Tuned In: Brookline native's show to air on Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving will be opening night for "Opening Night: An American Panto" (8 and 10 p.m. Thursday, Ovation), the first national program produced by Brookline native Michael DeFilippo.

A panto comes out of the British theater tradition of musical-comedy productions performed during the Christmas holiday season. It has nothing to do with mime and everything to do with creating a somewhat raucous live stage show with audience interaction.

Last holiday season, the Lythgoe family -- patriarch Nigel Lythgoe is a judge on "So You Think You Can Dance?" -- embarked on bringing a panto production to Los Angeles with a rendition of "Snow White."

"Opening Night" takes viewers behind the scenes to unveil how a stage show is put together, cast and rehearsed with attention paid to lighting and costume design. This production starred Marina Sirtis (Deanna Troi on "Star Trek: The Next Generation") as the wicked queen, Lindsay Pearce ("The Glee Project") as Snow White and Neil Patrick Harris as the Magic Mirror.

For Mr. DeFilippo, "Opening Night" offered an introduction to the world of national television production and a way to reconnect with this theater roots while pulling back the curtain for viewers.

"A lot of people have no idea what goes on behind the scenes and we thought this show could be a whole lot of fun," he said. "We didn't want to make it a reality TV show. We wanted to just enjoy it and have fun with the people who are in the theater."

Among the drama Mr. DeFilippo's team captured: An ongoing argument over whether the show's dwarfs, played by children, should wear enormous heads that threaten to topple off their shoulders or masks that look a bit too creepy.

A 1996 graduate of Seton- La Salle High School, Mr. DeFilippo first became interested in the theater world when he was asked to be on the stage crew of Seton La-Salle shows. That led to acting and singing on stage and an internship with the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera.

"My whole family is still in Pittsburgh," he said, including his father, Jim, a Pittsburgh public schools counselor, and his mother, Darlene, a Baldwin schools administrator. "Sometimes I feel like the black sheep for moving out of Pittsburgh."

Mr. DeFilippo studied producing and filmmaking at North Carolina School of the Arts, graduating in 2000. He worked in advertising for alternative weekly newspapers for several years before forming his own Los Angeles-based production company, Warp Factor 2. ("We chose that name because we're big 'Star Trek' fans," Mr. DeFilippo said, "And '2' because the Warp Factor website was already taken and they say, 'Warp Factor 2' all the time on the original show.")

"Opening Night" grew out of "Countdown Los Angeles," a magazine-style show Mr. DeFilippo produced for CBS's Los Angeles affiliate. When an advertiser dropped out, Mr. DeFilippo's team approached the "Snow White" producers about advertising on their program and the idea was hatched to do a program about making the stage show.

Mr. DeFilippo initially pitched "Opening Night" to Bravo, which passed on it.

"They weren't interested because they said it sounded too Disney," Mr. DeFilippo said. "Their actual words were, 'This has too much heart.' They were looking for something more like 'Jersey Shore.' "

The show landed on Ovation, which is carried locally on Comcast (Channel 155 or 946 HD in traditional systems; Channel 251 and 946HD on former Adelphia systems), Verizon's FiOS TV (Channel 188), DirecTV (Channel 274) and Dish Network (Channel 291). (Ovation is not carried by Armstrong.)

Warp Factor 2 would like to make another "Opening Night" program that tracks the creative birth of another stage show but nothing has been set up. In the meantime, Mr. DeFilippo's company has a Web series, "Castlevania: Hymn of Blood," streaming at YouTube.com/start.

WPXI adds 'Weekend Today'

NBC first launched a weekend edition of its "Today" show back in 1987 but in the 25 years since, Pittsburgh's NBC affiliate, Channel 11, has steadfastly refused to add "Weekend Today" to its lineup.

That will change Dec. 1 when WPXI adds "Weekend Today," airing 7-9 a.m. Saturday and 8-9 a.m. Sunday. Local news will begin a half-hour earlier (at 5 a.m.) and air before and after "Weekend Today," running 5-7 a.m. and 9-10:30 a.m. Saturday and 5-8 a.m. and 9-10 a.m. on Sunday.

WPXI general manager Ray Carter said he hasn't had a significant change of heart about weekend news strategy.

"I still believe local news is the preferred offering on weekend mornings," he wrote in an email response. "Over the years, the ratings bore that out. Still, the 'Today' show is a terrific program and we are pleased to be able to bring it to our viewers now. This wouldn't have been possible if we didn't have PCNC as an outlet for local news. We've been able to shift some weekend morning programming to be able to carry local news on PCNC while the 'Today' show is airing on Channel 11."

Mr. Carter said local newscasts on PCNC during "Weekend Today" will be a mix of live reports and repeats from newscasts that aired earlier that morning. He said the timing had nothing to do with requests from NBC.

"No, NBC stopped asking years ago," he said. "No great motivation from the network or viewers. We just felt like the move was a good one and the time was right."

Tamburitzans on WQED

WQED's "Experience" (7:30 p.m. Monday) looks at Duquesne University's Tamburitzan dancers as the group celebrates its 75th anniversary.

The program was produced by Rebecca Jean Wissner-Born, who was a junior Tamburitzan, and videographer-editor Frank Caloiero, who performed with the group from 1988-92.

WPXI's holiday parade telecast

Channel 11 will air the 32nd Annual My Macy's Holiday Parade live 9-11 a.m. Nov. 24 with WPXI personalities David Johnson, Peggy Finnegan, Jennifer Abney and Alby Oxenreiter covering the parade.

This year's celebrity parade guests include '70s recording artists Chairmen of the Board ("Give Me Just a Little More Time"), "America's Got Talent" winners Michael Grimm and Bianca Ryan, Steelers Hall of Famer Franco Harris and Buddy the dog of "Air Bud" fame.

An encore of the parade will air on PCNC at 8 p.m. Nov. 24. Details at pittsburghparade.com.

Christmas TV listings

The Post-Gazette's annual list of TV Christmas specials will be published in the Magazine section Nov. 23, the day after Thanksgiving.

Recipes sought

WQED's "QED Cooks" will air a new marathon, "Grandma's Kitchen Wisdom" (10 a.m. Dec. 1), and the station is seeking recipes, stories and tips through Nov. 26. Submit them to recipes@wqed.org or by mail to Grandma's Kitchen Wisdom, WQED, 4802 Fifth Ave., Pittsburgh, Pa., 15213.

Renewals galore

ABC has ordered a full first season of Wednesday night soap "Nashville," NBC has done the same for its Wednesday night drama "Chicago Fire," and The CW reupped it supernatural show "Beauty and the Beast" for a 22-episode first season.

FX renewed "American Horror Story" for a third season to air in fall 2013 with actress Jessica Lange returning to play yet another character. Comedy Central has ordered a six-episode second season of "The Burn With Jeff Ross," which will begin airing Jan. 8.

Syfy has renewed "Haven" for a 13-episode fourth season and Comedy Central ordered a 13-episode second season of "Brickleberry" to air in 2013.

Investigation Discovery ordered a second season of the Susan Lucci-hosted "Deadly Affairs," E! renewed "Married to Jonas" for a second season to air next spring and TV Land ordered a sophomore season of its sitcom "The Soul Man."

Meanwhile, MTV is re-activating its 2005-07 improv comedy show "Nick Cannon Presents Wild 'N Out" for new episodes to air on MTV2 in 2013.

Channel surfing

Hurricane Sandy has inspired a raft of specials, including "Superstorm 2012: Hell and High Water" (9 p.m. Sunday, History) and "Superstorm 2012" (7 p.m. Sunday, National Geographic Channel). ... Susanne Daniels, who ran programming at The WB during that defunct network's heyday, has replaced David Janollari as head of programming at MTV after Mr. Janollari, a former CW executive, opted not to renew his contract. ... PCN will air a "PCN Tours" marathon on Thanksgiving Day with visits to Range Resources Natural Gas in Canonsburg (11:45 a.m.), Crayola crayons in Easton (1 p.m.) and the Hershey's Chocolate Factory in Hershey (1:35 p.m.). ... Louis CK (FX's "Louie") will star in a new one-hour stand-up special for HBO to air in 2013. ... Reruns of "Fringe" will air on Science with three episodes every Tuesday beginning Nov. 20 at 8 p.m. ... Smithton native Shirley Jones ("The Partridge Family") will guest star on the fourth season of TBS's "Cougar Town," which returns at 10 p.m. Jan. 8. ... The Amish continue to be fodder for cable series. The latest is Discovery Channel's "Amish Mafia" (10:30 p.m. Dec. 11) about Amish men who protect their Lancaster County community. ... Nickelodeon's "iCarly" will end its five-season fun with a one-hour series finale at 8 p.m. Nov. 23. ... Sunday at 12 p.m. WQED will air "It's Pittsburgh & a lot of Other Stuff: Best of Season One."

Tuned In online

Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions about CBS shows on demand, background music and TV commercial volume. This week's Tuned In Journal includes posts on "Nashville," "Catfish," "LOLwork" and "Wolf Lake." Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.

This week's podcast includes conversation about "Firefly," "The Good Wife" and the prospect of a new "Star Wars" TV series. 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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