Tuned In: 'Dracula' rises again in new prime-time series

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It's from the same production company as "Downton Abbey," but make no mistake: NBC's "Dracula" (10 tonight, WPXI) is no "Downton Dracula."

While the settings are somewhat similar -- "Dracula" is set in London in the late 19th century; "Downton Abbey" is set a couple of decades later; both shows share a producer in Gareth Neame -- there's enough bodice ripping and jugular tearing in "Dracula" to give "Downton's" Dowager Duchess the vapors.

Directed by Steve Shill, who filmed "The Kill Point" in Pittsburgh, tonight's "Dracula" pilot makes a pleasant, if pulpy, introduction to the series. Next week's episode ups the stakes with more unexpected twists and turns.

Steelers' Lamarr Woodley featured on 'Game Changers'

Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley wants kids to make a good first impression at school. He talks about how to do that on "Game Changers," which airs on KDKA-TV at 5:30 a.m. Oct. 27. (YouTube video; 10/25/2013)

Jonathan Rhys Meyers ("The Tudors") stars as the title character, who, in this telling, masquerades as American entrepreneur Alexander Grayson. He seeks vengeance on Londoners who are members of the Order of the Dragon, a latter-day 99-percenters club that cursed him with immortality.

Newcomer Cole Haddon wrote the pilot, based on the original Bram Stoker story, but he takes plenty of liberties with the plot -- no spoilers on the most radical deviation -- and invents a whole new story of Dracula posing as the purveyor of a new, renewable source of electricity. Dracula/Grayson seeks to derail gas barons a century before anyone really worried about the impact/longevity of fossil fuels.

Plenty of characters from the Stoker novel are present, if sometimes altered, including Dracula's manservant Renfield (Nonso Anozie), journalist Jonathan Harker (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), Mina Murray (Jessica De Gouw) and Professor Van Helsing (Thomas Kretschmann).

Although Mr. Haddon wrote the pilot, showrunner Daniel Knauf puts his fingerprints on the series in his script for episode two. Mr. Knauf is best known for HBO's bizarre, glacially paced "Carnivale," and his dark, twisty approach to storytelling shows up when Dracula beds one woman but imagines her as Mina, who resembles his late wife. Mr. Knauf's script also sends Dracula to a drag show at a Victorian-era gay club.

The conspiracy of the Order of the Dragon could grow tiresome, but the group is headed by the intriguing Lady Jayne Wetherby (Victoria Smurfit), who trains in her own Victorian-era gym where she holds a vampire prisoner. She also deploys "seers" to ferret out the identity of the vampire she's sure has shown up in her neighborhood. It's a little loopy and a lot anachronistic, but darn if it doesn't work in this particular mix.

What doesn't work so well is the notion of Mina as Dracula's long lost love. Flashbacks depict Dracula and Mina being terrorized; in the present, she's in a relationship with Harker. But the show does little to develop the Mina character. She's not that interesting, especially when viewed alongside Lady Jayne.

"Dracula" takes itself and Grayson's weird obsession with "geomagnetic technology" seriously -- although a demonstration of the technology in the premiere isn't explained or developed through the next two episodes -- but Mr. Meyers brings a twinkle to his eye that allows just enough humor into the show to prevent it from becoming stuffy.

"I was afraid as an American you might not understand the meaning of the word discreet," says a Londoner.

"I had to look it up," Grayson replies.

Kudos to Mr. Meyers for a fantastic American accent that is precise and, on occasion, effectively chilling.

In addition to Mr. Knauf, another writer on the show, co-executive producer Harley Peyton, also comes with an intriguing pedigree: He was a writer/producer on "Twin Peaks." Nothing in "Dracula" is as unique or as wonderfully weird as "Twin Peaks," and "Dracula" plows through plot more quickly, introducing and then writing off several intriguing plots and characters within its first three episodes. It's too soon to say whether that will turn out to be wise or foolhardy, but "Dracula" at least gets off to a mildly promising start.

A great 'Good Wife'

This weekend's episode of CBS's "The Good Wife" (9 p.m. Sunday, KDKA-TV), which remains the pre-eminent scripted drama on broadcast television, is quite a thrill ride. Titled "Hitting the Fan," it's a strong hour written by series creators Robert King and Michelle King that may finally settle the "Who will Alicia end up with?" question once Will (Josh Charles) learns she's planning to defect from his firm with a number of associates and take prestigious clients with her.

The whole season has been building to this confrontation, which does not disappoint. Sides are chosen, and "The Good Wife" seems to -- maybe? hopefully? -- take a big step forward unless subsequent episodes backtrack on the promise of a new direction for the series and its characters.

In a teleconference with reporters Wednesday, "Good Wife" executive producer Robert King promised the show will not hit a reset button. Dynamics will change.

"The challenge of our show is to stay within the reality we create and see new sides of our characters," he said. "It's to see the challenges of life and how that pushes people in very real directions. There are no assassination attempts or massive explosions. We try to see if we throw a big boulder in the pond of these people's lives, what do these ripples do?"

He cited cable dramas as the impetus for the big shake-up in Sunday's "Good Wife" episode.

"It's the challenge the best cable shows set for everybody: How do you stay within the realm of the universe you've created, whether it's 'Game of Thrones' or 'Breaking Bad' or 'Mad Men,' and yet how do you create explosions that make sense in that world and make interesting things and entertaining things happen in the future."

Read more about what's next for "The Good Wife" in Monday's Tuned In Journal blog post at http://communityvoices.post-gazette.com/arts-entertainment-living/tuned-in.

PBS sets 'Sherlock' return

PBS's "Masterpiece" series "Sherlock" will return with three new 90-minute episodes at 10 p.m. Jan. 19.

PBS is bundling its two most popular series on one night as a new season of "Downton Abbey" will air as a lead-in to "Sherlock." "Downton" returns Jan. 5.

"Call the Midwife" is back for its third season on March 30, and "Mr. Selfridge" will be back on "Masterpiece" for its second season on March 30.


CBS has renewed three freshman comedies -- "The Crazy Ones," "The Millers" and "Mom" -- for full first seasons by picking up an additional nine episodes of each show. Fox made a similar pickup for "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," which will also be paired with "New Girl" for an hour of comedy after "Super Bowl XLVIII" on Feb. 2.

NBC canceled new fall series "Ironside" and "Welcome to the Family." The network will fill the 10 p.m. Wednesday time slot with "Dateline" and specials through the end of the year and debut a "Chicago Fire" spinoff, "Chicago P.D.," on Jan. 8. NBC will double run "Parks and Recreation" Nov. 14 and 21 from 8-9 p.m. Thursday -- otherwise, "Parks" will be mostly on hiatus for the rest of 2013 -- and air "Saturday Night Live"-themed holiday specials until the return of "Community" on Jan. 2.

Showtime renewed "Homeland" for a fourth season and "Masters of Sex" for a second season.

TNT ordered a fourth season of "Franklin & Bash." but co-star Heather Locklear is not yet under contract to return.

After getting canceled by NBC, Lifetime has revived "Betty White's Off Their Rockers" for 20 episodes to air in 2014.

USA renewed "Suits" for a 16-episode fourth season.

Adult Swim renewed "Newsreaders," a TV newsmagazine spoof, for a second season that will begin production in January for a 2014 premiere.

Koeppen on 'NOVA'

PBS's "NOVA" airs an episode next week featuring two Pittsburghers. "Making Stuff: Colder" (9 p.m. Wednesday, WQED-TV), hosted by David Pogue, includes a segment on hypothermia therapy and gives an example of its use in saving the life of KDKA-TV news anchor Susan Koeppen when she went into cardiac arrest while jogging in Shadyside in November 2011.

The segment also features Dr. Clifton Callaway of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, who explains to Mr. Pogue how therapeutic hypothermia can help save lives.

Of local note

Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley is featured in "Game Changers" (5:30 a.m. Sunday, KDKA-TV) for a segment on his foundation, which teamed with the Pittsburgh Public Schools for a "Get Ready for School" event.

Hundred Acres Manor in South Park will be featured on Travel Channel's "America's Scariest Halloween Attractions 4" (10 p.m. Sunday).

Channel surfing

Cable's Ovation will air "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" at 8 p.m. on Halloween night with an encore at 12:30 a.m. ... CBS is pulling two "I Love Lucy" episodes -- "Christmas Episode" and "Lucy's Italian Movie" -- out of mothballs, colorizing them and airing them at 8 p.m. Dec. 20. ... Last week Hulu named Fox Networks distribution president Mike Hopkins its new CEO, replacing interim CEO Andy Forssell, a Titusville native and Carnegie Mellon University grad who took over when founding CEO Jason Kilar, a Murrysville native, left the company earlier this year.

Tuned In online

Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions about "The Good Wife," "Doc Martin" and local TV news personality injuries. This week's Tuned In Journal includes posts on "Ravenswood," "The African-Americans: Many Rivers to Cross," "Scrubbing In" and PBS Kids pumpkin patterns. Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.

This week's podcast includes conversation about "The Walking Dead," "American Horror Story: Coven" and "Arrow." Subscribe or listen at http://old.post-gazette.com/podcast.

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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