Tag Archives: Burden of Truth

Following procedure

Procedural series were once the bread and butter of US broadcast networks. But international buyers are finding them harder to come by amid the appetite for increasingly serialised storytelling. DQ examines the future of the story-of-the-week format.

For more than a decade, the Monte Carlo Television Festival has recognised the most watched television dramas in the world with its International Audience Award. Last year’s winner was NCIS, which drew 47.1 million viewers worldwide in the previous 12 months.

Since the gong was first handed out in 2006, NCIS has won three times, while CSI: Crime Scene Investigation has scooped the prize on seven occasions. The Mentalist and House also each have a win to their name.

Notice anything they have in common? They’re all US procedurals – story-of-the-week series that follow a team of crack sleuths as they bid to solve a different crime each week. Or in the case of 2009 winner House, an unlikely doctor and his unconventional medical approach, with new patients being admitted into his care in every episode.

The award is proof that US procedurals continue to be popular around the world, even if they’re not as loved as they once were at home. Because while international broadcasters have been crying out for a new influx of these traditional series, the format has been taking on a decidedly serialised evolution over the past few years. Such is the demand overseas that Germany’s RTL and TF1 in France went so far as to commission their own US procedural, hostage drama Gone, in partnership with NBCUniversal.

NCIS is set for a 16th season

“I feel like they’re on life support,” Adam Pettle, showrunner of legal drama Burden of Truth, says of procedurals. “They still attract probably an older audience, while broadcasters are always trying to find a younger demographic, which is the Netflix generation where television is consumed in a very different way and people bulk-watch TV.”

Yet series such as Blue Bloods, Law & Order: SVU, NCIS (renewed for its upcoming 16th season) and its multiple spin-offs, and the ever-expanding Chicago franchise on NBC are just some of the episodic series still pulling in millions of viewers each week, not to mention the older series still drawing eyeballs in repeats and syndication.

Lloyd Segan, showrunner of detective procedural Private Eyes for Canada’s Global and ION TV in the US, describes case-of-the-week dramas as “comfort food” for viewers. “I can come home and put my feet up and watch a show where the characters are family,” he explains. “The storyline has a beginning, middle and end and I feel comfortable not having to worry about mythologies or binge-watching a series.”

With shooting on season three underway, Segan says Private Eyes – which sees Jason Priestley and Cindy Sampson team up as private investigators – is “completely procedural.” He continues: “The serialised aspects are the relationships between the main characters but the stories themselves are straight procedural. You could probably programme them in any order you wish. You don’t need a recap. The shows play to themselves. It’s a fantastic, delicious feast for audiences all over the world to enjoy.”

One showrunner who knows more about procedurals than most is Peter Lenkov, who is currently running CBS series MacGyver and Hawaii Five-0 (pictured top) and is also behind a pilot remake of Magnum PI for the same network.

MacGyver, recently renewed for a third season, is a reboot of the 1980s show of the same name

“CBS still treads in that pool, they still do those kind of shows and they still do them successfully,” Lenkov says. “I know every season they still develop several traditional procedural series and they try to mix it up with how you get into those worlds and who those characters are.”

However, he adds that the network has been embracing greater serialisation in its case-of-the-week series, supporting character arcs and stories running across multiple episodes.

“That was frowned upon years ago, but is something that the studio and network really welcomes now,” Lenkov says. “My experience there over the last 10 to 15 years has been how much they have embraced serialised arcs within the traditional procedural format.”

Lenkov also has experience on serialised series, having worked on the fourth season of Fox’s real-time thriller 24 in 2004/05. “What we realised when we did that show was, even before bingeing existed, a lot of people were bingeing episodes three or four at a time,” he recalls. “That’s something that really helped changed storytelling on TV.”

Best known for long-running ABC crime procedural Castle, husband-and-wife team Andrew W Marlowe and Terri Edda Miller will be back on the network this summer with Take Two. The series stars Rachel Bilson (The O.C.) as Sam, the former star of a hit cop series who is fresh out of rehab. Desperate to restart her career, she talks her way into shadowing rough-and-tumble private investigator Eddie (Eddie Cibrian) as part of research for a potential comeback role. She soon draws on her experience as a TV cop to help solve a high-profile case, leading them to team up for future cases.

Andrew W Marlowe and Terri Edda Miller’s Castle starred Stana Katic and Nathan Fillion

Echoing Segan, Miller believes viewers love closed-ended stories because “sometimes you don’t have the time to watch a long serialised drama and you just want to come home and watch a story that has an ending to it. There’s also the aspect of beloved characters in those stories, and that doesn’t go out of fashion either.”

Take Two, like Castle before it, is described as a light-hearted procedural that allows its creators to place just as much focus on the characters’ relationship as the crimes they solve each week.

“Terri and I both come from features so the ability to close out a story in an episode feels very comfortable to us,” Marlowe says. “But we also like big, epic storytelling where you’re telling a novel over 15 episodes. We watch that as well. The nice thing about ‘peak TV’ is there’s room for them all. For us, it isn’t one pushing the other out of the market. It’s just an expanding international palette, to allow room for all sorts of storytelling.”

Different types of storytelling don’t just extend beyond the procedural, but also within the episodic format itself. “There are some procedurals that depend upon different mechanisms of storytelling,” Marlowe continues. “Something like CSI is much more interested in the forensic evidence than it is necessarily the character journey, whereas other procedurals are much more interested in focusing on the character journeys and what their approach to crime-solving is. Even in a procedural format, there are plenty of sub-genres there for the audience.”

Hakan Kousetta, chief operating officer for television at See-Saw Films (Top of the Lake), notes that there has been an increased focus on serialisation but says all of the main US broadcasters are still hunting for “that killer procedural.”

Shenae Grimes-Beech (left) and Angela Griffin in US police procedural The Detail, which is based on UK show Scott & Bailey

“It’s to do with shows having characters that are so strong that the audience connects and comes back to them week on week,” he says. “Also, these particular shows contain a puzzle at their heart, which audiences love to engage in solving. In procedurals you are rebooting a new story in the same world each week, with gradual character evolution, whereas in serialised drama you need to create both a world and a set of characters that transform from one episode to the next, while delivering complex plots that hold the series together and hopefully carry your audience through to a satisfying ending.”

Pettle admits the procedural is going through an evolution. “It does still exist but it’s on its way out,” he argues. “I don’t see a younger audience tuning into it. Maybe there’s just not enough story. It’s very linear and incredibly well crafted but I think we’re moving in a different direction. The Good Wife is a procedural format with legal cases of the week but they meld personal and procedural so effortlessly on that show.

“For me as a writer and showrunner, it’s very difficult to plug into something for eight months where you’re not digging deep and writing about real people and exploring the multiple dimensions of different characters. I don’t think I could run a show like NCIS. I wouldn’t be hired to do it. I wouldn’t stay emotionally engaged in it as a creator.”

Pettle, who is also a co-showrunner on The Detail, admits CBC would not have commissioned a serialised drama like Burden of Truth six years ago, at a time when there was more demand for traditional episodic TV. The series, which like Private Eyes and The Detail is distributed by Entertainment One, sees Kristin Kreuk play a lawyer who returns to her hometown and tackle a legal case with social issues at its core.

“There’s still that balance broadcasters want,” Pettle says. “I remember on Saving Hope, which I co-ran for two years and ran on my own for two years, from year to year when we went into CTV at the beginning of the season, it was always like, ‘We want it to be more procedural,’ or, ‘We want it to be more character-driven.’ One year they gave percentages – ‘It can be 40% procedural.’ What’s in fashion is always changing.”

Grey’s Anatomy – ‘a great example of a show that has both serialised and case-of-the-week content’

Pettle’s The Detail co-showrunner Ley Lukins also believes serialised storytelling has come to the forefront thanks to the introduction of Netflix, Amazon and other streaming services. “But I do believe there’s still a heavy appetite for case-of-the-week, episodic dramas,” she says. “Grey’s Anatomy is a great example of a show that has both serialised and case-of-the-week content within it. And even with something like Law & Order would still draw an audience today. But to me, and from the conversations I’ve had with people, there’s more of an expectation these days that there is a serialised element to the case of the week. If you marry the professional and the personal well, you can serve both audiences quite well.”

In the case of The Detail, which is based on British crime drama Scott & Bailey, it was US broadcaster ION Television, rather than its Canadian network CTV, that sought more procedural elements in the series. “It’s not to say we didn’t have character and that character wasn’t a major part of it, but it was definitely their wish to have a more case-of-the-week type of series because it does well for them,” Lukins says.

Hybrids such as Blindspot and The Blacklist, which marry deep mythologies with new cases each week, were heavily influenced by serialised US cable dramas, the success of which led broadcast networks to “find their own language” and remain competitive, Marlowe notes.

“There were lots of interesting experiments out there to see what the audience would respond to,” he says. “But what sustains is good storytelling and good characters. If people are engaged in the storytelling and the characters, whether it’s serialised, closed-ended or a hybrid, the audience will show up for it.”

The resurgence of procedurals, coupled with television’s never-ending infatuation with recycling old hits, means shows such as Magnum PI and Cagney & Lacey have been piloted this development season. “What you see right now is a confluence of familiar formats that people know are tried and true but also bringing in the element of IP,” says Marlowe, who believes the biggest challenge facing creators is how to break through the noise. “Some recognisable IP certainly helps.”

Burden of Truth stars Kristin Kreuk

Lenkov says he simply prefers the challenge of mapping out 22 stories a season. “I just like the puzzle aspect of building a plot each week,” he says. “I find that a lot of fun as a writer.”

But when they’re boiled down to their bare bones, procedural series are built on the simple concept of good versus evil, he adds. “If you look at the live numbers of a lot of CBS procedurals, they do really well. It shows you there’s an audience there that still likes that format. When eight million people tune in to watch a show live, that tells you a lot of people still like the genre. They still like the crime procedural. I think it’s alive and well.”

René Balcer, best known for Law & Order and, more recently, Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders, certainly believes there is still a place for procedural television. As for what such shows might look like in the future, that is less clear. “One can argue that the success of the just-the-facts procedurals of the 1950s, such as Dragnet, was a reaction to the subjective character-driven film noir detective films of the 1940s like The Big Sleep. Audiences liked them because they were new and different. Character-driven procedurals like Hill Street Blues were a reaction to the Dragnets and Adam-12s. And, like audiences, creative content-makers get bored with the status quo, so expect the pendulum to keep swinging.”

However, Mikko Alanne, showrunner of National Geographic’s The Long Road Home, begs to differ. “In broadcast, due to the weekly format, there will likely remain room for them, but I definitely feel audiences are increasingly gravitating toward more character-driven serialised stories,” he says.

With season two of Burden of Truth in development, Pettle says there will be another single case at the show’s heart, which will focus on sharing information and protecting people’s privacy. But, interestingly, he adds there will be more episodic elements.

“It will be a more high-octane season,” he says. “Season one was all in a small town and this season will be split between the city and a small town. There will be more stories – it will still centre around a serialised case but there will be more story and a faster pace.”

Lukins concludes: “I don’t believe procedurals will ever go out of style. In a lot of ways, in shows that might not be considered procedurals per se, there is a case-of-the-week element, it’s just maybe not a cop case or a medical case. But there’s a pattern to be found in anything. And so procedurals may change in terms of how they’re delivered but I do think the formula of the procedural is here to stay.”

As broadcasters around the world continue to seek procedurals for their schedules, it’s hard to argue with Lukin’s assertion. But with today’s showrunners preferring to delve into personality over plot, what shape they may take in future is less clear.

tagged in: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Kreuk in court

Burden of Truth stars Kristin Kreuk as Joanna Hanley, a hot-shot lawyer who returns to her home town and gets pulled into a case involving a group of sick high school girls, while also facing some unresolved family business in town.

In this DQTV video, Kreuk reveals why this legal drama stood out for the actor, who was keen to step away from genre series such as Smallville and Beauty & the Beast, which brought her fame. She also tells of the appeal of playing a flawed character in a series with a social conscience at its core.

Kreuk also discusses her approach to acting and how she is now stepping up her role behind the camera.

Burden of Truth is a 10-part serialised drama produced by ICF Films, Eagle Vision and Entertainment One (eOne) for Canada’s CBC. eOne also distributes the series internationally.

tagged in: , , , , , ,

By hook or Kreuk

A year after Beauty & the Beast came to an end, star Kristin Kreuk is heading back to the small screen in Canadian drama Burden of Truth. The actor tells DQ about the attraction of this small-town legal drama with social justice at its core – and her role in bringing the series to air.

It’s been 17 years since Julia Roberts’ Erin Brockovich valiantly fought for a small community in the face of big business, earning the actor an Oscar for her portrayal of the real-life heroine. And now a legal drama in production in Canada is drawing parallels with that story with its own young woman fighting for justice.

Burden of Truth stars Kristin Kreuk as Joanna Hanley, a big-city lawyer who returns to her home town to take on what she thinks is a simple case, only to find herself in a battle to protect a group of sick girls. Running alongside the legal story is a mystery involving Hanley, who left the town in unexplained circumstances as a teenager and begins searching for the truth upon her return.

“The dailies look gorgeous and I feel like we’re doing something different, taking a few risks,” says Kreuk, who is best known for long-running roles in Smallville and Beauty & the Beast. “I’m excited about that. For me, it’s new and also, for a Canadian show, it goes at a slower pace. It’s a serialised drama that looks at things that are pretty topical, from environmental issues through to abuses of power and abuse within families and communities, and also through female empowerment and success. So we’re really looking at topical issues in a slow, emotional way that I feel isn’t common in
legal dramas.”

The Vancouver native, who is also an executive producer on the 10-part show, first became involved in Burden of Truth when she was pitched several ideas for series by producer and distributor Entertainment One (eOne). Burden of Truth stood out, she says, because of the complexity of the lead character, whose seemingly idyllic life begins to unravel when she returns to her home town.

Burden of Truth stars Kristin Kreuk as lawyer Joanna Hanley

After finishing on The CW’s Beauty, which ran for four seasons until 2016, Kreuk sought a project where she could be involved as much in the storytelling process as she is on screen. So when eOne came to her with Burden of Truth, she was keen to be in the development room and to speak to the writers.

“While we were in the build up to the show, I was involved very creatively, more than anything else,” she says, speaking to DQ midway through production on location in Winnipeg. “A lot of my notes would focus on Joanna herself, so I’ve built this character. [Creator] Brad Simpson and I met very early on and just talked about who she was. We created her together instead of there being someone on the page already.”

Simpson, who is a lawyer, has based Burden of Truth on his own courtroom experiences, says Kreuk, while the actor looked to her friends in the legal business and high-profile Canadian criminal lawyer Marie Henein as the inspiration for Joanna.

“She’s interesting; she’s very much a legal person,” she says of her character. “She doesn’t see herself as a people person. So when confronted with emotional interaction, she really does struggle. It’s not like she has a facade, but I find her human. She’s struggling and you can see that struggle very clearly, even through her hiding in the job, the law and
her work.”

When it comes to choosing her roles, Kreuk says her decision is often based on her reaction to a script, while Burden of Truth represents the first time she has proactively shaped her character from the very beginning of the creative process. It also marks a departure from the supernatural and superhero series for which she has become known.

The series launches on CBC in Canada next month

“I realise I play a lot of characters who have really complicated family histories and who really struggle with the relationship dynamics with their parents in some way, which offers a lot of juice for a character and for a series,” she admits. “But this show is by far the best opportunity I’ve had to explore that. This is not a sci-fi show, we’re not dealing with supernatural beings or creatures. The stakes are more present, pressing and realistic, which I think allows for a different exploration of character.”

That character is now set to join the swathe of strong females leading drama series in 2017, following in the footsteps of The Handmaid’s Tale, Big Little Lies, Doctor Foster and Feud.

“It’s the time of the woman; it’s been a long time coming,” the actor notes. “A lot of people want something other than the shows they’re being presented with. And as women, we want to see female stories and we just haven’t seen them. Simultaneously, opening up positions for women in producing, directing and writing allows for these stories to be told. The fact they’ve done so well and they’re dynamic and interesting has encouraged the creation of more.”

Joining Kreuk among the executive ranks is Ilana Frank, a prolific producer known for series such as Saving Hope and Rookie Blue. Burden of Truth is one of two new shows she is backing for Canadian broadcaster CBC, with pacey detective series The Detail also in production.

“I wasn’t all that interested in doing a legal procedural show but I liked the idea of a show that had the law as the basis for the premise,” Frank says. “I do very character-driven things mostly, or I try to, even if it has a procedural element. So that’s how I looked at this too. It’s about characters and place – the town and the countryside really play an important part.”

Once Kreuk and eOne began developing the series, Frank’s IFC Films came on board before CBC placed a series order based on Simpson’s pilot script and series outline. Eagle Vision also coproduces the show, which premieres on January 10.

“What appealed to me was the idea of it being an Erin Brockovich show, a woman with a mission,” Frank says. “I liked that juxtaposition of what she was and what she’s going to become. It was an interesting journey. I worked with Bradley and brought in Adam [Pettle, showrunner], who I’ve worked with for about 15 years. He and Bradley worked together on Rookie Blue so they knew each other quite well. Kristin was great and she was very much involved in the evolution of it.”

Burden of Truth is shot entirely on location, another first for Frank, who says she is delighted with the results despite admitting to being anxious over the location shoot. “I just love the look of the show and the feel of it,” she adds. “The first season of production [on any show] is always challenging. It’s a bit on the fly. You’re always trying to make adjustments to something because it’s not 100% in place, but the show is going along pretty well. I’m pretty happy with the production of it.”

It is Frank’s theatre background that fuels her attraction to character-building, with the aforementioned medical drama Saving Hope and cop series Rookie Blue more serialised in their approach than traditional procedurals.

“So for me, it’s about actors, character and development. That’s what I love,” she says, noting the importance of casting in any successful series. “Once you give that part to somebody, it takes on a life of its own. That’s really important and my work in the theatre has helped me a tremendous amount in terms of casting, because scripts and casting, that’s all there is. If you have good scripts and good casting, you can make a good show. There’s the formula.”

tagged in: , , , ,