Tuned In: AMC's 'Halt' shows promise

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Whether viewers will give AMC’s “Halt and Catch Fire” (10 p.m. Sunday) a chance may depend on several factors, including:

■ How willing they are to check out a series with an inscrutable title that makes it sound like a cop or war show.

■ Their endurance level related to jerky lead characters.

The series, about the burgeoning personal computing industry circa 1983, begins somewhat inauspiciously as self-confident, somewhat obnoxious former IBM executive Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace, “Pushing Daisies”) runs over an innocent armadillo near the Texas state capitol in Austin before having sex with a comely young computer programmer, Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis), in the midst of what’s essentially a job interview.

“This doesn’t mean you get the job,” he tells her after he’s spent.

“Wow, you mean we’re not in love?” she retorts.

One point for the punky blonde.

MacMillan, an arrogant, natural salesman, buffaloes his way into a job with Dallas-based Cardiff Electric and shows his chops in a sales meeting Don Draper-style.

“Are you ready to be more?” he says to his potential client, daring them to say no to his pitch. It’s at this point that MacMillan becomes, maybe not more sympathetic, but he does earn audience respect by showing off his skills.

MacMillan takes a calculated interest in computer engineer Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy, “Argo”), whose past failures have left him in shambles. But Gordon still yearns to create, which plays right into MacMillan’s plan to reverse engineer an IBM PC for the purpose of building a better clone.

“Halt and Catch Fire” examines the passion Gordon has for invention and how he founders without opportunity and revives once presented with MacMillan’s secret project, even if it does get both men in trouble with their boss, John Bosworth (Toby Huss, “The New Adventures of Pete and Pete”).

There’s a growing propulsiveness to “Halt and Catch Fire” as the pilot moves along. It’s reminiscent of the high-drama of business dealings viewers see regularly in “The Good Wife” and just as addictive.

But Sunday’s premiere doesn’t give a great sense of what the show will be on a weekly basis – a business drama with a side of humanity about following one’s passion, perhaps? – though it definitely leaves viewers curious about what comes next.

Wanting more of a show that ends without viewers checking the time midway through is the hallmark of a series that shows promise. But it’s not necessarily a promise of future quality.

AMC made only one episode available for review; most prestige cable networks send out at least a few episodes (sometimes critics even get the majority of the show’s first season). So is AMC trying to hide subsequent episodes? Does the quality dip precipitously in episode two? Viewers will have to tune in to find out.

As for the show’s title, turns out it’s an early computer code that sent a computer into a race condition from which it could not recover. The title works poetically in capturing the tone of the early PC race to succeed, but as a sales tool for a TV show that title will be meaningless, and worse, confusing, to most potential viewers.

Perhaps to help goose curiosity, the “Halt” pilot already is available for viewing on AMC.com, cable video on demand services and on Tumblr (http://amctv.tumblr.com).

TCA Awards nominations

Nominees for the 30th annual Television Critics Association Awards came out this week and winners will be revealed July 19 during the summer TCA press tour.

Here’s who’s up for honors:

Individual Achievement in Comedy

Louis C.K., “Louie” (FX)

Mindy Kaling, “The Mindy Project” (Fox)

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep” (HBO)

Jim Parsons, “The Big Bang Theory” (CBS)

Amy Poehler, “Parks and Recreation” (NBC)

Individual Achievement in Drama

Bryan Cranston, “Breaking Bad” (AMC)

Julianna Margulies, “The Good Wife” (CBS)

Tatiana Maslany, “Orphan Black” (BBC America)

Matthew McConaughey, “True Detective” (HBO)

Matthew Rhys, “The Americans” (FX)

Outstanding Achievement in News and Information

“CBS Sunday Morning” (CBS)

“Cosmos” (Fox)

“The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” (Comedy Central)

“Frontline” (PBS)

“60 Minutes” (CBS)

Outstanding Achievement in Reality Programming

“The Amazing Race” (CBS)

“RuPaul's Drag Race” (Logo)

“Shark Tank” (ABC)

“Survivor” (CBS)

“The Voice” (NBC)

Outstanding Achievement in Youth Programming

“Adventure Time” (Cartoon Network)

“Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood” (PBS)

“The Fosters” (ABC Family)

“Sesame Street” (PBS)

“Switched at Birth” (ABC Family)

Outstanding New Program

“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (Fox)

“Fargo” (FX)

“Orange Is the New Black” (Netflix)

“Sleepy Hollow” (Fox)

“True Detective” (HBO)

Outstanding Achievement in Movies, Miniseries and Specials

“American Horror Story: Coven” (FX)

“Broadchurch” (BBC America)

“Fargo” (FX)

“The Returned” (SundanceTV)

“True Detective” (HBO)

Outstanding Achievement in Drama

“The Americans” (FX)

“Breaking Bad” (AMC)

“Game of Thrones” (HBO)

“House of Cards” (Netflix)

“The Good Wife” (CBS)

Outstanding Achievement in Comedy

“The Big Bang Theory” (CBS)

“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (Fox)

“Louie” (FX)

“The Mindy Project” (Fox)

“Veep” (HBO)

Career Achievement Award

Mark Burnett

James Burrows

Valerie Harper

Jay Leno

William Shatner

Heritage Award

“Lost” (ABC)

“Saturday Night Live” (NBC)

“South Park” (Comedy Central)

“Star Trek” (NBC)

“Twin Peaks” (ABC)

Program of the Year

“Breaking Bad” (AMC)

“Game of Thrones” (HBO)

“The Good Wife” (CBS)

“Orange Is the New Black” (Netflix)

“True Detective” (HBO)

August Wilson doc delayed

PBS’s “American Masters” documentary on playwright August Wilson, a co-production involving Pittsburgh’s WQED, will likely air in February 2015, though an official premiere date has not yet been announced.

A September premiere was never formally announced but was bandied about. The move to early 2015 was made to best accommodate PBS’s schedule. A February premiere would also position the film in Black History Month.

Lubinsky’s latest

Locally based PBS pledge producer T.J. Lubinsky’s latest special, “My Music: ‘50s & ‘60s Party Songs,” debuts at 7 p.m. Saturday on WQED-TV. Mr. Lubinsky hosts the special with Chubby Checker and the show features reunions of the bands Danny & The Juniors and The Dovells.

Mr. Lubinsky said Chubby Checker, originator of “The Twist,” drove to Pittsburgh to record portions of the program locally.

Channel surfing

Reruns of premium cable Starz’s “Spartacus” will air on Syfy beginning at 10 p.m. June 26. … TBS canceled “The Pete Holmes Show” after two seasons; it ends its run June 19. … Ken Burns’ latest documentary, “The Roosevelts,” won’t air until the week of Sept. 14, but PBS will offer a preview, hosted by actress Patricia Clarkson, at 8 p.m. June 17. … Fox will burn off unaired episodes of canceled, good-natured comedy “Enlisted” Sundays at 7 p.m. beginning this weekend. … Canadian drama import “Heartland” returns to cable’s UP (formerly GMC) for new weekly episodes beginning next week at 9 p.m. Wednesday. … Sunday at 9 p.m. cable’s Pivot will air a condensed version of the Peabody Awards, which were handed out May 19 and include awards acceptances by Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”), Ken Burns and cast members from “The Bridge” and “Orange is the New Black.” ... TVLine.com reports CBS has pulled the five remaining unaired episodes of canceled sitcom “Friends with Better Lives” and seven remaining unaired episodes of canceled “Bad Teacher” from its lineup in favor of reruns of sitcoms that were renewed. … Disney XD ordered a second season of live-action series “Mighty Med” to air this fall. … Late-night E! chat show “Chelsea Lately” will end Aug. 26 with a live, one-hour farewell episode. … Danny McBride (“Eastbound & Down”) will return to HBO as a high school administrator in the comedy series “Vice Principals.” … TLC debuts an update special, “Kate Plus Eight: Sextuplets Turn 10,” at 10 p.m. June 19. … GolfChannel.com/DearArnie is collecting viewer-submitted videos through Dec. 31 of personal stories about Latrobe native Arnold Palmer for use in an upcoming fourth installment of the docuseries “Arnie.” ... Kevin Reilly, the top programming executive at Fox who declared an end to pilot season in January, announced Thursday he will leave the network by the end of June following a TV season where Fox lost in the age 18-49 demo to a resurgent NBC. No replacement was named. 


Tuned In online

Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions about “Survivor,” “The First 48: Missing Persons” and “Revolution.” This week's Tuned In Journal includes posts on “Night Shift,” “Crossbones,” “Undateable,” the TCA Awards and “Love Finds You at Sugar Creek.” Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.

This week's podcast includes conversation about “Mad Men,” “Gang Related” and summer TV. 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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