Tag Archives: Big Talk Productions

American Dream

British comedy-drama Living the Dream follows the Pemberton family as they decide to leave rainy England and move to the sunshine state of Florida in search of a better life.

Once they arrive, however, they find that things aren’t quite what they expected.

The cast is headed by Philip Glenister and Lesley Sharp, who play Mal and Jean Pemberton.

In this DQTV video, Glenister talks about why this show is the perfect antidote to darker television dramas, featuring a married couple still madly in love with each other and embarking on a new journey together with their children.

Executive producers Luke Alkin and James Dean reveal their decision to make the show a Donald Trump-free zone, though it does feature themes and cultural issues shared by people living in Britain and the US.

Living the Dream, which has been renewed for a second season, is produced by Big Talk Productions for Sky1 and distributed by ITV Studios Global Entertainment.

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US studios extend int’l footprint

Gone is a 12-part series adapted from Chelsea Cain’s novel One Kick
Gone is a 12-part series adapted from Chelsea Cain’s novel One Kick

About two years ago, the international scripted TV business started to express its concern that there was a shortage of US procedural dramas coming on to the market. With the trend towards limited series and increased emphasis on superhero/sci-fi, buyers in markets like France and Germany feared a gap.

A number of companies said they would address the shortfall, including NBCUniversal International Studios (NBCUIS), which formed a partnership with RTL (Germany) and TF1 (France) with the intention of creating US-style procedural dramas. This week, they delivered on their promise by greenlighting Gone, a 12-part series based on Chelsea Cain’s novel One Kick.

Gone, which will be broadcast in late 2017/early 2018, tells the story of Kit Lannigan, survivor of a child abduction case and Frank Booth, the FBI agent who rescued her. Determined never to fall victim again, Kick trains in martial arts and the use of firearms.

She finds her calling when Booth persuades her to join a task force dedicated to solving abductions and missing persons cases. Paired with former army intelligence officer John Bishop, Kick brings her unique understanding of the mind of a predator to the team.

Gone will be executive produced by Matt Lopez, JoAnn Alfano and Sara Colleton. All episodes will be written, cast and produced in the US.

Hilary Bevan Jones
Hilary Bevan Jones

RTL and TF1 will broadcast and distribute the series in their territories (German and French respectively) and NBCUniversal International Distribution will license rights for the US and the rest of the world on behalf of the partnership.

Michael Edelstein, president of NBCUIS, said: “We are all delighted to be moving forward so quickly on our first series. In Gone, Matt Lopez has created a fascinating character who we believe will connect with procedural audiences around the world. We are assembling a first-rate production team and look forward to future series with our partners.”

Fabrice Bailly, head of programmes and acquisition TF1 Group, said: “The collaborative relationship represents a new way of working, for both studios and European broadcasters, to achieve high-quality procedural dramas.”

Joerg Graf, exec VP of production and acquisition at RTL Deutschland, added: “TF1 and NBCUniversal International Studios share our view that tailor-made formats will meet the need of our viewers for high-quality crime dramas.”

While the project is a welcome development, one point of interest is that Gone’s 12-episode run is still shorter than a standard US procedural. The first season of Fox’s Lethal Weapon, for example, is 18 episodes, while ABC’s Quantico has received 22-episode orders in seasons one and two. So a 12-episode order still leaves open a questions over the volume of new procedural episodes such cross-border alliances can bring to market.

Crackle original Chosen has aired for four seasons
Crackle original Chosen has aired for four seasons

Another interesting story this week is the announcement that Fox Networks Group (FNG) Europe and Africa has commissioned its first original drama in the region. While it isn’t a procedural like Gone, it does illustrate the increasing level of US studio engagement in the international market (in our last column, we also reported how HBO Europe is increasing its slate of original dramas).

Called The Nine, the new FNG show is created by Matthew Parkhill and Simon Maxwell (American Odyssey) and produced by Hilary Bevan Jones (Close To The Enemy, State of Play). An eight-hour drama, it tells the story of an ex-spy “who is brought back into the game to avenge the death of his son, only to find himself at the heart of a covert intelligence war and a conspiracy to profit from spreading chaos throughout the Middle East.”

Maxwell and Parkhill said: “We wanted to tell a story set against the backdrop of our dangerous and uncertain times. The Nine unfolds through the eyes of a man caught between two versions of himself, the past and the present. The genre of an espionage thriller gives us the perfect opportunity to mix his personal story with the turbulence of an ever-changing geo-political landscape.”

UK indie Big Talk Productions is rebooting1970s sci-fi series Sapphire & Steel
UK indie Big Talk Productions is rebooting1970s sci-fi series Sapphire & Steel

The project was commissioned by Jeff Ford, senior VP of content development, and Sara Johnson, VP scripted drama for FNG, Europe and Africa, and will go into pre-production in the new year.

“Following the success we’ve had with our Fox global content, we made a commitment to develop drama for this region that has the potential to be a success worldwide,” said Ford.

Another story that showcases the increasing international clout of the US studios’ production operations is the news that Sony Pictures Television (SPT)’s on-demand platform Crackle has joined forces with Chinese streaming service iQIYI on a three-part Mandarin-language drama. The partners will create a new version of Chosen, a Crackle original that has aired for four seasons.

SPT’s Playmaker Media is producing with support from Screen NSW and the show will be shot entirely in Australia. Production begins in the spring with a launch due at the end of 2017.

The Ritual Bath is the first book in the Decker-Lazarus series
The Ritual Bath is the first book in the Decker-Lazarus series

The past week has also seen a number of production and development announcements flowing out of C21’s Content London event. For example, ITV Studios-owned indie Big Talk Productions confirmed that it is remaking sci-fi series Sapphire & Steel, with Luther creator Neil Cross attached to the project.

Also, screenwriter/director Tony Grisoni revealed that he is developing a drama set against the 1943 Allied liberation of Sicily, with UK broadcaster Channel 4 paying for script development.

In the US, meanwhile, Thunderbird Entertainment has teamed up with David Salzman (Dallas) to develop a TV series based on Faye Kellerman’s Decker-Lazarus series of mystery novels.

The initial development process will focus on The Ritual Bath, the first book in the Decker-Lazarus series. The story follows a tough LAPD detective and a widowed mother of two who witnesses a brutal crime and becomes embroiled in solving it.

Nickelodeon has greenlit a third season of School of Rock, based on the Jack Black movie
Nickelodeon has greenlit a third season of School of Rock, based on the Jack Black movie

Also in the US, Nickelodeon has greenlit a third season of School of Rock, a tween/teen series based on the 2003 cult movie of the same name. Originally ordered straight-to-series, the show was given a rapid second season order of 13 episodes and has been attracting an average of around 1.4 million viewers.

The third season, which will go into production in 2017, will have 20 episodes, suggesting Nickelodeon is very happy with the show. School of Rock was the first series order for Paramount TV and is the first to go to a third season. The studio has also enjoyed success with Epix show Berlin Station and USA Network’s Shooter.

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US continues love affair with La Plante

Lynda La Plante
Lynda La Plante

Masterpiece, the prestigious drama strand that airs on PBS in the US, has come on board Prime Suspect prequel Tennison as a coproducer alongside ITV Studios and NoHo Film & Television.

The six-part series has been created and written by Lynda La Plante, who also wrote the first episodes of the original Prime Suspect franchise way back in 1991. La Plante’s three-decade association with the ground-breaking Prime Suspect franchise also saw her co-create a US version of the show for NBC in 2011.

La Plante, successful as both a novelist and a screenwriter, has always been known for her ability to create gritty female voices. Until now, most of her hit dramas have been centred on women in contemporary settings. But Tennison sees her most famous creation, Detective Jane Tennison, starting out her career as an ambitious 22-year-old in the 1970s. As such, it’s an opportunity for La Plante to explore what it would have been like for a female officer in an era of chauvinism and rule-bending.

The story begins when Jane is confronted with a brutal murder. Not only does she have to contend with the impact of violent crime, she also has to establish herself in a male-dominated workplace.

Aside from Prime Suspect and Tennison, La Plante’s best-known franchise is probably Widows, which first saw the light of day in 1983, introducing the world to the ferocious Dolly Rawlins. The first series of this story saw four women executing a heist that had been set up by their gangster husbands, presumed dead in a fire. The story continued with a follow-up series in 1985 and a spin-off in 1995 entitled She’s Out – again centring on Rawlins.

Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect
Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect

Like Prime Suspect, Widows was also transformed into a US TV series, in 2002. And, again like Prime Suspect, it continues to be evolved for new audiences. The latest incarnation of Widows is a movie version that is to be directed by Steve McQueen. La Plante is involved in the character development for the film, with the screenplay being written by Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl). Viola Davis (How To Get Away With Murder) is reported to be in the cast. There’s no confirmation yet that she will play the part of Rawlins, but assuming she does it would be an inspired choice.

Another female writer in the news is novelist Rose Tremain, who is developing two of her novels for TV with indie producer Buccaneer Media (Marcella). One of the novels is The Road Home, about a widower who travels from his Eastern European village to London in search of work to support his family back home.

The other is The Gustav Sonata, about a young boy growing up in a Swiss town and his friendship with a talented Jewish pianist.

Tremain is the award-winning author of 14 novels but has never written a TV script. However, she will be writing the teleplay for The Road Home. Despite the clear stylistic differences between novels and screenplays, this is a growing trend as producers look for ways to introduce new voices to the TV ecosystem. It’s one that’s likely to continue following the success novelist Daisy Goodwin has had bringing Victoria to the screen for ITV.

Rose Tremain
Rose Tremain

Production companies tend to control the risk of parachuting novelists into TV by supporting them with executives that are well-versed in the nuances of TV writing. In this case, Buccaneer has brought in Bafta winner Lynn Horsford as an executive producer. Horsford’s glittering film and TV career includes dramas like Any Human Heart, Birdsong, The 7.39 and Boy A.

There was another UK book adaptation story this week, with Big Talk Productions announcing that it’s developing a drama series based on Gordon Stevens’ 2006 book The Originals: The Secret History of the Birth of the SAS. The new series, to be called SAS: The Originals, will be written by James Woods (co-creator of comedy series Rev) and Rupert Walters (Spooks).

Stevens’ book is based on 120 hours of video and audio tape about the formation of the Special Air Service (similar to Delta Force or the Navy SEALs in the US) during the Second World War. It will be supplemented by Wood and Walters’ own research to create a drama about the origins of the world-famous fighting force.

Post-Rev, Woods has also been working on an adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel Decline and Fall for BBC2. He previously worked with Walters on Ambassadors, a three-part miniseries starring comedian David Mitchell. That show was a Big Talk production for BBC2. It didn’t rate especially well but it did get some fairly positive feedback from TV critics.

Tony Briggs
Tony Briggs

In Australia, meanwhile, ABC has commissioned a comedy-drama series from an all-indigenous team of directors and writers. Warriors is set in the world of Australian Rules Football and tells the story of an 18-year-old indigenous footballer who is drafted to play in the elite Australian Rules Football league.

The series is from Robert Connolly’s production company Arenamedia and will be distributed internationally by Entertainment One. Screen Australia and Film Victoria also helped finance the show.

The series was created by Connolly and Tony Briggs, who is one of the writers. Briggs is well known in Australia as an actor but turned his hand to writing with 2012 movie The Sapphires. That told the story of a talented young Australian aboriginal girl group called up to entertain US troops during the Vietnam war.

The other writers on the show are Jon Bell and Tracey Rigney. Bell’s credits include international hit series Cleverman and The Gods of Wheat Street. Rigney, meanwhile, is a newcomer to TV but not to writing. Having studied creative writing at the University of Melbourne, her first play – Belonging – was staged in Melbourne when she was just 21. She has since written and directed films including Man Real, Abalone and Endangered.

Commenting on why Warriors attracted finance, Penny Smallacombe, head of indigenous at Screen Australia, said: “What attracted us to this project was both the concept of following four mischievous footballers experiencing the highs, lows and often funny situations of life as an elite athlete, and the opportunity for indigenous creatives to partner with highly regarded practitioners and accelerate their career trajectory.”

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Back in from the Cold

As Cold Feet returns to ITV after more than a decade off air, Michael Pickard speaks to creator Mike Bullen about resurrecting the hit comedy-drama.

It was in 1997 that viewers first became entangled in the lives, loves and friendships of Adam, Rachel, Pete, Jenny, Karen and David.

But now, after a 13-year absence from our screens following its initial five-season run, ITV comedy-drama Cold Feet is back with eight new episodes.

Stars James Nesbitt (Adam), Robert Bathurst (David), Hermione Norris (Karen), John Thomson (Pete) and Fay Ripley (Jenny) have all reunited for the show, which picks up with the friends facing as many challenges as they approach 50 as they did in their 30s.

But amid the current craze for TV reboots and remakes, why did creator Mike Bullen decide to revisit his characters in 2016?

Cold Feet creator Mike Bullen on set
Cold Feet creator Mike Bullen on set

“It started with ITV,” he says, speaking to DQ from his home in Sydney, Australia. “It has been mooted over the years but I’ve only ever wanted to do it if I thought we could do it as well as we did before. But with the passage of time and the point the characters are at in their lives now, I felt there was new stuff to say and enough to justify a new season.

“That was the other thing – we could have come back as a four-parter or a special but I only wanted to do it as a proper season. Initially ITV commissioned six episodes but when we started storylining, I thought there was enough for eight – and one way TV has changed since we were last on is that, with catch-up and on demand, people tend to binge watch. I felt six was no longer a satisfying enough number. That’s two nights’ viewing. So at least with eight you’re getting a more satisfying meal rather than a snack.”

The first episode, which aired on Monday to a slot-busting 6.1 million viewers, saw the gang reunite as Adam announced his impending marriage to Angela (Karen David). Returning to Manchester after years of working abroad, Adam had hoped to bring his friends together to attend his wedding – but not everyone was as excited as him. Meanwhile, Karen told Adam that his son Matt (Cel Spellman) was unhappy at school.

Bullen admits the first script for the new season was “really difficult” to piece together, as he had to re-establish the cast of characters while throwing them into a compelling new story.

Reuniting the original cast didn't come cheap
Reuniting the original cast didn’t come cheap

“The first episode was the third script I wrote – I had two completely different stories before I settled on that one,” he explains. “It’s a bit unrepresentative of the season because the first episode is really very much about Adam and then episode two goes back to being much more of an ensemble and they’ve each got their own stories going on.

“Most of them are approaching 50 now and their kids are at an age where they’re becoming independent of the parents. I’ve been through that stage myself and I think, as an adult, that’s when you get your life back. It is a quite interesting stage in life because the first season was about the characters settling down and having mortgages, families and careers. This season feels as though again they’re on the cusp of change but now they’re taking stock of their own lives and deciding what they’re going to do next.”

This new run of Cold Feet, technically its sixth season, is neither a remake nor a reboot, Bullen points out. “It’s more like a spin-off,” he notes, “but one that has every character in it. My younger daughter is a big fan of Gilmore Girls [which is being rebooted on Netflix] and I was really interested to see the new trailer because it looks as though their characters haven’t moved on. Really, they’re just putting the old show back on the road again. We haven’t done that. Our characters have absolutely moved on and it’s like a new show but with characters you know before.”

But while ITV was keen to see Cold Feet return to its schedules, some of the cast members were slightly more hesitant. Bullen reveals Norris was the least enthusiastic, though all five stars signed on after seeing the first script and future storylines, reassured that the new episodes would stay true to the original series.

The cast in Cold Feet's early days. Helen Baxendale (second from left) has not returned for the new series after her character was killed off
Helen Baxendale (second from left) has not returned for the new series after her character was killed off

There was also a discussion about bringing back Rachel (played by Helen Baxendale), Adam’s wife and Matt’s mother who died in a car crash in season five, in some form.

“In the very first version, Rachel was present throughout the script where she was like Adam’s conscience,” Bullen explains. “She wasn’t a ghost but she would be in his head. I sent the script to Helen but she wasn’t keen to do it, which I understand. I wasn’t sure we were even going to use her through the season. It would have become very repetitive and dull very quickly so happily for us and her, she said no. It just forced us to be more creative in how we approached her death as an issue for Adam.”

Production on the new season moved rapidly, from news of the commission last November to its premiere just 10 months later. Time constraints meant Bullen had to bring new writers on board, and the series creator jokes that the whole process was “chaotic.”

“At the point of commission, we only had a few months before we started filming,” he recalls. “We went into pre-production in January and we only had three out of eight scripts in reasonably good shape. By the time we started filming, we only had four scripts written so as we were filming, they were catching us up. I liken it to building the track in front of the train. The train was moving faster than us so when we got to the last filming block of two episodes, they were doing a reccy and I wasn’t even sure if we were going to be using certain locations, because we hadn’t absolutely nailed down the story.

“Certainly when we started filming the final episode, I hadn’t finished writing it. I was rewriting while they were filming and it got to the point where, say, I would rewrite a scene but they said, ‘Don’t bother, we’ve already shot it.’ It’s not the way it’s meant to be but it’s fine.”

Perhaps it was risky for ITV to schedule the show so quickly, but Bullen says it was a risk to commission the show, which began life as an ITV comedy pilot, in the first place.

“When you’re up against stuff like Game of Thrones and Homeland, you can see how those shows get commissioned because it’s a very easy pitch,” he says. “But when you’ve got a show that’s basically about ordinary people living their lives, that’s a huge risk for a network.

“Cold Feet is a huge risk because although there will be a big audience who come to the first episode, we’ve got to satisfy them – and if they’re not satisfied, if they leak away, ITV has got a very expensive turkey on its hands because this is an expensive show. The cast are not cheap, and we’ve spent a lot of money on the look of it because it’s always looked really attractive. Hats off to ITV for commissioning it because, in some ways, it was easier not to.”

With a large ensemble cast,  creative challenges included servicing each character with enough storylines while also trying to avoid giving them overly distinct plots that could detract from the group dynamic.

But Bullen is adamant that the show, rested and refreshed after its extended break, can run for further seasons. “If the viewers want it, we can definitely do a second season,” he adds of the show, which is produced by Big Talk Productions and distributed by ITV Studios Global Entertainment. “Potentially there’s enough for three. I never look beyond the season you’re making because you just don’t know. Occasionally we would paint ourselves into a corner – after the first season, Rachel left Manchester pregnant and we didn’t know who the father was. At the time, I didn’t know either – but when you get the commission for the second season, then you worry about it!

“I just hope viewers will be pleased it’s back; that they don’t go, ‘They should have left it alone!’”

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The magic touch

A series described as “the Edwardian X-Files” pits Harry Houdini against Arthur Conan Doyle in supernatural crime drama Houdini & Doyle. Michael Pickard reports.

While Houdini & Doyle represents the increasing globalisation of television drama, there’s familiarity for viewers in this new supernatural crime drama.

Commissioned by ITV in the UK, the series has a strong international footprint. It was produced by British indie Big Talk Productions and Canada’s Shaftesbury, while filming took place in Manchester, Liverpool and Toronto. It will also air in Canada on Global and on US network Fox, with Sony Pictures Television distributing.

And audiences tuning in on both sides of the Atlantic can look forward to a show described as “the Edwardian X-Files,” which unites real-life friends and adversaries author Arthur Conan Doyle and illusionist Harry Houdini as a pair of crime solvers in early 20th century England.

But while Sherlock Holmes author Doyle, played by Stephen Mangan (pictured left above), is a passionate believer in the paranormal, Houdini (Six Feet Under’s Michael Weston, alongside Mangan above) refuses to believe in the supernatural, leading them into conflict and competition as they help Scotland Yard solve some bizarre and inexplicable crimes.

The series is executive produced by House creator David Shore and co-creators David Hoselton (Chicago PD) and David Titcher (The Librarians), alongside Kenton Allen, Luke Alkin, Matthew Justice, Christina Jennings, Scott Garvie and Maggie Murphy.

Showrunner Hoselton says: “It was a setup that seemed almost too good to be true: the real-life friendship between Sherlock Holmes’ creator and the great magician, bonded by a mutual interest in the paranormal. And most intriguing of all was the fact they were on unexpected sides of the debate, for one would assume Doyle to be the sceptic and Houdini the believer, but it was quite the opposite.”

Houdini-&-Doyle-s1-ep1-4
Rebecca Liddiard (left) plays constable Adelaide Stratton

The drama does take some “artistic licence” with history, however. The two men were already past middle age when they met in real life, but the series moves their friendship back 20 years to 1901, which Hoselton says is the ideal time for viewers to meet the characters.

“A new century, a new king, a new era chock-a-block with new ideas,” he says of the show’s setting. “In a highly unpopular move, Doyle had killed off Holmes to devote more time to ‘weightier work,’ and Houdini was at the apex of his career as the highest-paid performer in the world.”

The pair are grounded by constable Adelaide Stratton (played by Rebecca Liddiard), the UK’s first female police officer, who is based on a real person and provides a window into an evolving world 17 years before women got the vote.

Hostler adds: “Armed with equal parts scepticism, hope and humour, this trio felt like the perfect group to explore the world of the supernatural – and if they happen to raise a few profound questions in the process, all the better.”

Mangan, best known for his role in comedy Episodes, admits he agreed to take part in Houdini & Doyle after discovering David Shore was involved in the project.

“You can never guarantee anything will be a success,” he explains. “But if the person at the top of the tree knows what they’re doing then it certainly helps. So when I found out that person was David, it was a very simple decision. I read a couple of scripts and agreed to do it.”

The British actor, who describes the series as “the Edwardian X-Files,” continues: “Not every single crime is explained. It would be a little dull if that were the case. As much as I love Scooby Doo, as a crime drama it starts to get a little bit predictable after a while. And you don’t want that. What I love about this show is that every episode is written by a different person and they all have very different feelings.”

Houdini-&-Doyle-s1-ep1-3
Mangan’s Doyle is a believer in the supernatural, while Weston’s Houdini is more sceptical

Weston was also drawn to the project by Shore’s involvement, having previously appeared in House. “It’s such a unique idea, set in this period time of these two epic figures,” he says. “And they’ve done it with such wit, humour and humanity. Yet it’s this great adventure and procedural at the same time.”

Accepting their parts meant Mangan and Weston were jumping into the deep end – literally, as the opening scene finds the pair up to their necks in a cellar as water rises around them. The stunt was filmed using a shipping container filled with water in a Manchester car park, though the container had to be reinforced to stop the sides collapsing due to the weight of the water.

“It was really intense, but fun,” says Weston. “We have incredible wardrobe and set departments that build these extravagant things. They built this set for us and we were in water for hours and hours.

“They were raising the level gradually and let us go right to the point of real danger. We always want to make it look real and feel real. So we will do it as close as we can. We really were gasping for air and happy when it was all over. But it was awesome fun. You get a little adrenaline rush.”

Mangan continues: “That’s one of the few stunts I do. Michael does most of them – he was suspended upside down in a straightjacket and lowered into a tube of water. He’s always leaping around while I’m typing at a typewriter.”

The series debuts on ITV and pay TV channel ITV Encore on March 13, before rolling out on Global and Fox on May 2.

But despite Houdini & Doyle’s supernatural flavour, Mangan says the appeal for viewers will be the familiarity of its case-of-the-week procedural structure.

“There’s a reason why there are so many crime dramas around, and it’s because they hook you in,” he adds. “You just want to know whodunnit. But at the same time there is a variety in each show. Each episode is like a self-contained film all on its own plus a double act. Again, a classic formula – two very different blokes. I think they have fallen upon two fascinating characters in Houdini and Doyle. It’s exciting, compelling and funny – and a real bonanza for anyone turned on by moustaches.”

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