‘Political Animals' is a guilty pleasure

Sigourney Weaver (left) plays a Hillary Clinton-like character in USA's "Political Animals," which creator Greg Berlanti hopes to expand past its scheduled six-episode run.
Sigourney Weaver (left) plays a Hillary Clinton-like character in USA's "Political Animals," which creator Greg Berlanti hopes to expand past its scheduled six-episode run.
Posted: August 10, 2012


FOR WEEKS now, USA Network's been promoting this summer's run of "Political Animals" as a limited series, but creator Greg Berlanti's still hoping for a second season.

And to my surprise, so am I. (And not just because the show films in Philadelphia.)

I probably took the Clintonesque melodrama too seriously when it premiered in mid-July, which is why it struck me as a bit heavy-handed, but I've come around. "Political Animals," which stars Sigourney Weaver as a former first lady-turned-secretary of state, is my guilty pleasure of the summer, a sudsy chaser to the hard stuff on AMC's "Breaking Bad" and whatever they're drinking (or otherwise ingesting) on HBO's "The Newsroom." (Yes, my DVR earns its keep on Sundays.)

Berlanti ("Everwood," "Brothers & Sisters") has been in the business long enough to know that the soft ratings for "Animals," which enters its final two weeks this Sunday, hardly make it a shoo-in for renewal, particularly when most viewers probably don't even realize renewal's an option.

USA labeled the run "limited," Berlanti said last week, "because in that first year we knew we could only make six. I think they were more focused on how to frame it to the audience, that it wasn't 10" or more episodes, the way most of its series are, and were thinking more in terms of a miniseries, like its original presentation of "The Starter Wife."

"It happened so fast. … We started casting in February and we started shooting in May," he said.

For now, "We're waiting for the numbers to get stronger … but definitely the kind of enthusiasm [he's hearing] from the people who do love it is really helpful and I would encourage anyone who's a fan tune to a) tell more people and b) tell the network."

‘Hell on Wheels' returns

I don't know if HBO's splendid "Deadwood" ruined the whole 19th century for me or if I've simply lost interest in mud and mayhem, but I got off track with AMC's building-of-the-railroad drama "Hell on Wheels" about halfway through its first season and never found my way back.

Which makes me pretty much unqualified to say anything meaningful about its return at 9 p.m. Sunday.

The first two episodes of Season 2 were intermittently intriguing, but I'd missed too much that went before to make much sense of them and I'm honestly not sure if I'll ever catch up.

But if you'd like to, AMC is running a 10-episode Season 1 marathon on Sunday beginning at 11 a.m. that leads right into the season opener.

Hallmark sends ‘Music Teacher'

No one's going to mistake the Hallmark Channel's first stab at musical drama, "The Music Teacher" (9 p.m. Saturday), for an episode of "Glee," but the two do share a common interest: support for high-school arts programs.

And with that funding increasingly on the line in cash-strapped districts across the country, it probably doesn't hurt to have the message that music matters delivered in a forum in which some of the people who actually make those decisions — and who aren't already watching "Glee" — might see it.

Because those over-55 types whom broadcast networks don't target but whom Hallmark still appears to welcome? Lots of them vote.

Annie Potts ("Designing Women") stars as Alyson Daley, whose after-school music program is threatened and whose former students come together to put on a show — with original songs by Alan Ett ("American Dreams") — to rescue it. Will the music program be saved? Will Alyson find the voice she lost to tragedy? And will her former students recapture (or resolve) the feelings for one another they once had?

Hey, it's the Hallmark Channel. What do you think?

Contact Ellen Gray at 215-854-5950 or graye@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @elgray and read her blog at EllenGray.tv.

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