Based on the book by Neil Gaiman, American Gods follows the story of a war brewing between old and new gods, with the traditional deities of mythological roots from around the world steadily losing believers to an upstart pantheon of gods reflecting modern society’s love of money, technology, media, celebrity and drugs.
Its protagonist, Shadow Moon, is an ex-con who becomes bodyguard and travelling partner to Mr Wednesday, a conman but in reality one of the older gods, on a cross-country mission to gather the latter’s forces in preparation to battle the new deities.
Bryan Fuller, who is the co-showrunner alongside Michael Green, tells DQ why the novel was “ripe” for a television adaptation and how Gaiman’s story portrays the immigrant experience, as well as describing the writing process behind the series and discussing working with stars Ricky Whittle and Ian McShane.
American Gods is produced by FremantleMedia North America for Starz, and is distributed by FremantleMedia International.
For more about American Gods, read DQ’s feature here.
At the world premiere of Starz drama American Gods, showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green spoke of the challenges of telling ‘immigrant stories’ in the current political climate. Adam Benzine reports.
US network Starz previewed its forthcoming fantasy drama American Gods to a rapturous audience at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival on Saturday, followed by a forthright Q&A with the show’s creators.
The series, based on author Neil Gaiman’s Hugo Award-winning novel of the same name, focuses on a conflict across America between a variety of ‘old gods’ – including Odin, Loki and Bilquis – and new deities, such as the personifications of media, technology and celebrity.
Mixing the violence of past Starz series such as Spartacus with a broad palette of surreal and dreamlike imagery, as well as an often-humorous script, the pilot also features a bizarre sex scene that is sure to be one of the water-cooler moments of the year. The first episode focuses on recently released convict Shadow Moon (The 100 star Ricky Whittle), who crosses paths with the mysterious Mr Wednesday (Deadwood star Ian McShane).
Speaking after the premiere, showrunner Bryan Fuller said the tone of the show changed notably following November’s election of Donald Trump as US president.
“It’s definitely a different show than we set out to make, because the political climate in America, well, shat its pants,” Fuller told the crowd at SXSW in Austin, Texas. “We are now telling immigrant stories in a climate that vilifies immigrants.
“As Americans, we are under a radical political climate that tends to lean cruel as opposed to compassionate. So we are excited to tell compassionate immigration stories, not only as a statement but as part of the ongoing narrative of our series.”
He added that when the team approached Gaiman’s book, as showrunners, “our first task was to make the show we wanted to see as an audience member – we needed to put on screen what was in our heads when we read the book.
“One of the things that was exciting for us in casting the show was that so much of the book is based in other cultures and other ethnicities,” he explained. “It gave us the opportunity to not be colour-blind but to be very colour-focused.”
Fellow showrunner Michael Green, meanwhile, added that Gaiman’s book “is very joyful, it celebrates a lot of things that we really love about America.”
However, the team worked to significantly expand several of the female roles featured in the book, since the novel “can be a bit of a sausage party.”
“We knew going in we needed to have many more female characters,” he explained, noting that Emily Browning (Laura Moon) and Yetide Badaki (Bilquis) were among the actors whose storylines had been significantly expanded.
At the preview ahead of the drama’s April 30 debut on Starz, the showrunners were joined by a large portion of the pilot’s cast, including Whittle, McShane, Browning, Badaki, Pablo Schreiber, Betty Gilpin, Crispin Glover and Bruce Langley (top image).
Offering his take on the pilot, the typically outspoken McShane told the crowd: “I thought it was fucking amazing,” to laughter. “That’s the first frame I’ve ever seen of it; I’d never seen any of the show before… I was riveted, I’ve seen nothing like it.
“I just had a fucking good time. It’s not a bad opening episode, y’know?”
Showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green and executive producer Craig Cegielski tell Toni Sekinah about the “alchemy” of adapting Neil Gaiman’s seminal novel American Gods and the amazing on-screen chemistry between its lead actors.
It took just a few days of shooting for executive producer Craig Cegielski and co-showrunner Michael Green to realise they were working on something phenomenal in American Gods.
The confirmation came courtesy of the first scene between the two lead characters, with Ricky Whittle’s protagonist Shadow Moon (pictured left above) meeting his soon-to-be mentor-guru Mr Wednesday (Ian McShane) on a plane. The set was fizzing with chemistry.
It made Cegielski want to be a part of the characters’ crew, while for Green it confirmed his inkling that the two actors would work very well together. “I felt like we not only had a show with a core relationship in it, but a show that would be honoured, and one that I as a fan would continue watching for many, many years to come,”
This TV adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s legendary fantasy novel, coming to US premium cablenet Starz next year, has been a long time in the making, with the book first being published in 2001.
The plot sets up a war brewing between old and new gods: the traditional gods of biblical and mythological roots from around the world are steadily losing believers to an upstart pantheon of gods reflecting society’s modern love of money, technology, media, celebrity and drugs. Thrust into the centre is ex-con Shadow Moon, who becomes a bodyguard and travelling partner to Mr Wednesday, a conman who is secretly one of the older gods, on a cross-country mission to gather his forces in preparation to battle the new deities.
The book has won awards and become a cultural phenomenon, leading HBO to first express an interest in an adaptation in 2011. But script issues meant this didn’t work out and the network dropped the idea in late 2013.
Then when former Playtone exec Stephanie Berk, who had been developing the project for HBO, moved to producer FremantleMedia North America (FMNA), she reached out again
to Gaiman, inviting him to discuss resurrecting the project.
“Neil sat with us and we talked through everything. He believed in Fremantle and our promise to make the show,” says FMNA’s Cegielski. “We found a good network partner. We found good showrunners to participate. We were true to our word.”
That network partner was Starz, which began dabbling in the horror genre with the launch of Ash vs Evil Dead last year. “Starz has been an incredible partner. They view American Gods as one of their tentpoles for the network and they have done everything to support that,” says Cegielski.
Key to the success of the process thus far has been the fact that everyone working on the series is an aficionado of the novel. “We all know the book, we all love Neil’s writing, we love the poetry of what he does and we’re sitting back as fans saying, ‘We’d like to see this’ or, ‘We’d like to do that,’” Cegielski adds.
Part of that group is Green’s co-showrunner Bryan Fuller. The pair have been on the lookout for another project on which to partner ever since working together on NBC’s Heroes. “We bonded very quickly on Heroes. We were talking for years about working together somehow again and American Gods came up,” says Fuller.
Green recalls not being able to agree to the idea loudly or quickly enough, with both creatives being “incredibly passionate” fans of the book who were excited about the “incredible toy box” Gaiman had provided them with.
“It gives us a fresh opportunity to tell different kinds of stories in a television landscape and talk about things that are really relevant to and will resonate with large members of the audience,” Fuller says. “These things are the subjects of faith, belief and where you put your energies in the world.”
And with Gaiman as an executive producer – as well as writing some scripts – the showrunners are able to make sure every decision they make is in keeping with the author’s vision. “Neil has been incredibly supportive and collaborative throughout this process and the thing Michael and I want to be very careful of is that we are making an American Gods that Neil can be proud of,” says Fuller, conceding: “It’s a tricky alchemy, an adaptation.”
Green adds: “We talk to Neil about an intention for an extended role or for a new character before we put pen to paper and get the benefit of his additions to our additions. It is an incredibly joyful experience.”
One of those extended roles has been given to Bilquis, the goddess of love, who only appears in one chapter of the book but is in all 10 episodes of the first season. Green continues: “Neil will read the scripts when they come in and talk to us about them and every time he’s been appreciative, helpful and additive.”
Gaiman himself has also expanded characters for the visual narrative. According to Green, the author introduced a character called Vulcan, “a god he’s always had an imagination for,” who’ll be found travelling in the southern states of the US.
Beyond the script, recent advances in technology have played a huge part in allowing Fuller and Green to tell the story the way they wanted and realise their vision for Gaiman’s words on screen. “A show like this could not have been made 15 years ago because the technology wasn’t really available,” says Cegielski.
Green adds: “We were fortunate that technology has caught up with Neil’s imagination in terms of presenting it visually. When the book first came out, there were a lot of things suggested that could not have been accomplished on screen.”
Examples include a visual effect called ‘god flesh.’ Fuller explains: “The instances where we meet gods or are exposed to them for the first time, we have a camera rig that we shoot the actors with and are able to re-skin them in a wide variety of ways that is tantamount to motion capture.”
Green adds that this allowed them to create several different layers of reality. “We can meet a character who is actually a god, having a very mundane terrestrial experience and then we can pick and choose our moments to show what they truly are underneath it all,” he says.
Cegielski goes further: “It gives us an opportunity to provide a view behind the curtain of what gods look like in their godly state.”
While Fuller says technology has been a “friend” to production, he also notes that around 60% of the filming took place on location. Green says making the magic in the show feel like it could exist in the real world was key, “so the more you can be in the actual world, the better.”
This led them to such locations as Oklahoma. “We spent a lot of time driving on the open road in a Cadillac and those are some of the most fun and beautiful times,” Green says. With the book depicting numerous road trips, the creative crew were constantly seeking new spaces and locations, something Green adds was akin to filming an hour-long movie for each episode.
But what of the show’s leading man? Whittle, best known to UK viewers for his five-year portrayal of Calvin Valentine in teen soap Hollyoaks, will be familiar stateside thanks to his role in post-apocalyptic drama The 100. And now he’s proving his chops among the Hollywood heavyweights that pepper the rest of the American Gods cast.
Noting that the actor brings joy and gratitude to the process, Fuller describes Whittle as a “whirling ball of hugs and smiles – exactly what you want in a lead on a show.”
Green also praises Whittle’s efforts in beefing up for the part of Shadow: “He has undergone a really difficult physical transformation for this. Shadow is much physically larger and more menacing so he had to put on 36lbs, eating meat stew and rice for breakfast for the last six months.
With a stellar cast – including The X-Files’ Gillian Anderson, who previously worked with director David Slade and Fuller on Hannibal – location filming and technological wizardry, Fremantle is pulling out all the stops with this big-budget production.
Cegielski says: “You can’t under-deliver this. Every person who comes on board to work on the show is trying to elevate the material in every aspect because the fans deserve that kind of treatment.”
The executive producer adds that he has been working closely with Fuller and Green on set, as Fremantle has always been a “boots on the ground studio. We want to make sure the people we work with feel like we’re partners, as opposed to suits.”
While season one of American Gods covers approximately one-third of the book, the creative team believe the show could last for seven seasons – surely music to the ears of international distributor FremantleMedia International, which has sold the show to Amazon Prime in Germany, Austria, the UK and Japan. “The novel offers us somewhat of an unlimited opportunity to tell the story,” says Cegielski. “American Gods is best served as a television series and Michael and Bryan are doing an incredible job navigating that.”
An integral part of the team is director Slade, who Green and Fuller brought in because of his strong visual style, narrative sense and his ability to bring the best out of actors. Together, they thought carefully about how to represent the old and supernatural worlds.
Fuller describes the visual style as “grounded magic and sometimes untethered magic,” while Cegielski says there is a balance between “a very grounded, visually aggressive palate and whimsical, funny and irreverent elements.”
It is also a case of two showrunners being better than one with Fuller and Green, with the latter believing the collaboration means the show has become more ambitious than it would have been under a single showrunner.
Fuller says: “The fun challenge of this show is to make people believe the world has more in it than they could ever have imagined and is full of wonderful, supernatural elements.”
Perhaps by the time American Gods launches in early 2017, this creative trio will leave viewers feeling like they’re walking on hallowed ground.
The scripted TV business received another boost this week with the news that YouTube has moved into original scripted programming for the first time.
Unveiling a slate of six shows across a range of genres, it revealed that its paid-for service YouTube Red has ordered a TV adaptation of Step Up, the popular street dance movie franchise that featured Channing Tatum.
The series, to be made by Lionsgate TV, will follow dancers in a contemporary performing arts school. Tatum and Jenna Dewan Tatum, who starred in the original movie, will executive produce.
So far, the US$10-per-month service has focused on shows starring top YouTubers such as Felix Kjellberg, aka PewDiePie. However, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki has given a strong indication that scripted content will play an increasingly big part in her plans.
Unveiling the slate, which also included a scripted comedy called Rhett & Link’s Buddy System, she said original series and movies are one of the leading drivers of YouTube Red subscriptions, “with viewership that rivals similar cable shows.” Interestingly, more than half of people watching Red originals are doing so via mobile phones – suggesting there may be a future for vertical video.
Still in the world of streamers, SVoD behemoth Netflix announced that it is backing a true crime drama based on Margaret Atwood’s novel Alias Grace.
The novel follows Grace Marks, a poor Irish immigrant and domestic servant living in Canada who, along with stablehand James McDermott, was convicted in 1843 of murdering her employers. The six-part miniseries will be written and produced by Sarah Polley and will air on Canadian public broadcaster CBC in Canada. Netflix will stream it worldwide.
Also this week, JJ Abrams’ production company Bad Robot has linked up with US talkshow host Tavis Smiley on a miniseries about the death of music icon Michael Jackson.
The series is based on Smiley’s book Before You Judge Me: The Triumph and Tragedy of Michael Jackson’s Last Days. Abrams and Smiley are also working on a TV version of the Smiley’s 2014 book Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s Final Year.
Elsewhere, it has been a busy week for ITV’s pay TV channel ITV Encore, which has announced a series renewal and a miniseries commission. The renewal is for Rainmark Films’ well-received period drama The Frankenstein Chronicles, which stars Sean Bean and was created by Benjamin Ross and Barry Langford.
Billed as a “thrilling and terrifying reimaging of the Frankenstein story,” the first season followed detective John Marlott, a veteran of the Battle of Waterloo who was battling his own demons and is haunted by the loss of his wife and child. In pursuit of a chilling and diabolical killer, Marlott’s investigation took him into the most exalted rooms and darkest corners of Georgian London, a world of body snatchers, anatomists and scientists whose interests came together in the market for dead bodies.
The new series has been commissioned for ITV by controller of drama Victoria Fea and commissioning editor Sarah Conroy. Production is set to begin in Northern Ireland in January 2017.
“We are thrilled to be working once more with Sean Bean in the role of John Marlott, who is a returning hero like no other,” said executive producer Tracey Scoffield. “With the continued support of ITV and (the show’s distributor) Endemol Shine International we want to be more ambitious than ever.”
ITV also announced a new two-hour crime thriller for ITV Encore entitled Dark Heart. In this production, Tom Riley (Da Vinci’s Demon, Monroe) plays Will Wagstaffe, a workaholic detective leading the investigation into the deaths of two unconvicted paedophiles.
The two-hour drama, set in London, is written by acclaimed writer Chris Lang (Unforgotten, A Mother’s Son) and based on the novel Suffer the Children by Adam Creed.
Dark Heart is an ITV Studios production for ITV Encore. It is executive produced by Lang, Kate Bartlett (Jericho, Vera) and Michael Dawson (Vera, Holby City). The producer is Chris Clough (The Missing, Stan Lee’s Lucky Man) and the director is Colin Teague (Jekyll & Hyde, Da Vinci’s Demons).
ITV Studios’ Bartlett said: “Chris Lang has written a truly compelling and atmospheric script. Adam Creed created a fascinating character in Will Wagstaffe with so many layers, and Chris has brilliantly brought him to screen. We’re thrilled Tom Riley is playing him.”
Still on the subject of novel adaptations, there are reports this week that Endemol Shine-owned drama label Kudos has picked up the rights to Robert Harris’s best-selling Ancient Rome-based Cicero Trilogy, which comprises the novels Imperium, Lustrum and Dictator. No broadcaster is attached and Kudos is yet to decide on the format of the adaptation, but the project is likely to attract interest given the calibre of those involved.
In a busy week for new production announcements, pan-European satellite broadcaster Sky and Germany’s Bavaria Film announced that they are developing a €25m (US$27.5m) TV series based on the classic wartime submariner novels Das Boot and Die Festung by Lothar-Günther Buchheim. The series is being set up as a sequel to the 1981 film version of Buchmein’s novels.
Set in 1942 during the Second World War, the eight-hour series will focus mainly on the German point of view as submarine warfare became increasingly ferocious. Tony Saint (Margaret Thatcher: The Long Walk to Finchley, The Interceptor) and Johannes W Betz (The Tunnel, The Spiegel Affair) have been signed up as head writers, while Oliver Vogel and Moritz Polter are attached as executive producers.
Christian Franckenstein, CEO of Bavaria Film, said: “The 1981 film Das Boot is unique, and we are approaching our work with the greatest of respect for this masterpiece. We want to build on the strong brand of Das Boot, telling the story in a contemporary manner by making use of every filmmaking and storytelling technique available to us.”
Still in Germany, UFA Fiction has just unveiled plans to make a film biopic based on the lives of magicians Siegfried and Roy, two of the few truly global celebrities Germany has ever produced.
The film, which will likely be extended into a miniseries for television, will be directed by Philipp Stölzl (Winnetou, Young Goethe in Love, North Face) and scripted by Jan Berger.
Nico Hofmann, UFA producer and co-CEO, commented: “The prospect of working with Siegfried and Roy is the fulfilment of a long-held dream. It’s not only the story of two Germans who became world famous but a plunge into the world of magic and illusion. The lifework of Siegfried and Roy derives from an almost inexhaustible store of energy and creativity. This is the story of two men who set new, never repeated standards in the tough world of show business.”
Siegfried Fischbacher and Roy Uwe Horn met on a cruise ship in 1960, where they developed their first joint show, driven by their shared passion for the art of magic and illusion. They had their international breakthrough in 1966 at a charity show in Monte Carlo. From 1990, they had their own show at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas featuring white tigers, which became their trademark. The spectacular Siegfried and Roy Show was one of the most elaborate stage shows ever. On October 3, 2003, however, the artists’ unique career was brought to an abrupt halt when Roy was critically injured by his favourite tiger, Montecore.
Alongside all of the above production activity, it has also been a busy week for distributors. ITV’s Maigret has been sold by distributor BBC Worldwide to broadcasters including Channel One in Russia, NRK in Norway, TVNZ in New Zealand, RTÉ in Ireland, Finland’s YLE and Prima TV in the Czech Republic. Simultaneously, StudioCanal has sold Section Zéro to Channel One Russia.
AMC’s international network AMC Global, meanwhile, today announced that it has acquired the upcoming anthology drama series The Terror, an adaption of the bestselling novel by Dan Simmons. Scott Free, Emjag Productions and Entertainment 360 are producing the 10-episode drama, which will premiere globally within minutes of its broadcast on AMC in the US.
Written for TV by David Kajganich, the series is set in 1847, when a Royal Naval expedition crew searching for the Northwest Passage is attacked by a mysterious predator that stalks the ships and their crew in a desperate game of survival.
“We’re very excited to bring this gripping dramatic story to AMC Global,” commented Harold Gronenthal, exec VP of programming and operations for AMC and Sundance Channel Global. “With a distinctive combination of science fiction and historical non-fiction, The Terror will complement AMC Global series as Fear the Walking Dead, Humans and Into the Badlands.”
Finally, there are reports this week that showrunner Bryan Fuller is still hoping to revive serial killer drama Hannibal. The show was cancelled by NBC after three seasons but Fuller said there might be room for a revival in late 2017 – once he has dealt with the small matter of a Star Trek reboot for CBS and Starz’ American Gods.
It’s 50 years since sci-fi adventure series Star Trek launched as a TV series. Since then it has given birth to seven TV series and 12 films – and that’s not the end of its intergalactic journey.
This summer there will be a new movie, Star Trek Beyond. And then in 2017 comes a new TV series, to be aired on CBS.
The CBS show is being co-created and produced by Bryan Fuller, who is also the showrunner. Fuller, whose major credits to date include Hannibal, revealed this week that he has invited Nicholas Meyer onto the writing team of the show.
Meyer is widely acknowledged to have re-energised the franchise with his work on the 1982 movie The Wrath of Khan and his subsequent involvement in the fourth and sixth films.
Fuller said: “Nicholas Meyer chased Kirk and Khan around the Mutara Nebula and around Genesis’ flames, he saved the whales with the Enterprise and waged war and peace between Klingons and the Federation. We are thrilled to announce that one of Star Trek’s greatest storytellers will be boldly returning as Nicholas Meyer beams aboard the new Star Trek writing staff.”
It’s too early to know how CBS plans to evolve the show (a female captain on the USS Enterprise, maybe?), but you can guarantee it will be a focal point in terms of international distribution during the coming year.
The last TV iteration of the franchise, Enterprise, aired on The UPN Network (a precursor to The CW) in the US from 2001 to 2005. Internationally, it was mainly restricted to science-fiction-themed channels. But the new Star Trek series feels like it has potential to have a greater impact on the global market.
The most likely outcome is that it will end up on a mix of pay TV and mainstream TV channels (though it is the kind of show that might just sneak into weekend teatime slots on some of the world’s bigger free TV broadcasters). But there are a couple of other possibilities.
One is that CBS might use the show to try to brand its international networks, in the way AMC is now doing with AMC Global and Fear The Walking Dead. Another is that CBS might get an irresistible offer from Netflix or Amazon, both of which have aired the Star Trek back catalogue on their platforms.
Whatever the outcome, expect to see a lot of Star Trek activity at Comic-Con International in San Diego in July.
Meanwhile, four episodes in and American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson has seen its audience slide from 5.1 million to 2.99 million on FX. That’s still very good, however, and has already led to a renewal. For anyone wondering what the subject of the next series might be, FX CEO John Landgraf has been telling the US media it will focus on 2005’s Hurricane Katrina and the devastating impact it had on the people of New Orleans.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Landgraf said next season won’t focus on a singular crime “but there were a series of pretty serious crimes that took place in and around Katrina. Part of what Ryan [Murphy], Nina [Jacobson] and Brad [Simpson] want do with this franchise is use these compelling and entertaining stories to delve into what lies beneath the surface of crime and of our society.
“Katrina is really an interesting decision in that regard. It’s a big, epic story. On one level, it’s a disaster story with all the sort of human scale and tragedy and interest that any story might have, but then inside it there are all these other fascinating sub-stories. Why were the levees flawed? How did they get that way? Why were there hospitals where life-support systems were being turned off? How did a bunch of people end up inside the Superdome, essentially living in squalid conditions?”
One point not raised in this comment is that Katrina brings with it the same background of racial tensions and media frenzy that swirled around the OJ case. Initially, African Americans were accused of committing a series of criminal acts under cover of the storm, but subsequent investigation found that this was the kind of hysterical misinformed rumour that often accompanies such tragic events. Instead, the real story of Katrina was the number of black deaths that took place at the hands of white gun-toting vigilantes. So it will be interesting to see how FX steers through this subject.
Spike Lee previously looked at Katrina for HBO in the documentary When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts. Released in 2006, this was a superb, award-winning piece of work but one that focused primarily on personal testimony related to the storm. It came out before stories about the vigilante killings had been properly investigated and accepted as genuine.
Other noteworthy stories this week include the news that multilingual video-streaming site Viki is partnering with The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman on a new scripted series. Five Year is an original story about a family living under the threat of a deadly meteor hurtling toward Earth.
In an interesting twist, the 16-part show is being produced as a Korean drama by Kirkman’s US-based company Skybound Entertainment.
“This has been a story I have wanted to tell for quite some time, but David [Alpert, production partner and Skybound president/co-founder] and I wanted to make sure it found a proper home where it could grow and breathe creatively. Looking at what Viki has done in not only the dramatic series space, but transforming the way viewers consume and translate media, we knew immediately Five Year had found its home.”
US-Asia TV collaborations are still rare but Viki CEO Tammy Nam believes this is changing: “We’re thrilled to be working with the creators of one of the most popular TV series of all time. The fact that David and Robert wanted to make Five Year as a K-drama is a testament to the popularity and quality of Asian programming. In many ways, Viki and Skybound represent the future of global entertainment, particularly with Hollywood-Asia collaborations and VoD platforms like Viki leading distribution and fan-building.”
In Europe, the biggest greenlight news of the week has been the BBC’s decision to give Red Planet Pictures’ Guadeloupe-based crime drama Death in Paradise a sixth season. Claimed to be the third highest-rating UK drama of 2015, it is also the fourth best-selling British drama export, having been sold to 237 territories.
Also in the UK, BBC2 has ordered a second season of Touchpaper TV’s confessional drama series Murder. The Bafta-winning series was co-created by Robert Jones and Kath Mattock and written by Robert Jones. Continuing with the same format, Murder uses confessions to revisit the missing moments leading up to a death, in search of the truth. Jones and Mattock spent months in the public galleries of the Old Bailey researching real-life murder cases for inspiration and authenticity.
Intercut with CCTV footage, live action and forensic evidence, the show sees protagonists speaking to the camera and giving their version of events. But where does the truth lie when different versions don’t add up?
Elsewhere, SVT in Sweden has ordered a multi-generational drama set at the end of the Second World War in and around a family-run restaurant. Our Time is Now is a 20-part series that explores the lives of the family members and delves into their ambitions following the end of the conflict. The show is set to air in late 2017 and is being coproduced by SVT, Modern Times Group-owned Viaplay and film fund Film Väst. The main writer is Ulf Kvensler and the story is based on an idea by Johan Rosalind.
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.