Tuned In: WGN launches original scripted programming


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PASADENA, Calif. -- Cable's WGN America, heretofore mostly a home for reruns of network comedies and dramas, follows other cable networks into the original scripted series business with a Ten Commandments miniseries and a one-hour drama, "Salem" (April 20), about the Salem witch trials.

Janet Montgomery ("Made in Jersey"), Shane West ("Nikita"), Seth Gabel ("Fringe") and Ashley Madekwe ("Revenge") star in the drama, which is written by Brannon Braga ("24," "Star Trek: Voyager").

Turns out what we learned about 17th-century Massachusetts in elementary school was not the full story.

"Witches were real and they were running the trials," Mr. Braga said, explaining the show's mythology. "It's an alternate history or the history you didn't know about."

A second WGN drama series, "Manhattan," will debut in July. It's about the Manhattan Project and the race to build the first atomic bomb in Los Alamos, N.M.

WGN's 10-part scripted miniseries "Ten Commandments" will feature top directors (Gus Van Sant, Lee Daniels and Wes Craven have signed on). Each will take on a single commandment in his episode.

'Bitten'

Everything old can be new again, but it can also be a tired rehash.

When it comes to werewolf shows, MTV's "Teen Wolf" redid it right, but Syfy's "Bitten" (10 tonight) does not.

Another bland, dull Canadian import, "Bitten" stars Laura Vandervoort ("Smallville," "V") as a lone female werewolf who is summoned back to her ancestral home to help defend her pack. She doesn't want to go because of the presence of her werewolf ex-boyfriend (Greystone Holt, "Durham County") -- she's moved on and has a new beau.

The CGI werewolf effects are pretty rudimentary, and the story is overly familiar and uninvolving. It's not worth sinking your teeth into.

Palin at press tour

John Oliver, former correspondent for "The Daily Show" who gets his own weekly news roundup series later this year on HBO, was like a kid in a candy shop when he got the news Thursday night: Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was coming to press tour Friday morning for a breakfast sponsored by Sportsman Channel to promote her new series, "Amazing America With Sarah Palin," debuting April 3.

Mr. Oliver demanded an explanation of what would bring her to such a den of lamestream media inequity.

"She's going to do to sports what she did to politics," Mr. Oliver said during an HBO press conference. "She's not doing this, is she? She wouldn't set foot in front of you liberal monsters."

Yes and no. Ms. Palin wasn't scheduled to have a panel, but she was to go from table to table during a breakfast.

Sporting high heels with red and white stripes in the front and white stars on a blue background in back, she did address TV critics before exiting the stage.

A Sportsman Channel executive dubbed Ms. Palin "the first lady of the outdoors" in his introduction. Ms. Palin claimed to be "so glad to be here and thank you from the bottom of my heart."

"You critics are gonna have a ball following what we do and say and how we come across," she said. "I love critics. I'm kind of used to 'em. And you know how much I love the media. A room full of media and television critics together, I can't beat this combination or pleasure."

In her description of her new series, she emphasized the need for a show that displays a work ethic.

"Remember what made America exceptional. Two things: One, it was going to be utilization and responsible development of our national resources and the expectation of a work ethic," she said. "That's how America was carved out of the wilderness and became the greatest nation on Earth. Our show will help restore that America. Our show will highlight the people, places and things that can embrace and encourage that American spirit we need more of."

Ms. Palin said it won't be "some fake, scripted reality show" and she especially wants young women to be out in the elements understanding what it means to "build something and fix something" and to have their pictures taken holding fish rather than taking "selfies" in their bathroom mirrors.

"I'm more excited about this project than I have been about many of the other projects and things I have done in the past," Ms. Palin said without elaborating on what she was referring to. (Her former TLC series? Her political career?)

At the end of her remarks she promised to "bebop around the room a little bit" to meet critics, but she didn't get very far before a scrum formed around her.

Sportsman Channel is carried by Comcast (Channel 153, Channel 186 on former Adelphia systems and 917 HD everywhere), Verizon FiOS TV (Channel 308), DirecTV (605) and DISH Network (285/395). Other series on the channel include "Predator Nation," "Dead Meat," "Meateater," "Combat School" and, of course, "Pigman: The Series."

Premiere dates

AMC's "Mad Men" will be back for the first half of its final season at 10 p.m. April 13.

New episodes of "The Walking Dead" begin at 9 p.m. Feb. 9, and the show's fifth season will begin in October. "Breaking Bad" prequel "Better Call Saul" will debut in November.

AMC will premiere "Halt and Catch Fire," about the rise of personal computing in the 1980s, in June, with "Hell on Wheels" back later in the summer. The network's next new series is "Turn" (9 p.m. April 6), about spies during the Revolutionary War.

Sundance Channel's "Rectify" will return for its second season this summer, and French import "The Returned" will be back later this year.

Starz's "Da Vinci's Demons" returns for its second season at 9 p.m. March 22.

MTV's "Awkward" returns at 10 p.m. April 15.

Channel surfing

Hallmark Movie Channel is developing more "Jesse Stone" TV movies with actor Tom Selleck. The "Jesse Stone" franchise previously aired on CBS. ... Lifetime is already developing the sequel to its "Flowers in the Attic" movie (8 p.m. Saturday), "Petals in the Wind," based on the book series by V.C. Andrews. ... Cesar Milan's latest series, "Cesar 911," debuts at 9 p.m. March 7 on Nat Geo Wild and follows the dog trainer to communities terrorized by unruly dogs. ... Late Friday ABC yanked its limited-run low-rated drama "The Assets" after just two episodes.

 


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 winter press tour. Follow RobOwenTV at Twitter or Facebook. You can reach him at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com.

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