Adelaide Kane, Toby Regbo
Let's start with a little pop quiz from Tuesday's leg of the TCA press tour. Guess which network president summed up his programming philosophy this way — "The enemy of good television is boredom and predictability" — the head of The CW or the leader of Showtime?
If you guessed the latter, it really wasn't much of a guess, was it? Because few things are more predictable than a new CW fall programming slate, which hardly seems new at all: not with a Vampire Diaries spin-off on tap — The Originals, which could hardly be less original — and a remake of the British series The Tomorrow People that looks like any number of interchangeable CW shows about moody teens with superpowers (minus the ability to credibly emote). While CW president Mark Pedowitz discussed plans to introduce a possible Flash spin-off within Arrow this season, and to spin off the way-past-its-prime Supernatural with a show about hunters and monsters set in Chicago, you'd be forgiven for thinking the network's initials now stand for "Clone World."
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There is one notable exception this fall on the CW lineup, and when it reigns, it pours skepticism. Because few things would seem more off-brand than the 16th-century period piece Reign, a broadly fictionalized Masterpiece Junior melodrama about the early days of Mary Queen of Scots (Adelaide Kane). Even if it's meant to evoke a Gossip Girl-meets-The Tudors vibe, this earnestly stylized brew of romantic court intrigue is so unlike anything else in the CW universe you can't help but applaud the mad folly of it all. (The network got in the spirit by costuming its microphone-bearing pages in medieval garb, turning the Beverly Hilton ballroom temporarily into a Renaissance Fair.)
Pedowitz said the goal of developing Reign was to "attract women of all ages," a more elusive audience now that Gossip Girl and 90210 have "aged out," and giving it the time period behind its biggest hit The Vampire Diaries on Thursday is "the best shot" to introduce it to a wide audience (by the CW's minimal standards). Strategy aside, the one thing Reign's target audience shouldn't lose sleep over is its authenticity — it will be filmed in Toronto — or its accuracy. As the show's feisty star Kane shot back at critics, "We can take creative license. It's entertainment. It's not the History Channel." (We're tempted to remind her that the History Channel isn't even the History Channel anymore, but we digress.) Besides, she later observed, "How many teenage girls do you know who are obsessed with history? I know I wasn't at that age."
If that's the case, then Reign is even more of a puzzlement on this youth-obsessed network. But unless they add vampires to the mix, at least it won't be confused for anything else on the lineup, and that's a royal blessing.
Risking mental whiplash, the TCA shifted gears midday Tuesday from The CW to Showtime, with network president David Nevins (author of the "enemy of good television" quote) presenting a thoughtful, provocative panel on one of the fall's most fascinating new series: Masters of Sex, which will be paired with a new season of Homeland on Sundays starting Sept. 29. The '50s-set drama stars Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan as pioneering sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson (who passed away last week). Their clinical study of the physiology of sexual behavior is depicted unflinchingly and explicitly, while never seeming gratuitously titillating or graphic.
Much of the discussion focused on the awkwardness of these sexual depictions, but as Sheen noted, "The more you think that you are watching a show about sex, the more you ultimately are watching a show about the challenges of just connecting with human beings, being intimate. ... Sex seems to be a kind of conduit for any area that you feel shame about, anything that makes you feel different and disconnected from people. And hopefully, by doing a show about this in the way that we are trying to do it, it allows people to not feel so disconnected, to feel a little bit more connected, a little less shameful."
Thanks to Showtime, Masters and masterful actors like Sheen and Caplan, I ended the day feeling a lot less ashamed about TV than when it started.
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