FX's lineup shows promise

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PASADENA, Calif. -- Cable network FX looks to continue its run of critically praised drama series in 2014 with the debut of "Tyrant" this summer -- set in a fictional Middle East country, it has a "Godfather" vibe and begins with an excellent pilot from the executive producers of "24" and "Homeland" -- and a TV version of the movie "Fargo" (April 15), which also kicks off with a promising premiere episode.

Even sooner, FX brings back its acclaimed 2013 drama "The Americans" for a second season at 10 p.m. Feb. 26. "The Americans," set in the early 1980s, follows two Russian spies, played by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, who appear to be a typical, suburban American couple.

"We saw in the first season that [the storyline] was very much [the] marriage between this couple and if they would stay together," said executive producer Joe Weisberg. "This year there's a sense that they're more solid and together and the problems will come from the kids. ... And we'll see how this family tries to struggle and hold it together through this season."

In 2015, FX's "Justified" (10 p.m. Tuesday) will air its sixth and final season. FX CEO John Landgraf said ending the show was a decision made by series executive producer Graham Yost and star Timothy Olyphant.

"I would have liked to have more 'Justified,' " Mr. Landgraf said. "It's one of my favorite shows. I just really love it personally, and I have a long-standing adoration of all things Elmore Leonard. We talked about it a year ago, and they felt that the arc of the show and what they had to say would be best served by six seasons instead of seven. So, regretfully, I accepted their decision."

That's not often how TV shows come to a close, but FX behaves more like an HBO than an NBC.

"We've tried as much as we could not to make business drive creative [decisions] and, therefore, not to either extend shows beyond their life span or cut them short before they ought to be," Mr. Landgraf said. "I can't tell you that we've never extended a show longer than it probably [should] have been or cut it a little shorter than it should have been. But we really, really try hard not to do that. So, regretfully, that's their decision."

Mr. Yost said the show's writers were concerned about repetition and running out of story.

"There were financial incentives to keep going," he said, "but it really felt that [for] the story of Raylan Givens in Kentucky, six seasons felt about right."

Weather Channel vs. DirecTV

Another week, another retransmission fight.

Monday night DirecTV dropped The Weather Channel after the two parties failed to come to terms on a new carriage agreement.

TWC execs say they are asking for a "negligible increase for the life-saving information that we offer." DirecTV suggests its customers watch WeatherNation on Channel 362.

The Weather Channel is urging its viewers to call their public representatives to demand it keep the network; even suggesting it's a quasi-public utility.

That's where the argument gets tough to swallow.

"At a time when DirecTV has increased customer rates by 4 percent, they are trading safety for increased profits and replacing the experience and expertise of The Weather Channel with a cheap startup that does weather forecasting on a three-hour taped loop, has no field coverage, no weather experts," said David Kenny, CEO of The Weather Channel's parent company. "This is a dangerous gamble over one penny a month that puts DirecTV customers at risk. "

Maybe that would be a reasonable argument if The Weather Channel hadn't replaced so much of its weather coverage with reality shows, something viewers have complained to me about endlessly. Also, there are local TV weather forecasters and the National Weather Service.

Additionally, this is a dispute with a satellite company, and when there's a big storm, your satellite service is likely to go out so you're not going to see The Weather Channel anyway!

Hiring Sam Champion as TWC's new morning show host (7-10 a.m. starting in March) doesn't speak to an emphasis on weather science. (Mr. Champion has a degree in broadcasting, not meteorology.) The same goes for the silly naming of winter storms, a move the National Weather Service does not support.

So even though I'm not generally inclined to buy the argument of cable/satellite companies, in this case, the statement from DirecTV is more resonant: "Consumers understand there are now a variety of other ways to get weather coverage, free of reality show clutter, and that The Weather Channel does not have an exclusive on weather coverage -- the weather belongs to everyone.

"Most consumers don't want to watch a weather information channel with a forecast of a 40 percent chance of reality TV. So with that in mind, we are in the process of discussing an agreement to return the network to our lineup at the right value for our customers."

A happier 'Idol'

Fox's "American Idol" returns at 8 tonight for a new season and another revamped judging panel that sees the return of Jennifer Lopez after a one-year absence, the addition of freshman judge Harry Connick Jr. and returnee Keith Urban.

And unlike last season, when Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj were at each other's throats, the emphasis this go-around is that the judges like one another.

Mr. Urban dodged a question about how uncomfortable he was last year with his co-stars' fighting. But Fox's promotional emphasis this year is certainly on the camaraderie of the new judging panel.

"They take the job very seriously, but they have so much fun doing it, and that really shines [through]," said host Ryan Seacrest. "To have a laugh is contagious and that's important for any show, and you'll see it this season."

In addition to happier judges, former judge Randy Jackson returns, hosting a segment on the workshops the contestants go through behind the scenes about choosing songs, styles and looks.

Executive producer Trish Kinane said viewers got fed up with the middle rounds, which have been condensed to a single "rush week."

Tunie stars in 'Red Road'

Tamara Tunie ("Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"), who was born in McKeesport and raised in Homestead, stars in Sundance Channel's "The Red Road" (Feb. 27).

Despite a career that's included TV ("As the World Turns") and producing a Broadway hit ("Spring Awakening"), "The Red Road" marks Ms. Tunie's first time starring in a TV series from its start. And she made her first trip to the Television Critics Association press tour to discuss why this role held particular appeal.

"The Red Road" is a dramatic thriller about a sheriff in a town outside New York City and the neighboring, federally unrecognized American Indian tribe.

Ms. Tunie plays the mother of a tribe member (Jason Momoa, "Game of Thrones") who returns home just in time to get caught up in intrigue.

"I wanted to grab a hold of that character and play that role," Ms. Tunie said. "Her ancestry is very similar to my own. I have Native American blood, African blood, European blood. For the first time, a role was presented to me that completely embraced my entire DNA makeup, and I was very excited about being able to embrace that part of my heritage and portray it on screen."

I'll have more with Ms. Tunie next month.

Harper in Up movie

Valerie Harper, diagnosed with cancer early last year, stars in the cable movie "The Town That Came A-Courtin' " at 7 p.m. Sunday on the cable network Up (formerly GMC). She plays a B&B owner in a small town where residents try to set a visiting author (Lauren Holly) up with the town mayor (Cameron Bancroft).

At a press conference Saturday, Ms. Harper said she's feeling well.

"There's so many people that have cancer that are out there suffering terribly. I have no side effects, very few, and my brain scans keep improving," she said. "I was supposed to be dead by Easter, and here it is 2014. ... It's incurable and it's terminal, but aren't we all? "

Ms. Harper said her husband encouraged her to take the role offered in the Up movie.

"My husband made me do the movie because, he said, 'Val, we have to see if you can work.' Because I was sitting around and watching television," she said, "and it was important that I see."

Up's description of the film, based on a novel by Ronda Rich, has a bit of a dark, "Misery"-like overlay -- the author gets kidnapped by an obsessed fan in the midst of all the romantic cuteness -- but the trailer for the film is all sweetness and light, mirroring Ms. Harper's attitude.

"I had a very positive mom and just a great, great solid mom and dad," she said. "And I've always thought that life is here to have fun, and to meet people. And I've been always kind of on the positive side of things. But this really brings you up short, when you hear that you have limited time, because then you don't want to waste it. That's my message to everybody: Don't waste the time, because you don't know when you're going to get either a diagnosis like this or some other challenge in your life."

Whither 'Ripper Street'?

Season two of BBC America's "Ripper Street" debuts at 9 p.m. Feb. 22 and after that there's a big question mark hovering over the show's future.

The BBC canceled the series after season two, but there are reports that there might be efforts to keep it going with another producing partner.

BBC America senior vice president of programming Richard De Croce said the show's obituary should not yet be written.

"There are a lot of conversations going on about the potential ways the show can return," Mr. De Croce continued. "We're big fans of 'Ripper.' We really, really love the show and if we can bring it back, we will do so."

On the web

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

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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