Less 'Mad,' more 'Magic' on new STARZ show

Jeffrey Dean Morgan portrays a Miami hotel magnate in the new show.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan portrays a Miami hotel magnate in the new show.
Posted: April 05, 2012

MAGIC CITY. 10 p.m. Friday, Starz.

REMEMBER THE ducks in Tony Soprano's swimming pool?

There's something floating, too, in the pool at Miami's Miramar Playa hotel on New Year's Eve 1958. It won't be flying away - at least not under its own steam - but it will become a running joke in the first hour of Starz's "Magic City."

I'm guessing, though, that it'll never be subjected to the same scrutiny as those much-analyzed ducks, any more than the naked woman and the shark swimming through the title sequence will.

Which isn't a bad thing for "Magic City," a big, sexy drama that doesn't take itself as seriously as "The Sopranos" or "Mad Men" and doesn't seem to expect us to, either.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan ("Grey's Anatomy"), an actor who looks and behaves convincingly like a grown-up in an era when grown-ups didn't mind looking that way, stars as Ike Evans, a Miami native who's made some compromises to build his dream hotel and will be making more before he's through, especially now that his so-far-silent (and aptly nicknamed) partner, Ben "The Butcher" Diamond (Danny Huston), is back in town.

As the countdown to 1959 begins, Cuba is falling to Fidel Castro and Ike (whose own nickname comes not from President Eisenhower but from Isaac) has Frank Sinatra playing his main room and unions threatening to shut him down.

On the home front, also in the hotel, he has two grown sons, playboy Stevie (Steven Strait) and the more straight-laced Danny (Christian Cooke) and a daughter, Lauren (Taylor Blackwell), who's about to turn 12.

And last, but definitely not least, the widowed Ike has Vera (Olga Kurylenko), the former showgirl he's made his second wife, a beauty determined to make her marriage, and her new family, work.

Let's just say this is a guy with a lot to lose.

Creator Mitch Glazer ("Scrooged"), who grew up in Miami Beach, told reporters in January that "Magic City" comes from "stories that I've been kind of squirreling away" from a youth spent in and around the city's hotels. But he also said he was 7 when the show begins, which could account for a bit of that old-timey glow.

Nostalgia aside, "Magic City" and Starz are playing by 21st century TV rules, with a soft, multiplatform opening rather than a one-night-only premiere and an already announced renewal for Season 2 to reassure viewers who may be worried about committing to the first eight-episode season.

So you may have seen Friday's season-opener, previewed last week after "Spartacus: Vengeance."

And the first three episodes are available on cable and online sites at www.starz.com, where you don't have to subscribe to see them.

The hope, of course, is that viewers dedicated enough to go out and look for new shows before they've officially launched might also be motivated to sign up. And like HBO and Showtime, Starz is in the business of pleasing (and adding) subscribers, not advertisers.

Asked in January how he felt about the performance of the channel's Kelsey Grammer low-rated drama "Boss," which was also renewed for a second season before the first had even premiered, Starz CEO Chris Albrecht joked, "Our sponsors are thrilled. Have not heard a complaint from one of them."

Under Albrecht, who joined Starz at the end of 2009, the channel ended 2011 with a record-high 19.6 million subscribers. It's trying, he said, "to create a brand" in a very short time.

"The way I'm looking at the shows is if we look at the material and we say, 'You know what? This is what we set out to do, this is good, and the team is in place to continue to make it good and, hopefully, better,' then we're going to support that show into a second season because . . . I think it's the right thing for Starz to do," he said.

Albrecht, who spent 22 years at HBO, where he was CEO until a 2007 arrest for allegedly choking a girlfriend in Las Vegas led to his sudden exit, helped establish that network's brand with shows such as "The Sopranos," "The Wire" and "Deadwood," but it didn't happen overnight.

"Boss," which stars Grammer as a nastily corrupt Chicago mayor secretly fighting a devastating illness, was the first drama to come out on Albrecht's watch that felt adult in the way those did, but I'm not surprised it's so far lacked broad appeal, much less incited the passion that Starz's "Spartacus" franchise seems to.

"Magic City," with a more charismatic lead than "Boss" and a less-stylized approach to violence than "Spartacus," feels for now like a smart enough compromise. n

Contact Ellen Gray at 215-854-5950 or graye@phillynews.comor follow on Twitter @elgray.Read her blog at EllenGray.tv.

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