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Showtime Splashes Down at TV Critics Panel with Climate Change Doc; Star-Studded New Shows Unveiled

Photo of Amy Dawes By Amy Dawes | Thompson on Hollywood January 17, 2014 at 1:11PM

Heat, drought and catastrophe conspired to provide a perfect entrance for Arnold Schwarzenegger when he showed up at TCA on Thursday to promote Showtime's epic documentary on climate change, "The Years of Living Dangerously." The pay cabler also unveiled previews of new shows "Penny Dreadful," "The Affair," "Happyish," and the return of "Episodes."
'The Years of Living Dangerously'
'The Years of Living Dangerously'

Heat, drought and catastrophe conspired to provide a perfect entrance for Arnold Schwarzenegger when he showed up at TCA on Thursday to promote Showtime's epic documentary on climate change. Billows of red-tinged smoke, spread across an unnaturally warm winter sky, framed the drive to Pasadena for the former California governor, Showtime president David Nevins and others attending the event at the Langham Hotel from offsite -- the result of a forest fire burning in nearby Glendora on an 80-degree January day.   

Forest fires -- and his exposure to their increasing numbers during his tenure as governor -- were exactly what led him to become involved in the project, said Schwarzenegger. He's an executive producer and on-camera correspondent for "The Years of Living Dangerously," an eight-part documentary on global climate change that premieres in April. (Trailer after the jump.)

Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold Schwarzenegger

"One morning I woke up at 6 a.m. and there were more than 2,000 fires burning in California. Just think about that," Schwarzenegger said, after arriving late to Showtime's in-progress panel, wearing cowboy boots and an open collared-shirt with his grey suit. He joins exec producers Jerry Weintraub and James Cameron (not present) in presenting the documentary, which premieres Sunday, April 13 and will run in eight parts. Stars of movies and TV join high-profile journalists to report on crises and disruptions that are ostensibly linked to an encroaching global climate crisis in the big-canvas doc.  

"This is the biggest story of our time, and now's the time to tell it," Cameron says in the program. Broadcast journalist David Gelber, a longtime producer on "60 Minutes," brought the project -- originally conceived as a theatrical doc -- to Weintraub. "I said, if you want eyeballs, do it on television," said Weintraub ("Ocean's Eleven"). "I wasn't interested in doing it as a film because I didn't think anyone would go to see it."    

Seeking maximum explosure, Gelber said, the team first took the project to broadcast networks, but got a cool reception that he attributes in part to political divisions around the topic. By contrast, he said, Showtime's David Nevins embraced the multi-part docu wholeheartedly. The premium pay cable channel is currently at a historic peak of penetration with 23 million subscribers, Nevins said earlier in the Showtime presentation. Even so, producers say they'll utilize social media to extend the reach of the docu, and expose it on other platforms after its Showtime run.  

Bringing in actors and their various constituencies was a key part of the strategy for spreading the message, they added.  Besides Schwarzenegger, who has resumed his movie career, the microphone at various climate change hot spots is wielded by Matt Damon, Harrison Ford, Don Cheadle, Jessica Alba, Ian Somerhalder and others. "These are people who are already very involved in communicating about this cause," said Weintraub.  "We weren't just choosing them for marquee value."   

This article is related to: TV, TV Interviews, TV Features, TV News, TCA Awards, Television, Showtime, James Cameron, James Cameron

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.