Tuned In: Pittsburgh looks good in 'The Chair'

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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – Starz’s 10-episode “The Chair,” debuting at 10 p.m. Sept. 6, is a love letter to Pittsburgh.

The reality series takes the “Project Greenlight” movie-making competition concept and tweaks it. “The Chair” pits two film directors against one another as they work from the same initial script to make two distinct films about college students returning home at Thanksgiving.

The two films and the TV show chronicling their production filmed in Pittsburgh early this year. The movies will get a short theatrical release in early September and will later air on Starz. Viewers will get to vote on which director deserves to win a $250,000 prize and earn the right to sit in the director’s chair. Voting via an online survey will begin with episode eight of “The Chair.”

Actor and Green Tree native Zachary Quinto (“Star Trek,” “Heroes”) is among the show’s list of more than a dozen producers, including “Project Greenlight” veteran Chris Moore, Steeltown Entertainment Project president Carl Kurlander and WQED president Deb Acklin.

The movies and the TV series used space at Point Park University as production offices during filming and Point Park is one of nine production entities listed in the opening credits of “The Chair.”

First-time directors Shane Dawson, a YouTube star, and former State College resident Anna Martemucci each worked from the same initial script and then essentially reworked the script to make it his or her own. Mr. Dawson’s film is titled “Not Cool;” Ms. Martemucci’s film is “Hollidaysburg.” Mr. Moore said the two directors met in person for the first time at Friday’s Starz press conference.

Mr. Moore produced the 2012 shot-in-Pittsburgh Matt Damon film “Promised Land” and brought the idea of “The Chair” to Mr. Quinto, who was unsure about it at first.

“I had a certain level of skepticism about involving myself in a docuseries but I think the thing I recognized is this show was made with a certain level of creative integrity,” Mr. Quinto said. “It’s truly a documentation, not a manipulation.”

Pittsburgh beauty shots are plentiful in the first two episodes of “The Chair” as is a stalwart defense and promotion of the city.

In one scene, Mr. Quinto tries to talk Mr. Dawson into curtailing the amount of disdain the characters in his film express toward Pittsburgh. He encourages Mr. Dawson to make a character not hate where she’s from but hate that she knows she’s capable of something more.

“I left after I graduated and got as far away as I could go,” Mr. Quinto tells Mr. Dawson. “But I always valued where I came from. It’s a minor thing, take it or leave it. I will support whatever decision you make ultimately.”

Even the backdrops used for talking-head interview scenes will be recognizable to some Pittsburghers: Interviews done with the city in the background were filmed at LeMont on Mt. Washington; interviews done with a brick wall background (and green-trim windows) were shot at The Cork Factory Lofts in The Strip.

“The Chair” was in process before Starz picked it up. Starz CEO Chris Albrecht previously worked with Mr. Moore on HBO’s “Project Greenlight” when Mr. Albrecht ran HBO.

“I thought it was a different take on a theme,” Mr. Albrecht said. “I wanted to see the results. I’ve been doing TV-film stuff for a long time, and it’s the first chance to see the same script directed by two different directors. Especially knowing it’s a by-the-seat-of-the-pants [production], not exactly well-funded, a major Hollywood film sounded like a fun idea and an interesting way for Starz to break out into a new genre for us.”

Another ‘Comeback’

Lisa Kudrow’s “The Comeback,” a comedic faux reality show about washed-up TV actress Valerie Cherish (Lisa Kudrow), was a one-and-done series on HBO back in 2005, much to the dismay of fans.

In November, “The Comeback” makes a comeback on HBO as a six-episode limited series, picking up almost 10 years later as Valerie continues her striving for relevance.

Executive producers Michael Patrick King (“2 Broke Girls”) and Ms. Kudrow said they would discuss what Valerie might be up to when they saw one another socially over the years, but then never discussed the possibility of the series returning until HBO executives floated the idea.

Mr. King said the show’s DNA is the same as in season one – Valerie in front of the camera unedited – but this time the character has evolved a bit. But then she gets cast in a dramedy on HBO.

“She thinks she’s spiritually evolved,” Mr. King said. “We’d all like to think we’re in a different place.”

The new season begins with an update on what’s happened in Valerie’s life and career over the past decade.

“We got to bring back all the characters we thought were essential,” Mr. King said, including actors Malin Ackerman (“Trophy Wife”) and Kellan Lutz (“Twilight”), who have seen their star power rise and return to “The Comeback” as successful, meta versions of themselves.

Although the new season has a beginning, middle and end, Mr. King does not rule out future seasons of “The Comeback” — but nothing more beyond these six is currently planned.

HBO series updates

“Game of Thrones” fans can stop worrying: The show, already renewed for an additional two seasons, will go on even if author George R.R. Martin doesn’t get the next book in the series published in a timely manner.

“We’re not off on our own in respect to at least next season,” said HBO programming president Michael Lombardo. “Every move is choreographed closely with him. Certainly after next year we will have to figure it out with George. His book’s not finished at this point, but we’re not concerned about it.”

Contrary to some reports, there are no discussions about a “GOT” movie, Mr. Lombardo said.

Drama series “Boardwalk Empire” returns for its eight-episode fifth and final season on Sept. 7.

As for the future of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” series star/creator Larry David remains cagey about his willingness to return for another season.

“I saw him recently at an event and he told me what he was doing for the rest of the year and I said, ‘So David, should I emotionally get ‘Curb’ out of my head?’ And he goes, ‘No, no, no, no, no,’” Mr. Lombardo said. “As long as he’s thinking about it, we still have a place for it.”

HBO also announced several new programs including a Mike Nichols-directed adaptation of “Master Class,” playwright Terrence McNally’s Tony award-winning play to star Meryl Streep as opera great Maria Callas.

Queen Latifah will star in a film about legendary blues singer Bessie Smith, “Bessie,” to air in 2015.

HBO will film the final two shows of Beyonce and Jay Z’s On The Run tour Sept. 12 and 13 in Paris for a September debut.

Channel surfing

MTV’s “Finding Carter,” executive produced by Mt. Lebanon native Terri Minsky, got off to a good ratings start for the network becoming MTV’s best-rated scripted premiere in two-and-a-half years and the network’s best premiere among all series in a year-and-a-half. … MTV renewed “Catfish” for a fourth season; “Scrubbing In,” featuring several Western Pennsylvania nurses, has been canceled. … Cable network Pivot’s comedy “Please Like Me” returns for its second season at 10:30 p.m. Aug. 8, and the network has ordered a third season for 2015. … Anticipated Starz fantasy-drama “Outlander” debuts at 9 p.m. Aug. 9, but the first episode will be available for free at Starz.com and via some cable companies starting Aug. 2. … Fox’s “Glee” will consist of just 13 episodes for its final season rather than the standard 22. … WQED’s “Pittsburgh from the Air” follow-up, “Pittsburgh from the Water,” will debut at 8 p.m. Oct. 9. … Oops: In Friday’s column I mentioned “Doctor Who” reruns coming to Retro TV at 8 p.m. on Aug. 4 but got the station wrong. Once upon a time Retro TV was a WPXI digital subchannel, but in 2011 it became a subchannel of WBGN on Channel 59.3.

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

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