There is some magic in the look of Starz's "Magic City" (10 tonight) but not as much in the characters and storytelling -- at least not at the outset.
Finally in the third episode lead character Ike Evans (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, "Grey's Anatomy") starts to come into better focus. But "Magic City" is unlikely to grab and hook viewers immediately.
In part, that's because the look of the show, set in 1959 at a Miami Beach hotel, brings to mind "Mad Men." When "Mad Men" put this era on display, it was new for TV. The "Mad Men" aesthetic was backed up by complicated characters of depth. The "Magic City" characters, while not cardboard cutouts, cannot compare.
Comparisons to "Mad Men," as obvious as they are inevitable, are not altogether fair to "Magic City," which tells the story of Ike, owner of Miami Beach's Miramar Playa Hotel, which itself is a mid-century modern sight to behold. Both the interior and exterior of the hotel look period-perfect in production designer Carlos Barbosa's attention to detail. There's even a fantastic gimmick in the hotel's basement Atlantis Lounge, which has porthole windows that offer a view of swimmers underwater in the hotel pool.
Ike seems generally well-intended, but he's also guilt ridden, dreaming at the outset of dozens of bodies floating underwater, weighted down so they don't surface. It turns out to be a premonition that leads to more guilt-inspired dreams and behavior down the road.
Ike can chalk up his Tony Soprano-like fever dreams to going into business with mobster Ben "The Butcher" Diamond (Danny Huston, "The Aviator"), a ruthless thug whose wives tend to "die in childbirth" when he tires of them. He's also not the best caretaker of pets (animal lovers, you've been warned).
The latest Mrs. Diamond, Lily (Jessica Marais), puts the moves on Ike's son, Stevie (Steven Strait, "Sky High"), who is the family bad/stupid boy. His brother, Danny (Christian Cooke, "Demons"), is the good boy who pines for hotel maid Mercedes (Dominik Garcia-Lordo).
Starz aired a sneak peek at the "Magic City" pilot March 30 after the "Spartacus: Vengeance" season finale, and the show slips into its regular time slot tonight at 10 with its premiere episode. In addition, the first three episodes are being made available at www.starz.com/magiccity and other outlets (Xfinitytv.com, directv.com, dishonline.com, Verizon.com/fios).
That's probably a smart and necessary move because it takes until the third episode to start to understand and appreciate Ike and his background.
The first two episodes offer limited insight on Ike's marriage to younger wife Vera (Olga Kurylenko, "Quantum of Solace"), an unfortunate choice on the part of series creator/writer Mitch Glazer ("Scrooged"). By episode three there's more detail filled in on Ike's first wife and how he built the Miramar, but will viewers stick around that long through a somewhat slow-moving series that frustrates with its lack of coherent character introductions?
While some aspects of the "Magic City" characters and their relationships are handled sloppily, others are too on the nose. When Ben Diamond tells Ike the story of the scorpion and the frog -- a character-defining cliche at this point -- it's an invitation to quit the show right then and there.
Starz ordered eight episodes for the first season of "Magic City" and already has ordered 10 more episodes for a second season to air in 2013. Starz executives have made that gamble before for better and worse -- ordering second seasons of "Spartacus" (for better) and "Boss" (for worse, at least ratings-wise) before they premiered.
AMC previews its new reality series "The Pitch" at 11 p.m. Sunday after "Mad Men." It's a true docu-series about ad agencies competing for client business. There's little of the obvious manipulation found in so many reality shows; it's pretty much a look at the creative process of brainstorming and pitching advertisements that viewers see the characters involved in on "Mad Men," only in contemporary form.
It's actually a pretty interesting show -- a business competition series without the gimmicks of "Undercover Boss," "Shark Tank" or "The Apprentice." "The Pitch" is a stripped-down show that is truly about the ad-making process.
Two ad agencies meet with a client and get an idea of what that company is looking for in an ad campaign and then go to work creating pitches that they'll eventually trot out in front of the clients. One ad agency gets the job, the other does not.
Sunday's episode features two agencies competing to land an account promoting breakfasts at Subway. One agency is known for more quirky, offbeat campaigns; the other more straightforward fare.
Viewers see the brainstorming that sometimes leads senior managers to roll their eyes at the spit-balling by junior creative executives -- not every idea is a peach, but that's to be expected. (The fact that Subway executives choose the less innovative, catchy ad is an added disappointment.)
But "The Pitch" offers a view into the process of creating advertising that's not often seen by the public. If that's of interest, "The Pitch" is probably worth catching.
After Sunday's preview, the full season will begin airing on AMC at 9 p.m. April 30.
When NBC's "Smash" began airing in February, the network launched a "Make a Musical" contest with a winning school getting help with its theater program.
Beaver Falls Middle School made the contest's Top 20 and voting is under way at www.juniortheaterproject.org/portfolio/video-example through May 4.
The winning school will get rights to perform a musical, two classes, advice from a local project adviser, two teacher stipends and a technical theater fund.
Do you feel like any show you get attached to gets canceled? But you also feel like everything else on TV is junk?
You're not the only one.
And that's why for 14 years the Post-Gazette has offered readers the chance to vote in the annual Keep or Cancel? poll.
Over the years we've added networks as more cable channels have expanded into original, scripted cable programming. And at the end of the poll there's an opportunity to have your say on what you love and hate about TV.
Voting in the Post-Gazette's annual Keep or Cancel? poll is now under way at post-gazette.com/tv.
MTV2 will launch "Hip Hop Squares," a new take on "Hollywood Squares," on May 22 with assorted celebs on board, including Pittsburgh rap star Mac Miller and Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Bowl linebacker LaMarr Woodley. ... Cast members from Fox's "Glee" visit Bravo's "Inside the Actors Studio" at 8 p.m. Monday. ... NBC's "30 Rock" will do its second live episode at 8:30 p.m. April 26. ... Fox has renewed "Bones" for an eighth season to air this fall. ... The second season premiere of HBO's "Game of Thrones" drew the show's highest ratings yet, garnering 3.9 million viewers, a 74 percent increase from its series debut last year, according to Entertainment Weekly. ... But AMC's "The Killing" got, er, killed, with 1.8 million viewers, a 33 percent lower viewer turnout than its first-season premiere, per EW.com. ... Discovery-owned Planet Green flopped as a cable network, so on May 28 it will relaunch as Destination America, a network devoted to celebrating "the stories of America's past, present and future" with shows that include "BBQ Pitmasters," "Fast Food Mania" and "Ghost Town Gold." ... "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest will report for NBC's prime-time coverage of the Olympics this summer in London. ... The New York Post reports TLC is developing another show like UPN's "Amish in the City." This time five Amish from Pennsylvania and Ohio will be transported to New York City for "Breaking Amish," which is scheduled to air later this year.
Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions about "Private Practice," "Mad Men" and "Little People, Big World." This week's Tuned In Journal includes posts on "SavageU," "Holliston," "Scandal" and "Being Elmo." Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.
This week's podcast includes conversation about "Game of Thrones," "Great Expectations," "The Killing" and "Dance Moms." Subscribe or listen at post-gazette.com/podcast.
TV writer Rob Owen: email@example.com or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook for breaking TV news.