Tag Archives: Amblin TV

ABC uncovers Austria’s scripted gems

Braunschlag, one of two Austrian dramas being adapted by ABC
Braunschlag, one of two Austrian dramas being adapted by ABC

The Austrians are well known on the international market for the quality of their factual programming, but the country has never really made much of an impact in the scripted arena.

Its most high-profile drama export is Kommissar Rex, a police procedural about a German Shepherd dog (Rex) and the humans he works with at Vienna’s homicide unit. The show ran from 1994 to 2004 and was then revived as an Austro-Italian coproduction, with Rex’s activities shifting to Rome.

This week, however, Austria has been making headlines with two scripted shows aired by public broadcaster ORF that have picked up by ABC network in the US. That, surely, is proof that the US networks are now looking everywhere for compelling drama ideas that can be adapted for their domestic market.

The first of the two ideas is a comedy called Braunschlag. Produced by Superfilm, it follows the mayor of a community called Braunschlag who embarks upon a plan to save the town from bankruptcy. In the ORF version the mayor is male, but in ABC’s version the character will be a young woman. In both cases, the protagonist has to deal with all manner of problems, from dysfunctional family relations to meddling from the mafia.

Braunschlag scribe David Schalko
Braunschlag scribe David Schalko

Braunschlag was written by David Schalko, who turned his back on a career in economics to become a writer. After stints as a poet, author, advertising copywriter and music video producer, his TV career really took off in 2002 when he co-created satirical comedy show Sendung Ohne Namen, a finalist at the New York Television Awards and the Rose d’Or Festival.

Schalko’s subsequent credits included Undercover, Sunshine Airlines, Heaven, The Miracle of Vienna, Braggart and Kupetzy, before he went on to pen Braunschlag in 2012. Throughout his career Schalko has never been afraid to use experimental narrative styles – something that doesn’t always chime with critics and audiences. But in the case of Braunschlag he scored a major hit, attracting more than one million viewers on Tuesday nights and securing another Rose d’Or nomination.

Since then he has written an eight-part miniseries for ORF called Old Money (Altes Geld), about greed and corruption among the super rich. The story centres on a rich industrialist who learns he has a liver problem and will die within a year unless he finds an organ donor. Like Braunschlag, Old Money is produced by Superfilm (a company that Schalko co-founded).

Janus has also been picked up by ABC
Janus has also been picked up by ABC

The other Austrian success this week is Janus, a crime drama written by Jacob Groll and Sarah Wassermair. Also picked up by ABC, Janus focuses on Dr Leo Benedict, a forensic psychologist who deals with deranged criminals. When Leo looks into a series of mysterious suicides, he stumbles across a shadowy pharmaceutical company called Janus and is shocked when he discovers what is actually behind the suicides.

Prior to this seven-part serial, Groll was best known for his documentary The Sound of Hollywood, while Wassermair’s credits include musicals for children’s theatre. However, the two of them have also been working together on ORF’s popular crime series Soko Donau (aka Vienna Crime Squad). So far they have collaborated on eight episodes, with the ninth soon to air (Heldentod, the first episode of season 11). It’s not clear yet how much they will have to do with the US adaptation of Janus but the deal will certainly bring them a welcome profile boost.

Elsewhere, the big breakthrough of the week belongs to US writer Corinne Brinkerhoff, who is writing and executive producing American Gothic. Produced by Amblin TV for CBS, the show is a murder mystery set in Boston.

Corinne Brinkerhoff is writing American Gothic
Corinne Brinkerhoff is writing American Gothic

Due to air in a slightly softer summer slot, it is about a prominent Boston family that makes “a chilling discovery that links their recently deceased patriarch to a string of murders spanning decades, amid the suspicion that one of them may have been his accomplice.”

Brinkerhoff has consolidated her reputation as a writer on shows such as The Good Wife and Elementary. However, her entry into the business came when she landed a job as a production assistant for David E Kelly.

In an interview with Lara Ehrlich from BU Today (the newspaper of her former university, Boston), she recalls how it started: “I typed up (story ideas for Kelly’s show Boston Legal) every week for a couple of months, with no response. I completely understood – the guy is a titan of the TV industry, and he had his hands full without poring over the half-baked notions of a production assistant. But I was young and eager, and I’d never written a spec script outside of BU classwork, so I took my two favourite ideas and wrote a spec for Boston Legal.

“One day he said, ‘Let’s talk about your ideas.’ He liked two out of probably 40. As luck would have it, they were the same two I’d written into the spec script. I handed him the script and asked if he’d read it. He called me the next day. He said something like: ‘This is good. This should be an episode.’”

Felicity Huffman (pictured in American Crime) will star in House of Moore
Felicity Huffman (pictured in American Crime) will star in House of Moore

After Boston Legal, The Good Wife was a big step up, acting as a bridge to Brinkerhoff’s new role. She added: “I was terrified. I don’t think I spoke for the first three months. I guess they liked my scripts enough to let me stick around. My three years on that show really taught me how to build stories collaboratively in a writers room. There was an emphasis on making choices that subvert expectations and thinking visually instead of just verbally when writing a scene. It was an extremely valuable experience – and lots of fun. We spent 45 hours a week together in a little room, and the other writers became my hilarious, neurotic little second family.”

Another writer in the news this week is Ben Barnz, who has been greenlit by ABC to write House of Moore, a dark comedy set in the fashion world. Similar in tone to The Devil Wears Prada, the show is being set up as a vehicle for actress Felicity Huffman (American Crime, Desperate Housewives), who will also executive produce.

This is the second high-profile TV project to which Barnz has been linked this autumn. In September, he was named as writer/director of Valentina, ABC Family’s planned adaptation of RCTV telenovela My Gorda Bella Valentina. All of this is a significant switch in direction for the scribe, whose credits to date include movies such as Beastly and Cake.

tagged in: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Good Fellowes

Fellowes 001
Julian Fellowes leaves Downton behind

Julian Fellowes is one of the hottest writing properties in global drama thanks to the success of Downton Abbey. So when it was announced that Downton’s next series will be its last, there was inevitable speculation about what he would do next.

The answer, revealed this week, is that Fellowes is working on a three-part adaptation of Doctor Thorne, Anthony Trollope’s novel about a doctor and his talented but penniless niece. Produced by Hat Trick Productions for ITV, filming starts later this year.

Trollope’s works don’t get as much attention as other 19th century authors such as Charles Dickens and Jane Austen. But there have been high-profile adaptations of The Pallisers, The Barchester Chronicles, The Way We Live Now and He Knew He Was Right. Explaining his choice of project, Fellowes says: “As a lifetime devotee of Trollope – my own favourite among the great 19th century English novelists and certainly the strongest influence over my work that I am conscious of – it is exciting to know that my adaptation of one of his best-loved novels is coming to ITV.”

While many of Fellowes’ screen credits, including Downton Abbey, are original works, Fellowes is no stranger to novel adaptations. In fact, he wrote the screenplay for Vanity Fair, a 2004 film version of the classic 19th century novel by William Makepeace Thackeray.

EPSON MFP imageAs a three-parter, Dr Thorne won’t occupy Fellowes for too long. So it will be interesting to see if he continues his partnership with ITV into 2016. In 2012, there were reports that he was planning a Downton Abbey prequel, focusing on the youthful romance between central characters Lord and Lady Grantham.

Other writer-based developments in the UK include news that in-demand Hugo Blick has been signed up to write a series for BBC2. In a vague statement, the BBC says the show is about “a compelling set of characters caught up in a very human moral dilemma and plays out in a setting drama rarely takes us to, contemporary Africa.”

Although details are currently under wraps, audiences can expect the complex conspiratorial storytelling that Blick gave us in The Honourable Woman, a political thriller set against the backdrop of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to the Guardian, “Viewing a Blick series is like someone coming to you with a ball of horribly knotted and twisted wool and promising to knit you a sweater.”

In the US, the civil rights and abolitionist movements continue to provide rich sources of material for writers. Kirk Ellis, writer of HBO miniseries John Adams (2008), has joined forces with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin TV, to pen a biopic for HBO about famed abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Based on Kate Clifford Larson’s book Bound for the Promised Land, the production will highlight Tubman’s involvement in leading slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad and later fighting during the Civil War.

Paul Giamatti, Laura Linney
HBO’s John Adams, starring Paul Giamatti (left) and Laura Linney

The John Adams miniseries was a multiple Golden Globe and Emmy winner, which explains why Ellis was a shoe-in for this new project. He was also credited as a co-writer with Stephen David and David C. White on Sons of Liberty, History US’s three-part miniseries about the early years of the American Revolution.

Fellowes, Blick and Ellis are all A-list writers these days. In terms of rising stars, this week saw James Wood (Rev, Ambassadors) named as writer on Game Changer (working title), a BBC factual drama starring Daniel Radcliffe and Bill Paxton. Aimed at an adult audience, this 90-minute drama tells the story of the controversy surrounding video game franchise Grand Theft Auto.

Stateside, Bravo Media is boosting its scripted output (like every other cable broadcaster). A new slate of shows includes White Collar Wives, which looks at the ripple effect of an FBI investigation into insider trading, as the women married to the financial elite go to extreme lengths to save themselves. The project is from BBC Worldwide-owned Adjacent Productions and is being written by Vanessa Reisen (Weeds, Californication).

Bravo’s new orders also reflect the way in which writing talent is crossing from movie to TV. One of its new shows, My So Called Wife, is co-written by Adam Brooks – whose movie credits include French Kiss, Wimbledon and Definitely Maybe. Brooks and writing partner Paul Adelstein previously scripted Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce for Bravo and are reuniting for My So Called Wife.

house of cards
Kevin Spacey in House of Cards

In terms of projects that need writers, the big story is that Fox 21 Television Studios and Kevin Spacey are linking up to produce a TV drama adaptation – The Residence, by Kate Andersen Brower, a best-selling non-fiction book about life at the White House. At the time this story was published, no writer had been attached to the show.

Some good news for British writers, meanwhile, is this week’s decision by commercial broadcaster ITV to raise wages for drama writers. They will get a 5% pay increase following negotiations between ITV and the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain. The rate for a one-hour drama will rise to £13,283, up from £12,650. Rates for writing series increase to £10,395 per episode, up from £9,900. Presumably this is a minimum, with the likes of Mr Fellowes able to command a much higher pay packet for Dr Thorne.

tagged in: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,