CHICAGO (thefutoncritic.com) -- The Television Critics Association began its summer press tour this week in which the various broadcast and cable networks talk about their upcoming plans to the nation's top critics and entertainment reporters. The first week of the annual three week tour is devoted to cable as Thursday saw Turner (TNT and TBS), ESPN, Lifetime and HBO all holding sessions for the press.
Here's a breakdown of the highlights of each network's presentation:
ESPN -- The sports channel hyped its first original drama series "Playmakers," set in the world of professional football. Tony Denison stars ("The DA," "Crime Story") as head coach Mike George; Omar Gooding ("Baby Boy," "Hangin' With Mr. Cooper") as Demetrius Harris, a cocky and talented young running back; Russell Hornsby ("Gideon's Crossing," "Haunted") as Leon Taylor, a fiercely competitive aging veteran; Jason Matthew Smith ("Hollywood Homicide," "13 Going On 30") as Eric Olczyk, an unassuming, blue collar rising star linebacker and Taylor's trusted friend; Marcello Thedford ("Crimson Tide," "ER") as Kelvin 'Buffalo' James, the barrel-chested offensive tackle who worships D.H.; and Chris Wiehl ("CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," "Hollywood Homicide") as Derek McConnell, an all-pro QB suffering his first sub-par season.
John Eisendrath ("Alias," "Felicity," "Beverly Hills: 90210") and Orly Adelson ("The Junction Boys," "The Truth About Jane") are executive producing the series with Michael Angeli ("Now & Again," "Twilight Zone") serving as co-executive producer. Scott Brazil ("The Shield," "C.S.I.: Miami") will direct the first episode which airs Tuesday, August 26 at 9:00/8:00c. Replays will air each week right after at 10:00/9:00c.
HBO -- The pay channel had George Clooney on hand (via satellite) to hype his upcoming project "K Street" for the network. The series, which is also executive produced by Steven Soderbergh, is a semi-improvised project about the world of political consultants in which fictional characters interact with real-life Washington insiders. Test footage featured Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Hillary Clinton (D-New York). Each of the series' ten episodes will be shot and edited literally one week before they air in order to follow current events. In addition to Clooney and Soderbergh, Mark Sennet and Henry Bean will also serve as producers with Mary Matalin and James Carville consulting on the series, which premieres Sunday, September 14.
In other series news HBO plans to roll out its new drama "Carnivale" this fall (September 14, time TBA) while David Milch's "Deadwood" and Steven Bochco's "Marriage" will arrive at midseason. As for its returning lineup, HBO topper Chris Albrecht indicated the network has yet to nail down a start date for the fifth season of "The Sopranos" with the earliest possible being March 2004. "Six Feet Under" will also return at some point next year for a fourth season. Albrecht told reporters he hopes the series will stick around for at least one more season saying "My guess is there will be five, knowing where the story is going to go." Nevertheless he was quick to indicate HBO has only locked up the series through the upcoming season. Lastly, viewers can expect a new season of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" this fall (premiere date TBA).
The network also mentioned it is close to landing a syndication deal for "Sex and the City" however no specifics were mentioned. HBO did however confirm it will trim at least eight minutes from each episode, with one character's storyline likely being axed in addition to any profanity or nudity cuts.
HBO Films will also have a busy year with the long-awaited mini-series "Angels In America," starring Al Pacino and Meryl Streep, due in December. The cabler plans to air the project as three weekly, two-hour telefilms however subsequent encores might be split into six, one-hour installments. Also due in the coming months is the biopic "And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself" starring Antonio Banderas (September 7, time TBA) and the documentary "Born Rich" (premiere date TBA).
LIFETIME -- To be added shortly.
TBS/TNT -- The Turner-owned channels both expressed plans to get back into the original series game with TBS focusing on lighter, comedy fare while TNT will look at hard-edged dramas. Each network will likely outline their new plans at Turner's upfront presentation next year with TBS expected to go through a major facelift with a focus on younger demographics than its sister channel. Turner Entertainment Group president Mark Lazarus said he hopes to have one to four "light variety or reality" series to anchor TBS' original lineup. TNT meanwhile will try and fix a rough track record that includes "Witchblade," "Bull" and "Breaking News," the last of which didn't even make it to air on the channel. Both channels share a combined programming budget of $350 million.