Tag Archives: Anne of Green Gables

The kids (writers) are alright

MTV's Degrassi has been airing for 15 years
Degrassi has been airing for 15 years

It’s easy to dismiss kids’ and teen drama as being somehow inferior to adult drama, but the English-speaking market has produced a steady stream of shows that hit the highest standards of creativity in terms of writing, direction and production.

At the younger end of the spectrum, we’ve seen series like Nickelodeon’s iCarly, a sparkling piece of drama from the Dan Schneider stable. For older teens, there have been shows like Skins and Misfits, which beautifully encapsulate adolescent rebellion. In between there have been dozens of great shows ranging from H2O: Just Add Water to Degrassi, still going after 15 years.

The value of such shows depends on where they fall in the demographic spectrum. But basically there are two potential benefits. First, they can reach an audience that is supposedly disenchanted with longform television. This means they can then be nurtured through to adult shows. Second, the best examples encourage co-viewing between parents and kids, something broadcasters love because it’s a characteristic they can sell to advertisers.

The continued appeal of such shows is underlined by the fact that SVoD platform Netflix has just commissioned indie producer Lime Pictures (Hollyoaks) to make a 10-part series aimed at tweens. As yet untitled, the “Horse Mystery project” is a coming-of-age story about an American teenager, Zoe, and her summer of intrigue in the British countryside. It is in production in Cheshire, England, and will then move to Anglesey, Wales, later this year.

E4's Misfits
E4’s Misfits

Set on a beautiful island off the coast of Britain, the show sees 15-year-old Zoe’s life change during her stay at Bright Field Stables when she meets a horse called Raven. The show, which will be available on Netflix globally in 2017, is based on an original idea created and written by Anna McCleery and Vicki Lutas.

The big break for both McCleery and Lutas was another teen drama called The Cut, which launched in 2009. An unusual experiment, it was aired daily on the internet in five-minute chunks and then in consolidated 25-minute episodes on TV. McCleery then worked on Hollyoaks before the two were reunited for the new series.

Commenting on the show, Lime head of scripted drama Rebecca Hodgson said: “Anna and Vicki have a uniquely quirky and warm voice which lights up the characters and world of the show. We have assembled a fabulous cast and crew and our locations are gorgeous. I couldn’t be prouder.”

Below we highlight the best of the current kids/tween shows and their writers:

mad-fat-diaryMy Mad Fat Diary: Based on the book My Mad Fat Teenage Diary (non-fiction) by Rae Earl, My Mad Fat Diary is an E4 TV series that tells the bittersweet story of a troubled young girl who is trying to get her life back together after spending four months in a psychiatric hospital following her attempted suicide. Earl was also heavily involved in the writing of the series alongside Tom Bidwell (other writers included George Kay and Laura Neal). Earl was born in England but lives in Hobart, Australia, and continues to have success as an author (now of fiction). Bidwell started out on soaps and his next writing project is a new TV remake of Richard Adams’ classic novel Watership Down.

cul-de-sacThe Cul De Sac: Produced by Greenstone TV Productions, The Cul De Sac centres on a group of teens who wake to a world where the adults have disappeared and all technology has ceased to function. While most focus on their survival, others see it as an opportunity to create a new order. The New Zealand show was created by Stephen J Campbell, whose 20 years in the industry have seen him create teen dramas like Secret Agent Men and The Amazing Extraordinary Friends. Campbell has spoken of why he likes this area of programming: “Making content for young people is fantastic fun. They’re very open to new ideas and concepts – they’re always looking for the next cool thing, but they are also brutally honest. If you miss the mark, they will not hesitate to tell you. However, if you do manage to engage them, they’ll stay with you for the entire journey – or until the next cool thing comes along.”

Anne-of-Green-GablesAnne of Green Gables: Based on the classic novel by LM Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables is a two-hour Canadian production from Breakthrough Entertainment. Over the summer a deal was done that will see the production appear on PBS in the US. The new version, which stars Martin Sheen, has been directed by John Kent Harrison and based on the original script by Susan Coyne. The author’s granddaughter, Kate Macdonald Butler, served as executive producer. Coyne is a respected Canadian writer and actress, who is known as one of the co-creators and co-stars of Slings and Arrows, a TV series about a Canadian Shakespearean theatre company. She has been nominated for four Writers Guild of Canada awards, winning three. She is also a veteran of the Toronto theatre scene. Michael Kelley, senior VP of programming and business affairs at PBS, said: “The story and Anne character have become a staple of childhood innocence and inspiration. Breakthrough’s revival of this globally recognised literary story has delighted so many viewers in Canada and around the world and we are glad to secure this film for broadcast on PBS.”

noweher-boysThe Nowhere Boys: This acclaimed series (winner of an International Emmy) follows four boys who get lost in a forest and discover, when they return home, that they are in an alternate world identical to theirs except for one startling difference – they don’t exist. The show launched on ABC3 in 2013 and so far is up to season three. The original idea came from Tony Ayres, though he hasn’t written any episodes. He is, however, credited as co-writer on a feature film spin-off entitled Nowhere Boys: The Book of Shadows. All told, 11 writers have contributed to the series, though the three most prolific are Roger Monk, Craig Irvin and David Hannam. Monks’ previous credits include Dance Academy and East of Everything, while Hannam has worked on Dance Academy and cult soap Neighbours. Irvin is a new recruit to the TV business, having only written shorts like Gusto and Tethered before Nowhere Boys. Giula Sandler, credited with four episodes, has written episodes of Glitch and McLeod’s Daughters.

girlmeetworldGirl Meets World: You could pick out any US teen/tween drama from The Thundermans to The Vampire Diaries and find something positive to say about it. Disney’s Girl Meets World, which airs on ABC, is interesting because it’s a sequel to Boys Meets World, which aired from 1993 to 2000. The original series centred on Cory Matthews, including his relationship with Topanga Lawrence and their eventual marriage. Ben Savage and Danielle Fishel, who portrayed Cory and Topanga, reprise their roles in Girl Meets World, which centres on the life of the couple’s daughter, Riley Matthews. Both series were created by Michael Jacobs and April Kelly. Jacobs has written several TV series including Dinosaurs, Charles In Charge, My Two Dads and The Torkelsons. Kelly’s output is also prolific and includes iconic series such as Happy Days and Mork & Mindy. Among other credits, she wrote TV series The Pursuit of Happiness and is the author of Murder in One Take (with Marsha Lyons).

eipicEipic: This is an irreverent Irish-language drama series that is very contemporary but has echoes of past events. It centres on five rural teenagers who take over their abandoned local post office to start a musical revolution in 2016. The story is about escape, empowerment and what it means to be a teenage “hero” in contemporary rural Ireland set against the backdrop of the 1916 centenary celebrations. The series was penned by Mike O’Leary, whose credits include Ghosthunters On Icy Trails, Misfits, Doubt On Loan and Not Safe For Work.


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Sheen’s Green dream

Golden Globe- and Emmy-winning actor Martin Sheen talks to Adam Benzine about his role in the remake of Canadian classic Anne of Green Gables, and looks back on his career.

Having played a president, a police chief and a federal judge, acclaimed actor Martin Sheen has taken on a different kind of authority figure in TV special Anne of Green Gables (pictured above), which premiered yesterday.

Sheen plays Matthew Cuthbert, who – along with his sister Marilla – adopts the titular orphan Anne Shirley in the classic 1908 novel, from author Lucy Maud Montgomery.

In Canada, the book was most notably adapted into an iconic two-part miniseries in 1985, starring Megan Follows. The production garnered huge ratings for pubcaster the CBC and swept the board at the 1986 Gemini Awards.

“I didn’t know quite how iconic it was until I got to Canada and started working,” Sheen recalls with a laugh, talking to DQ by phone. “It’s a remarkable chronicle of a character and a reflection of rural people in rural Canada.”

The new version of the story was made by Breakthrough Entertainment and Corus Entertainment for youth-skewing Canadian network YTV.

It features “a different kind of energy” from the 1985 production, the actor says. “I hate to make comparisons and I don’t think it’s really fair, but the story resonates in the same way.”

The original miniseries, he notes, “was an iconic production, and was lauded everywhere for its humanity and humour and all. But I think what we managed to do, without changing the century or the story, was accent the dangers of living in an isolated community, on an island.”

Sheen adds that the special has gained a contemporary resonance by way of the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis. “It has a very intriguing kind of energy that resonates today – particularly when you think of all of the horrors that immigrants are facing trying to get into Western Europe from the Middle East, how many hundreds of thousands are coming. Our hearts go out to them; we’re made aware of the plight of these people who, through no fault of their own, are sent out there to try to make it in the world.”

Sheen is best known for playing the US president in The West Wing
Sheen is best known for playing the US president in The West Wing

The role of guardian seems a natural fit for Sheen, who is best known for portraying President Josiah ‘Jed’ Bartlet in acclaimed White House drama The West Wing, which ran for seven seasons on NBC from 1999 to 2006. The performance earned him six Primetime Emmy Award nominations across the show’s 156 episodes, which marked his longest TV commitment to date.

And while he has taken on shorter projects since, Sheen says he wouldn’t rule out another long-term commitment, although he notes that such a project “would be very hard to come by in the first place, because there are very few Aaron Sorkins out there,” referring to the drama’s creator and lead writer.

“I was once asked if I’d have done The West Wing if Bartlet had been a Republican, and I said, ‘If Aaron Sorkin wrote it, of course I would.’ Because I knew that he would be honest,” he reflects. “Anyway, I doubt that anything like that is forthcoming for me. But if it were, well, I make decisions based on the material and the offer, you know?”

One recent offer that appealed to Sheen was the chance to star opposite Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Sam Waterston in Netflix’s original comedy series Grace and Frankie. The show launched its first season in May last year and has been renewed by the SVoD giant for second and third runs.

“It’s become a very unexpected hit,” Sheen says. “My commitment is for another five years, so I’m in for the long haul. It’s a very special project that came to me from Marta Kauffman, who created Friends, so the pedigree surrounding this – besides Jane, Lily and Sam, who all are old friends – is immense.

“This was an ideal project because it was only 13 episodes a season and I would be free to do other things in the off-season, so we only work from July to November. The series, thankfully, is going very well.”

Pressed on roles that might appeal to him in the future, the actor offers a desire to play characters “that are closer to myself, that reflect a measure of my own personal life,” Sheen explains, “my involvement in social justice issues, per se.”

One such project he is currently eyeing is a new adaptation of Inherit the Wind, the 1955 play based upon an infamous 1925 court case that saw a high-school teacher put on trial for teaching Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, contrary to a Tennessee state law. The play has been adapted for the screen numerous times in the past, with productions starring actors such as Kirk Douglas, Gene Kelly and Jack Lemmon.

“I presented a possible production to Netflix of Inherit the Wind, starring Sam Waterston and I,” Sheen explains, offering that Creationism “is still an issue in our country – people are still undecided in a large part of our country about the origin of the species. So, something like that… and some iconic theatrical characters still appeal to me. If I could do a character that is involved with social justice that would be very, very appealing.”

That said, he offers, half jokingly, that “the time has passed for Hamlet or Mr D’Arcy, I think… although I would never rule out a play.”

Sheen (right) also stars in Netflix comedy Grace and Frankie
Sheen (right) also stars in Netflix comedy Grace and Frankie

Stage acting, after all, served as the backbone of Sheen’s career early on, preparing him well for his work on camera. “I played Hamlet when I was much younger at the New York Shakespeare Festival,” he recalls. “All the theatre experience that I had, back in the sixties, stood me well for the rest of my career.

“I built a foundation in the New York theatre scene for 10 years, from 1959 to 1969, and I worked at some of the iconic venues, including The Living Theatre. I played on- and off-Broadway, and had a great learning experience all that time, which stood me well for the rest of my life. So I appreciate theatrical literature and I always look forward to that kind of a challenge.”

Certainly, Sheen’s acting pedigree made him a natural choice for Breakthrough, which produced Green Gables. The Toronto-based company has been aggressively pushing the 90-minute special to international buyers at recent markets such as AFM and Mipcom.

“When we began the thought process regarding Matthew’s casting, we wanted to make sure he exuded huge warmth, safety and security,” says Joan Lambur, the production company’s exec VP of family entertainment. “Martin came up right away because he has this very quiet and nuanced style – one that an audience immediately trusts.

“Because you have an 11-year-old girl capturing the heart of this older man, it’s important he emanates a sense of immediate grandfatherly love.”

In addition to his small-screen work, the now 75-year-old Sheen also continues to work on Hollywood features, having taken supporting roles in recent years on films such as Selma, The Departed and The Amazing Spider-Man.

But after playing central roles in two critically acclaimed films early in his career – Terrence Malick’s 1973 classic Badlands and Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 masterpiece Apocalypse Now – Sheen is somewhat downbeat about his future as a lead actor on the big screen.

“The reality is that I don’t have that kind of high profile that you need to get into projects that are widely seen, big-budget movies and such,” he reflects. “I’ve been confined mostly to television, which is fine. And every now and then I will play or get an offer for a small or medium role in a major film, which is rare these days for anyone my age, and that’s fine.

“But I do still continue to get significant roles in television across the board, and that’s a big surprise to me, frankly,” he says, modest to a fault. “I keep reminding myself how lucky I am to still work at my age, and to still have credibility.”

And despite the challenge in finding roles that appeal, Sheen says he has no plans to retire. “I’m still in very good health, thank God, and I love what I’m doing. I’m lucky enough to still be working at my age and to be working on projects that I truly enjoy.

“I’ve always loved being an actor, and I love it now more than ever. I guess that’s as good a sign as you can accept that I made the right choice for a career.”

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