News Column

Forget reruns: Summer is prime time for TV series

June 23, 2013

YellowBrix

June 23--Summer once was the season to turn off televisions and head outside. Reruns filled network schedules.

About 15 years ago, show creators, most of them making cable shows, became smarter. They debuted programming in summer instead of fall, avoiding the crush of competition.

Shows such as HBO's "Sex and the City" debuted in June instead of September, and on pay cable, where new offerings often are given room to breathe and to catch on with viewers instead of immediately facing the ax if ratings are bad.

The onetime TV no man's land now is prime real estate. Actor Steven Bauer ("Scarface"), who appears in the new Showtime series "Ray Donovan," (premiering at 10 p.m. June 30, after Showtime's "Dexter") said he was excited to hear the show would debut in summer.

"It really takes away a lot of the pressure, not being bunched in with a lot of other stuff," Bauer said. "Donovan" will benefit from the greater wiggle room, he said, because the show "is going to require the audience to take their time and let it grow on them -- (it has) a lot of characters."

Ray, a Hollywood scandal "fixer" played by Liev Schreiber, is a complex guy, said Bauer, who plays Ray's Mossad-trained assistant and muscle man. Sometimes brutal, sometimes tender, Ray Donovan could emerge "a Walt White," Bauer said, referring to Bryan Cranston's teacher-turned-meth-maker on AMC's "Breaking Bad," which is wrapping up its series run this summer.

But summer TV 2013 brings more than just fixers and complicated drug dealers and killers. The beloved summer shows "Rizzoli & Isles" and "Drop Dead Diva" offer female leads and even occasional bouts of frothiness.

Netflix, the Internet streaming service that's now acting like a pay-cable service by offering original series, splits the difference with July's "Orange Is the New Black," a new drama-comedy from "Weeds" creator Jenji Kohan. "Orange" offers a largely female cast but covers the criminal element through its setting -- a women's prison.

Here are seven series to look for this summer. Some are new, some returning, and all are scripted. (Reality TV draws too much attention already.)

--"Drop Dead Diva," 9 tonight, Lifetime. It's hard to resist "back from the dead" references with this show, so let's not even try. Canceled earlier this year after four seasons, "Diva" was revived a few months later thanks partly to fan protest. The resurrection suited a show about a sweet but shallow model who dies and returns in the body of a plus-size, smart-as-a-whip attorney named Jane (Brooke Elliott). The show is kindhearted, never takes itself too seriously and has local connections. Kate Levering, who plays Jane's office colleague, is from Sacramento, and Faith Prince, who has appeared on occasion as Jane's mom, still lives here.

--"Rizzoli & Isles," 9 p.m. Tuesday, TNT. The friendship between rough-hewn, savvy Boston detective Jane Rizzoli (Angie Harmon) and beautifully clothed, brilliant medical examiner Maura Isles (Sasha Alexander) outshines the procedural aspects of this cop show, kicking off its fourth season Tuesday. The summer episodes give weight to Maura's birth family, Alexander said during a break from shooting. (Adopted by wealthy WASPs, Maura discovered a few seasons ago that her birth father is an Irish American crime boss). The mob boss is in jail, but still "wreaking havoc" via cronies, Alexander said. Maura also will be accused of murder this season. "She's not really fit for jail," Alexander said of the fashion-plate character. Alexander's and Harmon's sparkling, easy chemistry -- and their characters' lack of lasting love interests -- often inspires speculation that Jane and Maura might become a couple. The show sometimes plays up that subtext. So will they or won't they? Jane and Maura are "definitely not gay," Alexander said. "But do we have chemistry? Absolutely. You know, it's a testament to how much people love this relationship, because whether they think they're gay, and want them to be gay, or whether it just reminds them of their sister or their mother or their best friend, they just want Angie and I to go home together and cuddle. ... I think that's really sweet, and a lot of fun, and we both enjoy playing it."

--"Dexter," 9 p.m. June 30, Showtime: The story lines became repetitive over the years, with serial killer Dexter (Michael C. Hall) constantly on the verge of being caught before killing his way out of it. Yet great moments always outnumbered so-so moments, with Hall and Jennifer Carpenter, who plays Dexter's sister, Deb, providing an intriguing study in contrasts: Dexter is so secretive and contained and Deb such an open wound. But as the eighth and final season kicks off, both are losing their grips. Deb's bottom-dwelling is especially fascinating because Carpenter, as always, goes all in.

--"Ray Donovan," 10 p.m. June 30, Showtime. Schreiber plays a guy who cleans up Hollywood messes -- he's like Kerry Washington in "Scandal," with more stubble. The pilot episode, which introduces East Coast Irish American transplant Ray, his wife and kids, two brothers, criminal father (Jon Voight, in a literally winking performance), investigative colleagues (Bauer and Katherine Moennig, from "The L Word") and several other characters, is busy, Bauer acknowledged. But he said the series settles down in subsequent episodes. In the pilot, the characters seem not just too many but a bit too broad (must the Irish American family include a fixer, a boxer and a priest-abuse survivor?). But broad will not put off regular Showtime viewers. The pay-cable channel does not have a subtle bone in its body. Even "Homeland" is over the top.

--"The Bridge," 10 p.m. July 10, FX. Traversing the United States-Mexico border, this new crime series shares similarities with AMC's "The Killing." It too is based on a Scandinavian series and pairs a female and male detective. Demian Bichir (Oscar-nominated for 2011's "A Better Life") plays a Mexican detective who teams up with an El Paso, Texas, detective (Diane Kruger, from "Inglourious Basterds") to catch a serial killer. The casting shows how cable TV has it all over movies these days: Bichir and Kruger, both interesting actors beloved by the camera, never would be paired in a Hollywood cop movie. They would not be considered young, funny or bankable enough.

--"Orange Is the New Black," 12:01 a.m. July 11, Netflix. This new series is based on Smith College alumna Piper Kerman's memoir about her year in prison. Taylor Schilling stars as Kerman, whose romantic and criminal involvement with a drug runner (Laura Prepon) a decade earlier helped land her in prison in 2004. The show will track the lead character's adjustment to prison life and offer insights into how her fellow inmates ended up in the pen. That second part likely will be key to the show's success, because Kerman did not come off as especially sympathetic in her memoir. As it did with "House of Cards," Netflix will offer all episodes at once.

--"Breaking Bad," 9 p.m. Aug. 11, AMC. Walter White's (three-time Emmy winner Bryan Cranston) moral devolution from science teacher into stone-cold crime kingpin seemed to have been halted, at the conclusion of the first half of the fifth season (the final season was divided) by the return of his wife (Anna Gunn) and children and her reveal of stacks of cash so high they could never spend them. Walt even showed a little bit of heart toward long-suffering sidekick Jesse (two-time Emmy winner Aaron Paul). But Walt's drug agent brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris) made a discovery during a family barbecue that could undo Walt. Leave it to masterful series creator Vince Gilligan to inject this development into such mundane circumstances.

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