Tag Archives: Daisy Goodwin

Reign ends but royalty remains

Reign dramatises the life of Mary, Queen of ScotsOn Wednesday, The CW announced that the fourth season of Reign, which debuts on February 10, will be the last. The news is no real surprise given that the show’s ratings have been pretty modest since launch. Season three averaged 970,000 per episode, which puts it at the lower end of the channel’s typical ratings. An IMDB score of 7.6 also suggests it won’t be massively missed.

For those unfamiliar with the show, Reign is a period drama that chronicles the rise of Mary, Queen of Scots in 16th century Europe. It is not overly concerned with historical accuracy and is generally viewed as a guilty pleasure. It is significant, however, in that it is part of a broad array of TV shows that have placed royalty at the heart of their stories. So this week, to mark the end of Reign, we’re looking at this sub-genre.

thecrownThe Crown Netflix is reckoned to have ploughed US$100m into this exploration of Queen Elizabeth II’s early life. Written by Peter Morgan and directed by Stephen Daldry, the show has received pretty much universal acclaim and is currently sitting pretty with an IMDb score of 9.
A second season has been commissioned and the intention is that the series will run for five or six seasons (though Morgan has not yet committed to such a lengthy run).

victoriaVictoria Vying with The Crown as the best royal series of the year is ITV’s Victoria. Written by Daisy Goodwin, the show has a similar blueprint to The Crown. Starting with the early life of the famous 19th British monarch, the show is intended to follow her through her life, with season two already commissioned.
The show did well in the UK ratings, with an average audience of seven to eight million on Sunday evenings. It has also sold well internationally, although it’s too early to tell how the global market is responding to the show. It will premiere on PBS in the US on January 15. Its IMDb score is 8.3.

tudorsThe Tudors Michael Hirst’s epic series for Showtime helped kick-start the global trade in lavish, semi-fictionalised TV series about monarchy, power, aristocracy and the like. Aired for four seasons between 2007 and 2010, episodes of the show typically attracted an audience of around 700,000-900,000 for the US cable network.
The series starts during Henry VIII’s reign but doesn’t always stick to the facts. Explaining why, Hirst said: “Showtime commissioned me to write an entertainment, a soap opera, and not history. And we wanted people to watch it.” On balance, he argued: “Any confusion created by the changes is outweighed by the interest the series may inspire in the period and its figures.”
US cable channel Ovation recently acquired all four seasons of The Tudors to accompany its investment in Versailles (below). Note: other series to have explored the Tudor period include the BBC’s excellent Wolf Hall and ITV’s 2003 miniseries Henry VIII. The Tudors achieved an IMDb score of 8.1, Wolf Hall 8.2.

versaillesVersailles Set during the reign of Louis XIV of France, this Canal+ drama rated well at home and has sold widely around the world. A second season is on its way and a third has already been commissioned, with production due to start in April 2017.
The first season rated pretty well on BBC2 in the UK and has been renewed. In the US, it aired on arts channel Ovation – which scored its highest ever ratings when it aired the first two episodes back to back (a combined total audience of 557,000).
Dubbed by one critic as the music video version of French history, the show hasn’t achieved the same critical acclaim as The Crown or Victoria, but it is praised for its high production values.

magnificent-century-kosem-10Magnificent Century Timur Savci’s sumptuous period drama was a big hit at home and also been sold into more than 40 territories. It did, however, receive some criticism from conservative elements within Turkey, who called it “disrespectful and hedonistic.”
The show, which ran for 139 episodes between 2011 and 2014, is based on the life of Ottoman Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent. It was followed by Magnificent Century: Kosem, which jumps forward four decades to tell the story of a female ruler who began her life as a slave girl. This show, also produced by Savci, has sold well internationally. Season one of Kosem aired on Star and season two on Fox.

theroyalsThe Royals E! Entertainment’s The Royals is currently into its third season with an audience in the 600,000 range. This after the show averaged one million-plus for season one and around 750,000 for season two.
The show is a novel take on the notion of royalty, since it is based around a fictional British royal family. Elizabeth Hurley plays Queen Helena, a matriarchal figure attempting to maintain the family’s public image while dealing with a range of domestic problems. One of the key plot lines sees her son, Prince Liam, unexpectedly become first in line to the throne after his older brother dies. IMDb gives the show a 7.4 rating.

mary-princessMary: The Making of a Princess The Brits aren’t the only ones with a royal family, of course. In 2015, Network Ten in Australia ran a TV movie about Mary Donaldson, a young Australian woman who married into the Danish royal family after a chance meeting at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. The show, produced by FremantleMedia, got a meagre 6.1 rating on IMDb and mixed reviews, but actually rated well with around a million viewers.
Maximilian and Marie de Bourgogne: Historical royal dramas are popular for a few reasons. One is that they are less politically sensitive than stories about current royals. Another is that it is easier to fictionalise a dead royal’s life than a living one’s. And not to be overlooked is the fact that there are more royal families to work with, since a few of them have ceased to exist.
In this lavish production, for example, the focus is on the love story between the son of Frederick III and the daughter of the Duke Of Burgundy in the 1400s. Budgeted at around €16m (US$17m), it is a coproduction between MR Film, Beta Film, ORF and ZDF.

the-queens-sisterThe Queen’s Sister As Mark Lawson observed in an article in UK newspaper The Guardian last year, TV producers tend to take a slightly deferential look at recent royals, saving the controversy for long-dead monarchs (notably Henry VIII). One slight exception to this rule is the Queen’s late sister Margaret, who is generally portrayed in the media as something of a hedonist.
In 2006, Channel 4 told her story in a biopic entitled The Queen’s Sister, with Lucy Cohu as Margaret. Critics were divided over the show, some calling it satirical, others tawdry. It secured a number of Bafta nomination and aired on BBC America. See Lawson’s article here.

powerandpassionCharles II: The Power and The Passion A good example of how historic royals are fair game, this BBC production looks at the feckless and lazy side of this 17th century British monarch, restored to the throne after the death of his father’s nemesis Oliver Cromwell.
Written by Adrian Hodges and starring Rufus Sewell, the show does make an attempt to be historically accurate, relying to some extent on Antonia Fraser’s book Charles II. The show aired in the US and was nominated for a Primetime Emmy. IMDb gives it a rating of 7.6.

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Victoria’s reign extended by ITV

Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria
Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria

In one of the least surprising renewal stories of the year, UK broadcaster ITV has commissioned a second series of ratings hit Victoria from Mammoth Screen. Scripted by Daisy Goodwin, the show has had an excellent first season – even managing to hold off strong competition from the BBC’s returning hit Poldark.

Series one launched in late August and is currently averaging around 7.7 million viewers, which makes it ITV’s top-performing drama of the year so far. ITV director of television, Kevin Lygo said: “Mammoth Screen and Daisy Goodwin have brought the characters so vividly to life in this series and we’re thrilled with the reception for Victoria. We’re pleased to be able to confirm Jenna Coleman and Tom Hughes will return to continue the story on ITV.” Just as significantly, Goodwin will again be writing and executive producing the series.

Season one starts with the young Victoria’s coronation and explores how she becomes increasingly sure-footed in the fields of politics and diplomacy. It also looks at her close relationship with Lord Melbourne and burgeoning romance with Prince Albert, her eventual husband. As with series one, the new season will be a coproduction with PBS Masterpiece.

Goodwin added: “Even though she reigned in the 19th century, Victoria is a heroine for our times. In the next series she faces the very modern dilemma of how to juggle children with her husband and her job. As Victoria will discover, it’s hard to be a wife, a mother and ruler of the most powerful nation on earth.”

Tom Selleck in Magnum PI
Tom Selleck in Magnum PI

Mammoth Screen’s Damien Timmer, another executive producer on the show, said: “Following the audience response to Victoria, we are delighted that Jenna Coleman will be returning to her throne for a second series. The next few years of Victoria’s reign are packed full of extraordinary real-life events, with constitutional crises, scandals at court and personal challenges aplenty for the Queen and Prince Albert. God Save the Queen!”

Meanwhile, in the US, the trend towards TV drama series revivals seems to be picking up pace. After CBS launched MacGyver this week with a decent 10.9 million audience, there are now reports that ABC is lining up a spin-off series based on the 1980s classic Magnum PI, which starred Tom Selleck. Echoing another recent trend in US TV, the plan is for the show to have a female lead – with Magnum’s daughter moving to Hawaii to take over the business.

The reboot business is in full swing now with The X-Files, Gilmore Girls, 24 and Prison Break all having been revived, or coming up. The new Magnum will be written by John Rogers, whose TNT series Leverage ran for five seasons from 2008 to 2012. Rogers also created TNT’s hit scripted series The Librarians.

Still in the US, there’s good news for fans of Atlanta, the new comedy from Donald Glover that airs on FX. The network has just announced a second season. It has also revealed that it is returning Better Things, another comedy that has been performing well. “It’s really gratifying to launch two new comedies that have received overwhelming critical acclaim right out of the gate and that are emblematic of FX’s award-winning brand,” said Nick Grad and Eric Schrier, heads of original programming for FX Networks and FX Productions. “It is clear to us Atlanta and Better Things have struck a nerve with viewers.”

Donald Glover's Atlanta will return to FX
Donald Glover’s Atlanta will return to FX

Atlanta follows two young, black cousins as they try to make it rich out of rap. International buyers will get to see what the fuss is about when Fox brings the show to the Mipcom market in Cannes next month as part of its slate. Better Things is co-created by Pamela Adlon and Louis C.K. Adlon plays Sam, a woman trying to raise her three daughters, while also attempting to hold down a career in Hollywood. Still with Fox’s international ambition, the distribution arm of Fox Networks Group is also heading to Mipcom with Ron Howard’s forthcoming space epic Mars. The six-part series, about a fictitious mission to colonise the red planet in 2033, will receive its world premiere in Cannes ahead of its debut on National Geographic later this year.

Also in the US, The CW is developing a new supernatural series called Stick Man with Cameron Prosandeh (Helix) and Tim Kring (Heroes). Stick Man is about an amateur documentarian who returns to her hometown to chronicle the events of her brother’s murder and the ensuing trial. While there, she discovers evidence linking her brother’s death to supernatural events.

Designated Survivor stars Kiefer Sutherland
Designated Survivor stars Kiefer Sutherland

There was also more evidence this week of Netflix’s considerable clout in the international rights market following news that it has secured international streaming rights (excluding North America) to ABC drama Designated Survivor, starring Kiefer Sutherland. The deal was done with rights holder Entertainment One (eOne). Last month, Netflix also secured the rights to CBS’s highly anticipated new iteration of Star Trek, which is coming some time in 2017.

In one of the week’s more intriguing commissions, Verizon has greenlit a political comedy for its streaming service Go90. Executive produced by Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, the 6×30′ show is called Embeds. It explores five reporters covering the US presidential election and has been created by Scott Conroy and Peter Hamby. Go90also also recently commissioned a live-action series inspired by the Battlefield video game franchise.

Back in the UK, Scottish producer Synchronicity Films is developing a crime thriller based on Graeme Macrae Burnet novel His Bloody Project. The book, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, explores the sanity of a teenager convicted of a brutal triple murder in 1869 in a remote Scottish crofting community. Early discussions are underway with a major UK broadcaster, with screenwriters currently being considered.”

Claire Mundell, creative director at Synchronicity, said: “We are delighted to have discovered this wonderful novel on our own doorstep. It’s also great to work with an indie publisher [Saraband Imprint Contraband] that believes in backing undiscovered talent as much as we do.”

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Drama queen

Jenna Coleman swaps the TARDIS for Buckingham Palace in a forthcoming ITV period drama. DQ speaks to writer Daisy Goodwin and executive producer Damien Timmer about Victoria.

If the mere mention of Queen Victoria conjures up the image of a “boot-faced old bag in a bonnet,” an eight-part drama starring Jenna Coleman (pictured above) could be about to change perceptions of Britain’s second longest-reigning monarch.

Previously travelling the galaxy as Doctor Who’s companion, the actor’s first starring role away from the TARDIS is as the young queen in an ITV drama simply titled Victoria, which opens with her ascension to the throne at the tender age of 18.

Daisy Goodwin
Daisy Goodwin

The series then follows the monarch through the first three years of her reign, including her courtship and marriage to Prince Albert (played by Tom Hughes).

While being a teenager on the throne might have thrown up some challenges for Victoria, series creator and writer Daisy Goodwin also faced a steep learning curve – this is her first ever screenwriting commission.

But she describes the experience as “a revelation, an education and a great privilege,” adding: “To do something you feel very passionately about and have it realised so splendidly is something most writers spend their entire career waiting for and it’s happened to me right out of the gate. I’m totally thrilled. And I find none of it boring because I’ve never done it before.”

Goodwin reveals her “affair” with Victoria started when she was 18 and studying history at Cambridge. “I was reading her diaries and came across this extraordinary entry that described how head-over-heels in love she was with Albert and it made me laugh,” she recalls. “I had a moment where I realised she was a teenager who was having to learn how to be queen in the full glare of the public eye.”

Goodwin went on to have a successful television career, not in drama but in the factual space, first with Talkback Productions, where she devised shows such as Grand Designs and How Clean is your House?. She then founded Silver River Productions, before her first novel – the Victorian era-set My Last Duchess – was published in 2010. Her second, The Fortune Hunter, landed in 2014.

“I was reminded what an interesting character Victoria was – and at the same time I have a daughter who’s a teenager and the same height as she was, just under five foot. We had a huge row one morning and I looked at her and wondered what would happen if she woke up tomorrow to find she was the most powerful woman in the world. I thought that was the starting point for a fascinating drama and I like the idea that Victoria’s a teenage queen with all that that implies.”

Victoria
Victoria will premiere on ITV on Sunday August 28

In particular, Goodwin says she was drawn to the idea of making a historical drama with wit, verve and humour. “Just because it has bonnets doesn’t mean it has to be stuffy in any way,” she asserts. “I’ve tried to tell the story as it would have unfolded at the time. Our perception of Victoria is always as a boot-faced old bag in a bonnet, which is the old Victoria, but in her early years there was huge unease about whether this little girl could take on this hugely important role. That’s what I’ve tried to convey in the early part of the series.”

As a historian and Victoria expert, it would be understandable if Goodwin felt pressure to ensure the series’ factual accuracy – but she says she isn’t fazed by the prospect of criticism for any dramatic licence in her scriptwriting.

“Obviously I’ve fiddled a bit with chronology, but dramatically it was necessary,” she says. “I know enough about the history to know what I’m doing. Where I’ve changed things, I’ve done it for dramatic effect. But I have been faithful to the emotional truth of the characters I’m writing about. So all the real people, that’s who they were and, as much as possible, I’ve tried to use their own words. When people see episode one, the things they think I’ve made up are the true bits.”

UK broadcaster ITV was obviously impressed by Goodwin’s pitch, handing out a series order despite only one script being written at the time. Mammoth Films (Poldark) then came on board to produce, with Damien Timmer, Goodwin and Dan McCulloch executive producing. ITV Studios Global Entertainment is distributing Victoria worldwide.

Perhaps the biggest piece of the jigsaw, however, was who would play Victoria – the young woman who went on to rule for 63 years and was Britain’s longest-serving monarch until she was overtaken by Elizabeth II on September 9, 2015.

“One of the things we had to get right was Victoria, who was really small and very diminutive – something that hasn’t always been captured in previous translations of her life,” Timmer says. “But it’s one of the things that give her such huge power – she’s this small dynamo. From the beginning we agreed we were looking for a real powerhouse of an actress and, in my mind, Jenna was the obvious person.

Victoria
The show has been producer by Mammoth Screen, which is behind BBC1’s Poldark

“Doctor Who is always shrouded in secrecy and it wasn’t clear whether she would be available. While we had Jenna as our holy grail, we did do some investigating elsewhere – but when we discovered it could work with Jenna, we were utterly thrilled because it’s impossible to imagine anyone else in that part now. Victoria’s a real force of nature – when she was happy she made the room laugh, but when she lost her temper it was probably rather scary. Jenna conveys that in a way that always feels truthful. She manages to be both very sympathetic and properly brutal.”

Goodwin, who describes Coleman as “miraculous,” adds: “Our Victoria is a heroine but she gets things wrong as often as she gets them right. We’re lucky to have an actress in Jenna who can do bad things but makes you realise why she’s doing them. You understand where she’s coming from and you feel towards her like you do your teenage daughter.”

While crowning Coleman as Victoria was a major coup, the rest of the production wasn’t without its challenges. In particular, production designer Michael Howells was tasked with recreating Buckingham Palace, with numerous staterooms, ballrooms and a throne room, as well as quarters for Victoria and her family and the downstairs servants.

“It’s boring to go on about how big a set is but the detail and scale are truly impressive,” Timmer says. “That’s one of the distinctive things about this – the central character’s home is also one of the biggest palaces in the world. You can’t cheat with that, you can’t hide. You’ve got to do it properly. It’s a big place to fill and you’ve got to believe the life of the palace. It’s stuffed to the gills with courtiers and when there’s a ball, these are big spaces to fill. But it’s also a home, somewhere intimate scenes can play.

“The exterior of Buckingham Palace now is not at all what it looked like in Victoria’s reign, which is the key to the show. You think you know what the story will be, but think again. The truth is much more interesting than the story we all think we know.”

Timmer also praises Goodwin – a self-confessed super fan of another ITV period drama, Downton Abbey – for the cast of characters she has built around the young monarch, with actors including Rufus Sewell, Alex Jennings, Paul Rhys, Peter Firth and Catherine Flemming among the ensemble.

“One of the challenges Daisy set herself was portraying the world around Queen Victoria,” he explains. “You have her family, the world of the servants below stairs and all manner of important dignitaries. It’s a big cast and Daisy has managed to make sure all the actors are very well served. It’s rare to encounter a cast as jolly as this lot are because although it’s an ensemble, they really feel they’re getting enough attention because the scripts managed to serve them all very well.”

But what is it that sets Victoria – due to air later this year on ITV and in 2017 on US network PBS – apart from other period dramas?

“Unlike most costume dramas where it’s the woman trying to get the attention of a man, in this you’ve got a woman who from the beginning is the boss,” Goodwin says. “And that makes it different to pretty much any other costume drama out there. Plus it’s a story people think they know but they don’t know. There’s also enough real history there for people who are interested in the period, so I hope it will satisfy on those two levels.”

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Brits dominate Rose D’Or scripted

Mum
Big Talk Productions’ Mum aired on BBC2

The Rose D’Or Awards were dominated by the UK last year with wins in nine out of 11 available categories – and following this week’s release of the Rose D’Or shortlists for 2016, it looks like the UK stands an extremely good chance of repeating its success.

One thing is for sure, the UK will win both the sitcom and the newly created drama series categories. In sitcom, the three shows slugging it out are Episodes from Hat Trick Productions, Mum and Raised by Wolves, the latter two from Big Talk Productions.

In drama, the contest is between Happy Valley, River and This Is England ’90. The winners will be revealed in Berlin on September 13.

Looking first at the dramas, Happy Valley (written by Sally Wainwright) and This Is England ’90 (Shane Meadows/Jack Thorne) have already received plenty of plaudits. River, a six-part drama for the BBC, is probably the least-known of the three, despite being written by one of the UK’s top talents, Abi Morgan.

Having started out writing for theatre, Morgan’s earliest credits were in TV (Peak Practice, My Fragile Heart), but more recently she has moved effortlessly back and forth between film and TV. Her best-known films include Brick Lane, The Iron Lady and Suffragette, while stand-out TV credits include novel adaptation Birdsong, The Hour and River.

River
Six-part drama River earned positive critical notices in the UK press

Regardless of whether River triumphs in Berlin, Morgan certainly got the thumbs up from critics. In the UK, The Daily Telegraph critic Michael Hogan said the series was “beautifully written by Abi Morgan, stylishly directed and superbly acted. [Lead actor] Stellan Skarsgård delivered a powerhouse performance: sad and soulful in one scene, sardonically spiky and manically energetic in the next. With his craggy face and crumpled demeanour, the haunted detective prowled the streets of London like a wounded bear. I’m torn between wanting River to get recommissioned and wanting this series to stand alone as six near-perfect episodes.”

Aside from its UK screening on the BBC, River has also been available via Netflix internationally. In Canada, Globe and Mail critic John Doyle added his voice to Hogan’s, calling the show a masterpiece of melancholy crime drama: “It is the sort of drama critics rejoice in seeing. It is a stunningly successful hybrid of Nordic noir and the traditional, gloomy British police procedural. It is about solving a murder, but mainly about the intricacies of the human mind dealing with loss and terrible grief.”

The Rose D’Or sitcom category, meanwhile, brings international recognition for Stefan Golaszewski, writer of BBC2’s Mum. Golaszewski previously wrote Bafta-winning sitcom Him & Her for BBC2. In Mum, he tells the story of a woman seeking to rebuild her life following the death of her husband.

Catastrophe
Rose D’Or-winning sitcom Catastrophe is set for third and fourth seasons

When the show was commissioned, Shane Allen, controller of comedy commissioning, said: “Commissioning Mum was a delightfully easy decision after seeing the sure-footed pilot. Stefan is a unique author and this is a very confident next chapter in what promises to be a distinguished career in comedy. All his hallmarks are there – painful authenticity, comedy grotesques, emotional tenderness, revelation and depth – it’s a class act. I think it will connect with a lot of people as a refreshing take on an overlooked stage in life.”

Conveniently for the sake of narrative flow, last year’s Rose D’Or-winning sitcom Catastrophe is also in the news this week, with Channel 4 commissioning a third and fourth season of the critically acclaimed show. Created by and starring Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, the second season of Catastrophe was C4’s second-highest performing comedy of the year. The show has also been streamed in the US by Amazon Prime and picked up for adaptation for French-speaking Canada.

Announcing the news, Phil Clarke, C4’s head of comedy, said: “I am thrilled to commission a third and fourth season. It’s a welcome return for the brave, razor-edged, excruciatingly honest and painfully funny portrayal of a modern, long-term relationship.”

Raised by Wolves
Big Talk Productions’ Raised by Wolves

Critics have also been effusive in their praise of the show. The Guardian’s Will Dean said it “inverts the classic romcom with sexual honesty, a barrage of swearing and a wonderfully dysfunctional support cast. Catastrophe is a modern great. All 12 episodes [the first two seasons] were superb in pretty much almost every aspect. At its heart it’s an ordinary love story, couched in some first-class swearing, about sexual honesty, served with a side-plate of adultery, lust, elderly parents, flirtatious colleagues, money worries and a dead dog. The love story we deserve.”

The Times’ Hugh Rifkind added that it is “the funniest British comedy of the past five years. I shan’t say more, because it is so funny that me telling you the funny bits would be considerably less funny than you actually watching it, which is definitely what you should do. It’s tight and sparse and there’s never a wasted moment. In a nutshell, the best bits are about all the terrible things you never quite say to your friends, family and significant other, and what would happen if everybody just said them.”

Announcing the recommission, Horgan and Delaney said: “We are thrilled to be making a third season of Catastrophe. Rob and Sharon are a blast to spend time with. And we’re not talking about ourselves in the third person, we’re talking about the characters. We’re eager to breathe life back into Rob and Sharon. Okay, now we are talking about us. In the first season Rob and Sharon went through a lot (us) and even more in the second season (back to the characters). We’re looking forward to putting Rob and Sharon (both us and the characters) through further pain for your enjoyment (now we’re talking about you).”

This is England '90
This Is England ’90, written by Shane Meadows and Jack Thorne, is up for a Rose D’Or

Delaney recently took part in a panel session at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, during which he talked about the challenges of delivering great comedy. He talked about the need to keep ego under control, even when the world is telling you how great you are. “I had this fear of becoming this walled-off guy who wouldn’t listen. So I’m a real believer in humility,” he said.

Explaining why he persisted with comedy as a career, Delaney said: “I realised after the global financial collapse that no career is safe, that everyone else knows how comedians feel. So I thought I might as well do exactly what I want to do.”

He was also very refreshing on the subject of encouraging diversity, observing that it is “insane” not to draw on diverse voices. “My advice is to be selfish, make money by embracing diversity,” he quipped.

Finally, in the UK, there are reports that the new season of BBC period drama Poldark will go head-to-head on Sunday night with ITV’s new period drama Victoria (September 4, 21.00). Fortunately, most of us have time-shifting technology these days, so my guess is that people will store Victoria so they can avoid the ad breaks.

Poldark is written by Debbie Horsfield while Victoria is created and written by novelist Daisy Goodwin in her screenwriting debut. Alongside the likes of Sally Wainwright, Sarah Phelps and Abi Morgan, these shows may be indicators that female writers are starting to hold more sway in primetime – a section of the schedule that, from a writer’s point of view, can sometimes resemble a London gentleman’s club. Or Muirfield Golf Club.

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International Drama Summit: Round-up

The international drama community gathered at the BFI on London’s South Bank for three days of screenings, panel sessions, case studies and awards. Michael Pickard looks back on C21 Media’s International Drama Summit, part of Content London.

On the south bank of the River Thames, hundreds of producers, writers and broadcasters from around the world gathered in London for C21 Media’s International Drama Summit this week.

Held at the British Film Institute, the event took in three days of screenings, panel sessions and interviews covering the hottest talking points in the business – from budgets and coproductions to what commissioners are looking for to fill their schedules.

Audiences took in the first images of new Icelandic drama Trapped, written by Clive Bradley and produced by Dynamic Television. Producer Klaus Zimmermann discussed the challenges of working with nine commissioning broadcasters, among them SVT, DR1, DRK, France Télévisions and BBC4.

Figures from all areas of the drama industry descended on London for C21's International Drama Summit
Figures from all areas of the drama industry descended on London for C21’s International Drama Summit

Bradley also spoke about his positive experience working in a US-style writers room for the first time. “It’s always going to be true that if you have four rather than one brain that you will create more,” he said. “The turnaround was always going to be very quick because you’ve got at least eight months to do 10 episodes.”

There was also a packed house for a first glimpse at ITV’s forthcoming period drama Victoria, starring former Doctor Who companion Jenna Coleman. “Jenna was born to be queen,” said Damien Timmer, from producer Mammoth Screen.

Writer Daisy Goodwin added: “I’ve tried to tell the story of a teenager growing up with a crown. She’s not the queen you expect. It’s drama but everything that happens is true.”

Among the drama case studies, the creative teams from shows including Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, The Collection, Dickensian, Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands, Capital and Jekyll & Hyde took to the stage to reveal secrets from behind the scenes.

Agatha Christie Ltd CEO Hilary Strong said she always envisioned And Then There Were None to be a coproduction, with the three-parter due to air on BBC1 in the UK and Lifetime in the US.

“Working with Joel [Denton, A+E Networks ] and A+E has been a real revelation. This is a BBC show, it’s inherently British, but A+E didn’t demand we put any US stars in as per the old coproduction thing. That is over. Instead, we knew it needed a cast that resonated [in the US] so there was a dialogue.”

DQ editor Michael Pickard (far left) discusses Jekyll and Hyde with the team behind the show
DQ editor Michael Pickard (far left) discusses ITV’s Jekyll and Hyde with the team behind the show

Elsewhere, executives discussed spiralling budgets, creating an increasing need to piece together funding through multiple streams – whether via licence fees, private funding, distribution financing or pre-sales.

And while there was plenty of talk about the alleged saturation of the TV drama market, it was clear that many executives simply believe that while there might be too many shows, there aren’t enough great shows.

Morgan Wandell (pictured top), head of drama series for Amazon Studios, said as much during his keynote session when he warned producers against making run-of-the-mill, “industrial grade” procedurals.

He told delegates that Amazon Studios is aiming to make shows that are a “step above” what is already on offer, such as the SVoD platform’s recently launched The Man in the High Castle.

“If you’re making industrial-grade procedurals then good luck, but you do run the risk of being washed out,” he said, adding that some producers and writers “have built up specific muscles in TV. We’ve stripped away narrative tropes they relied on.”

Meanwhile, UK commissioners noted the changing television landscape as genre tastes and viewing habits continue to evolve.

BBC drama commissioner Polly Hill claimed TV audiences are now more open than ever to “complex, tricky” plots as she unveiled a new series from Luther creator Neil Cross set in a pre-apocalyptic London.

Sky Anne Mensah
Sky head of drama Anne Mensah took to the stage alongside commissioning editor Cameron Roach

Hard Sun, which will air in 2017 and is produced by Euston Films, follows detectives Elaine Renko and Robert Hicks, partners and enemies, who seek to protect their loved ones and enforce the law in a world slipping closer to certain destruction.

Hill told the Drama Summit that the success of the BBC’s recent drama slate, including Sherlock and Happy Valley, was evidence that “mainstream is really moving and big audiences will watch really complex, tricky subjects.”

Sky head of drama Anne Mensah and drama commissioning editor Cameron Roach described the differences between the networks they look after. Watching Sky Atlantic was compared to buying a ticket for a blockbuster film, while Sky Arts was likened to an art house cinema – though not for niche storytelling.

The pair said story was key across the board, however, adding that the pay TV broadcaster’s development team is now commissioning year-round for all three networks, including Sky1, and that channel boundaries remain fluid depending on the project.

ITV director of drama Steve November was more specific when describing his channel’s needs for the next two years. With shows such as Victoria and Jericho coming up in 2016, the broadcaster is well placed to retain viewers following the end of long-running hit Downton Abbey, which concludes with a Christmas special later this month.

And while ITV remains keen on period dramas – with Dark Angel and Doctor Thorne also coming up next year – November said he was looking for a range of new contemporary dramas to fill the 21.00 slot.

ITV drama director Steve November
ITV drama director Steve November

“I have got to be honest, I watched [the BBC’s] Dr Foster with a degree of envy and I wish we had that show,” he said. “Big romantic thrillers and a family relationship drama are real priorities for us.”

Channel 4 drama team Piers Wenger and Beth Willis also talked about the challenge of building a year-round drama slate, and how they approach traditional genres such as crime, period and sci-fi in a fresh way (see No Offence, Indian Summers and Humans respectively).

Deputy head of drama Willis said: “If it could be on another channel, we shouldn’t be doing it. We’re always looking for shows with an edge.”

Wenger, C4’s head of drama, revealed there are a variety of funding models in play at the broadcaster, such as its international coproduction strategy that saw Humans produced with US cable channel AMC.

As the conference drew to a close, the challenges of the future came into view – keeping viewers tuning into linear broadcasts, judging success in ways other than overnight ratings, piecing together financing in a world where there are no longer any set models for production and finding ways to tell new stories in an increasingly competitive market.

There will never be a formula for creating a hit series, but the ambition to find the next big hit is continuing to drive the business forward in new and innovative ways, ensuring the appetite for television drama will remain undiminished for some time to come.

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NBC still feeling Grimm

Grimm has been given a fifth season
Grimm has been given a fifth season

NBC has generated a lot of headlines in the last few weeks for culling so many of its “freshman” shows – those that have only aired for one season. But one NBC show that has built up decent momentum is Grimm, a police procedural fantasy hybrid now in its fourth season. With ratings currently on a high, it was an easy decision for NBC to greenlight a fifth series in February this year.

Grimm’s success is not really surprising when you realise that one of the show’s co-creators, David Greenwalt, has a credit list that includes iconic series such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer and its spin-off series Angel. Working with Buffy creator Joss Whedon, Greenwalt wrote, directed and produced large chunks of the first three seasons of Buffy before working with Whedon on Angel. At this point, he brought in Jim Kouf, an old screenwriting buddy whose credits up until that point included the movie Stakeout.

Angel ran for five seasons (110 episodes) on WB Network before being killed off in 2004, much to the shock of its adoring fans. Whedon himself was mortified, comparing the cancellation of the show to a “healthy guy falling dead from a heart attack.”

Roll forward a few years and the idea of a Brothers Grimm-based contemporary drama was first mooted by Todd Milliner (co-founder of production company Hazy Mills). Milliner met with Greenwalt to discuss the idea and Greenwalt immediately called up Kouf. Along with Stephen Carpenter, they devised what would become Grimm. Carpenter was credited on the first episode of season one, but since then Grimm has very much been a Greenwalt/Kouf enterprise. Although other writers have penned episodes, Greenwalt and Kouf tend to write the early and late episodes of each season and also an episode somewhere in the middle.

Grimm isn’t Mad Men or Breaking Bad, but it does a stalwart job for NBC on Friday evenings while also getting positive reviews from critics. During season three, The New York Times said: “Grimm is not a profound show, but few are more purely entertaining, engaging, clever, tense, funny and well-paced…”

Angel was abruptly cancelled
Angel was abruptly cancelled

Not to be overlooked is the fact it also does well in markets like Germany, France and Australia. The earlier series have also just been picked by Amazon for use in markets like the US and UK.

So what morals can we draw from Grimm? Well, there’s clearly a message here about the power of screenwriting partnerships, and also about the enduring nature of certain story archetypes (Grimm is, in some ways, an upgrade on Angel). And it’s interesting that Greenwalt and Kouf are 65 and 63 respectively – age clearly hasn’t prevented them from writing a show that is proving a regular ratings success among 18- to 49-year-olds.

Last week, we looked at British screenwriter Sally Wainwright and the way her mature works have focused on her home county of Yorkshire. Until now, Wainwright has focused on contemporary drama. So this week it’s worth noting that she is to write a two-hour special about 19th century novelists the Bronte Sisters (Charlotte, Emily and Anne) and their troubled brother Branwell.

Operating under the slightly unwieldy title To Walk Invisible: The Bronte Sisters, the production will be filmed in and around Yorkshire, where the sisters lived their brief lives (Anne and Emily were dead by 30 – and there were actually two more sisters who died as children). Commenting, Wainwright said: “I am thrilled beyond measure that I’ve been asked by the BBC to bring to life these three fascinating, talented, ingenious Yorkshire women.”

The project was commissioned by BBC1 controller Charlotte Moore, who added: “The Bronte sisters have always been enigmatic but Sally Wainwright’s brilliantly authentic new BBC1 drama brings the women behind some of our greatest literary masterpieces to life. It’s an extraordinary tale of family tragedy and their passion and determination, against the odds, to have their genius recognised in a male 19th century world.”

The BBC’s broadcasting rival ITV has also decided to delve into the 19th century, commissioning an eight-part series on the life of Queen Victoria from Mammoth Screen. Based on Victoria’s diaries, the series will focus on her early life as she ascends the throne at age 18. Given that Victoria lived until the age of 82 and her diaries run to a total of 62 million words, there’s plenty of potential for this project to run and run if it appeals to audiences.

Daisy Goodwin is writing ITV's Queen Victoria drama
Daisy Goodwin is writing ITV’s Queen Victoria drama

The writing task has been handed to Daisy Goodwin, best known within the TV business as a producer, having run indie company Silver River until last year. The Victoria project is Goodwin’s screenwriting debut – though she has carved out a successful career as a novelist in recent years.

Explaining the appeal, she says: “I’ve been fascinated by Victoria since I started reading her diaries at university. She’s a woman whose personality leaps off the page – a tiny 4’11” teenager who overnight became the most powerful woman in the world, and her candour and spirit makes for an irresistible heroine.

“Victoria was the first woman to have it all; she had a passionate marriage, nine children and was grandmother to most of Europe’s royalty. But she also had a job, being Queen of the most important nation in the world. It wasn’t easy; her reign was beset by scandal and sleaze, and it was only by sheer force of personality that she prevailed. Her diaries give an astonishingly vivid picture of her transformation from rebellious teenager into, to my mind, our greatest queen.”

Oscar-winning writer Paulo Sorrentino is working on The Young Pope
Oscar-winning writer Paulo Sorrentino is working on The Young Pope

Another standout project revealed this week is The Young Pope, an HBO/Sky/Canal+ coproduction about a fictional Pope starring Jude Law. Production on The Young Pope will begin this summer and continue into 2016, with filming predominantly in Italy. The eight-part series will be directed by Italian Paulo Sorrentino, who will also write in collaboration with Tony Grisoni, Umberto Contarello and Stefano Rulli.

Sorrentino is quite a catch. His career to date has primarily been focused on feature films. His film The Consequences Of Love was nominated for the Palme d’Or in 2004 and he went on to win the 2008 Prix du Jury with Il Divo. More success followed when his film The Great Beauty won the Oscar for Best Foreign-Language Film in 2014. Sorrentino has recently started to work in English. His film Youth, starring Michael Caine, is currently competing for the Palme d’Or at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival (winner to be announced on Sunday May 24).

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