With Hulu limited series 11.22.63 debuting on President’s Day, naturally, what the heck don’t we know about the assassination of John F. Kennedy after countless books and movies? Showrunner Bridget Carpenter says one man of mystery has not received the scrutiny he deserves. George de Mohrenschildt was a Russian émigré—a petroleum geologist and, as Carpenter puts it, a “blowhard-y community leader” in Dallas.
He was also, perhaps illogically, tight with a bumbling dropout named Lee Harvey Oswald.
De Mohrenschildt was a CIA asset who testified extensively during the Warren Commission, was committed to a mental hospital and later committed suicide. He will get his close-up in the series, which J. J. Abrams adapted from the Stephen King novel.
“He’s an amazing character who has been lost in the layperson’s general knowledge of the assassination,” says Carpenter. “Why was this guy friends with Lee Harvey Oswald?”
The series is a thriller that sees James Franco’s English teacher character, Jake Epping, time trip from the present back to 1960, where he sets out to find Oswald and alter the course of history. Carpenter warns against watching 11.22.63 as a history lesson. “We tried to get the historical details right,” she says. “But it’s pure storytelling.”
Hulu is releasing the eight episodes weekly. “Stephen King loves binge-watching, but Hulu wanted to bring back the idea of anticipation,” says Carpenter. “I had to agree.”
Also being released in a not-very-bingey weekly format is The New Yorker Presents on Amazon (see page 18), which debuts Feb. 16. Producer Alex Gibney told us that the staggered release schedule is a way to replicate the rhythms of a weekly magazine.
The to binge or not to binge debate came up during a recent panel at the ATV Festival in Atlanta. Peter Benedek, cofounder and director, United Talent Agency, said he suggested to his Netflix counterparts that a new series would work better as a weekly release, as opposed to all at once. That did not go over well. “I was told I was old-fashioned,” grumbled Benedek.
And just as 11.22.63 is arriving, another series steeped in mystery—goofy kid mystery—departs. If you’re not familiar with Disney XD series Gravity Falls, ask the 10-year-old boy in your life. The show, about boy and girl twins who spend the summer with wacky relatives in a town steeped in surreal mythology, accounts for the network’s top eight animated series telecasts of all time among kids 6-11.
Feb. 15 marks the season two—and series—finale. Creator Alex Hirsch says Gravity Falls was always conceived as a closed-ended story set across a lone summer. He did at least leave open the possibility of a return. “When people watch the final episode, they will see threads that one could imagine potentially being addressed in some future form,” said Hirsch. “Right now, I’m content with where it is, but I can’t say what Future Alex might do. So we’ll just have to wait and see.”
It could be a special or even a comic book, said Present Alex.
Gravity Falls averaged 1.6 million viewers across its young life, three of them being my son and the neighborhood boys he watches the show obsessively with. He’s not alone. Hirsch mentions an “elaborate” YouTube video that incorporated all the various plot lines of the show at that point in its history. “At that moment it was, ‘Oh my God, anything can happen now,’” Hirsch said. “People care enough to do something so insane and delightful.”
The finale, “Weirdmageddon Part 3: Take Back the Falls,” picks up where Weirdmageddon Part 2 left off in November.
How many series can you think of that had rabid followings yet lasted just two seasons?
HBO’s Flight of the Conchords comes to my mind. Kristen Schaal’s career got humming after she brilliantly played stalker girl Mel in Conchords; she voices plucky Mabel Pines in Gravity Falls.
“That never happens in showbiz,” Schaal says, “except for shows I work on.”
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Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.