Turkish drama Phi centres on psychologist Can Manay (played by Ozan Güven), a serial womaniser whose behaviour becomes increasingly erratic when he falls in love with Duru (Serenay Sarikaya).
As Manay gets closer to her, Duru begins to question her life with boyfriend Deniz (Mehmet Günsür) as a cast of characters – including Özge (Berrak Tüzünataç), a journalist working on an exposé of the celebrity psychologist – find their lives changed forever by Manay’s crazed pursuit of love.
Cast members Sarikaya, Gunsur and Tüzünataç tell DQ about the appeal of starring in Phi, which is based on a trilogy of novels by Azra Kohen.
They reveal how they used the original books in their preparation for the series and the challenge of bringing these well-known characters to the small screen.
The trio also discuss the ground-breaking nature of the series, which is the first original drama to air on VoD platform Puhu TV.
Phi is produced by Ay Yapim and distributed by Eccho Rights.
Turkish drama Bu Şehir Arkandan Gelecek (Heart of the City), which runs to more than 70 episodes, tells the story of Ali, a sailor brought up on a cargo ship after he witnessed his mother’s murder. Twenty years later, he is still terrified to confront his roots in Istanbul until he encounters enchanting ballet dancer Derin.
Speaking to DQ, stars Kerem Bursin (Ali) and Leyla Lydia Tugutlu (Derin) discuss their characters and the themes of the series.
They also reveal how they prepared for the show – including Bursin spending six months in LA learning to box and Tugutlu taking up dancing lessons – and the challenges of filming the equivalent of a movie a week.
Heart of the City is produced by Ay Yapim for ATV and distributed by Eccho Rights.
European pay TV broadcaster Sky has been investing in original scripted content for a few years now, but the last 12 months have undoubtedly seen the company increase its ambition in German-speaking territories. This week, for example, it announced an order for eight-episode drama Eight Days.
Directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky (The Counterfeiters), the limited series focuses on the reaction to the news that an asteroid is hurtling toward Earth and is predicted to crash somewhere in Europe in eight days’ time. It follows a German family as they live through what they expect will be the last eight days of humanity.
Asteroids are a well-worn theme in the movies but Frank Jastfelder, director of drama production at Sky Deutschland, said this project was different: “We were excited about Eight Days because everyone asked themselves the same question: How would I react in such a situation? In response to this question, Eight Days delivers emotional, always surprising and highly dramatic answers – and steers clear of all the Hollywood clichés.”
Eight Days will begin production midway through next year, by which time Sky Deutschland will have aired another of its big drama investments, Babylon Berlin. Directed by Tom Tykwer, Hendrik Handloegten and Achim von Borries, this US$45m show is a coproduction between Sky Deutschland, ARD Degeto, X Filme and Beta Film. It follows Gereon Rath, a police inspector in 1929 Berlin, a hotbed of politics, art, extremism and drugs.
Two seasons (16 episodes in total) of Babylon Berlin have been set up so far, though there is potential for the franchise to run and run because it is based on a popular book series by Volker Kutscher. So far, Kutscher has written six Gereon Rath books but only the first forms the basis of the first two seasons of Babylon Berlin.
Another ambitious project in the works is Das Boot, a €25m (US$26m) coproduction between Sky Deutschland and German producer Bavaria Film adapted from Lothar-Günther Buchheim’s classic 1973 novel of the same name. Based on the wartime experiences of a German U-boat crew, this series will air in 2018 across all the Sky territories: Germany, Austria, the UK, Ireland and Italy.
Sky Deutschland’s investment in new drama is also being backed by the acquisition of international titles. Earlier in December, the company acquired all five seasons of FremantleMedia International’s hit prison drama Wentworth. The deal marks the first time Wentworth will be available to German-speaking viewers. Season one premiered on Sky Deutschland’s recently launched flagship channel Sky1 on December 7.
Elsewhere in the world of European TV drama, YLE Finland and Mediapro of Spain are joining forces to make a Nordic noir drama called The Paradise. The project is the first time that a Spanish production company has collaborated with a Finnish channel.
The Paradise is a thriller set among the Finnish community living on the Costa del Sol. Their peaceful existence is interrupted by a series of crimes that can only be solved by a joint collaboration between the Finnish and Spanish police forces.
The show is being developed by YLE head of drama Jarmo Lampela and Bordertown writer Matti Laine alongside Mediapro’s Ran Tellem and David Troncoso. Although it is the first Finnish/Spanish collaboration, it is part of a much broader trend towards Nordic partnerships with other European countries. The trend was really kicked off by German broadcasters, the first to spot the international appeal of Nordic drama. The Brits then got interested, first in Wallander and more recently Marcella.
A key breakthrough came last year when France TV came on board Icelandic thriller Trapped. Further French backing for Nordic drama has been evident in the cases of Midnight Sun and Bordertown, a YLE crime series coproduced with Federation Entertainment. That show was a hit on YLE1, with a record 1.1 million viewers and a renewal. That bodes well for The Paradise.
Also this week, The Mark Gordon Company and its parent company Entertainment One (eOne) have joined forces with Xavier Marchand’s newly established UK-based production outfit Moonriver Content.
Under the Moonriver banner, Marchand will acquire, develop and produce film and TV projects with a focus on UK and European stories and talent. The move is expected to increase the volume of UK and European projects coming to Mark Gordon and eOne for financing, coproducing and distributing.
Marchand said: “In partnership with Mark Gordon and his superb team, and with the backing of eOne, I look forward to building on existing relationships and fostering new ones in film and TV.”
On the distribution front, Eccho Rights has revealed that two new broadcasters have picked up hit Turkish drama Elif, which airs on Kanal 7 in its home market. Bangladeshi network Deepto TV and Georgian broadcaster Imedi TV take total sales for the show 16 territories including Chile, where it recently debuted on TVN. Produced by Green Yapim, the show’s third season aired in September – with a total run of 250 45-minute episodes.
Also this week, SVoD service Hulu picked up the US rights to UK drama National Treasure from All3Media International. Written by Jack Thorne, National Treasure follows a popular comedian, played by Robbie Coltrane, whose life is turned upside down when he is charged with sexual assaults alleged to have taken place 20 years ago. The four-parter first aired on Channel 4 in the UK and will debut as a Hulu original series on March 1 next year.
Finally, there are exciting reports for fans of cult CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother. According to Deadline, a spin-off entitled How I Met Your Father is now in the works with This Is Us co-executive producers Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger in charge. HIMYM ran for nine seasons between 2005 and 2014 racking up 208 episodes. The final episode included a controversial twist ending that didn’t go down well with a lot of fans. But it still attracted an audience of more than 13 million.
There are several reasons why the US scripted content business casts such a shadow over the international drama market.
The first is that the US produces so many great scripted shows. Barely a week goes by without an eye-catching new drama going into production or development. Even now, as dozens of new shows hit the US autumn schedules, it is noticeable that the next wave of scripted projects is already shooting down the pipeline.
Second, viewers around the world love US shows. While dramas from other territories tend to have fairly well-defined regional hot spots, US shows can be found on free TV, pay TV and SVoD almost anywhere. This widespread appeal is reinforced by the availability of so many titles on US-based thematic channels (Fox, AXN and so on).
The third reason is that so many producers around the world still see entry into the US market as the pinnacle of their creative ambition. This is particularly evident in the field of scripted formats, where IP owners’ relentless pursuit of localisation is matched by a voracious appetite for ideas among US channels.
And finally, there’s the fact that the US still dictates so many of the trends in the international scripted market. The rise of Netflix and Amazon, and all of the creative innovations this has brought about, is one example. But so is the shift towards day-and-date windowing – expertly introduced by major US rights owners.
Having said all this, Mipcom (which began yesterday in Cannes and runs until Thursday) is one point in the calendar where US shows have to fight for exposure alongside titles from around the world.
For example, one of the biggest stories of the week so far is that UFA Fiction and Amazon are joining forces to create a sequel to German-language series Deutschland 83 (D83). Called Deutschland 86, the new show will premiere exclusively on Amazon Prime Video in Germany in 2018. In addition, all episodes of D83 are available for streaming for Prime members in Germany and Austria.
As with the first series, Sundance in the US is a coproduction partner and FremantleMedia International handles international sales. RTL, the German broadcaster that commissioned D83, has acquired free TV rights to D86.
Created by Anna Winger (head writer) and Jörg Winger, D86 returns three years after D83, in 1986, and picks up the story of East German Agent Martin Rauch. Martin has been banished to Africa until he is recruited to fight for the last gasp of Communism abroad.
Set against the backdrop of real events during the last Summer of Anxiety, when terrorism raged across Western Europe, Martin’s mission takes him to Johannesburg, Tripoli, Paris, West Berlin and finally back to East Berlin, where he is forced to face new realities at home – and to make an impossible decision
Nico Hofmann, co-CEO of UFA, said: “With this latest collaboration between Amazon, RTL Television, FremantleMedia International and UFA, a long-awaited wish comes true. This deal is a milestone in coproduction history. It will be resetting standards for the upcoming years.”
Dr Christoph Schneider, MD of Amazon Prime Video Germany, added: “After the Amazon Original You Are Wanted with Matthias Schweighöfer and Michael Bully Herbig’s Bullyparade – Der Film, Deutschland 86 is the latest German-made production that will be available exclusively on Prime Video. German series and movies are important for our Prime members and we are happy to build on our engagement with German production industry and bring new shows to our customers.”
In another interesting new development, Sweden-based distributor Eccho Rights has picked up three drama scripts from Indian broadcaster Star for the global market. The titles involved are Vera (Ek Veer Ki Ardaas… Veera), Tangled Sisters (Ek Hazaaron Mein Meri Behena) and Unexpected Love (Diya Aur Baati Hum).
The deal is significant because Eccho has made a name for itself selling Turkish scripted formats to the international market. If it has anything like the same success with Indian titles, it will represent a major breakthrough in the global drama business. The titles are also interesting because they have so many episodes – meaning there is a lot of content for buyers to work with.
Nixon Yau Lim, head of Asia Pacific at Eccho Rights, commented: “The globalisation of drama is developing at a very interesting speed and one focus of Eccho Rights is to expand our partnership with producers to manage their script assets in new markets.”
Also of interest this week is the news that Sony Pictures Television has licensed three drama formats to Russian broadcasters, two of which are from the UK. The first is a local version of UK drama Doc Martin called Doctor Martov, which will air on Channel 1. The show is being produced by Lean-M Productions, which will also produce local versions of Mad Dogs and The Good Wife for NTV.
Away from Mipcom, UK broadcaster ITV announced a slate of news dramas this week, the first commissions by its new head of drama Polly Hill. The titles are Trauma by Mike Bartlett, Girlfriends by Kay Mellor, White Dragon by Mark Denton and Jonny Stockwood, and Next of Kin by Paul Rutman and Natasha Narayan.
Hill said: “All four are authored contemporary pieces, from wonderful writers who have a compelling story to tell. I think audiences are looking for drama with real authorship, and I am delighted that I start at ITV with a mix of great experience and new voices. This is just the start of what I hope will be an exciting journey for us and the audience.”
Trauma is a three-part story set in the trauma department of a central London hospital. It tells the story of a 15-year-old boy who dies under the care of trauma consultant Jon Stephens. Devastated and heartbroken, the boy’s father believes Jon is responsible for his death and as he strives for justice, he begins to unpick the fabric of Jon’s life.
“Trauma is a story about two fathers with very different lives, locked in conflict,” says Bartlett, creator of last year’s hit BBC drama Doctor Foster. “I hope the series will be moving, terrifying and timely. If we mistrust institutions and experts, what happens when we desperately need them?”
White Dragon, meanwhile, is a conspiracy thriller from screenwriting newcomers Mark Denton and Jonny Stockwood. Filmed on location in Asia, it will tell the story of Professor Jonah Mulray, whose life is turned upside down when his wife, Megan, is killed in a car-crash in Hong Kong. Not long after arriving in Hong Kong, Jonah makes a shocking discovery about his wife.
Finally, a few stories from the US. First up, US cable channel Syfy has ordered a second season of Van Helsing, a female take on the classic vampire hunter story. The hour-long drama will go into production in January 2017, with an additional 13 episodes planned.
There are also reports this week that Amazon has teamed up with producer Chuck Lorre to make a TV series based on Tom Wolfe’s acclaimed 1980s novel The Bonfire of the Vanities. The book was turned into a movie in 1990 that failed to live up to the hype. However, its sprawling New York-based narrative is probably better-suited to a limited TV series treatment.
Finally, MTV has greenlit a shortened third run of its horror series Scream. Season one had 13 episodes and season two had 10. The new series will have six episodes and, given the show’s rapidly declining audience ratings, will probably also be its finale.
It has been a miserable year for Turkey – yet despite a military coup, suicide bombings and the fallout from the Syrian Civil War, the country has somehow kept on pumping out great TV drama in 2016.
A lot of this creativity will be on show at the Mipcom market in Cannes from October 17. For example, Sweden-based distributor Eccho Rights has just announced an exclusive deal that will see it bring a slate of shows from one of Turkey’s leading drama producers, Ay Yapim, which is behind Ezel, Fatmagul, Forbidden Love, Karadayi, The End and more.
One of the most high-profile titles is Wings of Love (Bana Sevmeyi Anlat), which is achieving very strong ratings on Fox Turkey. The series premiered on August 22 and is currently number one on Friday nights. Also in the line-up is Brave and Beautiful (Cesur ve Güzel), set to premiere on Star TV later on this fall, with Turkish megastars Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ and Tuba Büyüküstün in the lead roles.
Another title in Eccho’s line-up is Insider (İçerde), which is loosely based on US movie The Departed. It debuted on Show TV on September 19 and proved a big ratings hit, also becoming the top-rated Turkish drama on IMDb with a score of 9.4. Gaining an audience share of almost 12%, Insider beat everything except for Orphan Flowers (Kirgin Cicekler), a popular ATV series that was launched in 2015 to great acclaim.
With two more winter launches from Ay Yapim on the slate, Fredrik af Malmborg, MD of Eccho Rights, is understandably in bullish mood.
“We have been working closely with Ay Yapim ever since the global breakthrough of Turkish drama,” he said, “and we are very proud of the contribution we have made together in pushing the genre forward. Turkish drama is stronger than ever and Ay Yapim has always been a leader.”
Ay Yapim’s success on the international market isn’t just limited to completed show sales. It has also had success getting some of its formats away. A good example is The End, which was piloted in the US last year. More recently, the show has been greenlit for adaptation in four markets including Russia, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain. The latter version will be produced by Globomedia for broadcast on Telecinco in early 2017.
Eccho has also had notable recent successes with dramas from outside the Ay Yapim stable. For example, it recently sold Broken Pieces (Paramparça) to Swedish public broadcaster SVT. An Endemol Shine Turkey production for Star TV, Broken Pieces follows other Turkish dramas like The End onto SVT.
Eccho isn’t the only company to be heading for Cannes with Turkish drama in tow. Fox Networks Group is hosting an event on October 18 to highlight its Turkish drama slate, which runs to more than 700 hours. Among key titles is Pastel Film Production’s That is My Life (O Hayat Benim), which has already been sold to broadcasters in Latin America, Eastern Europe and Asia.
As in many markets, September to October is an important time of year in terms of new title launches on domestic TV. Aside from the aforementioned Insider, shows attracting attention include Black White (Siyah Beyaz) and You Are My Country (Vatanim Sensin).
The latter, produced by O3 Medya, is a big-budget period drama set just after the First World War. It tells the story of an army officer who is torn between loyalty to his country and the welfare of his family. Already sold to Croatia (a big fan of Turkish drama), the show is expected to prove popular with Mipcom buyers.
In terms of trends in Turkish drama this year, it seems as though some Western influences are creeping in. While Turkish viewers still tend to favour action, romance and historical drama, one of the most intriguing shows of the year was psychological thriller 46 Yok Olan, which aired on Star TV earlier this year.
The series focuses on a professor of molecular biology who is trying to find a cure for his comatose sister. After trying a new potion on himself first, he releases an alter-ego that he cannot control and that seeks revenge for his father’s death and his sister’s illness.
While 46 Yok Olan didn’t draw huge ratings for Star, it did attract a fair amount of critical acclaim. So it will be interesting to see if it appeals to international buyers. The show is being marketed by Global Agency under the simplified title 46.
While a lot of attention in the next few weeks will be focused on Turkish drama exports, another story of significance is that SVoD platform Netflix has just launched a dedicated service in Turkey, with a fully localised user interface and local programming.
Signalling the seriousness of its ambition for the market, Netflix has also signed a deal with mobile provider Vodafone and is already working with Turkish TV manufacturer Vestel.
Commenting on the news, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said: “Turkish people are great storytellers with their hugely popular and internationally recognised Turkish dramas, and Netflix aims to become one of [the industry’s] most vocal ambassadors. We’re delighted to offer a more localised Netflix in Turkey that will continue to grow with both our Netflix Original titles and licensed content.”
Although it is too early to tell what kind of local uptake the service will get, it could provide a useful revenue source for creators of Turkish drama. Shows that will appear on Netflix in Turkey include Leyla and Mecnun, Suskunlar (Game of Silence), Karadayı, Ezel, Kurt Seyit & Şura, The Revival: Ertuğrul and Filinta.
Now that MipTV 2016 has come to an end, DQ editor Michael Pickard looks back on a week where drama continued to reign supreme – and Netflix was again among the major talking points.
With its place in the events calendar so close to other major markets, buyers and distributors have become used to absence of the US studio giants from MipTV each spring.
Yet this year, in what perhaps is representative of the international television industry at large and the growth of the global drama market in particular, it didn’t seem to matter.
The sheer amount of content on display in Cannes – from the traditional posters and billboards lining La Croisette to the inaugural Mip Drama Screenings that presented 12 series from around the world – showcased the current strength of international storytelling that is rivalling US drama.
Distributors selected for the screenings certainly felt the benefit, with several reporting a surge in interest in their shows following their presentations in front of more than 350 acquisitions executives on Sunday – none more so than Zodiak Rights, which is selling Belgian drama Public Enemy, the show that scooped the event’s top prize.
But despite the largely absent US studios, those who hoped Netflix might also take the week off were sorely disappointed when the SVoD platform flexed its financial muscles once again.
On Monday, it announced a deal that saw it pick up global rights outside the UK and Ireland for ITV drama Marcella, the first English-language series from The Bridge creator Hans Rosenfeldt.
It’s clear the scale of Netflix’s ambitions and depth of its pockets no longer surprise any of the executives found taking back-to-back meetings inside the Palais. Now that the service has established itself as a major player and rolled out in more than 190 countries, said execs are likely to be heard discussing the next challenge facing the industry – how to fight back against Netflix’s dominance.
In particular, this involves producers deciding whether to work with Netflix and attempt to hold on some of the rights, alternative licensing windows and future earnings from the series. As British producer Justin Thomson-Glover, MD of Artists Studio and a founding director of boutique financing service Far Moor, said during a drama financing panel on Wednesday: “Platforms like Netflix write a cheque and you make it (the series). But there’s no back end.”
For distributors, the question is whether global rights deals with the SVoD giant and its online competitors are preferable to piecing together deals with broadcasters on a territory-by-territory basis.
We’re also now seeing the emergence of local SVoD platforms targeting original content in a bid to win subscriptions and eyeballs from Netflix. During the same drama finance panel, About Premium Content’s Emmanuelle Guilbart revealed the distributor is working on a new drama with Swedish broadcaster SVT, with finance from a domestic SVoD player. “They are becoming real commissioners with real money,” she said.
Netflix’s influence, and that of its competitors, in the distribution of content around the world also posed an interesting question during the scripted formats panel that I hosted on Tuesday: If original series (in most cases the best versions) are available worldwide, what is the future of scripted formats?
It was clear from the presentations given by Eccho Rights, New Media Vision and Comarex that local remakes of international hits are still immensely popular and profitable across Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia, while New Media Vision’s ambitions to act as a “gateway to the US” is evidence that, despite the drop in adaptations ordered by the big networks this pilot season, the US is still keen on non-English-language formats. NBC, for example, is launching Game of Silence, based on Turkish series Suskunlar, on April 12.
One deal confirmed this week was for The Department of Time, which was announced as the first Spanish drama to be adapted in China.
The eponymous department is a secret government institution tasked with guarding the ‘gates of time’ and preventing intruders from travelling to the past to change the course of history for their own benefit.
The series was originally produced by Cliffhanger and Onza Entertainment for TVE in Spain and the format has been sold by Onza Distribution to China’s Guan Yue International.
Circling back to SVoD, one executive told DQ here in Cannes that Netflix, Amazon and the large number of increasingly confident local SVoD platforms could, in fact, turn to scripted formats in an effort to boost their original production slates.
Meanwhile, the digital revolution is also building in the form of shortform series that are throwing traditional broadcasting structures to the wind. That series with no set running time or episode order are being produced across publishing sites such as YouTube and Vimeo is nothing new – with the latter’s Sam Toles describing YouTube as WalMart compared with Vimeo’s Bloomingdales during a web series panel on Wednesday.
But the session, which also included executives from New Form Digital in the US and France’s Taronja Prod, posed a pertinent question – if a YouTube channel that has 30 million hits still isn’t in the mainstream, how do you measure success?
Canadian prodco Shaftesbury might have the answer. One of its original digital series, Carmilla, which is available on the KindaTV YouTube channel, will this month be shopped to US networks as a 13-hour drama on the back of its success online – three seasons and 41 million views. Showrunner Sandra Chwialkowska (Lost Girl) is attached to the series, which is based on J Sheridan Le Fanu’s novel about a young woman’s attraction to a female vampire.
With ready-made brands known to millions of fans, who participate in fan art, fiction, online debates and more, web series are primed to serve as ready-made pilots for traditional TV networks looking for their next big hit. Just don’t tell Netflix.
A large proportion of the international TV industry is attending the MipTV market in Cannes this week, buying and selling shows or doing scripted format deals. So it seems appropriate that the week’s top story should concern Fox US drama House, which has proved popular with broadcasters around the world over the years.
Usually sold in its completed form, this week has seen Fox license the Sherlock-esque medical drama to Non-Stop Production, which is remaking it for in Russia.
Anton Zlatopolskiy, first deputy director of the channel’s parent, Russia TV and Radio, said: “We considered the pros and cons before obtaining the format of such a famous series. It is quite a challenge to create our own version. Neither well-known producers or actors nor a big budget can guarantee success when it comes to a local version. But there are a couple of secret ingredients that make a series outstanding and we know how to make them work.”
Sticking with scripted formats, the drama department of Italian public broadcaster Rai, Rai Fiction, has ordered a second season of its remake of NBCUniversal International’s Parenthood. The 26×60’ second run, produced by Cattleya, will air on Rai Uno later in 2016. The US original ran for six seasons on NBC between 2010 to 2015, so there is scope for Rai’s version to run and run.
Another high-profile scripted format deal this week involves Dutch public broadcaster KRO-NCRV, which has greenlit an adaptation of acclaimed Turkish drama The End. The Dutch version of the show is being produced by Netherlands-based Column Film. Column producer Chantal van der Horst said: “The End has a solid base for adaptation. The cleverness of the scripts and the universal appeal of the storyline makes the series suitable for audiences across the world, including in Western Europe.”
The show was sold into the Netherlands by Scandinavia-based distributor Eccho Rights, which has previously licensed the format to several markets including the US, Russia and France. Commenting on the deal, Nicola Söderlund, managing partner at Eccho Rights, said: “Turkish drama continues to break boundaries and it’s great that a West European version will be hitting screens later on this year. (The show’s producer) Ay Yapim has created a gripping plot that translates well across cultures, which is reflected in the number and range of licences on The End.”
Other interesting greenlights this week include news that Amazon has ordered a third season of Red Arrow’s crime series Bosch. Based on the novels by Michael Connelly, Bosch stars Titus Welliver as streetwise LAPD detective Harry Bosch. Commenting on the renewal, Morgan Wandell, head of drama series at Amazon Studios, said: “Our customers can’t get enough of Harry Bosch. The entire cast and crew have done a fantastic job with season two and we can’t wait to see what they have in store for next season.”
Another big story out of the US is HBO’s decision to order a TV adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling debut novel Sharp Objects. The eight-episode series will star Amy Adams as a newspaper journalist trying to sort out her life following years of self-harm that landed her in a psychiatric hospital. However, her plan for a new life is derailed when she returns to her hometown and gets caught up in investigating the mysterious murder of two young girls.
The pilot for the TV adaptation is being written by Marti Noxon, who will also be showrunner. Noxon, the co-creator of Lifetime’s critically acclaimed drama UnREAL, will then share writing responsibilities on the series with Flynn, who previously adapted her own novel Gone Girl as a feature film. Jean-Marc Vallée (Wild) will direct.
Meanwhile, the SVoD giants are continuing their aggressive expansion around the world, part of which involves commissioning original local-language series. This week, it’s Netflix’s turn to grab the headlines – with its first original series from Spain.
Set in the 1920s, the show will look at the lives of four women who work as switchboard operators for the state-owned phone company’s central headquarters in Madrid. The series comes from the same stable that created international Spanish-language hits Velvet and Gran Hotel. This includes Roman Campos and Teresa Fernandez-Valdes from Bambú Producciones, director Carlos Sedes and writer Gema Neira, who often works with Campos.
Commenting on the commission, Erik Barmack, VP of international original series at Netflix, said: “We’re delighted to be working with Bambú Producciones, director Carlos Sedes and co-creator Gema Neira on our first original series filmed in Spain. We’re huge fans of their work on Gran Hotel and Velvet – epic romances that have been embraced by our members around the world. We’re certain our members will love this unique and engaging drama from some of the best storytellers in Spain.”
We’ve talked a lot in previous columns about the trend towards movie adaptations, book adaptations and reboots in US drama – all of which are about providing in-built awareness in new projects. But there’s another trend that is creeping into the business – namely the spin-off. We’ve seen examples in cable with Better Call Saul (from Breaking Bad) and Fear The Walking Dead (from The Walking Dead). And Disney-ABC has created numerous movies and TV series rooted in its Marvel universe. NBC is the latest to get in on the act. First came Chicago Justice, a spin-off from Chicago PD, and now NBC has announced plans for a spin-off from The Blacklist. There aren’t many details as yet but it’s an interesting new development that promises to further narrow the number of slots available to original ideas.
Finally, Turkey was country of honour at Mipcom 2015, an event that focused heavily the country’s prolific drama output, and the country doesn’t seem to have lost any momentum coming into MipTV 2016.
Aside from The End deal referred to above, The Fox Turkey drama That Is My Life has also been selling well – with ANTV (Hong Kong), Kanal 5 (Bulgaria), Telemundo (Hispanic US), Moby Group (Middle East), Puls TV (Poland), Kanal D (Romania) and MTG (Russia) all acquiring the Pastel Film-produced show.
Another Fox show, The Intersection, also has a high profile at the market as part of the Endemol Shine International catalogue. Coinciding with ESI’s marketing activity in Cannes, Fox also announced a second season for the series.
In September 2014, Fox in the US introduced a new scripted series set against the backdrop of DC Comics’ Batman mythology. Gotham takes the death of Bruce Wayne (aka Batman)’s parents as its starting point and effectively positions the show as a Batman prequel, with detective James Gordon (later Commissioner Gordon) as its central character and introducing Bruce/Batman as a teenage boy (looked after by a youthful version of manservant Alfred).
The show had a strong start, with the very first episode generating 8.21 million viewers at launch, rising to 14.15 million once the time-shifted audience was factored in. Season one stayed solid until around episode 18, whereupon the live audience dropped to around the 4.5 million mark. This might have been low enough to justify cancellation, but with time-shifted viewing taking the show up to around 7-7.5 million, Fox decided there was enough in the show to give it a second run.
The second season started in September 2015 and drew roughly the same numbers as the end of the first. There has been some further slippage, but the show has settled into a relatively stable pattern. After 14 episodes of a 22-episode run, it is attracting a loyal audience of 4-4.5 million (6.5-7 million after adding in time-shifted viewing).
At this point, Fox has decided to greenlight a third season of the show. Commenting on the decision, Fox Entertainment president David Madden said: “It takes a very special team to tell the tales of Gotham. For the past two seasons, Bruno Heller, Danny Cannon and John Stephens (the chief creatives) have masterfully honoured the mythology of Gotham and brought it to life with depth, emotion and memorable high drama.”
The headline ratings don’t especially justify Fox’s confidence in the show. Airing on Monday nights at 20.00, it is outgunned by The Voice, The Bachelor and Supergirl. However, it does perform strongly among men aged 18 to 49. And it has sold pretty well internationally, with clients including Channel 5 UK, CTV Canada, TVNZ New Zealand and TF1 France (though this is of more significance to Warner Bros, owner of DC Comics, which distributes the show).
Possibly, Fox is hoping that young Bruce’s gradual transformation into the formidable Batman will energise future seasons. Or maybe it is hoping all the current background Batman noise provided by the forthcoming Batman vs Superman movie will help boost Gotham’s performance. Either way, Fox is clearly still committed to the show for the foreseeable future.
An easier call in terms of renewal is AMC’s Better Call Saul, which has just been greenlit for a third season. The Breaking Bad prequel is currently five episodes into its 10-part second season and averaging 2.2 million (same-day ratings). That’s a solid performance for AMC, supported by the fact it is also getting good reviews from critics and audiences. The current IMDb rating of 8.8 puts it at the upper end of new drama.
An enthusiastic AMC president Charlie Collier said: “What (the team) has accomplished with Better Call Saul is truly rare and remarkable. They have taken one of the most iconic, immersive and fan-obsessive (in the best possible way) shows in television history and created a prequel that stands on its own. Watching Jimmy McGill’s thoughtful, melodic and morally flexible transformation into Saul Goodman is entertaining and delighting millions of fans, whether their starting point was Breaking Bad or not. This series has its own feel, pace and sensibility and we can’t wait to see what this incredibly talented group comes up with in season three.”
In another of the week’s standout stories, Italian crime drama Gomorrah has been picked up by AMC’s sister channel SundanceTV for broadcast in the US. Sundance previously acquired the German drama Deutschland 83 – making it a pioneer in bringing foreign-language drama to the US.
The first season of Gomorrah was a surprise hit around the world and the second is due to be launched at MipTV by German distributor Beta Film. Commenting on the pickup, Joel Stillerman, president of original programming and development for AMC and SundanceTV, said his channel “prides itself on presenting distinctive stories from unique points of view, and Gomorrah’s gritty exploration of the Comorra mob families in Naples is no exception.” Other channels to pick up Gomorrah include Sky Germany, HBO Nordic and HBO Latin America.
Last week, much of this column was dedicated to the excellent performance of the BBC’s 2016 drama output. Since then, Happy Valley season two has come to a conclusion with super-strong ratings of 7.5 million (a figure that will rise once time-shifted viewing has been factored in).
On the whole, season two was very good, though not quite as explosive or gripping as season one. The key story arc, which centres on Catherine Cawood, Tommy Lee Royce and Ryan Cawood, seemed to be put on hold for another day, while the resolution of the main criminal case (involving the murders of four women) was relatively understated. There was also a sense that some strands didn’t fully develop (Ann Gallagher’s alcoholism and the trafficking of Eastern European women by a gang, involving another murder).
Nevertheless, Happy Valley is still superior to most things on TV and the audience is now clamouring for a third season. Writer Sally Wainwright has said she would like to pen a third instalment, though didn’t put a timeframe on it.
Elsewhere, Turkish drama continues to be in strong demand around the world. This week Eccho Rights picked up the Aka Film drama Black Heart (Oyunbozan) for global distribution. The series, which will debut in Turkey at the start of April on Show TV, tells the story of a brother seeking justice for the murder of his journalist sister who exposed a powerful media tycoon as a gangster. To get his revenge, the brother enlists an orphaned girl who needs his help in order to save her dying sister.
Sometimes the search for hot new dramas can distract you from shows that have been quietly going about their business for years.
There’s a good case in point in the UK right now, where the 12th season of BBC1’s comedy-drama New Tricks is currently out-rating more sophisticated BBC fare such as Ripper Street and Partners in Crime, the lavish new Agatha Christie adaptation.
Now up to the 100-episode mark, Wall to Wall-produced New Tricks is centred on a team of retired police officers who are recruited to reinvestigate unsolved crimes. The new season kicked off in the week commencing August 3 with ratings of 6.5 million (live+7 days) and pretty much held its ratings the following week.
Ripper Street, by comparison, attracted just under five million for its season three debut but had fallen away quite dramatically by episode three. Partners in Crime has held up a bit better, but is still lagging about 1.5 million viewers behind New Tricks.
In fact, the only thing that beats New Tricks are the UK’s soaps and factual entertainment juggernaut The Great British Bake Off.
Critics generally regard New Tricks as middle of the road. But its popularity with audiences is largely down to the fact that its cast is made up of actors who are national treasures. Although some of them have come and gone over the show’s 12 seasons, there is a warmth and familiarity to the series that recalls other favourites like Last of the Summer Wine, Minder and Birds of a Feather.
Interestingly the BBC decided earlier this year that the current run will be the last season of New Tricks. Possibly it did this because the audience is older than it would like. Or maybe it decided that, as a public broadcaster, it is duty-bound to try something new. Either way, it will soon kill off one of its best-performing shows – something that would never happen in the US TV market.
Ironically, the new season has actually had some good reviews, with The Times calling it “lean and pacy” and The Daily Telegraph admiring its humour, pace and suspense.
There have even been suggestions that the BBC may regret its decision. “New Tricks is formulaic, but it’s a stable formula that never goes stale,” says the Daily Mail’s Christopher Stevens. “Midsomer Murders is faced with the constant challenge of devising more outlandish killings, and Silent Witness must always seek out darker crimes, but New Tricks is timeless. All the components are endlessly recyclable.”
Meanwhile, AMC’s ad agency epic Mad Men has inspired a number of other series set again recent period backdrops, with notable examples including Aquarius, The Americans and Pan Am. One that is coming to a close this week is The Astronaut Wives Club, an ABC series based on the book by Lily Koppel. Set in the 1960s, the story focuses on a group of women whose lives are transformed once their spouses start launching off into outer space.
It’s not clear if The Astronauts Wives Club was ever conceived as a returning series, but the official line over the last few months has been that it is a self-enclosed limited series. This is probably the right decision given the lukewarm response from critics and its recent decline in ratings. Having set off on its journey with 5.5 million viewers, the penultimate episode dipped to a season low of 3.2 million. The final episode aired last night but is unlikely to have done anything to change the show’s fortunes.
Having said this, creator Stephanie Savage hasn’t ruled out the idea of other series that focus on female characters against the backdrop of a key historical event or era. So possibly we are seeing the genesis of another anthology series.
Speaking to Variety, Savage said: “There are so many incredible stories of women in history that haven’t been told. I’d be very happy to do one every summer for the rest of my life. It’s the twenties and the Second World War and Wall Street and the eighties – there’s so many worlds that can be explored and women have amazing stories that haven’t been told the way they should be.”
Turkey is Country of Honour at Mipcom 2015. So you’re likely to see a lot of stories about Turkish drama over the next few months as part of the PR activity around that event. One show you’ll hear a lot about is Ezel, a crime drama that was a ratings hit at home and has since been sold to various territories around the world by distributor Eccho Rights.
This week Eccho has further enhanced Ezel’s reputation with a raft of sales to broadcasters in Latin America. Unitel in Bolivia, TV Accion in Paraguay, Latina in Peru and Caracol in Colombia will all air the series, which is produced by leading Turkish production company Ay Yapim. Eccho, which worked with worked Miami’s Somos Distribution on the deals, claims Ezel has now been sold to every country in Latin America.
Fear the Walking Dead (FTWD), the companion series to AMC megahit The Walking Dead, debuts this Sunday, August 23. Where possible, AMC wants FTWD to air on its own international channel AMC Global (in order to link the show brand with the channel brand). But where that isn’t possible it is doing licensing deals with third parties, via distributor Entertainment One.
This week, it was announced that FTWD will debut in Germany and Austria exclusively on Amazon Prime Instant Video – a day after the US broadcast. Amazon also picked up second-window rights for the show in the UK, where the show will debut on AMC Global. This time next week, we’ll be able to explore whether the spin-off has managed to benefit from the buzz around its parent show.
In TV, execs mostly talk about the relative merits of miniseries, limited series and returning series. But there are also times when one-off dramas can do a good job for networks. UK public channel BBC2, for example, has been airing a run of 90-minute dramas with reasonable levels of success. After The Eichmann Show and Marvellous, the most recent example was The Scandalous Lady W, a racy period drama set in the late 18th Century. With Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones) attracting plenty of positive critical reviews in the lead role, the drama attracted ratings of 2.5 million viewers at 21.00, almost double the slot average of 1.3 million.
Interestingly, the show, like New Tricks, was produced by Wall to Wall, which will be celebrating the fact that it has delivered ratings success at both the populist and niche ends of the BBC drama spectrum.
Spearheaded by Ottoman Empire-set shows such as Magnificent Century, Turkish drama is enjoying something of a renaissance.
Turkish drama wrapped 2014 with an estimated US$200m worth of global sales – its best figures ever, according to Izzet Pinto, founder and president of Global Agency, one of the country’s leading content distributors. Sales have risen from US$150m in 2013, while forecasts for next year are as high as $240-250m.
The country has been doubling its drama exports annually over the past five years, and 2014 saw Turkish drama take on Latin America, with sales to the region now rivalling stronger export markets such as the Middle East.
For Global Agency, at least, it all started with a drama called 1001 Nights (Binbir Gece). Made by Turkish prodco TMC Film for Turkish net Kanal D, the show kickstarted the company’s growth and has now racked up sales to 56 countries worldwide and counting.
The poster boy for Turkish drama globally, however, is historical Ottoman drama Magnificent Century, dubbed the ‘Turkish Tudors.’ The TIMS Productions series, originally scripted by Meral Okay, ran to a fourth season on Star TV in 2014. It has aired in almost 70 countries across the globe, turning international growth into a boom for Turkish drama, says Pinto.
TIMS, founded in 2006 by Timur Savci, was originally set up to plug a gap in the market for local youth-skewing series. Selin Arat, its director of international operations, says Savci is now taking a break “to step back and look at the market and see what he can do next that would hopefully surpass Magnificent Century.” The company is currently working on sequel Ottoman Empire drama Kösem Sultan, due in fall 2015.
Fredrik af Malmborg, MD and co-founder of Swedish distributor Eccho Rights, is another early champion of Turkish drama. With approximately one-and-a-half billion people watching dubbed drama in primetime around the world, and US Anglo-Saxon drama having lost some of its attractiveness, the field has opened up to others, and “the next hit could basically come from anywhere,” he argues.
Eccho Rights’ breakthrough hit was Ezel from Ay Yapim. “We mentally put it in the cupboard as something with a very strong local flavour that you couldn’t sell abroad. But then I watched it,” says Malmborg. The drama went on to sell to more than 80 countries, including format rights to four or five different local adaptations, now in production.
Malmborg believes Turkey’s largely family-themed drama with universal themes, quality scripts and high production values hit the right note with non-Anglo-Saxon markets: “I felt that compared with Anglo-Saxon drama – usually some type of crime – Turkish dramas take family and emotional issues seriously, without excusing them as something else, and I really like that. Only a few Western countries have dared to buy Turkish drama, but I think that will change.”
Ay Yapim suspense drama The End (Son) offered Western Europe its first taste of Turkish drama when it launched on SVT2 in 2013 as a daily drama in access primetime at 19.30, doubling its slot average.
And script rights are doing brisk business in the West, with Eccho Rights generating format sales worth US$3m in the last year alone. Nine different versions of The End have either been optioned or are in production, including a pilot remake for Fox in the US. In addition to options for France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Holland, Mexico and India, a Russian version made by Russian World Studios is now on air.
Now that Turkey is selling its dramas to Latin America, the country has come full circle from the days of importing telenovelas back in the 1980s. But the genre has left its mark. “A whole generation of new producers were inspired by them and started to do their own thing,” says Malmborg.
Culture and language aside, there is a big difference in production values. Telenovelas are traditionally made on budgets of around US$50,000 per hour, but in Turkey this can very from between US$200,000 and US$600,000 per hour, Malmborg reveals. “Culturally, perhaps Turkey is probably better suited to delivering to a worldwide audience because it is somehow a mix of Europe and Asia, and not too far from our own culture,” he adds.
Said to be the largest single producer of drama outside of North America, ahead of individual Latin American countries and most probably Bollywood, Turkey pumps out up to 90 dramas a year on seven free-to-air channels. Each channel airs two dramas back to back in primetime across the week, and nearly all of them are long-running series comprised of 90-minute episodes. This drama frenzy continues for up to 38 weeks a year between September and early summer, while summer months also include dramas – those being piloted for the following season.
This industrial-scale drama output takes place in a highly competitive, fragmented television landscape, so dramas that fail to impress viewers are dropped within weeks. There’s a very tight relationship between viewers and the dramas’ ratings, with scripts shaped week by week depending on how audiences react.
“With period drama you do need some pre-production, but with contemporary drama sometimes the directors get the scripts the day before shooting,” explains Arat.
“It’s very different from the US where they commission 10 episodes back to back and then shoot the series like a film and hand it over to the broadcasters. In Turkey you can’t do that. It’s a highly competitive market and if your ratings aren’t going up after four or five weeks you might get cancelled. So you need to be writing along live according to the viewers’ reactions every week, not months before.”
The rise in Turkish drama’s global popularity has inevitably boosted its bankability, for the productions themselves, the production companies and the sector as a whole as a target for potential takeovers by international players.
“We’ve been working on a number of Turkish series and revenues have grown every year, starting with US$120,000 per episode. The last series we sold was for US$400,000 per episode,” says Malmborg.
Arat adds: “It used to be that the broadcaster took ownership of the project before this drama boom started, but with these developments most of the big production companies like TIMS were able to negotiate better terms. Now we’re able to just to licence the rights to the broadcaster for a limited period, after which all the rights revert back to us.”
However, takeovers have yet to materialise in what is a largely non-vertically integrated market of broadcasters, producers and distributors. “Until now I’ve been surprised that not much has happened in terms of mergers,” says Pinto. “Some funds have approached producers and even some big companies looked to acquire, but it didn’t happen, so I think these big majors or big funds haven’t seen the potential yet. I believe they should look closer because I’m really surprised that, in such a booming market, mergers haven’t happened.”
Arat says her production company, one of the top three in Turkey, has had several approaches from international firms “but when you give them the breakdown of what the company is worth, it’s more than they expected and they take a step back. If they pay enough, production companies won’t say no.”
However, some are now questioning how sustainable Turkey’s largely self-sufficient drama model will be in the long term. While new markets like Latin America are joining the Turkish drama club, the cost of acquired Turkish drama is rising abroad, and local productions are becoming more attractive (and cost-effective) to regions such as Eastern Europe. Pinto himself says growth of drama exports is expected to level out in 2016.
Turkey’s national audience measurement system has also been revamped. It now incorporates more rural viewing tastes, and this has steered the overall profile of the panels towards an appetite for more conservative family-skewing content, rather than the edgier family series with greater global appeal, argues Pinto.
“For this reason, lower-quality and lower-budget productions are receiving good ratings, whereas million-dollar-budget dramas can fail,” he says, limiting the pipeline for potentially exportable dramas. “Our company is a strong brand and we pick up the best sellers, so as long as we can secure a couple of strong titles each year we’ll do just fine.”
Annually, it’s only a few high-end Turkish dramas that really sell well abroad. Of 40 dramas in Global Agency’s catalogue, 10 are selling well and five very well, says Pinto. Popular newcomers include a drama on surrogate motherhood, Broken Pieces (Paramparca). Launched on Star TV in Decemer, it’s Endemol Turkey’s first locally scripted project, serving up a new take on the Turkish family drama. Global Agency is also selling script rights to selected projects, such as its recent deal with Sony for remake rights to TIMS’ crime drama Game of Silence for NBC.
Public broadcaster TRT, which turned 50 this year, is underway with a revised strategy to broaden and renew its drama output, moving into areas that commercial broadcasters don’t do, says Mehmet Demirhan, deputy head of the television department. Demirhan is responsible for three divisions, including acquisitions for 15 TV channels, sales and international coproductions.
TRT launches around seven new dramas every season, all of which premiere on flagship entertainment channel TRT1, and Demirhan has high hopes for a pair of new period dramas that attracted interest from 80 buyers across 60 countries when they were unveiled last autumn.
Resurrection of Ertuğrul Gazi, which follows the father of Osman I, founder of the Ottoman Empire, launched on TRT1 in December, topping the television ratings among AB, educated high-income viewers. The show has been labelled the best breakthrough Turkish TV series of the 2014 season, with the local press comparing it to Game of Thrones.
Filinta, a detective drama set during the Ottoman period, is “an unusual genre for Turkey,” says Demirhan. “We can call it an Ottoman Sherlock Holmes.” It premiered in late December on TRT1.
“Our difference as a public TV service means we can go in different directions,” Demirhan asserts. “We have a huge archive, which has not yet been fully discovered by the international market. But I’m sure we’ll be able to do this as we change our strategy. We’re now collaborating with Global Agency and ITV Intermedya, for instance, both successful sales agencies, and we will explore the potential in full, also investing in different genres.”
For a number of reasons, coproductions have played no part in developing Turkey’s drama sector thus far. Global Agency’s Pinto doesn’t believe in them because “not a single one has happened, and that shows it’s very difficult.”
There are language barriers too. “In our series we don’t want to hear foreigners dubbed or subtitled, our people want pure Turkish products,” Pinto adds. “Production companies have grown strongly in Turkey so they don’t need to coproduce for financial reasons.”
However, TRT has other ambitions. Demirhan says it now has a couple of (as yet undisclosed) coproduction projects it is hoping to move ahead with in 2015, and is currently in discussions with a UK broadcaster, which could pave the way for a copro between Turkey, the UK and Dubai.
“The initial idea is to produce the next big global show like Game of Thrones or Vikings,” says Demirhan. “I think coproduction will be one of the solutions to the sustainability of Turkish drama and acceptance of Turkish drama in the global marketplace. We believe in that and are moving in that direction.”