Spike leads sharp increase in Viacom drama
Viacom’s portfolio of adult-targeted cable channels doesn’t look like an obvious place to find original scripted shows. But, keen not to be left behind in the drama arms race, Viacom brands such as MTV, Spike, CMT and BET are spending heavily on the genre.
MTV’s investment in The Shannara Chronicles and Scream is regarded by many as the channel’s biggest editorial shake-up since it launched in 1981. And now Spike – already committed to Tut – has unveiled plans for a major increase in the number of series it has on air.
In an announcement last week, Spike said its new development slate spans “a wide range of genres and periods, all of it character-driven material set in unique, compelling worlds. These include series about an occupied American heartland during World War III, a family living in a world without privacy, the Gilded Age pioneers of criminal defence law, and medical researchers pushing the boundaries of ethics and legality.”
Sharon Levy, exec VP of original series at Spike, added: “Our slate is indicative of our goal to be a network that creates high-quality and dynamic scripted entertainment with a distinctive edge and point of view.”
The title that has attracted most attention is World War III, which imagines the US as an occupied territory. This is a popular theme at the moment, with titles such as Occupied, SS-GB and The Man in the High Castle also in the works at the moment.
Spike’s project centres on “one man with a troubled past (who) will galvanise a resistance movement, calling upon ordinary citizens to become the extraordinary heroes of WWIII.”
The series is executive produced by Hollywood director Bryan Singer and written by creators Aaron and Matthew Benay. Singer’s involvement is particularly noteworthy, given his strong track record that includes House, Dirty Sexy Money and the X-Men movie franchise.
Spike’s other scripted shows in development include psychological horror series Bad Medicine, dystopian thriller Secret America and Mr In Between, which focuses on a high-stakes courier who traffics sensitive information between people for whom privacy is a matter of life and death, and which perhaps echoes the Transporter franchise.
There is also a period drama called Hummel & Howe. Set in the Gilded Age of the late 19th century in New York City, this series showcases the lives of William Howe and Abraham Hummel – two criminals desperate to escape their past who become the greatest criminal defence attorneys in American history. The series is written by Andy Bellin, whose main credits to date are the movies Trust and Lovelace.
Meanwhile, Spike will be waiting anxiously on the ratings for the first episode of Tut, which aired yesterday (July 19). Early indications from IMDb are that the audience was lukewarm about the opening episode, with a modest 7.8 rating based on 112 users, but we’ll get a clearer picture when the overnights come in.
Across the pond, indie producer Bentley Productions has been asked by broadcaster ITV to make Harry Price: Ghost Hunter, a two-hour special based on a novel by Neil Spring.
Commissioned by Steve November and Victoria Fea, the story begins when a fraudulent ghost hunter is asked to investigate the haunting of the home of a local politician, whose wife will be committed to an asylum if he fails to succeed.
All3Media-owned Bentley is best known as the producer of crime drama mega-hit Midsomer Murders (which has run for 17 seasons and been sold to 225 territories), so it will hope Ghost Hunter can inherit some of that show’s longevity. The task of writing the TV feature has fallen to Jack Lothian, whose credits include Doc Martin, Death in Paradise and Ashes to Ashes.
While various movies have been loosely based on William Shakespeare’s life (Shakespeare In Love and Anonymous spring to mind), the Bard rarely comes up as the subject of a TV series. Now former eOne executive Patrice Théroux and producer Leif Bristow plan to change that with a six-part miniseries about the playwright’s attempt to balance his work life in London with family life in Stratford-upon-Avon. Writer Shane Connaughton (My Left Foot) has been signed up to pen the series, which is called The Family Shakespeare.
In terms of renewals and pickups, one interesting story this week is that Seven Network in Australia has acquired forthcoming US series Heroes Reborn, a continuation of popular NBC sci-fi drama Heroes. Seven also aired the original series between 2008 and 2010, starting in a primetime slot on Seven but ending its life on digital sister channel 7Two. The plan is for the new series to come into Seven’s schedule as quickly as possible after the launch in the US, which is targeted for late September. Other new US dramas heading to Seven at around the same time are The Player and Quantico.
Meanwhile, US renewal news includes ABC Family’s decision to give a second season to Stitchers, an original drama series in which a young woman is recruited into a covert government agency to be ‘stitched’ into the minds of the recently deceased, using their memories to investigate murders and decipher mysteries that otherwise would have gone to the grave. The show is doing well among young female viewers – always a big positive for cable channels.
Karey Burke, ABC Family exec VP of programming and development, said: “Fans are enjoying the camaraderie of the Stitchers team and a lead character who is unapologetically smart, focused and a great role model to young women.”
On the corporate front, this week’s big story is that Israeli firm Keshet International has opened a studio in Los Angeles that will oversee the development, production and sale of scripted shows in the US. Former Fox director of programming Peter Traugott has been named president of scripted at the company, which will be called Keshet Studios. He will report to Keshet International CEO Alon Shtruzman. Also on board is Rachel Kaplan as executive VP.
Following on from the success of Keshet’s Prisoners of War, which was remade as Homeland in the US, Shtruzman says: “Keshet Studios was a natural progression for our expanding business and we are thrilled to have an official home base in the States with executives who share our programming sensibility. Peter and Rachel both have tremendous instincts for developing and producing compelling and innovative scripted TV. Coupled with (Keshet CEO) Avi Nir’s creative vision and the prolific Israeli-international pipeline, Keshet Studios is set to significantly grow our US slate.”
tagged in: ABC Family, Bad Medicine, Bryan Singer, Harry Price: Ghost Hunter, Heroes Reborn, Hummel & Howe, ITV, Karey Burke, Keshet Studios, Mr In Between, MTV, Scream, Secret America, Sharon Levy, Spike, Stitchers, The Family Shakespeare, The Shannara Chronicles, Viacom, World War III