Tuned In From Hollywood: BBC America's 'Ripper Street' leads to crime days of yore

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PASADENA, Calif. -- Fans of BBC America's "Copper" may recognize at least the setup of the network's new British import, "Ripper Street" (9 p.m. Saturday).

Set in London's East End just after Jack the Ripper's reign of terror, "Ripper Street" features an inspector, Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen, "MI-5"), who gets assistance from Capt. Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg), an American expatriate forensics expert.

But where "Copper" is dark and serialized, "Ripper Street," although still following the investigations of brutal crimes, is somehow lighter and less twisty. The characters don't have the same elaborate, burdensome back stories. But thematically -- the investigator, aided by a medical expert as they trod cobblestone streets -- "Ripper" has undeniable similarities to "Copper," which was renewed last fall for a second season.

"Ripper Street" is decent enough entertainment that's most likely to appeal to fans of procedural crime dramas, viewers who gravitate toward CBS shows but don't mind wading through sometimes thick British accents.

At a press conference earlier this month at the Television Critics Association winter press tour, "Ripper Street" executive producer Will Gould said the series is set in a time of great change for police work.

"We're 10 years away, I think, from Scotland Yard using fingerprinting," he said. "There's so many things just out of reach, but so many things they're experimenting with. ... I always thought one of the most interesting things about Reid was that he was always convinced that if tomorrow's technology had been here today, they would have got the Ripper. They just didn't have the resources. They didn't have the things they needed to get that guy. And that was, obviously, a big kind of cloud hanging over them all."

"Ripper Street" creator Richard Warlow said the show's first season features through-lines for the lead characters, but each episode has a stand-alone crime that is solved.

"The whole idea for us setting out on this journey was to really try and actually discard Jack the Ripper, at least in terms of wondering who he was and trying to catch him or any of those things," Mr. Warlow said. "What we wanted to do really was to tell stories about the streets down which he walked and committed his crimes in the wake of those terrible murders, and how it affected the community and, most importantly, the police that tried and failed to catch him."

For Mr. Macfadyen, the series' star, "Ripper Street" offers the opportunity to play a character who doesn't conform to some stereotypes of the genre.

"What I found interesting is that he wasn't a sort of stock detective character," said Mr. Macfadyen. "He's a very freethinking, forward-looking kind of man, not a sort of jaded 'seen it all' copper."

Carrie meets Andy?

The CW's "Sex and the City" prequel "The Carrie Diaries" debuted Monday with disappointing ratings (just 1.6 million viewers). The show looks at how Carrie Bradshaw became Carrie Bradshaw; how her high school and early life in Manhattan shaped the future viewers already saw on "Sex and the City."

Executive producer Amy B. Harris, who previously wrote for "Sex and the City," compared her approach to "The Carrie Diaries" to that of a former CW series.

"I really saw this as an origin story. Look at 'Smallville,' which I think is a very good example, where you're meeting Clark Kent before he realizes he has super powers," she said. "If you're meeting Carrie Bradshaw, I wanted to meet her before she had sex, before she fell in love, and before she met Manhattan. ... Let's set her on those paths, and Manhattan was such a huge part of it, I really wanted to explore that in the first season."

In Monday's pilot, viewers met young Carrie's friends, none with the names Miranda, Samantha or Charlotte. But those "Sex and the City" characters might be introduced in the future.

"My whole thing when we first started developing this series was let's get to know Carrie," Ms. Harris said. "It's obviously a new actor playing a very iconic role that was so beautifully filled by Sarah Jessica [Parker], and I felt like let's get to know Carrie, see her world really develop, this new world that we're in. And then, yes, I've definitely thought about different ways that we will meet her three other friends."

Because "The Carrie Diaries" is a period piece set partially in Manhattan in the 1980s, Pittsburgh native Andy Warhol might show up. One character works for his magazine, Interview.

"Andy is looming large," Ms. Harris said. "He's sort of like the Charlie of 'Charlie's Angels' for us. He's definitely going to be talked about and around in the universe. Whether we end up casting someone or he's the sort of the man behind the scenes, we haven't decided."

She said the reason she's unsure about having Warhol appear in "The Carrie Diaries" is that it could come off badly.

"I just don't want it to feel cheesy," Ms. Harris said. "I want it to be really fun and authentic. In a way, the fun of it so far has been that he looms large as this person she's never gotten to meet or seen. If it feels like down the road, OK we want to see him, then we'll write him in."

'Masterpiece' producer to visit WQED

Rebecca Eaton, the executive producer of PBS's "Masterpiece," will visit WQED for a $150-per-ticket fundraiser at 6:30 p.m. Thursday ($100 per ticket is tax-deductible).

Billed as "An Evening With Downton Abbey Season 3," the event will feature cocktails, dinner, several performances and a Michael Bartley interview with Ms. Eaton.

At the TV critics winter press tour this week, Ms. Eaton said she visits PBS stations two to four times per year to talk about the series, answer questions and stump for the "Masterpiece" Trust.

The Trust has a minimum donation of $25,000 and is used to pay for "Masterpiece" programming. If the donor is a member of a PBS station, half the donation goes to the local station and the other half to "Masterpiece."

"It's to ensure the program's future," Ms. Eaton said. "We need the money to buy programs."

Ms. Eaton can occasionally be seen on awards shows accepting accolades on behalf of "Masterpiece" programs, including at last year's Golden Globes when "Downton" won the award for best TV movie/miniseries.

Tickets to the Pittsburgh fundraiser are still available. Contact Josh Lilly at 412-622-1527 to make reservations.

Channel surfing

Lifetime has canceled "Drop Dead Diva" after four seasons. The final episode aired last year. ... AMC has now officially un-canceled "The Killing," announcing the drama will return for a 12-episode third season that will follow (and conclude) a single murder case. ... HBO's "Real Time With Bill Maher" returns for its 11th season tonight at 10. ... Syfy has canceled its drama series "Alphas" after two seasons. ... Betty White will get a second chance to celebrate her 90th birthday in the new special "Betty White's 2nd Annual 90th Birthday Special" (8 p.m. Feb. 5). ... "Raising America With Kyra Phillips," a look at news through a parental lens, will air noon to 2 p.m. weekdays on HLN starting Feb. 4.

Tuned In online

Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions about "Episodes," "The Big C" and a WPXI meteorologist. This week's Tuned In Journal includes posts on "Dexter," PBS programming, "Ghost Mine," "Archer," "King of the Nerds" and "Legit." 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 broadcast network shows, including ABC's "Zero Hour," NBC's "Do No Harm," Fox's "The Following" and The CW's "The Carrie Diaries." Subscribe or listen at http://old.post-gazette.com/podcast.

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A portion of this column originally appeared online in the Tuned In Journal blog. Follow RobOwenTV at Twitter or Facebook. You can reach him at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. First Published January 18, 2013 5:00 AM


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