The 10 Most Anticipated Cable Drama Series of 2014

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The 10 Most Anticipated Cable Drama Series of 2014

By Brian Byrd | Guides | May 16, 2013 | Comments ()

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While the phrase "acclaimed network drama" still resides outside punchline territory for the moment, only those with the rosiest of glasses believe the position is temporary. Unbelievably, last-place NBC, with the tandem of "Hannibal" and "Parenthood," is the lone broadcast network with any semblance of a quality drama on its schedule. This week's upfront presentations had the potential to rectify that slight. Sadly, the Big Four trotted out its annual assortment of uninspiring "new" cop, doctor, and lawyer shows, each more derivative than the last.

Ninety-seven percent of this site's readership won't watch any of these. They'll stink. Even if one manages to fall ass-backwards into respectability, they have almost no chance of survival (waves to "Hannibal"). You wouldn't buy stock in an obese redshirt 20 minutes before he beams down to a planet populated by hostile treadmills. So why commit to a sure-to-be-cancelled series that isn't all that great to begin with? Especially when there's too much outstanding content already?

Thankfully, cable outlets are more than willing to plug the quality gap. So leave the network offerings for your paper-book-reading grandparents. Here are 10 cable dramas you can't afford to miss in 2014.

A quick note on criteria: in order to make this list a series must be at the pilot stage or picked up for a full order, not merely in the development pipeline. There's a significant difference between a network optioning a property ("That person is hot") and commissioning a pilot ("I asked him or her out, we're going to dinner next week, and we'll get it on if the meal's good.") There are more than enough fascinating drama concepts in development to merit a separate SRL, which I'll create one day for nine Bitcoins.

Halt and Catch Fire (AMC)

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Why You Should Care: Think The Social Network with a Genesis soundtrack and raging coke habit. Set in the early 1980s, this series dramatizes the personal computing boom through the eyes of a visionary former IBM salesman, Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace), a frustrated engineer, Gordon Clarke (Scoot McNairy), and an ambitious prodigy, Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis) in Texas' Silicon Prairie. Freshmen showrunners Chris Cantwell and Chris Rodgers certainly cobbled together a strong cast for their debut effort, the title of which refers to an old computer code that causes the CPU to cease meaningful operation (the "catch fire" part is a joke).

Chances it gets picked up: 85 percent. Impressive cast. Captivating concept. Affordable. Those are ideal conditions for AMC.

Tyrant (FX)


Why You Should Care: Two-time Oscar-winner Ang Lee. That's the cat who will direct the series pilot, which centers on an American family caught up in the turmoil of an unnamed Middle Eastern nation. Think "The Americans" in Iran. There's no cast as of yet, although producers Howard Gordon and Gideon Raff ("Homeland") and Craig Wright ("Lost") confirmed that the pilot will film in Morocco. This inevitably ends with Lee winning a directing Emmy while "Tyrant" loses out on Best Drama.

Chances the series gets picked up: FX outbid multiple cable outlets for the rights and already ordered additional scripts. 90 percent.

The Leftovers (HBO)

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Why You Should Care: Any time an A-list showrunner like Damon Lindelof teams with an esteemed novelist like Tom Perrotta ("Election," "Little Children"), it's hard to tune out. "The Leftovers," which examines life in a small town after hundreds of residents disappear in a Rapture-esque event, is a darkly comic, remarkably insightful novel that should translate well to the small screen. Plus, Perrotta's involvement in adapting his own source material all but eliminates the chance Lindelof touches the third act where it pees. Director Peter Berg (the hilarious, jingoistic Battleship) begins shooting the pilot in New York next month.

Chances the series gets picked up: 50 percent. Felt a lot better about this before HBO recently passed on another popular literary adaptation ("The Corrections") from a respected producer (Scott Rudin). Wouldn't be surprised if it gets the "Criminal Justice" treatment and survives as a miniseries.

Helix (SyFy)

Why you should care: Ron Moore is the Marlo of the sci-fi television world - his name rings out. The visionary behind the exceptional "Battlestar Galactica" returns to SyFy with a thriller about a team of scientists from the Centers for Disease Control who travels to a high-tech research facility in the Arctic to investigate a possible disease outbreak. Obviously, there's more to the disease than meets the eye, and the group becomes charged with preventing world annihilation. This could go a lot of ways, all of them stimulating.

Chances the series gets picked up: 100 percent. SyFy ordered 13 episodes earlier this spring for a 2014 premiere.

Buda Bridge (HBO)

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Why You Should Care: Not to be confused with FX's summer series "The Bridge," this concept from Oscar-nominated Bullhead director Michael Roskam and executive producer Michael Mann is a Belgian-set crime story set in a near-future Brussels. When a woman turns up dead on Buda Bridge, violence and eccentric science combine to create chaos in the European capital city. Roskam will write and direct the pilot. Want more? Too bad. There's been almost no news about "Buda Bridge" since HBO ordered the pilot last summer. Hell, there are conflicting reports as to whether the script was even ordered to pilot.

Chances it gets picked up: We'll let Roskam take this one - "There's a 10 percent chance, maybe five percent, that it will become a series." Damn.

Turn (AMC)


Why You Should Care: Because if you don't, you hate America and should move to Canaxico or some other ninth-world cesspool. "Turn" tells the story of Abe Woodhull (played by Jamie Bell), a cabbage smuggler (he and Davos would be besties) who forms grassroots spy organization known as The Culper Ring to help the Colonials win the American Revolution. Our nation's birth is criminally underexplored by modern film and television, which makes this series - based on the book "Washington's Spies" - insanely appealing. The one catch is cost. Though General Washington himself may eventually appear on screen, his presence behind the scenes is far more critical. Considering that the notoriously stingy AMC has shown an unwillingness to pick up the tab even for its established hits, the bean counters might blanche at greenlighting a pricey period piece lacking recognizable stars. Sneaky-talented Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of The Apes) will helm the pilot, which began filming last month in Richmond.

Chances it gets picked up: 65 percent. AMC has lots of compelling original content its development pipeline ("Ballistic City," "Area 51," "Raiders," "The Terror") but nothing immediately ready to step in and plug the looming "Breaking Bad" hole. Hard to imagine a network starved for a new smash passing on a potential mass-appeal series.

American Gods (HBO)

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Why You Should Care: Because this series could be the next "Game of Thrones" if it ever gets off the ground. Based on the twisty, atmospheric 2001 novel by fantasy icon Neil Gaiman ("Sandman," "Coraline"), "American Gods" depicts a modern world where gods and other mythological creatures exist but only gain power from human belief (Think Thor crossed with Tinkerbell meets those awful Sam Worthington Titans movies). These waning gods face an impending war with powerful new "American" gods born from our worship of drugs, sex, celebrities and the Internet (the Pajiba god is a giant Kangol-wearing multi-racial lobster with two dads and six liberal arts degrees). Playtone, the Tom Hanks/Gary Goetzman production company behind such television landmarks as "Band of Brothers" and "The Pacific," wants six 10-12 episode seasons, each with a $40 million budget. Anyone not ready to watch the hell out of this? Well, be patient. HBO picked up the series in April 2011 and Gaiman still hasn't delivered a pilot script. In March, Gaiman tweeted that we could see the pilot episode by the end of 2013 provided he finishes the script. Keep dreaming. The staggering amount of effects work required coupled with HBO's silence on the project means you shouldn't expect to see a single frame until "Thrones" wraps its fourth season in late spring 2014. At best.

Chances the series gets picked up: 80 percent. Too many heavy hitters (Gaiman, Playtone) involved for this to die on the vine. Six seasons is probably a pipe dream, though.

True Detective (HBO)

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Why You Should Care: Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson play lawmen tracking a serial killer through back-country Louisiana over the course of 17 years. Just take my money. Writer Nic Pizzolatto (ughhhhhh "The Killing") employs a split narrative and multiple time frames to track the case from its origins in 1995 to the present when the two detectives are testifying in court after the case is reopened. Look, McConaughey's character is named Rust Cohle. There's no way this isn't fantastic. Also, ladies - the average temperature in Louisiana is 80 degrees. That's 26.6 degrees Celsius, 299.75 degrees Kelvin, and a 17.8 on the bongo scale, which McConaughey uses calculate his shirtless appearances per project.

Chances it gets picked up: 100 percent. HBO committed to an eight-episode run last year. No word on the premiere date.

The Vatican (Showtime)

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Why You Should Care: Coach Taylor trades his Permian Panther cap for one of those red beanie things in pay-cable series produced and directed by Ridley Scott. Oh, and the Pope is Hitler*. Why wouldn't you watch this? "The Vatican" is essentially a contemporary "Tudors," exploring spirituality, power and politics set against the political machinations within the current Catholic Church. Kyle Chandler stars as Thomas Duffy, the progressive Cardinal of New York, with Ganz filling the giant hat of Pope Sixtus VI. Creator Paul Attanasio ("House") insists the show won't court controversy, although an honest, modern examination of a scandal-ridden religious institution that just elected a new leader should make Marcus Bachmann angry enough to forget he loves all the dick-shaped foods for a few weeks. Forgive me father, for I have grinned.
*The Pope is not Hitler. Rather, the character of the Pope will be played by Bruno Ganz, who portrayed Hitler in Downfall, AKA the source of those endless Angry Hitler videos.

Chances it gets picked up: 75 percent. Showtime is trying to increase its original content library, and this is a strong fit for an outlet familiar with religious dramas.

The Strain (FX)

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Why You Should Care: Guillermo Del Toro. Chuck Hogan. Vampire apocalypse. There's more, but what else do you really need? A synopsis? You're already on the Internet, look it up. Fine, f*ck you - Corey Stoll, who stole "House of Cards" from under Kevin Spacey, just nabbed the lead role of Dr. Ephraim Goodwater, a CDC specialist tasked with stopping a virus that's turning humanity into terrifying vampires. Badass Kevin Durand (Keamy from "Lost") co-stars as a badass former exterminator who discovers that his badass skill set translates quite well to a world overrun with vampires. Everything about this series - which Del Toro and Hogan will adapt from their trilogy of novels -- screams massive cultural and commercial success.

Chances it gets picked up: The upcoming launch of FXX means FX president John Landgraf has twice as many programming hours to fill, and he wants to be in the Del Toro business so much that FX committed to the pilot immediately after hearing the pitch. More scripts have been ordered. This thing is a lock. Well, 95 percent. It loses five percentage points because of Del Toro, who has the follow-through of an apathetic meth addict.

Brian Byrd once erroneously accused a co-worker of smuggling cabbage out of the grocery store under her shirt. Turns out she was pregnant. You can email him or follow him on Twitter.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Giv

    There sure are a ton of "end-of-times"-type shows and movies coming out soon.

    Also that Mackenzie Davis sure has a Lizzie Caplan thing going on.

  • Sandman has been in development hell for years and the Beeb's version of Neverwhere was kinda meh. I would love to see 1 season (or 2 British style seasons) of Good Omens.

  • F'mal DeHyde

    Too bad I'm too old to appreciate any of these shows.

  • BillyMozart

    Can't wait for The Leftovers. Seriously, my Lost withdrawals aren't getting any better.

  • e jerry powell

    1) I have the Kangol. It's on a teddy bear in my bookcase because I wanted to let my afro grow out. I can be a gay co-parent so easily, but all my college work was in performing arts, not liberal arts.

    2) That header picture makes me all tingly in my dirty places in spite of myself, but I'll be damned if I watch the show. It's just too much, and there's not can enough in the universe.

  • ronniedobbs

    I'm excited about American Gods, but my excitement is tempered by the fact that he hasn't finished the script yet, I suspect because he's too busy with the Amanda Palmer Show. Yeah, yeah, she's his wife. Whatever.

  • Bodhi

    Woody & Matt, yes please!!

  • llp

    I always forget until I see him, but I have a strange thing for Woody Harrelson.

  • lonolove

    Never forget! It's so disheartening though, whenever I try to find a picture of him online to illustrate his hotness it is impossible. Man takes a shitty picture.

  • TheOriginalMRod

    Squeee! American Gods and The Strain!?!? Wow, I am really really glad that the Mayans were wrong.

    Now if someone would make a really cool Discworld series... Ah, I can dream cant I?

  • Jerce


  • Renton

    I loved American Gods. It's fantastic. But I don't get why it would b e so expensive to film - with the exception of three or four setpieces it's basically just a roadtrip, and Shadow spends much of his time in an icy building in the middle of nowhere.

  • PerpetualIntern

    Lee Pace AND Coach = happy PerpetualIntern

  • BWeaves

    Cabbage smuggler? Please tell me that's a euphemism for something dirty.

    I thought the god of Pajiba was Gotopus?

  • I'd watch the 'Culper Ring' and 'American Gods.' Speaking of Gaiman, with all these comic book properties being filmed, I'm surprised no-one has jumped on 'The Sandman.' That'd make a hell of a series for HBO or someone.

  • fandom

    Damon Lindelof is an overrated hack. I pass, thanks.

  • Conor

    American Gods is easily one of my favourite novels, but one book into 6 seasons?!

    Also, Gary Oldman as Mr. Wednesday, please and thank you.

  • KV

    The Borgias started off with great promise. Considering the historical source-material, if handled properly, The Borgias could have rivaled GoT. But now it has descended to melodrama level.

  • KV

    I forgot to add that for this reason, I am not particularly optimistic about Vatican.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Ok, I'm gonna be a realist here. If we're not looking for any kind of veracity, then maybe The Vatican show will be entertaining. But aside from Chandler coming off as too young to be an American cardinal, there is no way a progressive cardinal is getting appointed to New York, which is already too progressive by half for the Vatican's tastes. (btw, IMDB shows this as a tv movie, rather than a series?)

    American Gods does need to happen. 60 episodes is too long though.

  • I mean, it's Showtime. Verisimilitude takes a backseat to entertainment over there more often than not. The cast and creative team has me excited.

    IMDB has a lot of these as TV movies, probably because they're just pilots (for now).

  • NateMan

    I'll watch The Strain as long as they just use the first book, and then go off script. The second 2 were complete shit.

  • Jerce

    Word. But the first book was SO good...

  • stryker1121

    They could tweak the entire mythology and make something good out of it, though, much like Showtime did with Dexter. FX has a good track record, too, although how they handle horror is TDB.

  • JenVegas

    I barely got through the first book. The first 2/3s of it were good but the end just dragged and dragged...I haven't read the other two. I was going to pass on this series but I love me some Corey Stoll so I'll give it a shot.

  • NateMan

    Well, the following 2 dragged just as badly, and then they threw this religious folklore Judaism bullshit in there that completely ruined the whole story for me. I was so angry at the ending I returned the audio files on Audible for new credits. And I never do that.

  • Carrie/Teabelly

    You have just answered my ongoing 'Should I read the next books in the series?' question. I struggled with the first, it definitely dragged. I don't think I'll bother with rest. Maybe I'll read a synopsis to see what happened.

  • stryker1121

    Helix has some promise. I haven't watched a SciFi Channel show (not using that other silly name) since Farscape, so bring it on.

  • karen

    I caved to the sly lie channel in 2005 when I was suffering from postpartum and couldn't get off the couch. Reruns of Roar & SG1 (which i REFUSED to watch for toppling Farscape) helped me come back. Of course they have crushed my hopes and dreams so many times since 2005....

  • lowercase_ryan

    True Detective, I need that in my freaking life. Especially after seeing Mud last weekend, this made me man-squee.

  • Anna von Beav

    "Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson play lawmen tracking a serial
    killer through back-country Louisiana over the course of 17 years. ... employs a split narrative and multiple time frames to track the case from its origins in 1995 to the present when the two detectives are testifying in court after the case is reopened."

    Well, that sounds ....

    "the average temperature in Louisiana is 80 degrees"


  • I bet it would make a great show, but I couldn't get through American Gods -- even as a Neil Gaiman fan. As soon as I read that the main character's name was "Shadow," my brain wouldn't let me read any further.

  • NateMan

    If you listen to audiobooks at all, try the full-cast version available on Audible. Fricking awesome. It's a better listen than read, IMO.

  • Viking

    I've listened to several Gaiman books via It is something I do at work when my hands are busy but I can put my brain on autopilot. I loved American Gods and Anansi Boys and would like to see both adapted, but (spoiler alert) the shifts into parallel dimensions / visions of giant talking spiders concern me. I don't want to be so realisitic I have nightmares of giant spiders, but I also don't want it to be cheesy and ruin the narrative.

  • I've been listening to the BBC Radio version of Neverwhere and enjoying the hell out of it. Might give this a shot.

  • Rochelle

    Your brain led you astray. Ignore your brain, or replace Shadow with David. Whatever. Read it.

  • Maybe your comment coupled with my pathetic desperation to read books before they become movies/shows will help me get through it this summer. We'll see.

  • Badger

    Maaaaan, American Gods needs to happen. This is literally the most news I've seen about it since it was first announced.

  • But...****SPOILER****

    Nothing happens at the end.

  • snrp

    60+ hours of American Gods, though? That probably means lots of god-of-the-week plots with nods to the major conflict (a la Supernatural). I think the book is very suited to a screen adaptation, and would make a great miniseries, but ... I have such doubts.

  • The five seasons is just a goal. "Carnivale" was envisioned as a six-season epic and lasted only two. Given the cost and lack of source material past the first few seasons, it'll have to get big numbers for HBO to fund it for five years.

  • Well, I see it this way: with all that time to fill, they are going to have to also adapt Anansi Boys at some point.

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