Tag Archives: Foyle’s War

Out for Blood

Acclaimed author and screenwriter Anthony Horowitz tells Michael Pickard British drama should be more ambitious as he discusses his television career and his forthcoming BBC series New Blood.

Anthony Horowitz (pictured above) is a busy man. Not only does the author and screenwriter have a new BBC drama on the horizon, he’s also deep in development on the US version of his 2009 miniseries Collision.

But when DQ tracks him down at his London office, he’s in the middle of a sword fight. Despite his TV commitments, he’s also resurrecting Alex Rider, the hero of some of his young-adult spy novels (and 2006 film Stormbreaker), whose fate will be decided by the aforementioned battle.

It’s a suitably demanding schedule for a man who admits he has two distinct careers – on page and on screen. “Now I’m waiting for some of those books to come onto television,” he muses. “Maybe one of the Sherlocks or Alex Rider, or my latest book Magpie Murders. There are discussions happening – watch this space. But for me at the moment it’s two quite separate worlds.”

On television, Horowitz is arguably best known for Foyle’s War, the crime drama set during the Second World War that ran for 15 years on UK commercial broadcaster ITV. Now, more than a year after that series’ last episode aired, he’s preparing to return with a new seven-part drama for BBC1.

Anthony Horowitz's forthcoming BBC1 series New Blood
Anthony Horowitz’s forthcoming BBC1 series New Blood aims to show a different side of London

New Blood aims to show a new side of London through the eyes of two outsiders – Stefan (Mark Strepan) and Rash (Ben Tavassoli), a pair of junior investigators who are brought together by two seemingly unrelated cases and come up against corporations, governments and a new breed of criminals who hide behind legitimate facades and a wall of lawyers. Produced by Eleventh Hour Films and directed by Anthony Philipson, it is distributed by BBC Worldwide.

“I’d spent 13 years writing 28 two-hour episodes of Foyle’s War,” Horowitz says. “I loved it from start to finish but I sort of felt like I’d run out of stories. I had nothing more to do and it was time to move on anyway. I wanted to leave the war behind me and move into a slightly more heightened world, certainly a more modern world. I wanted to write about 21st century London and I was also interested to see whether I could actually take crime drama and move it forward and push the envelope. So I came up with the idea of New Blood.

“I can certainly say there’s nothing on British television like it. I’ve seen several episodes and the energy, the speed, the editing, the music, the lighting, and particularly the way it presents London, is very modern and exciting to see on the screen. And having two stars in their 20s makes a huge difference. I can’t think of another show on mainstream television that has two unknown actors in their mid-20s. It’s a massive gamble on the part of the BBC to allow us to do that.”

Horowitz admits it was a “wrench” to leave Foyle’s War, which aired for the last time in January 2015. “I loved working with the characters and the whole world I created was very rich,” he says. “But if you’re going to be a writer like me – with television and books and everything else – you’ve got to keep moving forward. You can’t keep doing the same thing.

“Foyle’s War had got to 1947 and there was plenty more to do with the characters, but what I loved about that show was the number of stories that could be told about the war and the pre-war years. After doing six episodes set during the Cold War, I’d explored the territory enough and it was time to make a change.”

Foyle's War
Foyle’s War came to an end last year, with Horowitz admitting it was a ‘wrench’ to leave the show behind

Already an established novelist, Horowitz got his TV break in 1985 when he joined the writing staff of ITV drama Robin of Sherwood, which starred Michael Praed and later Jason Connery as incarnations of the infamous outlaw. A shortage of scripts meant the series needed a new writer and Horowitz, just 30 at the time, was given the opportunity to suggest a storyline.

“The producer, Paul Knight, took a huge punt on giving me the job. I had no experience at all,” he recalls. “So I went from nothing to writing for the top show in one step – it was a fantastic start. I knew nothing about television really. I remember walking onto the set for my first episode and I couldn’t believe they’d found the exact building I’d described in my script – a ruined church in the middle of a field. Of course, it was only when I walked up and tapped it that I realised the whole thing was made out of fibreglass. That’s how little I knew.”

Besides Robin of Sherwood and Foyle’s War, Horowitz’s small-screen credits include Poirot, Murder in Mind and Injustice. And then there’s Midsomer Murders.

“If I’ve given two words to the English language, it’s Midsomer Murders,” says the writer, who penned the first ever episode of the long-running crime drama, which debuted on ITV in March 1997. “It was called Barnaby (after the lead detective) when it landed on my desk.”

After his Robin of Sherwood experience, Horowitz was invited by then-Carnival Films producer Brian Eastman to write episodes of Poirot, introducing him to murder mysteries for the first time. He was then hired alongside director Jeremy Silberton to create Midsomer, which is based on Caroline Graham’s Chief Inspector Barnaby novels.

But after writing a handful of episodes over the first three seasons, Horowitz wanted to create a new spin on the traditional whodunnit formula – and Foyle’s War was the result.

“I love the mechanics of a murder mystery,” he says. “I love plotting, I love the structure of a show. I spend longer plotting and working out a show than I do writing it. Getting it to work, getting all the characters in the right place, getting the red herrings, the clues, the action – that was the fun of it. But with Foyle, the aim was to do more. What fascinated me about the world of Foyle were the true stories we were telling about the war – that extraordinary period from 1940 to 1947 when so much happened in this country.

The original UK version of Collision, which is currently being adapted for the US
The original UK version of Collision, which is currently being adapted for the US

“In a way, while the murders were carefully constructed and satisfying, they were almost an excuse to write what I really wanted to write about, which was the war.”

But of all the shows Horowitz has created or worked on, one stands out as the most challenging. Crime Traveller, which ran for one eight-episode season on BBC1 in 1997, saw policeman Michael French and science officer Chloë Annett team up to solve crimes using a time machine built by her late father.

“Crime Traveller was a show that fell between the stools of two directors at the BBC,” Horowitz recalls. “There was a hiatus after one left and another arrived and we fell into that abyss. It was a show that would have gone from strength to strength if I’d been able to develop it.

“It was the most difficult series I ever had to write, with all those time paradoxes – the knots I had to untangle were always incredibly complicated. It had a lot of promise and I often think it would be great if it came back, but there’s no chance of that.”

As a writer, Horowitz believes his job is done the day he hands over the finished script. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t interested in the ensuing production, only that he isn’t one to interfere with the director’s vision.

“It’s not my place to give a director notes, ever,” he says. “My notes are my scripts; they have character notes, they have a few key notes about what’s important, but I never tell a director what to do. But I’m not laid back either. It’s important to get everything right and I watch the rushes from New Blood every day and have occasionally picked up the phone when something’s bothered me.

“Trying to keep control of a programme is counter-productive and unhelpful. I have to trust both my talent and the directors to get it right. Of course, it helps being married to the producer (his wife is Jill Green, who runs Eleventh Hour Films and is also the executive producer on the show).”

With New Blood being lined up for its BBC1 debut, Horowitz’s attention has returned to the US adaptation of Collision. Airing over five consecutive nights on ITV in 2009, the original miniseries told the story of a group of strangers whose lives are changed forever following a major car crash.

Eleventh Hour Films is developing the US version for NBC alongside TriStar Television and Carol Mendelsohn Productions.

“Collision was seen by Quinn Taylor (now the executive VP of movies, miniseries and international coproductions for NBC Entertainment) and since he first saw it, he has wanted to do it,” Horowitz says. “I’ve been meeting with him off and on for years championing it and now we’ve managed to get it together.”

The US adaptation expands the series to 10 episodes, while the action moves from Suffolk to Seattle. Horowitz has written the first script as well as outlining episode two and completing character arcs for the entire season.

“The idea of the series remains the same. It’s about fate, how every car journey is a story in itself and how we never know how that story is going to work out,” he explains. “Moving it to America has been quite an inspiring piece of work. It’s something I’ve enjoyed doing. In the world of television now, we’re so steeped in American series that actually taking the steps to go from British to American television is not quite such a major undertaking as it used to be. It is less difficult than it might have been 20 years ago.”

Having worked in the business for 30 years, Horowitz is well placed to judge the current state of television – an industry he says has never been better or more exciting.

“I’ve always enjoyed working in television, it’s a wonderful medium to be in and the people I work with are so lovely. And compared with writing novels, it’s so much more collaborative. The one great thing about this moment is there’s a real excitement and buzz about television, which of course is largely inherited from cinema.

“Cinema has become tired, empty and predictable and I go to the cinema these days almost with a heavy heart. Whereas you now look forward to getting a new box set – something from Vince Gilligan (Better Call Saul) or starring Sarah Lancashire (Happy Valley) – with the excitement that you once looked forward to watching films.”

However, Horowitz is less confident about the state of the UK industry compared with the business stateside. “We have to be more ambitious in Britain,” he says bluntly. “The real problem is the biggest shows in America are beyond us at the moment. Anything from Breaking Bad to The Walking Dead, even The Good Wife – the six-parters we do here and the occasional 10-parter cannot compete in terms of scale, scope and ambition.

“It would be nice if this country could produce that sort of drama. If you add to that the way Netflix, Amazon and other companies are moving in on television, the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 begin to look old-fashioned. I’m not saying we’re not doing great drama over here, we’re doing fantastic drama at the moment. I’m absolutely immersed in Happy Valley; War & Peace was wonderfully written and directed. There are some fantastic pieces of television being made. It’s only in terms of quantity, scope, size and ambition that to do a 10-parter like Collision, I’m almost sorry I have to go to America.”

With New Blood, Horowitz hopes to have crafted his latest television hit. But does he think there’s enough new blood getting the same opportunity he once did to get into the industry?

“There are young people coming through and television is open to new talent. It would be a disaster if it wasn’t,” he says. “We do need new young writers and one wonders where the schooling is for young writers to come through, but they will. I was influenced by Utopia, which is what I would call a young production in terms of casting and its feel. So there is new blood coming through.”

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Out with the new, in with the old

As more original dramas are produced than ever before, DQ finds there’s still a place for classic series to find new audiences.

In the ever-changing world of TV, there are few things that can be termed a constant – but one enduring trend is the appeal of ‘classic’ drama, especially the detective genre.

Back in 2004, the executives of ITV’s digital channels were charged with creating a new channel to help stem the network’s ratings decline, particularly among upmarket ABC1 viewers.

Looking at the wealth of ITV-owned library drama available, the answer came quickly enough, although there were some doubts over the appeal of repeating hits from the network’s past.

Confounding these qualms, ITV3 launched to instant success – and 11 years later regularly ranks as the sixth most watched channel in the UK, behind only the five former terrestrial channels. That’s all with a schedule that differs very little from its opening year and, one suspects, a similarly meagre budget. So why does it work?

ITV3 succeeded through the choice of quality detective shows such as Inspector Morse, Foyle’s War, Agatha Christie’s Poirot (pictured top) and Midsomer Murders that benefited from self-contained storylines within each episode and a certain timeless aspect. The series were also aided by being shot on film, avoiding the tired look of many re-runs.

Despite viewers knowing the denouement of most episodes, they stayed for repeat viewings because of the characters, scenery and the programmes’ ability to function as ‘comfort TV’ – easy for viewers to unwind in front of at the end of a long day’s work.

Nordic noir drama Jordskott
Jordskott has performed well on ITV Encore

From the beginning, these series and others of their ilk have dominated the ITV3 top 10, often scoring audiences of more than one million. In terms of its on-screen look, ITV3 went for a cleaner, more contemporary style, which helped differentiate it from other repeats channels in the UK such as Gold, Granada Plus and UKTV’s Drama. ITV3 also tried to provide bonus material with behind-the-scenes documentaries and special seasons.

Last year, ITV attempted to build on the success of ITV3 with the Sky pay TV channel ITV Encore. But even accounting for the smaller available pay audience, ITV Encore has proved a severe disappointment to the network – “a learning curve,” in the words of CEO Adam Crozier. Audience levels have rarely surpassed the 100,000 mark. But why?

At its launch, those behind ITV Encore believed there was an appetite for recent ITV drama in peak – often short-run events and miniseries. Unfortunately for the channel, series such as Broadchurch are not particularly well suited to repeat viewing – and, being episodic, demand the commitment of viewing over a number of evenings and weeks.

Unlike the relatively gentle sleuthing of Morse, Broadchurch was an emotional experience for viewers and lost impact on repetition. Gracepoint (Fox), the lacklustre US remake of Broadchurch, sunk without trace on Encore, furthering the belief that these kinds of event dramas can’t command the same kind of viewership as the more self-contained series.

One bright spot for the channel has been the relative success of the Nordic Noir series Jordskott, which confirms the popularity of the genre in the UK – and a possible way for the ailing Encore to successfully evolve. Jordskott has headed the ITV Encore weekly top 10 since its launch on June 10, with consolidated audiences tracking an average of approximately 145,000.

It can’t be too long before the ITV acquisitions team scouts similar Nordic Noir titles for the Encore schedule as the channel gradually morphs into a very different animal. Further evidence of this is that Encore has acquired Twentieth Century Fox’s The Americans seasons one to four (flagship channel ITV canned the show due to low ratings after season two).

And belying the channel’s name, Encore is also moving into original commissions, the foremost being Sean Bean-starring The Frankenstein Chronicles, which launched this month. The supernatural element of this series is continued with another original drama announced, Houdini & Doyle.

Both in the UK and internationally, the relatively low audiences commanded by repeats of event/high-concept dramas such as Lost, Rome (playing on TCM in the UK to audiences of less than 15,000), The Pacific, Battlestar Galactica, Life on Mars and Band of Brothers reflect the problems faced by Encore, where viewers appear to be tempted more by the umpteenth showings of self-contained episodes of Columbo, House, Law & Order, Magnum PI and Marple, which power channels such as Top Crime in Italy and Universal’s 13th Street in various territories.

Law & Order
Law & Order is a popular re-run choice among viewers

With procedural investigation series NCIS being the most watched drama in the world, the genre continues to play extremely well internationally and is a staple of many broadcasters’ schedules. Channel-surfing around the globe, it’s extremely rare not to find a US or UK detective series playing at any time of the day.

But with UK drama spend dropping by 44% since 2008, distributors are now having to sweat their drama back catalogues more than ever, demonstrated by the widely predicted push from FremantleMedia International, ITV Studios Global Entertainment, BBC Worldwide, Endemol Shine International and others.

As evidenced by Cozi TV and TV Land in the US, there is a nostalgic appeal to older titles such as Fremantle’s Baywatch (which launched on Cozi TV in August). But this can sometimes wear thin after initial viewings and broadcasters then become stuck with dozens of episodes of series that are eventually shuffled off into late-night slots. However, the news that Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Zac Efron are planning a 21 Jump Street-style comedy take on Baywatch should help revive interest in the original show.

FremantleMedia International launched its Classic Catalogue at Mipcom this year, highlighting a vast library of comedy and drama and for the first time curating in one place the output of its constituent companies (including Euston Films, Grundy and Alomo). The firm is focusing on spotlighting key titles over the coming months, including both reversioned classics and formats/remake opportunities for shows such as Love Hurts, Pie in the Sky and Rumple of the Bailey.

Fremantle’s ambitious Kate Harwood-led revival of Euston Films will see not only original productions but also the possibility of new versions of such hits as The Sweeney and Widows, as well as lesser-known titles including family drama Fox (1980, starring Peter Vaughan and Ray Winstone) and intense thriller Out (1978, Tom Bell and Brian Cox).

Love Hurts
Could classics like Love Hurts be remade, or sold as formats?

After the success of Channel 4’s Indian Summers and the general appeal of period drama, there may be interest in another take on the 1910s Kenyan coffee plantation saga The Flame Trees of Thika (1981).

The success of ITV’s resurrection of comedy Birds of a Feather has seen a higher profile for the writing team of Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, who are now heading the Fremantle-backed LocomoTV and, like Euston, are looking at producing both new shows and possible re-boots of golden oldies such as Goodnight Sweetheart, this time for the US market.

Fremantle’s Sarah Doole, director of global drama, says: “We’re extremely excited about our heritage catalogue of classic comedy and drama. Having looked at the titles from our back catalogue, we realised we have some real crown jewels in there.

“It’s a distinguished collection bursting with iconic hits penned by legendary writers, not to mention the raft of classic characters who have gone on to become household names. We can’t wait to showcase the titles to buyers from across the globe.”

Returning to the appeal of older drama, the audience for repeated soaps tends to be very niche, as they tend to travel badly from the originating countries with production values that can vary from mediocre to poor.

US soaps have never really worked in the UK (and vice versa) – the most recent attempt being ITV2’s transmission of the campy Sunset Beach in the early 2000s.

The Sweeney
We could see a remake of the hit series The Sweeney

UK state broadcaster BBC2 has used long-running US series such as Cagney & Lacey and The Rockford Files to plug the gaps left by budget cuts in the daytime schedule. Murder, She Wrote and Columbo perform much the same function for ITV at the weekend.

Distributors such as Stephanie Hartog (formerly of Fremantle and All3Media) agree that “the success of Downton Abbey has opened the doors to some who previously might have doubted the appeal of classic drama in their markets.”

Hartog also notes that “the growth of specific genres from areas such as the Nordics, Turkey, Israel and France have contributed to a growing trade in drama and has prompted a look at older fare.”

As Hartog says, Downton’s massive worldwide success has created an appetite for similar shows and boosted the sales of lesser-known titles, such as BBC1’s Upstairs Downstairs reboot, Downton scribe Julian Fellowes’ Titanic miniseries and Spanish drama Grand Hotel. Similarly, upcoming French English-language period romp Versailles may promote interest in older series set in roughly the same era, including Charles II: The Power & the Passion (2003), City of Vice (2008), Clarissa (1991) and The Scarlet Pimpernel (1999-2000).

In the UK, as per the rest of the world, older cult series tend to be the preserve of smaller channels; currently, 1960s series The Avengers (on Cozi in the US) and The Wild, Wild West reside on True Entertainment and The Horror Channel respectively.

Sony’s True Entertainment channel in the UK is the home for many middle-of-the-road series of the past, including Little House on the Prairie, The Waltons, The Practice, Touched by an Angel, Due South and Providence.

And, of course, the Star Trek and Stargate franchises continue to form part of many channels’ daytime schedules in territories across the world. Star Trek will also get a fresh outing in the form of a new series to launch in 2017 on US network CBS’s All Access on-demand platform.

Antenna Spain's Grand Hotel
Antenna Spain’s Grand Hotel

Keshet International sales director Cynthia Kennedy says: “The launch of new services (both linear and OTT) across the globe means old shows can find a new lease of life, with both fans of nostalgia and new audiences. BBC dramas tend to have a long shelf-life, while older titles can usually find a home on new VoD platforms in places like Central and Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America, not to mention the majors being able to bundle their new shows with back catalogue content that gets airtime on smaller channels.”

Online, RLJ’s Acorn TV has carved out a niche for itself with a variety of past and present UK titles, ranging from such classics as I Claudius and Brideshead Revisited to contemporary fare including New Worlds and Secret State. Karin Marelle, a former acquisitions and commercial director at Acorn, says: “The increasing presence and popularity of British acting talent in the US has led to interest in checking out their shows before they crossed the pond.”

Netflix and Amazon, of course, are a destination point for distributors, although older drama titles are among their less promoted shows, with many already available through YouTube.

One genre that consistently delivers viewers – in an older male demographic – is Westerns. Despite the introduction of new titles and series, TCM Europe’s highest numbers tend to be attracted by Westerns – including vintage series such as Gunsmoke as well as current or recent series like Longmire and Hell on Wheels.

AMC in the US has also enjoyed strong ratings with Westerns, with ‘Cowboy Saturday’ schedules boasting a line-up of classic movies and golden oldies such as Rawhide and The Rifleman.

The success of Marvel and DC superhero movies and series has prompted some online free-to-air VoD platforms to investigate the availability of older series and one-offs to tie in with future cinema releases such as Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (DC) and Dr Strange (Marvel).

This August’s release of Guy Ritchie’s movie version of 1960s spy caper series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. may also see interest in the show renew across various international territories. Edited TV movie versions of the series recently aired on TCM in the run-up to the film opening in the UK.

Mission Impossible V: Rogue Nation could also prompt re-running of the classic 1960s television series in countries where it has been off air over recent years.

These and other developments should help distributors with older drama libraries get a foot in the door with broadcasters.

With new channels regularly launching across the globe (sych as AMC in European territories including the UK, Serbia and Hungary), the demand for quality library series to populate the schedules will be as strong, if not stronger, than ever.

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