Tag Archives: Capital

Writing shows with mass audience appeal

Peter Lenkov
Peter Lenkov

In this golden age of TV, it’s easy to fixate on the high-end limited series that dominate cable and SVoD schedules. But spare a thought for the mainstream scripted series that deliver huge ratings and ad revenues week after week for networks.

A good example is CBS crime procedural Hawaii Five-0, which is currently dominating Friday nights at 21.00 in the US with an audience of approximately 10 million, compared with the meagre 1.7 million that Fox’s The Exorcist is currently attracting – and the 500,000 that prefer to watch The CW series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

A reboot of the classic 1960s/1970s series, the new Hawaii Five-0 has performed consistently well for CBS since it launched in 2010, usually averaging around 11-12 million viewers a season. At time of writing it is up to 150 episodes, which just goes to show the immense commercial value of the franchise. Keep in mind that it has also been licensed around the world to the likes of AXN Asia, Cuatro in Spain and Rai Due in Italy. It also performs a key role in handing over a big audience to 22.00 drama Blue Bloods.

The first episode of CBS's Macgyver reboot picked up almost 11 million viewers
The first episode of CBS’s Macgyver reboot picked up almost 11 million viewers

With around 25 episodes a year, the show sucks in a lot of writing talent. All told, more than 50 scribes have been involved in writing episodes since the start. One name, however, is ever-present – Peter Lenkov. Lenkov wrote the season one pilot and still writes the first and last episodes of every new season, usually in tandem with another writer such as Eric Guggenheim or Matt Wheeler.

Canadian Lenkov’s credits prior to Hawaii Five-0 included TV series 24 and CSI: NY, plus films RIPD and Demolition Man. He’s also played a central role in the reboot of MacGyver on CBS this year. Although the show hasn’t received a good response from critics, it has rated well enough to secure a full-season order of 22 episodes. If it can keep its ratings at the 7.5-8 million mark then it stands a good chance of getting a second season.

Another writer who has reason to feel pleased with himself this week is Stuart Urban, whose four-part drama The Secret for ITV has just been named best drama at the Royal Television Society NI Programme Awards. The show, which stars James Nesbitt, tells the story of a real-life murderous pact between a dentist and his mistress. Produced by Hat Trick, it is based on Deric Henderson’s non-fiction account of the story, Let This Be Our Secret.

James Nesbitt in The Secret
James Nesbitt in The Secret

Now 58, Urban’s career dates back to Bergerac in the 1980s. He subsequently won a Bafta for An Ungentlemanly Act, his dramatisation of the first 36 hours of The Falklands War. In 1993, Urban created his own production company, Cyclops Vision, under which he produced a range of feature films and documentaries including the black-comedy movie May I Kill U?.

Still on the awards front, it has also been a good week for Anna and Joerg Winger, whose German-language series Deutschland 83 has just been named best drama at the International Emmy Awards in New York. We featured the Wingers in our focus on German writers last week.

The winner of the TV movie/miniseries category was the Kudos/BBC1 production Capital. Based on John Lanchester’s novel Capital, this three-parter was written by Peter Bowker, who has since gone on to have a hit with The A Word, a BBC drama based on an Israeli show.

Walcyr Carrasco
Walcyr Carrasco

Best telenovela went to Globo’s Hidden Truths, written by Walcyr Carrasco and directed by Mauro Mendonça Filho. The show, which aired last year, explores the fashion underworld. Carrasco has been writing telenovelas since the late 1980s. Among his more recent titles was an adaptation of the Jorge Amado novel Gabriela and 2016’s popular Eta Mundo Bom!.

This week has also seen US pay TV channel BBC America greenlight a second season of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, a series based on the books by Douglas Adams. The show has been adapted for TV by Max Landis, an American multi-hyphenate who has written several movie screenplays including Chronicle, American Ultra and Victor Frankenstein. He is also an executive producer of SyFy’s horror anthology series Channel Zero.

Landis is currently writing Bright, a supernatural cop thriller starring Will Smith that has received US$90m backing from Netflix.

Elsewhere, cable network TNT is piloting Snowpiercer, a futuristic thriller based on the 2013 film about a huge train that travels around a post-apocalyptic frozen world with the remnants of humanity on board. The TV version will be written by Josh Friedman, whose credits include Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and War of the Worlds.

Frog Stone
Frog Stone

“Snowpiercer has one of the most original concepts to hit the screen in the last decade, and it’s one that offers numerous opportunities for deeper exploration in a series format,” explained Sarah Aubrey, exec VP of original programming at TNT.

At the other end of the budgetary scale, BBC4 in the UK has ordered a bittersweet comedy about a reserved schoolteacher who agrees to go on a road trip with her mother when she learns that the latter is dying. Entitled Bucket, the show is written by Frog Stone, who will also star alongside Miriam Margolyes. Stone began writing comedy with the Footlights at Cambridge University and has honed her craft writing comedy sketches for Radio 4.

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Acorn TV is US growth opportunity

And Then There Were None
And Then There Were None is among the overseas shows that have been added to Acorn

Opportunities for international content to be aired in the US have always been limited – outside of scripted formats, Spanish-language drama for the Hispanic audience and commercially driven Canadian series produced with the US in mind.

However, the emergence of SVoD platform Acorn TV has helped open up the market. Over the last few months, the platform has acquired rights to shows like The Secret Agent (UK), Jericho (UK), Jack Irish (Australia), The Brokenwood Mysteries (New Zealand), Dominion Creek (Republic of Ireland) and The Disappearance (France).

This week, RLJ Entertainment-owned Acorn has continued its acquisition spree by picking up exclusive SVoD rights to UK dramas And Then There Were None and Capital from Agatha Christie Limited and FremantleMedia respectively.

Both are miniseries, underlining the fact that Acorn is a way for producers of short-run content to reach a market that favours longer series.

Acorn’s role in the market is reinforced in a couple of other ways. The first is that it is also an established player in DVD and blu-ray, which means it is able to offer content owners broad-based home entertainment deals. The second is that it is also exploring the potential for coproductions with European partners. Its goal is to make original Agatha Christie dramas for the US market.

Wolf Creek stars John Jarratt
Wolf Creek stars John Jarratt

Acorn isn’t the only emerging opportunity for non-US content to crack the Americas. This week, Zodiak Rights licensed all North and Latin American rights for Australia thriller Wolf Creek to Lionsgate. Within the US, Wolf Creek will air in 80 million homes via Pop TV, a joint-venture channel that Lionsgate runs with CBS.

Based on the feature film of the same name, Wolf Creek tells the story of a murdering psychopath who wreaks havoc in the Australian Outback.

Lionsgate president of worldwide television and digital distribution Jim Packer said: “This is the kind of terrifying, in-your-face thriller that has become a Lionsgate trademark, and we expect it to resonate with audiences. We believe Wolf Creek will add an exciting new dimension to Pop’s growing roster of programming.”

Still on acquisitions, Viacom International Media Networks has picked Syfy’s Wynnona Earp series for its Spike channel in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Belgium, the Middle East and Africa. The series is based on the IDW Publishing graphic novel from Beau Smith, which follows a descendent of Wyatt Earp as she battles demons and other supernatural beings. VIMN’s pick up follows Syfy’s decision to renew the series for season two last week.

Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson in HBO's Ballers
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson in HBO’s Ballers

Main production headlines include the news that A+E-owned channel Lifetime has greenlit a TV version of 1988 movie Beaches, with Frozen star Idina Menzel in the lead role. The movie-to-TV series trend has been very prevalent in the US over the last couple of years, with cable channels tending to fare a bit better than the big four networks.

Lifetime, for example, adapted Steel Magnolias in 2012 and was rewarded with record ratings. Beaches was a big hit in 1988. It starred Bette Midler and introduced the world to the Grammy award-winning song Wind Beneath My Wings.

HBO, meanwhile, has renewed Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s sports-themed comedy-drama Ballers for a third season. Created by Stephen Levinson, the show features Johnson as a retired NFL superstar mentoring younger players. The season three renewal comes despite the fact the second season has just kicked off with low ratings compared with season one. The latest episodes scored 1.3 million viewers compared with season one’s 1.7 million average.

HBO is also having to field constant questions about the future for its hit series Games of Thrones, season six of which finished in late June. The network has said the show will end after season eight, but rumours abound that HBO is looking at spin-offs. Such is the strength of the franchise that it would be very surprising if HBO gives up on this ratings juggernaut without a serious fight.

The Last Ship
The Last Ship has been given a fourth run on TNT

Also renewed this week was TNT’s The Last Ship, which has been given a fourth season of 13 episodes. That decision is no surprise given that the show is reaching an average of 7.6 million viewers per episode across all platforms.

Based on William Brinkley’s novel, the series chronicles a global catastrophe that nearly wipes out the world’s population. Because of its positioning, the Navy destroyer USS Nathan James avoids falling victim to the devastating tragedy. But now, the captain and crew must confront a new existence where they may be among the few survivors.

In a slightly unusual story, US pay TV network Epix has created a 360-degree interactive video experience to support its upcoming original drama Berlin Station. The interactive video, which is available online and via mobile, includes extended storylines developed with the show’s writers. According to Epix, the interactive content will “provide additional information about the characters and extend plot lines with an immersive experience that expands with each new episode of the series. (It will) build fan engagement and facilitate deeper exploration of the plot.”

Mark Greenberg, president and CEO of Epix, added: “Epix was designed for cross-platform viewing. Now, we’re tapping the latest technology to create new approaches to storytelling.”

The Last Tycoon has been adapted from the F Scott Fitzgerald novel of the same name
The Last Tycoon has been adapted from the F Scott Fitzgerald novel of the same name

Ayzenberg designed the digital experience and led the project development. “The best stories have many layers and seemingly endless possibilities,” said Rebecca Markarian, its senior VP of digital and social media. “We aimed to deliver that with BerlinStation.com and I’m confident we delivered through authentic storytelling and innovative technology.”

In other news, Amazon has greenlit a full miniseries version of F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon after the pilot received a positive response from subscribers.

News from Canada, meanwhile, is that production company True Gravity has joined a sci-fi drama series from filmmaker Robert Watts. Called Election Day, the show is set in the year 2055 with the world heading towards economic collapse. It follows the first election to select a world president whose mission is to contain a global revolution from humans with enhanced capabilities.

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Hornby’s Love lost on BBC1

Love, Nina is performing below the slot average on BBC1
Nick Hornby’s Love, Nina is performing below the slot average on BBC1

There can’t be many countries in the world where the TV, theatre and literary/publishing sectors are as inextricably entwined as in the UK. Illustrating this point is new BBC1 comedy drama Love, Nina, which debuted last Friday at 21.30.

Based on a best-selling memoir by Nina Stibbe, the five-part miniseries has been adapted for the screen by Highbury-based author Nick Hornby (Fever Pitch, About a Boy).

It tells the story of a young live-in nanny (Nina) who moves to North London in the 1980s to work for a literary editor with two young boys, the mother of whom is played by Hampstead resident Helena Bonham Carter. In the book, the young Nina (Faye Marsay) is exposed to literary heavyweights like Jonathan Miller, Michael Frayn and Alan Bennett – all of whom live in the vicinity or pay the house a visit.

Explaining how the project came about, Hornby said: “Nina Stibbe and I share an editor, Mary, and she sent me a proof copy of the book. I’m bound to think this, but she has good taste, so when she said it was brilliant I took a look and couldn’t quite believe how good it was.

Nick Hornby
Nick Hornby

“The first thing that attracted me was that it was funny, and there are so few books that are properly funny from beginning to end. That was the first thing I wanted to dig into, but it’s about a charming and an eccentric world as well. They’re very real people and it’s a situation you don’t come across every day.”

In terms of the writing process, Hornby added: “Nina didn’t read the scripts until I had completed the whole set. We weren’t really in touch during the writing process, although sometimes I would ask her something and she would provide the answer – factual stuff. She was a dream and she trusted us to get on with it.”

As for the challenges, he said: “I didn’t feel that there were any challenges, just opportunities. Nina glosses over comic material quickly because she is writing letters to her sister and she talks about incidents in two or three lines. Of course, you’ve got to open it out, but the characters are in there and the situations are there. Nina’s letters quite often included snatches of dialogue so it was my privilege and pleasure to be able to get to run those on. What SJ (Clarkson, the director) has done with it is incredible. It looks like a quirky indie movie. It’s visually very rich and it certainly doesn’t look like a sitcom. I can’t recall anything quite like it.”

Toby Jones in BBC1's Capital
Toby Jones in BBC1’s Capital

It’s early days, but the response to the show seems mixed. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Guardian – which is as North London as the subject matter, Hornby and Bonham-Carter – was positive: “The most important thing is that Hornby and director SJ Clarkson have captured the spirit and hilariousness of the book. It’s a joy.”

Less positive are the audience figures, which came in at around 2.6 million (compared with the four million or so that usually view BBC1 at around this time). This could be explained by the fact that the show was up against ITV’s The Secret, starring James Nesbitt. But Love, Nina also has a pretty lacklustre IMDb rating of 6.9, which suggests that those who did tune in were not that enthusiastic.

As an Arsenal fan, and someone who holidayed in Hackney during the 1970s, I have a residual affection for Hornby. But my suspicion is that the preoccupations of the North London elite are not really right for BBC1’s audience – even when viewed through the lens of a young woman newly arrived from Leicester.

The Secret stars James Nesbitt
ITV’s The Secret stars James Nesbitt

Better in ratings terms was BBC1’s Capital, which looked at contemporary South London and the issues that have arisen from rising house prices. Although this show also scored pretty poorly on IMDb, its subject matter resonated sufficiently with the wider audience to achieve an audience in the 4.5-5 million range. Love, Nina would probably have been better suited to BBC4, where we would have delighted in its eccentricity rather than scrutinised its audience.

Also in the news this week is Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, an eight-part series for BBC America that will be distributed internationally by IMG. This show, which will debut in the autumn, is based on the books by the late Douglas Adams, author of the iconic Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series.

It follows the bizarre adventures of eccentric detective Dirk Gently and his assistant Todd. Interestingly, Dirk Gently was previously adapted by BBC4 in the UK in 2010 – with Howard Overman (Misfits) as the writer and Stephen Mangan heading the cast. However, it was not renewed.

The new version is being written by Max Landis, a 31-year-old LA native whose credits include Chronicle, Victor Frankenstein and American Ultra. So we can expect a very different variation on Adams’s unique humour.

Frank Spotnitz will no longer be showrunner on The Man in the High Castle
Frank Spotnitz will no longer be showrunner on The Man in the High Castle

Meanwhile, there was a major surprise this week with the news that Europe-based showrunner Frank Spotnitz has stepped back slightly from Amazon’s alternative-history drama The Man in the High Castle. The show is currently in production on season two after completing a successful run on the platform late last year.

Spotnitz has not said much on the subject but Amazon released this statement: “Given the ambition and scope of the series, the decision has been made to locate all creative efforts on The Man in the High Castle to the west coast; Frank Spotnitz will remain as an executive producer and step back from showrunner. His responsibilities will be managed by our deep and talented bench of producers. We are enormously grateful to him for bringing our customers on one of the most watched original shows on Amazon Video and we are excited about the team’s vision for season two.”

Spotnitz has been in heavy demand as a writer recently and is currently working on the Renaissance-set Medici: Masters of Florence. Starring Dustin Hoffman as Giovanni de Medici, this eight-episode series is being sold internationally by Wild Bunch TV and featured prominently at the recent MipTV market in Cannes.

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Creating Capital

Airing at the end of 2015, Capital told the story of residents living on a single London street transformed by soaring property prices. DQ finds out how the BBC drama was adapted from novel to screen.

When it was first published in 2012, John Lanchester’s novel Capital was described as an astute observation of London during the 2008 financial crash.

Set in a single south London street, it tells the story of the residents of Pepys Road, which has been transformed by rising property prices. They include an investment banker and his shopaholic wife, a Polish builder, a Zimbabwean refugee illegally working as a traffic warden and a pensioner who has lived her entire life in the same house.

Lanchester’s novel has since been adapted for television by Peter Bowker and production company Kudos Film & Television (Humans, Broadchurch), with an all-star cast including Toby Jones (Roger), Rachael Stirling (Arabella) and Radoslaw Kaim (Bogdan). Also appearing are Wunmi Mosaku (Quentina), Adeel Aktar (Ahmed) and Gemma Jones (Petunia).

Bowker and Kudos’s Derek Wax executive produced the three-part miniseries with the BBC’s Lucy Richer. It was produced by Matt Strevens (Cucumber) and directed by Euros Lyn (Happy Valley).

DQ spoke to Lanchester, Wax and Strevens to discuss how the show was brought to life for BBC1, which began airing the series in November last year.

Three London streets were used to recreate Pepys Road
Three London streets were used to recreate the setting of Pepys Road

John, how would you describe your book, and did you ever think it would be made into a TV series?
Lanchester: No, I didn’t. It never crossed my mind. I set out to write what I thought of privately as my big fat London novel, as I was very interested in the condition of London and the way it has changed. I’m very interested in the way people live private parallel lives in London and have neighbours who don’t really know each other. So it’s a novel about a community that isn’t really a community – people living in close proximity who have separate lives, separate agendas and separate concerns, and there’s a plot that brings them together when they start getting anonymous postcards through their doors saying, ‘We want what you have.’ That’s the trigger for the story.

It’s been described as a ‘state of the nation’ story. What was it that you wanted to say about society?
Lanchester: George Orwell once said the hardest thing to write about is the thing that’s immediately in front of your face. I became very interested in what was immediately in front of my face – the extent, the speed and the scale of the change in London. I’ve lived in London nearly 30 years and it’s changed astonishingly. That struck me as a really interesting thing – not to sermonise about or have a theory about, but just to describe. That was the plan.

How did Kudos win the rights to the book?
Lanchester: A number of people were interested in it. I talked to some people but I knew it would always be Derek. I particularly liked that he saw the book in the same way I did, and I trusted his sense of tone. Tone is the most important thing in some respects – if you get that wrong then nothing else really matters. I had a strong sense that we saw it the same way; that was the crucial thing.

A narrative strand centring on a young footballer was removed from the story to ease the transition to TV
A narrative strand centring on a footballer was removed from the story to ease the transition to TV

Derek, what did you see in the book that would make a good TV show?
Wax: The book captured my imagination straight away. John has an extraordinary insight into people, which makes his work very real and authentic. Many novels with a sociopolitical dimension seem like they’re trying to illustrate some political point, whereas there was an ambiguity and ambivalence about Capital’s characters that made you feel there was something much richer and more complex going on. The fact we live these parallel lives with people who are often our neighbours felt very true to life. There are some people living on the same street who don’t even know what’s happening next door. And it’s not just about the neighbours, there’s an unbridgeable gulf at some level within families as well.

What were some of the challenges you faced bringing the book to the screen?
Lanchester: The main omission compared with the book is a narrative strand about an African footballer called Freddy Kamo who comes to London aged 17 and has just started to play first-team football. There’s a whole story and set of characters around him but within 30 seconds of saying hello for the first time, Peter (Bowker) and I agreed it couldn’t be done on TV. The fact is, you put football on television and for some reason it always looks a bit shit. So that was a very thorough and painless surgical incision that happened right at the start.

Did you work alongside Bowker in the script phase?
Lanchester: It’s Pete’s baby. There were various points at which we had talks, particularly at the beginning when we discussed structure and shape, and then there were a couple of specific points to do with the City of London that Pete wanted to talk through.

The producers faced a challenge in exploring so many characters in a three-part miniseries
The producers faced a challenge in exploring so many characters in a three-part miniseries

Was it always destined to be a three-parter?
Wax: The person we should mention is Lucy Richer at the BBC because she’d read the book at the same time as I had and also loved it. Whether these things are discussed in internal meetings at the BBC as to how much they can stretch episodically for literary adaptations, they’d decided three was the number. I think we could have stretched it to four or maybe more. We did have to reduce some of the characters a little bit more. Losing the footballer was a very good decision because he’s coming to play at a Premier League football team so you’d have had a completely fictional football team with all these extras playing football. If it’s supposed to be Chelsea, how could you possibly make it feel real? The ambition was always to make it feel completely authentic and real.

How was the show put together considering it’s set on a street that doesn’t exist in real life?
Strevens: The terrifying thing was maintaining the authenticity of it – it’s multi-stranded and we had only seven weeks to shoot it, so we had to work out how you service all those stories and afford to shoot in London. London is hugely expensive and you can’t move around it. Wherever you put your base, it can take half an hour to move a few streets. We did look very briefly at the idea of using general views of London and then filming somewhere else, but we scotched that straight away. It was very important to us that London was the central character. Trying to double anywhere else as London wouldn’t quite cut it, so we went looking for places in London. Where John had set it, even though he wasn’t specific, it felt like Clapham (a district in south-west London). There were two or three streets John had in his mind when writing, but even he had ‘cut and shut’ Pepys Road – it was an amalgamation of a few streets. That’s what we had to find. But we couldn’t find a street with the right mix of gentrification that also had a corner shop. We also didn’t want to be on one street for too long because there’s a lot of noise and vehicles, and we didn’t want to disturb the locals too much. In the end, we used three streets for Pepys Road. The gift was Petunia’s house. The exterior you see has the same interior as that on screen and the way it’s dressed in real life is pretty much the way you see it on screen. We found a lady whose story matched Petunia’s – she had lived there since the 1950s. We were really lucky. The difficulty was the amount of story that had to be told in such a short schedule.

Wax: We should pay huge tribute to Pete Bowker. He was confronted with eight different strands and it would have been very stylised to have introduced the different characters via captions on screen. But in one of the first scenes, you see the characters on the Tube and the baton being passed from one to the other, allowing viewers to get to know them slowly and gradually but very organically – that was a mixture of Pete’s writing and Euros’s direction. You gradually start to absorb these characters into your bloodstream.

Lanchester: In a novel you can just say, ‘here’s another character,’ but it was very interesting, from a novelist’s point of view, to see how rigorous purely visual storytelling is. If you don’t see it, it didn’t happen.

Author John Lanchester describes the adaptation process as 'entirely positive'
Author John Lanchester describes the adaptation process as ‘entirely positive’

Was it a risk to introduce so many characters right at the start and hope the viewers stuck around to find out about their individual stories?
Wax: It was a challenge because you want to have enough depth to allow viewers to get into those characters and to feel you’re offering a substantial meal, not just a snack. We only had three or four stabs at Roger in the first episode because of the challenge of all the other stories.

Lanchester: With just three episodes, you do leave a lot out. The novel is 175,000 words, so the actors knew more than they let on. The actors knew quite a lot about the characters and their back stories and I definitely feel they brought something to it. They inhabited them.

Wax: We were very lucky with casting. Some actors were quite well known and some were discoveries to us. The novel had this wonderful Dickensian opening chapter and we probably thought more about that opening chapter than anything else, because it describes this world in which this street was once full of detached homes that were not worth very much money but that have become gentrified houses over generations. They’ve become characters in their own right. We showed that partly through a three-minute backstory on Petunia , telling her life story at the beginning of episode one, which I think was a way of trying to visually do what John described in the book. For me, that opening chapter rivals Bleak House as a piece about where we live now and how things have changed, but through the lens of just one street.

How was the money put together to produce the show? Was it a complicated process?
Wax: It was a licence fee deal from the BBC, essentially. It wasn’t a big coproduction, we didn’t have a coproducer on it. Miniseries are quite hard to fund these days, and this one was especially as it’s a three-parter. There was also a question over whether the show was just about London and Britain (and therefore lacked international appeal). But I didn’t think it was. You always have to challenge that limited thinking. When you make something location-specific, that’s when you make it universal –  shows that are set in general, non-descript places that could be anywhere, they actually create a sense of unreality for me. It was just a straightforward BBC deal and FremantleMedia International has distributed it.

Toby Jones was chosen for his acting chops rather than any physical similarity to his character
Toby Jones was chosen for his acting chops rather than any physical similarity to his character

There was some comment about Toby Jones being physically different from his character in the book. How did you change the character for the series?
Wax: It was a genuine choice, a choice we all stand by. We’re all thrilled. The fact Roger is written as 6’3″ in the book allows you to envisage him in a particular way. But in essence, this is a man who is adrift in life, he’s not happy despite all his apparent wealth, he’s searching for something and he can’t quite articulate what that is, even to himself. You need a really brilliant actor to find those depths and it’s about casting the right person, not just the physical type, and Toby is just one of the best actors in the country.

Lanchester: He’s a different person from Roger in the book but he’s a very real person. I had more people wondering about the casting before they’d seen it than afterwards.

John, would you want another of your books adapted in the future?
Lanchester: I’d happily have it done by Derek, Peter and Matt again. Writers love complaining but I’ve had an entirely positive experience. If there were a writers union, I’d be expelled for saying that!

Will adaptations continue to make up a lot of worldwide drama?
Wax: Drama is always about great stories, great characters and original insights into the world. As long as producers want to option and adapt books they really love, that’s the best reason to do it. When you see someone doing Jane Eyre again just because it hasn’t been done for a while, that sort of reason is never great and you feel it’s about the bottom line and getting business going. It should be about how much you feel for the book, and you should really want to spend a lot of time investigating it.

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BBC4 beats language barrier

The Bridge stars Sofia Helin as Saga Norén
The Bridge performs strongly on BBC4

This week, the BBC formally approved the closure of its youth-oriented television channel BBC3. Despite plenty of protest, the channel will move online from March 2016 as part of a cost-cutting exercise.

As yet, no one really has a clue what that will mean for the 925,000 viewers who tune in to the channel. The best guess is that many of them will be lost to the corporation for good.

The closure now raises questions over the future of BBC4 as a TV service. Although the BBC has not yet threatened to take the axe to the channel, neither has it guaranteed its future. If the BBC is faced with further cuts (likely under the current Conservative government), BBC4 could suffer the same fate as BBC3.

If that happens, it will be a blow to fans of non-English language drama. Over the past few years, BBC4 has played a pivotal role in introducing such shows to the international market. This week, for example, it has started airing season three of acclaimed Danish/Swedish drama The Bridge, showing the first two episodes as a double-header.

Picking up where season two left off, The Bridge attracted an audience of 1.2 million for episode one and 925,000 for episode two. The first of these two figures is a record for the channel, beating the 1.1 million who tuned into the second to last episode of the previous season.

While The Bridge is an exceptionally strong performer, BBC4 has had repeated success with non-English-language scripted series. Another Scandi show that has been airing in recent weeks is Arne Dahl, which has been picking up audiences of 600,000 to 700,000 consistently on Saturday evenings. Prior to that came Beck, a series of feature-length TV films based on the novels by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. Again, ratings were in the region of 600,000 to 650,000.

Arne Dahl is also doing well on BBC4

And while Danish period drama 1864 didn’t manage to hold its audience as well as some of the contemporary Scandi shows (954,000, 687,000, 530,000, 495,000 over four consecutive episodes), this still rates as a decent performance compared with the channel average.

It also attracted good reviews, with The Telegraph saying 1864 “oozed ambition, quality and an epic, cinematic scope. The latest offering from DR, the powerhouse Danish broadcaster that brought us Borgen and The Killing, has taken a key moment in their nation’s history and made it as compelling as any noir drama.”

Although Scandi shows are BBC4’s hottest property, the channel has also shown that people who are willing to watch foreign drama are not overly fussy about where it comes from. Over spring and summer, Italian detective drama The Young Montalbano regularly attracted between 600,000 and 700,000 despite having to contend with lower audiences in the warmer months (it’s noticeable actually that the show dropped a bit in June/July).

Prior to that, the year opened with a storming performance from French drama Spiral (a winner at this week’s International Emmys). Having kicked off with an audience over just over one million, the show stayed rock steady throughout January and February – bringing in audiences of around 850,000 to 900,000.

So what would happen to this kind of drama if BBC4 did disappear at some point in the next couple of years? Well, it would take away an important high-profile platform for such shows. But the truth is the channel has done its job so well that non-English-language drama would probably still find other homes.

1864 has pulled in fewer viewers but is a hit among critics
1864 has pulled in fewer viewers but is a hit among critics

Platforms like Netflix and Channel 4-backed Walter Presents are both buyers of such shows. And it’s even possible that BBC4 sister channel BBC2 might decide Scandi drama is worth investing in. In the meantime, though, expect The Bridge to keep doing well on BBC4.

Still in the UK, this week saw BBC1 launch Capital, a three-part drama from Kudos that stars Toby Jones. Jones, who is one of the stars of the upcoming Dad’s Army movie, helped the show to 3.8 million, which is OK but not spectacular. Scheduling didn’t help, with Capital up against ITV’s entertainment juggernaut I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!. So it will be interesting to see if the show picks up significantly in terms of time-shifted viewing.

The issue of how we judge the success or failure of a drama is an ongoing debate these days. At Fox in the US, for example, senior management recently decided they will no longer have anything to do with Live + Same Day ratings.

“We will not acknowledge them for any programming other than live events,” said joint chairmen/CEOs Dana Walden and Gary Newman. Instead, the emphasis will be on Live+3, Live+7 and multi-platform data – all of which provide a more holistic view of the audience.

Fox’s decision is understandable and follows the lead of many cable channels. In essence, it allows a measured judgement once all of the time-shifted/non-standard viewing data has come in. Still, it would be a mistake to regard Live + Same Day as irrelevant to the ratings discourse. In the same way that the movie industry places so much emphasis on opening-weekend box-office figures, Live + Same Day figures provide a valuable insight into whether a TV network has got its pre-launch publicity right, and whether it has found an editorial formula that excites the audience.

Toby Jones in BBC1's Capital
Toby Jones in BBC1’s Capital

It’s also a guide to whether a show has been scheduled correctly. There is a risk, for example, in putting an expensive drama up against a show that demands live viewing – such as Capital vs I’m a Celebrity.

If viewers don’t come to a drama on its opening night, it might mean they’re saving it up for a special moment. But it might also mean that it is regarded as back-up viewing, a second-best alternative. Or it might mean there is a schism within the family – the men want to watch but the women or children don’t, for example.

You could argue that none of this matters as long as word of mouth supports the show and the audience comes to it eventually. But any good sales executive will tell you to try to clinch the sale straightaway rather than let the punter go away and think about it.

In my house, many dramas get saved for later and then deleted or forgotten about. Any delay in viewing means a window is opened up to non-viewing or viewing via piracy or via SVoD, both of which change the economic return on a show.

On the subject of how we should assess ratings, the opening episode of Sky Atlantic’s six-part heist drama The Last Panthers saw its UK audience rise from 228,000 to 696,000 once non-live figures were added in. But episode two’s live numbers dropped to 112,000.

NBC has ordered a second season of Blindspot
NBC has ordered a second season of Blindspot

This is a classic example of the mixed messages broadcasters have to deal with these days, though with an IMDb rating of 7.2 the message seems to be that the show hasn’t quite captured the audience’s imagination as yet. By about episode four, however, we should have a clearer picture of whether the show has gained enough support to merit a renewal.

Elsewhere in the Sky family of channels, US drama Blindspot debuted on Sky Living with an audience of 383,000, a healthy start. In the US, the show is the top-rated new series of the season and has been renewed for a second run by NBC. As such, it should settle in nicely on Sky Living and do a good job for at least a couple of seasons.

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