TCA: A-List Talent, Future-Gazing, Deals & Reboots Or What We Learned At The Winter Press Tour

Television’s bi-annual promotional beauty parade wrapped up in Pasadena with over 130 panels, hundreds of stars, including former First Lady, Secretary of State and Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton, executive producers and network bosses taking the stage to talk up their latest projects and ambitions.

There were plenty of new shows, reboots, remakes, spin-offs, overall deals, a series of sweet goodbyes and an indication of where the business is heading over the next twelve months.

In terms of new titles, This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman persuaded Steve Martin, and Martin Short, back to television with a true crime series for Hulu, Amazon greenlit a Jack Reacher series and NBC gave Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson a straight-to-series about his misspent youth, written by Fresh Off the Boat creator Nahnatchka Khan. HBO also revealed that Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon is on track for a 2022 debut.

Thirtysomething is heading back to ABC with a pilot order for creators Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick, while the Disney-owned network is also spinning off The Bachelor with a music-based instalment Listen To Your Heart and looking to anthologize Revenge via its Latinx reboot. Chucky is coming to TV via Syfy, Fox is working with The Resident showrunner Todd Harthan on a new incarnation of 24, CBS is considering more FBI spin-offs from Dick Wolf and Starz is eyeing up a slew of spin-offs, sequels and story extensions set in the Outlander universe. There were multiple seasons orders for NBC’s Ryan Eggold’s sophomore medical drama New Amsterdam, FX’s Ryan Murphy’s anthology horror series American Horror Story, TBS’ American Dad and Comedy Central’s Tosh.0, while The CW gave its first straight-to-series orders to Superman & Lois, starring Supergirl‘s Tyler Hoechlin and Elizabeth Tulloch and Walker, a reimagining of Walker, Texas Ranger, headlined by Jared Padalecki. What strike?

There were sweet sendoffs for Modern Family (left) and Pop TV’s Schitt’s Creek, while AMC revealed that Breaking Bad prequel Better Call Saul was renewed for a sixth and final season. Showtime’s Shameless is also coming back for one more season, while the ViacomCBS network’s other hit drama Ray Donovan looks to be “nearing the end of its run”. HBO Max boss Kevin Reilly admitted that it is struggling to bring a Friends unscripted reunion special to the upcoming streaming service. There was bad news for the producers of a number of pilots with Amazon passing on its Stephen King adaptation The Dark Tower and remake of British comedy People Just Do Nothing.

There were plenty of overall deals handed out by the likes of Amazon to 12 Years A Slave director Steve McQueen and Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment, Apple to Veep’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Fox Entertainment to Being Mary Jane creator Mara Brock Akil, The Bold Type creator Sarah Watson and Gang Related exec producer Scott Rosenbaum, with the biggest overall deal of the fortnight emerging in the shape of Family Guy and The Orville creator Seth MacFarlane, who is leaving his longtime home of 20th Century Fox Television to move to NBCUniversal Content Studios.

However, not all of the networks and studios were so keen to dole out eight-figure checks to creators. AMC Networks boss Sarah Barnett (right) warning that it would not “spend its way to success” but instead search for new talent to uncover the next Phoebe Waller-Bridge or Vince Gilligan.

Barnett gave a rousing, almost Landgraf-esque speech during her network’s presentation, warning that the streaming wars and the drive towards data-led commissioning will hurt the quality of television. “If something needs to work as well in India as in America, then everything starts to look the same. If you try to talk to everyone you’re not going to be able to say much meaningful to anyone,” she said.

Similarly, Freeform President Tom Ascheim noted that if broadcasters don’t know what demographic that they are serving, they are “doomed to fade away”, while Hulu’s Craig Erwich questioned the increasing exclusivity, and the multi-million dollar deals, around library content. “Successful streaming is not just about how many people watched one show, or how many awards did you win or how much did you pay for this library series. Those are fleeting moments,” he said. “One show does not make a service. What’s important to us is to have an offering that includes as many of their favourite shows as possible. For some of these shows, especially the ones that have very deep libraries, I don’t know if exclusivity is paramount.”

The Mayor of Television himself, FX boss John Landgraf, unveiled his traditional count of scripted series – 532 last year, a rise of 7%. He spent much of his presentation lifting the lid on the cable network’s plans to roll out its originals, including Dave and Devs, via Hulu.

Starz talked up its plan to ramp up international co-productions in Spain and India, while Amazon boss Jennifer Salke highlighted its “international focus” and “global content expansion” with projects including Citadel from the Russo brothers, as well as revealing casting for its big-budget Lord of the Rings television series. Discovery boss David Zaslav also tee-ed up its international plans, saying that the broadcaster owns “almost all the golf in China”.

Zaslav touched upon Discovery’s move out of scripted, a move that a number of other players look to copy. It emerged that Facebook was paring down its scripted ambitions, opting not to renew Sorry For Your Loss, starring Elizabeth Olsen, or Jessica Biel’s Limetown, despite high hopes for the second season of Blumhouse anthology series Sacred Bones starring Juliette Lewis. WarnerMedia’s Reilly also admitted that Cinemax would no longer commission original shows and would not be brought into the HBO Max universe, leaving question marks over the future of shows such as Warrior.

The broadcast networks continued to talk up plans to move away from the traditional pilot process and move off-cycle, or as ABC calls it a “second cycle”. ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke (left) told Deadline, “Shows need time; we’re going to take a couple and take time and do a second cycle.” Fox is also moving this way with titles including its remake of British comedy Miranda, starring and exec produced by The Big Bang Theory’s Mayim Bialik and exec produced by her former co-star Jim Parsons. We’re not going to do all of our ordering in January; our hope is to be completely off-cycle,” Fox president of entertainment Michael Thorn told Deadline. “We’re looking at ordering things when they’re ready and backing off the traditional cycle and looking to set series up for success.” Similarly, NBC pushed The Kenan Show to the 2020/21 season to give SNL alum Kenan Thompson time to craft the show between stints on Lorne Michaels’ comedy show and non-scripted series Bring The Funny. “I think it’s stronger, smarter and funnier than it would be if we forced it through the traditional cycle,” Chairman of NBC Entertainment Paul Telegdy said.

Non-scripted, traditionally the poor relation to its scripted sibling, got a boost in the first two weeks of January with both ABC and Fox particularly highlighting the genre. ABC’s Burke said the network would be prioritizing live and unscripted programming, highlighting the success of Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time, and hoping that the return of Supermarket Sweep, fronted by Leslie Jones, and Jimmy Kimmel-fronted Who Wants To Be A Millionaire specials would help bring some “swagger” back to broadcast television.

Fox is looking east for its next hit. The network unveiled The Masked Singer spin-off The Masked Dancer, while the company’s unscripted chief Rob Wade told Deadline that it was developing an adaptation of Korean mystery music gameshow I Can See Your Voice as it looks for its next hit.

There was plenty of focus on docuseries as well in Pasadena. Epix revealed that it commissioned music series Laurel Canyon, to follow-up its Punk doc series, while Hillary Clinton (right), Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian were all in town to promote documentaries. Clinton turned up with her secret service detail to discuss her eponymous Hulu series, saying that “nothing was off limits” to director Nanette Burstein. Hilton revealed that she had been playing a “character” for the last 15 years as she promoted YouTube doc This Is Paris alongside Alexandra Dean, while Kardashian spoke about justice reform to promote her forthcoming Oxygen series.

The trio were just some of the top talent that passed through Pasadena with the likes of Reese Witherspoon, for The Morning Show and Hulu’s Little Fires Everywhere, and Daveed Diggs, for Snowpiercer and Apple TV+’s Central Park, making multiple appearances, while Cynthia Erivo also turned up twice, albeit via satellite from Tokyo to discuss HBO’s The Outsider and Nat Geo’s Genius: Aretha. The long-list of stars also included The Good Lord Bird’s Ethan Hawke, Hunters’ Al Pacino, Mrs. America’s Cate Blanchett and Fargo’s Chris Rock and Defending Jacob’s Chris Evans.

The latter, admittedly via satellite, was one of the stars of AppleTV+’s inaugural TCA showing, following The Morning Show team that also included Jennifer Aniston. The tech giant added a touch of glamour, and comfy sofas, to the Langham Huntingdon hotel on the final day, highlighting the fact that the endless march of premium television shows no sign of abating.

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