TCA Winter 2015: Quick Takes From Netflix, CTAM, ESPN and National Geographic’s TCA Presentations


On Day 1 of the 16-day biannual Television Critic’s Association Winter 2015 Press Tour, Netflix, CTAM, ESPN and National Geographic introduced their new programming, and the following are quick takes of their new series and television services.

Netflix Executive Session

During the executive Q&A, Netflix Chief Content Officer (CCO) Ted Sarandos admitted that news, sport and live events are not an area of interests and that their business features on-demand content.  Netflix wants to build its brand, continuing in the line of HOUSE OF CARDS, ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, HEMLOCK GROVE, and MARCO POLO.  Addressing another recent acquisition, Sarandos said that while LONGMIRE did not work for a traditional network, it will be a good fit on Netflix. (Thank goodness LONGMIRE fans won’t be left with that brutal Season 3 cliffhanger and will get a well-deserved proper series ending.)

In the cool news, building the successful launch in December, the Netflix original series MARCO POLO has been renewed for Season 2.  It also announced the premiere date for its new series DAREDEVIL for April 10th.

Standing behind its steadfast refusal to release any ratings data for its original content, Netflix CCO Ted Sarandos stated that he does not believe in perpetuating bad numbers (e.g., Nielsen ratings) helps the entertainment business.  In fact, Sarandos claimed that there is no reason to report Netflix ratings because Netflix does not have to justify any ad rates.  With more than 53 million subscribers (and growing), Sarandos felt that there is something for everyone on Netflix.  For example, Sarandos also noted that ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK is very popular in China. (Who would have thought?!)  He further noted that the typical Netflix subscriber usually watches one show at a time (marathoning or binge-watching), which is very different than how viewers watch traditional television, one episode at a time on primetime. Instead Netflix subscribers watch one show from beginning to end before starting another show — supporting the model of Netflix releasing an entire season of its shows all at once. Apparently, binge-watching is here to stay, thanks to Netflix.

THE FALL (Season 2 premieres January 16th on Netflix)

Appearing for THE FALL panel were co-stars Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan — alas, seated separately.  What a wasted opportunity.  It would have been great to see them interact more. Despite this seating oversight, it was exciting to hear about THE FALL Season 2. If you have not discovered THE FALL yet, it is a mind-bender as it invites the viewer to root for a brutal serial killer. It should be noted that Jamie Dornan’s character does not kill those who deserve to die, he kills innocents.  (Apparently, he does not have DEXTER’s strong moral code.) So THE FALL offers intriguing look into minds of a serial killer and the detective tracking him.

As seen in Season 1, THE FALL offers great work by Jamie Dornan and Gillian Anderson.  During the Q&A panel,  Jamie Dornan expressed gratitude fans appreciate bits of humanity in his character.  Then, as a controversial observation, Dornan noted that he believes that Gillian’s character Stella is flattered by Spector’s attention and speculated that Stella may be a little bit in love with him. Co-star Gillian Anderson merely smiled at that comment.  Looking back at the initial show casting, EP Allan Cubitt explained that, after first casting Gillian Anderson, that it was a tall order to try to find actor who could work up against her.  So were very lucky to find Jamie Dornan as Jamie portrays the duality necessary for audiences to both love and loathe his character. When questioned about some of the darker scenes in THE FALL, Jamie Dornan admitted it is bizarre and uncomfortable to put some of the actresses in the positions he has to in THE FALL. In fact, he apologizes in advance to the actresses that his character Spector attacks. Jamie is such a gentleman! And the good news is that Cubitt feels quite confident that THE FALL will be picked up for a third season, though no official word has been received from BBC yet. Though, upon hearing that, Jamie Dornan ruefully noted, “I don’t want to stay in the head-space of someone like Spector for too long.”

UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT (Season 1 premieres March 6th on Netflix)

Appearing for UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT were creator Tina Fey along with stars Ellie Kemper, Tituss Burgess, Jane Krakowski.  UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT offers a story which is akin to a modern take on MARY TYLER MOORE, albeit featuring a character who spent 15 years in an underground doomsday cult believing all life above had been destroy in the final days of Earth, and who then tries to assimilate into today’s society.  It should be noted that it was great to see Jane Krakowski for the UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT, though I always think when I see here:  “Doesn’t she ever age?” Just love her, and I must not be the only one as Tina Fey admitted that the characters in UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT were written with Jane Krakowski and Ellie Kemper specifically in mind. How about that:  custom-made TV?!  Tina Fey also promised that there will be big name stars from her former show 30 ROCK appearing in KIMMY SCHMIDT, but said viewers would have to tune in on March 6th to find out who.  She also noted that she was pleased to be working with Netflix on this project as across the board all the networks have had a hard time launching new comedy shows.   Makes one wonder:  With comedy TV shows rapidly in decline on network television, curious to see if Netflix and digital realm may offer better venue?

BLOODLINE (Season 1 premieres March 20th on Netflix)

Starring Kyle Chandler, Sissy Spacek, Sam Shepard, Chloe Sevigny and Steven Pasquale, the show’s tagline is: “We are not bad people, but we did a bad thing.”  BLOODLINE is a family drama combined with psychological thriller.  Creator Todd Kessler (who also created DAMAGES) said it is a story that allows them to dig into the earth of stories about families, so to speak.  On surface it is paradise with an underbelly of darkness and strangeness, whereas the landscape itself is a swampy mangrove with pristine waters.  It provides a setting for the show with a naturally murky environment.  Kessler felt the Florida Everglades provided a unique place to serve all their characters and circumstances.  As to why he pitched the series to Netflix and did not take it to more traditional cable networks like HBO, Kessler also noted that working with Netflix provided great flexibility and freedom in storytelling. Then when asked what drew her to this particular series, co-star Sissy Spacek said, “I’m a fool for a good story.  These filmmakers are very talented and I wanted to be a part of that.”
(Personal observation:  The show has the visual style of the film “The Descendants” and seems to combine that with the twisty storytelling of Showtimes’ THE AFFAIR.)


Slowly gaining ground in the battle for eyeballs as viewers are moving on to watching TV shows online is CTAM’s “TV Everywhere.”  TV Everywhere (TVE) is an app that TV cable providers have worked together to create to provide an easy to use and access broadcast/cable television shows in just one place.  Rather than force viewers to go to separate websites or use 20-plus different apps to watch their TV shows online, TV Everywhere was created so viewers could just go to one place to watch TV — eliminating the need to pay for separate networks just to access the same TV shows that viewers are already paying for through their cable TV subscriptions (for example, Time Warner, Cox, Comcast).  Instead, the carriers created a TV everywhere initiative and set up the TVE (TV Everywhere) app to make it easier for viewers who are seeking their television shows online.  Unfortunately, there is a misconception, that TV Everywhere is an add-on or is not already paid for in a viewer’s normal cable bill.  TVE is already paid for if you pay for cable through Time Warner, Cox, Comcast or another carrier.  So it is likely you already have access — unless you get your TV shows through an antenna.  TVE is a benefit provided to cable TV customers without extra charge.  Of note is that this is television carriers’ attempt to try to stop erosion by cord-cutters by allowing more flexible way to watch TV (on-the-go and anytime).  Another interesting tidbit from the TVE presentation was that online piracy of television shows decreases with the increase of TV content made available online.  So this is an determined effort to stop piracy of TV shows, as well.


From its presentation, ESPN seems to have the goal to conquer the entire television realm which its multitude (if not hundreds) of channels.  Clearly, ESPN intends to capture viewers seeking sports and sport stories — or even just powerful documentary stories, whether sports-related or not.  In fact, in 2015, ESPN offers the new series: Marvel Origins and Marvel Genesis, which showcases real live superheroes — people who live heroic lives. These series will examine whether great heroes are born or created — it is nature versus nurture.   In addition, ESPN continues to expand their Five Thirty Eight series with “Signals,” which they affectionately call “nerdy for nerdy.”

Another big addition to their original series is the documentary short series VERSUS (Vs.), which makes its debut on Sports Center.  Produced by Eva Longoria, VERSUS will look at athletes who overcome moral and/or value obstacles.  The first featured short “Go Sebastian, Go!” is about Sebastian de la Cruz, a young mariachi singer who performs the national anthem at the NBA.  Look for it to debut in May 2015.

As ESPN’s 30 for 30 series celebrates its 5th season in 2015, its latest addition is the special “Of Miracles and Men,” which tells story of “Miracle on Ice” — but this time from Soviet point of view.  “Of Miracles and Men” debuts February 8th on ESPN.

National Geographic

After receiving record ratings for their series “Life Below Zero,” “Wicked Tuna,” “Ultimate Survival Alaska,” Nat Geo acknowledges that now these three shows are the backbone of their programming.  (“Ultimate Survival Alaska” is one of the toughest competition series on television as it pits four teams against each other and Mother Nature.  It’s about pushing the limits of human endurance.)

In an effort to continue to build on those growing ratings, in 2015, Nat Geo goes back to their television roots with the return of EXPLORER, which won 60 Emmys in its 25 year run.  During its prior run EXPLORER made 2,000 films and explored 120 countries around the world.  So Nat Geo wants to see what else EXPLORER can uncover as we continue to explore the vast and intriguing world around us.

It should also be noted that as a special achievement, last year’s COSMOS was most watched series in Nat Geo history.

In addition, Nat Geo WILD also demonstrated strong ratings growth and continues to be a cornerstone of their programming as well.   Ratings were up 23% in 2014.  It is just on fire in viewership growth and excitement. “Destination Wild” will feature new special every Sunday night for next six months.  Other Nat Geo WILD specials include:  “Chimpanzee” (airs January 11th), “Wild Australia,” “African Cats” and “Fish Bowl II” (airs Super Bowl Sunday).  For a Groundhog Day special, Nat Geo offers an all-day 20 hour marathon of “American Beaver” (February 2nd).  They will also offer “Unlikely Animal Friends” (also airs February 2nd). Then Cesar Milan’s Viva Las Vegas special airs February 20th.  Then Nat Geo’s Number 1 show, INCREDIBLE! THE STORY OF DR. POL, returns January 11th.  It’s new series Barkfest features “Is Your Dog a Genius?” and “Canine Companions for Independence” (both celebrating man’s best friend) and debuts May 2015.

Then dipping their toe into the talk show arena, Nat Geo debuts STAR TALK with host Neil deGrasse Tyson in Spring 2015.  STAR TALK offers a mixture of comedy, pop culture and science. It will examine how science has affected a specific person’s life in pop culture.  Tyson firmly believes science is all around us and affects all of us in intriguing ways.

Also upcoming in 2015 is Nat Geo’s “History of the World,” which will be a docu-comedy that uses animation and other comedy forms to tell the history story of the world, “Dino Autopsy” which showcase the autopsy of a recovered dinosaur, and “Wild River Timber” where ordinary folks who do extraordinary things (described as Huck Finn meets Alaska).

Then in the scripted area, Nat Geo follows up on the success of KILLING KENNEDY and KILLING LINCOLN with its new 3 hour mini-series KILLING JESUS, which is a fictional look at the life and death of Jesus, based on the book by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard.  KILLING JESUS will premiere Spring 2015.  It stars Stephen Moyer as Pontius Pilate and Kelsey Grammar as King Herod.  (Cool observation:  MERLIN and THE NIGHT SHIFT fans should take note that Eoin Macken co-stars as Antipas.  Then THE MENTALIST fans will be excited to see that Emmanuelle Chriqui will portray Herodia. As if that were not enough for the average TV addict, Stephanie Leonidas from Syfy’s DEFIANCE co-stars as Salome.)

That is a wrap on Day 1 at TCA Winter 2015.  Look for more upcoming snapshots from TCA on the new shows and TV specials coming up for Winter/Spring 2015 here at