Category Archives: News/Analysis

Mike’s Fate and Other Season 3 Secrets from the ‘Graceland’ Set

Graceland - Season 3

As USA’s drama Graceland returns Thursday night (at 10 p.m. ET) for Season 3, the show’s fans have just one question: did Mike Warren (Aaron Tveit)—who had flatlined at the end of Season 2, after corrupt FBI agent Sid (Carmine Giovinazzo) cut off his air supply at the hospital—survive?

The answer seemed obvious to me—of course Mike wasn’t going to die, because a show that needs all the viewers it can muster would never jettison its most popular actor (Tveit has spawned hundreds of stories like this; the internet can’t get enough of him)—but when I recently visited the show’s Fort Lauderdale set, Tveit was nowhere to be found.

No, that doesn’t mean that he’s off the show. More likely, the network figured that the best way to keep his fate quiet was to keep him far away from reporters.

However, the rest of the cast—Daniel Sunjata (who plays FBI Special Agent Paul Briggs), Vanessa Ferlito (FBI Agent Charlie DeMarco), Brandon Jay McLaren (U.S. Customs Agent Dale Jakes), Serinda Swan (DEA Agent Paige Arkin) and Manny Montana (FBI Agent Johnny Tuturro), whose characters work undercover and live together in a Southern California beach house—were all on hand and ready to talk. Together, they shared seven big secrets about Season 3 of Graceland:

1) Yes, Mike is back.

Tveit’s on-set absence aside, there’s no doubt that he is still part of the cast, and is prominently featured in the Season 3 key art.

Graceland key art

While USA wants to keep the details of his fate under wraps until Thursday’s premiere, consider this: the show hasn’t suddenly taken a supernatural turn (so Mike isn’t a ghost), nor has it gone the Lost or Orange is the New Black route (i.e. heavy flashbacks). So, that leaves only one clear answer as to whether he survived.

Stil, Tveit’s costars insist they weren’t sure if he would ultimately be a part of Season 3 or not. “I personally didn’t know,” says Sunjata. “They certainly left it so ambiguous, even to us, that it was a big question mark hanging in the air, even to us. And then we finally found out the capacity in which — especially in the season premiere — that he would in some sense be back, that was a surprise too.”

2) This season is all about atonement.

As the one who tipped off Sid about Mike’s location in the Season 2 finale, Paige will have to answer for her actions this year. But she’s not the only: atonement is a key theme of Season 3. “Everyone in the house has atonement to do, has sins that they have to atone for, and karma, chickens that come home to roost – quite literally. There were some chickens in the last scene!” says Sunjata. “Everyone’s got some sins to atone for. Everybody’s trying to even the scales.”

But in doing so, they seem to be only making things worse: “There’s a lot of blood this season. There’s been some spillage of the sangre,” says Sunjata.

3) The infamous tape looms large this year.

Graceland - Season 3As part of the aforementioned atonement, Briggs is still haunted by the existence of a tape which recorded his killing FBI Agent Juan Badillo (in sort-of self-defense) back in in Season 1. “This has been a dangling plot thread from season one that fans have known was going to come back,” says Sunjata.

After two seasons of lurking in the background, it finally does. “First episode, the tape is back front and center, and it’s used as leverage in a big way,” says McLaren. “And that leverage is exercised for the entire season.”

4) The whole gang is finally back together.

While the events of Season 2 served to drive the six housemates apart (often literally), this year is about reestablishing the group. “They’re trying to bring the house back, because the fans love that. They like seeing us together,” says Ferlito.

“We do come back as a unit in Season 3,” says McLaren. “I think everyone realized after the events of Season 2 that we do need each other. If we’re all islands in the house, bad things typically happen. So there’s a concerted effort this season to try and come back together and be there for one another.”

While Jakes moved out of the house at one point last year, “everybody’s in the house” this season, says McLaren (providing another clue as to Mike’s fate). “We’re all working on a big thing.”

That “big thing” is this season’s major story arc, about the Armenian Mafia. “Briggs goes undercover and it has something to do with the Armenian Mob and ends up needing the help of his housemates in order to get certain things done,” says Sunjata.

5) Charlie is still pregnant—for now.

Graceland - Season 3Charlie discovered she was pregnant at the end of Season 2, and as of the first few episodes, she still is. “It hasn’t really hit her yet. It’s still very early on. She’s still in the house and still running around with crazy people,” says Ferlito. “She’s just out of control” as she tries to enact revenge on the money launderer who nearly killed her” and her unborn child.

Ferlito estimates that Charlie is about two and a half months pregnant. “ Everyday I’m like, “Am I losing the kid? What’s up? What’s going to happen?” she says. “I could make it through the whole season [without showing]. We could show up Season 4 with the baby—or not.”

6) Briggs and Charlie are on the outs.

While Briggs is the father of her baby, Charlie can’t forgive him for his Season 1 deceptions, which came to light last year. “Briggs and her, obviously they’re struggling. I don’t know if they can ever mend that, what happened between them. How can she ever trust him?” says Ferlito. “We’re not on good terms right now. I’m like, Jesus Christ, will I ever get to make out with Daniel Sunjata again? It’s just unfair!”

Ferlito hopes they patch things up, and not just so she can kiss Sunjata. “Charlie and Briggs, I think it’s real what they have,” she says. “I think Briggs and Charlie will always be in each other’s lives. It’s hard not to write that for us, because we really love each other in real life. We’re really good friends.”

7) Season 3 will go out with a bang.

While the season is just getting under way tonight, some of the actors are already anticipating what’s to come as the year wraps up.

“If Season 3 finishes the way they’re talking about it, it’s going to blow people’s minds,” says Montana. “Because when I heard, I was like, ‘How are we going to do that?’ But I loved it.”

“There’s stuff happening towards the end of the season that will forever change the dynamic of the house,” adds McLaren. “If what happens is meant to happen, Season 3 will be nuts!”

How the Reality TV King Created 11 Popular Shows and Counting

Mark Burnett cover

I don’t start at Adweek until Monday, but in the interim I’m back in this week’s issue with my second cover story: an interview with Mark Burnett, TV’s most powerful producer, who is responsible for Survivor, The Voice, Shark Tank, Celebrity Apprentice, A.D. The Bible Continues and many, many more shows. As the British Burnett points out to me, “there’s two things that built America: the Bible and free enterprise. And now I do both. I do A.D. and I do Shark Tank.”

He also knows what viewers want to watch. In the past month alone, his shows have won the night in adults 18-49 (the most important demo for advertisers) on Sunday (A.D.), Monday (The Voice), Tuesday (The Voice), Wednesday (Survivor) and Friday (Shark Tank) — that’s five nights and three different networks.

I’d previously spoken with Burnett for my Parade cover story on Shark Tank, but this time around we talked about all of his shows, his upfront memories (he was on the cover of Adweek’s upfront issue, after all), his surprising OTT plans for his own version of Netflix and the career path not (yet) taken:

“If I wasn’t doing what I’m doing, I would honestly love to run an ad agency. I love the idea of making commercials. I love the idea of winning. Imagine if you’re clever enough to create a campaign and stuff flies off the shelves. That’s why I love The Apprentice. I’d love to be more in the advertising business.”

With more than a dozen shows under his domain, plus movies like next year’s big Ben-Hur reboot, how does Burnett stay focused on a single project when so many others demand his attention?

“It’s not always easy to do, but the correct way to approach everything is like we’re sitting here right now: This is it. So whatever I’m working on is where my focus is. And I can work on three things in a day, but when I’m there, I’m there. The definition of a loser is someone who takes a nap and then feels guilty about it. Do what you’re doing. If you’re going to take a nap, take a nap. If you’re going to work, work.”

And yes, we also talk about that epic beard of his. It was a fantastic, illuminating interview, so I hope you read the rest of it.

How the Reality TV King Created 11 Popular Shows and Counting

5 Predictions From TV Networks Execs Last Year That Were Way Off

failed upfronts predictions

The networks will play a variety of pop hits during their TV upfront presentations next month, but the only song that really should be part of the soundtrack that is The Lego Movie’s “Everything is Awesome.” After all, each of the the network executives who take the stage will be full of optimism that their new crop of shows will finally be the ones that take them to the top.

But as I wrote at Adweek, everything is not awesome, even for the top network in adults 18-49 (which will again be ABC). Before we hear a new batch of (at least partially) empty upfronts promises, I looked back at the five worst predictions from last year’s presentations. Among them: then Fox Entertainment president Kevin Reilly’s declaration that Jump of the Century and Hieroglyph will be airing soon on the network:

Reilly was far from the only one to disappear from Fox shortly after the upfronts. He touted two programs to advertisers that were canceled before they ever made it to air: straight-to-series pickup Hieroglyph (Fox pulled the plug a month later) and Jump of the Century, in which two rival stuntmen would attempt Evel Knievel’s failed jump across Idaho’s Snake River Canyon (it was scrapped last July). “The power of broadcast really shines through when there’s urgency to view,” Reilly said of Jump of the Century. Of course, it also really shines through when the shows are actually broadcast.

There’s a lot more silly predictions where that came from, so sure to read the rest of the story.

5 Predictions From TV Networks Execs Last Year That Were Way Off

How ‘Lawman’ Became ‘Justified’

JUSTIFIED: Timothy Olyphant. CR: FX / SONY

After six mostly-wondrous seasons, tonight it’s finally time for Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens to hang up his badge for good. It’s the series finale of the FX drama we all know and love, Lawman.

At least, that’s what we might all be saying today if Steven Seagal, of all people, hadn’t forced FX to execute an 11th hour title change for its new drama, based on an Elmore Leonard character, and come up with what turned out to be the perfect name for the series: Justified.

FX has announced the project as Lawman back in 2009, but the network renamed it in early 2010 to avoid a conflict with Steven Seagal: Lawman, a now-long-forgotten A&E reality series about Seagal’s work as a reserve deputy sheriff in Louisiana. The new title, Justified, was taken from a line in the pilot, in which Raylan’s new boss, Art Mullen, asks him about his quick-draw shooting of a mob hitman in Miami, which causes Raylan to be reassignment to Kentucky’s Harlan County. “It was justified,” says Raylan.

When I interviewed Justified creator Graham Yost earlier this year for my Daily Beast story about series finales (a story that is worth rereading before tonight’s Justified farewell), we also talked about the title that wasn’t, and how the show’s fate might have changed had it kept its original moniker.

Once FX decided on a name change, “we didn’t come up with Justified,” says Yost. “That was an FX idea and we went, ‘Okay, they like it; that’s fine.’ We couldn’t come up with anything better. The people who worked on The Shield hated that title at first. It was supposed to be called Rampart, and the LAPD basically said, ‘You will not get any help from us if that’s what you call it.’ So they came up with The Shield, and no one liked it. It became The Shield and Justified became Justified.”

Now, of course, there’s no question that Justified is far superior to the generic-sounding Lawman, which seems more appropriate for a CBS procedural. “There’s a slight question in the title, a little bit of irony, it’s the whole thing of Raylan’s story in that and so it’s great,” says Yost. “And Lawman is far more straightforward. There would have been great posters, and it might have gotten a bigger audience in some ways, or at least sampling it, but I don’t think it would’ve had the core people who really got into it.”

Then again, as Yost points out, the title might not have mattered much in the end, so long as the show itself was as compelling as Justified turned out to be: “It’s absolutely ridiculous to try and equate, but The Beatles is the most ridiculous name for a band,” he notes. “It was modeled on The Crickets, but all these associations go away.”

Farewell, Justified and/or Lawman. And — here’s a sentence no one has likely ever uttered before — thank you, Steven Seagal!

Power of 10: Why Networks are Ordering Shorter Seasons for Their Hit Shows

power of 10

Some of the best story ideas come from chats with other TV critics and writers. And a recent conversation with Alan Sepinwall yielded the idea for this Quartz story about how no HBO series have series longer than 10 episodes.

While HBO cannot air more than 10 episodes of Game of Thrones each year due to the show’s massive production scale, even its smaller-budgeted shows (i.e. everything else on the network) stay capped at 10 episodes per season. The last show to air a season of more than 10 episodes was Girls, which had 12 episodes in early 2014, but when back down to 10 this year. But Michael Lombardo, president of HBO programming, insists that all is not what it appears:

Despite appearances, however, HBO insists that there is no 10-episode edict in place. “The number of episodes for any of our series is determined by the story,” Lombardo told Quartz. “From conversations with showrunners, writers and/or producers, we find the appropriate amount of episodes necessary to tell that particular story. You never want to rush or drag out a story, so this is a very important step in the production process.”

As I wrote later in the piece:

In other words, HBO says that it could greenlight a season of more than 10 episodes, but the network doesn’t feel that any of the shows on its slate warrant a longer season (with the possible exception of Thrones, where they are locked into 10 episodes regardless of how many they’d like to make each year). But this runs counter to what Girls executive producer Judd Apatow told HitFix last year, in lamenting the reduction of Girls’ fourth season from 12 episodes to 10. “I am a big fan of doing more episodes,” Apatow said. “Unfortunately, most of the shows on HBO are 10 episodes, so I think we will be doing 10 next year. We don’t line up with anybody when we do 12.”

HBO isn’t the only cable network to embrace shorter seasons. I also spoke with Nina Lederman, Lifetime’s SVP of scripted programing and development, who also shed some light on this trend as well.

I wish Lombardo had been a bit more open about HBO’s mindset, so for now, we’ll have to keep an eye on HBO’s season orders and see if one ever rises above 10 again. And thanks again, Alan, for the great story idea!

Power of 10: Why networks are ordering shorter seasons for their hit shows

How ABC Got Its Groove Back (Only Partly Because of Shonda Rhimes)

ABC got its groove back

Showtime’s David Nevins wasn’t the only network president I interviewed at TCA’s winter press tour. I also had some time with ABC Entertainment President Lee, which I turned into this Adweek story about how things are finally looking up for ABC after a decade of dwelling in, or near, the 18-49 ratings basement.

Lee walked me through some of the network’s successful (and not-so-successful) moves this season, including the brilliant move to brand Thursday’s all-Shonda Rhimes lineup as TGIT:

Lee’s most successful play this season was handing over his Thursday night lineup to Rhimes: Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, both of which she created, and How to Get Away with Murder, which she executive produces. Most critically, he branded the night TGIT (Thank God It’s Thursday), an ode to the TGIF Friday night comedy block that was a ratings hit in the ’90s.

“We took a brand that my boss Bob Iger invented [in 1989], TGIF, and we burnished it. It was very sweet to take a dormant brand and reinvent it on Thursday as something that was just as fresh today as that was then,” said Lee.

But as successful as TGIT has been, Lee isn’t sure he can replicate it on another night. “A brand has to match the shows that are there. It has to be extremely high quality. It has to capture the mood of the nation. So it’s very difficult,” he said. “It takes time to build them, and it takes extraordinary quality and patience.”

The network still has a long way to go, but my talk with Lee was a good reminder that thanks to Rhimes and several other big swings this season (including freshman hits Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat), ABC is finally figuring itself out.

 How ABC Got Its Groove Back (Only Partly Because of Shonda Rhimes)

Showtime’s Boss Talks About the ‘Twin Peaks’ Avalanche

david nevins

Back at TCA’s winter press tour, I sat down with Showtime Networks President David Nevins for an Adweek Q&A that I banked for April, closer to when his spring shows — particularly Showtime’s new comedy, Happyish — were premiering. As April approached, I made arrangements for a quick followup interview with Nevins, to update a few topics we had discussed, including Showtime’s OTT plans.

Then, a couple days before our interview, David Lynch announced he had left Showtime’s Twin Peaks revival. Nevins briefly addressed the status of the project in our interview, and as a result, my Adweek Q&A has Nevins’ only public comments to date on Lynch’s departure:

It’s either a negotiation, or he’s had cold feet. But I am hopeful.

In addition to our Twin Peaks talk, Nevins also gave me a timetable on when Showtime will launch its standalone streaming service, talked about sticking with Happyish after last year’s death of original star Philip Seymour Hoffman and explained why he’ll never leave for a broadcast job like his predecessor, Robert Greenblatt. It’s a great, and unexpectedly newsy, interview; check it out!

Showtime’s Boss Talks About the Twin Peaks Avalanche

Why Crackle Wants You (and the Industry) to See It as a Mainstream TV Network

crackle upfront

Each month, 18 million U.S. viewers access the Sony-owned, advertising-supported streaming network Crackle. But despite popular shows like Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Crackle still has a it of an identity crisis as it looks to make a name for itself among the likes of Netflix and Amazon.

That’s the challenge for Crackle’s general manager Eric Berger, who is making his loudest statement yet by moving Crackle out of the NewFronts, held primarily for digital enterprises, and into the upfronts, generally reserved for the major TV networks, on April 14.

At Adweek, I spoke with Berger about a number of topics, including his bold upfront movie, why Crackle didn’t stream The Interview last December and why he didn’t pick up the Sony-owned Community when it was looking for a home last summer:

It’s a great show. It didn’t fit in our slate at the time. Everything that we’ve done on the scripted series side to date has not been comedy. They’ve all been action, drama and thrillers. Features are different—with Joe Dirt, obviously, but the other features are action, horror and zombie type of stuff that fares really well for us.

There’s a lot more from Berger, who hopes to finally put the “What’s Crackle?” question to bed once and for all.

Why Crackle Wants You (and the Industry) to See It as a Mainstream TV Network

Inside Netflix and Marvel’s Titanic Team Up on ‘Daredevil’

daredevil

Marvel is no stranger to powerhouse collaborations — look at next month’s Avengers: Age of Ultron — but its most promising, game-changing partnership this year has nothing to do with Iron Man and Captain America. Instead, it kicks off tomorrow, when its new TV series, Marvel’s Daredevil, debuts on Netflix. As I wrote at Quartz,

Bringing together Marvel and Netflix, Marvel’s Daredevil, which debuts its thrilling 13-episode first season on Netflix April 10, ushers in an Avengers-level teaming up of Hollywood titans. In the past few years, no two companies have changed the entertainment landscape as much as Marvel (now every studio is pursuing its own version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe) and Netflix (which between pioneering binge-watching and creating groundbreaking shows like Orange is the New Black, has knocked every other network on its heels). Now they are at it again, devising an exciting new path for the crowded TV superhero genre.

And the series — the first of five Marvel/Netflix shows that will culminate in Marvel’s The Defenders, an Avengers-like teamup of its “street-level heroes” — is fantastic:

Unlike the other TV superhero series, Daredevil is aimed at grownups—or, at least, not the kids who watch much of Netflix’s other superhero fare. Karen Paige (Deborah Ann Woll from True Blood), the firm’s first client turned secretary, notes that after the violent events of the first episode, “I don’t see the city anymore. All I see are its dark corners.” And that is where Daredevil lives: the show employs a very dark palette (after all, Murdock doesn’t need lights). While Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Marvel’s Agent Carter are glitzy and glossy, this one is gritty and grimy. An early episode features a brutal, gruesome decapitation; not something you’d find on any broadcast TV show.

But where Daredevil—which erases all memories of the mediocre 2003 film with Ben Affleck—really shines is in its inventive action sequences, particularly an ingeniously executed, prolonged fight sequence late in the second episode. It feels real, and brutal. You can see superheroes fighting back guys all over TV, but nowhere else does it feel this visceral.

Marvel and Netflix still have a long road ahead, but they couldn’t have asked for a better start to their partnership than Daredevil. Don’t miss the series when it debuts tomorrow!

Inside Netflix and Marvel’s titanic team up on Daredevil

A Filmmaker Gets an Opportunity of a Lifetime

Unreal Sarah Gertrude Shapiro

One of my favorite things about writing for Adweek is the opportunity to find all these fascinating advertising angles in stories about the TV industry. My most recent Adweek story, about Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, is a great example of this. She’s the co-creator of UnREAL, Lifetime’s upcoming drama that goes behind the scenes at a Bachelor-like reality dating competition program. And it’s all due to the time she spent as a content producer at ad agency Wieden + Kennedy, which gave her a fresh start in 2005 after she literally fled her reality TV job on The Bachelor:

“Part of how I got out of my contract was leaving the state,” said Shapiro, who drove to Oregon where she planned to “drop out and be a kale farmer or embroider tapestries.” But the Portland-based W+K had other plans for her. The agency reached out, asking her to work on Battlegrounds, a docuseries featuring NBA star LeBron James it was making with MTV. “It was like a moth to the flame,” said Shapiro, who joined as a content producer.

While working for Wieden, she developed the idea for Sequin Raze and cornered DeSipio when she arrived at W+K in 2011 after 20 years as a TV executive and producer. Thanks to DeSipio’s outsider perspective, “she was naďve enough to say, ‘Why not? Why can’t we do it?'” said Shapiro. “Sally became my total champion from that time forward.”

In addition to tracing UnREAL’s unusal genesis, I also look at Lifetime’s position as it enters this year’s upfronts, and talk about A+E Studios, the in-house production company that produced UnREAL. The show doesn’t premiere until June 1, but I was very happy to contribute this story to Adweek’s Women’s Issue.

A Filmmaker Gets an Opportunity of a Lifetime