Tag Archives: Entertainment One

Reality check

Matt Okine swaps stand-up for television as the creator of The Other Guy, the latest series to blur the boundaries between comedy and drama. Alongside co-star Valene Kane, he tells DQ about creating television with a dose of reality.

From Fleabag and Catastrophe to Girls, Transparent and Master of None, the boundary between comedy-drama and dramatic comedy has never been more blurred. These shows have perfected the art of making us laugh while grounding their stories in reality and throwing in plenty of deep and meaningful life lessons.

A new entry into this expanding genre is The Other Guy, created by stand-up comic and radio presenter Matt Okine and commissioned by Australian SVoD platform Stan. Described as a funny, raw and poignant look at breaking up in the digital age, it follows radio host AJ as he finds himself single after discovering his girlfriend has been having an affair with his best friend.

Okine (pictured above in The Other Guy) has co-written the series with Becky Lucas and also stars as AJ, opposite Valene Kane as ex-girlfriend Liv and Harriet Dyer as best friend Stevie. It is produced by Aquarius Films alongside distributor Entertainment One.

“It definitely rides that line between comedy and drama,” Okine tells DQ during a trip to London to perform on stage. “I never set out to make a gag-fest and I would say overall it has a very restrained kind of humour. I really didn’t want to try too hard and didn’t want to be making jokes for the sake of it, which I find is a real issue with a lot of things that I watch because it detracts from the believability of the characters. It frustrates me that people go for gags over substance a lot of the time. I really wanted to make a show that felt honest and knew when to hit back and throw the punches at the right time.”

The Other Guy stars Matt Okine
alongside Valene Kane

The comic star says the show is far from a Matt Okine documentary, but admits there are elements that have happened in his own life. In particular, he drew on some of his own experiences for the premise of the series – AJ’s break-up with Liv. Perhaps unusually, however, he chose not to show the event that led to the split, instead setting the series several months later when the couple are still living together but dealing with the fallout of the betrayal.

“It’s a weird one – there’s an underlying frustration while you’re watching it because you want the characters to talk about the affair more, and you want them to fight and be frustrated and all these things, but that’s just not real,” Okine explains. “That’s just not how real life works. Everyone thinks they know how they’re going to react to an event like that where you find out your partner’s been cheating on you with your best friend. It would have been really easy to have a scene where my character walks in and finds them in bed and it’s this comic play out of the whole thing. But we find them in a completely different time, way past that event, way past the point of saying sorry. And those are the things I liked about it, that I wanted to feel the tension in those sorts of places instead of more of the tension around them actually fighting. You’ve got to choose your points of conflict for them to mean anything.”

The Other Guy was a lesson in writing for television for Okine, who is more used to the bright lights of a comedy club or the intimate setting of a radio studio. Working with Lucas and script producer Greg Walters, he says he learned a lot about how to craft a drama by building interesting characters and always second-guessing the direction of the script.

“We plotted it out for a couple of days in the writing room and then Becky and I would sit on my couch in my house and type away,” Okine recalls, adding that the toughest part of the process was writing the series while he was still presenting a breakfast radio show. “That almost killed me. It was really difficult getting up at 04.30 every morning, doing my radio show, leaving work at 12.00 and then writing until 19.00. There were certain times where I just didn’t think I would be able to do it.”

Starring opposite Okine, Kane is best known in Britain for emotionally demanding roles in crime drama The Fall and psychological thriller Thirteen, so a comedy was something of a new challenge for the Irish actor.

Harriet Dyer (right) plays Stevie

“I’m not that funny, either on screen or in real life, and Liv isn’t funny. She’s the honest heart of the story,” Kane says of her character. “I loved the writing. Matt and Becky wrote a truthful and honest depiction of break-ups and modern life for people in their 30s, which I hadn’t read. It just struck me like the kind of TV I’ve been enjoying, like Girls – a fucked-up but realistic portrayal of people in their 30s, which we don’t see really.”

That realism meant Kane had to play a character closer to her own personality than any she has portrayed on screen before. She describes that process as “weird and definitely difficult” in the beginning, so much so that she doubted her own acting ability.

“I remember calling my girlfriend and being like, ‘I can’t act, I don’t know what I’m doing,’” she says. “It was a really different muscle to do as little as possible while maintaining as being as real as I could. It was difficult.”

Okine’s biggest challenge could be found in the editing suite, however, as any dreams he might have had about sitting back sipping a margarita once filming was finished swiftly evaporated. Instead, he found himself in meetings discussing whether international audiences might understand the word ‘pokies’ (an Australian term for slot machines), or if a shot of one character looking at another that might infer romantic intentions, with no alternative selections available.

“I had no idea how much crafting still happens in the editing process and how important my input would be at that stage,” he admits. “So for the first few days after we shot, I had a meltdown. I felt like I had been running an 800-metre race and I’d sprinted the first lap and forgotten there was another lap to go and I was exhausted. That was something that really threw me for that first week. I don’t think I was as on top of my game as I should have been.”

Kane (left) alongside Gillian Anderson in The Fall

One thing that was particularly important to Okine was casting, as he sought to piece together a diverse group of actors he wishes he had seen on screen when he was growing up. “I am really proud to have a show I could have watched 10 or 20 years ago and felt represented on screen,” he adds. “But I don’t want to think this show is this purely because I’m half-African. That would be underselling what we’ve created.

“We cast who was best at the time but definitely in the writing process I wrote a lot of those ethnicities into the show, right down from the first scene where there’s an Indigenous Uber driver. We’re not trying to make huge political statements by having brown people on screen or having more women involved as characters who aren’t sexually driven. We just wanted to make a different show, something that was pure.”

That The Other Guy was made for Stan also played on Okine’s mind, as the six episodes in season one run to three hours in total, less than some feature films. The Australian says he’s satisfied that some people have chosen to watch the entire series in one sitting: “I’m really excited by that because it’s a show that does build. It doesn’t start off with a bang and drip away as the ideas fall off. It reaches a high point later on in the series. It was good to know people could immediately watch that next episode and get some momentum going.

“Also, the fact it’s on a streaming service and wasn’t relying on advertisements meant what we lacked in budget, we made up for with freedom. Stan was so supportive. You can tell everyone is really excited about how quickly the company is building and it’s awesome to be a part of that process. I’m going to look back in 10 or 20 years and be like, I was part of the beginning of that movement within Australia.”

Okine says his heart is now in television and admits he would be disappointed if The Other Guy only ran for one season. “It’s weird, the whole time you go through it thinking, ‘I can’t do this ever again, it’s too difficult,’” he concludes. “I will never give birth to a child – or I don’t foresee myself being able to in my lifetime – but it’s the closest I’ll ever get. The whole process I was thinking it was so painful but, now it’s finished, I feel like another one.”

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Game of stones

Former Criminal Minds showrunner Ed Bernero takes charge of diamond-focused drama Ice as it heads into its second season. He tells DQ why he is stepping out of his comfort zone and leading a series set in a world rarely seen on television.

When US drama Ice ended its first season, the story teetered on the edge of a classic cliffhanger – the main characters all together and the sound of single gunshot.

In fact, fans of the show – set in the world of the LA diamond business – were also left on a knife-edge, as they didn’t know if the show would be returning for a second season. Confirmation finally came in mid-June, four months after the credits last rolled, as telecoms giant AT&T announced Ed Bernero as the new showrunner for the series, which airs on its Audience Network.

Bernero

The first season of Ice, produced and distributed by Entertainment One (eOne), launched in November 2016 with director Antoine Fuqua and writer Robert Munic as exec producers. Nine different directors helmed the 10-episode run.

A television industry veteran, Bernero comes on board having led shows including Criminal Minds, Third Watch and European crime drama Crossing Lines.

He says the appeal of joining Ice heading into its second season, which is due to air in 2018, lay in its tackling of unchartered territory:“I get sent a lot of things to do and it’s not often where I see something where the cast interests me and it’s a world I don’t think has been explored that much on television.

“I watched the first season and started talking to eOne about some things I thought I would do with it and they responded. I’m just excited to be doing it –  it’s a lot of fun. It’s a completely different muscle than I’m used to exercising, which is more in the procedural vein. This is very much a serialised family show.”

As a former cop, it’s no surprise Bernero’s credits haven’t strayed far from the crime genre, and he admits the structure associated with procedural story-of-the-week series “is just the way I’ve always thought.” He doesn’t mind being known as “the cop guy,” but says it’s refreshing that he can now try something new.

“It’s just a little hard to get Hollywood to try something else – it’s kind of like being typecast as an actor,” he says. “Not that I’m complaining about it. Believe me, there are worse things to be than the cop guy in Hollywood.

“I write this show the same way I write any other. It always comes from character for me anyway, just in a different format. eOne has been very supportive of me doing it. I’ve been very excited to be with people who say, ‘Go do your thing.’”

Ice focuses on the diamond trade in LA

Season one introduced the family-owned Green & Green Diamonds firm, operating in the underbelly of the LA diamond trade. This season sees new wars waged between half-brothers Jake (Cam Gigandet) and Freddy (Jeremy Sisto), Cam (Ray Winstone) and Lady Rah (Judith Shekoni) in a bid to claim control of the glittering world of diamond trading.

“They ended season one with everyone together and a gunshot and we’ve picked it up from there,” Bernero tells DQ during shooting on episode three and four. “The thing we’re trying to do a little bit more this year is make it more about diamonds. We’re calling the season ‘Game of Stones.’ There’s four groups we’re going to follow in different journeys within the diamond world. We’re having a lot of fun just sort of taking the characters that were set and taking them in new directions and to new places.”

The show will continue to be a serialised drama, the showrunner says, but if the audience notices anything different from season one, it might be there is less time spent with the family as a whole as the group splinters to deal with their own storylines. “There are a few more individual stories and worlds than there were, but they still all intersect and come together in different ways,” he explains. “To the audience, it should very much feel like the same show with a little more emphasis on diamonds.”

The downtime between the end of season one and the confirmation of season two meant a lot of the crew had moved on to other projects, such is the demand for workers in Vancouver, where Ice is filmed. That meant Bernero had to rebuild the production team, though the cast remains largely intact from season one.

The show stars Cam Gigandet

It also presented the new showrunner with the unique challenge of making a “first-season show in its second season.” He explains: “The storylines are new and it’s a completely new creative team behind the camera. The cast has actually been really helpful – we sat down and talked about their characters and they’re welcome in the writing room as much as they want to be. We just talked about what they established as their characters.

“Because we have no one who was in the [writers] room at the conception of it, it’s been freeing to not have to worry about offending anyone or hurting anyone’s feelings. At the same time, it’s a bit of a learning process. We have to figure out who Lady Ra is and who Freddy is.”

Bernero and his team also spent time learning about the world of diamond trading, with diamond experts hired as consultants on the series. Meanwhile, Vancouver doubled for LA, London and Venezuela for the first episodes in the globetrotting second season, while production moves to South Africa for the final five episodes as several characters head to a diamond conference.

“One of the things we wanted to pay attention to is that it’s a global business,” the showrunner says. “The diamond trade touches almost every country, so we wanted to do that. For the last five episodes, eOne is letting us go to South Africa and shoot in Cape Town. We’re pretty excited about that.”

Beyond Ice, AT&T’s Audience Network has been building up a slate of original series including MMA drama Kingdom and polyamorous romcom You Me Her. This summer it drew particular acclaim for its Stephen King adaptation Mr Mercedes, while political thriller Condor is on the way.

“AT&T is no different to a lot of new outlets, in that they want something that makes noise,” Bernero says of the DirectTV-owned platform. “They just want something different. They don’t want it to be a show that could be on CBS or on ABC.

“A family of people involved in the diamond business is something I personally have never seen. When I looked at it, I couldn’t believe no one had ever done this, because it’s such a rich world and it’s so interesting. But that is something any of these outlets are looking for that are kind of new to programming. They’re trying to get something that looks a little different to everyone else. Ice is that in spades.”

Despite its glamorous setting, Ice is a family drama at its heart, notes Bernero, who believes audiences respond most to a family dynamic  whatever form that may take. “For me, every TV show has to have a family at its centre,” he says, whether it’s an actual family or a group that can be identified as one, such as the cops who work together on Criminal Minds.

Production will move to South Africa for the second half of season two

“House of Cards is about a guy who got screwed over at work. Everybody gets that. So you try to find the elements in the show that everyone can relate to in their world. People instinctively go towards family, especially when they’re watching it at home. They’re inviting you into their home, so it’s important that at the centre of every show is a family – and this show has that.”

Bernero’s move to a serialised drama may be further proof that procedurals have had their day in the US, despite continuing demand from overseas broadcasters and a slight uptick in the number of new story-of-the-week series launching across the big five broadcast networks this fall.

But the showrunner believes the trend for serialised stories, promoted by SVoD platforms, will eventually subside as networks revert to the types of shows that will bring in the most profit.

“People still need something to do on Tuesday night,” he says. “My family all live in the Midwest and they don’t stream everything or binge-watch. There are still a lot of people who watch TV the traditional way and I don’t think that will ever go away.

“Some of the networks are open to procedurals. It’s a bit cyclical, but they’ll realise these short orders don’t make the kind of money that something like Criminal Minds does.”

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Angel of death

Canadian black comedy-drama Mary Kills People stars Caroline Dhavernas as Dr Mary Harris, an overworked single mother and ER doctor who lives a double life helping terminally ill patients to end their lives. Assisted by her business partner Des (Richard Short), they strive to stay under the radar and keep one step ahead of the police, who are determined to stop their operation.

In this video interview, Dhavernas and Short tell DQ what drew them to the series and talk about the on-screen relationship between Mary and Des.

They also debate the controversial topic at the heart of the show and how it walks the line between its dark subject matter and its many lighter moments.

In ever-changing television business, the co-stars also discuss how actors fit into the evolving landscape.

Now in production for season two, Mary Kills People is produced by Entertainment One (which also distributes) and Cameron Pictures in association with Corus Entertainment. It airs on Global in Canada and Lifetime in the US.

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Back in the room

DQ visits Big Light Productions to see a writers room in practice as executive producer Frank Spotnitz works on a second season of Ransom.

Imagine a writers room and you may well picture several people sitting around a big table, pens in hand and plenty of coffee within arm’s reach.

And on a visit to the offices of London-based Big Light Productions, DQ finds that isn’t far from the truth. In a fifth-floor room with a view across the city, three large desks have been pushed together and are covered with notepads and sheets of paper, laptops, pens, bottles of water and bowls filled with grapes, nuts and other treats.

Around the desks sit eight people – six writers and two script editors – who are in early development mapping out episodes for a potential second season of hostage drama Ransom. Created by David Vainola and Big Light CEO Frank Spotnitz, the series follows crisis and hostage negotiator Eric Beaumont (played by Luke Roberts), whose team is brought in to save lives when no one else can.

Frank Spotnitz

Season one debuted on CBS in the US and Canada’s Global TV on January 1 and will also air on Germany’s RTL and TF1 in France. All four networks coproduced the series, which is produced by Big Light, distributor Entertainment One, Sienna Films and Wildcat Productions.

Inside the writers room where work has been underway on season two since the beginning of the year, four cork boards are covered with notecards, each marked out with a different plot point or scene. Around the walls, there is memorabilia relating to previous Big Light series as well as shows Spotnitz has worked on himself. Posters from The X-Files, Hunted and The Man in the High Castle can be seen alongside a clapperboard from the set of Medici: Masters of Florence. Pictures of the Ransom cast are stuck to another wall.

As DQ pulls up a chair to sit in on the ongoing discussion, executive producer Spotnitz takes his place at the head of the table to listen to the latest episode outline. Whether leaning back with his arms folded or sitting forward to emphasise a point, the former X-Files showrunner wastes no time in offering notes as the episode is dissected, or leading discussions on character motivations and movements.

On several occasions he refers to movies to illustrate a point he is trying to make, and continually takes the writing team back to the beginning of the episode to iron out any wrinkles in the plotting.

Spotnitz has long championed writers rooms outside the US and describes the room at Big Light as a hybrid of UK and US production systems, using script editors to help guide the writing process in a way a showrunner might across the Atlantic. “I do think writers rooms are getting more traction outside the US,” he tells DQ later. “It won’t work for all shows. Really, you need eight or 10 episodes to even make it worthwhile. But with a certain number of shows, if they’re needed in a certain period of time, it’s just faster and I do think it’s better. The quality’s higher when you have all these people interrogating every beat of the story. They argue but it’s good because if you can survive that process, you have your whole story worked out and you go to the script process feeling really confident.”

Spotnitz jumps in and out of the room as his schedule permits – he’s also overseeing production of Canadian series The Indian Detective in South Africa and season two of aforementioned Italian historical drama Medici – leaving the other writers to get on with the task at hand in his absence.

Big Light’s hostage drama Ransom airs on CBS in the US and Global TV in Canada

“They’ve worked out a lot of it and then they tell me the story, and in a perfect world I’d say, ‘Great, go write it’ – but that rarely happens,” he admits. “Usually I go, ‘What about this and what about that?’ We talk about it, I’ll have read the story outlines that have been sent to broadcasters. There’s a lot of formal steps you have to go through because we have to please our studio and the broadcasters.

“But after season one, we know our show better and what worked well; we know our actors better and their strengths and chemistry. That’s one of the joys of doing television – you keep doing it, you don’t just do a movie and it’s over. We can learn and refine and do things we didn’t do before.”

In the room, it’s also clear that Spotnitz isn’t just thinking about the story. He might be imagining the budget total rocketing up when different settings are discussed for a particular scene, before suggesting the action be kept in a previous location.

“When I first started doing this, I remember thinking, ‘this sucks’ because we had to go back to an old location. But we’ve only got 10 days to shoot an episode and we can’t have 15 locations,” he says. “We’ve got to be practical. It forces you to simplify your storytelling and that’s actually really good. It’s hard to be simple but it’s better to be simple. So I’ve come to not resent it at all and to actually like it. The few times I’ve done episodes when I didn’t simplify things and I insisted we did all this production stuff, it hasn’t been better. There’s an economy to it that the audience responds to.”

The Ransom writers room is also notable for two of the scribes taking part – Bo Poraj and Susie Farrell – who were invited to join the team as the winners of a shadow writing scheme launched by Big Light and Creative Skillset, which works with the UK’s screen-based creative media industries to develop new talent.

Actor-turned-writer Poraj has worked on British soaps including EastEnders and Doctors, and the writers room experience offered a big step towards high-end drama that isn’t often available. “Getting your own stuff on screen is such a lottery,” he says. “Unless you get that break, it’s very hard. So hopefully a scheme like this is win-win because it gives us that development opportunity and also gives Big Light a potential talent pool to draw from in the future.”

Ransom stars Luke Roberts as negotiator Eric Beaumont

Poraj admits the process isn’t perfect, with hours of discussion often leading to dead ends that serve no use to the final script. “There have been days where it felt like we didn’t make any progress at all,” he says, “but sometimes you feel like that and then at the end of the day, you touch on something that fixes the whole problem and you realise it was worth spending five hours meandering around the subject.”

And despite the downsides to using a writers room, including the increased cost of keeping several writers in place across many weeks, Poraj suggests its something the UK drama industry should do more often.

“I know it’s more expensive but when you think of production budgets, as a percentage of that budget, without a decent script, you’ve got nothing,” he says. “Even the best director and the best actors aren’t going to make it compelling viewing. It seems to be a fairly expedient policy to not invest more time in script development. I hope we will move more towards that model in the UK. Collaborating can be much more fun as well. You get an idea for a script and you get to run it past seven smart people – it can only make it better, can’t it?”

Over the last seven years, Big Light has brought around 60 writers through its doors, having established writers rooms on every show it produces. Spotnitz believes it’s a natural opportunity to train new writers.

“In the UK it’s very challenging. Broadcasters tend to buy drama from established writers – and if you’re not one of those established writers, it’s very hard to get your show commissioned,” he explains. “But drama is growing because of things like Netflix, Amazon and international coproductions. We need people who are trained to work collaboratively, who are comfortable sitting in that room batting around ideas and talking with other writers. Younger writers are really eager. They have watched American television and they’re not intimidated by it. They don’t feel like a writer must sit by themselves in a shed and write, they’re open to coming in and it’s fun. You laugh and make friends and go for drinks. It’s more fun than sitting by yourself with your computer.”

Kaye Elliott, programme lead for Creative Skillset’s High End TV (HETV) Council, adds: “The scheme provides a fantastic and unique opportunity for writers to learn about the process of working in a writing team for HETV. Creative Skillset is proud to support such an excellent initiative and encourages the development of more UK writers rooms to give writers more opportunities to further progress their skills and build their networks.”

Spotnitz concludes that ultimately, whatever the writing process used, there is no perfect story. “You get to the point where people say, ‘I enjoyed that,’ and that’s success,” he says. “There’s no true success, and perfection is not achievable. You’ll never get there. But that’s why this is an interesting job. You’ll never master this, you’ll never get bored because it’s impossible to say, ‘I’ve got this.’ Every story is so unique and different with different variables, it’s like a new puzzle to put together.”

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Mind the Gap

Five go travelling in E4’s globetrotting comedy-drama Gap Year. DQ chats to stars Anders Hayward and Tim Key, creator Tom Basden and Carrie Stein of producer Entertainment One.

When Andrew Davies spoke about writing BBC drama War & Peace, he would always joke that he’d read Leo Tolstoy’s epic saga so that the audience wouldn’t have to.

Tom Basden

The same sentiment could now apply to Gap Year, the E4 comedy-drama that gives viewers who missed out on backpacking around the world the chance to see the sights and sounds of Asia from the comfort of their own home.

The eight-part series – which will be shown in Cannes on April 2 as part of the MipDrama Screenings – follows five people as they first meet in Chinese capital Beijing and decide to team up on a tour that takes in ancient rainforests, full-moon beach parties, mega-cities and remote monasteries in Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Nepal.

Dylan (Anders Hayward) and Sean (Ade Oyefeso) head to Beijing with plans to backpack across China. But once they cross paths with relentlessly upbeat Greg (Tim Key), Chinese-American May (Alice Lee), who wants to reconnect with her long-lost family, and party animal Ashley (Brittney Wilson), together they end up taking on the whole continent.

Co-stars include Janeane Garofolo as a jaded American travel writer, Aisling Bea and Trystan Gravelle as a pair of bickering honeymooners, Scott Adsit as the American owner of a Vietnamese orphanage and Rachel Redford as Dylan’s ex-girlfriend.

Gap Year, currently airing in the UK, marks the first acting job for model Hayward, who trained as a dancer and was subsequently spotted by two acting agents, leading to an audition for the role of Dylan and a four-and-a-half month shoot across Asia.

Gap year stars Anders Hayward (left) and Ade Oyefeso as best friends Dylan and Sean

“I was only signed in November 2015 and managed to get this last April. It was a very quick turnaround and I did not expect this,” he admits. “I thought I’d be auditioning for a while before I got anything but it just sort of happened out of the blue. It’s just mindblowing! It’s the most phenomenal experience I’ve ever had.”

When Dylan and Sean first arrive in Beijing, a ‘chance’ encounter with Dylan’s ex-girlfriend Lauren (Redford) reveals that he may not have been entirely truthful about his motives for the trip – a revelation that infuriates his best friend.

“He’s in his own world – he’s a romantic and he thinks he’s this Casanova, that he knows more of what’s happening in the world because he studies philosophy,” Hayward says of his character. “And then when he gets out there and actually experiences it, he quickly realises he actually is quite ignorant and a bit arrogant. But he’s a total hopeless romantic. He’s torn and lost, and there’s something quite endearing about this kid. That’s what keeps the audience on his side. That naivety is quite endearing and keeps him engaging.”

In contrast to Dylan is Greg, the oldest member of the gang who in one episode describes himself as the Fonzie of the group, comparing himself to Henry Winkler’s legendary Happy Days character considered to be a big brother to those around him.

“He feels genuinely young and anything where he’d be called out for being the old guy hanging with the young people would leave him feeling completely confused!” explains Key, who is best known for starring as Alan Partridge’s radio sidekick in Mid Morning Matters and the Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa movie. “He sees the group as five young people travelling around Asia and they see it as a guy who’s travelling with them.”

Comedy writer Key originally started out in the writers room as the show was pieced together, and was assigned to write episode six alongside Jonny Sweet. It was then that he was cast as Greg, meaning he wasn’t able to continue writing duties.

“In the writers room, the character was growing and was constantly called Greg, constantly 37 years old and there was a looming impression that he was being written with me in mind.” the actor says. “He starts off and maintains this status quo of being a guy who is loveable and hopelessly optimistic but has more problems lurking behind it all.”

Both Hayward and Key recall a strong bond between the five leading actors, which was boosted by the supportive crew as they made their way around multiple locations throughout Asia.

“There was a great support network between everyone and a really good rapport between us,” Hayward says. “We also had great chemistry off camera, which helped us massively in terms of getting through the process of seeing each other every day and travelling to all these different places and doing these new things. It could have spiralled out of control if we didn’t have this chemistry. It would have been a totally different show.

Comedian Tim Key started out in the writers room before taking on the role of Greg

“It was really exhilarating to go to these exotic locations. I found it quite weird at times pretending to be just among normal people going about their day. One moment I particularly remember was when we were in Ho Chi Minh City [in Vietnam] and we were just plugging away, walking and talking, and getting heckles and people wanting to be in the show – but none of them were locals. They were the people we were playing, it was hilarious! But it was really exciting and we were discovering new things every day. The biggest surprise for me was Beijing. It was so fascinating and I didn’t expect it to be what it was and how really bonkers it was.”

Key adds: “Most places had something about them but Beijing was really good. It was so Chinese! It was really good, really friendly. That’s when we were at our most cultural, we did a lot of sight-seeing. But Ho Chi Minh City was good. It came at a good time because we hadn’t been anywhere wild. Up until that point, we’d done an episode in Langkawi, an island in Malaysia, and then in Kuala Lumpur set in an orphanage and an episode in a jungle so I think we were ready to go somewhere mad, and Ho Chi Minh City delivered.”

Series creator Tom Basden (Fresh Meat) had been developing the series alongside producer Eleven’s Jamie Campbell and Joel Wilson since 2013, but reveals he had written a similar script 10 years ago, though then it was more sitcom than comedy-drama.

“It’s one of those ideas where you think, ‘I can’t believe this hasn’t been done as a TV show,’” he says. “It really lends itself to different episodes in different places and the gang making their way through a continent over a season. It’s been brewing for a long time.

“The dramatic side we wanted to hone in on comes from making sure it’s a story about coming of age and people changing and characters getting themselves into funny and amusing situations but also learning about themselves and each other. There’s not as much need to make the sitcom version of this – you know what that is. It would be a bit of a cliché. The comedy-drama version is one where you care about the characters a bit more and it feels a bit more truthful and it makes you really feel like you’re there.”

A Vietnamese orphanage features in the show

Key to the success of the series are the five central characters and the relationships they share on their travels, something on which Basden was particularly focused to ensure they each had a reason for travelling and something they wanted to get out of it.

“It’s really about a group of people who are going out of their way to get something. They’re searching for something and want some kind of breakthrough for themselves, and we’re giving it to them in ways they don’t expect at all,” he explains. “So from that point of view, we had to do a huge amount of work on the characters and make sure at every stage they have places to go and have things they hadn’t realised about themselves.”

It was also a deliberate move to open episode one with a focus on best friends Dylan and Sean, before introducing Greg, and then May and Ashley.

“It mimics what happens when you travel and the way friendships form,” Basden adds. “Although Dylan and Sean are our way into it, that was a decision we made to let the audience follow them and find the other characters.”

The series was produced in partnership with global studio Entertainment One (eOne), which also distributes it internationally. Carrie Stein, eOne Television’s exec VP of global productions, admits she loved the concept of Gap Year from the start and was instantly convinced it would have worldwide appeal.

“The thing about travelling is that it’s this great opportunity to just let down your guard and contemplate your life. What we love about the show is each character has a clear emotional journey,” Stein says. “They each have a story – why they’re there and what they left behind, where they think they’re headed, how they change over the course of travelling and how this group they hang out with impacts where they might be headed. Tom’s done an amazing job of really enriching each of these characters with a strong dramatic story.”

The series was filmed on location across Asia

Once on location, one of the many challenges the creative team faced was deciding when they would exert a level of control over their surroundings and when they would simply let the camera capture the actors naturally in the setting, as if making a documentary.

“That was the push and pull,” Basden says. “There were times when we had to say this location, like the orphanage in Vietnam, we’re just going to make ourselves and control every element of it. But when Greg goes to the full-moon party or Sean makes his way through Beijing, we decided just to shoot and see what happened.

“That was the thing that was the most exciting and the most difficult to judge because you’ve got to allow for the freedom to just be there and see what happens. But you can’t do that too much or you have no idea what you’re going to get.”

Stein picks up: “Certainly the production was ambitious but we had tremendous faith in Jamie, Joel and Tom. There were some scary moments, like receiving a phone call telling us we didn’t have permission to shoot in China. That was crazy.

“It was also a juggling act for Tom because he had certainly written a lot and had a writers room but, once you start location scouting, you find out about different things in particular places that you want to make part of the story. So then there’s rejigging. It’s one of those pieces that evolves as you’re in pre-production and then you’re playing catch-up on the script side.”

Basden continues: “That kind of makes it really fun as well. Although it didn’t feel like it at the time, one of the benefits of being on set and doing rewrites and changing things is you really can adapt to what you’re learning about the cast and the locations. That gives it a slightly organic chemistry when you’re doing it, even though I was shut up in a hotel room for most of it. I was hardly on the set at all, but I can’t complain. I got to hang out in some lovely cafes!”

While now enjoying a well-earned break, Basden says there’s definitely scope for a second season, which he imagines would see many of the same cast return for another trip along with a broader range of international characters.

“It’s so fucking hard – that’s what we’ve all learned from it,” he concludes. “It’s really difficult dramatically to make an exciting story about people travelling. That, from the script point of view, was the hardest thing – and then the logistics of it without faking it and doing some kind of backlot shoot, that is really tricky.

“Because you’re not using the same locations, it’s harder to build because every episode is a mini film. So it’s not like a sitcom where you reuse locations and characters. There’s not really a formula for this show but, for the viewer, that’s great because you don’t know where you’re going to be every episode. From a writing point of view, it means you start the next episode where anything could happen.”

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Top execs line up for Drama Summit West

Visit Drama Summit West online by CLICKING HERE.

Content chiefs at AMC, Netflix, Showtime, Starz and Bad Robot will speak at C21 Media’s Drama Summit West, which takes place in LA on Friday May 19, bringing together the global scripted business to facilitate new productions and partnerships.

The one-day summit, which occurs between the Upfronts and LA Screenings at The Ebell Theatre in Hollywood, will focus on ‘new drama, new models,’ bringing partners together around a creative conference, festival and networking agenda with a view to helping facilitate next-generation relationships.

AMC and Showtime president of original programming and development Joel Stillerman, Showtime president of programming Gary Levine and Starz president of programming Carmi Zlotnik are among a raft of top-tier US programming execs speaking at the event.

They will discuss the state of the US market and their respective 2017 slates, which include Loaded and The Son (AMC); Twin Peaks, Billions and Homeland (Showtime); and American Gods, The Girlfriend Experience and The Missing (Starz).

Netflix VP of content Elizabeth Bradley and VP of international originals Erik Barmack will host a joint session at the event, outlining their global coproduction and international originals strategies respectively. This in-depth session will provide unique insight into how the international business can work with the platform.

Entertainment One Television CEO John Morayniss joins a panel of industry leaders discussing the big questions ahead in US scripted television and creating premium scripted series, which include the forthcoming Sharp Objects starring Amy Adams for HBO; Ransom, from executive producer Frank Spotnitz for CBS/Corus/TF1/RTL; Foreign Bodies for E4; and Havana, starring Antonio Banderas for Starz, among many others.

Bad Robot head of television Ben Stephenson and HBO Latin America VP of original production Roberto Rios will also join panels at the event.

Marti Noxon, showrunner of Sharp Objects, and execs from from Lionsgate, The Ink Factory, Color Force and TV Globo will also speak at the event.

Noxon, whose other credits include UnREAL, Glee, Mad Men and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, will join a panel of writer-producers discussing the evolving entrepreneurial role of showrunner in the changing TV landscape. Sharp Objects, an adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel of the same name, is being directed by Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club, Big Little Lies) and produced by eOne.

Stephen Cornwell, co-CEO of The Night Manager producer Ink Factory, and Nellie Reed, senior VP of Television at American Crime Story producer Color Force, also join a panel looking at how the industry’s hottest independent studios and seasoned producers are developing, producing and packaging next-generation drama.

DSW17 Speakers

Further speakers will be announced in the coming weeks.

This year will see the addition of a Drama Summit West Networking Lounge where delegates can reserve meeting tables to use throughout the day.

The 2016 event sold out, attracting more than 500 top-level executives.

Visit Drama Summit West online by CLICKING HERE.

Register today by CLICKING HERE.

Drama Summit West is the sister event to the International Drama Summit, part of C21’s Content London, which takes place in London in December. Recent speakers and contributors have included actor Tom Hardy, director Ridley Scott and writer Steve Knight (Taboo); showrunners Bryan Fuller (American Gods), Peter Morgan (The Crown), Tony Grisoni (Southcliffe, Red Riding) Jed Mercurio (Line of Duty) and Simon Mirren (Versailles); executives Joel Stillerman (AMC), Channing Dungey (ABC), Eric Schrier (FX), Sharon Tal Yuguado (Fox) and Morgan Wandell (Amazon); and leading global producers Jane Tranter, Jane Featherstone, Liza Marshall, Greg Brenman, Richard Brown, Gub Neal and Andrew Marcus.

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Hello Mr President

US star Kiefer Sutherland reveals why he elected to play the president in US drama Designated Survivor and what he learned from working on 24.

Best known for saving the day – and quite often the US president – in action drama 24, Kiefer Sutherland still finds himself spending plenty of time in the Oval Office.

Only now he plays the president as the star of ABC drama Designated Survivor. The political series sees Sutherland’s Tom Kirkman, the US secretary of housing and urban development, rapidly promoted to become the leader of the free world after an explosion during the State of the Union address claims the lives of the incumbent and all other members of the US cabinet.

Kiefer Sutherland in Cannes for Mipcom 2016

The drama, from creator David Guggenheim and producer Mark Gordon, debuted last September to more than 10 million viewers and a week later, it was handed a full season order of 22 episodes for the 2016/17 season.

It also airs on CTV in Canada and around the world on Netflix following deals with distributor Entertainment One (eOne).

Sutherland has built his career across television and film, with big-screen credits including Stand By Me, The Lost Boys, A Few Good Men and A Time to Kill. So when he gave a keynote address at television industry event Mipcom, DQ was in the audience to hear more from the London-born Canadian actor.

Sutherland hadn’t planned on joining another network drama…
My experience on 24 was the greatest experience I’ve had as an actor. Having done a lot of smaller movies that no one ever saw, I remembered it was nice to have people watch what you do and enjoy it. So I was so grateful for that. Having said that, it was nine years, anywhere between 12 and 15 hours a day, five days a week, 10 months a year – it’s a lot of work, so when I did 24 I wasn’t aware of any of that.
When I agreed to do Designated Survivor, I was completely aware of that. So it was a big decision and when I first got the script, it was sent to me by Mark Gordon. We’ve been friends for 20 years and I was doing a film with Michelle Pfeiffer, a very small picture. I was getting into some music things, and taking on the responsibility of a television show was not in the forefront of my mind.

But his attitude changed when he read the pilot script…
I was going to give it what I call a cursory read – I was going to read it really quickly to gain enough information about the script to explain to Mark why I couldn’t do it. And I got to about page 25 and I went, “Fuck.” I knew I was potentially holding what I was going to be doing for 10 years if I was lucky, and I went back and re-read it. But the opposite thing happened – I got to the end almost praying it stayed as good as it was and David Guggenheim really wrote a script that spoke to me.

Sutherland as Jack Bauer in long-running drama 24

The actor could see similarities between Jack Bauer and Tom Kirkman…
It wasn’t until I actually started performing the character that I realised there was a real similarity to Jack Bauer I had not anticipated. Their skill set is very different. President Tom Kirkman probably doesn’t know how to load a gun, let alone shoot it. But the fact is both characters have a desire to serve and both characters are willing to take on a fight they know they can’t possibly win. That through line in both characters is something I obviously really relate to. I would like to aspire to be one of those people. It ended up being something that I knew if I chose not to do it for a lot of very reasonable reasons, I would really regret it. I do not regret the decision [to sign up] for a second.

Tom Kirkman was inspired by Franklin D Roosevelt, because Abraham Lincoln “would have been too obvious…”
One of the nice things about the character is he’s not even elected, he’s not even an elected member of the cabinet. He’s an architect who had very specific ideas about urban planning and affordable housing across the country and that’s how he became part of the cabinet. So he had no political aspirations. What is nice about this character is he can approach the country’s issues, domestic and abroad, with common sense and a sense of fairness and what he thinks is right or wrong, as opposed to a political agenda that’s been dictated by three years of campaigning. That is a really fresh point of view. Common sense is the foundation of the character, and when he becomes more political, that’s when he starts to make mistakes and that will be a constant thread in the character throughout the whole show.

As an exec producer of Designated Survivor, he sees himself as the show’s ambassador…
I was an exec producer on 24 as well and Joel Surnow [the creator of 24] taught me something: the writers had all the offices on the second floor of the stage where we shot, we never went up there and they never came down. As I’m experiencing on this show, that was very unique. I once asked Joel, “Why don’t you ever come down?” He said it was because he hired the people he wanted to do what they’re doing and he didn’t have to oversee everything because he hired the people that he really wanted to do it. It’s a really valuable lesson. Mark is the producer of this show; I work as an ambassador because of the amount of actors we do have coming in and out of the show. I try to make sure they’re comfortable if they’re having a problem with part of the script, I’ll try to work it out with them or direct them to who else to talk to. That’s really my role. I’m certainly not sitting in budget meetings or things like that.

The actor alongside Designated Survivor co-star Natascha McElhone

The biggest problem on 24 was also the ‘star’ of the show…
When I first read this script [for Designated Survivor], as much as I was moved by the characters, I had learned a lot from 24 about what would potentially make the show great and what would not. 24’s real -ime aspect, which was in my opinion the real star of the show, was also a problem. We would paint ourselves into a corner in the storyline and it was almost every year, right around episode 14 or 15 and we’d have to do something wonky to get around it, but we’d make up for it in the last eight episodes. It was something we really had difficulty every year navigating and I think Howard Gordon would be the first to acknowledge that.

But Designated Survivor was designed to avoid those same challenges…
It was designed to never get caught in that position. This show works on three different prongs. So you have a terrorist attack and an FBI investigation into who did this attack and what would be the appropriate response – that’s the thriller aspect of the show. Then you have a family drama, of what happens to a family that is split up, or is moved into the White House overnight. What does that do to the dynamic of his marriage, how does it affect how he interacts and behaves with his children? That’s its own storyline. And there’s the political aspect – how do you stabilise the country after having its entire government wiped out? How do you rebuild the government and shore up the country on an international level?
Those are all things we’ll be dealing with throughout this first season. If at one point the political storyline is having difficulty, then all of a sudden the show can shift back to being a family drama for two episodes and giving a reason for the political thing to take over. It’s the same with the investigation. So the fact that three storylines are living within the show, all at the same time, gives the writers incredible flexibility to also react to what the audience is enjoying about the show. For those reasons, the show has a flexibility that I think is stronger than anything I’ve been a part of so far.

Sutherland wasn’t sure he wanted to do television before 24 changed his mind…
When I took 24, I wasn’t very clear on how it all worked. I remember thinking I didn’t really want to do a television show – and of course it ended up becoming the greatest experience I’ve had as an actor. I seem to land in certain situations. If I manage to get out of my own way, things can work out and 24 was the great lesson for that for me.

He now believes the small screen is the most exciting medium in entertainment…
When I started working, there were five studios in the US and all five studios were making 50 to 60 movies a year. Now there are barely three studios in the US and they’re making about 15 movies a year. And if you’re going to do one of those movies, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to be wearing tights and a cape! So all of the movies I loved watching when I was a kid – whether it was The Godfather, Lawrence of Arabia, Serpico, The French Connection, Ordinary People, Terms of Endearment – those movies aren’t really getting made the way they were and that drama, that kind of storytelling has been absorbed by television, whether it’s 24, The Sopranos, The Wire, Sex and the City or Game of Thrones. The list is endless and the fact we’ve moved from three channels to four channels to 500 channels, content is king – and for the writers who want to tell real drama, television is where it is at right now.

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On the case with Cardinal

From the books by Giles Blunt, Cardinal tells the story of the eponymous detective tasked with investigating the death of a young girl whose body is discovered in an abandoned mine. But as the case grows, a dark secret from his past threatens to derail the investigation.

Stars Billy Campbell and Karine Vanasse reveal why they were so impressed by the scripts and how the series will challenge viewers, and discuss the challenges of filming in treacherous conditions.

Cardinal is produced by Sienna Films and Entertainment One for CTV in Canada and is distributed internationally by eOne.

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Delivering Ransom

Executive producer Frank Spotnitz discusses the real-life origins of hostage thriller Ransom – commissioned by CBS in the US, Canada’s Global, German broadcaster RTL and French network TF1 – while star Luke Roberts describes the life-and-death stakes in play for his character, negotiator Eric Roberts.

Ransom is produced by Entertainment One (eOne), Sienna Films and Wildcat Productions, and distributed by eOne.

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Sky Deutschland bets big on original drama

Stefan Ruzowitzky

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.

Babylon Berlin stars Volker Bruch and Liv Lisa Frise

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.

Trapped represented a breakthrough in terms of French backing for Nordic drama

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.

Turkey’s Elif has now been sold into 16 territories

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.

A spin-off from How I Met Your Mother is likely

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.

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Speaking with Conviction

Conviction star Hayley Atwell tells Michael Pickard why she was drawn to the US drama after saying goodbye to Marvel’s Agent Carter.

With a career spanning stage and screen, it is within the Marvel universe that Hayley Atwell has made her name.

Starring as wartime spy Peggy Carter, she first appeared on the big screen in Captain America: The First Avenger and had roles in subsequent films Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man and Captain America: Civil War.

More prominently, she made several appearances in Marvel’s Agents of Shield and then took the lead in fellow ABC drama Agent Carter. Running for two seasons between 2015 and this year, it followed Carter as she balanced her life as a secret agent with being a single woman in 1940s America.

But following Agent Carter’s cancellation earlier this year, Atwell can now be found on the small screen in ABC’s new legal drama Conviction (pictured above).

Conviction is halfway through its debut season on ABC
Conviction is halfway through its debut season on ABC

The London-born actor stars as Hayes Morrison, a lawyer and former First Daughter who is blackmailed into heading up a new Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) in exchange for avoiding prison. At the CIU, she and her team investigate suspected wrongful convictions as she attempts to regain the trust of her high-powered family.

The cast also includes Eddie Cahill, Shawn Ashmore, Merrin Dungey, Emily Kinney, Manny Montana and Daniel di Tomasso. Produced by The Mark Gordon Company and ABC Studios, the show’s co-creator/writer Liz Friedman and co-creator/director Liz Friedlander executive produce with Mark Gordon and Nick Pepper.

“You have this backdrop of great tension and drama as any legal procedural would be, but then you put in a character like Hayes – she’s a bit of a Tasmanian devil,” Atwell says of her character.

“She’s a former First Daughter and a brilliant lawyer but it’s almost like she has her finger on a self-destruct button. And I think a life in public scrutiny as the First Daughter, the way that’s manifested itself is quite rebellious. She’s decided to live her life on her own terms and be allowed to make all the mistakes 20-year-olds make but unfortunately we’re a decade on and she’s just stayed at the party a little too long.”

Morrison’s life takes a turn for the worse as she’s arrested for cocaine possession and, facing a spell behind bars, agrees to run the CIU – based on real-life units in operation across the US.

“They’re either going to bury her with this or she comes and works for the CIU,” continues Atwell, whose other TV credits include The Pillars of the Earth, Restless and Black Mirror. “So she’s very resistant at first and we discover throughout the pilot that she’s going to find a way of navigating this new job on her terms. She’s going to fight the system from within. So she has a lot of fun doing that.”

Atwell played the lead in Marvel's Agent Carter for two seasons
Atwell played the lead in Marvel’s Agent Carter for two seasons

Currently halfway through its 13-episode freshman season – episode seven aired in the US on Monday this week – Conviction marks a change of direction for Atwell after Agent Carter and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but one she has happily embraced.

“It was such a fresh and exciting challenge and opportunity [after Agent Carter] and, having spoken to Mark Gordon and Liz Friedlander, specifically about their vision of the show and their vision of who Hayes was, it was just this dream character – someone who is complex and multi-layered and yet you’re still rooting for her,” she reveals.

“The audience has still got to warm to her and want her to succeed and want to be concerned for her and the choices she makes and the mistakes she seems to be repeating and the difficult situation she’s in with her family. There’s a lot of empathy for her, and all of that meant that, for me as an actor, to explore little ways of expressing those different sides of her so it doesn’t just become she’s in this corporate world, this legal world, and she’s doing good. It’s not as straightforward as that because it’s much more relatable and much more human to see someone struggling with a lot of pressures from every aspect of her life.”

Distributor Entertainment One has already sold Conviction to broadcasters around the world, including Sky Living in the UK, TF1 in France and Fox Networks Group Latin America.

And Gordon, best known for producing series including Grey’s Anatomy and Criminal Minds, says it is the conflicted Morrison that gives the drama a particularly interesting premise.

“Procedurals have this stigma and what we were trying very hard to accomplish – and I think we’ve done so with Hayley – was something of a hybrid where we’re interested in her life and the other characters’ lives and, at the same time, we’re solving a case of the week,” he says. “I think the balance is working really nicely.”

Restless
Atwell in miniseries Restless, which aired on BBC1 in 2012

As Atwell recalls, Agent Carter was her first experience working on a show where scripts were still being written as filming began, which gave her little time to analyse scenes in the way she would when treading the boards in London’s West End or on Broadway.

“I found that quite thrilling because it means you just have to instinctively make choices and just commit to them,” she says. “So I feel it’s given me insight into the stamina it takes to keep that going. It means I get to have fun in the moment and that’s quite exciting because it keep you very present as an actor and wanting to play with your co-workers and finding little comic moments or moments that are not necessarily obvious in the script. It keeps you going but it does take a kind of stamina and you’ve got to keep physically fit for it.”

Gordon admits it’s “very, very hard” for Atwell and every lead actor in a network drama as they face long, gruelling hours on set.

“It’s 12- to 14-hour days, every day, five days a week for nine months,” he says. “It’s really tough. And we as producers have to protect the actors, because fast is not necessarily good. We try to do these shows as quickly as we can but, at the same time, to allow Hayley and the cast the time to do their best work.

“A show like this is deceptively tough because although we’re not blowing things up on a regular basis and there are no car chases, what we do have is a large cast and that cast is together a lot. So it takes time to photograph and film multiple angles of all these people. It’s not just shooting here, here and here, it’s across this one to talk to this actor and across Hayley to look at the other actor.

“I’ve been doing this for quite some time and once when I asked why it was taking so long, it was because we had six or seven actors and you’ve got to cover them all when they’re in the room. That just takes time.”

Atwell adds: “It just means you have to be really prepared before you go in, do the homework but also have excellent time management of just knowing how much you have to get through and creating an atmosphere where you can do your best work and not panicking or rushing through something.

“That’s something we’re always playing with really, and half the work is making it efficient but making sure those time limits aren’t compromising the quality of your work.”

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Victoria’s reign extended by ITV

Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria
Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria

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

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

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

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

Tom Selleck in Magnum PI
Tom Selleck in Magnum PI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Designated Survivor stars Kiefer Sutherland
Designated Survivor stars Kiefer Sutherland

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

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

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

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

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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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TCA tour de force from US series

Starz has renewed The Girlfriend Experience, based on the film by Steven Soderbergh
Starz has renewed The Girlfriend Experience, based on the film by Steven Soderbergh

The lazy summer month of August doesn’t seem like an obvious time for new scripted commissions ABC, Starz and National Geographicto be announced. But it’s actually pretty active in the US, thanks to the Television Critics’ Association (TCA) Summer Press Tour.

For a couple of weeks, network execs give the media a frank and detailed insight into some of their plans for the coming year.

ABC, for example, has given a straight-to-series order to Ten Days in the Valley, a 10-part drama series that plays out over a 10-day period. Produced by Skydance and created by Tassie Cameron (Rookie Blue), the series focuses on a television producer and single mother whose young daughter goes missing in the middle of the night. The show was originally set up with Demi Moore in mind but the lead will now be The Closer’s Kyra Sedgwick.

The show is reportedly part of ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey’s ambition to re-introduce more procedural dramas into the network’s schedule. If that is the case, it will be welcomed by European buyers, who have been complaining about the lack of decent procedurals coming out of the US.

NGC's eight-hour miniseries The Long Road Home
NGC’s eight-hour miniseries The Long Road Home

Premium pay TV channel Starz has also used the TCA tour to unveil plans for a number of shows, one of which we referenced in last week’s Writers Room column (Pussy Valley). Another greenlight announcement is a second season of The Girlfriend Experience, based on the film by Steven Soderbergh. The series will tell a new story with new characters, putting it firmly at the heart of the current trend for anthology drama.

Carmi Zlotnik, MD of Starz, said: “The first season of The Girlfriend Experience [GFE] allowed us to accommodate all viewing appetites with the traditional weekly episodic premiere schedule as well as a bingeing option for the entire 13 episodes. We’re excited to offer Starz subscribers a second season that will explore new GFEs, clients and relationships as we take viewers back into this world that questions the price of intimacy and its emotional consequences.”

Another player making a big scripted statement at the TCA tour was National Geographic Channel (NGC). Although best known for its factual content, NGC is boosting is scripted profile with a show based on a manuscript from the late Michael Crichton.

Crichton died in 2008 but he was such a remarkable creator of sci-fi adventure series (Jurassic Park being his seminal work) that the TV and publishing industry has continued to mine his creative archive for gems. In 2009, for example, a novel called Pirate Latitudes was released, followed by Micro in 2011.

Dragon’s Teeth will be released as a novel next year and is being developed for TV by Amblin Television, Sony Pictures Television and CrichtonSun. Set in the American West in 1878, it follows the intense rivalry between real-life palaeontologists Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh.

we-are-all-completely-beside-ourselves-cover
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Carolyn Bernstein, exec VP and head of global scripted development and production at NGC, said the story was an “epic tale of science, adventure and exploration” that would be “the perfect project for the network.”

NGC has also ordered a miniseries called The Long Road Home, based on the novel by Martha Raddatz. Set up as an eight-hour production, the show tells the story of a US Army unit fighting for survival after being ambushed during the Iraq War.

Other US-originated dramas to hit the headlines this week include ICE, a drama for AT&T Audience Network that will “focus on the treacherous and colourful world of diamond traders in downtown Los Angeles.” A 10×60′ series from Entertainment One (eOne) and Antoine Fuqua’s Fuqua Films, ICE will be written by Robert Munic (Fighting, The Cleaner). International rights to the show will be managed by eOne.

Christopher Long, SVP of original content and production at AT&T, says: “ICE has truly been a labour of love for us as we have been cultivating and evolving this project with Antoine Fuqua for more than two years. With Antoine, our amazing team of writers, as well as eOne, we know that ICE will capture the attention of viewers who are looking for exciting new shows with compelling storylines to add to their line-up.”

HBO is also in the news this week with reports of two miniseries. The first is from Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman and has Nathalie Portman lined up to star. Called We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, it is based on Karen Joy Fowler’s novel about a university student who loses her twin sister during childhood.

OWN's Queen Sugar
OWN has ordered a second run of Queen Sugar before the first has begun

The premium cable channel is also developing miniseries Black Flags with Bradley Cooper. This show is based on a book by Joby Warrick and explores the rise of ISIS. The Cooper connection is presumably an attempt to inject the project with an air of American Sniper.

Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network, meanwhile, has given a season two commission to Queen Sugar, before the show’s first season has even begun.

Created by Ava DuVernay, the show is about a group of estranged siblings who are forced to work together to save their family’s struggling sugarcane farm in the Deep South.

“When we saw the first cut from Ava we knew right away that we wanted a second season,” said OWN president Erik Logan. “We think viewers are going to connect with the deeply layered characters and powerful story. We are proud to be a network that supports a filmmaker’s creative vision.” Season one launches in September with 13 episodes and the second run will have 16.

Suits
Suits’ renewal for a seventh season indicates its importance to USA Network

Finally, from the US, USA Network has awarded a seventh season to its legal drama series Suits. The news comes just three episodes into season six and is an indication of the importance of the show to the channel.

Suits continues to be USA’s top-rated show and is currently generating an audience of around 1.7 million, rising to three million when time-shifted viewing is factored in. Suits has arguably become more important in recent weeks given that season two of Mr Robot has slipped in the ratings. The critically acclaimed hacker show started season two with around one million viewers, down from the season one average of 1.39 million. Subsequently it has slipped to around the 700,000 mark, which is surprising given its recent high profile on the awards circuit.

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One step ahead

Hell on Wheels producer Entertainment One is proving to be a nimble operator as it bends to the changing television landscape.

While the independent film market is struggling in the face of big budget blockbusters, it is proving to be a source of inspiration for the television arm of Entertainment One (eOne).

Pancho Mansfield
Pancho Mansfield

The global production giant still plays the traditional US network game, with series orders for both Kiefer Sutherland-starrer Designated Survivor and Conviction at ABC.

But it is also adopting an indie filmmaking approach by developing, financing and packaging projects in-house before taking them out to the market. A case in point is “polyromantic” comedy drama You Me Her, ordered by DirecTV’s Audience Network, which sees husband and wife Greg Poehler and Rachel Blanchard embark on a three-way affair with an escort (Priscilla Faia).

“That was shot as an indie picture,” explains Pancho Mansfield, president of global scripted programming at eOne. “All the scripts were written in advance and every episode has the same director. They shot 10 episodes, 350 pages, in 35 days and it looks great and feels like a feature romantic comedy. It’s just five hours long instead of 90 minutes.”

In the increasingly saturated television market, it’s not just networks feeling the competitive strain but producers and studios too. “So it’s critical for us to control our IP and, at times, develop internally,” Mansfield continues.

“If it’s the right idea, we will write scripts internally and package them. A show like HBO’s True Detective is part of a new category of feature TV, where you have movie stars coming to do television and it’s all put together and goes direct to series. It’s becoming more and more common, as the feature business isn’t satisfying for a lot of talent in that industry.”

‘Polyromantic’ comedy You Me Her
‘Polyromantic’ comedy You Me Her

eOne, whose credits include Saving Hope, Rogue and Bitten, partnered with Sienna Films on Cardinal (pictured top), a serialised drama for CTV based on the novel Forty Words for Sorrow by Giles Blunt. The show stars Billy Campbell and Karine Vanasse as a pair of detectives attempting to uncover what happened to a 13-year-old girl whose body is found in an abandoned mine.

“TNT, USA Network – all these networks that used to have blue-sky, comfort-food, closed-ended episodic procedurals are out of that business,” Mansfield says. “They’re all into serialised provocative drama that has to have some hook to make them stand out.”

John Morayniss
John Morayniss

But the studio is also seeking to meet the needs of international buyers that are no longer sated by content produced for US networks, especially when it comes to procedurals. One example is Private Eyes, which stars Jason Priestley as an ex-pro athlete who turns to solving crimes alongside his partner, played by Cindy Sampson.

John Morayniss, CEO of eOne Television, notes: “There are not a lot of procedurals being originally commissioned in the US anymore. That will change, it goes in cycles, but we know the international market still wants them. So if we have the opportunity to produce one of those light procedurals you’re not getting out of the US, we’re going to do it.

“What’s interesting about a lot of those shows is they end up being reverse-engineered back in the US. It’s not that networks don’t want them, they’re just not motivated to develop them in the same way anymore. So you just have to be nimble enough to know who your target buyers are, both in the US and internationally, and hopefully you’ll have the right talent to make it commercial, sellable and desirable.”

Mansfield adds: “Channels are looking for the best programming that makes sense for their networks. We’re seeing networks doing things in the US that we didn’t expect. We expected niche programming from SundanceTV but now it’s broadening out and certainly the digital platforms can do it. It is challenging for certain networks that still rely on ratings, but for studios, developers and producers it’s a very exciting time.”

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Light at the end of The Tunnel?

Stephen Dillane and Clémence Poésy in The Tunnel
Stephen Dillane and Clémence Poésy in The Tunnel

Season two of Sky Atlantic’s The Tunnel finished on May 31, and although the official ratings aren’t yet in for the last couple of episodes, the show hasn’t done as well as its first season in late 2013.

While the first outing debuted with 803,000 viewers (live+7), the follow-up kicked off with 680,000. The first run settled down around the 500,000 mark, whereas the second season had been attracting around 300,000.

This reduced audience doesn’t necessarily mean the second season (Sabotage) is inferior to the first. There are several possible explanations for why it hasn’t achieved the same high standards.

One was the unfortunate timing of the show’s launch. Due to premiere around the time of the Belgium terrorist attacks, it was delayed by a week out of respect for the victims. This may have been enough to knock the edge off the show’s appeal.

Another is that the Scandinavian show on which The Tunnel is based, The Bridge, has become a big international hit in its own right. With BBC4 in the UK attracting an audience in excess of one million for the first three seasons of The Bridge, it’s possible that audiences have decided to bypass The Tunnel in deference to the original.

There’s also the time lag between the two seasons. Echoing the situation with The Returned in France, it’s possible that the lengthy gap between them has sapped the franchise of some of its momentum. By a similar token, people who missed season one may (rightly or wrongly) have shunned season two for fear of walking into a franchise in the middle of its story.

The Bridge, on which The Tunnel is based
The Bridge, on which The Tunnel is based

Then there’s the fact that Sky Atlantic ‘did a Netflix,’ releasing all eight episodes of the latest season in one go as a box set. To get a true reflection of the show’s performance, we really need to see how it did when those numbers are also factored in.

And finally there is the ongoing process of media fragmentation. Two or three years on from the launch of season one, there are new scripted channels and new platforms pulling audience away from Sky Atlantic.

Overall, however, the Ben Richards-scripted show has probably done enough to justify a third season – particularly as the cost of production is shared with Canal+ in France and it can be aired across Sky’s services in Italy, Germany, Austria and Ireland.

While it can’t compete in ratings terms with Sky Atlantic shows such as Game of Thrones and Fortitude, it outperformed The Last Panthers and is comfortably ahead of most of the US acquisitions that have featured on the channel (Vinyl, Veep, Billions).

As we’ve observed before, there is so much scripted content on the international market these days that it’s incredibly hard for shows to make their mark – unless they are placed in BBC1 primetime or the AMC slot just after The Walking Dead. However, one show that has managed to make some noise this week is Entertainment One (eOne) TV’s polyamorous comedy You Me Her.

Created and written by showrunner John Scott Shepherd, the show is about a couple who hire a female sex worker to introduce a spark into their sex lives. All three then fall in love.

You Me Her has been given a second season
You Me Her has been given a second season

There’s very little public indication of how the first series did when it aired on DirecTV’s Audience Network in March, but the channel is obviously happy, having just greenlit two new seasons. “Our viewers have opened their hearts and minds to embrace the unique relationship between Jack, Emma and Izzy,” said Chris Long, senior VP of original content and production at AT&T (the company behind DirecTV). “Audiences strive for compelling storylines and intriguing characters, and we believe in the potential for this show to grow even more as we continue our journey with eOne.”

You Me Her is the second collaboration between DirecTV and eOne. The two companies previously partnered on Rogue, a police drama starring Thandie Newton.

Commenting on the alliance, John Morayniss, CEO of eOne Television, added: “You Me Her is a bold, provocative show that grabs your attention immediately. We’re delighted AT&T has signed on for another two seasons, which speaks to the strength of these dynamic characters and storytelling. We’re looking forward to seeing how this complicated, polyamorous relationship that John Scott Shepherd has brilliantly created will continue to unfold.”

One story that has attracted a lot of attention this week is Netflix’s decision to release some insight into how its viewers consume drama series. Although the SVoD platform didn’t actually go as far as releasing any numbers, it did provide some insights into the speed at which people binge shows.

In a nutshell, the Netflix research looked at the way audiences watch 100 shows across 190 countries (though keep in mind that some of these countries will have small subscriber bases, so what we’re primarily seeing is user behaviour in major subscriber territories like the US, Canada, UK and Scandinavia).

Netflix-binge-scaleNetflix then created a binge scale (see above), identifying the shows that get devoured most quickly. Its conclusion? “Series like Sense8, Orphan Black and The 100 grab you, assault your senses and make it hard to pull away. The classic elements of horror and thrillers go straight for the gut, pushing the placement of series like The Walking Dead, American Horror Story and The Fall towards the devour end of the scale. Likewise, comedies with a dramatic bent, like Orange is the New Black, Nurse Jackie and Grace and Frankie seem to tickle our fancy and make it easy to say ‘just one more.’”

By contrast, Netflix added: “It’s no surprise that complex narratives, like House of Cards and Bloodline, are indulged at an unhurried pace. Nor that viewers take care to appreciate the details of dramas set in bygone eras, like Peaky Blinders and Mad Men. Maybe less obvious are comedies like BoJack Horseman, Love and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. But the societal commentary that powers their densely layered comedy paired with characters as flawed as they are entertaining allows them to be savoured.”

You might be tempted to suggest that shows at the slower end of the scale are not being savoured and are instead struggling to hold viewer attention. However, with strong titles like House of Cards, Narcos and Daredevil in that position, it seems unlikely.

Possibly a point that doesn’t come out of the analysis is different binging speeds according to age. A teenager or young, single adult probably has more time (and inclination) to watch episodes back to back than an older adult (at least up to the age of 60). So that might skew Netflix’s binge-ometer.

More granular insights are probably required to make use of Netflix’s data. But there may be a lesson for more traditional channels about the way they deliver their content to audiences. If channels want to make a big impact quickly, then perhaps they need to buy or commission shows that lend themselves to super-fast binging. But if they want to encourage audiences to come back to them week after week, then there may be a role for shows where audiences are happy to wait for the next episode.

Nashville
Nashville could be revived on CMT

In terms of shows destined to be big international hits, FX Productions and Marvel Television’s X-Men spin-off series Legion looks well-positioned to make its mark. An eight-part series from Noah Hawley (Fargo), the show will debut on FX in early 2017 after being produced in Vancouver this summer.

As the result of a new deal signed this week, it will also have a day-and-date premiere on Fox channels in 125 countries.

Legion follows David Haller who, diagnosed as schizophrenic, has been in and out of psychiatric hospitals for years. But after a strange encounter with a fellow patient, he is confronted with the possibility that the voices he hears and the visions he sees might just be real.

Finally, there may be a reprieve for country-and-western scripted series Nashville, cancelled after four seasons by ABC. Producer Lionsgate has been looking for a new home for the show and there are reports that CMT may be willing to pick up the tab.

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Private Eyes: DQ talks to Jason Priestly and Cindy Sampson

Jason Priestly and Cindy Sampson team up as a pair of private investigators in Canadian drama Private Eyes. Michael Pickard tracks them down.

They’ve teamed up to play a pair of private investigators who carry out covert operations at the request of their clients.

But when DQ finds Jason Priestly and Cindy Sampson sitting together on a beachside sofa in Cannes, they’re anything but undercover. Laughing loudly at each other’s jokes, they’re supremely at ease and riotously enjoying one another’s company – a quality that also comes across on camera in the early teaser trailers for their new crime drama Private Eyes.

The series follows ex-pro hockey player Matt Shade (Priestly) who partners with PI Angie Everett (Sampson) to form an unlikely duo.

On the ice, Shade learned how to hustle, read people and anticipate their moves. Working with Angie, he’s found a new home where his skills still matter. Meanwhile, Everett – straightforward and clever – has taken over her father’s PI business after his death and strives to keep his legacy alive.

The show sees Priestly's ex-pro hockey player partner with PI Angie Everett, played by Sampson
The show sees Priestly’s ex-pro hockey player partner with PI Angie Everett, played by Sampson

“He’s the flashy ex-hockey player with the celebrity status,” Sampson explains. “Angie doesn’t suffer fools, she has no time for that and is a workaholic so there’s some friction in the beginning but eventually she opens up her life and her business and they become partners by the end of the first season.”

Traditional crime procedurals – from which Private Eyes takes its cue – have fallen out of favour in the US over recent years as serialised stories have taken priority for broadcast and cable networks and streaming platforms. But Priestley believes there’s still a place for case-of-the-week series, with demand for episodic content particularly high across Europe.

“Detective shows have been around for a long time and people always seem to respond well to them,” he says. “We grew up on a steady diet of shows like Moonlighting and Heart to Heart (both of which feature male and female co-leads) and this show is a homage to programmes like that – just with a much more modern storytelling technique.”

Priestly needs no introduction. Growing up on camera in various bit-part roles, he shot to fame as Brandon Walsh in Beverly Hills, 90210 – the Aaron Spelling-produced soap that ran on Fox for 10 seasons until 2000. More recent credits include Canadian comedy Call Me Fitz and a recurring role on Syfy’s Haven, among numerous cameo appearances in shows produced on both sides of the US/Canada border.

“I was attached to the show from the very beginning of the development process,” Priestly says of Private Eyes, which launches on Global TV today. “I was involved right from the get-go and it’s been about three years. We had an exhaustive search to find our Angie and luckily we found Cindy in Toronto. We looked everywhere – New York, Los Angeles, Vancouver; we looked everywhere and found Cindy in Toronto, which was very lucky for us. We clicked right away.”

Sampson, who came onboard in August 2015, continues: “I did a screen test, a chemistry test, so I read with (Priestly) in a room of 40 people. We had a good laugh and then it all happened really quickly. We went into fittings and started shooting in the middle of September. We wrapped 10 episodes in February.

Priestly is best known for his long stint on 90210
Jason Priestly is best known for his long stint on Beverly Hills, 90210

“There are a lot of lines to learn. We did a lot of talking! And being in every scene… It was amazing though. We had so much fun doing it. It didn’t feel like work.”

The pair didn’t know each other before partnering for Private Eyes but Sampson – whose credits include Rookie Blue, Supernatural and Rogue – says they instantly connected through their shared sense of humour.

“That helps when you spend 24 hours a day with someone for six months,” she says. “It really helps when you have to eat three meals a day with the same person. We hear that other people don’t get along so well but we’ve been pretty fortunate. We had a good time. So many times you work on projects and the finished result is great but the experience maybe wasn’t great.”

Priestly adds: “We’ve been having a really good time and hopefully it comes through in the show and people enjoy watching it.”

The 10-episode season, produced and distributed by Entertainment One, has been written by showrunners Shelley Eriksen (Continuum) and Alan McCullough (Rookie Blue), who gave their stars plenty of room to embody their characters beyond the lines on the script.

“We had quite a bit of latitude (with the characters), which is good because things would change on a daily basis,” Priestly reveals. “Things would evolve while we were shooting, so it was exciting. A lot of those changes came out of the fact that everyone was always working to make the show better.”

Sampson adds: “And once we got into the groove of our characters, things were evolving because of that too. It was like a living, breathing thing.”

The production wasn’t without its challenges, however, and both Sampson and Priestly recall one particularly cold day shooting on board a ferry.

Cindy Sampson
Cindy Sampson says she and Priestly hit it off from the start

“The day on the ferry was coldest I have been in my entire life,” Sampson says. “There were tears rolling down our faces and we’re trying to pretend it’s a nice fall day. There were tears non-stop!”

Priestly adds: “We shot an episode on Toronto Island – it’s not a place many people go or know about. It’s a beautiful island just in Lake Ontario and you have to take a ferry to get there (from the main city of Toronto). They shut down the ferry in the winter, and we were on it on the last day it was in operation before winter. And there’s a reason they shut it down – because it’s so fucking cold. It was the coldest I’ve been in a long time.”

Priestly now splits his time in front of and behind the camera, having first climbed into the director’s chair more than 20 years ago for episodes of 90210. More recently, he’s helmed episodes of medical drama Saving Hope and forthcoming horror Van Helsing – and he says the new opportunities that emerging streaming services provide mean it’s an exciting time to be working in television.

“There’s been a lot of qualitative improvements in television, certainly since I started my career in the 1980s, like the way we shoot television now,” he notes. “When I started, we shot on film. Film is dead. The way we light television now is different. We use LED lights as opposed to the old acetylene lights.

“The technology has impacted the way we do it in myriad ways. But also the fact the special effects are so readily available now. The use of green screens and the things you can do without green screens, the opportunities to be creative are so much greater now than they were even 10 years ago. The landscape has evolved and continues to evolve every day.”

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One step ahead: eOne adapts to a changing industry

Hell on Wheels producer Entertainment One is proving to be a nimble operator as it bends to the changing television landscape.

While the independent film market is struggling in the face of big budget blockbusters, it is proving to be a source of inspiration for the television arm of Entertainment One (eOne).

The global production giant still plays the traditional US network game, with both a series order for Kiefer Sutherland-starrer Designated Survivor and pilot Conviction at ABC.

But it is also adopting an indie filmmaking approach by developing, financing and packaging projects in-house before taking them out to the market. A case in point is “polyromantic” comedy drama You Me Her, ordered by DirecTV’s Audience Network, which sees husband and wife Greg Poehler and Rachel Blanchard embark on a three-way affair with an escort (Priscilla Faia).

Pancho Mansfield
Pancho Mansfield

“That was shot as an indie picture,” explains Pancho Mansfield, president of global scripted programming at eOne. “All the scripts were written in advance and every episode has the same director. They shot 10 episodes, 350 pages, in 35 days and it looks great and feels like a feature romantic comedy. It’s just five hours long instead of 90 minutes.”

In the increasingly saturated television market, it’s not just networks feeling the competitive strain but producers and studios too. “So it’s critical for us to control our IP and, at times, develop internally,” Mansfield continues.

“If it’s the right idea, we will write scripts internally and package them. A show like HBO’s True Detective is part of a new category of feature TV, where you have movie stars coming to do television and it’s all put together and goes direct to series. It’s becoming more and more common, as the feature business isn’t satisfying for a lot of talent in that industry.”

eOne, whose credits include Saving Hope, Rogue and Bitten, has partnered with Sienna Films on Cardinal, a serialised drama for CTV based on the novel Forty Words for Sorrow by Giles Blunt. The show stars Billy Campbell and Karine Vanasse as a pair of detectives attempting to uncover what happened to a 13-year-old girl whose body is found in an abandoned mine.

“TNT, USA Network – all these networks that used to have blue-sky, comfort-food, closed-ended episodic procedurals are out of that business,” Mansfield says. “They’re all into serialised provocative drama that has to have some hook to make them stand out.”

You Me Her
‘Polyromantic’ comedy drama You Me Her,

But the studio is also seeking to meet the needs of international buyers that are no longer sated by content produced for US networks, especially when it comes to procedurals. One example is Private Eyes (pictured top), which stars Jason Priestley as an ex-pro athlete who turns to solving crimes alongside his partner, played by Cindy Sampson.

John Morayniss, CEO of eOne Television, notes: “There are not a lot of procedurals being originally commissioned in the US anymore. That will change, it goes in cycles, but we know the international market still wants them. So if we have the opportunity to produce one of those light procedurals you’re not getting out of the US, we’re going to do it.

“What’s interesting about a lot of those shows is they end up being reverse-engineered back in the US. It’s not that networks don’t want them, they’re just not motivated to develop them in the same way anymore. So you just have to be nimble enough to know who your target buyers are, both in the US and internationally, and hopefully you’ll have the right talent to make it commercial, sellable and desirable.”

Mansfield adds: “Channels are looking for the best programming that makes sense for their networks. We’re seeing networks doing things in the US that we didn’t expect. We expected niche programming from SundanceTV but now it’s broadening out and certainly the digital platforms can do it. It is challenging for certain networks that still rely on ratings, but for studios, developers and producers it’s a very exciting time.”

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Drama takes centre stage in Cannes

A feast of drama will be served in Cannes when MipTV hosts its first ever Drama Screening event next week. DQ previews the line-up and the rest of this year’s market.

Drama will once again be the focus for the television industry when executives arrive in Cannes for this year’s MipTV, which begins on Monday.

It’s an event at which the genre has traditionally taken a back seat. US studios generally have a quieter presence at a market held just a few weeks before the LA Screenings – when networks and cable channels announce their programming line-ups for the new season ahead – while mini-markets such as Mip Formats and Mip Docs have given those genres their own platforms.

This year is different, however, with the launch of Mip Drama Screenings, which will see 12 series presented to delegates for the first time. Bodo (Poland), Bordertown (Finland), I Know Who You Are (Spain), Ku’Damm 56 – Rebel With A Cause (Germany), Mathilde (Russia), Medici: Masters of Florence (Italy), Public Enemy (Belgium), Ramona (Chile), Section Zéro (France), and The A Word, The Secret and Victoria (all UK) will be previewed for 350 acquisition executives from around the world.

The day of screenings comes on top of the world drama premiere on Monday evening, which this year will be Roots (pictured top), the remake of the 1977 miniseries based on Alex Hanley’s book. A+E Studios International is distributing the show, which will debut in the US on Monday, May 30.

Ku'damm 56
Ku’Damm 56 hails from Germany, the Country of Honour at MipTV 2016

Others dramas being launched include Beta Film’s The Embassy, NHK’s Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, Endemol Shine International’s Turkish series Intersection, and Cannabis from Lagardère Studios Distribution.

Among the panel sessions taking place inside the Palais des Festivals, executives will discuss trends, channels and platforms, financing and the emergence of web series. The spotlight will also fall on Germany – MipTV’s Country of Honour 2016 – and the Nordics.

Meanwhile, Drama Quarterly editor Michael Pickard will moderate a discussion on Tuesday called Scripted Formats: What’s Hot, What’s Next?.

But what other industry talking points will be up for debate in the south of France?

For distributors, identifying the needs of a multitude of buyers is now key if they stand any chance of completing a deal, such is the wide range of content providers now on the market.

Among them, international producer-distributor Entertainment One (eOne) has a slate of new shows it hopes will appeal to the majority of broadcasters, whether free or pay TV, linear or online.

Its new series include comedy-drama You Me Her, procedural Private Eyes (starring Jason Priestley) and serial Cardinal. It is also distributing Designated Survivor, from Mark Gordon and starring Kiefer Sutherland, and is on board Sharp Objects, an adaptation of the Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) book with showrunner Marti Noxon and star Amy Adams.

Outlining where demand lies around the world, Stuart Baxter, president of eOne International, says: “The reality is the US networks have got fewer and fewer slots available for procedurals but international free TV channels, particularly in Europe, love them. They want closed-end episodes and long runs – they love 23 or 24 episodes in a season. Whereas the international pay TV and OTT market love more serialised, expensive and talent-driven shows.”

Since their entry into original content production, Netflix and Amazon have certainly shaken up the industry – and their appetite for library content means distributors have been eager to sell them series from their back catalogue.

Victoria-first-look-Jenna-ColemanTOP
Jenna Coleman in Victoria, which looks likely to generate a lot of buzz at MiptTV

Yet when it comes to these streaming giants and the general demand of international broadcaster groups to take multi-territory rights to an individual show, the question is no longer about doing a deal but about what sort of deal can maximise a show’s international audience.

Keshet International made a big splash at Mipcom last October when it sold global rights for its spy thriller False Flag to Fox International Channels.

“Everybody is working with Netflix and Amazon and working out how to work with them at the same time,” Baxter admits. “We’ve got shows with them and we like them as partners. But there are shows that are less suitable for them and some shows where it’s better for us to do territory-by-territory deals, rather than global deals with one platform.

“The challenge comes if they will only do global deals. It forces us to make a decision on whether we do territory-by-territory deals and it depends how early in the process that happens.”

So while distributors try to push their series past the noise created by the vast competition, buyers will be on the hunt not only for the best content but also the best deal. It promises to be a fascinating duel that could determine the path for deals in the future – and whether streamers have the right to place their ‘original’ tag on a show after securing worldwide rights.

Beyond the dealmaking, the bar continues to be raised in terms of the ambition and production quality of television drama, which can only be good for audiences, no matter where they watch the show. Watch out for Victoria to lead the charge for the buzziest title at the market.

See you on La Croisette.

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