These days, when a network cancels a scripted show, there is often a call from the creators, the acting talent and the hardcore fanbase for someone else to step in and save it.
Usually, this plea falls on deaf ears, but there have been a few instances of shows saved from extinction by third-party channels and platforms. Among the best examples are Ripper Street, The Mindy Project and Longmire, all of which were saved by the intervention of SVoD platforms (Amazon, Hulu and Netflix respectively).
To this list of last-minute rescues we must now add country-and-western scripted series Nashville, produced by Lionsgate TV, ABC Studios and Opry Entertainment. The show aired for four seasons on ABC before being cancelled last month.
However, weeks of frenetic wheeler-dealing by Lionsgate TV group president Sandra Stern has resulted in the greenlight for a fifth season, which will air on Viacom-owned country-and-western channel CMT and Hulu (which will stream episodes of Nashville the day after they appear on CMT).
“CMT heard the fans,” said CMT president Brian Philips. “The wave of love and appreciation they have unleashed for Nashville has been overwhelming. Nashville is a perfect addition to our line-up. We see our fans and ourselves in this show and we will treasure it like no other network. Nashville belongs on CMT.”
Equally effusive was Craig Erwich, senior VP and head of content at Hulu. “Nashville has long been a fan favourite show on Hulu and we are so proud to continue to make new episodes available for fans to stream the day after they air. We look forward to bringing more episodes of this series to its passionate and devoted audience.”
“CMT and Hulu are the perfect combination for Nashville and we want to thank the incredible fans for their unwavering support – #Nashies, you helped make this possible,” added Kevin Beggs, chairman of the Lionsgate Television Group. “We also want to extend our appreciation to the state of Tennessee, city of Nashville, and Ryman Hospitality for their unending support.”
While the resurrection of the show has very much been presented as a victory for fan power, there’s also a strong business case for all involved.
CMT, for example, will be drooling at the show’s audience. In a press statement, the partners on season five said: “The recently wrapped fourth season of Nashville attracted more than eight million weekly viewers across all platforms and ranks as one of television’s most DVR’d series. The series is particularly strong with women 18-34. Out of more than 180 broadcast dramas since fall 2012, Nashville ranks in the top 20.”
While it’s highly unlikely that all of the ABC fanbase will follow the show to CMT, Nashville is almost certain to deliver CMT an audience that is at the upper end of its usual anticipated viewing range.
For Hulu, the risk of getting involved is minimal because it already shows Nashville and will have a good idea of the kind of audience it can expect to attract. As for Lionsgate, the deal is about much more than just the US TV market. The series airs in 82 international territories, making it a significant asset in the distribution arena.
There is also the small matter of music spin-offs. Since its launch, the show has inspired 10 soundtracks, which have collectively sold more than one million album units and more than five million single-track downloads. As an added bonus, it has been nominated for Emmy, Golden Globe and Critics Choice awards.
The question is, will we see more deals like this? Well, it seems pretty likely. With more and more cable and SVoD channels in the market for scripted content, it stands to reason that they will be attracted to franchises that have built up brand awareness.
Another story that kind of underlines this point is the news that Netflix has replaced BBC America as the US coproducer of season two of The Last Kingdom, a historical drama that also involves BBC2. For Netflix, the beauty of this deal is that it has some tangible evidence of the show’s appeal in the US (the first season aired on BBC America). Armed with that knowledge, it has secured rights to the show in the US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Germany, Japan, Spain and Portugal. It will also add season one of the Carnival Films-produced show to its US portfolio later this year.
Aside from these deals, this week has more of an acquisition than a production feel to it. In the UK, for example, Amazon Prime Video has acquired two French dramas – spy thriller The Bureau and political drama Baron Noir from StudioCanal. The Bureau follows agents who assume false identities as they seek out and identify targets and sources, while Baron Noir centres on a French politician seeking revenge against his political enemies.
StudioCanal has also sold a package of shows to SBS Australia, including The Five, Section Zéro and Baron Noir. Previously, SBS acquired Spotless and The Last Panthers from StudioCanal. Commenting, Marshall Heald, director of TV and online content at SBS Australia, said: “Gritty crime thrillers like The Five, political dramas like Baron Noir and dark sci-fi series like Section Zéro bring something fresh and exciting to our world drama slate.”
Back in the UK, UKTV-owned channel Alibi has acquired crime series Crossing Lines from StudioCanal. It has also picked up US medical crime drama Rosewood from 20th Century Fox Television.
In Canada, meanwhile, Bell Media streaming service CraveTV has acquired exclusive SVoD rights to a slate of new US broadcast dramas. Among these are the Kiefer Sutherland political thriller Designated Survivor, legal drama Notorious, film adaptation Training Day and romantic drama Time After Time. Also in Canada, specialty channel Vision TV has acquired the first season of comedy drama Agatha Raisin, which just aired on Sky1 UK.
Whether it’s acquiring a finished show, going it alone, adapting a format or coproducing with international partners, there’s a multitude of options when it comes to buying and selling quality drama. DQ asks the experts what works best for their business.
Scripted content is in strong demand around the world. Premium pay TV broadcasters, SVoD platforms and mainstream free-to-air channels are all on the hunt for signature shows that can define and uplift their services. And so are international programme distributors, which are battling it out to secure the rights to piping-hot global drama properties.
One broadcaster in the midst of this frenetic activity is Canal+. Explaining the way the French pay TV broadcaster works, Aline Marrache-Tesseraud, head of acquisitions, foreign fiction, says: “Canal+ is a premium channel. Our subscribers come to us to find something they can’t find anywhere else in the landscape, so we give them a mix of original programming and shows acquired from the US and Europe.”
On the originals front, Canal+ has backed an eclectic mix of titles including Braquo, Les Revenants, The Tunnel, Barbarella and Versailles. If there’s a point worth making about this group of shows, it’s that they are all capable of playing well on Canal+ or in the international markets. Braquo and Les Revenants, although French-language, have the kind of style and pacing that appeals to international audiences. The Tunnel is an Anglo-French copro with Sky Atlantic that neatly bridges the two cultures. The remaining two productions, both epic in scale, are being produced in English to appeal to the global drama market.
As for Canal+’s acquisition slate, Marrache-Tesseraud has picked up a wide range of top titles including Wayward Pines, House of Cards, The Honourable Woman, Game of Thrones and True Detective. “We are looking for modern, unique shows, preferably serialised,” she says. “We generally get involved at an early stage by pre-buying the rights.”
Pre-buying, as opposed to waiting for shows to be completed, generally costs more. But it has two advantages. First, it allows a broadcaster to get to a hot property ahead of rivals. Second, it means they can air the production as quickly as possible, thus minimising the risk of people pirating the content.
Earlier this year, for example, Marrache-Tesseraud acquired Wayward Pines from Fox International Channels, a move that gives it exclusive first-window rights in France and enables it to air episodes on the same day as they go out in the US. Explaining the show’s appeal, she says: “It brings together highly talented signature cast and crew, and is headed by Oscar-nominated director and producer M Night Shyamalan.”
Drama is also a critical consideration for Stephen Mowbray, head of SVT International, the commercial arm of Swedish public broadcaster SVT. Echoing Marrache-Tesseraud, Mowbray says: “There is a big appetite for drama on TV. But there is a limit to how much we can make ourselves. We generally have two nights a week for originals and support that with acquisitions, hand-picking the best drama from around the world.”
Although SVT is a free-to-air pubcaster, Mowbray says he is buying similar dramas to pay TV broadcaster Canal+. But he is not enthusiastic about everything on offer: “When people say this is the golden age of drama, they are talking about short-run serials and miniseries, which are very flavoured in tone. We’re seeing a nichification of drama that can create a mismatch with what channels want. For example, the growth of niche products can be at odds with the need for procedural dramas.”
But Mowbray stresses that free channels must also take risks if they are to keep their audiences happy. “In our region, HBO Nordic acquired Penny Dreadful and Viaplay acquired Transparent, neither of which would fit on free TV. But we also need to make sure we challenge our audience. We can’t give them Downton Abbey every night.”
A key issue for Mowbray is that the amount of good content on the international market is perhaps not as voluminous as observers might imagine: “We have six primetime slots a week, which makes our channel a very hungry monster. But not all of the content coming out of the US is good enough. The top 10% can blow your mind, but the rest is dross.”
The kind of factors facing Canal+ and SVT are mirrored within the acquisition and development divisions of leading drama distributors. While they are not the end-users of scripted content, they have to make similar judgement calls when investing in projects that they hope to sell on to broadcasters and digital platforms at a profit. Is it possible, for example, to make shows that work for both the nichified world of pay TV and the mainstream tastes found on free TV? Or does it make more sense to run a broader development slate that caters to both camps?
Caroline Torrance, head of scripted at Zodiak Rights, was brought in last spring to do two things. “Firstly, to head internal drama development at our three main drama producers (Touchpaper, Yellowbird and Marathon), and secondly to look for drama to acquire,” she says.
Torrance’s assessment is that there are “huge opportunities for all kinds of drama. On the origination side, Marathon is involved in the Versailles project, while Yellowbird has been working on Occupied, a 10-part series about a Russian “silk glove” invasion of Norway, based on an idea by novelist Jo Nesbo. On the acquisitions side, we have had a lot of success selling French shows Braquo and Les Revenants right around the world.”
Zodiak’s slate, all of which is originated in Europe, is interesting because it goes some way towards answering Mowbray’s concerns about the volume of quality US content available. It also suggests that the market is more open to challenging content. A few years ago, there would have been limited interest in a show like Occupied, which seeks to tell a political story in three languages (Russian and Norwegian characters speak in their own language and in English when talking to each other). But after the success of Lilyhammer and The Bridge/The Tunnel, it looks like a real prospect.
Similarly, a French-language show like Les Revenants would not have fared as well a few years back. However, Torrance says: “I’ve heard it described as niche, but it has sold around the world. Selling Les Revenants to Channel 4 in the UK was significant in terms of the kind of prices it is possible to charge for non-English-language content.”
Notwithstanding the new appetite for risk in the drama sector, Torrance says “distributors have to offer all types of product.” Addressing Mowbray’s point, she adds: “There is still a role for procedurals, which is why we acquired Canadian series The Pinkertons (a 22-parter about the activities of the famous detective agency in 1860s America). That has procedural-style stories-of-the-week coupled with serial elements.”
Drama acquisitions are also a key objective for Noel Hedges, SVP and head of acquisitions at Modern Times Group-owned distributor DRG. “Eighteen months to two years into the new MTG ownership, there is a real desire to grow a diverse slate of drama. We think our strategy really started bearing fruit with what we launched at Mipcom.”
One of DRG’s biggest investments to date is in Babylon, a comedic look at the people and politics associated with the frontline of modern policing. Directed by Oscar winner Danny Boyle and written by Bafta winners Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show), the six-part commission for Channel 4 aired between November and December last year.
Echoing points raised earlier, there is an edgy tone to the drama that won’t make it suitable for all broadcasters. But that is something Hedges is comfortable with: “We’ve worked with Sam and Jesse before so we knew the show would have a challenging tone that wouldn’t appeal to everyone. But you have to balance the prescriptive commercial elements you’re looking for with surprise, originality, and uniqueness. As with all shows, we went through a checklist of what we were looking for and ticked enough boxes. What you can’t afford to invest in is boring TV – you wouldn’t get anywhere with that.”
Hedges doesn’t mind if a drama’s “wrapping” is unusual as long as it has strong stories and characters. Other titles DRG has picked up this year include Strange Empire, a 13×60’ series from Canada that focuses on three women living on the Canadian border in the 1860s who are brought together by a spate of brutal murders. DRG also has a first-look deal with NRK in Norway, which has brought it such titles as Mammon and Eyewitness. The latter is a six-part thriller series about two teenage boys, secretly in love, who are key witnesses to an underworld murder. Terrified for their lives and fearful about bringing their relationship into the open, they agree never to reveal what they saw.
Of course, distributing drama isn’t always about battling to place shows with reluctant buyers. Some of the time it’s about trying to make careful commercial judgements about who to licence content to. A big trend in the market right now is for channels or platforms to offer big sums of money up front to try to secure exclusivity on a show. But while this may seem attractive, Hedges advises caution: “It’s not always about upfront cash. The decision you make on the first window can affect the life cycle of the show. You may be better off accepting a lower offer at the beginning because of the valuable windows to come later, as opposed to cashing in straight away.”
SVT’s Mowbray makes a similar point, arguing that free-to-air channels can play a role in building a brand: “I think it’s difficult to build a brand from Netflix. They had The Fall and no one knew it existed. It’s hard for them to launch a lot of first-run content. With us, we create value.”
While all of the above agree there is a healthy market for acquired drama, they also acknowledge that most audiences prefer homegrown stories. Hedges sums this point up neatly: “Local production can define a channel much better than acquisitions. Audiences like to see domestic faces in domestic situations.”
The reason why there isn’t more original production is, understandably, cost, but there are a couple of ways broadcasters can narrow the price differential between origination and acquisition. One, says Hedges, is acquiring drama formats, since this allows a broadcaster to create an original show without having to invest as much in development or production. “We represent Doc Martin, which sells well in some markets as a finished British show. But, where it doesn’t, we can still make money by licensing the remake rights,” he explains. “It’s another opportunity.”
Zodiak’s Torrance agrees: “We’ve seen a huge increase in demand for scripted formats. Broadcasters want local shows but local production is a risk. So in formats they are looking for a measure of success. They want to learn from what has been done – things that worked and things that didn’t.”
The formatting business is now a big part of the international drama scene and has opened the door to a wider pool of content suppliers. Israel’s Keshet Media Group, for example, had a huge breakthrough when its drama series Prisoners of War was adapted by Showtime in the US as the acclaimed Homeland. In November 2014, Keshet UK executive producer and head of scripted coproductions Sara Johnson revealed that another of its titles, The A Word, was to be remade by the BBC.
A very different proposition from political thriller Homeland, The A Word is a comedy drama that focuses on a young couple who learn that their son is autistic. The UK version will be written by Peter Bowker (Viva Blackpool) and coproduced by Fifty Fathoms Productions, Tiger Aspect Productions and Keshet UK, with plans for the six-part show to appear on BBC1 in early 2016.
The decision to make a UK version first, as opposed to going to the US, is about giving the property plenty of time to establish itself in the international market. “Keshet looks at the slate as a whole and makes decisions about where we should go and what should we do with each property. With The A Word, we had real interest from the UK and a fantastic writer, so we decided to give it time to develop in this market.”
In terms of the long-term sustainability of The A Word, Johnson says it is important to stay closely connected to the remake process: “We’re very flexible in how we look at deals because it has got to make sense financially for everyone. And we love working with local professionals like Patrick Spence at Fifty Fathoms. But it also matters to us that we are creatively involved because we care deeply about our shows.”
Creating a formatted version of a show can have a positive impact on the commercial appeal of the original. In the case of Keshet’s Prisoners of War, the success of the US adaptation Homeland boosted sales of the original show and helped it realise further format deals in Russia, Turkey and Mexico. And sometimes formatting is the only viable option for getting a show away in a market. In Turkey, for example, channels are only interested in acquiring remake rights to shows (which then can have a renewed life selling on in the Balkans and Middle East).
But it’s not always advisable for rights holders to rush into the format market, says DRG’s Hedges. “It depends on the investment you’ve made. If you need to recoup quickly, then a format isn’t necessarily the right idea because it can be a long time before you see a financial return.”
Torrance agrees: “There are always strategic decisions about whether to sell or hold back format rights. It’s almost like another window. Generally, though, format deals come when there are lots of episodes.”
The other middle ground between origination and acquisition is to pursue a shared-risk scenario such as coproduction. As with formats, this model has become prevalent in recent years as the scale and ambition of drama has increased.
Unquestionably, copros have enabled some superb shows to get made. But with most high-profile projects involving a minimum of two broadcasters, two producers and a distributor, they come with a number of creative and commercial challenges. For a start, copros need to have ideas that will travel internationally and casts that are acceptable to everybody involved. A decision also needs to be made about editorial tone and series structure, because this will determine whether it is more suitable for free TV or pay TV (or, ideally, both).
The issue of writers/showrunners is also a sensitive one, because not all writers are trusted to deliver the goods – even if they are talented enough to do so, says Donna Wiffen, the former FremantleMedia head of worldwide drama who is now MD at indie Duchess Street Productions. “There is a practical problem with authored pieces,” she says, “which is that there are only so many writers that broadcasters will commission. It’s difficult to get a show over the line with new talent, which means you can end up with a bottleneck.”
Wiffen joined her current company four months ago. It is backed by investment firm Bob & Co, which is well established in film but wants to extend into TV (echoing a broader shift in the business). “We have a diverse slate at the early stages of development,” she says. “One of our major projects at the moment is an epic saga about two families based on a popular book series by Jeffrey Archer called The Clifton Chronicles.”
Broadcasters familiar with the copro process say the best scenarios are where the partners engage in a strong, balanced dialogue. Explaining how his company became involved in the world of scripted coproduction, Nacho Manubens, senior VP of drama at Atresmedia in Spain, says: “A3 Media has two of the main channels in Spain, Antena3 and La Sexta. Most of our drama is produced for A3, and in the last few years some of our bigger productions have started to travel well internationally. Recently, we started thinking about building a solid brand for La Sexta but we had tighter budget limitations. So we decided to go to the international market in search of coproduction partners.”
This resulted in a partnership with BBC Worldwide (BBCWW) on The Refugees, a drama series produced by Spanish production company Bambu about a group of people who travel back to the present time from the future. “We identified the show we wanted to do and then tried to create a fair partnership,” says Manubens. “BBCWW brought 50% of the budget and is selling the show internationally while La Sexta has premier rights.”
Key to the success of the project, says Manubens, was starting the copro dialogue early and maintaining a good working relationship throughout. “Everyone always had a say and BBCWW was very involved with the writing. We made a lot more versions than on a regular Spanish show.”
Manubens says it was important to be clear from the outset about La Sexta’s requirements. “There is a trend towards miniseries but that is hard for us because of the economics of production and marketing. So we are more focused on creating returning series.”
Budgets also played their part in the way the story was written, adds Manubens. Although The Refugees is “a big premise,” costs were controlled by telling the story told through the eyes of one particular family.
Ulrich Krüger, senior editor in international coproduction and documentaries at Germany’s ProSiebenSat.1, agrees with Manubens about the importance of having an equal partnership in copros. But he says his company has had bad experiences with US firms: “Our experience of US companies is that the moment they have a part of a project, they think it is their show. Their response to European partners wanting creative input is ‘we know what we are doing,’ which is not a conversation we want. My advice in dealing with US studios and broadcasters is to go as late as possible because they are not used to discussing ideas.”
Pro7Sat1’s general policy is to go for acquisitions rather than copros because “acquiring is simple,” says Krüger. Having said that, the broadcaster has a good relationship with Tandem Communications, coming in as a copro partner on projects like The Pillars of the Earth, World Without End and Labyrinth.
Most recently, it acquired season one of Tandem’s cross-border crime thriller Crossing Lines, and then stepped up as a copro partner for seasons two and three. “We didn’t coproduce the first series because it felt too expensive, but we acquired it. It went well for us so we decided to get more involved. We only go for coproduction when we see an opportunity for editorial input that will help a show in our territory. By paying more, we have greater say about scripts and casting.”
Like Manubens, Krüger says the key to coproduction is to “start early and choose your partner wisely.”
A final word of wisdom comes from Keshet’s Johnson: “Make sure to leave your ego at the door.”
Creative Europe funding
Raising money to make a drama coproduction isn’t easy. But there is some welcome support from the European Union’s funding programme Creative Europe, which offers grants worth up to €1m (US$1.08m).
Agnieszka Moody, director of Creative Europe’s UK desk, says the EU’s TV Programming scheme aims to help European independent producers create shows that have the potential to circulate within the EU and beyond. The total programme budget for 2015 (across all genres) is around €11.8m. Drama producers have two options: either they can apply for up to 12.5% of their production budget (capped at €500,000); or, if the project in question is a drama series coproduction (minimum duration 6×45’) with a production budget of at least €10m, they can apply for a grantof up to €1m.
To qualify as a coproduction, Moody says the project needs to involve at least three partners from different states. The latest point at which producers can apply is the first day of principal photography. At the time of submission, 50% of the estimated total financing of the production budget must be guaranteed from third-party sources of finance. In addition, 50% of the total financing must come from European sources.
A number of projects have been successful in securing funding down the years. These include Wallander, Millennium, Jamaica Inn, Occupied and Hinterland. The €1m upper limit has only recently been introduced, but projects to have secured this figure include Warp Films’ The Last Panthers, The Returned and The Bridge. The latter two productions received awards for their second series, says Moody. Drama series is the only genre for which sequels or second and third seasons are eligible.
According to Moody, last year saw 135 applications, of which 53 were selected. Of these, 11 were TV dramas, with four receiving €1m. For 2015 there are two deadlines in January and May. Worth noting, says Moody, is that an unsuccessful project can be resubmitted (once).
Though international coproductions now seem ubiquitous, this hasn’t always been the case. Rola Bauer explains how Tandem, an early adopter of copros, put them at the centre of its drama strategy to impressive effect.
In the past couple of years producers and broadcasters around the world have become increasingly reliant on international coproduction partnerships to secure the budgets necessary for high-end drama series. But one company that based its business on copros is Munich-based Tandem, the production powerhouse behind epic historical miniseries The Pillars of the Earth and its sequel World Without End.
Formed in 1999 by Rola Bauer (a Canadian), Tim Halkin (an American) and Jonas Bauer (a German), Tandem’s first major success was The Ring of the Nibelungs, a €20m (US$24m) fantasy miniseries commissioned by Channel 4 in the UK, Sat1 in Germany and SyFy in the US.
“We realised after Rings of the Nibelungs that we had satisfied a need in the market that the US was no longer providing,” Tandem president/partner Rola Bauer tells DQ. “That encouraged us to build on this success and continue to supply the international market with high-end long-form dramas that broadcasters could create an event around.”
A run of drama productions followed, but the real game-changer for Tandem was The Pillars of the Earth, an 8×50’ miniseries based on the classic novel by Ken Follett. “Along with several others, we chased after Ken for years to option this book,” says Bauer. “He had pushed back on all theatrical offers, finding the format too limited for the richness of the novel, and held out for a solid commitment of a longer limited series, which we offered.”
In hindsight, securing the rights was the easy part. The real challenge was coming up with a viable financial model. Explaining Tandem’s thinking, Bauer says: “Along with our coproducing partner, Scott Free, we were hoping to pioneer a new way of producing television on a global basis without depending on having the first key broadcaster out of the US market. We needed a US$40m production budget to create the kind of eight-hour event not only that the book deserved, but that would have a cinematic quality to it.”
Unfortunately from a financial perspective, the Nasdaq had recently crashed and the German stock exchange segment, Neue Markt, had virtually folded – putting pressure on the production from the outset. “With French, German, Spanish and Canadian partners on board, we went into production with an US$8m gap and the hope that our years of combined experience would enable us to create a programme that we could later sell into the US market and not only cover our deficit, but also make a profit,” Bauer explains. “Two years of development, production and sleepless nights later, the risk we took did pay off: Starz supported the programme and enabled it to become an Emmy-winning show.”
The show also proved to be a success for the European and Canadian partners, says Bauer, “and that paved the way for World Without End, with a US$46m production budget.”
While Tandem’s event miniseries had put it on the global map, it was clear the company needed to diversify its output and secure additional financial resources to stay competitive in the rapidly consolidating drama market.
The good news was that Tandem’s success had started to alert potential suitors: “Three years ago Tandem was approached by two studios, one in the US and one in Europe, interested in making a strategic acquisition of Tandem. We spoke intensely with both, but were ultimately convinced to enter into a relationship with StudioCanal, which became Tandem’s majority (51%) shareholder.”
StudioCanal appealed for a number of reasons: it had the same European-led creative sensibility as Tandem; its TV production ambitions aligned with Tandem’s; and it provided assets Tandem could tap into.
Bauer adds: “There are so many synergies, such as remake rights from the StudioCanal library, producing originals for Canal+ and coproductions with our ‘cousins’ in the TV production unit, RED Production Company and SAM. We are already in coproduction with RED in the development of a format idea for the US and Germany.”
With StudioCanal backing, Bauer says Tandem has “set a benchmark to increase the programme hours we produce and sell per year.” The emphasis is clearly on one-hour series with potential for renewal. “The international market was in need of procedural series. Hugely successful US shows were coming to an end and that market was not showing signs of gearing up for the next generation of procedural shows. With StudioCanal, we were able to enter the narrative of one-hour drama very quickly. The relationship enables us to move fast and go straight to series once we have put certain basic elements together.”
The first idea to gain traction after the StudioCanal takeover was Crossing Lines, a series centred on a special crime unit that functions as a kind of European-wide FBI. “We wanted to create a show that focused on the very real and dangerous situation in Europe of criminals being able to escape justice simply by crossing over borders,” explains Bauer. “Showrunner Ed Bernero saw the similarity to the historical situation in the US before the inception of the FBI. Europe still has no proactive law enforcement agency that can effectively handle cross-border crimes and bring criminals to justice. This includes everything from drug and human trafficking to smuggling and serial killing.”
The show, which was backed by broadcasters including TF1 France, Sat1 Germany, NBC in the US and AXN (multiple territories) in season one, sought to combine the best of US and European stylistic elements: “It has a familiarity to audiences worldwide who have enjoyed US procedural series. However, the locations are exotic.” The 12-episode second season has just wrapped, with TF1, Sat1 and AXN still on board and Amazon UK joining the line-up.
Following on from Crossing Lines, Tandem recently entered production on Spotless, its second one-hour drama series since joining StudioCanal. A 10×50’ series for Canal+ Creation Originale, it’s a dark comedy shot on location in London. It stars Marc-André Grondin as the owner of a crime scene cleaning business who gets dragged into a murky gangster underworld by his reckless brother.
“Co-creators Ed McCardie and Corinne Marrinan have dreamed up a storyline and characters that are so special and unique,” says Bauer, whose company is handling global distribution. “We are very excited at the potential of Spotless to engage audiences worldwide.”
Other one-hour format dramas in development include Sex, Lies and Handwriting, a coproduction with Lionsgate based on a book by Michelle Dresbold. “We are currently in development at ABC in the US, TF1 in France, Sat1 in Germany and Bell Media in Canada, with a targeted start of principal photography in early 2015,” says Bauer.
Then there is Rubber Ducks, a 10×60’ ecological/psychological thriller that Tandem is developing with Haut et Court TV (The Returned) and July-August Productions. “The story is based on an experiment by Nasa, exploring ideas of ecological change not only on the environment but also on human behaviour. The series writer is Yael Hedaya, known for her work on Israeli drama series In Treatment.”
Tandem is handling worldwide distribution on this series, and the company clearly sees this side of the business as fundamental to its growth strategy – whether it relates to its own productions or those of third parties. For example, Tandem is sharing distribution duties with Sky Vision on The Last Panthers, a six-part series commissioned by Canal+ and Sky Atlantic, which has been developed and coproduced by Haut et Court TV and Warp Films (This is England, Four Lions, Southcliffe).
“The series originated as an idea from celebrated French journalist Jerome Pierrat and the screenplay is from Jack Thorne (Skins, This is England, A Long Way Down, Glue, The Fades),” says Bauer. “It’s based on the world-famous Pink Panthers, a network of jewel thieves. Filming began late October 2014 in the four key shooting locations of London, Marseille, Belgrade and Montenegro.”
Other current third-party distribution projects, include ZeroZeroZero and Pirate’s Passage. The former, says Bauer, is based on Roberto Saviano’s recently released book of the same title and is the follow-up to his international best-seller Gomorrah. “The eight-hour series was commissioned by Canal+ Creation Originale and Cattleya, Italy’s leading independent film and TV producer. It is a compelling and revelatory dissection of the global traffic of cocaine and how it touches lives across an international social spectrum.”
Pirate’s Passage, meanwhile, is an unusual project for Tandem to be involved with: “It is an animated movie coproduced and co-written by, and starring the voice talent of, Donald Sutherland. The book, written by fellow Canadian George Gilkerson, resonated with Donald in a very personal manner – he is passionate about the story.”
Anyone who has been around the TV business long enough will realise there is always a risk attached to ramping up production and getting ahead of demand. But Bauer doesn’t see any imminent danger of that: “The amount of programming needed each year just continues to increase, with many of the US nets’ demands now 12 months a year. With the summer re-run season dying out, channels need fresh programming where they are not carrying the full load of financing. The most attractive option to close these gaps is via an international coproduction, which is what Tandem has been producing since 1999. And, incidentally, every one of our productions has been sold into the US market.”
It’s not just the US market that is driving Tandem’s growth, however. “Another factor that has propelled the current wave of drama is the burgeoning media landscape worldwide,” says Bauer. “There has been enormous growth in media channels, broadcasters and platforms, and everything has become so niche and specific when it comes to programming. This requires a constant flow of new series to accommodate the demand – and there are just so many good stories to tell.
“Also, the industry’s success in producing cinematic television drama has continued to blur the lines between film and TV. Audiences worldwide can now get on TV what they were formerly only accustomed to viewing in the cinema.”
Explaining Tandem’s success with copros, Bauer cites factors such as: “Working with top-level writers/showrunners who have proven themselves as having editorial lines that transcend borders and maintaining budgets in keeping with the successful US one-hour series that have ruled the international primetime slots for years.”
Above all, however, she says: “For us, it always starts with the writing – telling the best possible stories with interesting and well-developed characters. The creative aspect must always come first. When this is sacrificed for the business side, it doesn’t work.”