Below, Ron Wynn trains his spyglass on AMC's new espionage series Rubicon, the future of Dark Blue and This Week with new host Christiane Amanpour.
Throughout much of its early existence, American Movie Classics (now known as AMC) operated like a low-end version of Turner Classic Movies. They rarely ventured into the silent era or aired as many rare items, but they offered a decent amount of vintage films. Then the channel switched gears in 2002, moving to an advertiser-supported general movie outlet. The results were both disappointing and controversial, with many former supporters jumping ship and the channel increasingly showing fewer celebrated and valuable films.
But in 2006, the debut of the critically acclaimed Mad Men gave AMC credibility in a different way. Subsequently came the equally fine Breaking Bad. These two shows not only won Emmy and Peabody awards and garnered rave reviews, they made AMC a new powerhouse in cable circles and a worthy opponent for HBO, Showtime, TNT, USA and FX.
Sunday night's espionage thriller Rubicon, the next major drama in the AMC lineup, debuts at 8 p.m. It won't be a frenetic work like 24, or a showcase for a glamorous actress like USA's Covert Affairs. Instead, Rubicon's universe is that of data analysts, people who spend their time with reports, graphs and charts. But that doesn't mean there won't be any action. The first episode begins with a suicide and the emergence of a thorny puzzle presented via crossword puzzles in newspapers.
The central figure is Will Travers (James Badge Dale), someone as far from a Jack Bauer, James Bond or Napoleon Solo as it gets. He's not even anxious to get involved in real espionage work beyond his stat sheets until he discovers something that raises questions which lack easy answers. Joining him in the search is Katherine Rhumor (Miranda Richardson), who's just become a widow and can't get anyone to tell her the truth about what her late husband did or what happened to him. This unlikely pair become allies, even though they're unsure they trust each other.
Rubicon goes against the grain of many current rules regarding TV popularity: it's serialized, unpredictable and unfolds at a glacial pace. TV Guide's Matt Roush has already posed a kiss of death question, asking whether Rubicon might be "too intelligent." But for viewers whose tastes run to cynical, wily fare like The Prisoner or John Le Carre novels, Rubicon might prove a welcome alternative.
'Dark Blue' returns
Tricia Helfer's finest TV hours came on Syfy's great Battlestar Galactica reboot, where she played Cylon temptress Six. Unfortunately her post-Galactica life hasn't been so rosy. She's done lots of guest stints, none of them very memorable. Now she's joining the cast of Dark Blue when it returns for season number two Wednesday night at 8 p.m. on TNT. Her character Alex Rice will co-leading a joint task force with an elite team of LAPD field operatives headed by Carter Shaw (Dylan McDermott). Expect the requisite clashes, though producers are being rather coy about whether any romance will follow.
Dark Blue didn't make the viewership impact TNT was seeking in its initial season, partly because it was far darker and more violent than anything on basic cable. The Helfer addition is among several second-year thematic changes. Others include more emphasis on character development and interaction, humor and sensuality, and less on brutality and violence. We'll see if those work, since most of the people who flock to shows about covert teams prefer watching them physically nuke their foes rather than hanging out with friends and displaying softer sides of their personality.
Tongues have been wagging inside and outside the Beltway for months since ABC news made the decision to make longtime ace foreign reporter Christiane Amanpour the new head of Sunday morning talk show This Week rather than White House correspondent Jake Tapper. Accusations of bias against Israel in her reporting have been raised by such powerful media figures as Pulitzer Prize-winning TV critic Tom Shales, and rumors have been circulating online that even some of her fellow reporters doubted Amanpour had either the interest or ability to spearhead a weekly show devoted to the Capitol's insider wheeling and dealing.
Amanpour has generally resisted taking on her critics, saying she thinks her appointment provides an opportunity for the show to include more discussion of international events without moving too far away from its customary look at political machinations. She's also announced plans for doing more remotes and occasionally shifting the show's base outside Washington D.C.
Whatever the case, there's little doubt her arrival raises the stakes in the Sunday morning news wars, particularly with NBC's venerable Meet The Press encountering audience defection in recent months and CBS' Face The Nation remaining a reliable but staid entry.