TCA Update: HBO Executive Session

The HBO executive session with Michael Lombardo (President, Programming Group and West Coast Operations) and Richard Plelpler (Co-President) just wrapped up, and here were the highlights:

* Before Plepler and Lombardo took the stage, we were treated to the trailer for the network’s new 10-hour miniseries, “The Pacific,” produced by Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, and Gary Goetzman. Let’s just go ahead and give the Emmy now, shall we?

* “True Blood,” “Hung,” and “Entourage” will all be coming back for new seasons next summer.

* Conversations are underway to potentially bring back “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.”

* Neither was willing to offer up any information about how Evan Rachel Wood would look as the vampire queen at the end of the second season of “True Blood,” for fear that they would suffer some horrible fate at the hand of Alan Ball. They did, however, assure us that surprises are in store, and that it totally delivers.

* “Little Britain USA” is not coming back, but they’re talking about bringing creators Matt Lucas and David Walliams back for some specials. It’s still in the development stage, but the intent is to come back with a whole new cast of characters and a whole new approach to their television appearance. In short, they will be back on HBO, though whether it will be at the end of next year or later remains to be seen.

* Season 2 of “Eastbound and Down” will begin shooting it sometime at the end of winter or the beginning of spring, and it will air next year.

* David Simon’s new series, “Treme,” will be on the air next April, fingers crossed. The current intention is for “The Pacific” to premiere mid-March, and, at the end of its run, ‘”Treme” will begin.

* The pilot just wrapped for Martin Scorcese’s “Boardwalk Empire,” and they are anxiously awaiting a cut from Marty so that the series can receive a green light. Provided it’s as good as they’re presuming it will be…and, thus far, “everything we’ve seen is fantastic, big, everything we hoped it could be”…their fingers are crossed that a pick-up is imminent.

* As for Season 3 of “Flight of the Conchords,” the official word is, “When they’re ready, we’re ready.”

* They have begun receiving episodes for Season 2 of “The Life & Times of Tim,” and they describe them as “funnier than the first,” but they haven’t yet figured out where they want schedule the show. They do, however, have an upcoming series that could fit the bill nicely…

* They’ve ordered an animated show from Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, based on their long-running series of podcasts. I’m saying it right here: the time is right for Karl Pilkington mania to grip the States!

* Although the histrionics of Jerry Rice probably didn’t help things any, the big reason that the Bengals are the focus of this season of “Hard Knocks” rather than the Cowboys is that the network wanted to open up a new team to the audience and show a different organization and the habits and attitude of that team.

* Season 4 of “Big Love” is scheduled to kick off in January.

* Season 3 of “In Treatment” is something they’re trying to put together, but given that the show was adapted from an Israeli series that only ran for two seasons, they’d have to create all-new scripts for a third season. Still, it’s a good sign that Gabriel Byrne is “very interested” in returning.

* And, lastly, they are forever trying to figure out a way to extend the length of Bill Maher’s seasons, in order to give him more time on the air. Whether that’s a good thing or not, you be the judge.

  

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TCA Tour, Jan. 2009: “Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire”

Give Comedy Central credit: “Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire” is the most ambitious comedy ever to appear on the network…and if we’re really lucky, it will become so popular that American keyboards will finally earn the right to possess an umlaut key. As a music critic, I struggled for years with my inability to properly type the names of Husker Du and Motley Crue, but, by God, isn’t it time we finally got easy access to that little horizontal colon?

When I initially heard about the show, my first thought was, “Jesus, I hope this is going to be funnier than, say, ‘Meet the Spartans.'” Little did I realize at the time that Sean Maguire, the man playing Krod Mandoon, was actually in “Meet the Spartans.” When I heard that tidbit, I really started getting worried…but, then, I learned that the show’s villain, Chancellor Dongalor, was to be played by Matt Lucas of “Little Britain.” Suddenly, I was legitimately excited, which speaks volumes about how much faith I put in Lucas’s work. But, additionally, they showed us the trailer for the series, and it was pretty funny. Granted, I haven’t seen an entire episode yet, so this may well prove to be a case where all the best bits are in the trailer, but the production values for the show are fantastic. The whole thing was shot on location in Budapest, Hungary, and it feels about as epic as a comedy series can; indeed, it feels less like a Comedy Central series and more like a BBC production…and given what an Anglophile I am, that’s high praise, indeed.

Creator Peter Knight lays the blame for the series on his steady diet of “Conan the Barbarian” comics over the course of his adolescence, claiming that he merely blended that love with his own insecurities and a modern male outlook, but executive producer Brad Johnson elaborated on the evolution of the show a bit more.

“Peter had this idea, and it would be impossible to pitch anywhere, so he wrote it as a spec, which is always, I think, the best thing to do if you want to get through the process and really get a pure voice initially on something that’s this out of the ordinary,” said Johnson. “When I read (the spec) initially, I loved the world, but what we added was a layer of…we kind of put a contemporary post-feminist modern male in a ‘Conan the Barbarian’ character. It was a chance to really comment on modern society using this backdrop, and also to use magic and sorcery and things you couldn’t use in normal storytelling. It just opened up the world for us to invent some characters and actually comment on modern society a little better.”

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Greetings to the New Show: “Summer Heights High”

Already a sensation in its native land of Australia (where the show is the best-selling TV-DVD in the country’s history), it’s probably best to go into “Summer Heights High” knowing as little about its various accolades as possible. After all, “Kath and Kim” was also supposed to be an Australian critical darling, and while that may be true of the original series, the American remake starring Molly Shannon and Selma Blair is so terribly unfunny that we can’t imagine that’s the case. That isn’t to say that “Summer Heights High” isn’t completely deserving of its rave reviews, because even though it isn’t technically produced by HBO, it could very well become the network’s surprise hit of the fall season.

Best described as a mockumentary in the style of a Christopher Guest film (though it’ll also draw comparisons to the BBC version of the “The Office” for its awkward brand of humor), the series stars creator Chris Lilley as three different subjects of a high school documentary. There’s Jonah, a foul-mouthed, Polynesian delinquent who enjoys break dancing; private school mean girl Ja’mie, who’s at Summer Heights on a student exchange program; and Mr. G, the school’s eccentric drama teacher known for such unconventional productions as “IKEA: The Musical” and “Tsunamarama ’06,” a disaster musical scored entirely to the music of Bananarama.

Discussions will no doubt take place over which of Lilley’s characters are their favorites, but the great thing about “Summer Heights High” is that they’re all so unique that it’s virtually impossible to favor just one. It’s actually a little scary at just how good Lilley is (especially as Ja’mie, whose girlish mannerisms are spot-on), and his work here is nothing short of genius. Lilley isn’t the only star of the show, however, and though a majority of the other characters are played by actors, the fact that they’ve been mixed into a real-life environment (the series was shot at an actual Australian school) really helps the validity of the documentary style.

“Little Britain USA” may be the one getting all the press of the two imports, but by the time “Summer Heights High” has finished its eight-episode run (beginning on November 9th at 10:30 PM), it’ll likely be the bigger success. It’s just a shame that there won’t be a second season to look forward to, because not only would it be an excellent addition to HBO’s annual line-up, but the opportunity for an hour-long team-up with “Flight of the Conchords” is almost too good to pass up. That shouldn’t deter you from tuning in, though. “Summer Heights High” is one of the most original comedies I’ve ever seen, and if it accomplishes anything during it’s time on HBO, it’ll be to transform Chris Lilley into the next Ricky Gervais.

  

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