Tuned In: ‘Escape at Dannemora,’ partially filmed in Pittsburgh, premieres Nov. 18

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Showtime’s “Escape at Dannemora” limited drama series about a real-life 2015 jail break in upstate New York filmed its eight episodes over about six months mostly in New York with two weeks of production in Pittsburgh at the now-closed SCI Pittsburgh (formerly known as Western Penitentiary).

“Dannemora,” premiering at 10 p.m. Nov. 18 and directed by Ben Stiller (“Reality Bites”), tells the story of a prison employee (Patricia Arquette, “Medium”) who becomes sexually involved with two prisoners (Paul Dano, Benicio Del Toro) and ultimately helps them escape from the prison.

Because “Dannemora” only filmed a small portion in Pittsburgh it was not eligible for a Pennsylvania film tax credit.

But writer Brett Johnson said SCI Pittsburgh proved to be a good match for the real-life Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y., a half-hour’s drive from the Canadian border, which was used for exteriors.

“It was really a very good match,” Mr. Johnson said between press conferences at the Television Critics Association summer 2018 press tour. “There was one angle that you could see a freeway” that had to be digitally erased in post-production. “And what was so perfect was it’s not active but it just recently shut down, not shut 50 years ago so it would be like a Stephen King haunted prison.”

Most prison interiors, including cells, were built in soundstages in New York. But SCI Pittsburgh was used mostly for outdoor scenes inside the prison walls, including a scene from the series finale when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (Michael Imperioli, “The Sopranos”) arrives via helicopter.

Cast members on location in Pittsburgh for filming included Ms. Arquette, Mr. Del Toro, Mr. Dano, Eric Lange and David Morse, who recently starred in the Pittsburgh-filmed “Outsiders.”

The CW goes ‘All American’

Easily the fall’s best broadcast network hour-long pilot, The CW’s “All American” (9 p.m. Oct. 10, WPCW) is inspired by the story of former Miami Dolphins linebacker Spencer Paysinger who grew up in South Central Los Angeles but received a permit to attend tony Beverly Hills High where he played football.

That’s the story in “All American” for Spencer James (Daniel Ezra) who is recruited by Beverly Hills High football coach Billy Baker (Taye Diggs), somewhat to the consternation of Spencer’s South Central friends.


N'ke Uche Kadri as Rook and Chris Denham as Chief Peter Trask of the CBS All Access series
Rob Owen
Tuned In: ‘One Dollar’ trailer gives a first look at Pittsburgh-filmed series

Unlike, say, “The O.C.,” where the lead character moved from a blue collar community to a wealthy neighborhood, “All American” won’t forsake South Central. Executive producer April Blair said the series will spend about 60 percent of its time in Beverly Hills and 40 percent of its time in South Central.

“Unlike ‘The O.C.,’ where he left and never goes back to Chino, we give a lot of time and energy to telling stories in the community he comes from as well as the one he’s entered,” Ms. Blair said. “This is about a boy who is straddling two worlds. … It really is about the struggle to maintain his life in both places.”

Mr. Paysinger said his experience lends itself to an ongoing TV drama.

“It was just a stark contrast of everything I’ve experienced growing up in South Central,” Mr. Paysinger said of life at a Beverly Hills school. “I definitely had gang influence growing up in South Central. People think Beverly Hills shielded me from some problems but in actuality it opened a whole new can of worms: Kids with affluence, kids with drug problems, parents not being there for weeks on end. Just dealing with that contrast is probably the biggest thing I had to go through.”

Rebooting ‘Charmed’

Yeah, yeah, another reboot but what’s semi-interesting about this one is that this new “Charmed” pilot (9 p.m. Oct. 14) is better than the 1998 “Charmed” pilot. It’s not a great pilot, but it’s at its best in some lighter, funnier moments that show potential if producers lean into that.

But fans of the original should prepare themselves for changes as particular as moving away from rhyming couplet spells.

“That was so tied to the original,” said new “Charmed” executive producer Jennie Snyder Urman (“Jane the Virgin”). “Something about the rhyming felt like it belonged to that show and especially because we’re wanting to get into different languages and different cultures, we didn’t want to limit ourselves.”

The three sister witch characters at the center of the new “Charmed” are all multiracial (with different fathers) and producers said the show will explore witchcraft through those different cultures.

“It reflects the political and cultural shifts that have happened since the last ‘Charmed,’ ” said actor Rupert Evans, who plays the witches’ Whitelighter, sort of a guardian angel.

One witch is a lesbian, another update. But The CW kept the “Charmed” name for its marketability and the root story.

Showtime updates

Showtime’s “Ray Donovan” returns for its sixth season at 9 p.m. Oct. 28.

The ninth season of “Shameless” has been extended to 14 episodes with seven episodes airing this fall (9 p.m. Sept. 9 to Oct. 21) and another seven in winter (beginning Jan. 20).

Showtime announced two new docu-series: “Shut Up and Dribble,” from executive producer LeBron James, about athletes in culture and politics, and director Alex Gibney’s “Enemies: The President, Justice & the FBI” (8 p.m. Nov. 18), a four-part series about the long history of conflict between American Presidents and the FBI.

Channel surfing

FX is no longer developing “Feud: Charles and Diana” after the material didn’t come together, per The Hollywood Reporter. … Sony is developing a “Facts of Life” reboot with Leonardo DiCaprio and Jessica Biel as executive producers. … Platypus characters were regulars in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and now they’re coming to PBS’ successor series, “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” in a new hourlong special, “The Daniel Tiger Movie: Won’t You Be Our Neighbor” (Sept. 17), which introduces the Platypus family and Jodi Platypus, a new friend for Daniel Tiger.