In addition to the big five networks, the US has a collection of free and subscription based channels that show a combination of syndicated shows (i.e. re-runs) and original programming. Increasingly these channels are where the most critically acclaimed shows are; a network show hasn’t won the Best Drama Emmy since 24 in 2006, and this year there weren’t even any nominated. Subscription channels also don’t have quite the same demands on ‘decency’ so tend to have more sex, violence and swearing in and also are considerably less ratings driven. For example season 3 of Game of Thrones gets between 4 and 5 million viewers, while in the same time slot on CBS a repeat of The Mentalist got over 7 million viewers and the top rated show in prime time (NCIS) is looking at 20 million plus.
I haven’t actually looked at the upcoming shows from these channels before, partly because they’re not really announced in the same way. Their schedules tend to run in counterpoint to the main networks, so many channels are launching their new programmes now and running them over the summer when major channels tend to go quiet. I’ve relied heavily on Wikipedia for ‘facts’ and may have missed out entire channels let alone programmes, but I thought it was good to show willing. Today’s post has HBO, AMC and Showtime; tomorrow will have FX, Syfy, TNT and USA Network.
Arguably HBO is the biggest name in cable, but the other channels have been coming up fast and most of the biggest names aren’t at HBO anymore. The most well known and popular show on HBO these days is probably Game of Thrones which is just finishing up its third season and will return next year for a fourth. Other critical, but not necessarily popular hits are Boardwalk Empire which will be back later this year for a fourth season, and Treme, whose fourth season will be its last.
True Blood is now the longest running series on the channel, back in June for its sixth season. Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom also returns in June for its second season despite getting off to a very uneven start. HBO also does comedy – Veep’s second season just starting and a third season booked for next year, and while Girls’ second season didn’t get quite the overwhelming praise the first did, it will return in 2014. Eastbound and Down was unexpectedly picked up for a fourth season, but there’s no air date yet and I’m a bit confused about Curb Your Enthusiasm which hasn’t aired a new episode since 2011, but is still listed as an ongoing show.
On the down side, Enlightened was cancelled after 2 seasons due to ratings too low for even HBO, despite several award nominations and wins. Life’s Too Short was a Ricky Gervais offering of a mockumentary about Warwick Davis and his life as a “showbiz dwarf”, I’ve never seen anything from Gervais I didn’t hate, and I can’t see this being any different.
NEW Family Tree – Tom Chadwick (Chris O’Dowd. The IT Crowd) is left a box of items by a great aunt and it sets him off investigating his family’s past. The series is filmed in documentary style and mostly improvised, and given that it’s produced by Christopher Guest (Spinal Tap), master of the mockumentary format, that might work. The series is a joint production with BBC2 and has already premiered in the US to not great ratings and a resounding apathy.
NEW – True Detective – there’s no air date and very little information available beyond “two detectives hunt for a serial killer in Louisiana”. What has been released though is the exceptional cast – Matthew McConaughey (loads of films), Woody Harrelson (ditto. And Cheers!), Michelle Monaghan (loads of films).
There are a bundle of shows listed as being in development and some big name authors attached, but without broadcast dates announced its hard to tell what will really materialise. Hobgoblin tells the story of a group of magicians and conmen attempt to bring down Hitler. It’s a great one liner, and is written by Pulitzer, Hugo, and Nebula prize winning author Michael Chabon and directed by Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan). There’s been long mumblings about an adaptation of Stephen King’s Dark Tower, but that seems to have fallen flat once more. Neil Gaiman’s American Gods seems to be a lot more solid, possibly airing later this year, although I wouldn’t be holding my breath.
Even I had to double check the name of this network, but regardless of whether you know its name you really know it’s programmes, the biggest hits on cable aren’t in fact on HBO, they’re on AMC. Breaking Bad returns in August for the last eight episodes of its fifth season which will finish up the series. Mad Men is just finishing up its sixth season and there’s no word yet on a pickup, to be honest I haven’t been that enthused by the latest season and given how contentious the contract negotiations were with creator Matthew Weiner last year, it wouldn’t be the biggest shock in the world if it didn’t return. The Walking Dead on the other hand continues to be both a popular and critical hit, and despite continual shuffling in the production team seems to go from strength to strength. The fourth season will likely start towards the end of the year. Hell on Wheels and the American remake of The Killing have both been renewed for third seasons in August and June respectively.
NEW – Low Winter Sun – Frank Agnew (Mark Strong, Tinker Tailer, Zero Dark Thirty) is a Detroit detective and the series opens with him murdering a fellow police officer. The details are a bit light on the ground and I can’t find a trailer despite it apparently starting this summer, but Mark Strong tends to steal any film he’s in, so it’s interesting to see what he does in a lead role.
Probably the second most familiar name in cable channels is Showtime and it has a pretty eclectic catalogue past and present, from Stargate through to Dexter which starts its eight and final season in June.
While the responses to Homeland season 2 were pretty mixed, there was no doubt that it would be renewed and the third season will start in September. Season 3 of the Borgias has already started, but there’s no word on a fourth, while the remake of the UK show Shameless has just completed its third season and has been picked up for a fourth.
Showtime has a number of shows that hover on the fence between comedy and drama, including Californication (S7, 2014), Nurse Jackie (S5 currently airing), The Big C (currently airing the fourth and final season), Episodes (S3, 2014) , Web Therapy (S3, later 2013?) and House of Lies (S2 currently airing, S3 2014).
NEW – Ray Donovan – The titular character (Liev Schreiber, Scream) is a fixer for the rich and famous and can fix any problem except his own and his father’s (Jon Voight, Midnight Cowboy). The cast is impressive, but the trailer was a lot heavier than I was expecting and left me thinking it might be a good series, but not necessarily one I want to watch. (Premiering June)
NEW – Masters of Sex – Michael Sheen (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) and Lizzy Caplan (True Blood, Party Down) play two researchers investigating the nature of human sexual response. Could the subject be more cable channel? But the trailer actually looked a lot of fun and if it manages to not trivialise the subject matter, there could be something there. (Premiers September)
Coming tomorrow – FX, TNT, USA and Syfy