Tuned In from Hollywood: A stream of original programming
Bill Skarsgard, left, and Landon Liboiron investigate a murder in the Netflix original series "Hemlock Grove." Set in a Western Pennsylvania steel town, the series is based on a novel by Brian McGreevy, who grew up near Charleroi.
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PASADENA, Calif. -- Netflix is poised to have its biggest year with multiple original series debuting on its streaming service, including the return of "Arrested Development" and the debut of "Hemlock Grove," which is set in a fictional Western Pennsylvania town.
All 13 "Hemlock Grove" episodes will be available exclusively on the Netflix online streaming service on April 19.
Last spring it looked like "Hemlock" might be the first one-hour drama series to film in Pittsburgh. That didn't pan out when the production pulled up stakes and moved to Toronto.
"Toronto is a great location, has a wonderful steel town sort of feel to it," said executive producer Mark Verheiden ("Battlestar Galactica") at a Netflix press conference Wednesday afternoon during the Television Critics Association winter press tour. "We originally were thinking of shooting elsewhere but ended up in Toronto, and I think it ended up being a good thing for the show because beyond the steel town, there's just this wild variety of just great locations. We're shooting in a fantastic mansion that we found all sorts of interesting places to go there."
Brian McGreevy, who grew up near Charleroi and wrote the novel of the same title that the series is based on, said a mansion in the show was previously used in the Adam Sandler movie "Billy Madison." But all things being equal, Mr. McGreevy would have preferred to film in Pittsburgh. He pulled for it and was crushed when the production moved to Toronto.
Producers did come to Pittsburgh on several weekends last fall to film establishing footage. And on one occasion, two of the show's stars -- Bill Skarsgard and Landon Liboiron -- also came to Pittsburgh to film scenes at Carrie Furnace.
"We shot a lot of second unit there because it was impossible to do the show without incorporating the Pittsburgh topography, and I would have been too utterly heartbroken not to use the Carrie Furnace as a location," said Mr. McGreevy, who also serves as an executive producer on the series with his writing partner, Lee Shipman, and director Eli Roth ("Hotel"). "The funny thing is I actually rewrote the book after getting a tour of Carrie Furnace to use without naming it as such as a location in the book and in the show."
A trailer Netflix released for "Hemlock Grove" includes shots of the Edgar Thomson steel mill in Braddock.
"Hemlock Grove" is a murder mystery set in a steel town. Peter Rumancek (Mr. Liboiron) moves to town at the time of the murder of a 17-year-old girl and joins Roman Godfrey (Mr. Skarsgard), scion of the town's wealthiest family, to investigate the killing.
"There's this sort of assembly of very odd characters, many of whom are harboring some kind of secret or agenda, who all have varying reasons for getting caught up within it," Mr. McGreevy said. In addition, the show has a supernatural element. "There's no shortage of monsters on the show, and they tend to fall into a couple of different varieties, which is the main theme of the show, which is sort of asking the question what separates a human from a monster."
The much-loved comedy "Arrested Development" returns as a Netflix streaming series in May. (As with "Hemlock Grove," to watch "Arrested" it's necessary to subscribe to Netflix to see the show via online streaming.)
The whole "Arrested" cast is back, but characters won't all be featured in every episode. Each of the 14 episodes will be devoted to a different character, although Jason Bateman's Michael Bluth will appear in every episode.
"It didn't seem impossible to me [to bring the show back] until we got into it and realized how impossible it was," said executive producer Mitch Hurwitz. "I just always held out hope this would work out."
Mr. Hurwitz said the Netflix series is in a different form than the old Fox show because it had to be.
"The [Bluth] family grew apart and [all the actors] grew up and got on other shows and had contracts elsewhere," Mr. Hurwitz said. "The only way we could get everybody together for what we'll call loosely an anthology ... was to kind of dedicate each episode to a different character's point of view, and that became a really fun, interesting, engaging, creative challenge, because we started finding out that the stories would intersect. ... It's an evolution for the storytelling that was necessary."
Viewers will be encouraged to watch for same scenes from different points of view in different episodes. Portia de Rossi said her character, Lindsay, interprets something her mother, Lucille (Jessica Walter), says as sarcasm, but viewers who watch will see Lucille meant her words in a different way.
Mr. Bateman said this new batch of episodes should not be considered a fourth season because of the different format. It lays the groundwork for a proposed "Arrested" feature film.
"You cannot and should not compare [these episodes] to what was the series where you had 22 minutes and all the characters in every episode," Mr. Bateman said. "This is something completely different on purpose for the long term and the larger form of the whole story."
Episode length will vary but generally come in at just under 30 minutes.
"I wanted so to work with these people again," Ms. Walter said of her co-stars. "I read the first few scripts, and I've never gone into a writers' room but I had to go to the writers' room and tell them what they accomplished. It's different and beyond anything I could have hoped."
A scene trimmed from the new season shows the series is as crazy as ever with Lucille smoking and blowing smoke into the mouth of Buster (Tony Hale) like a mother bird feeding its baby. Then Buster rushes to the door, opens it and breathes the smoke outside. Then he returns for another hit. If this cut scene is an accurate representation of the actual episodes, "Arrested" looks like it may be as gloriously demented as ever.
ABC exec upbeat
Despite some stinker ratings -- ABC is No. 4 in the key 18-49 demo and No. 3 in total viewers this season -- ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee was generally upbeat in his assessment of the network.
"We were disappointed there were no big, breakout hits on broadcast television," he allowed, "but we were thrilled to see strong [age] 18-34 numbers and want to build our [age] 35-49 numbers."
That problem seems to particularly afflict ABC's "Nashville," a well-reviewed soap that draws younger viewers but not enough middle-age viewers.
"It's a big show for the younger audience 18-34, but there is a sense the [country music backdrop] may be a barrier to entry," Mr. Lee said. "We have young trendsetters loving the show, and we want to use that and the exposure on multiple platforms to build and sustain [a larger audience]."
Spike TV's "The Joe Schmo Show," starring Lawrenceville's Chase Rogan, didn't manage to a crack 1 million viewers in its premiere, drawing an average 662,000 viewers nationally. "Schmo" had a .43 rating in households nationally for its first hour and a .38 for its second. The show performed a little better in Pittsburgh, garnering a .5 rating (about 3,000 local viewers) for both hours.
"Schmo" did better in Philadelphia, which was among the Top 5 markets for the show nationally with a 1.28 rating for its first hour and a 1.30 for its second hour.
Syndicated chat show "Steve Harvey" has been renewed for a second season to air during the 2013-14 TV season and is expected to get an upgrade this fall from late night on WTAE to the 5 p.m. time slot on WPGH in Pittsburgh. ... WQED will debut a six-episode series for parents, "iQ: smartparent," at 8 p.m. Feb. 7 with its first episode, "Learning With Games." Hosted by family physician Deborah Gilboa (aka "Doctor G"), the show aims to equip parents and caregivers with tools to aid their understanding and use of digital media, according to a press release. Future episodes include "Girls Growing Up With Media" and "How TV and Movies Affect Our Kids."
Tuned In online
Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions about "Mike & Molly," "The Lying Game" and ME-TV. This week's Tuned In Journal includes posts on "Justified," "The Following," "Defiance" and "Smash." Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.
This week's podcast from the TV critics press tour includes conversation about upcoming new cable shows, including A&E's "Bates Motel" and Sundance Channel's "Rectify." Subscribe or listen at http://old.post-gazette.com/podcast.
On the web
Read more coverage from the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Tuned In Journal at post-gazette.com/tv.
See a trailer for "Hemlock Grove" with the online version of this column at post-gazette.com/tv.
First Published January 11, 2013 12:00 am