Tuned In: 'Hell on Wheels' moves to new night


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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- AMC Western "Hell on Wheels" returns for its third season with a two-hour premiere at 9 p.m. Aug. 10, and with it comes a new time slot (it's now on Saturday night) and a new direction for this series about building the transcontinental railroad.

Veteran TV writer John Wirth ("V," "The District") has taken over as showrunner this season.

"We're telling better stories better this year," he said, noting the rest of the writing staff is largely the same. "The show kicked off with revenge being the motivation [for lead character Cullen Bohannon], and I think that gets wearisome for people over time. So we've shifted gears and gone more into the area of redemption or, as we call it, this is the season of reconstruction, and that's opened the storytelling and made the characters a little more embraceable and easier to get your arms around."

Anson Mount stars as Bohannon, who becomes more directly involved in managing the race to complete the railroad this season. Former top railroad manager Thomas "Doc" Durant (Colm Meaney) begins the season in prison.

Mr. Wirth said reading in the newspaper this week about federal criminal charges brought against outsize trading profits by SAC Capital Advisors made him think of Durant.

"I thought, this is what Thomas Durant would be doing if he were living today; he'd be stealing from people on Wall Street," he said. "The same sort of people are involved in these big American businesses."

'Bad' to the end

AMC's "Breaking Bad" (9 p.m. Aug. 11) begins its march toward its series finale in a few weeks, and at the show's final Television Critics Association press conference series creator Vince Gilligan discussed his oft-repeated contention that his goal was to take Mr. Chips and turn him into Scarface in the character of Walter White (Bryan Cranston).

"There's a good argument going back and forth about whether or not Walt's particular road to hell, one paved by good intentions, changed him or revealed things already within him," Mr. Gilligan said. "The longer we did the show the more I subscribed to the latter argument. It's that old saying about Hollywood: Does stardom turn some people into creeps or does it simply reveal who they really are?"

Series stars Mr. Cranston and Aaron Paul were filmed together reading the series finale script for the first time for a documentary that will be included on a future DVD/Blu-ray release.

As for how the series ends, Mr. Cranston teased, "I think everyone will be surprised by the ending where we hug it out. All is forgiven."

"Bryan, don't mention the musical number," added co-star Betsy Brandt, who plays Marie, Walt's sister-in-law.

Mr. Gilligan said he hopes a "Bad" spinoff focused on Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) will be made, but there's no deal yet for that series.

HBO, Cinemax series updates

HBO CEO Richard Plepler and programming president Michael Lombardo addressed the network's future plans for the premium cable network's series, including:

• "True Blood": Already renewed for a seventh season, Mr. Lombardo said, "We feel there's a new energy this season," and no decision has been made on how long the series will ultimately run.

• "The Newsroom": Mr. Lombardo expects it to be renewed for a third season; they're just working out scheduling with writer Aaron Sorkin. "The [ratings] numbers this year are surpassing the numbers last year and not just the aggregate numbers. We're in the passionate engagement game, where the base is really important to us."

• "Treme": The final episodes will air beginning Dec. 1 after "Boardwalk Empire" (back Sept. 8) ends its season.

• "Game of Thrones": No plans to necessarily end the show after season seven. "It can go on as long as there are stories to tell," Mr. Lombardo said.

• "Family Tree": No decision has been made on its future.

• "Veep": Next season Selina (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) will likely run for president. "I think next season we'll see her on the bus a lot," Mr. Lombardo said. "We'll see her out on the campaign trail."

• "Curb Your Enthusiasm": Larry David, who stars in the upcoming HBO movie "Clear History" (9 p.m. Aug. 10), said he hasn't made up his mind about making another season of "Curb Your Enthusiasm." "I really don't know. I couldn't say. Ask me in six months," Mr. David said. "I'm just an indecisive fellow. You should see me at a restaurant."

• "Criminal Justice": A pilot starring the late James Gandolfini as a jailhouse lawyer will not air in its current form. Mr. Lombardo said HBO executives are now determining whether to move forward with the project with another actor in the role.

On Cinemax series:

• "Transporter": Execs decided not to proceed with it.

• "Hunted": Cinemax's production partners did not want to continue, but they're developing a potential new series with writer Frank Spotnitz that would follow the same character (Melissa George) in a new series.

Cinemax, which has been ramping up series production with "Strike Back" (returning Aug. 9) and "Banshee" (returning in 2014), will have a new series with seemingly fewer fisticuffs than existing Cinemax shows.

Stephen Soderbergh ("Behind the Candelabra") will direct the entire 10-episode first season of "The Knick," set in New York's Knickerbocker Hospital, circa 1900, in a time of high mortality rates before antibiotics.

'Nurses' from Pittsburgh

Five of the nine cast members from MTV's upcoming docuseries "Nurses," about traveling nurses, are from Western Pennsylvania.

The series, set to debut sometime this fall, follows the traveling nurses as they spend 13 weeks working at an Orange County, Calif., hospital.

Why so many cast members from Pittsburgh? Producers said they found five 20-something nurses who were already friends, filmed test footage of them in Pittsburgh and picked them to be on the show.

Because the show is still in production, MTV declined to allow the release of their last names or the name of the hospital where they work in Western Pennsylvania.

Chelsey, who is from McMurray and is the only married cast member, said she wanted to be a traveling nurse to see more of the country.

"We're from Pittsburgh, which is a small town, and we're out in California, so we want to go out and experience all that California has to offer," Chelsey said.

Clips from "Nurses" show it's a mix of the nurses on the job and in their off-the-job life, which plays more like "The Real World." But don't expect them to get too wild.

"At the end of the day, we have our [nursing] license on the line," Chelsey said. "Nursing school is so hard and something all of us hold near and dear, and we will not jeopardize our licenses."

Chelsey was one of two cast members present during MTV's press conference. The other cast member, Crystal from Avonmore, said she wants the series to combat impressions left by scripted shows such as "Grey's Anatomy."

"We're excited to show the world what nursing is actually like," said Crystal.

Other locals include Heather from Pittsburgh, Michelle from Aliquippa and Nikki from Ford City.

'Killing Kennedy'

After the success of adapting Fox News Channel pundit Bill O'Reilly's "Killing Lincoln" earlier this year, National Geographic Channel will follow up in November with another adaptation of an O'Reilly book, "Killing Kennedy."

Rob Lowe stars as JFK with Ginnifer Goodwin ("Once Upon a Time") as Jackie, Will Rothhaar as Lee Harvey Oswald, Michelle Trachtenberg ("Gossip Girl") as Marina Oswald and Jack Noseworthy ("Dead at 21") as RFK.

Mr. Lowe said he was not concerned about playing a role that many other actors have played in the past.

"We don't have a royal family here, and Shakespeare made a career writing about royalty, and the Kennedys are sort of our royal family," he said. "If you believe that concept, it's like playing a character from Shakespeare. Actors play Shakespeare roles all the time. A lot of people will play JFK in the future. He's just one of our great American icons."

This particular JFK movie will explore the collision course between JFK and his assassin, exploring the lives of Oswald and Kennedy.

Mr. Lowe said he's interested in picking out details about Kennedy's character.

"What can you individually bring and for me it's very much about capturing him as a man," Mr. Lowe said. "I was really interested in the details of what he was like as a father, son, husband, as a flawed, complicated, heroic guy and where those small details live."

Channel surfing

In 2014 Dean Cain will host Spike TV's "10 Million Bigfoot Bounty," which will feature teams of explorers searching for proof of Bigfoot's existence. If they succeed, they win the prize. Spoiler alert: They won't succeed. ... Disney Channel's "Shake It Up" will end its run this fall. ... Disney XD has renewed "Lab Rats" for a third season. ... "American Masters Marvin Hamlisch: The Way He Was," which PBS is touting as the first film biography of the late composer-conductor and Pittsburgh Pops leader, will premiere Dec. 27. ... As expected, Starz won't be making a "Boss" wrap-up movie, an always unlikely notion that had been floated shortly after the show's cancellation. ... AMC has ordered two new scripted series for 2014: "Halt & Catch Fire," set in the early 1980s, dramatizes the early years of the personal computing boom; "Turn" is about a New York farmer (Jamie Bell) who is recruited to work as a spy in the fight for America's independence in the late 1700s.

On the web

Read more coverage from the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Tuned In Journal at post-gazette.com/tv.

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A portion of this column originally appeared online in the Tuned In Journal blog. Post-Gazette TV writer Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour. Follow RobOwenTV at Twitter or on Facebook. You can reach Rob at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com.


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