PASADENA -- Notes and quotes from the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour:
HBO apparently has a big crush on the Bay Area. Coming to the premium cable channel in April is the tech-centric comedy "Silicon Valley." And debuting this weekend is "Looking," a frank dramedy about the experiences of three gay friends -- played by Jonathan Groff, Frankie J. Alvarez and Murray Bartlett -- searching for love and fulfillment in San Francisco.
A series pegged to gay men immediately sparks memories of Showtime's groundbreaking "Queer as Folk," which debuted in 2000 and ran for five seasons. But producers and stars of "Looking" say their series shares few similarities with its predecessor.
"It's different. It's a different period, obviously," co-creator Andrew Haigh told reporters. "It's different tonally. I think the concerns are different. And stylistically, it's very different."
Helping to set the show apart is its location. Haigh and his writing partner, Michael Lannan, refer to San Francisco as a fourth character in the series, which is shot entirely in the Bay Area. That's a television rarity these days. NBC's "Parenthood," for example, is set in Berkeley but shot in Southern California.
"There was an opportunity to do a show in San Francisco in a way that had never been done before," said Lannan. "You think of a gay show in San Francisco and it's 'Duh.' (But) I lived in San Francisco for a few years starting in late '99, and I hadn't really seen the San Francisco that I knew on screen. It was always kind of the postcard shots."
For "Looking," the city's presence is intertwined with the stories of the characters. Shot in more than 40 locations in a wide array of neighborhoods, it represents, said Lannan, a "new way to portray San Francisco and show it with some rough edges."
And while "Looking" will focus much of its attention on gay themes, it is pegged to the modern realities, including marriage, of men who have already been through the coming-out stage.
"The characters are mostly in their 30s and 40s, and they aren't grappling with the fact that they're gay. That's not the big issue in their lives," Groff said. "They're dealing with their relationships at work, or with their friends, or with their significant others."
Or, as Lannan explained, "One of the central sort of parts of the show is, 'Welcome to the mainstream. What do you do now?' "
SERIAL THRILLER: Also debuting on Sunday, after the 49ers-Seahawks playoff game on Fox, is Season 2 of "The Following," which picks up one year after the Season 1 finale with former FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) trying to move on from the tragic lighthouse explosion.
On the surface, it seems that Hardy has gotten his life together, but deep down, his obsession with serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) continues to grow, as he remains certain that Carroll is still alive. Hardy finally gets a lead after a brutal subway attack by a group of mask-wearing psychos, and all signs point to Carroll's remaining followers.
"The Following" got off to a blistering start last year, but faltered down the stretch, provoking fans to gripe about numerous implausibilities and questionable plot twists. One of the major complaints was the investigative ineptitude displayed by the FBI, which often became laughable. It's a complaint that creator Kevin Williamson admits has some validity.
"That's some justified criticism, and I'll swallow it and take it and learn from it," he said. "One of the things we did this year is take (Hardy) out of the FBI. We're resetting the show, and we've taken him to a brand new world -- New York City. He's not sitting in the FBI anymore. We have a brand-new template to paint from, and it's more of a character thriller, more of a relationship thriller."
THIS 'N' THAT: Determined to make more "big-event" noise in the summer, CBS has announced a return date for Stephen King's "Under the Dome" and a premiere date for Steven Spielberg's "Extant." Last summer's biggest prime-time hit, "Under the Dome," launches its second season at 10 p.m. June 30 with an opener written by King. "Extant," a sci-fi limited series starring Halle Berry, kicks off at 9 p.m. July 2. ... Premiere dates are also set for the next installments of "The Amazing Race" (8 p.m., Feb. 23) and "Survivor" (8 p.m., Feb. 26). "Race" will present another all-star edition with 11 former teams. "Survivor" will kick off with a two-hour opener and separate its tribes under the headings of "brawn, brains and beauty."
When: 10:30 p.m. Sunday