Tag Archives: Audience Network

Game of stones

Former Criminal Minds showrunner Ed Bernero takes charge of diamond-focused drama Ice as it heads into its second season. He tells DQ why he is stepping out of his comfort zone and leading a series set in a world rarely seen on television.

When US drama Ice ended its first season, the story teetered on the edge of a classic cliffhanger – the main characters all together and the sound of single gunshot.

In fact, fans of the show – set in the world of the LA diamond business – were also left on a knife-edge, as they didn’t know if the show would be returning for a second season. Confirmation finally came in mid-June, four months after the credits last rolled, as telecoms giant AT&T announced Ed Bernero as the new showrunner for the series, which airs on its Audience Network.

Bernero

The first season of Ice, produced and distributed by Entertainment One (eOne), launched in November 2016 with director Antoine Fuqua and writer Robert Munic as exec producers. Nine different directors helmed the 10-episode run.

A television industry veteran, Bernero comes on board having led shows including Criminal Minds, Third Watch and European crime drama Crossing Lines.

He says the appeal of joining Ice heading into its second season, which is due to air in 2018, lay in its tackling of unchartered territory:“I get sent a lot of things to do and it’s not often where I see something where the cast interests me and it’s a world I don’t think has been explored that much on television.

“I watched the first season and started talking to eOne about some things I thought I would do with it and they responded. I’m just excited to be doing it –  it’s a lot of fun. It’s a completely different muscle than I’m used to exercising, which is more in the procedural vein. This is very much a serialised family show.”

As a former cop, it’s no surprise Bernero’s credits haven’t strayed far from the crime genre, and he admits the structure associated with procedural story-of-the-week series “is just the way I’ve always thought.” He doesn’t mind being known as “the cop guy,” but says it’s refreshing that he can now try something new.

“It’s just a little hard to get Hollywood to try something else – it’s kind of like being typecast as an actor,” he says. “Not that I’m complaining about it. Believe me, there are worse things to be than the cop guy in Hollywood.

“I write this show the same way I write any other. It always comes from character for me anyway, just in a different format. eOne has been very supportive of me doing it. I’ve been very excited to be with people who say, ‘Go do your thing.’”

Ice focuses on the diamond trade in LA

Season one introduced the family-owned Green & Green Diamonds firm, operating in the underbelly of the LA diamond trade. This season sees new wars waged between half-brothers Jake (Cam Gigandet) and Freddy (Jeremy Sisto), Cam (Ray Winstone) and Lady Rah (Judith Shekoni) in a bid to claim control of the glittering world of diamond trading.

“They ended season one with everyone together and a gunshot and we’ve picked it up from there,” Bernero tells DQ during shooting on episode three and four. “The thing we’re trying to do a little bit more this year is make it more about diamonds. We’re calling the season ‘Game of Stones.’ There’s four groups we’re going to follow in different journeys within the diamond world. We’re having a lot of fun just sort of taking the characters that were set and taking them in new directions and to new places.”

The show will continue to be a serialised drama, the showrunner says, but if the audience notices anything different from season one, it might be there is less time spent with the family as a whole as the group splinters to deal with their own storylines. “There are a few more individual stories and worlds than there were, but they still all intersect and come together in different ways,” he explains. “To the audience, it should very much feel like the same show with a little more emphasis on diamonds.”

The downtime between the end of season one and the confirmation of season two meant a lot of the crew had moved on to other projects, such is the demand for workers in Vancouver, where Ice is filmed. That meant Bernero had to rebuild the production team, though the cast remains largely intact from season one.

The show stars Cam Gigandet

It also presented the new showrunner with the unique challenge of making a “first-season show in its second season.” He explains: “The storylines are new and it’s a completely new creative team behind the camera. The cast has actually been really helpful – we sat down and talked about their characters and they’re welcome in the writing room as much as they want to be. We just talked about what they established as their characters.

“Because we have no one who was in the [writers] room at the conception of it, it’s been freeing to not have to worry about offending anyone or hurting anyone’s feelings. At the same time, it’s a bit of a learning process. We have to figure out who Lady Ra is and who Freddy is.”

Bernero and his team also spent time learning about the world of diamond trading, with diamond experts hired as consultants on the series. Meanwhile, Vancouver doubled for LA, London and Venezuela for the first episodes in the globetrotting second season, while production moves to South Africa for the final five episodes as several characters head to a diamond conference.

“One of the things we wanted to pay attention to is that it’s a global business,” the showrunner says. “The diamond trade touches almost every country, so we wanted to do that. For the last five episodes, eOne is letting us go to South Africa and shoot in Cape Town. We’re pretty excited about that.”

Beyond Ice, AT&T’s Audience Network has been building up a slate of original series including MMA drama Kingdom and polyamorous romcom You Me Her. This summer it drew particular acclaim for its Stephen King adaptation Mr Mercedes, while political thriller Condor is on the way.

“AT&T is no different to a lot of new outlets, in that they want something that makes noise,” Bernero says of the DirectTV-owned platform. “They just want something different. They don’t want it to be a show that could be on CBS or on ABC.

“A family of people involved in the diamond business is something I personally have never seen. When I looked at it, I couldn’t believe no one had ever done this, because it’s such a rich world and it’s so interesting. But that is something any of these outlets are looking for that are kind of new to programming. They’re trying to get something that looks a little different to everyone else. Ice is that in spades.”

Despite its glamorous setting, Ice is a family drama at its heart, notes Bernero, who believes audiences respond most to a family dynamic  whatever form that may take. “For me, every TV show has to have a family at its centre,” he says, whether it’s an actual family or a group that can be identified as one, such as the cops who work together on Criminal Minds.

Production will move to South Africa for the second half of season two

“House of Cards is about a guy who got screwed over at work. Everybody gets that. So you try to find the elements in the show that everyone can relate to in their world. People instinctively go towards family, especially when they’re watching it at home. They’re inviting you into their home, so it’s important that at the centre of every show is a family – and this show has that.”

Bernero’s move to a serialised drama may be further proof that procedurals have had their day in the US, despite continuing demand from overseas broadcasters and a slight uptick in the number of new story-of-the-week series launching across the big five broadcast networks this fall.

But the showrunner believes the trend for serialised stories, promoted by SVoD platforms, will eventually subside as networks revert to the types of shows that will bring in the most profit.

“People still need something to do on Tuesday night,” he says. “My family all live in the Midwest and they don’t stream everything or binge-watch. There are still a lot of people who watch TV the traditional way and I don’t think that will ever go away.

“Some of the networks are open to procedurals. It’s a bit cyclical, but they’ll realise these short orders don’t make the kind of money that something like Criminal Minds does.”

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Scripted TV’s sporting chance?

This summer, TV schedules around the world have been dominated by sports events such as Euro 2016, Test Cricket and Formula1 and now the Rio Olympics. But for some reason, our collective love of sport has rarely translated into a memorable scripted TV series.

Friday Night Lights lasted five seasons on NBC
Friday Night Lights lasted five seasons on NBC

Shows that have tried and failed to capture the essence of sport include FX boxing drama Lights Out, which lasted for a single season in 2011, and ESPN’s Playmakers – a series that managed to attract the ire of the NFL during its 11-episode lifespan (2003).

Faring better, USA Networks’ Necessary Roughness lasted three seasons, while NBC’s Friday Night Lights managed five. But neither really scored heavily in terms of TV audience interest. The Game, a comedy drama that launched on The CW and then transferred to BET, is one of the few successes in this space, running for eight seasons before its 2015 cancellation.

The situation hasn’t been that different outside the US, with examples of sports-themed dramas few and far between. In the UK, Footballers’ Wives was a modest success between 2002 and 2006, while Australia produced an entertaining cricket series called Bodyline in 1984. But, overall, sport is massively under-represented in drama when you consider its wider appeal.

Foxcatcher
Foxcatcher told a dramatic wrestling story

In contrast to TV, the film industry has delivered a steady stream of pretty good sports-themed movies. There are, for example, several stories in which the central character succeeds against the odds – a line of attack that has given us both comedies (Cool Runnings, Eddie the Eagle) and dramas (The Blindside, The Natural, Tin Cup).

There are also plenty of films set against interesting periods in the history of sport (Chariots of Fire, Ali, Invictus, Eight Men Out, Rush). When you also factor in Jerry Maguire, The Mean Machine, The Bad News Bears, Foxcatcher and Million Dollar Arm, it’s not a bad track record compared to TV.

So what’s the difference? Well, one factor seems to be that the pacing of movies is more like that of live sport. Executed well, the twists and turns of a 90- or 100-minute film are not that different to a good football, basketball or baseball game. Both have an adrenaline-boosting immediacy that appeals to audiences. Sitting in a movie theatre also resembles sitting in a sports arena much more closely than the typical home-viewing experience.

Jerry Maguire
Jerry Maguire had romance at its core

Another factor is the issue of authenticity. One thing that causes problems for any film or TV series focusing on contemporary sport is that we know the protagonists are not real, because we see the real versions doing amazing things all the time. Even with the benefit of fast-cut editing, actors struggle to replicate the magic of true athletes.

Similarly, the fans that sports stories are aimed at generally have deep-rooted loyalties to real teams. As a fan of Arsenal FC, I have no interest in dramas that attempt to portray fictionalised football teams (though I get that there are legal and branding issues that make the use of real talent and clubs a challenging area).

The same reality gap must also be an issue for fans of other football teams or of NFL, NBA and MLB clubs. This is why, when TV does get interested in sport, it is currently more inclined to aim for behind-the-scenes sports documentaries (though a potential problem here is that the subjects of such stories often have editorial control, leading to sanitised shows).

The movies have tended to avoid the authenticity issue by dealing with historical subject matter (so we have a less acute sense of who the protagonist is) or stories about ‘triers’ as opposed to ‘winners.’ But historically, when they have tried to tackle hardcore sports subjects head on, they have had an advantage over TV – access to A-list talent.

Ballers
Ballers focuses on off-the-field action

If, for example, you are going to portray Muhammad Ali then it’s not so hard to accept Will Smith in that role because he has a star status that suits the subject. Similarly, it wasn’t too difficult to imagine Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo as Olympic gold medal-winning wrestlers in 2014’s hit movie Foxcatcher.

Having said all this, there has been a shift in the way we perceive TV recently. While a TV drama might still struggle to replicate the immediacy and adrenaline of the movie experience, it can now attract A-list talent. Perhaps that’s why we are finally seeing a decent sport-themed series in the shape of HBO’s Ballers.

True, Ballers is not securing massive audiences – but it is one of HBO’s top-rating shows and has just been commissioned for a third season. For anyone not familiar with the show, it stars Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson – who has all the necessary attributes to front a sports-themed series (sporting background, big-screen image). He plays a former NFL superstar who now acts as an adviser to young talent coming to terms with their new lifestyles.

Survivor's Remorse
Survivor’s Remorse is executive produced by basketball star LeBron James

Subject-wise, the show is smart. It doesn’t focus on the games themselves, which would be an editorial mistake. Instead it tries to explore the lifestyle of those involved in the world of NFL. It does, however, reference teams like the Miami Dolphins – rather than alienating the audience with fictitious alternatives.

Other sports-themed shows that are holding their own on TV including Starz basketball drama Survivor’s Remorse, which benefits in the authenticity stakes from the fact that LeBron James, basketball’s biggest star, is an executive producer. Also doing pretty well is Kingdom, which operates against the backdrop of the mixed martial arts world. Aired by AT&T’s Audience Network, it was recently renewed for a third season. Here again you can see reasons why this show might work. One is that it stars Nick Jonas, a music industry heartthrob who has successfully reinvented himself as a charismatic screen presence. The other is that MMA isn’t NFL or Premier League soccer.

Kingdom
Kingdom stars Nick Jonas as an MMA fighter

In other words, the authenticity bar isn’t quite so high for the audience, which can enjoy the drama without having to worry too much about the sport itself. Besides, it’s easier to film the tightly cropped world of one-on-one combat than a major team-based sports event (where we are used to 60-plus cameras covering every aspect of the live action).

The TV industry’s shift towards limited series should also, in theory, make it easy to pull off a sports-based story. Not many would justify a returning series model. But there are some great period stories that could be told over six or eight episodes – rather than as a feature film. One series that perhaps shows the way is Rivals Forever, a German drama for ARD about the Dassler Brothers, who founded the rival Puma and Adidas sporting brands.

As the film industry has demonstrated, there is great subject matter in sport that could form the basis of a limited series. Andy Samberg and Murray Miller, for example, are making a sports doping mockumentary for HBO. But this is surely a subject that would make also brilliant TV drama. Imagine an The People vs OJ Simpson: American Crime Story-style approach to the life of disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong. Or a Billions-style drama exploring recent allegations of systematic state-sponsored doping by Russia.

Possibly, with the demand for scripted series showing no sign of letting up, now is the time for drama producers and writers to revisit their relationship with sport-based storytelling.

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Light at the end of The Tunnel?

Stephen Dillane and Clémence Poésy in The Tunnel
Stephen Dillane and Clémence Poésy in The Tunnel

Season two of Sky Atlantic’s The Tunnel finished on May 31, and although the official ratings aren’t yet in for the last couple of episodes, the show hasn’t done as well as its first season in late 2013.

While the first outing debuted with 803,000 viewers (live+7), the follow-up kicked off with 680,000. The first run settled down around the 500,000 mark, whereas the second season had been attracting around 300,000.

This reduced audience doesn’t necessarily mean the second season (Sabotage) is inferior to the first. There are several possible explanations for why it hasn’t achieved the same high standards.

One was the unfortunate timing of the show’s launch. Due to premiere around the time of the Belgium terrorist attacks, it was delayed by a week out of respect for the victims. This may have been enough to knock the edge off the show’s appeal.

Another is that the Scandinavian show on which The Tunnel is based, The Bridge, has become a big international hit in its own right. With BBC4 in the UK attracting an audience in excess of one million for the first three seasons of The Bridge, it’s possible that audiences have decided to bypass The Tunnel in deference to the original.

There’s also the time lag between the two seasons. Echoing the situation with The Returned in France, it’s possible that the lengthy gap between them has sapped the franchise of some of its momentum. By a similar token, people who missed season one may (rightly or wrongly) have shunned season two for fear of walking into a franchise in the middle of its story.

The Bridge, on which The Tunnel is based
The Bridge, on which The Tunnel is based

Then there’s the fact that Sky Atlantic ‘did a Netflix,’ releasing all eight episodes of the latest season in one go as a box set. To get a true reflection of the show’s performance, we really need to see how it did when those numbers are also factored in.

And finally there is the ongoing process of media fragmentation. Two or three years on from the launch of season one, there are new scripted channels and new platforms pulling audience away from Sky Atlantic.

Overall, however, the Ben Richards-scripted show has probably done enough to justify a third season – particularly as the cost of production is shared with Canal+ in France and it can be aired across Sky’s services in Italy, Germany, Austria and Ireland.

While it can’t compete in ratings terms with Sky Atlantic shows such as Game of Thrones and Fortitude, it outperformed The Last Panthers and is comfortably ahead of most of the US acquisitions that have featured on the channel (Vinyl, Veep, Billions).

As we’ve observed before, there is so much scripted content on the international market these days that it’s incredibly hard for shows to make their mark – unless they are placed in BBC1 primetime or the AMC slot just after The Walking Dead. However, one show that has managed to make some noise this week is Entertainment One (eOne) TV’s polyamorous comedy You Me Her.

Created and written by showrunner John Scott Shepherd, the show is about a couple who hire a female sex worker to introduce a spark into their sex lives. All three then fall in love.

You Me Her has been given a second season
You Me Her has been given a second season

There’s very little public indication of how the first series did when it aired on DirecTV’s Audience Network in March, but the channel is obviously happy, having just greenlit two new seasons. “Our viewers have opened their hearts and minds to embrace the unique relationship between Jack, Emma and Izzy,” said Chris Long, senior VP of original content and production at AT&T (the company behind DirecTV). “Audiences strive for compelling storylines and intriguing characters, and we believe in the potential for this show to grow even more as we continue our journey with eOne.”

You Me Her is the second collaboration between DirecTV and eOne. The two companies previously partnered on Rogue, a police drama starring Thandie Newton.

Commenting on the alliance, John Morayniss, CEO of eOne Television, added: “You Me Her is a bold, provocative show that grabs your attention immediately. We’re delighted AT&T has signed on for another two seasons, which speaks to the strength of these dynamic characters and storytelling. We’re looking forward to seeing how this complicated, polyamorous relationship that John Scott Shepherd has brilliantly created will continue to unfold.”

One story that has attracted a lot of attention this week is Netflix’s decision to release some insight into how its viewers consume drama series. Although the SVoD platform didn’t actually go as far as releasing any numbers, it did provide some insights into the speed at which people binge shows.

In a nutshell, the Netflix research looked at the way audiences watch 100 shows across 190 countries (though keep in mind that some of these countries will have small subscriber bases, so what we’re primarily seeing is user behaviour in major subscriber territories like the US, Canada, UK and Scandinavia).

Netflix-binge-scaleNetflix then created a binge scale (see above), identifying the shows that get devoured most quickly. Its conclusion? “Series like Sense8, Orphan Black and The 100 grab you, assault your senses and make it hard to pull away. The classic elements of horror and thrillers go straight for the gut, pushing the placement of series like The Walking Dead, American Horror Story and The Fall towards the devour end of the scale. Likewise, comedies with a dramatic bent, like Orange is the New Black, Nurse Jackie and Grace and Frankie seem to tickle our fancy and make it easy to say ‘just one more.’”

By contrast, Netflix added: “It’s no surprise that complex narratives, like House of Cards and Bloodline, are indulged at an unhurried pace. Nor that viewers take care to appreciate the details of dramas set in bygone eras, like Peaky Blinders and Mad Men. Maybe less obvious are comedies like BoJack Horseman, Love and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. But the societal commentary that powers their densely layered comedy paired with characters as flawed as they are entertaining allows them to be savoured.”

You might be tempted to suggest that shows at the slower end of the scale are not being savoured and are instead struggling to hold viewer attention. However, with strong titles like House of Cards, Narcos and Daredevil in that position, it seems unlikely.

Possibly a point that doesn’t come out of the analysis is different binging speeds according to age. A teenager or young, single adult probably has more time (and inclination) to watch episodes back to back than an older adult (at least up to the age of 60). So that might skew Netflix’s binge-ometer.

More granular insights are probably required to make use of Netflix’s data. But there may be a lesson for more traditional channels about the way they deliver their content to audiences. If channels want to make a big impact quickly, then perhaps they need to buy or commission shows that lend themselves to super-fast binging. But if they want to encourage audiences to come back to them week after week, then there may be a role for shows where audiences are happy to wait for the next episode.

Nashville
Nashville could be revived on CMT

In terms of shows destined to be big international hits, FX Productions and Marvel Television’s X-Men spin-off series Legion looks well-positioned to make its mark. An eight-part series from Noah Hawley (Fargo), the show will debut on FX in early 2017 after being produced in Vancouver this summer.

As the result of a new deal signed this week, it will also have a day-and-date premiere on Fox channels in 125 countries.

Legion follows David Haller who, diagnosed as schizophrenic, has been in and out of psychiatric hospitals for years. But after a strange encounter with a fellow patient, he is confronted with the possibility that the voices he hears and the visions he sees might just be real.

Finally, there may be a reprieve for country-and-western scripted series Nashville, cancelled after four seasons by ABC. Producer Lionsgate has been looking for a new home for the show and there are reports that CMT may be willing to pick up the tab.

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