In DQ’s recent look at the growing number of drama anthology series being launched, we observed how most of these shows are season-to-season anthologies like True Detective, American Horror Story and Fargo.
This contrasts with the classic series of the 1950s to 1980s, which were episode-to-episode anthologies, such as The Twilight Zone.
However, it now seems there is a mini-revival in the latter group. After Netflix’s decision to support Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, Hannibal showrunner Bryan Fuller is planning a reboot of Amazing Stories, an episodic anthology that ran from 1985 to 1987 on NBC in the US.
In fact, Fuller’s plan to resurrect Amazing Stories sits at the confluence of three trends. Not only is it an anthology, but it is a reboot of a 1980s TV series – another big development in 2015 (see Fantasy Island, MacGyver and more). And indirectly it is also a comic book-based series, because the original 1980s series was based on iconic science-fiction magazine Amazing Stories.
Fuller will executive produce and write a pilot script for the show, which will tell fantastic, strange and supernatural stories. Universal Television will produce, with Justin Falvey and Darryl Frank serving as executive producers alongside Fuller.
The original version of Amazing Stories was created and executive produced by Steven Spielberg for NBC. It earned 12 Emmy nominations and received five awards, but clearly didn’t rate well enough for NBC. It was based around a 30-minute format, so it will be fascinating to see if Fuller sticks to this or, more likely, creates hour-long stories. It will also be interesting to see how the tone of the series compares to another sci-fi anthology coming down the pipe: Syfy’s Channel Zero.
The benefits of episodic anthology dramas are pretty clear. They allow broadcasters to present a recognisable brand while giving creatives the opportunity to conjure up an array of distinct stories. Audiences can tune in to any episode without having to worry about what happened the previous week, while high-profile actors can get involved without worrying about having to make heavy filming commitments.
The latter point is also true for actors who guest star in crime procedurals, of course, but the problem with these is that procedural guest stars are invariably villains.
There’s one other benefit worth noting about episodic anthologies that is actually an advantage over season-to-season anthologies. This is the possibility of using episodes of the show as pilots for longer projects.
The original Amazing Stories, for example, gave birth to Family Dog, an idea that was converted into a series for CBS six years later. Although Family Dog only ran for 10 episodes, it’s an example of how the main broadcast networks might beat subscription VoD platform Amazon, which orders batches of pilots at once before putting them online, at its own game.
Still in the US, this is the time of year when the big four broadcast networks start to get a clear idea of which new shows are working and which aren’t. They then act in one of two ways. More episodes of the successful shows are usually ordered, while unsuccessful series are either axed immediately or see their initial episode order reduced (a delayed death).
This week, CBS’s Limitless was awarded an additional nine episodes, meaning it has now been given what is called ‘full season order’ of 22 episodes. Other new shows that have been rewarded with a full season order include NBC’s Blindspot, Fox’s Rosewood and ABC’s Quantico and Dr Ken.
Heading the other way, however, are NBC’s The Player and ABC’s Blood & Oil, both of which have seen their original 13-episode runs cut. Previously, Fox’s Minority Report was also cut back from 13.
The quest for ideas with some kind of track record remains the dominant theme in the US TV drama business. For example, NBC is planning a small-screen version of Cruel Intentions, the 1999 movie starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Philippe and Reese Witherspoon. The film itself was a modern retelling of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, an 18th century French novel about amorality among the French aristocracy. The novel has repeatedly been adapted for cinema and TV – usually as a true-to-period drama.
The best-known movie version saw John Malkovich play opposite Glenn Close and Michelle Pfeiffer, though British actor Rupert Everett appeared in a French miniseries version for TF1 that transported the story into a 1960s setting.
Elsewhere, Ugly Betty creator Silvio Horta has joined forces with Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, Prison Break, Red Dragon, Horrible Bosses) to adapt Belgian series The Divine Monster for the US. Based on the trilogy of novels by Tom Lanoye, the Eyeworks-produced original (aka Het Goddelijke Monster) aired on VRT’s flagship channel Een in 2011.
In its original form, the show was a 10-part series about the downfall of a powerful family of European entrepreneurs and politicians at the end of the 20th century. In Horta’s version the action transfers to Miami and explores the collapse of a corrupt real-estate empire.
Also in the news this week is Shonda Rhimes’ Shondaland, which is working on an adaptation of the romantic novel Still Star-Crossed by Melinda Taub. The story picks up immediately after the death of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and involves another love story played out against the backdrop of Capulet/Montague feuding.
Destined for ABC, the young-adult show represents a new direction for Shondaland, which is best known for more mature dramas such as Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. The new series will be written by Heather Mitchell, who has worked on both of the aforementioned programmes.