Tag Archives: Guilt

True crime tops TV trends

Sarah Paulson, Cuba Gooding Jr and John Travolta in American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson
Sarah Paulson, Cuba Gooding Jr and John Travolta in American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson

There’s a new trend in US TV and it’s called true crime. Cutting across the drama and documentary genres, it’s a category of shows that seeks to shine a light on the workings of the US justice system (usually by giving examples of its failings and weaknesses).

The most high-profile examples to date are Fox’s sophisticated drama series American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson and Netflix’s documentary series Making a Murderer. But more are on the way.

This week, for example, it was revealed that CBS is developing its own true-crime unscripted series, centring on the 1996 murder of six-year-old beauty pageant star JonBenet Ramsey. Also coming up soon is Guilt, a drama series greenlit by Freeform (previously known as ABC Family).

Guilt, which debuts on June 13, is about a young American woman in London who becomes the prime suspect in the savage murder of her roommate. Loosely based on the famous Amanda Knox case, success for this show would undoubtedly keep the true crime bandwagon rolling.

Freeform has actually been making a lot of trade headlines this week as a result of its Upfronts. One of its most interesting announcements is that it is making a local version of Misfits, the UK drama that aired on E4 from 2009 to 2013. Created by Howard Overman, the show focuses on a group of young offenders who develop superpowers after being exposed to an electrical storm. The new series comes from executive producers Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, who previously developed Gossip Girl.

The original UK version of Misfits, which aired on E4
The original UK version of Misfits, which aired on E4

Other dramas coming through on Freeform include The Deep, Hunted and Lore, a sci-fi drama about the lone survivor of an ancient race of paranormal beings who is abducted and forced to put his extraordinary abilities to work for the government.

For 2017 there is Beyond, a one-hour drama about a young man who wakes up from a coma after 12 years and discovers new abilities that propel him into the middle of a dangerous conspiracy. Also of note, given the current trend towards series with a transgender theme, is New People. Executive produced by Joel Silver and writer/director Don Roos, in association with Lionsgate, this drama-comedy focuses on a middle class family who adopted identical twin boys at birth. One is all boy, one grew up trans.

Another trend gathering pace is that of dramas that explore the nefarious world of high finance. Recent examples that deal with this subject head-on or tangentially include Showtime series Billions, Sky/Canal+ show The Last Panthers and DR’s Follow the Money. Now, Zodiak Rights and Arise Pictures have joined forces on The Cleaners, a 10-part series about international money laundering.

Described as Casino Royale meets Wall Street, the drama revolves around CIA operatives working with illegal money launderers in the Middle East to achieve regime change. Coproduction partners already on board include Spain’s Arcadia Motion Pictures and the UK’s Propulsion Pictures. “This new drama could not be more topical after the recent leak of the Panama papers, highlighting how and where heads of state hide their money around the world,” said Caroline Torrance, head of scripted at Zodiak Rights.

Grimm has been given a sixth season
Grimm has been given a sixth season

In May last year, we looked at the success of NBC’s supernatural crime drama Grimm and the reasons it had been renewed for a fifth season. This week, NBC announced a sixth season of the show. NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke said of the team behind the show: “They have created a whole new world of creatures and have a truly devoted fan base. We can’t wait to see what comes next.”

Season five of Grimm finished in April, with its ratings actually on an upward trajectory. The 4.5 million viewers it attracted to the 16th and final episode was the highest of the entire series. The show is also very strong in time-shifting, almost doubling its audience in terms of Live+7-day ratings.

Elsewhere, CBS has renewed NCIS: Los Angeles for an eighth season, while Fox has awarded renewals to two of its new dramas, Rosewood and Lucifer. Both have performed above Fox’s scripted average for the season without really setting the schedule on fire. Nevertheless, Fox Entertainment president David Madden said: “We knew we had something special with Lucifer, from the engaging performances of Tom Ellis, Lauren German and the rest of the cast, to Len Wiseman’s visually stunning look of the show.”

As for Rosewood, Madden said creator Todd Harthan “has put a fresh, playful spin on the procedural format, infusing it with wit and warmth, while Morris Chestnut, Jaina Lee Ortiz and the show’s supporting cast have turned in fantastic performances. We look forward to standout sophomore seasons from both series.”

Lucifer has also been renewed
Lucifer has also been renewed

Outside the US, Nordic broadcaster C More Entertainment, which owns networks including TV4 Sweden, has started production on a thriller about a bank robber who moves to Thailand to start a new life. Called Farang, the series was created by Malin Lagerlöf and Stefan Thunberg, and will premiere on C More in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland next year before later airing on TV4.

Bo Thörnwall, director of programmes at C More, said: “Announcing new local content is always a pleasure, since our strong Swedish offer makes us unique in the market.” Josefine Tengblad, head of drama at TV4 and C More, added that the show “will be a gut-wrenching thriller – a drama about the emotional, fragile connection between a father and the daughter he abandoned.”

The show is part of a concerted drive by C More/TV4 into the drama business. Other titles on their slate include Gåsmamman, a thriller that was doing the rounds at MipTV last week, Beck and upcoming crime drama Missing.

In other international news, UK indie Mam Tor Productions has joined with Escapade Media on the upcoming Australian drama series Art of Killing. The six-part psychological thriller is adapted from the novel A Dark Place to Die by Ed Chatterton. The scriptwriters include Paul Duane, Rob Cawley and Sarah Smith. Commenting on the partnership, Escapade Media MD Natalie Lawley said: “In the growing world of international coproductions, it’s imperative to have a producer who can drive the project to distinction, especially in face of the strong competition. Tally’s work is proof of this and she is a perfect fit for this project.”

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Women in the lead

Supergirl
Supergirl, starring Melissa Benoist, is flying high on CBS during its debut season

There’s a growing trend in the US towards female-led series and movies. And one interesting aspect of this is the reboot of ideas that previously had male leads.

Supergirl, currently doing very well for CBS network, is a kind of example of this trend, since it takes DC Comics’ ‘Super’ mythology and sidelines the traditional male lead character. But even more to the point are upcoming series where the central character is being given a gender swap.

ABC, for example, is working with Sony Pictures on a reboot of Fantasy Island in which the central character Mr Roarke will be recast as a woman. CBS, meanwhile, is taking a similar route with its reimagination of HG Wells’ Island of Dr Moreau and with a planned resurrection of 1980s series MacGyver. All of this is in addition to movie launches such as the all-female Ghostbusters.

This week came news of another gender-swap drama, with US channel Syfy picking up Nomadic Films’ new take on the Dracula story, in which vampire hunter Van Helsing will be a woman. A 13-part series due to launch in autumn 2016, the show will focus on Vanessa Helsing, who must lead mankind against a world controlled by vampires. Neil LaBute is the writer/showrunner.

There was more good news for female onscreen talent this week with the news that BBC1 has commissioned UK hit drama Doctor Foster (starring Suranne Jones) for a second series. The renewal follows a trend in the UK of bringing back successful serials even if they look to have reached a natural conclusion (Broadchurch, The Missing, Safe House and Prey are other examples).

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The Van Helsing movie starred Hugh Jackman as the vampire hunter

The trick is to leave a loose editorial strand at the end of the first run and then see if the audience is sufficiently interested to justify a follow-up. In the case of Doctor Foster, which is written by Mike Bartlett, an average consolidated audience of 8.2 million across five episodes made renewal a no-brainer, even though the first run seemed to have come to a fairly neat conclusion.

The second season order was announced by Polly Hill, BBC Drama commissioning controller, who said: “Mike has not finished telling the story of Gemma (Dr Foster) and Simon (her husband) and there will be many more surprises in the next chapter of this powerful drama.”

Bartlett added: “I’ve been astounded by the response to Doctor Foster. So I’m thrilled that alongside (production company) Drama Republic and the phenomenal Suranne Jones, we’re going to tell the next chapter in Gemma’s story. Her life in Parminster may look better on the surface, but as she will discover to her cost, every action has its consequences eventually. No one comes through hell unscathed.”

Still in the UK, commercial broadcaster ITV is the latest company to announce a drama revival, with news that it is bringing back Cold Feet. Created and written by Mike Bullen, Cold Feet ran from 1998 to 2003 and was both a ratings and critical success for ITV.

Doctor-Foster-Sura_3450804b
Suranne Jones-starring Doctor Foster has been given a second season on BBC1

Centred on the lives of three couples, it was credited with addressing social issues in a way not previously seen on British TV. Likened to US shows such as Friends and Thirtysomething, it was also adapted for NBC in the US, although the Stateside version was quickly cancelled.

There aren’t too many details on the new Cold Feet as yet, but media reports seem to suggest it will involve most of the original cast. This means it will be looking at the same characters later in life (presumably with kids), as opposed to using a new cast working with similar but updated scripts to the earlier run.

Interesting stories out of Europe this week include the news that German pubcaster ARD is backing a miniseries about the brothers who founded Adidas and Puma – Adi and Rudi Dassler respectively. Called Rivals Forever: The Sneaker Battle, the four-part production will air in 2016.

The series is being distributed internationally by Global Screen, which has already licensed the show to Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. “Rivals Forever tells one of the greatest success stories of German industry,” says Global Screen head of TV sales Alexandra Heidrich. “At the same time, it is a gripping and dramatic saga, full of love, friendship, mistrust and intrigue.”

cold-feet
The original Cold Feet cast – who will return for ITV’s revival of the hit series?

Elsewhere, the Turkish drama success story continues with the news that Indonesian channel SCTV is to adapt the Green Yapim drama Elif. The original version of Elif has already been a hit on SCTV, having first aired successfully on Kanal 7 in Turkey. International distribution of the show is handled by Eccho Rights.

Back in the US, cable channel ABC Family is poised to rebrand as Freeform from January. The new name is part of the channel’s attempt to become a “core destination” for people in the 14- to 34-year-old age range (which it calls ‘becomers’ as shorthand).

To support the shift, the channel has given series orders to two new shows. The first is Beyond, a drama about a young man who wakes up from a coma after 12 years and discovers he has developed supernatural abilities that propel him into the middle of a dangerous conspiracy. The second, Guilt, the pilot of which was much discussed because of its similarity to the Amanda Knox story, is about a young American woman in London who becomes the prime suspect in the savage murder of her roommate.

The pilot of Guilt was shot in London and Budapest – and presumably the series will need to follow a similar line. Perhaps it’s too early to call this a meaningful trend, but it seems like a growing number of US cable networks are taking advantage of European production tax breaks. In addition to Guilt, we’ve seen E!’s drama series The Royals come to London, FX’s The Bastard Executioner shot in Wales and Homeland film in Germany. Starz and History have also produced in Europe.

Following another trend, Syfy has decided to do its bit for the undead by renewing its zombie series Z Nation for a third season. Eight episodes into its current 13-part run, the show is proving rock solid with an average audience of around 0.88 million. The show is currently Syfy’s strongest performer among 18-49s.

Finally, this week saw Amazon launch six new drama pilots. Based on their popularity with subscribers these show will either fade away and die or be given a shot at a series.

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Good news

Amazon is developing a series based on the Galaxy Quest film
Amazon is developing a series based on the Galaxy Quest film

One of the most important jobs a drama producer can do is read the news. Everyday there are so many bizarre and unusual stories taking place around the world that news can be a rich source of ideas and inspiration.

There are challenges, of course. Some stories are so shocking it seems indecent to write them up too quickly. But the risk of moral hesitation is that someone else will beat you to market. There’s also the possibility of wandering into a legal or PR minefield.

The best stories require producers/writers to make tough judgement calls about how to portray living or recently deceased characters. Even the most subtle manipulations of the truth can blow up into career-wrecking controversies.

One solution, of course, is to create shows that are similar to high-profile news stories but not exactly the same. This way you can capture the zeitgeist of the real-world events but create enough distance that it doesn’t look like a commentary on real figures. This, for example, is what ABC Family is doing with Guilt, a one-hour drama series about an American abroad in London who becomes the prime suspect in the murder of her roommate. No prizes for guessing the inspiration for this production.

In the UK this week, Channel 4 (C4) announced plans for a similarly conceived series called National Treasure. Produced by George Faber’s new indie The Forge, National Treasure is about a fictional high-profile comedian who is accused of committing a historical sexual crime – a subject that has been front-page news in the UK for the last couple of years. Over the course of four episodes, the show will explore how the central character, his family, manager and partner are affected by the resulting police investigation.

The show will be written by Jack Thorne, whose credits include the This is England franchise, Glue and The Last Panthers. It was commissioned by C4 head of drama Piers Wenger, who said: “It’s a powerful drama that goes beyond recent headlines, exploring the human and emotional impact when a whole life is called into question. In Jack’s hands it’s an insightful and thought-provoking exploration of memory, truth, age, doubt and how well we really know ourselves and those closest to us.”

The 1973 movie Westworld, which is being adapted for HBO
The 1973 movie Westworld, which is being adapted for HBO

There’s no question this is an interesting subject – and in Thorne’s hands it is likely to be a powerful piece of drama. But it does enter complicated territory, with so many sex allegations against British celebrities still subject to judicial proceedings. No wonder Faber is keen to reiterate it is a “fictional drama” that “tackles the complex relationship between celebrity, sex and power.”

As for Thorne, he’s pleased C4 is willing to keep up its reputation for tackling such subjects: “What I’ve always loved about Channel 4 is that it’s a place to discuss big ideas. National Treasure is a piece about doubt, about the smell of abuse, about how we as a society live in Yewtree times (Yewtree is the name of the UK police operation handling such allegations). Paul (the central character in the show) is a man who could be innocent or guilty. We’re going to examine him from all sides and ask that big question – how well do we know the people closest to us?”

Of course, one way of ensuring there is no possibility of any kind of legal challenge is if the central character is found to be innocent.

Over the in US, meanwhile, it is notable that there has been a bit of a swing in favour of legal dramas recently. This isn’t new territory, of course, as fans of Petrocelli, LA Law, The Practice, Ally McBeal, Law & Order and Damages will attest. But the success of How to Get Away With Murder and Suits seems to have inspired US networks to go back to the pool.

ABC, for example, is now developing The Jury, a project being executive produced by Carol Mendelsohn. The series will follow a murder trial from the perspective of individual jurors over the course of a single season. On paper it sounds like the latest in the current trend towards anthologies.

Winnetou is being revived in Germany on RTL
Winnetou is being revived in Germany on RTL
CBS is working up a legal series called Doubt. In this case, the centre of attention is a defence lawyer who gets romantically involved with one of her clients, who stands accused of killing a teenage girl. Katherine Heigl stars in this one.

Over the last week, all eyes have been on the Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival. Historically a conflab for UK-based executives, the event is now as likely to present a few visiting dignitaries from the US TV business. So for the last few days there’s been a steady drip feed of trade press stories about what US execs are doing about diversity, how they feel about the differences of the UK TV writing model andwhy they think the BBC should be protected.

One of this year’s star turns was Michael Ellenberg, HBO’s executive VP of programming, who gave some insight into what is coming up on the premium cabler in the near future. He showed the first promotional reel of Westworld, a remake of the 1973 movie that will star Anthony Hopkins, James Marsden, Thandie Newton and Jeffrey Wright. He also said the channel is getting close to finalising Vinyl, Martin Scorsese’s hotly anticipated drama about the A&R scene in the 1970s.

Sticking with the subject of movie remakes, Amazon Studios has signed up to develop a TV series based on the 1999 sci-fi movie Galaxy Quest. For those who haven’t seen it, Galaxy Quest is an amusing film about a group of TV sci-fi actors who are abducted by aliens who think they are genuine space adventurers. In some ways it is a precursor to films like Land of the Lost and Guardians of the Galaxy. With Guardians proving to be such a huge film franchise, Amazon probably reasons that a TV version of Galaxy Quest can ride the coattails of this kind of retro-comedy sci-fi concept.

Other interesting greenlights this week include the news that ABC is backing a ballet-themed comedy drama to be written and executive produced by Liz Heldens (Mercy), with Sue Naegle also on board as an exec producer. The origin of this one is a C4 reality series that focused on 18 amateur, plus-sized dancers, many of whom were told they were too fat to dance when they were young. The scripted show is expected to have the feel of Billy Elliott, but has presumably also been made possible by the love directed towards Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) in the recent Pitch Perfect film franchise.

VH1 has pulled the plug on Hindsight
VH1 has pulled the plug on Hindsight
News out of Germany this week is that leading producer Christian Becker and Beta Film are joining forces to revive Western series Winnetou. Based on the best-selling books by Karl May, Winnetou became a series of cult movies in the 1960s. The new 3×90’ version will air on RTL in Germany while Beta will launch the production to the global market at Mipcom next month.

Finally, proof that TV is a cruel world came this week with VH1’s decision to cancel its scripted show Hindsight, despite previously having greenlit it to season two. The channel said: “Scripted series have been a successful part of VH1’s primetime line-up since 2010 and will continue to be in the future. We love Hindsight and couldn’t be more proud of the series. But in this overcrowded and rapidly changing climate, we need to carve out VH1’s distinct place in the scripted marketplace and deliver the biggest audiences possible for our series.

“As a result, we’re no longer moving forward with a second season of the show. We’re so appreciative of show creator Emily Fox, the cast and the teams and look forward to working with them again.” Reports suggest that the production team is looking for a new home for the show.

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NBC continues age of Aquarius

NBC took a 'unique approach' to delivering Aquarius
NBC is pleased with the results of its ‘unique approach’ to delivering Aquarius

NBC has greenlit a second season of its 1960s-set drama Aquarius, starring David Duchovny as an LAPD cop on the hunt for Charles Manson. The renewal follows an innovative launch strategy, which saw Aquarius become the first broadcast series to be streamed in its entirety following its debut, with NBC making all 12 episodes available online for the four weeks following the initial NBC telecast.

NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke said: “With its riveting drama and innovative release strategy, Aquarius has excited the critics, hooked millions of viewers and energised our summer. It’s no secret that the way people watch television is evolving, so we took a unique approach to how we delivered Aquarius. It has driven some record numbers for NBC Digital and helped us reach viewers who might have otherwise overlooked a great summer drama.”

Robert Hayes, exec VP of NBC Entertainment Digital, added: “Beyond generating impressive view totals, the network’s release strategy with Aquarius helped us gain new insights into viewership patterns, bingeing behaviour and social engagement, expanding our knowledge of how people are watching our shows online.”

At the time of writing, Aquarius is six episodes into its first run and doesn’t seem to have suffered from NBC’s novel release approach. Traditional broadcasts of Aquarius are averaging a 1.2 rating in adults aged 18 to 49 and 5.8 million viewers overall. The show is also indexing well in time-shifted viewing and has generated a steady stream of social media requests in support of renewal.

The success of the series owes a lot to Duchovny, who continues to be one of the most bankable TV series stars. After almost a decade as male lead in The X-Files, he fronted Showtime’s Californication for seven seasons until 2014. With Aquarius proving that Duchovny hasn’t lost his mojo, it will add to the excitement around the upcoming revival of The X-Files (which will also star the equally reliable Gillian Anderson).

The renewal is welcome news for ITV Studios Global Entertainment, which has invested heavily in the distribution rights to US scripted series over the last couple of years. It has already done a deal with Seven Network in Australia for Aquarius but will now be better placed to do business with more episodes.

Arthur Conan Doyle (left) and Houdini are heading to ITV Encore
Arthur Conan Doyle (left) and Houdini are heading to ITV Encore

The last week has also seen yet another commission rooted in the literary mythology surrounding Arthur Conan Doyle and his iconic creation Sherlock Holmes. With the character sufficiently mined via the BBC’s excellent TV series Sherlock, Guy Ritchie’s recent movies and the upcoming Ian McKellen film Mr. Holmes (all that’s left is Sherlock – Boy Detective, though even that is probably in development somewhere), attention has turned to Doyle himself.

First came ITV miniseries Arthur & George (adapted from the Julian Barnes novel) and now we have Houdini and Doyle, a 10-part crime series for ITV Encore that is being executive produced by House creator David Shore. It has been written and created by David Hoselton along with Canadian screenwriter David Titcher.

The notion of a link between Houdini and Doyle was explored in the 1997 movie FairyTale: A True Story, though the ITV Encore series will need to use a fair amount of poetic licence to fill out a 10-part crime series. The show is a coproduction between the UK’s Big Talk Productions and Canada’s Shaftesbury, with Sony Pictures Television handling international distribution. The series will air on Global in Canada and Fox in the US, as well as ITV Encore in the UK.

Meanwhile, Amazon has underlined its faith in critically acclaimed transgender comedy drama Transparent by greenlighting a third season before the second season goes to air. As part of the announcement, Amazon also said it has signed a deal with Transparent creator Jill Soloway to develop more projects.

Transparent, starring Jeffrey Tambor as its transgender central character
Transparent, starring Jeffrey Tambor as its transgender central character

“Jill is truly a creative force and I’m thrilled we will be collaborating with her on additional projects in the future and on a third season of Transparent,” said Amazon Studios VP Roy Price.

Soloway, whose other credits include Six Feet Under, added: “I am blown away by the creative freedom Amazon gives me and I can’t wait to reveal where this journey is going to take us.”

This week also saw US cable channel ABC Family greenlight a pilot called Guilt, a one-hour drama series about an American abroad in London who becomes the prime suspect in the murder of her roommate. Reminiscent of the Amanda Knox case, Guilt focuses on the investigation that unfolds after a savage murder – exploring whether the central character is a naive, young girl whose poor decisions are magnified by the British tabloid press or a sociopath who actually killed her friend.

“Guilt is a sophisticated, sexy and suspenseful crime epic that will have audiences captivated week to week,” said Karey Burke, exec VP of programming and development at ABC Family.

Like many of its US cable counterparts, ABC Family is investing more in original scripted series. Other projects in the works include Beyond, from the creator of Heroes, Tim Kring.

While most of the major production announcements in the US are made in the spring, mid-summer is when networks start to give more detail about their autumn launch plans. One of the most talked-about projects coming up this year is Scream Queens, executive produced by Glee co-creators Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan. The series, which will meld comedy, mystery and horror, is debuting with a two-hour special on September 22.

Scream Queens, from Glee co-creators Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan
Scream Queens, from Glee co-creators Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan

Fox summarises the series: “All hell is about to break loose on the Wallace University campus when, 20 years after a mysterious tragedy, a devil-clad killer begins to target the sisters of Kappa House. With at least one casualty each week until the mystery is solved, anyone could be the next victim – or the murderer.”

Scream Queens is part of a growing trend towards anthology series, seen elsewhere with titles like American Horror Story (which was created by Murphy and Falchuk), True Detective and Fargo. Its strong cast includes Emma Roberts (Scream 4), Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween), Lea Michele (Glee), Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine), Oliver Hudson (Nashville), Nick Jonas (Kingdom) and pop star Ariana Grande. Early social media buzz suggests Fox will have a hit on its hands.

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