In US network drama The Rookie, Nathan Fillion plays John Nolan, who takes a fresh start in life by pursuing his dream of becoming a LAPD officer.
As the force’s oldest rookie, he’s considered a walking mid-life crisis. But if he can use his life experience, determination and sense of humour to give him an edge, he might just make a success of it.
The series also stars Alyssa Diaz, Richard T Jones, Titus Makin, Mercedes Mason, Melissa O’Neil, Afton Williamson and Eric Winter.
In this DQTV video, former Castle actor Fillion and showrunner Alexi Hawley reveal the origins of the series, which is based on the real-life story of the oldest rookie in the LAPD.
They talk about how Nolan fits in with the ensemble of supporting characters, the central theme of starting over and why they believe the drama will appeal to viewers of all ages.
The pair also detail how they pitched the series to ABC, which handed the show a straight-to-series order.
The Rookie is coproduced by Entertainment One (eOne) and ABC Studios for ABC, and distributed by eOne.
The writer and co-creator of Australian drama The Kettering Incident and forthcoming supernatural thriller The Gloaming picks her six favourite dramas, which include a blend of science fiction, crime and Scandi noir.
Kolchak: The Night Stalker
I remember, thinking back to my childhood, how much I enjoyed shows like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits and Doctor Who. Probably my favourite was Kolchak: The Night Stalker, with all the frightening creatures out in the night. I really enjoyed the dynamic between newspaper reporter Kolchak (Darren McGavin) and his editor, Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland). Tony never believed Kolchak and I’d be yelling at the TV – ‘I saw it too, Vincenzo!’ But they had a genuine respect for each other. As an adult, I would watch The X-Files and I could definitely see where that show’s creator, Chris Carter, got his inspiration from.
Hill Street Blues
In my 20s and starting to write myself, I was attracted to Hill Street Blues (also pictured above) – basically all of Steven Bochco’s shows. He was a genius, and shows like Hill Street, NYPD Blue and LA Law really changed the landscape of TV. They had long-running storylines where characters developed, rather than resetting each week as the TV model was then. You always wanted to be part of the team, whatever the show. I believe this series changed the way we told stories on TV from that point on.
Life on Mars
This show was a total game-changer for me as a writer. I was working in London on The Bill when Life on Mars was being made and I had done a ton of crime shows up until then. The hybrid of crime, time-travel and mystery elements was fantastic and opened my eyes to the possibilities of genre-blending. I used it as a reference and inspiration for The Kettering Incident, even though they are completely different shows.
This is another British series that has influenced me a lot when it comes to blending the supernatural with crime. Lesley Sharp is one of my all-time favourite actresses and she shines in this. It used to genuinely scare the crap out of me. I am thrilled that I now have Stephen Volk, the creator and writer, as a friend on Facebook. I’m a nerd like that.
It is hard to pick one show when we get to the massive change in TV coming out of the US in the 1990s, with the introduction of HBO and the rise of the showrunner model, but I have to go to one of my most revered idols – David Lynch and Twin Peaks. Lynch and Mark Frost created a truly original, unique and luscious TV series with a mix of dreamscape, horror, comedy and soap, and showed the power of a single question: who killed Laura Palmer? The soundtrack was perfect as well.
Forbrydelsen (The Killing)
My final choice is Forbrydelsen (The Killing). I have long been drawn to Scandi shows like Unit One, The Eagle and Wallander, but Denmark’s The Killing brought together a complex female lead with multiple storylines over 20 episodes. This was the first time I genuinely binged on a show, and though I had writing deadlines of my own, I would still be up at 02.00 watching ‘just one more.’ It also paved the way for other great Scandi series like Bron/Broen (The Bridge) and Borgen, which I also love. It even made me want one of Sarah Lund (Sophie Gråbøl)’s jumpers!
As US espionage thriller Killing Eve lands in the UK, DQ hears from lead writer and executive producer Phoebe Waller-Bridge about refreshing the genre, infusing drama with comedy and the joy of writing.
“She’s utterly unique,” actor Fiona Shaw says of Phoebe Waller-Bridge (pictured above), the actor and writer behind British comedy drama Fleabag and US spy thriller Killing Eve. “It’s fantastic to have someone who is a master of language writing television. It’s wonderful – not just a master of narrative or a master of seeing things, but a master of words. It’s just great fun to read [her scripts] and be allowed to play it.”
Cue an act of faux embarrassment and modesty from Waller-Bridge, as Shaw, who stars in Killing Eve as MI6 head Carolyn Martens, talks about the writer while sitting beside her at a Bafta screening of the British-made US drama, which launched in April this year on BBC America but has now travelled back across the Atlantic to BBC1, where it debuts this Saturday. The full six-episode boxset will be released on BBC VoD service iPlayer immediately after the first episode has aired.
Waller-Bridge should be used to receiving plaudits after her award-winning adaptation of her own stage play, Fleabag, saw her become one of the most in-demand talents in the UK. But it was Sally Woodward Gentle who, after much persistence, managed to secure the writer to adapt Luke Jennings’ Villanelle novellas for television as Killing Eve.
The series, which is now filming its second season, follows Eve (Emmy-nominated Sandra Oh), a bored, whip-smart MI5 security officer whose desk job doesn’t fulfil her fantasies of being a spy. Her life changes, however, when she enters into an epic game of cat and mouse with Villanelle (Jodie Comer), a mercurial, talented killer who clings to the luxuries her violent job affords her. The series sees them go head-to-head in a chase across Europe that is in equal parts funny, smart and action-packed.
Sid Gentle Films produces, with Woodward Gentle, Waller-Bridge and Lee Morris executive producing. Endeavor Content distributes the series internationally, with other buyers including HBO Europe, Israel’s Hot and TVNZ in New Zealand.
In her own words, Waller-Bridge discusses the challenge of refreshing the spy genre, infusing drama with her own brand of comedy and the joy of writing.
Comedy isn’t just about telling jokes but about presenting characters in unexpected situations…
My role in life as well as in writing is to never let it get too heavy. I think people fall in love with characters who make them laugh, and comedy is such a huge part of surprising people. I always want to be surprised and a joke always surprises me, especially in a murderous drama.
The writer was forced to be creative when coming up with insults, with Eve calling MI5 boss Frank Haleton (Darren Boyd) a ‘dickswab’…
I was thinking really hard about what to call Darren Boyd. You write those things because you’re not allowed to say really rude words. BBC America said, ‘Unfortunately you can’t say that,’ but that forces you to be more creative sometimes, and ‘dickswab’ was that. I looked it up and it turns out someone’s name is Dick Swab.
Sandra Oh was destined to play Eve and nothing would stop Waller-Bridge from getting the Grey’s Anatomy star…
Sally [Woodward Gentle] heard from her agent several times that Sandra wasn’t available and I looked at Sally and said, ‘I’m just going to do it one more time.’ It was an operation. I wrote a long email about why it had to be Sandra, and from the moment she came into our imaginations as Eve, it couldn’t be anybody else.
Then we had a Skype call, which was really strange because the moment we pressed video on Skype, we were wearing exactly the same outfit. So it was like, ‘This is happening.’
The series’ heightened take on the spy genre comes more from who Villanelle is than Waller-Bridge’s desire to play with the rules…
It was more about what’s inside Villanelle, that she’s designing her own life. She’d be like, ‘I don’t give a fuck, I’m riding a motorbike.’ It’s not about looking at Villanelle being cool, it’s about her feeling cool and that’s what’s feeding her, or feeling like she’s living the life she wants to live.
She can have sex with anyone she wants and she does; she can have a motorbike and she’ll eat a tiny sandwich on a hillside because she can. She’s kind of in the ‘Villanelle’ movie of her life. She’s not entirely sure who she is and she’s constantly trying to play different people, but without insecurity, which I think is what’s fun about her. She goes, ‘I’m going to climb a drainpipe in a weird see-through blouse,’ not because that makes the show sexy but because Villanelle says, ‘That’s what I’m going to do and nobody’s going to stop me.’ It was mainly through her playing around. She cracks herself up.
But taking on such well-trodden ground as the espionage thriller meant the writer wasn’t afraid to freshen things up…
When I’m trying to write something, there’s a time when I feel like I want to see something, and it comes out as, ‘I want to see Fiona Shaw do that.’ It can be as simple as that – to have these amazing actors do or say something surprisingly funny. It keeps coming back to doing something surprising.
So many of the tropes work and parts of the genre fit together so well for a reason, because they work and they fell good. So it’s not that you completely discard them, it’s about how you freshen them up to feel surprising again.
The source material offered the chance to create a series with two lead characters…
Luke Jennings introduced these characters and their world so vividly that you’ve got two shows in one. You’ve got the office drama with Eve, the accessible character who you think you know, and then all these details come out and you reveal this everywoman to be something more extraordinary.
On the flip side, you have this extraordinary woman [Villanelle] who you’re slowly revealing has a need to be normal, and that feels like two stories that would otherwise have been separate. Suddenly you have two heroines and two villains at the same time.
The series generated a lot of buzz in the US for its LGBT representation, though Waller-Bridge says this was part of the creative process and not a political point…
It’s purely from character point of view – the idea that these two women just became obsessed with each other in every possible way. That was exciting, new, nuanced and real. It was a different kind of passion and it just felt very natural to the characters. The moment Eve knows Villanelle exists, a switch is turned on in her that hasn’t been turned on before. The first time they meet is the moment they fall in love, and that was a very natural, normal story point for us. They’re just women who adore each other, who are attracted to each other. There’s a sexual power play between the two that isn’t for anyone else, it’s just for them. It’s all about what happens between these two and how it effects them.
Waller-Bridge says the joy in writing Killing Eve was the faith shown in her to do it in the first place, and the freedom she was given to write the story she wanted to tell…
When I’d written Fleabag as a play, it was a monologue and it was ostensibly a comedy but then Sally came along and said, ‘Espionage thriller – go!’ [The joy is] that moment when you go, ‘Yeah alright, fuck it, I’ll try that.’ That moment of faith and ‘please break the rules’ coming from the very beginning – and then the challenge is to break the rules. It wasn’t like I was working within parameters, and BBC America was behind that as well.
The real joy comes when you’ve cast it and you’re starting to see these characters come to life. You get the rushes, you see what they’ve filmed that day, you’re on set and see the actors fill in the cracks and then you’re just like, ‘They’re not just in our heads anymore.’
Killing Eve had been in our hearts for so long and then you see the characters walking and talking, and then you get to carry on writing for them and building that relationship. I remember so many plot twists that happened over my kitchen table with Sandra talking about, ‘What if she did this, what if she did that?’ Then you’re completely aligned with everyone like that. It’s the best.
To reach this point in her career, Waller-Bridge found the fun in writing, surrounding herself with people – her “family” – who push and support her.
I went to drama school, left and nothing happened for ages. And in that gap of nothing happening, I met a director called Vicky Jones [The One], who became my best friend, and we just decided we wanted to do stuff for fun on the side of failing as actors and directors.
So we started our theatre company [DryWhite], producing work. And it was stuff we were doing for fun that took on a life of its own. It was Vicky who eventually said, ‘Just write a play,’ and so then I did – that was Fleabag. Then after Fleabag, I said to her, ‘You write a fucking play.’ And that did brilliantly well too.
That has been a huge part for me, finding your people who want to push you and you can push in return and that’s your gift to each other. It’s so lonely, so hard and so competitive comparing yourself to other people. So if you can find people you have fun with, if you crash and burn, you’ve got someone to say, ‘We’re going down together.’ You build your family and start working with the same people again.
I met Jenny Robins, the producer, doing Killing Eve. We bonded and continue to work together. [Director] Harry Bradbear worked on Fleabag and set this show up. Just build your family.
Crime drama Narcos burst onto Netflix in 2015 with huge popular and critical acclaim, with the first two seasons of the bilingual drama following the story of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar.
Last year’s season three picked up after Escobar’s death, tracking the DEA’s investigation into the infamous Cali Cartel.
Returning later this year, season four follows a brand new story under the title Narcos: Mexico, focusing on the illegal drug trade in the country. The first three seasons were largely set in Colombia.
In this DQTV interview, Narcos showrunner Eric Newman discusses the challenges of making the Netflix drama, the impact of binge-watching and the legacy Narcos has created for bilingual shows.
Narcos: Mexico is produced by Gaumont Television for Netflix. Newman, José Padilha, Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard are the executive producers.
Tom Clancy’s literary hero Jack Ryan has been seen on screen before, notably in movies, with Harrison Ford, Alec Baldwin, Ben Affleck and Chris Pine all having portrayed the character.
Now, Ryan is set for television for the first time – in a 10-part series for Amazon Prime Video.
Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan sees John Krasinski (The Office, A Quiet Place) step into the title role as a desk-bound CIA analyst who is on the trail of a terrorist network, only to find himself thrown into the field for the first time.
In this DQTV interview, co-showrunners Carlton Cuse (Bates Motel) and Graham Roland (Lost) talk about why the novels lend themselves more to television than cinema and how they brought together several story strands into one 10-part series.
They also talk about casting Krasinski as Ryan and how they strived to bring authenticity to the series.
Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, which has already been renewed for a second season ahead of its August 31 launch in more than 200 countries, is produced by Paramount Television, Cuse’s Genre Arts, Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes and David Ellison’s Skydance Television.
US drama Manifest sees the passengers of Montego Air flight 828 land safely after a turbulent but seemingly routine flight, only to discover that the world has aged five years while they have been in the air.
While their friends, families and colleagues, after mourning their loss, had given up hope and moved on, the passengers are now given a second chance. But as their new realities become clear, a deeper mystery unfolds.
In this DQTV interview, creator and showrunner Jeff Rake discusses how he first conceived the idea for this mystery event series more than a decade ago.
He reveals what drives the show forward: the mystery at the heart of the story, a relationship drama and a procedural element each week.
Rake also talks about developing and casting the ensemble drama, his partnership with Back to the Future director Robert Zemeckis and the scramble to assemble the best talent during pilot season.
Manifest is produced by Warner Bros Television and Compari Entertainment for NBC and is distributed by Warner Bros International Television Distribution.
James David Hattin, founder, creative director and senior visual effects supervisor of LA-based VFX Legion, discusses the company’s television work and reveals his pride over the hundreds of visual effects that go unnoticed by viewers of ABC political drama Scandal.
While visual effects tend to be thought of as the digital magic behind TV shows and films featuring futuristic worlds and alien invaders, in truth you’d be hard-pressed to find any dramatic series or movie that doesn’t rely on computer-generated imagery to create a seamless real-world environment.
If you’ve watched episodic television shows, such as Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder, Madam Secretary, Suits, El Chapo, The Catch or any one of dozens of dramatic TV series and movies, then you haven’t seen VFX Legion’s work – which we consider a testament to our LA studio’s mastery of its craft.
Digital effects play an essential role in the production of visual stories for every genre. Practical footage inherently presents numerous issues that only creative digital solutions can address, such as matching lighting, eliminating reflections and shadows, retouching, and removing rigs.
Dramas that unfold in the real world also go way beyond using visual effects for clean-ups and continuity, augmenting real-world footage with computer-generated photorealistic environments, set extensions, explosions, digitally populated scenes and other effects that would be impossible, impractical or too expensive to shoot on a set or on location.
The amount of photorealistic digital effects that stand in for practical footage has steadily increased over the years. Episodic television shows and films are tapping their potential to provide cost-effective alternatives to location shoots and ‘dynamic’ shots, as well as an economical means of expanding the physical boundaries of storylines.
Studios with the ability to create computer-generated imagery that’s indistinguishable from practical footage, and the experience needed to meet the challenge of short deadlines while optimising budgets, are seeing an uptick in the quantity and complexity of work for content that is rooted in reality.
ABC’s Scandal, a political thriller created by Shonda Rhimes that recently concluded after seven seasons, is one example of a dramatic show that evolved the role of digital effects in its production. Filmed in LA but set in Washington DC, the series was an ideal candidate for the meticulously detailed environments that our studio specialises in producing.
Rhimes’ production company Shondaland contacted us during the fifth season when it was clear that the weekly episodic television show’s tight production schedule demanded more visual effects. Legion had earned a reputation as a company with a cost-effective approach to creating complex, quality effects for high-profile TV series, handling large shot counts and dealing with last-minute revisions and tight budgets, while hitting daunting deadlines with time to spare.
Legion handled every facet of the visual effects process for Scandal’s last 50 episodes. As creative director and senior VFX supervisor, I worked closely with our management team, guiding our end-to-end process from pre-production meetings, establishing shot lists, developing concepts, scheduling and budgeting to shot design, on-set supervision and supervising our artists through each stage of the production process.
One of the most challenging computer-generated sequences created for Scandal was the replication of the White House’s Truman Balcony. We were provided with some existing assets, which we saw for the first time, and tasked with delivering 60 shots a week later, along with elevating the quality of the show’s visual effects.
It’s not unusual for us to receive upwards of 100 shots in a week and turn them around in five to seven days. We customised a sophisticated pipeline tailored to Scandal’s production and broke down our collective of artists into teams based on their areas of expertise, creating the efficient workforce and fluid workflow needed to keep up with the show’s fast-paced schedule.
The initial shots of this second-floor portico faced the East Lawn and Washington Monument. The rest of the set was built on a stage and didn’t require any visual effects. However, after we developed our 3D model of the White House, cameras were moved into new angles to capture a wide shot of the iconic building and reveal the never-before-seen first-floor portico. Legion expanded on the original effects with new shots of views created digitally from various vantage points that provided the director of photography with the assets he required.
By season six, we had established a close working relationship with Scandal’s production team and were given access to the full scope of information needed to contain the budget. This ‘big picture’ perspective enabled us to apply a broader range of technical solutions and suggest alternatives, such as limiting practical shots of views that might be prohibitively expensive, or proposing digital effects that could provide a more cost-effective approach to achieving their end.
Our on-set team, Matt Lynn, Legion’s VFX supervisor, and on-set coordinator Matt Noren, were at the shoot communicating with the camera crew, scenic department, the DOP and the director, ensuring that we had all of the data needed to produce visual effects that aligned with the production specs and seamlessly matched the live-action footage.
Visual effects sequences were created both on sets and at the studio. Some exteriors, such as the Lafayette Park set extension, were shot at a local college where we set up huge green screens, which we later replaced with computer-generated images.
While Scandal isn’t set in a radical dystopian future, Legion’s crafting of digital environments with the accuracy and realism of live footage presented its own set of complex challenges. Any variations from the real world are so subtle that viewers assume the show was shot entirely in DC and the surrounding area. Actually, the LA-based cast of Scandal made only a handful of outings to film in the nation’s capital over the three seasons when VFX Legion handled the show’s visual effects, which was a significant reduction over previous years. The majority of the series relied on digital effects that transported the live action to virtual DC environments.
Although we don’t always want to reveal the magic behind the scenes, sometimes it’s fun for the Great Oz to poke his head out from behind the curtain and say hello.
Whiskey Cavalier, due to air on US network ABC in 2019, is described as a high-octane action comedy-drama that follows the adventures of a tough-but-tender FBI agent.
Scott Foley (Scandal) plays Will Chase (codename: Whiskey Cavalier), who is assigned to work with CIA operative Francesca ‘Frankie’ Trowbridge (codename: Fiery Tribune), played by The Walking Dead’s Lauren Cohan. Together they lead an inter-agency team of flawed, funny and heroic spies who periodically save the world while navigating friendship, romance and office politics.
In this DQTV interview, series creator Bill Lawrence (Scrubs, Spin City) reveals why he wanted to build a show around long-time friend Foley and discusses the films that have inspired his love of action comedy.
He also explains how the show balances serialised and episodic elements, and explains why he was convinced to continue filming the show on location in Europe.
Whiskey Cavalier is produced and distributed by Warner Bros Television.
Swedish political thriller Ingen utan skuld (Conspiracy of Silence) stars Jens Hultén as former arms dealer Robert Kastell, who is on an impassioned mission for revenge.
Having spent 30 years in exile after his escape from the corrupt Swedish weapons trade, Robert suffers a personal tragedy that he blames on the industry he left behind. However, his quest for revenge is thrown off course when he discovers he is a father and must protect his daughter.
With the help of a journalist, Robert must change his approach to bring down the man, and the industry, that took so much from him.
In this DQTV interview, Hultén and executive producer Helena Danielsson discuss the moral dilemmas at the heart of the series and what it says about contemporary Swedish society.
They also talk about how they have tried to push the boundaries of the Nordic noir genre that has proved so popular around the world.
Ingen utan skuld is produced by Brain Academy for Viaplay and distributed by Eccho Rights.
Based on the novel by Stephanie Danler, Sweetbitter tells the story of 22-year-old Tess who, shortly after arriving in New York City, lands a job at a celebrated downtown restaurant.
Swiftly introduced to the world of drugs, alcohol, love, lust, dive bars and fine dining, she learns to navigate the chaotically alluring yet punishing life she has stumbled upon in this coming-of-age comedy drama.
In this DQTV video, creator and executive producer Danler talks about the “endless” possibilities of adapting her own novel for television.
Members of the cast, including Purnell, Caitlin Fitzgerald (Simone), Paul Sparks (Howard) and Eden Epstein (Ari), also discuss the authenticity of the series, complicated female characters and the challenges of striking a unique tone with a half-hour comedy drama.
Sweetbitter is produced by Plan B Entertainment for Starz, which holds distribution rights to the six-part series.
Six-part drama Kiss Me First is an innovative thriller that combines live action with computer-generated virtual reality sequences.
The series moves between the real and animated worlds as it tells the story of Leila (Tallulah Haddon), who stumbles across Red Pill, a secret paradise hidden on the edges of her favourite computer game.
There she meets hedonistic, impulsive and insatiable Tess (Simona Brown). But when a member of the group mysteriously disappears, Leila begins to suspect this digital Eden isn’t the paradise its creator claimed it to be.
In this DQTV interview, executive producers Bryan Elsley (Skins) and Melanie Stokes talk about how they adapted Lottie Moggach’s debut novel for television, including updating the book’s chatroom settings for modern-day VR technology.
They also discuss the challenges of making television drama, such as a lack of risk-taking by broadcasters and the prohibitive cost of making high-end series.
Kiss Me First is produced by Kindle Entertainment and Balloon Entertainment for Channel 4 and Netflix.
The City & The City sees David Morrissey play Inspector Tyador Borlú, who is tasked with investigating the murder of a foreign student whose body is discovered in the streets of the down-at-heel city of Besźel.
He soon uncovers evidence that the murdered girl came from Ul Qoma, a city that shares a dangerous and volatile relationship with Besźel, with the case set to challenge everything Borlú holds dear.
The four-part miniseries is written by Tony Grisoni (Electric Dreams, Red Riding Trilogy), based on China Miéville’s mind-bending novel, and directed by Tom Shankland (House of Cards).
In this DQTV interview, Morrissey, Grisoni, Shankland and executive producer Preethi Mavahalli discuss making the show and the challenges of translating Miéville’s novel to the screen.
The City & The City is produced by Mammoth Screen for BBC2 and distributed by ITV Studios Global Entertainment.
Freya Becker works as a typist in the homicide division of the Berlin police. Since the disappearance of her daughter 11 years ago, she lives in the hope of finding out what happened to her.
When the only man who might give her information about Marie’s fate is released from prison and Freya’s work confronts her with an abuse case similar to her daughter’s, she begins a painful journey to finally get to the bottom of the truth – whatever the cost.
The five-part series stars Iris Berben as Freya alongside Moritz Bleibtreu, Peter Kurth, Mišel Maticevic, Katharina Schlothauer, Laura de Boer and Bettina Hoppe.
In this DQTV interview, star Berben and writer/director Nina Grosse reveal the origins of the series and how they worked together to bring the story to the screen.
They also talk about wider issues surrounding the television industry, such as the #MeToo movement.
The Typist is produced by Moovie for Germany’s ZDF and distributed by Beta Film.
The joint MD of Downton Abbey producer Carnival Films selects the series that inspired his career in film and television, including a superbly crafted period drama perfect for binge-watching and a second appearance this issue for Friday Night Lights.
The Life and Loves of a She-Devil
The show that first made me want to work in film and television. This heightened fable of a woman spurned was ground-breaking, surreal and disturbing. Adapted from the novel by Fay Weldon, it charts one woman’s revenge on her philandering husband as she ruins both his life and that of the woman he deserted her for. I loved how inventive both the script and direction were; it never feared to be both dark and surprisingly funny. Made at a time when television was experimental and different, this show (alongside Denis Potter’s work) opened my eyes to varied ways to approach storytelling.
ER seemed to reinvent the procedural drama by cleverly weaving together a story of the week with the more complex serial strands involving the main characters. The fast-paced, raw choreography of the camera, alongside interlacing storylines, gave the show a realism and credibility still unsurpassed by other medical dramas. When it first hit the screens, it felt urgent, authentic and emotionally charged. But besides the blood, gore and realism, it gave us characters who we fell in love with, and I’m not just talking about Dr Doug Ross (played by George Clooney)… OK, yes I am.
The West Wing
Snappy, smart dialogue, wonderful production values and the president we all wanted and deserved. Created by Aaron Sorkin, this multi-award-winning series introduced us to brilliantly rounded and complex characters in the most urgent and absorbing situations. Funny, heart-breaking and utterly addictive, the show always felt intelligent and sophisticated, yet never alienating. The perfect mix of great writing and brilliant casting made this essential viewing and US television at its best.
I remember being on location in Morocco in the days before SVoDs and iTunes, working my way through a pile of DVDs in my hotel room, and eventually getting to Bleak House, which I had missed when it originally aired. I expected the usual Sunday night, period Dickens adaptation but was thrilled to be wrong. The decision to air the show to replicate the serialised nature of how his novels were originally published was a work of genius – it served to highlight how compulsive and populist his writing was. Like a superbly crafted period soap opera, the interlacing storylines and wonderful hooks meant I kept watching one episode after another, into the small hours when I was meant to be asleep. Stylistically, the camera work felt incredibly modern without being distracting, alongside strong production values and inspired casting, all of which worked together to strengthen the narrative. It was a glorious treat to watch.
Friday Night Lights
Friday Night Lights was a show I discovered quite late in its run but once I’d seen my first episode, I quickly binge-watched the rest. Intriguing characters and tight, complex storytelling made for compulsive viewing, even when the thought of American football felt so alien and intrinsically off-putting to me. Peter Berg’s story of the hopes, dreams and aspirations of a small, neglected community was imbued with so much pathos and heart. I loved that it never relied on huge dramatic events to propel the narrative but had the courage to trust that the audience were invested in the characters. You could practically smell the desires and expectations of the characters, which made the series feel honest, truthful and ultimately rewarding.
I still love the original Prime Suspect. It highlighted Lynda La Plante’s screenwriting prowess – the simplicity of giving an audience only one plausible perpetrator and then keeping them guessing until the closing moments whether they were guilty was the work of a writer at the top of her game. With a wonderful economy of dialogue, the taut script gave birth to one of the most iconic and enduring characters on television in DCI Jane Tennison, masterfully played by Helen Mirren. Prime Suspect was a gritty, unforgiving and absorbing story of a female fighting against prejudice, battling for a chance to be heard in a male-dominated workplace – shame that, 30-odd years later, not much has changed.
Mexican political drama Aquí en la Tierra (Here On Earth) opens as Carlos’s life is altered by the death of his influential father.
Adán, the son of the head of security for Carlos’s family, also finds his life disturbed over riots protesting against the construction of a new airport endorsed by Governor Mario Rocha, Carlos’s stepfather.
Friends from childhood despite their different social extractions, Carlos and Adán will be forced to face their changing circumstances, bringing complex moral dilemmas into play.
In this DQTV interview, Gael García Bernal talks his triple role as series co-creator, lead director and a member of the cast, and discusses what the series says about politics, corruption and social status.
He also talks about his own career, which has mixed television with film and stage work, including his Golden Globe-winning performance during four seasons of Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle.
Aquí en la Tierra is produced by broadcaster Fox Latin America and distributed by Fox Networks Group Content Distribution.
Chris Noth, Leven Rambin and Danny Pino explain why US crime procedural Gone stands out from the crowd – and recall filming a tough fight sequence between two of the leading trio.
Gone tells the fictional story of Kit ‘Kick’ Lannigan, the survivor of a famous child abduction case, who is recruited by Frank Booth, the FBI agent who rescued her, to join a special task force dedicated to solving abductions and missing persons cases. Commissioned by Germany’s RTL and TF1 in France, it is produced by NBCUniversal International Studios and distributed by NBCUniversal International Distribution. It has also been acquired by US cable channel WGN America.
Chris Noth, who plays Booth: Every law enforcement show has its own unique and distinct voice and this one is a bit more disturbing. To be an FBI agent in this unique way takes a certain mindset and it also articulates who Frank is. At the beginning of the series we haven’t gotten into each character’s total history yet but there’s a side of Frank that drives him to this kind of work. As we evolve, I hope we’ll get more into that. I really liked the way all the characters’ pasts are interlaced so that each episode articulates that.
Danny Pino (former Army intelligence officer John Bishop): Gone is really about character. When we’re talking about differentiating procedural cop dramas, Law & Order does a very good job of thrusting the case to the forefront. But what attracted me to Gone was the backstory, certainly with Bishop. That onion is peeled very slowly, and you find it’s then reflected in the case. We’re able to bring some of that baggage so the case isn’t stale or dry. It’s not just something we’re going through rudimentarily to fulfil our occupation. This is something very personal to the characters – certainly it is for Kick from the very beginning. When I read the pilot, I knew Bishop was going to reflect that rawness effectively and I thought this was something I was interested in exploring.
Leven Rambin (Lannigan): I saw this as a 1,000% hardcore black drama because I went crazy in my actor mind. I worked with a real-life survivor – she’s just normal, you wouldn’t know that she’s been tortured and gagged and the things that were done to her. Once I met her, you need to add in that she’s just a normal girl living life. And Kick has a good personality as well. Moments of lightness are really important. Those progress more as the show goes on, which I’m really happy about, because at the start I was like, ‘Let’s make it really dark all the time,’ but that’s not appealing to anyone.
Bishop and Kick are introduced in episode one when he visits her gym looking for self-defence lessons, leading to a fight sequence between the pair that ends when Frank enters and reveals Bishop’s real intention was to test Kick’s skills before he and Frank recruit her to their new task force.
Pino: We rehearsed that a couple of weeks before we actually started shooting. We started rehearsing in LA and the trainers were teaching us how to fight for the camera. Then we showed up two weeks before production in Pittsburgh. We were doing pure choreography, which Leven picked up in a heartbeat. She was ready to fight. Then I pretended I was ready, but I really wasn’t.
We shot each episode in seven days, which is one day fewer than most procedural cop drama episodes take. And when you add action to it, it’s very challenging so we had a very truncated time to shoot in. The director, John Terlesky, said, ‘Now we need to get this [fight scene] in about two hours,’ and he was looking at his watch. I said, ‘Let’s break it up,’ but he said, ‘No, let’s just run it.’ And we ran the entire fight the first time we filmed it. I think Leven punched me three times, and I managed to graze her as well. We ended up running the entire fight five or six times and our stunt doubles just stood there. They did a throw but, at the end of the day, the editors came up to us and said they only used 2% from the stunt doubles, so most of that fight is just us swinging at each other and kicking at each other. That was really fun. And that’s different for a procedural cop drama to have that much action.
Israeli action drama When Heroes Fly follows four former friends – veterans of a special forces unit – who reunite for one final mission 11 years after falling out: to find Yaeli, a former lover of one and sister of another.
Their journey will take them deep into the Colombian jungle, but to succeed they must first confront the trauma that tore them apart.
Creator Omri Givon tells DQ about the origins of the show, which was named best series at the inaugural Canneseries event earlier this year and is based on Amir Gutfreund’s book.
Writer/director Givon also talks about why When Heroes Fly holds universal appeal, how he pushed his budget to bring the Colombian jungle to the screen and how Israeli creatives are now looking to work outside their home country.
When Heroes Fly is produced by Spiro Films for Keshet and distributed by Keshet International.
With so much television to choose from, viewers can be incredibly fickle – so how do you keep hold of them? Writing for DQ, screenwriter Danny Brocklehurst talks about the contrasting styles he used in his two most recent commissions, BBC1’s Come Home and Netflix thriller Safe.
Every writer lives in fear of losing their audience. If they don’t come in the first place, that’s not my fault. But if they come and don’t hang around, I have to take responsibility. This year I’ve had two shows launch: Come Home, a three-part miniseries that aired over three consecutive Tuesdays on BBC1; and Safe (pictured above), a Netflix original with all eight episodes currently streaming. Both dramas have found an audience, but these shows couldn’t have been more different in their construction and the relationship we hoped they would have with an audience.
Come Home tells the story of a mother who walks out on her family. It interrogates the last taboo of parenting and the impact her leaving has on her husband and children; the way the stigma of the ‘deserted mother’ stuck to her like glue. It is character-driven, emotional and purposely avoids thriller twists and genre conventions.
By contrast, Safe is an unapologetic, twisty-turny thriller about a mysterious death and disappearance in a gated community. It mines hidden secrets and charts the impact upon the people who live there, most notably Tom Delaney, played by Michael C Hall (Dexter). It was designed like a ‘holiday read’ novel, with must-have massive hooks at the end of every episode, luring viewers into bingeing multiple episodes.
People might find it strange that two such different shows could come from the same writer, in such a short space of time, but to me the contrast perfectly represents what I love about the job: variety. I hate the idea of being typecast as a certain type of writer, and the challenge of each new project is to work within a style or genre that feels like it is testing my abilities.
Come Home is social realist, deeply personal, in parts semi-autobiographical. It was extremely hard work to craft because the story couldn’t rely on plot to drive it forward. I needed to find compelling drama in smaller moments, in emotional reveals and, ultimately, in a family law court. I wrote the whole story alone and knew it would succeed or fail by how truthful it felt.
Safe, working once again with the formidable story brain of novelist Harlan Coben, was a more collaborative affair. Harlan’s novels sell in their millions because they are the epitome of the engaging page turner. His central conceit is always smart and his hooks addictive. In creating Safe, as we did previously on Sky show The Five, we spent an enormous amount of time together cracking the story. Harlan always likes to know where a story ends. So once we have the beginning and the end, we start – like bridge construction – to piece together the middle.
When you are creating eight episodes of elaborately plotted story, this can be a hard process. Luckily, we were assisted by the brilliant Richard Fee, head of development at Red Production Company, who constantly steered the ship forwards. The three of us worked together for weeks at a time in Harlan’s place in New York (I know, tough gig!) and then after we cracked the basic story, the rest of the work was done across the ocean via Skype and email. Ideas were being thrown back and forth until we had a workable story document that outlined the eight episodes in considerable detail. I wrote the start and end of the series, which accounts for four episodes, we then brought on board other writers for the rest.
At every point in the process, we have in our minds the importance of retaining our audience. Constant twists, propulsive plot, humour, characters you want to spend time with. And the fact it’s for Netflix means that one word shines brightly at all times – binge.
The success of Safe has been as much about the fact that viewers can watch all episodes immediately as anything else. Countless people have told us they watched the whole thing in a weekend, or one night after the next. A few even managed the whole thing in a day!
This is the reality of modern TV viewing, and we all have to get to grips with it. People want content they can watch when they please. The model of consecutive weeks is becoming a thing of the past. Sure, there is the ‘water cooler’ factor that a show like Line of Duty creates when it airs every Sunday but, more and more frequently, viewers are drifting away or saving the episodes up and then bingeing when they are all available on BBC iPlayer or Sky Go.
When Come Home aired, I would have loved all three episodes to have all gone at once. Instead, we had to attempt to maintain our audience over Easter, with all the distractions of European football, school holidays and The Great Celebrity Bake Off. It’s a tough ask.
Of course, not every show can be a longform ‘binge’ show, nor should it be. The beautifully constructed single film or the perfectly formed three-parter is a vital part of our TV landscape. But in a busy viewing environment, writers have to be increasingly aware that viewer patience is thin and, unless you grab them and hold them, they can soon disappear.
Harlan Coben’s Safe, starring Michael C Hall and Amanda Abbington, written by Danny Brocklehurst and produced by Red Production Company, is now streaming on Netflix.
Bafta- and Emmy-winning writer Abi Morgan’s drama The Split is described as an authentic multi-layered exploration of modern marriage and the legacy of divorce.
The story plays out through the lens of the Defoes – a family of female lawyers at the heart of London’s emotionally charged divorce circuit.
Leading divorce lawyer Hannah Stern (Nicola Walker) has walked out on the family firm to join a rival company, and she now faces her sister Nina (Annabel Scholey) and mother Ruth (Deborah Findlay), also successful family lawyers, on the opposing side of high-profile divorce cases.
When their father Oscar (Anthony Head) returns after a 30-year absence, Hannah, Nina and youngest sister Rose (Fiona Button) are thrown further into turmoil.
Speaking to DQTV, executive producer Jane Featherstone and director Jessica Hobbs reveal how the six-part series balances the demands of episodic and serialised storytelling, and discuss the importance of casting.
They also talk about making the series with both BBC1 and US cable channel SundanceTV, and the buoyant TV business in which Featherstone’s recently established production company Sister Pictures is finding its feet.
The Split is produced by Sister Pictures for BBC1 and SundanceTV and distributed by BBC Studios (formerly BBC Worldwide).