Tag Archives: Dick Wolf

Gilligan brings cult following to HBO

Vince Gilligan is adapting
Vince Gilligan is adapting Tim Reiterman’s book about cult leader Jim Jones

As the creator of AMC shows Breaking Bad and its prequel Better Call Saul, and with writing and producing credits on The X-Files, Vince Gilligan’s place in the TV hall of fame is as secure as anybody’s. But he also has a couple of strikeouts to his name: X-Files spin-off The Lone Gunmen lasted a single season on Fox, while CBS’s Battle Creek shut down last year after just 13 episodes.

Maybe he is best suited to the morally ambiguous world of cable TV – which would be good news given that his next project is for HBO. Called Raven, the limited series will explore infamous cult leader Jim Jones and the Jonestown Massacre in Guyana in 1978. It is based on a book called Raven: The Untold Story of Jim Jones by Tim Reiterman, a journalist who survived the tragedy.

Gilligan, who will work alongside Breaking Bad director Michelle McLaren, won’t have any shortage of source material. Aside from the book, the Jonestown massacre has been the subject of a film and a couple of high-profile documentaries. He will need to write quickly, however, because A&E is also reported to be developing a drama about Jones as part of a series exploring US cults.

At the other end of the spectrum in terms of subject matter, venerable TV producer Dick Wolf is working with former One Direction band member Zayn Malik on a new series for NBC. Also involving Universal TV, Unigram and First Access Entertainment, it follows the formation of a successful boy band, exploring both the excitement and the pressure that comes with global fame.

Zayn Malik
Zayn Malik is involved in Boys for NBC

The series, called Boys, is being written by Sherri Cooper Landsman and Jennifer Levin. Landsman and Levin have worked together on a number of shows including Brothers & Sisters, Unforgettable and, most recently, Beauty and the Beast. The latter, which launched in 2012 on CBS, ends tomorrow after four seasons on air – which makes the new show very timely.

“It’s exciting to be diving into this project with such passionate and prolific producers,” said Jennifer Salke, president of NBC Entertainment. “Zayn brings an authentic point of view to this world where kids are catapulted into fame at a dizzying speed. On top of our excitement around the ideas being discussed, we have a lot of respect for the project’s musical and digital ambitions.”

Still in the US, basketball superstar LeBron James’s production company Springhill Entertainment has sold a sports drama pilot to NBC. The as-yet-untitled show is about a brilliant doctor who specialises in treating the world’s greatest sports stars, with renowned orthopaedic/sports surgeon Dr James Andrews on board as an executive consultant. The script will be written by Matt O’Neill, whose main credit is the feature film Bait & Switch. O’Neill will work alongside Nicolas Falacci and Cheryl Heuton (Numb3rs) with the three all expected to be involved if the show progresses to series. For more on dramas with sporting subject matter, go here.

In mainland Europe, meanwhile, France 2 and ProSieben have been announced as the broadcast partners for Les Rivières Pourpres (Crimson Rivers), a new TV series from Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp and Maze Pictures. Based on a crime novel by Jean-Christophe Grange, the story has already had some success as a movie series starring Jean Reno (2000 and 2004). It follows two detectives investigating a series of gruesome murders.

Vengeance
La Vengeance Aux Yeux Clairs has started strongly on TF1 in France

Grange is involved in the writing of the series and will work alongside Franck Ollivier. Among his many credits, Ollivier helped adapt Besson’s Taxi film franchise into Taxi Brooklyn for NBC and was also part of the writing team that created Jo, an English-language French police procedural series created by Rene Balcer.

Although Ollivier has experience working on series with a French-English axis, Crimson Rivers will be produced in French. Explaining why, EuropaCorp’s Thomas Anargyros told Variety: “A few years ago, we would have made this series in English, but we now feel confident enough to shoot it in French. Our partners have also gained more confidence in our ability to produce world-class content with French talent.”

Ollivier’s credits run all the way back to 1995 and include Zodiaque, Le Maitre du Zodiaque and Interpol. Aside from Crimson Rivers, recent work includes Instinct and La Vengeance Aux Yeux Clairs. In the latter, which debuted last week on TF1, a woman returns to the French Riviera 10 years after the murders of her mother and brother, with a new identity and a desire for justice. The show picked up 6.3 million viewers across its first two episodes.

In other news, producer/distributor Entertainment One (eOne) has unveiled a strong slate of drama for next month’s Mipcom market, including Kiefer Sutherland thriller Designated Survivor, legal drama Conviction, hostage drama Ransom and crime series Cardinal.

Cardinal
Cardinal has been adapted from a Giles Blunt novel

We’ve discussed the first three in previous columns, but Cardinal is perhaps less well known. Adapted from Giles Blunt’s novel Forty Words for Sorrow, the first of six books in the John Cardinal Mysteries series, the story is based around the murder of a 13-year-old whose body is discovered in a mineshaft.

The drama is produced by Sienna Films and eOne in association with Bell Media’s CTV, with the financial participation of the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation, the Canada Media Fund and the Cogeco Program Development Fund, and with the assistance of the Ontario Film and Television Tax Credit and the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit. So it’s Canadian!

The series has been adapted by Aubrey Nealon, who also serves as executive producer and showrunner. Nealon has a rock-solid set of writing credits that encompasses series such as Flashpoint, Rookie Blue, Saving Hope and Orphan Black. Anyone interested in his work on Orphan Black should look at this BBC blog.

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Screenwriters lay down the law

Perry Mason, Petrocelli, JAG, LA Law, Ally McBeal, Boston Legal, The Practice, Damages – no one does legal drama quite like the US. Here are 10 current and upcoming law-based series.

Suits focuses on slick New York City lawyers
Suits focuses on slick New York City lawyers

Suits Season six of Suits will launch in July. Created by Aaron Korsh, it focuses on slick city lawyer Harvey Specter and his talented protégé Mike Ross. Now up to 76 episodes, it’s a big hit for USA Network and gets an impressive 8.7 rating on IMDb. Part of the appeal of this New York-set show is its fast-paced humour, which shouldn’t come as a surprise given Korsh’s background on successful comedies such as Everybody Loves Raymond.

The Good Wife This show, created by Robert and Michelle King, has just come to an end after seven seasons on CBS. It tells the story of Alicia Florrick, who returns to work as a Chicago-based litigator after 13 years as a stay-at-home mother. There is still a lot of affection for the show, which explains why CBS is planning a spin-off that will only be available via subscription. The Kings are expected to co-write the first episode but will not run it.

Law & Order: SVU, is still going after 17 seasons
Law & Order: SVU, is still going after 17 seasons

Law & Order Created by Dick Wolf, this procedural juggernaut ran for 20 seasons until 2010 on NBC. The first half of every show focused on the investigation of a crime and the second half was the prosecution of the defendant in the New York courts. The show spawned four spin-offs including one set in LA. Another of these, Law & Order: SVU, is still running after 17 seasons. With more than 1,000 episodes in the archive, it’s no surprise that the franchise has also been a big seller in distribution and has been the basis of several adaptations in markets like the UK, France and Russia.

Chicago Justice Also from NBC and Dick Wolf, this show is the latest in a run of Chicago-based procedurals. It was soft launched during Chicago PD this month and is now being prepared for next season’s schedule. It’s early days but the basic line is that it will focus on lawyers in the Chicago area. The story for the Chicago PD launch of the show was created by Wolf but the teleplay was written by Michael Brandt, Derek Haas and Matt Olmstead, all of whom are exec producing the new show.

How-To-Get-Away-With-Murder-s2-ep13-1
How To Get Away With Murder is unusual in that it’s set in a university

How To Get Away With Murder An interesting take on the genre, this ABC show focuses on a law professor at Philadelphia University (played by Viola Davis) who gets caught up in a murder plot along with five of her students. Davis has received a lot of plaudits, as has series creator Peter Nowalk, part of the team at Shondaland. Nowalk learned his trade on other Shondaland series (Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal) before taking the lead. The show has just completed season two and will be back next year.

Doubt Starring Katherine Heigl, this new CBS show will tell the story of a successful defence lawyer who starts to fall for her charismatic client, who may or may not be guilty of a brutal crime. The idea was actually developed for the season just gone but wasn’t picked up as a series. However, it has now been reworked and will feature in the network’s 2016/17 season. Tony Phelan, Joan Rater, Carl Beverly, Sarah Timberman and Adam Bernstein will serve as executive producers with the husband-and-wife team of Phelan and Rater sharing writing duties. Their credits include Madam Secretary, Grey’s Anatomy and Law & Order: Trial By Jury.

Better Call Saul
Better Call Saul offers insights into the US legal system

Better Call Saul It’s easy to forget this AMC series is a legal drama because of its quirky characterisation and links to Breaking Bad. It may not be a procedural in the Law & Order vein but it is a great insight into the machinations of US lawyers. Created by Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, the New Mexico-set show is a strong performer and was recently renewed for a third season.

Conviction This new drama for ABC from the Mark Gordon Company (Quantico) will debut in 2016/17. The pilot was written by Liz Friedman, who has made a name for herself with Jessica Jones and Elementary. The show tells the story of Carter Morrison, the brilliant but rebellious daughter of a former president who is blackmailed into taking a job as the head of Los Angeles’ newly created Conviction Integrity Unit. She examines cases where there’s suspicion that the wrong person may have been convicted of a crime.

The Grinder was cancelled just a week ago
The Grinder was cancelled just a week ago

The Grinder This Fox show makes our list though it was actually cancelled last week after one season. Created by Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel, it’s a comedy drama about an actor (played by Rob Lowe) who returns to his home town in Idaho after his TV series (The Grinder) ends. Having played a lawyer on TV he thinks he is equipped to work with his family law firm – cue comedy. Unfortunately, the ratings for the show were low.

Shots Fired Fox hasn’t given up on the law after the failure of The Grinder, but it has gone for something more serious. For next season it has lined up Shots Fired, an event series that follows the aftermath of a racially charged shooting in a fictional town in North Carolina. Sanaa Lathan, Helen Hunt and Richard Dreyfuss star. Gina Prince-Bythewood and Reggie Rock Bythewood are the series creators on this one. Their writing credits, respectively, include Before I Fall and Gun Hill. There are echoes in this project of the recent FX hit The People vs OJ Simpson, written by a team of six headed by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski.

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TV jury finds in favour of FX OJ drama

Cuba Gooding Jr as OJ Simpson
Cuba Gooding Jr as OJ Simpson

Pre-transmission reviews suggested US cable network FX might be on to a winner with its new anthology series The People vs OJ Simpson: American Crime Story, and that hunch has now been borne out with episode one of the true-life crime drama attracting 5.1 million viewers.

That’s a huge figure for a cable drama and one that includes a high percentage of 18- to 49-year-olds. Possibly we can attribute some of that figure to heavyweight marketing by FX. But the fact the show also generated a 9.1 rating on IMDb suggests there is enough audience appreciation to help it keep up its momentum.

To put the show’s performance into perspective, it is the highest debut ever for FX – beating The Shield’s premiere in 2002. It’s also almost double the audience that tuned in for the premiere of Fargo in 2014. While it is a bit premature to talk about renewal, there are enough highly charged legal cases in recent US history to suggest American Crime Story could run for years.

One other network that will be happy is BBC2 in the UK, which has acquired the show for a mid-February transmission. If the series does as well in the UK as it is doing in the US, it will be another feather in the cap of Sue Deeks, BBC head of programme acquisitions, who has also played a large part in bringing Nordic Noir to the English-speaking world.

Deeks described the The People vs OJ Simpson “a fascinating and totally absorbing dramatisation of a case seared into the public consciousness. It is a case you might think you know all about – but believe me, you don’t know the half of it.”

The return of The X-Files has proved enormously popular around the world
The return of The X-Files has proved enormously popular around the world

The success of the FX show is the second good piece of news for the Fox family after a strong start for Fox’s reboot of Chris Carter’s The X-Files. Episode three of that six-part show has dropped a bit to 8.37 million viewers but this still represents a strong performance.

During the week, Fox also released figures showing that The X-Files has been a hit on the international market. Premiering within 24 hours of the US launch across 80 countries, the show attracted more than 50 million viewers, which Fox calls a “new ratings records in multiple markets.”

Among the highlights from that international performance, Fox says The X-Files matched or surpassed the season six premiere of The Walking Dead in several Latin American countries including Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Mexico. Across 11 European Fox markets, the episode one premiere was seen by more than 2.5 million viewers, with an average audience of 1.7 million. In Canada, the show debuted as the most watched series premiere of the 2015/16 season with 2.4 million viewers on Sunday January 24. With premieres still to come in the UK, Germany, France, Australia and India, Fox expects the total worldwide audience to grow considerably from its current level.

Still in the US, NBC has this week decided to renew Law & Order: SVU for an 18th season and Chicago Med for a second. With Chicago Fire and Chicago PD already renewed, this means veteran showrunner Dick Wolf now has an incredible four scripted series up and running on the network.

Chigaco Med, one of four Dick Wolf procedurals airing on NBC
Chigaco Med is one of four Dick Wolf procedurals currently airing on NBC

At a time when the industry is supposed to be short of good procedurals, Wolf’s shows occupy four of the top five slots on NBC in terms of drama ratings for 2015/2016. With audiences ranging from 6.8 million to 8.2 million per episode across the four shows, only Blindspot is outperforming Wolf’s portfolio of dramas.

Sticking with NBC for a moment, one show that does seem to be on its way out is Grimm, which is now part way through its fifth season. For much of this season, the show has been pulling in an audience of around 3.6 million to 3.8 million, which is down on the last couple of seasons. With enough episodes in the bag for the show to succeed in syndication – and the Wolf dramas taking up a large piece of network real estate – NBC really needs to cancel Grimm in the name of creative renewal. Until now, NBC has hedged its bets – pointing out that Grimm sells well overseas and is also strong in terms of delayed viewing. But it would be a surprise if the show came back for season six.

Another show that must be a candidate for cancellation is ABC’s reboot of The Muppets, which has been in freefall since its debut last September. After starting with nine million viewers, it was down to 3.8 million by December 8, at which point it took a mid-season break. The show underwent a bit of a revamp over winter in order to take it closer to its fun-loving roots. But an audience of 2.75 million for its February 2 episode suggests viewers have given up on the series. Assume The Muppets will be cancelled and then revived as a movie in a few years.

James Nesbitt in Stan Lee's Lucky Man, which airs on Sky1
James Nesbitt in Stan Lee’s Lucky Man, which has opened strongly on Sky1

In the UK, pay TV channel Sky1 got off to a very strong start with its new series Spike Lee’s Lucky Man, which stars James Nesbitt. BARB figures for the week of January 18 to 24 show that the production attracted 1.6 million viewers (seven-day figure). This puts Lucky Man up alongside popular US imports like The Flash. As always, the acid test will be how the show stands up over the next couple of weeks. To put it in context, Supergirl started at about the same level on Sky 1 but by mid-season had shed half its audience.

Still with Sky, there are reports this week that Dennis Quaid is joining the cast of Sky Atlantic drama Fortitude for season two. This is likely to give the show a ratings boost in its early episodes. Last year, the pre-launch marketing campaign for Fortitude made much of the fact that the show starred Stanley Tucci, Michael Gambon and Christopher Eccleston. This undoubtedly encouraged new audiences to sample Sky Atlantic. The only thing Quaid needs to be wary of is that – spoiler alert – all the big-name stars ended up dead last season (Eccleston almost before he opened his mouth). So he’ll need to watch his back.

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AMC’s Badlands does the business

badlands
Martial arts drama Into the Badlands has started strongly on AMC

US cable channel AMC is in phenomenally good shape. Its flagship scripted series, The Walking Dead (TWD), continues to deliver massive ratings and has spawned a successful spin-off, Fear The Walking Dead. And now TWD has provided the launchpad for another strong performer – the martial arts fantasy series Into the Badlands.

Into the Badlands debuted on Sunday at 22.00, after the latest episode of TWD. Despite some reviews suggesting the opening episode spent too long on its setup, the show attracted a massive 6.4 million viewers and a 3.15 rating among 18- to 49-year-olds. That makes it one of the biggest new series of the autumn so far across both cable and broadcast TV, comparable to shows like Supergirl and Blindspot. Once time-shifted viewing is factored in, the series can expect to see another surge in its numbers.

Even if Into the Badlands experiences a drop-off in episode two, its premiere performance suggests it will still even out as one of the top-performing cable shows of the year. And the good news doesn’t end there for AMC. Still to look forward to is season two of Better Call Saul, which is due in February. The Breaking Bad prequel was a strong performer for the channel last year and there is no reason to suppose this will change as the show starts to tie in to the mythology of its critically acclaimed parent.

Having four massive hits in its schedule gives AMC the freedom to support other programmes that don’t rate so highly, which bodes well for the likes of Humans and Halt & Catch Fire.

The Walking Dead has paved the way for a multitude of undead-focused series
AMC’s mega hits like The Walking Dead allow it more freedom with its lower-rating shows
Returning to TWD for a moment, it’s interesting that the latest episode saw a 5% jump in 18-49s week on week. That rise can probably be explained by the fact that the episode focused heavily on Daryl Dixon (played by Norman Reedus). If the character is ever killed off, expect to see a huge spike in time-shifted viewing followed by a decline in the youth audience.

In today’s fragmented TV landscape, the numbers achieved by Into the Badlands are genuinely impressive – but pay TV channels don’t need to be getting ratings of this magnitude to be classified as a success. Just as important is what a show says about a channel’s brand. If it sends out the right message, it can help with the pickup or retention of subscribers. If you look at European pay TV platform Sky, for example, a lot of money has been spent on demonstrating that it is the home of quality content. Its relationship with HBO, recently extended, is a classic example of that – as is the company’s heavy investment in original drama.

Having said all this, drama is an expensive genre. So Sky has been looking for ways to deliver quality without breaking the bank in terms of its scripted content investments. One way it is doing this is by acquiring or making dramas that can play across all 21 million homes in its five core European markets: the UK, Ireland, Germany, Austria and Italy. At the same time, it is seeking to coproduce with PayTV providers in other markets – so the commercial risk is spread even more broadly.

Samantha Morton in The Last Panthers
Samantha Morton in The Last Panthers
Let’s say, for example, that Canal+ in France comes on board a drama – then suddenly your production is hitting an addressable market of around 28 million. If Sky’s distribution arm Sky Vision is then able to sell the show into other markets, the cost is further defrayed. Fortitude was a high-profile example of this. Although it only attracted around 700,000 viewers in the UK, the fact it was played out in numerous other markets made it a relatively easy decision for Sky to back a second series.

Slightly less certain is Sky’s new series The Last Panthers, a coproduction with Canal+ and US network SundanceTV. The show debuted in the UK last week and attracted just 228,000 viewers, 38% of which were 35- to 44-year-olds. That figure is ahead of the slot average – but it’s still quite low for an original. Sky will be hoping it picks up some momentum in the coming weeks.

There are probably a couple of explanations for The Last Panthers’ debut falling so short compared with Fortitude. The first is that it didn’t have the same kind of cast clout as Fortitude, which made it less promotable. True, it features Samantha Morton and there was a fleeting glimpse of John Hurt. But this is nothing compared with Fortitude, which boasted Michael Gambon, Stanley Tucci, Sofie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston (briefly). Second, the opening episode was not easy to get to grips with, switching language and location frequently and not making it obvious who the audience should root for. While UK audiences are more comfortable these days with subtitles, The Last Panthers probably makes them work a bit too hard.

Chicago Med, one of NBC's trilogy of Chicago drama series
Chicago Med, one of NBC’s trilogy of Chicago drama series from Dick Wolf
The UK critics are split on the show. For The Guardian, The Last Panthers is “bold, smart and seductive,” but for the Telegraph it’s “turgid” and “lacks tension.” The Independent gets it about right when it says: “If you can cope with the violence, the underlit filming, the dialogue in French with subtitles and the unremittingly depressing scenes then The Last Panthers is a fine thriller, with a touch of The French Connection about it.” SBS Australia seems happy enough, acquiring the show this week.

While an important element of the current ‘golden age’ of drama is the freedom to pursue interesting creative ideas like Badlands and Panthers, it’s also worth noting that NBC’s big success at the moment is a trilogy of procedurals that are all based in Chicago. If you look at the channel’s top five dramas at the moment, three of them are Chicago PD, Chicago Fire and Chicago Med, which launched this week with a same day audience of 8.6 million.

Fire was the first to appear and has recently been renewed for season five. PD came next and has just been renewed for a fourth run. Med is only one episode old but already looks like it will get a renewal. Apart from the procedural formula, the common denominator among the three is that they come from the stable of Dick Wolf, creator of the Law & Order franchise. Aged 68, Wolf continues to be one of the masters of mainstream drama and has an awards cabinet to prove it.

The forthcoming Christmas special will be the very final episode of Downton Abbey
The forthcoming Christmas special will be the very final episode of Downton Abbey
Finally, we can’t sign off without observing that Downton Abbey is over, except for the upcoming Christmas Special. The final episode of the final season scored a consolidated audience of 11 million viewers for ITV. There’s no question that Carnival Films’ drama, superbly scripted by Julian Fellowes, has been one of the most memorable British TV dramas ever made. While the show was perhaps starting to become a little repetitive, it continued to make hugely entertaining Sunday night viewing.

The fact Downton Abbey is now ending is a clear loss for ITV, particularly when the show has so many unresolved storylines. In fact, the broadcaster would be mad to let all of that stored up audience affection just fizzle out. No US network would allow the show to die at this stage in its life cycle. And in any other business you’d be castigated for giving up on such a strong brand.

While it’s possible that Julian Fellowes and some of the cast are keen to move on, ITV should at the very least explore whether there is spin-off potential – maybe a series focusing on the London lives of some of the younger cast. Lady Edith, Thomas the footman and a handful of others could provide the spine of a new show.

In the meantime, take a look at this video if you want to see the cast of Downton behaving badly.

 

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