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Romola Garai stars in The Hour, a thrilling six-part drama which takes viewers behind the scenes of the launch of a topical news programme in London in 1956.
Romola Garai stars in The Hour, a thrilling six-part drama which takes viewers behind the scenes of the launch of a topical news programme in London in 1956.

Television

Cable TV's brand new swagger Add to ...

It started with a trip to Hef's famous Playboy Mansion. But the real splash, as it were, was on Thursday night - when TV critics mingled with stars at Gordon Ramsay's resto at The London West Hollywood and a DJ spun tunes for synchronized swimmers making moves in a rooftop pool.

In case the recent slew of Emmy nominations didn't make the point, the parties at this week's television critics tour sure did: Cable is no longer the poor stepchild of broadcast, but a bona fide Hollywood contender.

More weekend TV content

Well before the current TV tour in Los Angeles - where cable execs have been unveiling the big new shows for the fall season - original dramas such as Mad Men, Breaking Bad and Boardwalk Empire have overshadowed offerings from traditional networks.

Cable's reality stars have also gained traction, populating the covers of most magazines as ratings for programming like A&E's Hoarders and Discovery's Deadliest Catch ratchet up the ratings. Talking about his new show, Survivor alum Rob Mariano says he signed up for History's Around the World in 80 Ways because of Thom Beers, who produced both Deadliest Catch and Ice Road Truckers.

"Those are the shows I'm watching," he said "I jumped at the opportunity to work with [Beers]"

Cable has also succeeded with niche audiences largely ignored by mainstream broadcasters. Lifetime president Nancy Dubuc told press that her channel has found "its inner chick," while History showed off high-testosterone fare such as Swamp People and Pawn Stars.

And, yes, those cable networks know how to throw a party. The Hef bash was in honour of Playboy Channel's titillating new series, TV for 2. The London swim do was a nod to the big influence of Brits this season.

Herewith, what the schmooze and the screenings suggested about what will be hot this fall on cable.

CAN WE TALK?

Queen Winfrey's departure from daytime has cable scrambling to fill the void.

The most obvious heir to the throne is CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, whose new daytime show Anderson airs in syndication Sept. 12. While male critics on the tour seemed surprised to learn how popular Cooper is among women, his charm, poise and breeding (hey, he's a Vanderbilt) are likely to make him a hit among the predominantly female daytime demographic.

As for the man himself, he was quick to give fellow daytime host Kelly Ripa her due: "It's hard to do daytime, and she makes it look so effortless," he told a small group of (mainly women) reporters gathered after his panel discussion. In sample clips the format looks to be an updated version of the old Phil Donahue, with Cooper flitting about the studio audience with microphone in hand.

Rosie O'Donnell, meanwhile, has a new show launching on the Oprah Winfrey Network in September, which will borrow heavily from her previous daytime gabfest in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Translation: Celebrity interviews, parenting advice, charity plugs and plenty of show tunes.

BIG-TICKET TV

With AMC riding high on Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead and, most recently, The Killing, it's easy to forget that its staple has been old Westerns. "We have a loyal fan base, whether it's episodes of The Rifleman or anything with Clint, so it was a no-brainer for us to look for the next great Western," said AMC programming VP Joel Stillerman.

He was referring to Hell on Wheels, which will launch Oct. 16. Filmed in Alberta, the 10-part series is set in the days after the Civil War with Anson Mount as a menacing former Confederate soldier who sets out in search of the Union dastards who killed his wife. Critics were mixed, but viewers hungry for a genre long neglected will probably give this tale of revenge and rebirth a chance.

No less epic is Moby Dick, a lavish reimagining of Melville's classic. The $25-million (U.S.) budget is huge for three-hour TV movie airing on upstart U.S. cable outlet Encore. William Hurt chews up the scenery as the embittered Captain Ahab, with ex- X-Files star Gillian Anderson as his missus.

REALITY, OF A SORT

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