Heigl produces new drama in her return to TV


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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – NBC goes into the 2014-15 TV season riding higher than it has in years after leading the 2013-14 TV season in a key demo (viewers ages 18-49) and improving its position among total viewers, rising to No. 2 behind CBS.

Last season’s hit “The Blacklist” will be back Sept. 22 with new episodes on Mondays at 10 p.m., but in November the James Spader drama will take a break before relocating to Thursdays in February to take on ABC hit “Scandal.”

In the place of “Blacklist” on Mondays at 10 p.m. starting Nov. 17, NBC will introduce “State of Affairs,” a new drama starring Katherine Heigl as CIA analyst Charleston Tucker, who gives a daily briefing to the U.S. president (Alfre Woodard).

Ms. Heigl became a star thanks to her role on “Grey’s Anatomy” and in the movie “Knocked Up.” She left “Grey’s” to further her film career, which didn’t pan out, while taking pot shots at the writing on the medical drama that made her career.

Now she’s back and she’s brought her mom with her: Nancy Heigl is an executive producer on “State of Affairs” alongside her daughter, who also has an executive producer credit.

NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke said the actress and her motherc together pitched NBC executives the series, which also has an experienced showrunner in executive producer Ed Bernero (“Criminal Minds”).

“We knew they were a set and worked together in the past,” Ms. Salke said of the Heigls. “They are intertwined in Katie’s personal life, as her momager, as her best friend and confidant and helping raise Katie’s children. I think they have a very natural shorthand. ... She’s not been disruptive in any way.”

Nancy Heigl began as her daughter’s manager, and managers of actors often get executive producer credits on their clients’ shows, a weird but standard TV practice. However, the parent-child scenario is unusual for TV and gets magnified by Katherine Heigl’s somewhat tarnished personal persona.

“She makes us cookies and pours us milk,” Katherine Heigl said of her mother’s role, chuckling.

Nancy Heigl said her participation came about from their past partnership in the business (Nancy Heigl also executive produced Katherine’s shot-in-Pittsburgh movie flop “One for the Money”).

“I am her mother for sure, so of course I care about her interests, but I’m just learning about executive producing,” Nancy Heigl said. “I’m learning from those who really know. It’s been fun and interesting.”

When asked about her reputation as possibly difficult, and if that was an unfair, sexist characterization, Katherine Heigl said only that she didn’t see herself as difficult.

“I would never intend to be difficult and I don’t think my mother sees herself as being difficult,” she said. “It’s important for everyone to conduct themselves professionally and respectfully and kindly. If I have ever disappointed somebody, it was never intentional.”

And with “State of Affairs,” Katherine probably has a greater hurdle to overcome when it comes to drawing an audience for her new series: “Mostly just trying to get people to believe I could be a CIA analyst.”

In other NBC news, the network is still in “active discussions” about the possibility of bringing back “The Maya Rudolph Show,” which aired as a one-shot special in May.

A new season of “Celebrity Apprentice” has been produced but has not yet been scheduled to air.

NBC renewed summer hits “American Ninja Warrior,” “America’s Got Talent” and “Last Comic Standing.” The network also announced Christopher Walken will play Captain Hook in NBC’s “Peter Pan Live!” (Dec. 4). No casting announced for the title role but NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt said Peter Pan will be played by a woman.

NBC continues to develop a new multi-camera sitcom starring Bill Cosby, but it won’t be ready to air until summer or fall 2015.

‘Breaking Bad’ prequel

Right about now you can imagine an AMC executive reaching for the phone and sighing, "Better call Saul."

"Breaking Bad" ended last year. "Mad Men" ends next year. Among the network's remaining scripted shows -- including "Hell on Wheels," "Turn" and "Halt and Catch Fire" -- only "The Walking Dead" is a hit. The others are fairly buzz-less and tend to skew older.

So AMC execs had better hope that "Breaking Bad" spin-off "Better Call Saul," which has already been renewed for a second season (faith or desperation?), brings back those "Breaking Bad" viewers when it debuts in early 2015.

"Saul" executive producers/writers Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, vets of "Breaking Bad," met the press Sunday to offer a preview of the new series at the Television Critics Association summer press tour.

AMC confirmed "Better Call Saul" is set six years before the events in "Breaking Bad" (around 2002), though producers have said the show may jump around in time into the "Breaking Bad" time period or after.

In "Better Call Saul" Saul Goodman is known as Jimmy McGill, a striving, small-time lawyer who works alongside -- and sometimes against -- Mike Erhmantraut (Jonathan Banks). Co-stars include Michael McKean ad Saul's brother Chuck, Rhea Seehorn, Michael Mando and New Cumberland native Patrick Fabian.

Gilligan, who previously worked on the short-lived "X-Files" spin-off "The Lone Gunmen," and Gould acknowledged there are limits on what they can do with the Saul character without invalidating the events of "Breaking Bad," and they see that as their challenge.

"We know where this guy is going, so we can't, for instance, have him lose an arm or an eye," Gilligan said, comparing it to the "Breaking Bad" episode where there was a machine gun in the trunk of Walt's car, which, at the time they wrote that scene, the writers didn't have a plan for how it would be used. "The character you meet in 'Breaking Bad' is the machine gun in the trunk because we know that's where the guy is going to end up. We know we'll bring him to that point."

In addition, they know Saul Goodman is not the name he was born with.

"What problem does being Saul Goodman solve?" Gilligan asked. "That was sort of our kick-off point."

"Better Call Saul" was supposed to debut later this year but Gilligan said he's a slow writer and needed more time, especially after the second-season pick-up.

Producers said other "Bad" characters could return, including Gus (Giancarlo Esposito), though they also want to break new ground so it's not "the series equivalent of a clip show," Gould said.

In addition to "Saul," AMC announced Friday a straight-to-series, six-episode order for a show called "Badlands" for 2015 or 2016. Executive produced by "Smallville" writers Al Gough and Miles Millar, martial arts-themed "Badlands" is based loosely on the Chinese tale "Journey to the West" and is about a warrior and a young boy who travel across land controlled by feudal barons in search of enlightenment.

Orlando leaves KDKA-TV

KDKA-TV reporter Trina Orlando, most recently a weekday morning news reporter for the station, is leaving the CBS affiliate and moving to Chicago.

Ms. Orlando joined KDKA in 2008 as Westmoreland County bureau reporter. She will become a freelance reporter for WMAQ in Chicago, where she said her fiance lives. The pair got engaged in February.

“It was a real treat to work at the station I grew up watching,” she wrote in an e-mail, “but I couldn't be more excited about my new adventure!”

Channel surfing

Fox’s “24” reboot comes to an end tonight at 9. Read more in Tuned In Journal at post-gazette.com/tv. ... Following behind-the-scenes drama, including a possible falling out between the show’s stars Jennette McCurdy and Ariana Grande, Nickelodeon canceled sitcom “Sam & Cat,” according to Deadline.com. ... Hulu.com renewed teen drama “East Los High” for a third season. ... Subscription service Hulu Plus will become the exclusive home of every season of “South Park” beginning when the show debuts its 18th Central on Sept. 24. Until then, the entire library will be available on the free Hulu site. Starting with season 18, fans will have next-day access to episodes at Hulu and Hulu Plus while a revolving selection of free episodes will be available at SouthPark.cc.com.

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. season on Comedy


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