Tuned In: 'Supah Ninjas,' filmed in Pittsburgh, set to air

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Nickelodeon's "Supah Ninjas" spent several months last summer filming its second season at 31st Street Studios in the Strip District, and these Pittsburgh-produced episodes will begin airing on the cable channel at 8:30 p.m. Saturday.

A live-action, scripted adventure series, "Supah Ninjas" follows three teens -- Mike (Ryan Potter), an awkward high schooler who learns he's descended from a long line of ninjas; best friend Owen (Carlos Knight); and Amanda (Gracie Dzienny), Mike's longtime crush -- who receive guidance from a hologram of Mike's dead grandfather (George Takei, "Star Trek").

The series was created by Leo Chu and Eric Garcia. Mr. Garcia grew up in Bethel Park and Upper St. Clair, and he's a 1986 graduate of Upper St. Clair High School. He was excited to bring his TV series back to his hometown.

'Supah Ninjas' debuts on Nickelodeon

Pittsburgh-filmed "Supah Ninjas" debuts Saturday on Nickelodeon. (Video courtesy of Nickelodeon; 2/8/2013)

Troy Polamalu featured in documentary

Steelers safety Troy Polamalu is featured in the USA documentary, "NFL Characters Unite," airing Feb. 8. NFL players are profiled, telling stories designed to help combat prejudice and discrimination. (2/8/2013)

"Overall the experience was pretty fantastic," Mr. Garcia said in a phone interview last week. "Everything went smoothly, and we are very happy with the product. I think the crew there is truly fantastic. ... For me, personally, being from Pittsburgh, there's so much work ahead when you start that there's a kind of giddiness when you realize, I am really doing this: Shooting my show in my hometown. It was controlled excitement for four months."

While Pittsburgh has had pilot episodes and scenes from prime-time shows filmed locally, "Supah Ninjas" is the first TV series to be filmed locally that I can remember since the end of production on "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" in 2000.

Mr. Garcia said filming outside a production center (New York, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Toronto) posed no difficulties when it came to securing equipment. If anything was a challenge, it was finding clothing for the cast to wear.

"We have great seamstresses and a great team, but a lot of shows are done in California, and everything is available all the time," he said, noting that out-of-season clothes were more difficult to find in Pittsburgh. "You can get stuff online, but that's not the same as having a [production assistant] run out to get something in Orange County if you have to."

One of the challenges for getting TV shows to film in Pittsburgh is that established actors often don't want to be away from their homes for nine months of the year. A cable show with a shorter episode order or a network series with a less experienced cast (that wields less leverage on decisions such as filming location) is probably an easier fit for a non-production-center city. "Supah Ninjas" fit neatly in both categories.

Mr. Garcia said the show's cast enjoyed its Pittsburgh experience, especially Ms. Dzienny, who was able to film closer to her hometown of Toledo, Ohio.

"We missed some of our favorite restaurants in L.A., but we all found some other new favorites in Pittsburgh," Mr. Garcia said. "It had a summer camp feeling."

He tried to visit his parents -- D.A. Garcia and Toby Garcia -- in the South Hills as often as possible, when he wasn't spending weekends rewriting scripts.

Mr. Garcia praised the show's locally hired actors, including some recent Carnegie Mellon University graduates, and local actor Randy Kovitz ("Parks and Recreation"), who served as acting coach for the young cast.

"He would help our kids run lines and just kind of guide them," Mr. Garcia said. "He's a great teacher and has great insights, and he was a joy to have on set for all of us."

Viewers should not expect to see a lot of Pittsburgh in "Supah Ninjas," which mostly filmed on the 31st Street stages. Filming outside, on location, tends to be more expensive and time-consuming.

Now Mr. Garcia and his team await word of a third-season pickup for the show.

"I'd love to do it again in Pittsburgh if we could manage that," he said. "Our job is to make a great show, and now it's up to the audience. We've got to bring the eyeballs and have them enjoy it and want more."

'BSG' prequel

Syfy's latest "Battlestar Galactica" spinoff, the prequel series "Blood & Chrome," failed, with the cable network opting not to order additional episodes beyond the pilot. The pilot already has been available online but now gets a cable airing at 8 p.m. Sunday.

Set after "Caprica" but before "BSG," "Blood & Chrome" follows fighter pilot William Adama (Luke Pasqualino, "The Borgias") on his first mission after he's assigned to Galactica as an ensign. Paired with a battle-weary officer, Coker (Ben Cotton, "Alcatraz"), Adama must escort a mysterious passenger to her destination.

"Blood & Chrome" has more action than the dull, meandering soap of "Caprica," but in this outing it's also less dynamic than "BSG." Quality-wise, it falls somewhere in between with loads of action, adventure and space battles, plus a cameo of sorts from one of the original "BSG" stars. But it feels less like a pilot than a one-off adventure. The film pretty much introduces just two characters who might be regulars, so where it would have gone in series is a mystery.

Written by "BSG" veteran Michael Taylor, the pilot was largely filmed against a green screen with settings inserted using computer graphics. This gives the show's backgrounds a desaturated, sometimes fuzzy look, but it's better than I expected it would be. Most importantly, it's not a distraction and gives viewers a sense of being right back on Galactica. (Scenes in the dark of Galactica's interior work better than some scenes on a bright ice planet that come off as less realistic.)

At the TV critics press tour last month in Pasadena, Calif., Syfy original content president Mark Stern said he hoped the "Blood & Chrome" TV movie would not be the end of the line for "BSG" programming on Syfy.

"It did really well [as an online streaming series on Machinima.com]. They were really pleased with it, and we're talking with them about possibly doing another season. We're airing it in February ... and I have a secret hope it takes off for us," he said.

Mr. Stern said Syfy opted not to order a "Blood & Chrome" TV series because it was expensive to produce and because of the ratings flop of "Caprica," the first "BSG" prequel series.

In addition to Sunday's airing on Syfy, "Blood & Chrome" will be released Feb. 19 on DVD ($29.98) and in a DVD-Blu-ray combo pack ($34.98) with deleted scenes and a 23-minute featurette on special effects.

TV on DVD updates

A long-awaited quality drama finally will be out this year on DVD: "China Beach" is now available for preorder from Time Life at chinabeachondvd.com.

A 21-disc set of the whole series sells for $199.95 and includes all 62 episodes plus 10 hours of bonus material, including new interviews with many cast members, including star Dana Delany. DVD box sets are expected to ship in mid-April. Later this year the "China Beach" DVDs will be sold via retail outlets.

In addition, a 25th anniversary collector's edition of "China Beach," including scripts from the series signed by the cast and four color photos, sells for $274.95 from Time Life via its online site.

"China Beach" was not offered on DVD earlier because of its extensive use of 1960s music. At the time the show was made (1988-91), TV shows were not released on DVD. So contracts for the use of music on TV shows contained no provision to allow for a DVD release. Time Life spent more than a year clearing almost 500 music copyrights so that the DVDs can be released with almost all of the original music.

For fans of TNT's "Southland," back with new episodes next week (10 p.m. Wednesday), a DVD box set that includes the second, third and fourth seasons of the cop drama is now available, retailing for $59.98. Special features include a tour of the show's filming locations in the Los Angeles area, unaired scenes and selected scene commentary. In addition, the 26 episodes are noted to be "uncensored," so presumably all the profanity that is bleeped on TNT will not be bleeped in the DVD release.

Another show I've gotten questions about is "Hit & Miss," which aired last summer on DirecTV's Audience Network. The British import stars Chloe Sevigny as a transgender contract killer, and it will be on DVD from BFS on March 5.

'Touch' back, 'The Job' debuts

Fox's "Touch," starring Kiefer Sutherland, returns tonight for its delayed second season with a two-hour premiere at 8 on WPGH. The show has undergone some retooling for its new episodes that suggests a greater emphasis on action in addition to the show's core concept of interconnectivity.

CBS debuts "The Job," a rather dull reality competition tonight at 8 on KDKA-TV. The show, hosted by an almost unrecognizable Lisa Ling (way too much makeup), features five candidates vying for a job with a single employer each week. In the premiere, it's The Palm restaurant.

In the beginning the candidates must pitch themselves, "Shark Tank"-style, to a panel representing the hiring company. Later the job candidates have to work at a Palm restaurant in five different positions. They're judged on how well they excel, and over the course of the hour they are eliminated one by one until they are hired or until one of three rival companies swoops in to hire them out from under the primary hiring company.

In tonight's premiere it's pretty obvious from the start who the two most qualified candidates are, and despite a twist at the end, the show is pretty inert throughout its hour.

An upcoming episode of "The Job" will feature Pittsburgher Shayna Watson vying for a job offer from online shopping site Gilt.

Channel surfing

CBS signed "NCIS" star Mark Harmon to a new deal and renewed his drama for the 2013-14 TV season. ... C-SPAN will air a new historic series, "First Ladies: Influence and Image" (9 p.m. Mondays beginning Feb. 18). ... A&E's inexplicably popular "Duck Dynasty" returns for a third season at 9 p.m. Feb. 27. ... Following this weekend's Justin Bieber-hosted "Saturday Night Live," Christoph Waltz will host on Feb. 16 with musical guest Alabama Shakes. ... USA's "NFL Characters Unite," featuring a segment with Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu mentoring two bullied Pittsburgh teens, airs tonight at 7. ... NBC's "Smash" was a ratings disaster in its second-season premiere, drawing just 4.5 million viewers overall and faring especially poorly in the advertiser-coveted age 18-49 demographic. ... John Corbett ("United States of Tara") will star in a proposed CBS spinoff from "NCIS: Los Angeles" that follows the "Red Team" as they solve cases all over America. An episode of "NCIS: Los Angeles" airing later this season will serve as a backdoor pilot. ... E! will air a docuseries this summer about British pop band The Wanted. ... USA Network will air "Schindler's List" commercial-free at 8 p.m. Feb. 23 with an introduction by director Steven Spielberg. ... Deadline.com reports that Cedric The Entertainer will replace Meredith Vieira as host of the syndicated "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in the fall. ... Five months after airing on WQED, "Why We Dance: The Story of THON," about Penn State's IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, will air on cable's Big Ten Network at 10 p.m. Tuesday. ... Ricki Lake's attempt to revive her daytime talk show has failed. The show was canceled this week after one season. ... Canceled NBC prime-time game show "Minute to Win It" will rise from the dead this fall. GSN ordered 40 new episodes. ... "Downton Abbey" on PBS's "Masterpiece" rated No. 2 -- albeit a distant No. 2 -- behind "Super Bowl XLVII" Sunday night, drawing 6.6 million viewers compared to the 108.7 million who watched the big game.

Tuned In online

Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions about "Smash," HDTV and local TV news personalities. This week's Tuned In Journal includes posts on "New Girl," "The Neighbors," "The Americans" and "Community." Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.

This week's podcast includes conversation about the "30 Rock" finale," NBC's "Do No Harm" and Super Bowl commercials. Subscribe or listen at http://old.post-gazette.com/podcast.

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TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook for breaking TV news. First Published February 8, 2013 5:00 AM


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