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Showtime Splashes Down at TV Critics Panel with Climate Change Doc; Star-Studded New Shows Unveiled

Showtime Splashes Down at TV Critics Panel with Climate Change Doc; Star-Studded New Shows Unveiled

Heat, drought and
catastrophe conspired to provide a perfect entrance for Arnold Schwarzenegger when he showed up at TCA on Thursday to promote Showtime‘s
epic documentary on climate change. Billows of red-tinged smoke, spread across an unnaturally warm winter
sky, framed the drive to Pasadena for the former California governor, Showtime
president David Nevins and others attending the event at the Langham Hotel
from offsite — the result of a forest fire burning in nearby Glendora on an
80-degree January day.   

Forest fires — and his exposure to their increasing numbers during his tenure as governor — were exactly what led him to
become involved in the project, said Schwarzenegger. He’s an executive producer
and on-camera correspondent for “The Years of Living Dangerously,” an
eight-part documentary on global climate change that premieres in April. (Trailer after the jump.)

“One
morning I woke up at 6 a.m. and there were more than 2,000 fires burning in
California. Just think about that,”
Schwarzenegger said, after arriving late to Showtime’s in-progress panel, wearing
cowboy boots and an open collared-shirt with his grey suit. He joins exec producers Jerry Weintraub and
James Cameron (not present) in presenting the documentary, which
premieres Sunday, April 13 and will run in eight parts. Stars of movies and TV join high-profile
journalists to report on crises and disruptions that are ostensibly linked to
an encroaching global climate crisis in the big-canvas doc.  

“This is the biggest story of our time,
and now’s the time to tell it,” Cameron says in the program. Broadcast journalist David Gelber, a longtime
producer on “60 Minutes,” brought the project — originally conceived
as a theatrical doc — to Weintraub. “I
said, if you want eyeballs, do it on television,” said Weintraub (“Ocean’s
Eleven”). “I wasn’t interested in doing it as a film because I didn’t think
anyone would go to see it.”    

Seeking maximum explosure, Gelber said, the team first took the project
to broadcast networks, but got a cool reception that he attributes in part to
political divisions around the topic. By
contrast, he said, Showtime’s David Nevins embraced the multi-part docu
wholeheartedly. The premium pay cable
channel is currently at a historic peak of penetration with 23 million
subscribers, Nevins said earlier in the Showtime presentation. Even so, producers say they’ll utilize social
media to extend the reach of the docu, and expose it on other platforms after
its Showtime run.  

Bringing in actors and
their various constituencies was a key part of the strategy for spreading the
message, they added.  Besides
Schwarzenegger, who has resumed his movie career, the microphone at various
climate change hot spots is wielded by Matt Damon, Harrison Ford, Don Cheadle,
Jessica Alba, Ian Somerhalder and others. “These are people who are already very involved in communicating
about this cause,” said Weintraub.  “We
weren’t just choosing them for marquee value.”   

Somerhalder, star of CW’s “The Vampire
Diaries,” pointed out that the younger generation that makes up the show’s
core demographic is particularly receptive and tuned in to environmental
issues, and is well-positioned to influence parents and elders. The polarized political climate surrounding
the climate change issue, especially as a liberal cause, dates
back to Al Gore and the Kyoto Protocol in the ’90s, the producers said. “Our hope is that this show will
transcend that. That’s why we’re focusing on putting a human face on the
issues,” said climate expert and exec producer Daniel Assabi, also present
on the panel.  

Earlier in its presentation,
Showtime announced two new shows to premiere later this year. Philip Seymour Hoffman will star in “Happyish,”
a half-hour comedy created by “This American Life” contributor Shalom
Auslander
, about an advertising exec in his 40s who fears he’s fast becoming
culturally irrelevant. Clips from the pilot,
directed by John Cameron Mitchell, looked brilliantly funny. Rhys Ifans and
Kathryn Hahn also star.   

On the drama side, the pay
cabler announced “The Affair,” an intimate look at two marriages and
the affair that disrupts them. Created and written by Sarah Treem, it stars
Dominic West, Ruth Wilson, Maura Tierney and Joshua Jackson.    Both new shows received ten-episode orders.

Preview clips for “Penny
Dreadful
,” a gothic horror series premiering in May, provided the
splashiest element of the Showtime presentation. The original drama, which
marks the first adventure in television for screenwriter John Logan (“Skyfall,”
“Gladiator”), looked incredibly frightening, disturbing and
lush. Set in Victorian England and
starring Josh Hartnett and Eva Green, it looks likely to emerge as a strong
rival to HBO’s long-running “True Blood” for the demographic drawn to
bloody erotica.

The long-awaited season
three return of “Episodes,” Showtime’s biting send-up of the
television industry, also got the full TCA treatment, with stars Matt LeBlanc,
Kathleen Rose Perkins and Mircea Monroe appearing with exec producers and sole
writers David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik.

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