Tag Archives: Gran Hotel

¡Viva España!

Without much noise or fanfare, Spain has been steadily building a reputation as one of the hottest producers of scripted drama, with homegrown series finding fans around the world. DQ takes an in-depth look at the wave of new series coming out of the country.

Spanish drama may not attract as much attention as Nordic noir or the ‘Korean wave,’ but there’s no question the country’s scripted series are now enjoying decent levels of profile around the world. And with significant increases in content investment from free-to-air (FTA) channels, pay TV and SVoD platforms, Spain’s storytellers are poised to deliver a new wave of diverse and ambitious shows to the international market.

One of the first firms to identify the potential of Spanish drama was German distributor Beta Film, which was responsible for the international roll-outs of Gran Hotel and Velvet, two exquisite period pieces produced by Bambú Producciones for FTA network Antena 3.

According to Beta Film executive VP for acquisitions and sales Christian Gockel, the success of the Bambú/Antena 3 partnership convinced his company to board two new productions from the same stable: Morocco – Love in Times of War and Farinia – Snow on the Atlantic. “They have raised the bar yet again by taking the unique blend of romance and drama we know so well from Velvet,” he says.

Morocco, says Gockel, is set in war-torn Spanish Morocco in the 1920s, where a group of nurses look after troops. Farinia, meanwhile, “centres on a fisherman who becomes a wealthy smuggler by providing South American cartels a gateway to Europe.”

Farinia is a good indicator of how Antena 3 – the dominant force in FTA drama – has diversified its slate in recent times. The channel also launched Vis a Vis (pictured above), a female-prison drama produced by Mediapro drama label Globomedia. Distributed by Mediapro sales arm Imagina under the title Locked Up, that show broke into the English-speaking market, airing on Channel 4 in the UK and on foreign-language SVoD service Walter Presents.

Gran Hotel was produced by Bambú Producciones for Antena 3

Walter Presents also picked up fellow Antena 3/Globomedia drama Pulsaciones (Lifeline). The psychological thriller is about a surgeon who unravels a medical scandal after suffering a heart attack and having strange nightmares when he receives a donor heart. “Last year, Locked Up exploded onto the international scene, heralding a renaissance in Spanish scripted excellence,” says Walter Presents curator Walter Iuzzolino. “This year they’ve done it again. Lifeline is a thriller with shock narrative twists and epic cliffhanger endings.”

The growing appeal of Antena 3-commissioned drama to the global market is further underlined by a deal that will see Netflix air miniseries The Cathedral of the Sea around the world. Based on Ildefonso Falcones’ bestselling novel and produced by leading Spanish prodco Diagonal, the story takes place in 14th century Barcelona during the Inquisition.

Explaining his remit, Antena 3 senior VP for drama Nacho Manubens says: “Although we produce sporadically for our other channels [laSexta, Neox], we mainly focus on Antena 3. We commission more than 600 hours of TV per year, with 120 primetime hours and 500 daytime hours. We have a range of genres, since our audiences demand variety and innovation. In thrillers we have had hits with Bajo Sospecha, Mar De Plastico and Vis a Vis. In period dramas we have had El Tiempo Entre Costuras and Velvet. These are both lines we will continue exploring.”

Antena 3 has developed a reputation for edgy shows – something Manubens wants to maintain. “We cannot take risks in every show we produce, but we try to keep making shows that push the envelope like we did with Casa De Papel [aka The Money Heist, the latest show from Via a Vis creator Alex Pina].”

Sé Quién Eres (I Know Who You Are) was a hit for Mediaset España

Public broadcaster RTVE and Mediaset Espana, owner of commercial networks TeleCinco and Cuatro, have also upped their scripted game. For RTVE, key titles have been El Ministerio del Tiempo (The Ministry of Time) and Isabel, produced by Onza Partners/Cliffhanger and Diagonal respectively. Isabel, one of several royal-themed shows on the market, ran for three seasons and travelled well internationally. Buoyed by its success, RTVE also made a foray into English-language drama with Reinas (Queens), about the rivalry between Mary, Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I.

Mediaset España, meanwhile, had a hit with Sé Quién Eres (I Know Who You Are), a Filmax production about a charismatic university lecturer’s possible involvement in his niece’s murder. The show was bought by several networks, including the influential BBC4 – its first Spanish acquisition – with head of BBC programme acquisitions Sue Deeks calling it “the dramatic equivalent of a page-turning thriller.” Mediaset España’s increased investment in event series has also seen it back Forgive Me God, an eight-part miniseries about a nun battling delinquency and the drug trade.

Alongside the increased ambition among FTA channels, there are also new opportunities in the pay TV and SVoD arenas, according to Pilar Blasco, MD of Endemol Shine Iberia, a division that includes Diagonal. “Spain has always been a strong market for local original scripted programming and this has enabled us to build an industry of creative writers, showrunners and directors,” she says. “The big game-changer, however, has been increased commissioning of Spanish productions from the likes of Movistar+, Netflix, HBO and Amazon. As a result, the Spanish drama industry is flourishing with higher budgets that tell more daring stories from a broader range of genres.”

The most high-profile example of Blasco’s point is Telefónica’s decision to invest €70m (US$84m) a year in scripted series for its pay TV platform Movistar+. According to Domingo Corral, head of original programming at Movistar+, the plan is to launch 11 original series a year, initially for SVoD customers. The emphasis will be on “Spanish-language series dealing with Spanish stories created by Spanish talent,” he says.

Movistar+ drama La Zona is set four years after a nuclear accident

Titles include La Zona, a story set in northern Spain four years after a nuclear accident. Also coming soon is La Peste, set in 16th century Sevilla against the backdrop of a plague. Movistar+ has also done a deal with Bambú for a spin-off from Madrid fashion-store series Velvet, which ended on Antena 3 after four seasons. The new series, Velvet Collection, will take the story forward to the 1960s and relocate to Barcelona.

At first sight, Corral’s insistence on super-charged Spanish series seems like it will limit their international appeal. But he takes the view that “great storytelling and characters have universal appeal.” Besides, he adds, Movistar+ series will have 50-minute episodes, rather than the 70 minutes typical to Spain. This will make them a better fit for the global market. Also, Movistar+ has spared no expense on talent, pulling in writers and directors from the country’s admired cinema scene.

Beta Film is continuing its relationship with the Velvet franchise and is also distributing La Zona, says Gockel. “We believe La Zona is one of the most exciting shows coming from Spain this year. It’s an innovative eco-crime thriller with a high budget that will catch viewers around the globe.”

About Premium Content has picked up rights to eight-part mob thriller Gigantes, while Sky Vision has secured global rights to La Peste, which is budgeted at €10m for six episodes. Sky Vision MD Jane Millichip gives an upbeat assessment of Movistar+’s shows: “With La Peste, they have assembled an incredible team with a proven track record. The partnership of Alberto Rodriguez and Rafael Cobos has delivered a deeply engaging story that delivers a thriller of scale, a pungent sense of the past and a modernity that will satisfy audiences.”

Big-budget series La Peste is being distributed by Sky Vision

Movistar+’s investment in drama is especially timely given the growing competition. In April, Netflix launched Las Chicas del Cable, another sumptuous period piece from the Bambú stable that tells the story of four young women working for Spain’s national telephone company in the 1920s.

Also muscling in on the Spanish market is Fox Networks Group (FNG), which has just done a deal with Mediapro’s Globomedia that will see future series of Via a Vis air on its pay TV networks, rather than on broadcaster Antena 3. This is Fox’s first foray into original scripted series, with Vera Pereira, exec VP of FNG Iberia, saying it “will give us greater visibility and relevance in the market.”

Success in scripted formats is also contributing to Spain’s creative revival, with Star-Crossed (The CW), Red Band Society (Fox) and The Mysteries of Laura (NBC) all reimagined for the US market. Televisa USA is also teaming with Lantica Media to produce an English-language Gran Hotel, while Lionsgate has been linked to a US adaptation of Bambú’s Velvet.

The final dimension to the Spanish market’s new dynamism relates to the ambition of the producers. Bambú is part of StudioCanal and has coproduced time-travel drama Refugiados (Refugees) with BBC Worldwide. Diagonal, meanwhile, sees projects like The Cathedral of the Sea as a new phase. “It is a huge leap for the company as it moves into international coproductions,” observes Blasco. “It’s an ambitious project that would never have been commissioned without the support of Netflix.”

Velvet Collection follows on from Velvet

Another leading Spanish producer, DLO, recently became part of the Banijay network and has also picked up a commission from Movistar+ — a series based on Julia Navarro’s best-selling historical novel Dime Quien Soy. In a similar vein, Lagardère Active-owned producer Boomerang is well-known for El Tiempo Entre Costuras (The Time in Between), a 2013 hit for Antena 3 that went on to sell into 75 territories. Now the company has identified Latin America as a key expansion opportunity and is working on a brace of series for broadcasters in Chile. Bambú is also building its profile in Latin America, via a development deal with Televisa in Mexico.

Mediapro is also involved in an eclectic mix of domestic and international series. It coproduced English-language drama The Young Pope and is working on Paradise, a Finnish-Spanish copro that takes place in a Spanish village on the Costa del Sol with a large Finnish community. Other projects include The Head, a copro with Sweden’s Dramacorp in which 10 scientists, trapped in a laboratory at the South Pole, realise one is a killer. “We are also working with DirecTV Latin America on El Fútbol no es Así, a crime series set in the world of Spanish football,” says Mediapro head of content Javier Mendez.

While Mendez welcomes the influx of pay TV drama funding, he says a key opportunity for Mediapro is the international market – especially in light of the fact it has a distribution arm, Imagina. “Series like Narcos show it is possible to find great stories that have the ability to travel all over the world,” he explains. “Increasingly, our strategy is to back good stories regardless of where they come from, because there is a huge appetite for drama around the world.”

tagged in: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Familiar and fresh

Quantico has earned praise for its diverse cast
Quantico has earned praise for the diversity of its lead characters

A lot of scripted TV has a derivative feel about it – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When people sit down to watch something, they generally want to know roughly what they are going to get, in the same way they gravitate towards the same brands and restaurants.

That’s why, even in this ‘golden age’ age of risk-taking drama, so many shows are based on pre-existing properties or work within well-understood genres or situations (cop, hospital, romance, period and so on).

But the audience’s preference for the familiar only goes so far. Once viewers are within a story world, they expect to be surprised and delighted. If a drama turns out to be a poor copy of a previous show then they will desert in their droves. This explains why so many scripted series fall off a cliff between episodes one and two – because they have been rumbled.

One writer who seems pretty adept at balancing the familiar with the fresh is Josh Safran. After working on The CW’s hit series Gossip Girl and NBC’s short-lived Smash, he has now achieved a strong start with Quantico, a fast-paced thriller that debuted on September 27 on ABC in the US.

Airing in a 22.00 slot, the show attracted 7.1 million viewers and a 1.9 rating among adults aged 18-49. This audience was 36% up on its lead-in and well ahead of the CSI finale on CBS. In addition, it was much higher than Revenge’s performance in the same slot last year. In fact, ABC says the show is the strongest ‘regular programming’ performer in this slot since May 2012 (i.e. not a special event such as a live sports match).

Quantico writer Josh Safran
Quantico writer Josh Safran

Quantico is about a group of young trainees learning to become FBI agents. It turns out that one of them is a terrorist planning a major attack – but we don’t know who.

So far, so familiar. In the run up to the show’s launch, it was described as “a garden variety whodunnit” and a cross between Homeland and a Shonda Rhimes drama.

What helps Safran’s show stand out from the crowd, however, is a clear decision to avoid obvious character stereotypes. The trainees, for example, are ethnically diverse, with a central role handed to Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra, who plays Alex Parrish. There is also a leading position for black actress Aunjanue Ellis, who acts as mentor to the new recruits.

Forbes Magazine was especially impressed by the show’s start, pointing out numerous examples of how the female characters assert their independence and demonstrate their capabilities. “The best and most refreshing parts of this programme are the strong females leads,” it said. “Quantico highlights the fact that female leads can have more to their plotlines than love, pregnancy or rape. And it shows that when better roles are written for women, the programme benefits as well.”

It’s early days, of course, and some of Quantico’s reviewers were a bit more skeptical. But as long as the show can maintain momentum with its terrorist whodunnit plot, it will probably come out as one of this year’s top-performing new series – which would be good news for international broadcaster such as CTV Canada and UKTV that have already acquired it.

The Enfield Haunting is heading for A&E Network
The Enfield Haunting, starring Timothy Spall (centre), is set to air on A&E Network

As for Safran, he is also working on an updated version of the Fame, which first appeared as a 1980 movie before becoming a hit TV series and then being revived as a movie again in 2009. Destined for Lifetime in the US, the new Fame is being written and executive produced by Safran for MGM TV. Other exec producers include Nigel Lythgoe, Chad Gutstein and Charles Segars.

On paper, its looks like a dead cert hit (for the reasons stated at the start of this column). But it will actually be quite a challenge for Safran. Just how do you revive such a show in a world that has been exposed to Glee, wall-to-wall TV talent shows and YouTube? This is a situation where the ability to blend the familiar with the fresh will prove decisive.

Another writer entitled to feel pleased with himself this week is London-based Joshua St Johnston, whose three-part miniseries The Enfield Haunting is to air on A&E Network in the US from October 9, following its acquisition from eOne.

Adapted from Guy Lyon Playfair’s book This House is Haunted, The Enfield Haunting is a dramatisation of the terrifying real-life events that took place in a London home during 1977. Starring Timothy Spall, Matthew Macfadyen and Juliet Stevenson, it first aired to critical acclaim on Sky Living in the UK.

A&E will be hoping for a stronger performance from The Enfield Haunting than fellow supernatural show The Returned (pictured)
A&E will be hoping for a stronger performance from The Enfield Haunting than it achieved with fellow supernatural show The Returned (pictured)

St Johnston’s first TV writing credit came way back in 1996, when he penned an episode of UK doctor drama Peak Practice. After a period where he focused more on producing, St Johnston wrote a couple of TV movies in the middle of the last decade, including the Ray Winstone-starring Sweeney Todd. After writing a short film for the Cultural Olympiad in 2012, he scripted the poorly reviewed musical film Walking on Sunshine.

However, with Eleven Film-produced The Enfield Haunting he certainly seems to have found his métier.

Represented by Harriet Pennington Leigh at Troika Talent, St Johnston is now developing new TV series with Clerkenwell Films and Eleven Film and working on a movie with Christopher Sweeney entitled Good Boy, Hung. He is also reported to be working on a TV series with Artists Studio called Deviant. As a footnote, it’s interesting to see A&E going back into the paranormal realm so soon after its failure with The Returned – it’s obviously a genre in which it sees plenty of mileage.

Other writers who can look forward to a period of full employment include Graham Roland, who is attached to a new Paramount TV production based on author Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan character. The show, which has Carlton Cuse (Lost) attached as showrunner, is heading to Amazon, according to Deadline.

Stephen Kronish
Stephen Kronish

Roland’s major credits to date include Prison Break, Lost and the US version of The Returned, the latter two of which he worked on with Cuse. He was also involved in Fox’s sci-fi/crime drama Almost Human, which only lasted for one season in 2014 before cancellation.

Elsewhere, showrunner Stephen Kronish is working with Televisa US on its upcoming remake of Gran Hotel. An industry veteran whose credits stretch all the way back to Alfred Hitchcock Presents in 1985, Kronish has had some big hits in the last decade with 24 and The Kennedys. He has also recently finished writing the TV movie Manson’s Lost Girls and the moderately well-received Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe.

tagged in: , , , , , , , , , ,

Amazon ups the ante

Christina Ricci will play Zelda Fitzgerald (pictured) in Z
Christina Ricci will play Zelda Fitzgerald (pictured) in Z

After a strong showing at the Emmys, Amazon is in buoyant mood. It’s now hoping to keep up the momentum with six new drama and comedy pilots that will launch on Amazon Video later this year in the US, UK, Germany and Austria. As with previous pilots, Amazon will use audience feedback to decide whether to take any of the new scripted shows to series.

The pilots include Good Girls Revolt, a story set in 1969 that follows a group of young women seeking to be treated fairly and ultimately sparking changes that upend marriages, careers, love and friendships. Created and written by Dana Calvo, the show is based on landmark sexual discrimination cases chronicled in a book by Lynn Povich. Amazon is coproducing with Tristar TV.

Another female-protagonist drama is Z, a bio-series about Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of author F. Scott Fitzgerald. Written by Dawn Prestwich (The Killing), Z will star Christina Ricci as the beautiful and talented southern belle who became the original flapper and icon of the flamboyant Jazz Age in the 1920s. The story will follow Zelda’s social successes and her descent into mental illness.

Amazon will also reinforce the recent revival of the western genre with Edge, based on George G. Gilman’s best-selling book series of the same name. Set in 1868, the story centres on Josiah ‘Edge’ Hedges – a Union officer turned cowboy who prowls the post-Civil War American West doling out his own savage brand of justice. Edge was developed by Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Iron Man 3) and Fred Dekker (Tales from the Crypt, Star Trek: Enterprise). The pair also wrote the screenplay.

Amazon has ordered a pilot based on George G. Gilman book series Edge
Amazon has ordered a pilot based on George G. Gilman book series Edge

The other three Amazon pilots are Highston, One Mississippi and Patriot, a political thriller about an intelligence officer assigned with preventing Iran from going nuclear. Patriot is written and directed by Steven Conrad (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Weather Man), who executive produces alongside Gil Bellows, Glen Ficarra, Charlie Gogolak and John Requa.

Amazon Studios VP Roy Price said: “Our latest pilot season brings together diverse shows that we think customers will really enjoy. We have something for everyone in this season and I am excited to see which shows spark conversation among our customers and what they want to be made into series.”

Amazon’s continued drive into scripted TV was further reinforced this week with the acquisition of exclusive rights to USA Network’s critically acclaimed drama Mr Robot. The first series (10 episodes) of the show will be available to Amazon subscribers in the US, UK, Germany, Austria and Japan from spring 2016.

Meanwhile, reports have been bubbling under for a couple of weeks that Netflix might be about to commission Charlie Brooker to make some new episodes of his dystopian anthology series Black Mirror. This story has now been confirmed, with Netflix greenlighting 12 episodes. Brooker described the SVoD giant as “the most fitting platform imaginable” for the series, which until now has been produced for Channel 4 in the UK. Explaining the appeal, he said: “Netflix connects us with a global audience so that we can create bigger, stranger, more international and diverse stories than before, while maintaining that Black Mirror feel.”

Black Mirror's National Anthem episode made headlines in the UK last week due to allegations about prime minister David Cameron
Black Mirror’s National Anthem episode (pictured) made headlines in the UK last week following allegations about prime minister David Cameron

Netflix will premiere the show exclusively worldwide, except in the UK and Ireland where plans are still being determined. This hesitation over the UK is unlike Netflix, but is probably due to Channel 4’s involvement in the franchise to date. Possibly, Netflix and Brooker are looking for a way to include C4 in the deal so that it can benefit from the expansion of a show it helped to build.

Netflix VP of original content Cindy Holland said: “Charlie has created a one-of-a-kind series with an uncanny voice and prescient, darkly comedic vision. We’re tremendously proud to bring Black Mirror to our members as a Netflix original series.”

In terms of other renewals, there is good news for Mistresses, which has been awarded a fourth season by ABC. Another female ensemble series, Lifetime’s Devious Maids, is also returning for a fourth season next year. Announcing the recommission, Liz Gateley, EVP of programming for Lifetime, said: “Devious Maids is a steady hit that continues to deliver for us. It has found a loyal audience that is socially engaged with the show. The entire writing and production team worked hard to up the storytelling this year and the cast delivered great performances, so the show just gets better and better.”

Inspired by the hit telenovela, Ellas son… la alegría del hogar, Devious Maids is produced by ABC Studios. Last season it drove Lifetime to rank as the number-two cable network with scripted programming in the Monday 21.00-22.00 slot among women aged 25-54 and 18-49, while its August 24 season finale reached season highs among total viewers, adults aged 25-54 and women aged 25-54.

Devious Maids has been given a fourth run
Devious Maids has been given a fourth run on Lifetime

This week also saw an announcement by Italian public broadcaster Rai that it has commissioned an eight-part drama. Medici: Masters of Florence will chronicle the rise of the Medici family, with Richard Madden (Game of Thrones) playing Cosimo de’ Medici and Hoffman portraying family patriarch Giovanni de’ Medici.

The series, which will be produced by Lux Vide and Frank Spotnitz’s Big Light Productions, has been created by Spotnitz and Nicholas Meyer (The Seven-Per-Cent Solution), with Sergio Mimica-Gezzan (The Pillars of the Earth) directing. Germany’s Wild Bunch TV is a co-financier and will oversee international sales, starting at Mipcom next month.

Spotnitz, a US writer who has carved out a strong niche for himself writing European coproductions in English, called the tale of the Medicis a “powerful story that resonates even now.”

Medici: Masters of Florence is a major step forward for Rai at a time when Italian producers and broadcasters are starting to have a much bigger impact on the international drama market. RAI Fiction director Tinny Andreatta said the show “has great international appeal and we hope it will open up a new era of creative coproductions.”

Finally, Televisa USA, a subsidiary of Mexican media giant Televisa responsible for English-language programming, and Lantica Media have announced they are developing a new version of Gran Hotel, based on hit Spanish series from Bambu Producciones. The show will be shot at Lantica’s Pinewood Dominican Republic Studios and is based on an original script by Stephen Kronish (24, Kennedys).

The original Gran Hotel
The original Gran Hotel

The new version of the format, which is distributed internationally by Beta Film, will be set in 1950s Cuba. “It was a time when mobsters, politicians and celebrities flocked to Havana, the world’s most exotic and permissive playground,” said Chris Philip, head of production and distribution for Televisa USA. “Setting Gran Hotel in a sexy, sinful atmosphere offers up a rich fusion of glamour and intrigue deeply rooted in an exceptional murder-mystery format with a proven global footprint.

Antonio Gennari, CEO of Lantica Media, added: “Since the introduction of (a new) film law and incentives, the Dominican Republic has seen substantial growth in film and TV production. The country offers mesmerising scenery and world-class production capabilities that will serve as the ideal backdrop for Havana’s Gran Hotel.” As part of the announcement, Gennari said Lantica and Televisa USA were also planning other projects.

The original Gran Hotel aired for three seasons on Antena 3 in Spain. During its first season, it reached an 18.5% share of viewers in Spain and was also sold to broadcasters in France, the UK and Russia, as well as being reversioned in Italy.

Beta Film SVP Christian Gockel said: “Gran Hotel is one of Beta’s biggest sales hits and franchises of recent years, as proven currently on Rai’s primetime. As coproducers of the Italian adaptation, we are thrilled to see Gran Hotel opening its doors in Cuba’s 1950s.”

tagged in: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,