The winter edition of the Television Critics Association Press Tour kicked off Thursday afternoon in Pasadena, California, with AT&T’s Audience Network. While plenty of other smaller pay TV channels have been beefing up their original series of late, Audience Network began its own forays into originals in 2010, picking up “Damages,” which had been canceled by FX.
Foremost of Audience’s originals is “Kingdom,” the MMA drama from Byron Balasco; polyamory comedy “You Me Her”; and a slate of unscripted series and documentaries, including a firsthand look at the carnage in northern Syria from executive producer Ricky Schroder.
Season 3, which premieres May 31, will pick up with most of its characters split apart, according to showrunner Balasco. And in addition to their myriad personal problems, the characters will also be dealing with MMA’s continued entry into the mainstream. “UFC was just sold for $4 billion. This isn’t the Wild West,” star Frank Grillo said.
Yet all that money and corporatization doesn’t mean sterilized storylines are on the way. “You can legitimize the corporate structure, but you’re never going to change the fact that fighters are fighters,” Balasco countered. “They’re living on the edge, and it’s a difficult, violent world. I don’t think that’ll ever change. No matter how it’s marketed or pushed into the mainstream, these people are the same.”
The show has found a large international following. “I don’t necessarily think it’s because people overseas like fighting,” Grillo explained. “It’s family, and it’s just great drama. Even when I was in China, people just love the stories. It is kind of interesting how many people overseas — I’ve been to China, Australia — they love the drama and the family aspect of what we’re doing.”
“You Me Her”
In Season 1, suburban couple Jack (Greg Poehler) and Emma (Rachel Blanchard) became a “throuple” — a three-person relationship — with grad-student/escort Izzy (Priscilla Faia). Season 2, which premieres on Valentine’s Day, will deal with the aftermath of not just entering a committed, three-person relationship, but of deciding to tell the world.
“When you’re talking about polyamory and something that doesn’t fit with your jobs, your community, your lives, what happens when they say, ‘Let’s do this, let’s go home’?” said creator John Scott Shepherd. “We realized just how complex that would be: the whole idea of raising your flag and raising the drawbridge and realizing your biggest challenge is in the castle with you. It took on a cool tone of its own, but it’s still a romantic comedy.”
And this season, the surrounding neighbors will start to look at themselves as well. “It’s an entrypoint,” Shepherd said. “We see them go on their own journey of, ‘Have we become uncool?’ That sort of relatable, almost-40 moment, where you go, ‘Are all my cool moments in the rearview mirror?'”
“Undeniable With Joe Buck,” “Fearless With Tim Ferriss”
Executive producer Vince Vaughn wanted to see more long-form interviews on TV. And so he got in touch with sportscaster Joe Buck to get “Undeniable With Joe Buck” together. “Undeniable” is about to enter its third season, starting Feb. 15, and Vaughn’s Wild West Productions brought “Fearless With Tim Ferriss,” which will premiere this spring, to Audience.
“It really is the host that makes the show work,” Vaughn said. “Joe has the ability to ask direct questions but is a very sincere, supportive person. It’s not a gotcha show.”
“Mainly I have to listen,” Buck said. “That’s the one thing I learned from my dad that I think people miss. They’ve got a list of questions and it doesn’t matter what that person says, they’re going to question three, even if during question two the person says, ‘I just murdered someone.'”
The same qualities apply to Ferriss, who will interview high. “It’s not driven by financial success, people from all different walks of life with different areas they’ve competed in,” Vaughn said. “I was a fan of Tim’s, and his podcast. It was like a really good teacher who made you feel part of the class.”
“Untitled Syria Documentary”
Executive producer Schroder had worked with River Rainbow Hagg before on documentaries for Audience, like “My Fighting Story.” For this upcoming doc, Hagg, who had previously served in the Navy, actually joined the Kurdish militia for six months in order to gain access to the region, and ended up in an Iraqi prison for six months before Schroder secured the release of him and his footage.
“Unlike the conflicts I’ve been in before, this was heavy urban fighting,” Hagg said. “It was incredibly gruesome. We were fighting a very prepared enemy.” The Kurdish militia had no medics when Hagg arrived, and so he and some others created a medic unit, canvassing the country for what small store of medical supplies remained. The result is a documentary that shows an unfiltered look at the carnage and devastation wreaked on northern Syria by ISIS.
“The most terrifying parts are when you have a child in your hands dying and you can’t do anything to stop it,” Hagg said. “I felt like our country’s not doing enough.”