Tag Archives: Howard Burch

A-nother Word

Howard Burch, creative director of scripted at prodco Keshet UK, looks at the challenge of repeating the success of hit drama The A Word with its forthcoming second season and discusses the development process behind the follow-up.

The first series of The A Word was a standout success, attracting a consolidated average audience of 5.5 million and a 22% share on BBC1 in 2016. It also aired on SundanceTV in the US, which is also the US broadcaster for season two.

What can one hope for with a second season of a successful show? That it expands on the original? That it whets the audience’s appetite for more? Maybe even that it is better than the first? Or simply that it doesn’t disappoint a loyal audience eager for more?

Produced by Fifty Fathoms and Keshet UK, and based on an original Israeli series by Keren Margalit called Yellow Peppers, The A Word is about a messy extended family living in the Lake District, whose youngest son, Joe, just happens to be on the autistic spectrum.

The A Word centres on an autistic boy Joe (Max Vento) and his family

But in writer Peter Bowker’s assured hands, the drama is never issue-led or ‘about’ autism. Audiences flocked to it because it was warm, accessible and light-hearted – and with a great soundtrack to boot!

The second season, coming to BBC1 and SundanceTV this autumn, picks up on events two years on – and Joe, played by Max Vento, is changing. Now seven years old, he has begun to look at the world and finds that he doesn’t fit in. It revisits the funny, mixed-up lives of the Hughes and Scott families as they struggle to do their best as parents, carers and lovers… and to work out what’s really important in the face of nothing ever feeling normal.

Bowker explains: “‘Autistic’ is a word Joe has heard but can’t yet understand. ‘Different’ is what he feels, and fears it might be something bad. It’s up to the whole family to help Joe make sense of who he is and his place in the world. But to do that, they must first be honest about themselves.”

The team, including executive producers Patrick Spence, Marcus Wilson and producer Jenny Frayn, again consulted with various bodies such as the National Autism Society and Anna Kennedy Online to make sure the scripts feel authentic. But the series has never tried to be reflective of every experience of autism in the family. It tells the story of every family through the prism of one family struggling to come to terms with their son’s unexpected diagnosis.

Lee Ingleby and Morven Christie play Joe’s parents

“Peter Bowker has extensive experience of working with families with children with autism and was able to draw on this wealth of knowledge to create a detailed and truthful portrait of a family with a child with autism at its heart,” says producer Frayn. “As well as drawing on Peter’s experience, we also spoke to a number of organisations involved in autism, as well as parents of children with autism. We kept in touch with them after the first series aired and we were pleased by the support we received and the largely very positive feedback.”

For the first season, we filmed in Manchester and the Lake District, just as Storm Desmond brought record rainfall to the North West. For the second season, we were blessed with calmer conditions, partly because filming was pushed back to the spring and summer of 2017. “Although, the weather in the Lake District doesn’t follow the typical laws of the seasons,” notes Frayn. “We started filming in March with snow on the hilltops, and in June we faced torrential rain and high winds.

“We tried to film a fell-running festival with outdoor stalls, people in skimpy running gear and young children licking ice-creams as tents were being blown away and rain lashed the bouncy castle. The cast and crew were all real troopers about coping with the weather, but in the end we had to come back on a sunnier day and stage the fell-running festival all over again. It looked glorious.”

One of the ingredients new to this season is an even greater verisimilitude. “A brilliant illustration of this,” says Wilson, “was the sequence in the special school. We took Max and his on-screen parents Morven Christie and Lee Ingleby into a real special-school classroom to film Joe’s first day because we wanted to portray an authentic environment.

The series also features former Doctor Who star Christopher Eccleston

“Producer Jenny and location manager Gary Barnes liaised in detail to work out exactly how this could be achieved by integrating a small documentary-style crew into the classroom and letting real-life action unfold around our characters. We had to make sure we were incredibly sensitive to the needs of the class and teachers, making sure they were comfortable with the equipment and that lighting and sound and all the usual noises of a set were attuned to what the class could cope with.

“Director Sue Tully managed the set beautifully, whispering directions and capturing genuine moments. To ensure the families felt comfortable with what was shot, Jenny [showed footage] to parents and teachers and discussed what we were trying to achieve and whether they were confident about what was seen in each shot.”

The show has sold around the globe, via our distribution arm Keshet International, to countries including Canada, Australia, Finland, Iceland, Croatia, Slovenia, Sweden, Brazil and South Korea, as well as a second-window VoD rights deal to Amazon Prime Video in the US. The series is proving over and over again how relatable and important it is, perhaps because it just really resonates with people – we all have a family, and families all have challenges to overcome. So it’s with comfort and pride that we envisage more viewers around the world watching something so worthwhile.

Hopefully viewers will find this season an even deeper and more rewarding experience than the first. As with any returning series, the writers and creators know the actors they are writing for and can play to their strengths. But, crucially, both cast and crew have spent longer in each other’s company, and that feeling of being one big, unconventional and sometimes fractious but mostly harmonious family filters through in every scene.

tagged in: , , , , , , ,

Fully Loaded

Keshet UK’s head of drama Howard Burch reveals the story behind Channel 4 and AMC comedy-drama Loaded, about four friends who suddenly become millionaires.

In the motoring industry, they call it ‘platform sharing.’ If you’re driving a Mercedes M-Class, you are essentially driving a Jeep Grand Cherokee. The two vehicles may look very different, but they share the same ‘platform,’ or chassis. Underneath its sleek skin, the Cherokee is really a highly modified M-Class, sharing the latter’s efficient structure and sophisticated suspension.

Such sharing is common practice throughout the car industry and it’s becoming more and more successful in the scripted TV business too. Reformatting foreign series – taking the ‘chassis’ of a foreign hit and remodelling it for a domestic market – has exploded since the success of Homeland, which was based on the ground-breaking Keshet drama Prisoners of War.

Howard Burch

For the automotive business, it’s a way of saving money and sharing expertise, whereas in the TV industry it’s about tapping into and exploiting an engaging narrative that has already undergone a considerable development process – and, in most cases, a sizeable bit of audience research.

Outside of novel adaptations or true stories, the overseas scripted series market is yet another stone to look under for homegrown hits. The US has a long history of taking foreign shows – even English-language programmes – and remaking them for a domestic audience, and now British and European broadcasters are doing the same.

The Bridge begat Sky’s The Tunnel, Keshet’s Yellow Peppers led to the BBC’s The A Word, and Channel 4’s Humans is the bastard offspring of the Swedish show Real Humans.

Some reformats are virtual cut-and-paste copies of their overseas progenitors, with London replacing Stockholm or Berlin and English dialogue replacing cumbersome and mainstream audience-averse Hebrew or French subtitles. Others are more thorough overhauls, where the kernel or key concept at the core of the foreign series is kept but the local adaptor brings their own unique creative vision to the characters, setting and themes.

A case in point is our new comedy-drama Loaded, based on the hit Keshet show Mesudarim, which was written by Muli Segev and Assaf Harel. The UK series, which launches tonight and is distributed by Keshet International, is a coproduction between Keshet UK, Hillbilly Television, Channel 4 and US cable network AMC, which will air the show later this year. It is written by Jon Brown, whose other credits include Veep, Fresh Meat and Babylon.

Loaded’s original premise is universal but now it feels uniquely British, with the show tackling the awkwardness and first-world problems that arise when you become a millionaire in your early 30s.

Loaded centres on four friends and colleagues who strike it rich after selling their business

Jim Howick, Samuel Anderson, Jonny Sweet and Nick Helm play the four tech entrepreneurs and childhood friends who become millionaires overnight when they sell their start-up video game company. Mary McCormack co-stars as the VP of acquisitions at the firm’s new parent company.

Keshet UK is very much a fully fledged indie, producing and developing original ideas. However, when Loaded was initially being developed as an adaption for the British market, we looked towards a coproduction, as we did with The A Word. After a small but select beauty contest of potential suitors, we decided to work with the Bafta-winning Hillbilly Television on the series. Their response to the brief was the most exciting and they already had an existing relationship with Jon Brown.

Working with Polly Leys and Kate Norrish from Hillbilly was a truly collaborative process, with terrific input from both Roberto Troni and Lee Mason at Channel 4, as well as our inspirational and supportive co-exec Kristin Jones at AMC. Throw in an experienced producer and three directors, and you end up with a lot of voices around the table, but luckily there was consensus on the big decisions. Many an hour was spent off-set discussing what was funny, what worked, what moved – and whether a Toby jug would mean anything to anybody in America.

Leys says: “We loved Mesudarim when we saw it and thought it had real potential as a change format. The setup of four ordinary blokes running their own company, which sells for millions, was a starting point we really connected to. It was warm, funny and a great way to explore male friendship. But we knew we couldn’t do a line-by-line adaptation, it just wouldn’t have translated.

The show debuts on Channel 4 in the UK tonight

“For a start, we have less sunshine than Israel and the British have very idiosyncratic attitudes to money and success. Instead, we took the premise and told our showrunner [Jon Brown] to go in whichever direction he wanted. Apart from the running time [original episodes were 30 minutes as opposed to our 60 minutes], one of the other key differences is that we were very keen to boost the female characters. It was great to work with Keshet UK on this, who trusted us completely and helped us create a fresh, original series. Together, we’re really proud of the resulting show.”

Some foreign shows are never going to travel far beyond their own borders, because they are too culturally specific or parochial. Humour, we are forever being told, plays differently in different territories. But a good idea is a good idea the world over and, in an age of a voracious global appetite for more and more varied dramas and comedies from an explosion of buyers both domestic and international, having access to an overseas scripted catalogue is proving to be a godsend.

It’s not the be-all and end-all, and local broadcasters are always going to want to pick and choose, balancing the number of reformats and adaptations on their schedules with original pieces from home-grown voices. But at the end of the day, a successful reformat is always going to be packaged and sold to the consumer as a wholly original series. The average viewer isn’t going to know where the series came from or how it has evolved. As a must-see drama, it simply needs to excite and appeal, as would a shiny new car in a showroom.

Look beneath the bonnet, however, and you might spot that your Audi A3 shares more similarities to the Skoda Octavia than you first thought.

tagged in: , , , ,