Angela Griffin and Shenae Grimes-Beech team up to star in Canadian detective drama The Detail. They tell DQ about playing cops and the chance to join a female-led production.
The Detail could not be more timely. As the fallout from Hollywood’s sexual harassment scandal continues, alongside the #MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns and the row over gender pay inequality, this Canadian crime series stands apart as a female-led production.
Starring Angela Griffin, Shenae Grimes-Beech and Wendy Crewson, the story details the messy realities of cop life – both on and off the job – for detectives who work tirelessly to solve cases while navigating the complicated demands of their personal lives.
Behind the camera, female writers, directors, producers and consultants drive the series, which is described as depicting topical stories through a distinctly and unapologetically female lens. Key personnel include executive producer and co-showrunner Ley Lukins, who also developed the series; executive producers Ilana Frank, Linda Pope, Sally Wainwright, Nicola Shindler and Jocelyn Hamilton; co-executive producer Sonia Hosko; consulting producer Kathy Avrich Johnson; and writers Naledi Jackson, Sandra Chwialkowska, Katrina Saville and Sarah Goodman. Directors on the series, produced by ICF Films and distributed by Entertainment One, include Jordan Canning and Sara St Onge.
Other creative talent includes co-showrunner Adam Pettle and co-executive producer director Gregory Smith, writers Graeme Stewart, Joe Bernice and Matt Doyle, and directors Kelly Makin, Grant Harvey, John Fawcett and James Genn.
When DQ sits down with Griffin and Grimes-Beech, it is seven months since filming wrapped on the eight-part series, which launches on Canada’s CTV on March 25 and will air on ION TV in the US. But Griffin explicitly remembers her excitement at the first read-through for the show.
“It felt like the start of something really special,” she says. “There was such a good vibe about the whole job, which stayed for the entire job. There was such a good energy about it. It’s exciting being in a room full of women, I’ve got to say. Being sat around a table where I’m not the girlfriend or the wife was super cool. And then you’ve got all these great female directors and producers.
“I think it’s amazing but I also think, ‘Yes, it should be.’ I almost don’t want to big it up too much because that should just be the norm, but I’m really proud to be part of the show and part of something that is getting it right.”
Grimes-Beech picks up: “That’s one of the things I think we all loved about the show so much. It’s never, like, the female boss. It’s never something that is punctuated. It just ‘is,’ because why the fuck wouldn’t it be? Why shouldn’t women be treated as complete equals? It’s a laughable concept to think that’s not a reality for a lot of people.”
Griffin, best known for her long-running role on UK soap Coronation Street, plays Detective Stevie Hall, an experienced interrogator dealing with a thorny family life. Grimes-Beech, meanwhile, is Detective Jacqueline ‘Jack’ Cooper, a street-smart rookie with a personal life that threatens to eclipse her day job.
That work-life balance is a key element of the series, which sees procedural crime-of-the-week storylines play out against the backdrop of the detectives’ individual family lives and examines how the cases they face impact their home life.
It’s what makes The Detail stand out for Griffin, who says she wants to see characters on screen juggle the daily demands she faces in her own life. “And I actually really like it when people don’t handle it, because it is impossible,” she admits. “I thoroughly enjoy watching imperfect lives because it makes me feel better about my own. It makes me feel like I’m not a complete failure. Certainly for Stevie, she doesn’t get it right all the time when it comes to that balance. Going forward, I’d like to see her struggle more with it, because sometimes she does manage to pull it out of the bag. I’d like to up that ante a bit more.”
Grimes-Beech, meanwhile, prefers the crime element of the series, which she says she finds fascinating. “I don’t often watch dramas that are strictly about people’s personal lives but when I watched our preview back, I enjoyed the personal stuff because it really gives you something to fall in love with your character for. People are going to fall in love with the characters as well and that will keep them hooked.”
That’s not to say that the police element wasn’t important too. “I loved it,” Grimes-Beech says about the opportunity to play a cop. “One of my favourite moments was where we were busting into a trailer and we had our army dude on set with us and he was walking us through how to do it properly. It was so cool, it makes you feel so official.”
For Griffin, the opportunity was amped up by the chance to have a gun, something British crime dramas notably lack in comparison to their North American counterparts.
“I have wanted to be a cop with a gun for ever,” the actor says, noting that the only props she was allowed as DS Lizzy Mannox in ITV drama Lewis were a notepad and pencil. “As an actor, it doesn’t get much better for me. I’ve got personal stuff, I get to cry in a corner, I get to shoot people, I get to shout at people, I get to be a mum. Some people don’t want to do that; for me as an actor, it’s everything I have ever wanted.”
That wasn’t the only difference on set for Griffin, who is used to a vastly different production schedule on British shows such as Brief Encounters and Ordinary Lies. “It’s bizarre that two countries that speak the same language, that have similar-sized industries, could work in such different ways,” she muses. “The unionisation of the industry in North America as a whole makes it massively different. So certain people can’t do other jobs or double up on things – even the drivers have to be from the drivers’ union. You can’t just nip in a car with an AD [assistant director]. And they have hair and make-up – two people. In the UK, the make-up does the hair and that’s just really normal. It differs on so many different levels but I like both ways of working.”
In contrast, it was a much shorter shoot than usual for Grimes-Beech, who is more used to the year-long effort needed to produce a 22-episode season of a US network drama, such as The CW’s 90210. After five years on that show, and a five-year stint before that on DeGrassi, she’s since mixed things up with a range of feature and TV films. But with the small screen stronger than ever, the actor is happy to return to a potentially long-running series that affords her some security and the chance to pick up other projects on the side.
“While there’s no stability for an actor, I feel like a TV show is as close as it gets and I have so much appreciation and gratitude for a job like this that I didn’t have when I was young,” she says. “When you fall in love with a character and a show as much as I have with this one, you wish it will run forever. That’s not often the case.
“Back in the day, like five years ago, we all wanted to break out and do movies so badly that an Oscar was the ultimate dream. Now you’ve got Oscar winners on TV shows all the time – look at the cast of Big Little Lies. Are you kidding me! It’s mind-boggling and that’s not something anybody in the industry would have said would happen five years ago. With film, unless it’s a Marvel movie or whatever, no one’s making any money. Those are passion projects and TV allows you to fulfil those passions on the side without having to worry. It’s a different climate in the industry.”
For Griffin, it’s not lost on her that she has had to cross the Atlantic to find a leading role, following in the footsteps of other black British talent such as Damson Idris, Idris Elba and Oscar nominee Daniel Kaluuya. “There’s some great stuff being made [in North America] and a lot of our British, particularly black British, talent is scoring really well out there,” she says, adding that there’s a simple way to ensure more black and ethnic minority talent can pick up leading roles. “Just see people for the parts,” the actor concludes. “It doesn’t have to have the word ‘black’ before it to have someone audition for it. You just open up your casting for everybody and you let everybody come.
“I love the fact I’m doing this show, I absolutely love it and it’s so exciting to be in Canada and I feel really lucky to have it. It would be quite nice to do a series in the UK where I can be one of the leads and see my children every single night and have the same depth, and I’m slightly sad I’ve had to go across the pond to do it.”
Burden of Truth stars Kristin Kreuk as Joanna Hanley, a hot-shot lawyer who returns to her home town and gets pulled into a case involving a group of sick high school girls, while also facing some unresolved family business in town.
In this DQTV video, Kreuk reveals why this legal drama stood out for the actor, who was keen to step away from genre series such as Smallville and Beauty & the Beast, which brought her fame. She also tells of the appeal of playing a flawed character in a series with a social conscience at its core.
Kreuk also discusses her approach to acting and how she is now stepping up her role behind the camera.
Burden of Truth is a 10-part serialised drama produced by ICF Films, Eagle Vision and Entertainment One (eOne) for Canada’s CBC. eOne also distributes the series internationally.
A year after Beauty & the Beast came to an end, star Kristin Kreuk is heading back to the small screen in Canadian drama Burden of Truth. The actor tells DQ about the attraction of this small-town legal drama with social justice at its core – and her role in bringing the series to air.
It’s been 17 years since Julia Roberts’ Erin Brockovich valiantly fought for a small community in the face of big business, earning the actor an Oscar for her portrayal of the real-life heroine. And now a legal drama in production in Canada is drawing parallels with that story with its own young woman fighting for justice.
Burden of Truth stars Kristin Kreuk as Joanna Hanley, a big-city lawyer who returns to her home town to take on what she thinks is a simple case, only to find herself in a battle to protect a group of sick girls. Running alongside the legal story is a mystery involving Hanley, who left the town in unexplained circumstances as a teenager and begins searching for the truth upon her return.
“The dailies look gorgeous and I feel like we’re doing something different, taking a few risks,” says Kreuk, who is best known for long-running roles in Smallville and Beauty & the Beast. “I’m excited about that. For me, it’s new and also, for a Canadian show, it goes at a slower pace. It’s a serialised drama that looks at things that are pretty topical, from environmental issues through to abuses of power and abuse within families and communities, and also through female empowerment and success. So we’re really looking at topical issues in a slow, emotional way that I feel isn’t common in
The Vancouver native, who is also an executive producer on the 10-part show, first became involved in Burden of Truth when she was pitched several ideas for series by producer and distributor Entertainment One (eOne). Burden of Truth stood out, she says, because of the complexity of the lead character, whose seemingly idyllic life begins to unravel when she returns to her home town.
After finishing on The CW’s Beauty, which ran for four seasons until 2016, Kreuk sought a project where she could be involved as much in the storytelling process as she is on screen. So when eOne came to her with Burden of Truth, she was keen to be in the development room and to speak to the writers.
“While we were in the build up to the show, I was involved very creatively, more than anything else,” she says, speaking to DQ midway through production on location in Winnipeg. “A lot of my notes would focus on Joanna herself, so I’ve built this character. [Creator] Brad Simpson and I met very early on and just talked about who she was. We created her together instead of there being someone on the page already.”
Simpson, who is a lawyer, has based Burden of Truth on his own courtroom experiences, says Kreuk, while the actor looked to her friends in the legal business and high-profile Canadian criminal lawyer Marie Henein as the inspiration for Joanna.
“She’s interesting; she’s very much a legal person,” she says of her character. “She doesn’t see herself as a people person. So when confronted with emotional interaction, she really does struggle. It’s not like she has a facade, but I find her human. She’s struggling and you can see that struggle very clearly, even through her hiding in the job, the law and
When it comes to choosing her roles, Kreuk says her decision is often based on her reaction to a script, while Burden of Truth represents the first time she has proactively shaped her character from the very beginning of the creative process. It also marks a departure from the supernatural and superhero series for which she has become known.
“I realise I play a lot of characters who have really complicated family histories and who really struggle with the relationship dynamics with their parents in some way, which offers a lot of juice for a character and for a series,” she admits. “But this show is by far the best opportunity I’ve had to explore that. This is not a sci-fi show, we’re not dealing with supernatural beings or creatures. The stakes are more present, pressing and realistic, which I think allows for a different exploration of character.”
That character is now set to join the swathe of strong females leading drama series in 2017, following in the footsteps of The Handmaid’s Tale, Big Little Lies, Doctor Foster and Feud.
“It’s the time of the woman; it’s been a long time coming,” the actor notes. “A lot of people want something other than the shows they’re being presented with. And as women, we want to see female stories and we just haven’t seen them. Simultaneously, opening up positions for women in producing, directing and writing allows for these stories to be told. The fact they’ve done so well and they’re dynamic and interesting has encouraged the creation of more.”
Joining Kreuk among the executive ranks is Ilana Frank, a prolific producer known for series such as Saving Hope and Rookie Blue. Burden of Truth is one of two new shows she is backing for Canadian broadcaster CBC, with pacey detective series The Detail also in production.
“I wasn’t all that interested in doing a legal procedural show but I liked the idea of a show that had the law as the basis for the premise,” Frank says. “I do very character-driven things mostly, or I try to, even if it has a procedural element. So that’s how I looked at this too. It’s about characters and place – the town and the countryside really play an important part.”
Once Kreuk and eOne began developing the series, Frank’s IFC Films came on board before CBC placed a series order based on Simpson’s pilot script and series outline. Eagle Vision also coproduces the show, which premieres on January 10.
“What appealed to me was the idea of it being an Erin Brockovich show, a woman with a mission,” Frank says. “I liked that juxtaposition of what she was and what she’s going to become. It was an interesting journey. I worked with Bradley and brought in Adam [Pettle, showrunner], who I’ve worked with for about 15 years. He and Bradley worked together on Rookie Blue so they knew each other quite well. Kristin was great and she was very much involved in the evolution of it.”
Burden of Truth is shot entirely on location, another first for Frank, who says she is delighted with the results despite admitting to being anxious over the location shoot. “I just love the look of the show and the feel of it,” she adds. “The first season of production [on any show] is always challenging. It’s a bit on the fly. You’re always trying to make adjustments to something because it’s not 100% in place, but the show is going along pretty well. I’m pretty happy with the production of it.”
It is Frank’s theatre background that fuels her attraction to character-building, with the aforementioned medical drama Saving Hope and cop series Rookie Blue more serialised in their approach than traditional procedurals.
“So for me, it’s about actors, character and development. That’s what I love,” she says, noting the importance of casting in any successful series. “Once you give that part to somebody, it takes on a life of its own. That’s really important and my work in the theatre has helped me a tremendous amount in terms of casting, because scripts and casting, that’s all there is. If you have good scripts and good casting, you can make a good show. There’s the formula.”
Set immediately after the Second World War, Tokyo Trial follows the 11 judges from allied nations who were called to Tokyo to preside over landmark legal proceedings that would determine the fates of 28 Pacific military and political leaders charged as war criminals.
The four-part miniseries, set over two-and-a-half years, follows the judges’ struggle to reach verdicts for each of the accused while finding a balance between political, professional and personal conflicts.
Here, executive producer David Cormican reveals how the series – which mixes authentic footage with scripted scenes based on extensive research – was developed for Japanese broadcaster NHK, with Netflix picking up international rights.
He also describes the challenge of recreating post-war Japan on set in Lithuania and finding costumes for a cast of thousands.
Tokyo Trial is produced by NHK, Don Carmody Productions and FATT Productions in association with Netflix, and is distributed by Entertainment One.
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 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.
“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.”
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.”
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.
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.’”
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.”
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.
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.
“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.
“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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
European pay TV broadcaster Sky has been investing in original scripted content for a few years now, but the last 12 months have undoubtedly seen the company increase its ambition in German-speaking territories. This week, for example, it announced an order for eight-episode drama Eight Days.
Directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky (The Counterfeiters), the limited series focuses on the reaction to the news that an asteroid is hurtling toward Earth and is predicted to crash somewhere in Europe in eight days’ time. It follows a German family as they live through what they expect will be the last eight days of humanity.
Asteroids are a well-worn theme in the movies but Frank Jastfelder, director of drama production at Sky Deutschland, said this project was different: “We were excited about Eight Days because everyone asked themselves the same question: How would I react in such a situation? In response to this question, Eight Days delivers emotional, always surprising and highly dramatic answers – and steers clear of all the Hollywood clichés.”
Eight Days will begin production midway through next year, by which time Sky Deutschland will have aired another of its big drama investments, Babylon Berlin. Directed by Tom Tykwer, Hendrik Handloegten and Achim von Borries, this US$45m show is a coproduction between Sky Deutschland, ARD Degeto, X Filme and Beta Film. It follows Gereon Rath, a police inspector in 1929 Berlin, a hotbed of politics, art, extremism and drugs.
Two seasons (16 episodes in total) of Babylon Berlin have been set up so far, though there is potential for the franchise to run and run because it is based on a popular book series by Volker Kutscher. So far, Kutscher has written six Gereon Rath books but only the first forms the basis of the first two seasons of Babylon Berlin.
Another ambitious project in the works is Das Boot, a €25m (US$26m) coproduction between Sky Deutschland and German producer Bavaria Film adapted from Lothar-Günther Buchheim’s classic 1973 novel of the same name. Based on the wartime experiences of a German U-boat crew, this series will air in 2018 across all the Sky territories: Germany, Austria, the UK, Ireland and Italy.
Sky Deutschland’s investment in new drama is also being backed by the acquisition of international titles. Earlier in December, the company acquired all five seasons of FremantleMedia International’s hit prison drama Wentworth. The deal marks the first time Wentworth will be available to German-speaking viewers. Season one premiered on Sky Deutschland’s recently launched flagship channel Sky1 on December 7.
Elsewhere in the world of European TV drama, YLE Finland and Mediapro of Spain are joining forces to make a Nordic noir drama called The Paradise. The project is the first time that a Spanish production company has collaborated with a Finnish channel.
The Paradise is a thriller set among the Finnish community living on the Costa del Sol. Their peaceful existence is interrupted by a series of crimes that can only be solved by a joint collaboration between the Finnish and Spanish police forces.
The show is being developed by YLE head of drama Jarmo Lampela and Bordertown writer Matti Laine alongside Mediapro’s Ran Tellem and David Troncoso. Although it is the first Finnish/Spanish collaboration, it is part of a much broader trend towards Nordic partnerships with other European countries. The trend was really kicked off by German broadcasters, the first to spot the international appeal of Nordic drama. The Brits then got interested, first in Wallander and more recently Marcella.
A key breakthrough came last year when France TV came on board Icelandic thriller Trapped. Further French backing for Nordic drama has been evident in the cases of Midnight Sun and Bordertown, a YLE crime series coproduced with Federation Entertainment. That show was a hit on YLE1, with a record 1.1 million viewers and a renewal. That bodes well for The Paradise.
Also this week, The Mark Gordon Company and its parent company Entertainment One (eOne) have joined forces with Xavier Marchand’s newly established UK-based production outfit Moonriver Content.
Under the Moonriver banner, Marchand will acquire, develop and produce film and TV projects with a focus on UK and European stories and talent. The move is expected to increase the volume of UK and European projects coming to Mark Gordon and eOne for financing, coproducing and distributing.
Marchand said: “In partnership with Mark Gordon and his superb team, and with the backing of eOne, I look forward to building on existing relationships and fostering new ones in film and TV.”
On the distribution front, Eccho Rights has revealed that two new broadcasters have picked up hit Turkish drama Elif, which airs on Kanal 7 in its home market. Bangladeshi network Deepto TV and Georgian broadcaster Imedi TV take total sales for the show 16 territories including Chile, where it recently debuted on TVN. Produced by Green Yapim, the show’s third season aired in September – with a total run of 250 45-minute episodes.
Also this week, SVoD service Hulu picked up the US rights to UK drama National Treasure from All3Media International. Written by Jack Thorne, National Treasure follows a popular comedian, played by Robbie Coltrane, whose life is turned upside down when he is charged with sexual assaults alleged to have taken place 20 years ago. The four-parter first aired on Channel 4 in the UK and will debut as a Hulu original series on March 1 next year.
Finally, there are exciting reports for fans of cult CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother. According to Deadline, a spin-off entitled How I Met Your Father is now in the works with This Is Us co-executive producers Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger in charge. HIMYM ran for nine seasons between 2005 and 2014 racking up 208 episodes. The final episode included a controversial twist ending that didn’t go down well with a lot of fans. But it still attracted an audience of more than 13 million.
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).
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.”
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.”
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.”