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5 Things We Learned at TCA: Day 13

As the cable portion of the Television Critics Assn. press tour continued, A&E looked ahead about a year to the next season of “Knightfall,” while Epix brought two big dramas set to premiere in the summer of 2019: “Pennyworth,” based on DC Comics characters, and the Ben Kingsley starrer “Perpetual Grace, Ltd.” Lifetime brought together the female directors of a number of their original movies for a rare peak behind the curtain, and National Geographic ended the day with a combination of factual programming such as the feature documentary “Science Fair” and Bear Grylls’ “Hostile Planet” and fiction, with the limited series adaptation of “The Hot Zone,” starring Julianna Margulies.

Here, Variety breaks down five things learned during TCA Day 13.

A Butler’s Origin Story
In the upcoming Epix original drama “Pennyworth,” based on DC Comics characters, the center of the story is Alfred Pennyworth (Jack Bannon), usually best known as Batman’s butler but being thrust into the spotlight in his pre-vigilante assisting days. “He’s a young man whose father was a butler and who wanted him to be a butler and it’s the last thing Alfred wanted to be,” executive producer Bruno Heller explained. “The discovery is [how] you have to serve someone somehow.” Set in 1960s Britain, the show takes place in an alternate world to our own world, so influential characters such as the Queen will not be based on the real royal at that time period but a fictional one for the show. Still, the exploration of “how the world was different back then and how the world will change” on the bigger scale, as well as for the titular character himself, is vital to the storytelling. “Why does he serve Thomas Wayne the way he does? Why will he be a mentor to the greatest hero?” executive producer and director Danny Cannon said is the focus.

Eye on Activism
National Geographic has partnered with Procter & Gamble for “Activate,” a six-part docuseries co-produced by Global Citizen and RadicalMedia and featuring celebrity activists including Rachel Brosnahan, Hugh Jackman, Pharrell Williams and Usher to “increase awareness of global poverty and inspire action from caring citizens all over the world.” The episodes will not only look at the “root causes” of poverty but also the effects it has on different communities and the attempts to combat it.

‘Genius’ Subject and Important Premieres
Nat Geo announced premiere dates for some of its highly-anticipated programming: “Free Solo,” the documentary about professional rock climber Alex Honnold, will air Mar. 3 at 9 p.m.; the six-part Morgan Freeman-narrated series “The Story of God” will debut Mar. 5 at 9 p.m.; “Hostile Planet,” the six-part series about extreme environments, launches April 1 at 9 p.m.; high school documentary “Science Fair” airs May 9 at 8 p.m. and “The Hot Zone,” the six-part dramatized series about the origins of Ebola, will air May 27 through 29 at 9 p.m. Additionally, the network announced that Ebola documentary special “Going Viral” will debut in May; “Yellowstone Live” will return in June and “Apollo: Mission to the Moon” will premiere in July. And “Genius: Aretha Franklin” is officially set up to be the third installment of the Emmy-nominated anthology series, and this third season hired Suzan-Lori Parks as showrunner.

A Return to the Royals
Lifetime has greenlit a sequel to its royal wedding original movie. With the working title of “Harry & Meghan: Becoming Royal,” the new project will explore the first year of married life for the prince and his bride and feature new actors in the title roles, as the network noted “Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance” stars Murray Fraser and Parisa Fitz-Henley were “unavailable.” The movie is executive produced by Merideth Finn and Michele Weiss with Menhaj Huda directing and Scarlett Lacey writing. The network hopes to debut the project “later this year.”

Timely Outbreak Series
“The Hot Zone,” which stars Margulies, Topher Grace and Noah Emmerich, is set in 1989, when primates in a research lab were found to be infected with Ebola. It is adapted from Richard Preston’s 1995 nonfiction bestseller, but executive producer Brian Peterson said it is “poignant” today because we are in the middle of another outbreak. The death toll in the Congo had risen to 500, with concerns about Ebola soon spreading to a more densely populated city, as the panel was underway. Producers said they want to “continue and maybe even elevate the conversation” around the spread of infectious disease, the fact that there is still no cure for Ebola and “what else is in the cooler” when you might be looking for one disease and overlooking something much worse. Margulies shared that while they were filming, Ebola always seemed to be in the news but “in small print” rather than the front page, and since then journalists have been losing jobs, unable to do deeper dives into the kind of coverage that would put it on front pages. “It’s good that it’s out there — that people understand this is something we have to take seriously — but I don’t see any action,” she said.

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