18 series for 2013-14, including the previously announced renewals of "The Big Bang Theory," "CSI," "NCIS" and "How I Met Your Mother" plus newly renewed "2 Broke Girls," "Mike & Molly," "NCIS: Los Angeles," "Person of Interest," "Elementary," "Hawaii Five-0," "The Mentalist," "Blue Bloods," "The Good Wife," "Survivor," "The Amazing Race," "Undercover Boss," "60 Minutes" and "48 Hours."

Notable omissions: "Criminal Minds," "Vegas," "Rules of Engagement," "CSI: NY" and "Golden Boy." CBS is negotiating with Warner Bros. for another season of "Two and a Half Men."

This week TBS renewed "Cougar Town" for a 13-episode fifth season to air early in 2014, and Syfy renewed "Continuum" for a 13-episode second season that will begin airing on June 7.

ABC Family renewed "Pretty little Liars" for a fifth season and ordered a spinoff series, "Ravenswood," to debut in October.

Channel surfing

Season two of PBS's "Call the Midwife" debuts at 8 p.m. Sunday on WQED-TV. ... MTV comedy "Awkward" returns for its third season at 10 p.m. April 16. ... A&E's "Storage Wars" (9 and 9:30 p.m. April 16) and "American Hoggers" (10 and 10:30 p.m.) are back with new episodes April 16. ... TNT's "Southland," ABC Family's "Switched at Birth," FX's "Louie" and HBO's "Girls" were among the prime-time winners of Peabody Awards this week. See a full list of winners at peabodyawards.com. ... New CNN boss Jeff Zucker has lined up hosts for a new morning show to launch this spring. Former ABC anchor Chris Cuomo will anchor the program with Kate Bolduan, currently on "The Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer." ... Sundance Channel will transition from limited sponsorships to fully ad-supported on Sept. 30. ... Syndicated court show "Judge Joe Brown" has been canceled by its syndicator, CBS, after 15 seasons. ... CBS has bought a 50 percent stake in TV Guide Network and TVGuide.com with plans to re-brand the cable network at a later date. ... "The Wire" creator David Simon will speak at 8:15 p.m. July 29 at Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, N.Y. Details at: www.ciweb.org. ... PCNC's "NightTalk" (8 p.m. weeknights) goes to the dogs on Tuesday as host Ellis Cannon visits the Western Pennsylvania Kennel Association's 2013 dog show. ... WTAE will air "Chronicle: From Pittsburgh to the Vatican" (8 p.m. Sunday), a one-hour special featuring highlights from anchor Mike Clark's recent trip to Rome during the recent transition of leadership at the Vatican. ... Pittsburgher Barbara Thompson will compete Wednesday on CBS's "The Price Is Right" (11 a.m. weekdays, KDKA-TV), and Pittsburgher Christine Percherke will compete Tuesday on "Let's Make a Deal" (10 a.m. weekdays, KDKA-TV). ... Spike TV's "TNA Impact Wrestling" (8 p.m. Thursdays) will produce episodes at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex in Indiana, Pa., next month. The first episode will begin at 7 p.m. April 25 (the first hour is tape-delayed for air) with a second episode taped that night to air on May 2. Tickets at www.comcastix.com or 1-800-298-4200.

Tuned In online

Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions about "Zero Hour," "American Restoration" and local news coverage. This week's Tuned In Journal includes posts on "Revolution," "House of Cards," "Mad Men" and "Psych." Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.

This week's podcast includes conversation about TV shows on the bubble, pitting TV shows against one another in online bracket competitions and NBC's late-night and morning soap operas involving Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon, Matt Lauer and the future of "Today." Subscribe or listen at http://old.post-gazette.com/podcast.

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TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.


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