Discovery Pans for Gold With Scripted ‘Klondike’

Discovery Channel joins the growing ranks of cable networks offering original scripted programming with its miniseries Klondike (9 p.m. Jan. 20, 21 and 22).

The three-part, six-hour program is based on Charlotte Gray’s 2010 book Gold Diggers: Striking It Rich in the Klondike, a nonfiction account of the last gold rush in 1897. (A disclaimer on the miniseries states that some of the fictional characters, dialogue and events are inspired by real-life counterparts.)

This miniseries is essentially a Western with a murder mystery and romance as its prime components. Klondike follows recent college grad Bill Haskell (Richard Madden, who played Robb Stark on HBO’s Game of Thrones) and his best friend, Byron Epstein (Augustus Prew), as they travel to Dawson City in Canada’s Yukon Territory to try to strike it rich at a Klondike gold claim.

Tragedy follows and soon Haskell is out for justice. Along the way he falls for an independent woman, Belinda Mulrooney (Abbie Cornish, Seven Psychopaths), befriends a priest (Sam Shepard, The Right Stuff) and future novelist Jack London (Johnny Simmons, The Perks of Being a Wallflower).

Klondike, filmed in Calgary, Canada, offers beautiful scenery and vistas. Its story is relatively familiar as pioneer tales go — there’s nothing as soapy or politically intertwined as seen in AMC’s Hell on Wheels or FX’s Justified ­ but it is a fairly entertaining yarn.

Klondike writer/executive producer Paul Scheuring (Prison Break) said he created a character who dies early — Haskell and Mulrooney are based on real people — because he didn’t think viewers would buy into the show if Haskell was only in the Klondike to get rich.

“I created that to serve the larger narrative so one thing that keeps Ben Haskell in the Klondike is he has unfinished business in terms of the mystery of (the murder),” Scheuring said during a press conference at the first day of the Television Critics Association winter 2014 press tour.

Dolores Gavin, a Discovery development executive, said the network’s success with Alaska-set reality series, including Gold Rush, played a role in making Klondike its first scripted project.

“Discovery is about man’s relationship to nature, which is sometimes beautiful and sometime agonizing but the relationship in the end is always a meaningful one,” she said.

Gavin also acknowledged that the success of History’s Hatfields & McCoys miniseries in 2012 helped motivate the desire to get into scripted content. No future projects have been announced and there are no plans for a Klondike sequel.

“We had a natural beginning and end. You need to know when to say goodbye and let’s find more stories,” she said.

Gavin doesn’t rule out a weekly, scripted series if that makes sense with a particular story topic or setting but she said Discovery has no weekly series in development.

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HBO showed TV critics the pilots of two new 2014 series Wednesday night: “The Leftovers,” from “Lost” executive producer Damon Lindelof and based on the novel of the same name by Tom Perrotta, about those left behind after an unexplained rapture-style event; and “Silicon Valley,” a comedy about tech nerds from Mike Judge (“King of the Hill,” “Beavis and Butt-head”) that’s reminiscent of Amazon.com’s “Betas” but funnier.

Critics were asked not to review the pilots - neither was a final edit - but both offered intriguing debut episodes that made me eager to see more.

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Channel surfing:

A year after changing its name from “The Insider” to “omg! Insider,” the syndicated entertainment news magazine has reverted to its original title. . TVGN (formerly TV Guide Network) will air every episode to date of The CW’s “The Originals” (starting at 2 p.m. Saturday) and “Reign” (2 p.m. Jan. 18). . Drake will host and be musical guest on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” on Jan. 18; Jonah Hill hosts Jan. 25 with U.K. band Bastille as musical guest. . Sitcom spinoff fans take note: “Joanie Loves Chachi: The Complete Series” is out on DVD Feb. 4. . Ratings report: PBS’ “Downton Abbey” returned in fine fettle, drawing an average 10.2 million viewers to its premiere Sunday, the highest-rated drama premiere in PBS history; CBS’s “Intelligence” got off to a good ratings start Tuesday (16.6 million viewers) while ABC’s “Killer Women” was dead on arrival (3.9 million viewers). . On Tuesday, Hulu.com will debut the original Danish version of “The Bridge” that inspired the FX series that premiered last summer. . Live TV events are all the rage and the latest is National Geographic Channel’s “Live From Space,” a two-hour special airing in March from the International Space Station and starring its resident astronauts. . OWN has ordered a fourth Tyler Perry series, “Single Moms Club,” a one-hour drama to air in the fall.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette TV writer Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association winter press tour. Follow RobOwenTV at Twitter or Facebook. rowenpost-gazette.com

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