Flipping Channels: Lifetime Bids for Respect (As Only Lifetime Can) With Baby Sellers


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Few things get Lifetime executives more upset than the (valid) charge that their programming lacks substance and clout. While they certainly acknowledge the success and visibility of shows like The Client List and Drop Dead Diva, as well as a preponderance of "women in jeopardy" films, they argue they also air periodic specials and miniseries deserving of more attention and prestige.

The latest of those is Baby Sellers, a disturbing film about human trafficking that debuts 7 p.m. Aug. 17. It's produced by Robert Halmi Sr., the mastermind behind its celebrated 2005 miniseries Human Trafficking.

The focus this time is on the younger but no less sordid side of this issue: newborns who are bought or stolen, then sold to adoptive parents. In many (though not all) cases, these parents aren't even aware of their child's background.

The film marks a major departure for primary star Kirstie Alley, well known through the years as a comedic actress. She plays the head of an American adoption agency that specializes in stealing babies from places like Mumbai and Rio, often plucking them right out of hospitals, while paying doctors and nurses to participate in these thefts. Alley's agency has no qualms about doing whatever is necessary to protect its lucrative business, including murder.

Jennifer Finnigan plays a federal agent determined to bring down Alley and the agency. She's as dogged and determined as her adversary, which results in some fiery situations and a memorable conclusion. But more importantly, the film shows how widespread and profitable this practice has become around the world.

As a basic cable service, Lifetime avoids the gritty, overt violence, harsh language and graphic sex available on various HBO, Showtime or Cinemax programs. But productions like Baby Sellers show it can address controversial material in a fashion that's both informative and entertaining, if melodramatic.

Franklin & Bash finale
The addition of Heather Locklear hasn't turned TNT's Franklin & Bash into a monster hit, but it's done decently since its move to 8 p.m. Wednesdays. The Aug. 14 season finale features all the principals under the gun after an insurance fraud investigation points to widespread misconduct.

Karp (Reed Diamond) finally appears before a judicial selection committee. Plus Pindar's (Kumail Nanjiani) computer is under subpoena, and the evidence unearthed casts a shadow of suspicion over the entire firm.

Returning shows underway
Cinemax has gotten surprisingly good results from its action-adventure series Strike Back. Season Three begins 9 p.m. Friday with action heroes Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) and Damien Scott (Sullivan Stapleton) relocated to the middle of the Colombian jungle after a high-ranking official's death suggests a possible mole within Section 20.

It's only the first of several globe-trotting adventures set for this season, which will also see the duo putting out fires in Beirut, Moscow and across Europe. Dougray Scott, Milauna Jackson and Robson Green are new cast additions, with Rhona Mitra back for a second season. Other networks may be reluctant to play the sex and violence cards, but that's never been the case for Cinemax or Strike Back.

Western fans (myself included) keep rooting for AMC's Hell on Wheels to fulfill its potential. Worthy things about the show, whose third season gets underway 8 p.m. Saturday, include its devotion to detail and historical accuracy, down to the types of guns, clothing, sets and dialogue.

But for whatever reason — meandering plots, a sprawling cast, a glum, downbeat tone — it hasn't proven as dynamic or exciting as anticipated. The new season takes the story ahead to 1867, with the transcontinental railroad's construction now in its third year.

Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) has a new agenda: becoming a mogul. But his ongoing clashes with former slave Elam Ferguson (Common) are far from over. He'll also be involved in continuing schemes with the greedy Thomas "Doc" Durant (Colm Meaney).

John Werth (Fallen Skies, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) takes over as new showrunner for the latest 10-episode installment. In addition, the show's on Dish Network from the start. Last year's carriage feud with AMC resulted in the show losing its fans from that end for several weeks. Now that off-air problems are settled, let's hope the on-air product improves.


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