Pasadena, Calif. -- Tragedy and comedy -- the shocking
death of John F. Kennedy Jr. and a startling animatronic pig -- stole the spotlight from
the new cable programming being unveiled here at the recent Television Critics Association
The third day of cable's portion of the TCA tour, July 17,
saw writers gathered around a TV set outside of a ballroom at the Ritz-Carlton Huntington
Hotel to watch news of the disappearance of the plane carrying Kennedy and his wife and
Inside that ballroom, during its session with the critics,
Cable News Network set up a special satellite feed so writers could get their own direct
live reports from Hyannisport, Mass., and ask CNN correspondents George Sesno and Bill
In fact, that day, some writers shifted gears to work on
stories about how the media was covering the Kennedy crash, so they were unable to attend
some cable networks' presentations.
Later that same Saturday afternoon, the TV critics got a
little welcome comic relief when they were introduced to -- and marveled at -- Napoleon,
the pig who has the starring role in Turner Network Television's $24 million original
movie, Animal Farm, based on George Orwell's classic dark fable about communism. It
airs Oct. 3.
Actor Patrick Stewart, who provides Napoleon's voice for Animal
Farm,appeared with the animatronic pig and executive producer Robert Halmi Sr.
at a panel. Napoleon, who exhibited various facial expressions, explained that he was
created through the latest in computer technology, designed specifically for Animal
"I have 10 high-pressure servo-controlled hydraulic
actuators controlling my head and neck movements, my entire body," the porker said.
"There are 36 servos inside my face just to make it move and look beautiful for you
today. And every single hair is laid on by hand."
Animal Farm incorporated real animals, animatronic ones
and other special film effects. After TNT's session, writers were invited to come up and
In fact, the Kennedy tragedy and, ironically, the pig,
seemed to have generated the most buzz from TV writers during cable's four days of
presentations. This July, there didn't seem to be one marquee offering from cable that had
"The tragedy has taken most of the press' attention
away from cable during the past two days," USA Today TV critic Robert Bianco
Referring to what was presented by cable, Bianco added,
"I didn't see any [The] Sopranos [Home Box Office's critically
acclaimed series],but maybe that's an unfair statement."
When asked by a colleague what had stood out during cable's
tour, another writer said, "Cable blurred."
There also wasn't a lot of star power around this year, in
terms of actors and actresses on panels.
Writers did see first-hand the biggest trend in cable
programming: original movies. Networks such as MTV: Music Television, VH1, TBS
Superstation, E! Entertainment Television and Black Entertainment Television all outlined
their plans for made-for-TV movies -- slates that had been previously announced in most
As part of that wave, Encore Media Group announced at the
TCA tour that it had named HBO Pictures executive Paige Smith Orloff as its vice president
of original movies, a newly created position based in Los Angeles. Orloff will oversee the
development and production of Starz! Pictures original movies.
During her four years at HBO, Orloff supervised the
development and production of HBO movies such as Don King: Only in America, Gia and
A Bright Shining Lie.
The premium services, HBO and Showtime, had their own trend
at the tour, as many of their telepics are about real people and events.
For example, HBO will premiere Introducing Dorothy
Dandridge,featuring Halle Berry as the tragic African-American actress, Aug.
Then, in the fall, HBO will debut RKO 281, about
William Randolph Hearst's effort to derail Orson Welles' Citizen Kane,Nov.
20. It stars Liev Schreiber and James Cromwell.
Finally HBO's fact-based Witness Protection, about
the federal program, stars Tom Sizemore and Forest Whitaker and airs Dec. 12.
HBO's original movie slate was thin compared with past
Showtime's truth-based offerings include Strange Justice,
the story of Clarence Thomas' controversial appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. The
project -- passed on by Turner Network Television and the Fox broadcast network -- stars
Delroy Lindo and Regina Taylor.
Showtime has also done a character study of Panamanian
general Manuel Noriega, Noriega: God's Favorite, which features Bob Hoskins, along
with Execution of Justice, about the murder of San Francisco supervisor Harvey
Milk, which stars Tim Daly and Peter Coyote.
In terms of individual new shows, MTV's demonstration of webRIOT
--a music-trivia game show that combines TV and the Internet -- had writers
shrieking in glee as they played the game on laptops and competed against each other.
And a tape of Lifetime Television's Ruby, a comedic
interview show starring Ruby Wax, had writers shrieking with laughter. Ruby premieres