Tuned In: CBS stands by 'Intelligence'

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PASADENA, Calif. -- Ratings for CBS's "Intelligence" plummeted in its time slot premiere Monday, drawing just 6.1 million viewers. That was after last week's strong premiere -- 16.6 million when it aired behind "NCIS."

CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler acknowledged that 10 p.m. Monday is a tougher time slot against NBC hit "The Blacklist." But the network intends to stick with "Intelligence" as it did "Hostages," which aired all its episodes despite low ratings in the same time period.

Josh Holloway ("Lost") stars in "Intelligence" as Gabriel, an operative with a microchip in his brain that connects him to the Internet. The pilot introduced the notion that Gabriel's missing wife, Amelia, might still be alive but possibly a terrorist. This week's episode seemed to wrap up that story quicker than viewers have come to expect from broadcast network shows that tend to string out such mysteries. Gabriel's wife appeared to die in an explosion, although no body was shown.

"We liked the storyline and liked the surprise of it and thought let's surprise the audience early on," said executive producer Michael Seitzman, who said he was inspired by the British show "Spooks," which killed off a central character in its second episode. "You want to make the audience lean in and make them worry anything could happen at any time."

He also cited a practical reason: "We didn't want Gabriel to spend the whole season hunting his wife because he couldn't focus on anything else. It freed up the character."

But then he added that the storyline may not be completely wrapped up. Since viewers never saw a body, could the wife still be alive?

After the press conference Mr. Seitzman said they did write and film scenes that showed Amelia escaping from the room and surviving the explosion.

"While we had the sets built and while we had the actress we shot a couple of things so if we do come back to [that storyline we have options]," he said. "I'll leave it to you guys to wonder what that was."

Monday's episode repeats on Saturday and next week's episode brings back other characters introduced in the pilot, including a rival intelligence agent who also has a chip in her brain.

The chip-in-the-brain conceit brings to mind NBC's late "Chuck," but producers said they never saw that show and were more influenced by real-life news coverage of Google Glass and a "60 Minutes" report by Scott Pelley. "60 Minutes" featured researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and UPMC who implanted electrode arrays in the brain of Whitehall's Jan Scheuermann, who is paralyzed from the neck down, which allowed her to feed herself with a robot arm she controlled with her thoughts. The "60 Minutes" report was referenced in the "Intelligence" pilot.

"There were things along the way we kept stumbling into," Mr. Seitzman said. "The more we read, the more we realize we're not really in science-fiction land as much as science semi-fact."

Pivoting back to Variety shows

For years viewers have been asking, "What happened to the variety show?" And the most logical answer is that it simply mutated into reality competition shows like "American Idol" and "The Voice."

But that's also imprecise. For a program that's more reminiscent of the variety shows of old, you'll have to check out "HitRecord on TV," debuting at 10 p.m. Saturday on Pivot with back-to-back episodes.

Hosted by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the half-hour "HitRecord on TV" is filmed in front of a live studio audience, which gives it a familiar variety show feel, but from there it departs.

The series is based on the hitRECord global online community that works together on assignments to contribute elements that are edited together into a final product.

"Crowdsourcing to me reminds me of like, 'OK, we're designing the new Mountain Dew can, and we want one of you to do it.' And this isn't really that," Mr. Gordon-Levitt said. "What this is is it's a production company, and I direct it, and instead of just hiring a set full of people that happens on a traditional movie set, we open those doors up using the Internet, and anybody can come to our site and contribute to these collaborations that I'm directing. So, yeah, it's not exactly democratic. We call it more of a benevolent dictatorship."

Each episode of the series has a different theme. The premiere is about "first times." Episode two has a theme of fantasy. No. 3 is about trash.

"The format of the show is really different for each episode," Mr. Gordon-Levitt said. "I like television shows that do that. For example, obviously, a very different show but one of my favorites on TV is 'Louie.' And you never know how that show is going to be formatted. Sometimes he has a cold open; sometimes he doesn't have a cold open. Sometimes he spends the whole episode on one plot; sometimes there's three different plots that he tackles in the episode. And that's part of what interests me in sitting down to watch each of his episodes is that it's different, and that's very much the case with our show too."

Pivot is carried locally by Comcast (Channel 292 on traditional Comcast systems and Channel 113 on former Adelphia systems), Verizon's FiOS TV (287) and DirecTV (267).

Revolt and El Rey

Cable network Revolt had a messy launch in October -- messy due to its media roll-out with a promised conference call that was postponed and never rescheduled -- but landed on Comcast in November (Channel 138 on traditional Comcast systems and Channel 145 on former Adelphia systems). It doesn't appear to have satellite carriage at this time but has an active website at revolt.tv. (Weirdly, Revolt is not on Comcast in Philadelphia where there's a much larger market for its content than in Pittsburgh.)

Revolt, co-founded by music impresario Sean Combs, is a culture channel that plays "curated" music videos and covers music news. Revolt adds what it calls its flagship show on Jan. 27. "Revolt Live" (5 p.m. and 8 p.m. daily), hosted by Sibley and DJ Damage, covers music news and the lifestyle around music culture.

"It brings live energy, communication with social media," Sibley said at a Revolt press conference. "We talk to people like we're with them in their homes."

The show will include interviews with music artists and Revolt president Andy Schuon said "Revolt Live" will take a "SportsCenter" approach to music news in its effort to be "the CNN of music."

El Rey, which has yet to launch, may be a more ambitious cable network as it launches with an original scripted drama series. A 24-hour, English-language network, El Rey was created by film director Robert Rodriguez and launched in December. Its generally male-skewing content includes action movies, grindhouse genre, cult action, horror and sci-fi. The network will add reruns of "Starsky & Hutch," "The X-Files" and "Dark Angel" on Feb. 14. In the second half of 2014, El Rey will add lucha libre wrestling produced by Mark Burnett ("Survivor").

On March 11 El Rey will debut the 10-episode "From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series," based on Mr. Rodriguez's 1996 movie. McCandless native Greg Nicotero, an executive producer on "The Walking Dead," will oversee makeup effects. But so far local viewers can only see El Rey if they have DirecTV (Channel 341). El Rey is not carried locally by Comcast or Verizon's FiOS.

At an El Rey press conference, Mr. Rodriguez said "From Dusk Till Dawn" is intended to draw new viewers to El Rey.

"I thought it was a great way to bring in audiences to introduce to the network," he said. "It was a name that was known ... There was so much I wanted to explore in that movie I didn't get to. ... If the film was the short story, this series is the novel."

Mr. Rodriguez said the show will re-tell the movie story and then expand out from there. "From Dusk Till Dawn" stars D.J. Cotrona, Wilmer Valderrama, Adiranne Palicki, Jake Busey, Don Johnson, Lane Garrison and Robert Patrick.

Later in 2014, El Rey will add a second scripted drama, "Matador," from the producers of "Sleepy Hollow." The action-drama will follow popular soccer star Antonio "Matador" Bravo (role not yet cast), also known for his playboy lifestyle off the field. But turns out that's all a cover for his work as a CIA operative.

Both Revolt and El Rey come out of a deal Comcast made with the FCC to support minority-owned networks as part of the approval of the NBC-Comcast merger, so it seems inevitable that El Rey will eventually be available on local Comcast systems.

Channel surfing

Per The Hollywood Reporter, Lisa Kudrow's "Web Therapy" has been renewed for a third season. ... CBS's "Under the Dome" will return at 10 p.m. June 30, and new summer series "Extant" -- Halle Berry plays an astronaut who returns to Earth pregnant; call it "Touched by an Alien" -- debuts at 9 p.m. July 2. ... CBS has renewed its entire daytime lineup -- "Let's Make a Deal," "The Price Is Right," "The Young and the Restless," "The Bold and the Beautiful" and "The Talk" -- for the 2014-15 TV season.

On the Web

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

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