Brian LowryLOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - Marvel's synergistic efforts remain one of its assets, but transforming a supporting player in "Captain America," played by Hayley Atwell, into the star of a limited ABC series was inordinately opportunistic even by its standards, and as it turns out, a pretty smart bet. That's because the combination of the British actress and post-World War II setting make the Marvel-branded vehicle, "Agent Carter," considerable fun, and in some ways more promising than the series it's replacing, the uneven "Agents of SHIELD." While there's no assurance this spinoff will have legs, the opening salvo is worthy of a hearty "Hail, 'Carter.'"
Shrewdly using a clip from "Captain America" to intro the show (a cheap way, if you think about it, to get Chris Evans into your series), the program picks up in 1946, with Atwell's Peggy Carter working as a spy for a covert agency, albeit one in which the male-dominated hierarchy doesn't take her seriously.
"I didn't know our government had such good taste in secretaries," a suspect sneers, while her boss ("Boardwalk Empire's" Shea Whigham) tells Peggy to step outside so she won't have to sully her delicate eyes by seeing a colleague employ what might be euphemistically described as enhanced interrogation methods.
Brian LowryLOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - At this point, a new season of "Downton Abbey" is much like a visit from old friends. Sure, the stories are familiar -- perhaps even just variations on what you've heard before -- but it's more about sharing their company and the feelings they rekindle. So after some awkward aspects to season four, the new year returns exploring many of the same issues while adding wrinkles to old ones, as Julian Fellowes continues to masterfully juggle a vast assortment of players upstairs and downstairs. Modernity is the overarching theme, but that won't prevent admirers from dutifully returning to savor "Downton's" Old World charms.
In some respects, the latest episodic flight (all but the Christmas episode were made available) feels less like Season 5 than Season 4, Part B, what with so much unfinished business to transact. That's not a serious knock on the show, necessarily, although the latest storyline doesn't contain the sort of signature events that have dictated the course for past runs.
It's 1924, meaning roughly a dozen years have passed since the narrative officially began, with the devastation of World War I in the middle.
Brian LowryLOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - Bashing "liberal Hollywood" and out-of-touch celebrities has become a favorite target among conservatives. But those seeking to defend the Bush administration in light of the recent Torture Report -- and that's mostly conservatives -- could hardly have had a better ally than the images of torture in TV and movies showcasing the practice, particularly in the face of "ticking-bomb scenarios."
Fox's "24," naturally, comes to mind, and the movie "Zero Dark Thirty," which was criticized for its depiction of torture as a likely asset in locating Osama Bin Laden. Surprisingly, director Kathryn Bigelow seemed tongue-tied when Jon Stewart benignly asked her about the film during a recent appearance promoting another project in the wake the Torture Report's conclusions.
The practice has been employed in other series as well - such as "Sons of Anarchy," "Scandal" and "Homeland" - and countless movies, from the bad guys who use it (see various Quentin Tarantino films) to the ostensible good guys.
Variety.comLOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - NBC's "Dateline" has produced its first-ever full-length documentary exclusively for digital, with the newsmagazine show set to premiere "Oscar Pistorius: The Verdict" Friday about the murder trial of the South African Olympic runner who was found guilty of shooting his girlfriend to death.
The original documentary will go live on DatelineNBC.com tonight at 7 p.m. Eastern and will be available only online. "Oscar Pistorius: The Verdict" tells the story of the case -- which has been closely tracked by media worldwide -- from the night Reeva Steenkamp was killed to the verdicts issued in this week. Docu is broken into six segments, totaling about 40 minutes of runtime.
An NBC News rep did not respond to requests for comment about why "Oscar Pistorius: The Verdict" was being distributed only online.
The Sports Xchange
Tim Tebow has another job. Not in the NFL as a quarterback but as a contributor to "Good Morning America."
ABC announced Thursday that it was adding the former Heisman Trophy winner to the show as part of its new "Motivate Me Monday" segment that focuses on uplifting stories of people. Tebow will be in studio and also on location throughout the country.
The former NFL quarterback, who led to the Denver Broncos to the playoffs in 2012, began work in television earlier this summer as an college football analyst for ESPN and the SEC Network that launched last month.
LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - Netflix has secured exclusive subscription video-on-demand rights to all seven season of femme-led dramedy "Gilmore Girls" -- encompassing 153 episodes in all -- via a pact with Warner Bros. Television.
Every episode from the series will be available on the streamer starting Oct. 1, according to a Netflix rep. Financial terms are not being disclosed. The deal grants Netflix rights only for the U.S.
"Gilmore Girls" stars Lauren Graham ("Parenthood") as single mom Lorelai Gilmore, focusing on her relationship with daughter Rory (played by Alexis Bledel, whose credits include "Sin City" and "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants"). Series, set in the fictional town of Stars Hollow, Conn., was exec produced by David Rosenthal and created by Amy Sherman-Palladino.
Brian LowryLOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - The disproportionate attention showered on the Sunday discussion shows has made remodeling "Meet the Press" seem like a momentous occasion. NBC News didn't want to leave much to chance with Chuck Todd's debut as host, enlisting President Obama as his co-star -- and surrounding him with other NBC talent, in what felt like an "It takes a village" approach. Yet the nature of these shows is such that facial hair notwithstanding, the new "Press" still feels a lot like the old "Press."
"As you can see, we're making a few changes around here," Todd -- a solid interviewer, if by no means a TV natural -- said by way of introduction, while treating his own arrival at the helm of the long-running franchise as a historic event.
Todd has earned a reputation as a D.C. insider and policy wonk, although that doesn't address one of the fundamental problems plaguing these programs -- namely, that in such hyper-partisan political times, the attempt to appear even-handed (perhaps especially for NBC, given MSNBC's left-leaning profile) is merely an invitation for the usual suspects to pounce on any perceived exhibition of bias.
LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - Given its initial premise and appalling body count, the fact "Sons of Anarchy" has credibly reached a seventh and final season is in itself an accomplishment. Yet this fall's driving theme -- unrelenting revenge and retribution -- practically ensures a series already characterized by over-the-top violence will be even more steeped in creatively conceived gore. Few programs seem more closely linked to the id of their brain trust than this one, and showrunner Kurt Sutter has set the stage for an operatic finish. That said, watching "Sons" ride toward the sunset -- taking its excesses with it -- evokes as much relief as regret.
Without giving too much away (and SPOILER ALERT only to those not fully up to date on last season's events), the SAMCRO motorcycle club, under the stewardship of Jax (Charlie Hunnam), is grappling with some beyond-usual family issues. Sure, Jax killed his stepfather, assumed control and tried to take the club in a more legitimate directsm as opposed to depicting violence because it's organic to the story. And while the show has contemplated the side effects of SAMCRO's criminal enterprises -- including the sobering incorporation of a school shooting with one of the guns it distributes -- more often those caught in the crossfire are dispensed with little second thought.
Throughout, "Sons of Anarchy" -- much like "The Shield," one of the stops where Sutter cut his creative teeth -- has exhibited a genuine and singular artistic vision, and the way the episodes spill out into ungainly lengths (the premiere runs 75 minutes, sans commercials) is both a testament to FX's willingness to indulge talent and a window into the creative process.