Freddie Highmore takes the lead in ABC’s The Good Doctor, the story of an autistic trainee doctor trying to make his way through a highly competitive teaching hospital.
Executive producers Daniel Dae Kim (Lost, Hawaii Five-0) and David Shore, who wrote the pilot, discuss why they wanted to produce a show about a hero in the age of anti-heroes on the big and small screens.
They also discuss how they adapted the South Korean series on which The Good Doctor is based for a US audience, while Shore – best known as the creator of hit medical series House – explains his decision to return to a hospital setting and how the show will balance procedural and serialised elements.
The Good Doctor is produced by Sony Pictures Television, Shore Z and 3 AD and distributed by Sony.
A series described as “the Edwardian X-Files” pits Harry Houdini against Arthur Conan Doyle in supernatural crime drama Houdini & Doyle. Michael Pickard reports.
While Houdini & Doyle represents the increasing globalisation of television drama, there’s familiarity for viewers in this new supernatural crime drama.
Commissioned by ITV in the UK, the series has a strong international footprint. It was produced by British indie Big Talk Productions and Canada’s Shaftesbury, while filming took place in Manchester, Liverpool and Toronto. It will also air in Canada on Global and on US network Fox, with Sony Pictures Television distributing.
And audiences tuning in on both sides of the Atlantic can look forward to a show described as “the Edwardian X-Files,” which unites real-life friends and adversaries author Arthur Conan Doyle and illusionist Harry Houdini as a pair of crime solvers in early 20th century England.
But while Sherlock Holmes author Doyle, played by Stephen Mangan (pictured left above), is a passionate believer in the paranormal, Houdini (Six Feet Under’s Michael Weston, alongside Mangan above) refuses to believe in the supernatural, leading them into conflict and competition as they help Scotland Yard solve some bizarre and inexplicable crimes.
The series is executive produced by House creator David Shore and co-creators David Hoselton (Chicago PD) and David Titcher (The Librarians), alongside Kenton Allen, Luke Alkin, Matthew Justice, Christina Jennings, Scott Garvie and Maggie Murphy.
Showrunner Hoselton says: “It was a setup that seemed almost too good to be true: the real-life friendship between Sherlock Holmes’ creator and the great magician, bonded by a mutual interest in the paranormal. And most intriguing of all was the fact they were on unexpected sides of the debate, for one would assume Doyle to be the sceptic and Houdini the believer, but it was quite the opposite.”
The drama does take some “artistic licence” with history, however. The two men were already past middle age when they met in real life, but the series moves their friendship back 20 years to 1901, which Hoselton says is the ideal time for viewers to meet the characters.
“A new century, a new king, a new era chock-a-block with new ideas,” he says of the show’s setting. “In a highly unpopular move, Doyle had killed off Holmes to devote more time to ‘weightier work,’ and Houdini was at the apex of his career as the highest-paid performer in the world.”
The pair are grounded by constable Adelaide Stratton (played by Rebecca Liddiard), the UK’s first female police officer, who is based on a real person and provides a window into an evolving world 17 years before women got the vote.
Hostler adds: “Armed with equal parts scepticism, hope and humour, this trio felt like the perfect group to explore the world of the supernatural – and if they happen to raise a few profound questions in the process, all the better.”
Mangan, best known for his role in comedy Episodes, admits he agreed to take part in Houdini & Doyle after discovering David Shore was involved in the project.
“You can never guarantee anything will be a success,” he explains. “But if the person at the top of the tree knows what they’re doing then it certainly helps. So when I found out that person was David, it was a very simple decision. I read a couple of scripts and agreed to do it.”
The British actor, who describes the series as “the Edwardian X-Files,” continues: “Not every single crime is explained. It would be a little dull if that were the case. As much as I love Scooby Doo, as a crime drama it starts to get a little bit predictable after a while. And you don’t want that. What I love about this show is that every episode is written by a different person and they all have very different feelings.”
Weston was also drawn to the project by Shore’s involvement, having previously appeared in House. “It’s such a unique idea, set in this period time of these two epic figures,” he says. “And they’ve done it with such wit, humour and humanity. Yet it’s this great adventure and procedural at the same time.”
Accepting their parts meant Mangan and Weston were jumping into the deep end – literally, as the opening scene finds the pair up to their necks in a cellar as water rises around them. The stunt was filmed using a shipping container filled with water in a Manchester car park, though the container had to be reinforced to stop the sides collapsing due to the weight of the water.
“It was really intense, but fun,” says Weston. “We have incredible wardrobe and set departments that build these extravagant things. They built this set for us and we were in water for hours and hours.
“They were raising the level gradually and let us go right to the point of real danger. We always want to make it look real and feel real. So we will do it as close as we can. We really were gasping for air and happy when it was all over. But it was awesome fun. You get a little adrenaline rush.”
Mangan continues: “That’s one of the few stunts I do. Michael does most of them – he was suspended upside down in a straightjacket and lowered into a tube of water. He’s always leaping around while I’m typing at a typewriter.”
The series debuts on ITV and pay TV channel ITV Encore on March 13, before rolling out on Global and Fox on May 2.
But despite Houdini & Doyle’s supernatural flavour, Mangan says the appeal for viewers will be the familiarity of its case-of-the-week procedural structure.
“There’s a reason why there are so many crime dramas around, and it’s because they hook you in,” he adds. “You just want to know whodunnit. But at the same time there is a variety in each show. Each episode is like a self-contained film all on its own plus a double act. Again, a classic formula – two very different blokes. I think they have fallen upon two fascinating characters in Houdini and Doyle. It’s exciting, compelling and funny – and a real bonanza for anyone turned on by moustaches.”
NBC has greenlit a second season of its 1960s-set drama Aquarius, starring David Duchovny as an LAPD cop on the hunt for Charles Manson. The renewal follows an innovative launch strategy, which saw Aquarius become the first broadcast series to be streamed in its entirety following its debut, with NBC making all 12 episodes available online for the four weeks following the initial NBC telecast.
NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke said: “With its riveting drama and innovative release strategy, Aquarius has excited the critics, hooked millions of viewers and energised our summer. It’s no secret that the way people watch television is evolving, so we took a unique approach to how we delivered Aquarius. It has driven some record numbers for NBC Digital and helped us reach viewers who might have otherwise overlooked a great summer drama.”
Robert Hayes, exec VP of NBC Entertainment Digital, added: “Beyond generating impressive view totals, the network’s release strategy with Aquarius helped us gain new insights into viewership patterns, bingeing behaviour and social engagement, expanding our knowledge of how people are watching our shows online.”
At the time of writing, Aquarius is six episodes into its first run and doesn’t seem to have suffered from NBC’s novel release approach. Traditional broadcasts of Aquarius are averaging a 1.2 rating in adults aged 18 to 49 and 5.8 million viewers overall. The show is also indexing well in time-shifted viewing and has generated a steady stream of social media requests in support of renewal.
The success of the series owes a lot to Duchovny, who continues to be one of the most bankable TV series stars. After almost a decade as male lead in The X-Files, he fronted Showtime’s Californication for seven seasons until 2014. With Aquarius proving that Duchovny hasn’t lost his mojo, it will add to the excitement around the upcoming revival of The X-Files (which will also star the equally reliable Gillian Anderson).
The renewal is welcome news for ITV Studios Global Entertainment, which has invested heavily in the distribution rights to US scripted series over the last couple of years. It has already done a deal with Seven Network in Australia for Aquarius but will now be better placed to do business with more episodes.
The last week has also seen yet another commission rooted in the literary mythology surrounding Arthur Conan Doyle and his iconic creation Sherlock Holmes. With the character sufficiently mined via the BBC’s excellent TV series Sherlock, Guy Ritchie’s recent movies and the upcoming Ian McKellen film Mr. Holmes (all that’s left is Sherlock – Boy Detective, though even that is probably in development somewhere), attention has turned to Doyle himself.
First came ITV miniseries Arthur & George (adapted from the Julian Barnes novel) and now we have Houdini and Doyle, a 10-part crime series for ITV Encore that is being executive produced by House creator David Shore. It has been written and created by David Hoselton along with Canadian screenwriter David Titcher.
The notion of a link between Houdini and Doyle was explored in the 1997 movie FairyTale: A True Story, though the ITV Encore series will need to use a fair amount of poetic licence to fill out a 10-part crime series. The show is a coproduction between the UK’s Big Talk Productions and Canada’s Shaftesbury, with Sony Pictures Television handling international distribution. The series will air on Global in Canada and Fox in the US, as well as ITV Encore in the UK.
Meanwhile, Amazon has underlined its faith in critically acclaimed transgender comedy drama Transparent by greenlighting a third season before the second season goes to air. As part of the announcement, Amazon also said it has signed a deal with Transparent creator Jill Soloway to develop more projects.
“Jill is truly a creative force and I’m thrilled we will be collaborating with her on additional projects in the future and on a third season of Transparent,” said Amazon Studios VP Roy Price.
Soloway, whose other credits include Six Feet Under, added: “I am blown away by the creative freedom Amazon gives me and I can’t wait to reveal where this journey is going to take us.”
This week also saw US cable channel ABC Family greenlight a pilot called Guilt, a one-hour drama series about an American abroad in London who becomes the prime suspect in the murder of her roommate. Reminiscent of the Amanda Knox case, Guilt focuses on the investigation that unfolds after a savage murder – exploring whether the central character is a naive, young girl whose poor decisions are magnified by the British tabloid press or a sociopath who actually killed her friend.
“Guilt is a sophisticated, sexy and suspenseful crime epic that will have audiences captivated week to week,” said Karey Burke, exec VP of programming and development at ABC Family.
Like many of its US cable counterparts, ABC Family is investing more in original scripted series. Other projects in the works include Beyond, from the creator of Heroes, Tim Kring.
While most of the major production announcements in the US are made in the spring, mid-summer is when networks start to give more detail about their autumn launch plans. One of the most talked-about projects coming up this year is Scream Queens, executive produced by Glee co-creators Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan. The series, which will meld comedy, mystery and horror, is debuting with a two-hour special on September 22.
Fox summarises the series: “All hell is about to break loose on the Wallace University campus when, 20 years after a mysterious tragedy, a devil-clad killer begins to target the sisters of Kappa House. With at least one casualty each week until the mystery is solved, anyone could be the next victim – or the murderer.”
Scream Queens is part of a growing trend towards anthology series, seen elsewhere with titles like American Horror Story (which was created by Murphy and Falchuk), True Detective and Fargo. Its strong cast includes Emma Roberts (Scream 4), Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween), Lea Michele (Glee), Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine), Oliver Hudson (Nashville), Nick Jonas (Kingdom) and pop star Ariana Grande. Early social media buzz suggests Fox will have a hit on its hands.