Syfy’s horror show continues anthology trend

Andy Fry
By Andy Fry
July 6, 2015

Greenlight
The Twilight Zone, an early example of an anthology series
The Twilight Zone, an early example of an anthology series, first aired in 1959

US cable channel Syfy is developing a new horror series with Universal Cable Productions called Channel Zero. Scripted by Nick Antosca (Hannibal), it tells the story of a mysterious children’s TV show from the 1980s and its role in a series of murders.

As interesting as that concept is, Channel Zero is an anthology series, meaning season one will tell a self-enclosed story. If the show is commissioned for a second season, it will keep its overall series brand – but tell an entirely new tale.

This anthology approach is not new, having been utilised by classic US shows such as The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. However, it is certainly on its way back. Current examples of scripted anthology series include True Detective, Fargo, American Horror Story and the upcoming Scream Queens. The implication from the above titles is that the anthology approach works best with horror and crime, but it will be interesting to see if this style catches on in other genres, and in other territories. Series two of British drama The Missing will, for example, go down a similar route – keeping the title but exploring a new setup.

Suits has been handed a sixth run
Suits has been handed a sixth run

The big renewal news of the week is that USA Networks has greenlit a 16-episode sixth season of Suits. Also produced by Universal Cable Productions, the show is an extremely slick drama that centres on a fast-paced Manhattan corporate law firm led by super-sharp lawyer Harvey Specter. Season five of the show has only just premiered – but with an audience of 3.4 million it continues to be a stalwart performer for USA. Commenting, USA Network president Chris McCumber said: “Suits has set the bar high in every way and continues to be a strong performer and marquee property for USA. From incredible on-screen performances and brilliant writing to the aspirational lifestyle portrayed, we look forward to continuing to bring viewers into the world of Suits.”

NBC, meanwhile, has cancelled Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s AD: The Bible Continues, a decision that has been on the cards for some time. With an average audience of around 6.5 million viewers, it fell well short of the ratings achieved by its predecessor The Bible (which brought in higher numbers despite being aired on cable TV).

Why, you may ask, are we discussing a cancellation in a Greenlight column? Well, the answer is that the show may yet continue. Echoing the discussion around another recently cancelled NBC show, Hannibal, Burnett and Downey have said they would like to continue the franchise on a new OTT channel they are planning to launch via United Artists Media Group, a partnership with MGM.

Could AD: The Bible Continues continue life on a new SVoD platform?
Could AD: The Bible Continues continue life on a new SVoD platform?

Although details are sketchy at present, the idea is for the online channel to be a hub for faith-based content. As such, it would be an ideal platform for AD – if Burnett and Downey can devise a viable business model for what is, after all, a big-budget show.

One of the biggest stories in US TV over recent years has been the increasingly high profile of black talent. Following on from Shonda Rhimes’s groundbreaking work with ABC (most notably with Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder), and the astute multi-ethnic casting of The Walking Dead and Orange is the New Black, we’ve seen recent success for Empire and Power.

The latest project to try to take advantage of this trend is Atlanta, a comedy pilot for FX that revolves around two cousins trying to make their way up through the Atlanta rap scene. The pilot was created and written by Donald Glover (Community, 30 Rock), who will also star in the show. Named this week, the rest of the cast includes Brian Tyree Henry, Lakeith Lee Stanfield and Zazie Beetz. Tyree Henry’s TV credits include The Knick, Boardwalk Empire, The Good Wife and Law & Order. (Click here for a good article on black TV from Vanity Fair.)

Meanwhile, continuing another increasingly widespread trend, US premium pay TV channel Showtime has announced that it is giving US viewers the opportunity to sample the third seasons of drama series Ray Donovan and Masters of Sex via non-standard platforms ahead of their official TV launches. While both shows launch on Sunday July 12, they can currently be viewed for free via YouTube, Kindle Fire, Roku, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, Xbox, Apple TV, various mobile platforms and several Showtime-branded digital platforms (such as SHO.com).

Donald Glover (aka rapper Childish Gambino) has created a rap-based pilot for FX
Donald Glover (aka rapper Childish Gambino) has created a rap-based pilot for FX

In terms of content acquisitions, there was good news for Endemol Shine International this week, with the sale of The Frankenstein Chronicles to French pay TV platform Canal+. The 6×60’ show is being produced for ITV in the UK by Rainmark Films in association with Far Moor. Starring Sean Bean and set in London in the 1820s, the show was created by Benjamin Ross (The Young Poisoner’s Handbook) and Barry Langford (Torte Bluma).

There was also an important breakthrough for Brazil’s Globo, which licensed its latest hit telenovela Helena’s Shadow to EPG in Korea last week. The 75-episode show was launched at Natpe 2015, having hit a 55% share (44 million viewers) in its home market. Although it has previously sold to broadcasters in Mongolia and Vietnam, the Korea deal will significantly boost the show’s profile in Asia. The agreement with EPG also includes other recent Globo telenovela hits, including Precious Pearl and Avenida Brasil.

Finally, there were some sobering statistics from UK media regulator Ofcom this week, showing that spend on UK-originated drama by public service broadcasters (defined by Ofcom as the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5) has dropped by 44% in the last six years. In cash terms, this represents a drop from £484m investment in 2008 to £278m in 2014.

Showtime has made Masters of Sex (pictured) and Ray Donovan available on various platforms ahead of their TV releases
Showtime has made Masters of Sex (pictured) and Ray Donovan available on various platforms ahead of their TV releases

Interestingly, this coincides with the global drama boom, suggesting that this severe downward trend must have been offset by increased dependence on international coproduction and greater investment by pay TV and, latterly, SVoD platforms (with perhaps some upside from production efficiencies). The question going forward is whether this paradigm shift away from traditional broadcasters towards a kind of globalised, subscription-supported business model will be sufficient to sustain the current boom in scripted production (as well as its creative diversity).

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