Tag Archives: Agatha Raisin

Raisin’ the dead

With cancelled comedy-drama Agatha Raisin set to be brought back to life on US streamer Acorn TV, star Ashley Jensen discusses what makes the show special.

By her own admission, Ashley Jensen was “extremely surprised, extremely despondent and dismayed” when comedy-drama Agatha Raisin was cancelled by UK network Sky1 after a TV movie and a single eight-part series in 2016. So she was equally thrilled and delighted when US streamer Acorn TV brought the show back to life by commissioning a second season of three new stories (6×45’ or 3×90’). They are due to launch this fall.

The new films pick up just three weeks after the previous season’s conclusion, with Jensen’s Raisin, who lives in an idyllic English country village, finding herself drawn into solving a series of mysterious murders, often in entirely unorthodox ways. The stories are once again inspired by the novels written by Marion Chesney under the pseudonym MC Beaton, with episode one, Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham, premiering today.

“To me, it’s got everything,” Jensen says of the series. “It’s good, fun, family viewing, it’s got a cast of eclectic characters set across the bucolic English countryside and stories that are already formed within the wonderful books Marion has written. Everybody likes a detective story but I think what we have that sets us apart is that it’s slightly camp, it’s kind of whimsical but there’s a good detective story in the middle of all that.

Ashley Jensen believes Agatha Raisin has ‘got everything’

“And although it’s a comedy, it’s dealing with murder so there’s always a victim, always someone who’s bereaved, so you’re able to tap into proper emotion as well. So one moment I’m throwing myself over a wall in four-inch stilettos and the next minute I’m having a conversation about someone who’s potentially been murdered.”

Acorn Media Enterprises has partnered with Free@LastTV and Company Pictures to coproduce the new season. Acorn Media International is distributing in all English-speaking territories, while All3Media International is distributing in the rest of the world.

Extras and Catastrophe star Jensen spent six years living in the US while working on series including ABC drama Ugly Betty, so she is well placed to understand why Acorn decided to pick up more episodes of Agatha Raisin. “A lot of Americans enjoy our eccentricities and our beautiful landscapes and countryside,” she says. “It’s very much set in a chocolate-box England. To an American, it’s almost a whimsical, unreal world, if you’re living in New York, Ohio or Texas.”

The actor says part of the series’ charm is it doesn’t take itself too seriously, while a lot of the characters and storylines are particularly heightened. “Sometimes I think it’s almost cartoony, and even the way it’s been designed is very much in technicolour,” she explains. “People would say Scandi noir is very much in vogue at the moment; we call ourselves ‘Cotswold technicolour,’ even down to the costumes, my lipstick, my shoes and handbags – everything just looks like the colour has been turned up on it.”

The drama originally aired on Sky1 in the UK

Having recently starred in Kay Mellor’s BBC1 drama Love, Lies & Records, the actor enjoys the privilege of jumping between drama and comedy. She has since reunited with Extras co-star Ricky Gervais for his forthcoming Netflix series After Life, with a fourth season of Channel 4’s Catastrophe also on the way. “It was interesting working on three different comedies simultaneously – I was literally bouncing from Agatha, then at the weekend I’d go and do Catastrophe and then I had a couple of days with Ricky. It was bouncing between three quite different styles and three very different characters as well, which was great for me to do.

“Ricky and I have a laugh about the fact every character he plays is from Reading and every character I play is from Scotland. Even though they’re all Scottish accents, I had different hairstyles for them all! But they are all different, nuanced characters. Agatha is probably more heightened and then Catastrophe is not as heightened, and Ricky is very real. So there are degrees of darkness to them all.”

Jensen now has aspirations to write her own material, having been encouraged by friend and Catastrophe creator Sharon Horgan. “Maybe the time has come,” she says, adding that shifts in the industry mean she is more likely to be heard now than 10 years ago. “Women have so many stories to tell that have not yet been told. The weight still needs to shift a little bit more in our favour, but that only comes with people in positions of power being able to make those decisions. But it is shifting a little bit.”

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Nashville gets encore on CMT

Nashville stars Hayden Panettiere (left) and Connie Britton
Nashville, which stars Hayden Panettiere (left) and Connie Britton, is moving to CMT

These days, when a network cancels a scripted show, there is often a call from the creators, the acting talent and the hardcore fanbase for someone else to step in and save it.

Usually, this plea falls on deaf ears, but there have been a few instances of shows saved from extinction by third-party channels and platforms. Among the best examples are Ripper Street, The Mindy Project and Longmire, all of which were saved by the intervention of SVoD platforms (Amazon, Hulu and Netflix respectively).

To this list of last-minute rescues we must now add country-and-western scripted series Nashville, produced by Lionsgate TV, ABC Studios and Opry Entertainment. The show aired for four seasons on ABC before being cancelled last month.

However, weeks of frenetic wheeler-dealing by Lionsgate TV group president Sandra Stern has resulted in the greenlight for a fifth season, which will air on Viacom-owned country-and-western channel CMT and Hulu (which will stream episodes of Nashville the day after they appear on CMT).

“CMT heard the fans,” said CMT president Brian Philips. “The wave of love and appreciation they have unleashed for Nashville has been overwhelming. Nashville is a perfect addition to our line-up. We see our fans and ourselves in this show and we will treasure it like no other network. Nashville belongs on CMT.”

The Last Kingdom
Netflix is coproducing the second season of The Last Kingdom, replacing BBC America

Equally effusive was Craig Erwich, senior VP and head of content at Hulu. “Nashville has long been a fan favourite show on Hulu and we are so proud to continue to make new episodes available for fans to stream the day after they air. We look forward to bringing more episodes of this series to its passionate and devoted audience.”

“CMT and Hulu are the perfect combination for Nashville and we want to thank the incredible fans for their unwavering support – #Nashies, you helped make this possible,” added Kevin Beggs, chairman of the Lionsgate Television Group. “We also want to extend our appreciation to the state of Tennessee, city of Nashville, and Ryman Hospitality for their unending support.”

While the resurrection of the show has very much been presented as a victory for fan power, there’s also a strong business case for all involved.

CMT, for example, will be drooling at the show’s audience. In a press statement, the partners on season five said: “The recently wrapped fourth season of Nashville attracted more than eight million weekly viewers across all platforms and ranks as one of television’s most DVR’d series. The series is particularly strong with women 18-34. Out of more than 180 broadcast dramas since fall 2012, Nashville ranks in the top 20.”

While it’s highly unlikely that all of the ABC fanbase will follow the show to CMT, Nashville is almost certain to deliver CMT an audience that is at the upper end of its usual anticipated viewing range.

The Bureau
The Bureau is heading to Amazon

For Hulu, the risk of getting involved is minimal because it already shows Nashville and will have a good idea of the kind of audience it can expect to attract. As for Lionsgate, the deal is about much more than just the US TV market. The series airs in 82 international territories, making it a significant asset in the distribution arena.

There is also the small matter of music spin-offs. Since its launch, the show has inspired 10 soundtracks, which have collectively sold more than one million album units and more than five million single-track downloads. As an added bonus, it has been nominated for Emmy, Golden Globe and Critics Choice awards.

The question is, will we see more deals like this? Well, it seems pretty likely. With more and more cable and SVoD channels in the market for scripted content, it stands to reason that they will be attracted to franchises that have built up brand awareness.

Another story that kind of underlines this point is the news that Netflix has replaced BBC America as the US coproducer of season two of The Last Kingdom, a historical drama that also involves BBC2. For Netflix, the beauty of this deal is that it has some tangible evidence of the show’s appeal in the US (the first season aired on BBC America). Armed with that knowledge, it has secured rights to the show in the US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Germany, Japan, Spain and Portugal. It will also add season one of the Carnival Films-produced show to its US portfolio later this year.

Aside from these deals, this week has more of an acquisition than a production feel to it. In the UK, for example, Amazon Prime Video has acquired two French dramas – spy thriller The Bureau and political drama Baron Noir from StudioCanal. The Bureau follows agents who assume false identities as they seek out and identify targets and sources, while Baron Noir centres on a French politician seeking revenge against his political enemies.

Alibi has picked up Rosewood

StudioCanal has also sold a package of shows to SBS Australia, including The Five, Section Zéro and Baron Noir. Previously, SBS acquired Spotless and The Last Panthers from StudioCanal. Commenting, Marshall Heald, director of TV and online content at SBS Australia, said: “Gritty crime thrillers like The Five, political dramas like Baron Noir and dark sci-fi series like Section Zéro bring something fresh and exciting to our world drama slate.”

Back in the UK, UKTV-owned channel Alibi has acquired crime series Crossing Lines from StudioCanal. It has also picked up US medical crime drama Rosewood from 20th Century Fox Television.

In Canada, meanwhile, Bell Media streaming service CraveTV has acquired exclusive SVoD rights to a slate of new US broadcast dramas. Among these are the Kiefer Sutherland political thriller Designated Survivor, legal drama Notorious, film adaptation Training Day and romantic drama Time After Time. Also in Canada, specialty channel Vision TV has acquired the first season of comedy drama Agatha Raisin, which just aired on Sky1 UK.

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