Tuned In: 'Witches of East End' is a fun mess


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There's nothing elegant about Lifetime's choppy pilot for "The Witches of East End" (10 p.m. Sunday), but it's still an enjoyable, silly romp. Certainly a better viewing choice at that hour than ABC's dreary "Betrayal," which bombed in the ratings in its premiere telecast last weekend.

Fans of lighter, witchy series should appreciate "Witches of East End," which is more sudsy amusement than anything. It's got a bit of a "Charmed" vibe but instead of three sisters there are two sets of two sisters (hey, it's cable, so there are lower budgets: with the power of two you'll have to make do).

Adapted from a series of novels by writer Maggie Friedman -- who also wrote ABC's short-lived "Eastwick" in 2009 -- "Witches of East End" has a more entertaining pilot then "Eastwick" did. "Witches of East End" begins with the Beauchamp family celebrating wild child daughter Freya (Jenna Dewan Tatum) and her engagement to wealthy playboy Dash Gardiner (Eric Winter, "Brothers and Sisters").

He's a businessman, she's a bartender.

"I like being a bartender," Freya explains. "I bring joy and drunkenness to people in need."

Freya's mom, Joanna (Julia Ormond), keeps showing up in multiple places at once, sometimes with weird, glowing eyes. Freya's sister, shy librarian Ingrid (Rachel Boston, who lights up every scene she's in), wants to support her sister but questions her speedy engagement.

Freya begins to question her engagement, too, when she spies her fiance's dark-haired, brooding brother, Killian (Daniel DiTomasso).

And this is where the crazy begins: Turns out the Beauchamps are witches and Joanna has been cursed, giving birth to her daughters, watching them die and then giving birth to them all over again. This time around, Joanna hasn't told Freya and Ingrid about their innate ability to cast spells, but Joanna's wilder sister, Wendy (Madchen Amick, clearly having a blast with the role), arrives in town and makes sure to spill the beans.

Directed by Mark Waters ("Mean Girls"), the "Witches of East End" pilot is a choppy mess with scenes plopped together in seemingly random order.

What the pilot lacks in smooth-flow niceties it makes up for in silly fun. Fires start, photos dissolve and flowers explode without explanation -- clearly, it must be magic! -- adding to a well-cultivated, cheesy, hokey atmosphere.

"No magic while you're here," Joanna tells Wendy. "House rules!"

If there are any rules in the "Witches of East End" universe, they are only loosely explained. For instance, viewers learn Wendy, who can turn into a cat, has only nine lives, and viewers see her die twice in the pilot alone, but when Joanna asks her how many lives she has left, Wendy's response is intentionally vague, allowing the writers some flexibility as they build stories and determine the fates of characters.

"The Witches of East End" is by no means a show for fans of serious TV ("Breaking Bad," "The Sopranos"), but viewers who appreciate a supernatural soap may find themselves under its somewhat slipshod spell.

'Simpsons' Halloween

The 24th edition of Fox's annual "Simpsons" Halloween episode -- "Treehouse of Horror XXIV" -- airs Sunday at 8 p.m. on WPGH, and its batting average is about the same as usual: One out of the three short segments is a winner.

Not that the other two, "Dead and Shoulders" and "Freaks No Geeks," are a disaster. It's just that "Oh, the Places You'll D'Oh" is so much more clever thanks to Dr. Seuss-style, rhyming dialogue.

Homer Simpson is cast as the Fat in the Hat, who takes Bart and Lisa on an adventure through Springfield, where they meet other Dr. Seuss-inspired characters including a merchandising-minded Lorax.

But the best bit of dialogue takes a deserved swipe at one of the movies based on a Dr. Seuss book: "I'm frightened of nothing, not even hell fire," says the Fat in the Hat. "Just don't let me ever be played by Mike Myers."

Mr. Myers played the Cat in the Hat in the critically declaimed 2003 live-action film.

Pittsburgher in Chiller movie

Brackenridge native Chris Conroy, a 2008 graduate of Point Park University in the school's cinema program, is among the stars of cable network Chiller's new original horror movie, "Beneath" (9 tonight).

The film follows high school grads who celebrate at a remote lake where an underwater predator awaits them. Mackenzie Rosman ("7th Heaven") and Mark Margolis ("Breaking Bad") also star.

Mr. Conroy is filming the movie "Catatonk Blues" with Treat Williams.

Locally, Chiller is carried by Verizon's FiOS TV (Channel 193), Armstrong (Channel 449), DirecTV (Channel 257) and DISH Network (Channel 199). Chiller is not carried locally by Comcast, which is really odd because Comcast owns Chiller.

Steelers on Discovery

Discovery's two-part "NFL in Season" begins with the episode "Steelers vs. Vikings" tonight at 10.

Each episode chronicles teams' preparation for their regular season games in London. (Of course, the Steelers lost that game 34-27 so it's questionable if Steelers fans want to relive any of that week.)

While previous series, including "Hard Knocks," followed preseason games, Discovery says this is the first time cameras have been given access to NFL teams behind the scenes during the regular season.

Concussions on PBS, WQED

PBS's "Frontline" will air the two-hour film "League of Denial: The NFL's Concussion Crisis" (9 p.m. Tuesday), and WQED will follow up with the locally produced "Concussions: A New Way of Thinking" (8 p.m. Thursday).

"League of Denial" explores a growing body of scientific evidence that NFL players are at risk and includes a look at the case of the late Steelers legend Mike Webster and a neurological disease he likely incurred during his NFL career.

"Concussions: A New Way of Thinking," a 30-minute program produced by Beth Dolinar, looks at the increase in concussion diagnoses locally and efforts to keep young athletes safe and healthy.

'Shot' to air on Smithsonian

Steeltown Entertainment Project's documentary film "The Shot Felt 'Round the World," about Pittsburgh's role in the eradication of polio and the vaccine created by Dr. Jonas Salk and his team, has been picked up by Smithsonian Channel for airing at 8 p.m. Oct. 24, which is World Polio Day.

The film has been recut to run 47 minutes (it was originally 66 minutes), retitled "A Shot to Save the World" and now includes an interview with Bill Gates, who is attempting to eradicate polio from the planet. Earlier this year Steeltown president Carl Kurlander and a Smithsonian producer traveled to Seattle to interview Mr. Gates.

Renewals/cancellations

Last week CBS renewed "Unforgettable" for a 13-episode third season to air next summer.

Hallmark Channel has renewed its first prime-time series, "Debbie Macomber's Cedar Cove," for a 12-episode second season to air in 2014.

It's fourth season just started Sunday, but Fox already has renewed animated comedy "Bob's Burgers" for a 22-episode fifth season to begin airing next fall.

NBC canceled its summer comedy-drama "Camp" this week after a single season.

ABC has renewed summer series "Motive" for another run next year.

USA renewed spy drama "Covert Affairs" for a fifth season. The show's fourth season will resume airing Oct. 17.

This week FX announced it will end its comedy series "Wilfred" after the show's upcoming 10-episode fourth season airs on FXX in 2014.

Channel surfing

The series finale of AMC's "Breaking Bad" drew 10.3 million viewers, a record for the drama. It makes "Bad" the No. 3 cable series finale of all time behind "The Sopranos" (11.9 million) and "Sex and the City" (10.6 million), according to Variety.com. ... Actress Amber Tamblyn has been promoted to series regular status on CBS's "Two and a Half Men," where she plays Charlie Harper's illegitimate daughter. ... Classic Looney Tunes theatrical shorts -- featuring Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Road Runner and more -- return to cable's Boomerang in a one-hour block airing at 7 a.m. Saturday and Sunday beginning this weekend. ... Former "Criminal Minds" cast member Paget Brewster will return to the CBS crime drama for the show's 200th episode airing later this season. ... CNBC will air reruns of ABC's "Shark Tank" beginning in January. ... Fox News Channel launches a new lineup Monday that includes "Shepard Smith Reporting" (3 p.m.), "On the Record" (7 p.m.), "The O'Reilly Factor" (8 p.m.), "The Kelly File" (9 p.m.) and "Hannity" (10 p.m.). In addition, commentator George Will has jumped from ABC to Fox News Channel. ... Episodes of WQED's "Portrayal and Perception: African American Men & Boys" are reairing on WQED-TV at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday leading up to "Have You Ever Considered Teaching"? at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 14, which will be followed by a live "Portrayal and Perception" community forum at 8 p.m. ... Several Pittsburgh businesses will be featured in the new series "Start Up," which debuts at 6 p.m. Sunday on WQED-TV. The show profiles entrepreneurs across the country, including Pittsburgh zombie store House of the Dead (Sunday), Yobro clothing (Oct. 13), Pittsburgh Paragliding (Oct. 20) and La Dorita dulce de leche (Nov. 3).

Tuned In online

Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions about "Breaking Bad," "Elementary" and "Mike & Molly." This week's Tuned In Journal includes posts on "Breaking Bad," "Homeland" and reviews of new series. Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.

This week's podcast includes conversation about "Breaking Bad," "Masters of Sex," "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" and "Broadchurch." 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 for breaking TV news.


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