Booker and Co. in 'Brick City’ Still Trying to 'Make a Change’

Sundance Channel’s Brick City speaks to the power of hope — and new platforms. Marc Levin, one of three executive producers on the documentary series about Mayor Cory Booker and Newark, N.J., told The Wire most of his friends who watched the show caught it on video-on-demand or via iTunes.

Levin and fellow executive producer Mark Benjamin (Forest Whitaker is the third) were at Sundance Channel’s media upfront last Tuesday. Their show, which many likened to a real-world version of HBO’s The Wire, was renewed for a second season.

Levin said there are many new storylines. While season one focused on crime and public safety, the economy shares center stage in season two, coming to Rainbow Media-owned Sundance next year.

Booker, a youthful African-American, was swept into office in 2006 on the same hopeful tide that later carried President Obama. The economic and housing-foreclosure crises afflicting the nation have hit Newark hard, and Booker faces a tough re-election battle this spring, Levin said.

Antipathy against Booker continues to be focused on his imported (from The Bronx) police director, Garry McCarthy, and is embodied in the city council candidates running against Booker’s slate. “Tip O’Neill said all politics is local. In Newark, all politics is personal,” Levin said.

Season-one fixtures Jayda and Creep, the former Blood and Crip (respectively) gang members who have gone into nonprofit social service, return. But viewers also will meet Portugese, Puerto Rican and other non-African-American citizens.

“We are trying to open up so you see more of the diversity of Newark, the ethnic diversity, the cultural diversity,” Levin said. “We do want to show a wider frame.”

Asked if he tires of comparisons to The Wire, Levin said no. “I would say the biggest difference, besides obviously that theirs was scripted: Theirs was kind of the end of the line, the death of the American city. Ours, we still are trying to cast with characters that, despite all of the hard times out there, are committed to making a change. That’s the big tone difference. But in terms of style, yeah, love The Wire and I appreciate the comparisons.”

Brick City’s first season is back on Sundance Channel’s VOD platform.

IFC Films’ Oscar Nom Shows VOD Approach Is 'In The Loop’

The March 7 Academy Awards ceremony could give IFC Entertainment, a Rainbow Media sibling to Sundance Channel, a significant lift for its model of premiering independent films on cable at the same time they hit movie theaters.

IFC Films’ In The Loop is nominated for an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay — the first Academy Award-nominated film ever to premiere day and date on TV and in the theaters.

The political comedy starring James Gandolfini (The Sopranos) debuted on the IFC In Theaters video-on-demand service last July and will compete for the coveted statuette against high-profile films such as Up In The Air and Precious.

“The [Oscar] nomination not only gives us great pride, but also underscores the value proposition for theatrical and simultaneous video-on-demand platform releases,” Lisa Schwartz, IFC’s executive vice president of distribution, operations and business development, said.

Adieu, Capt. Phil, From 'Catch’ Fan

The news that Capt. Phil Harris of the Cornelia Marie had died last week following a stroke was a shock, though it could hardly have been said to come out of the blue.

His health was a running storyline on Deadliest Catch, Discovery Channel’s award-winning series on Alaskan King Crab fishermen and the crews who love/hate them. The scene in which Harris talks about his chest pains, between hacking coughs, now seems painfully prescient.

Harris was one of the most engaging figures in a reality TV world often populated with wanna-bes. There was something incredibly engaging about the salt-cured, hard-working, chain-smoking Harris, whose tough love for his sons was a constant back story to his unending quest for the great red crab. Deadliest Catch works because you care about its people and what happens to them. A photo of Harris on the Discovery Web site last week looked at first glance like a Viking portrait — an evocation which, intentional or not, seemed just right.