Critics Sample Cable's Newest Fare


In the battle for buzz, it was the Marines versus the Mad Men last week. And it looks like the grey-flannel suits of 1960's Madison Avenue may have edged out the troops.

As unlikely as it may have once seemed AMC, a basic cable network once known only as a purveyor of classic movies, seemed to draw the most excitement and attention at the four-day cable portion of the Television Critics Association summer tour.

In a press swirl reminiscent of The Sopranos, it wasn't even a new series but rather the new season of AMC's Mad Men that caused the biggest hubbub at the press tour. To keep interest high in the award-winning drama about a complicated adman and his colleagues at Sterling Cooper, AMC this Tuesday will take TV writers to visit the show's set in Los Angeles.

The TCA tour was a chance for pay and basic cable networks to show off their original scripted programming, which have attracted the most attention among TV critics lately.

This summer, HBO's testosterone-charged miniseries about the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Generation Kill, seemed to come second only to Mad Men from the conversation and coverage from the crowd of critics. But the pay TV service is also back in business with Alan Ball of Six Feet Under, who's doing a series on vampires called True Blood, which premieres in September.

A&E Network for the first time in six years is trying its hand at scripted dramas, with The Cleaner, about an ex-addict who tries to rehabilitate others. TNT is expanding its successful scripted-drama roster with Raising the Bar and Leverage, while Starz this fall premieres Crash. And Lifetime Television has a new comedy, Rita Rocks.

Cable hasn't abandoned reality programming: MTV Networks led the pack of cable channels with a slate of reality fare.

MTVN's TV Land July 16 will debut Family Foreman, about the former heavyweight champion and his 10 kids — five of whom are also named George Edward Foreman.

VH1 is offering audiences a look into the life and family of comedian Margaret Cho with The Cho Show.

Over at Comcast's Style Network, Ruby will chronicle a 500-pound Georgia woman's life-and-death fight to lose weight.

On the non-fiction front, National Geographic Channel is offering Solo: Lost at Sea, which depicts a weeping Andrew McAuley paddling away from his family as he attempts to kayak solo from Australia to New Zealand. He dies trying.

History Channel is presenting Sandhogs, New York City's urban miners, while Discovery Channel's fare includes a preserved dinosaur in Secrets of the Dinosaur Mummy.

At this summer's press tour, lower-profile cable networks, including TV One, HDNet and Fox Reality Channel were able to get more attention as some of the major cable programmers, such as USA Network and Disney Channel, are presenting with their broadcast siblings.

At press time, Fox Reality, Starz, Lifetime and several Turner networks had not yet made presentations.

Following is a round-up of TCA news: