Tag Archives: ITV Encore

YouTube takes scripted Step

Channing Tatum and wife Jenna Dewan Tatum in the Step Up movie
Channing Tatum and wife Jenna Dewan Tatum in the Step Up movie

The scripted TV business received another boost this week with the news that YouTube has moved into original scripted programming for the first time.

Unveiling a slate of six shows across a range of genres, it revealed that its paid-for service YouTube Red has ordered a TV adaptation of Step Up, the popular street dance movie franchise that featured Channing Tatum.

The series, to be made by Lionsgate TV, will follow dancers in a contemporary performing arts school. Tatum and Jenna Dewan Tatum, who starred in the original movie, will executive produce.

So far, the US$10-per-month service has focused on shows starring top YouTubers such as Felix Kjellberg, aka PewDiePie. However, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki has given a strong indication that scripted content will play an increasingly big part in her plans.

Unveiling the slate, which also included a scripted comedy called Rhett & Link’s Buddy System, she said original series and movies are one of the leading drivers of YouTube Red subscriptions, “with viewership that rivals similar cable shows.” Interestingly, more than half of people watching Red originals are doing so via mobile phones – suggesting there may be a future for vertical video.

The Frankenstein Chronicles stars Sean Bean (centre)
ITV Encore’s The Frankenstein Chronicles stars Sean Bean (centre)

Still in the world of streamers, SVoD behemoth Netflix announced that it is backing a true crime drama based on Margaret Atwood’s novel Alias Grace.

The novel follows Grace Marks, a poor Irish immigrant and domestic servant living in Canada who, along with stablehand James McDermott, was convicted in 1843 of murdering her employers. The six-part miniseries will be written and produced by Sarah Polley and will air on Canadian public broadcaster CBC in Canada. Netflix will stream it worldwide.

Also this week, JJ Abrams’ production company Bad Robot has linked up with US talkshow host Tavis Smiley on a miniseries about the death of music icon Michael Jackson.

The series is based on Smiley’s book Before You Judge Me: The Triumph and Tragedy of Michael Jackson’s Last Days. Abrams and Smiley are also working on a TV version of the Smiley’s 2014 book Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s Final Year.

Elsewhere, it has been a busy week for ITV’s pay TV channel ITV Encore, which has announced a series renewal and a miniseries commission. The renewal is for Rainmark Films’ well-received period drama The Frankenstein Chronicles, which stars Sean Bean and was created by Benjamin Ross and Barry Langford.

Billed as a “thrilling and terrifying reimaging of the Frankenstein story,” the first season followed detective John Marlott, a veteran of the Battle of Waterloo who was battling his own demons and is haunted by the loss of his wife and child. In pursuit of a chilling and diabolical killer, Marlott’s investigation took him into the most exalted rooms and darkest corners of Georgian London, a world of body snatchers, anatomists and scientists whose interests came together in the market for dead bodies.

The new series has been commissioned for ITV by controller of drama Victoria Fea and commissioning editor Sarah Conroy. Production is set to begin in Northern Ireland in January 2017.

Suffer the Children is being adapted into a series called Dark Heart
Suffer the Children is being adapted into a series called Dark Heart

“We are thrilled to be working once more with Sean Bean in the role of John Marlott, who is a returning hero like no other,” said executive producer Tracey Scoffield. “With the continued support of ITV and (the show’s distributor) Endemol Shine International we want to be more ambitious than ever.”

ITV also announced a new two-hour crime thriller for ITV Encore entitled Dark Heart. In this production, Tom Riley (Da Vinci’s Demon, Monroe) plays Will Wagstaffe, a workaholic detective leading the investigation into the deaths of two unconvicted paedophiles.

The two-hour drama, set in London, is written by acclaimed writer Chris Lang (Unforgotten, A Mother’s Son) and based on the novel Suffer the Children by Adam Creed.

Dark Heart is an ITV Studios production for ITV Encore. It is executive produced by Lang, Kate Bartlett (Jericho, Vera) and Michael Dawson (Vera, Holby City). The producer is Chris Clough (The Missing, Stan Lee’s Lucky Man) and the director is Colin Teague (Jekyll & Hyde, Da Vinci’s Demons).

ITV Studios’ Bartlett said: “Chris Lang has written a truly compelling and atmospheric script. Adam Creed created a fascinating character in Will Wagstaffe with so many layers, and Chris has brilliantly brought him to screen. We’re thrilled Tom Riley is playing him.”

Still on the subject of novel adaptations, there are reports this week that Endemol Shine-owned drama label Kudos has picked up the rights to Robert Harris’s best-selling Ancient Rome-based Cicero Trilogy, which comprises the novels Imperium, Lustrum and Dictator. No broadcaster is attached and Kudos is yet to decide on the format of the adaptation, but the project is likely to attract interest given the calibre of those involved.

Das Boot the movie was released in 1981
Das Boot the movie was released in 1981

In a busy week for new production announcements, pan-European satellite broadcaster Sky and Germany’s Bavaria Film announced that they are developing a €25m (US$27.5m) TV series based on the classic wartime submariner novels Das Boot and Die Festung by Lothar-Günther Buchheim. The series is being set up as a sequel to the 1981 film version of Buchmein’s novels.

Set in 1942 during the Second World War, the eight-hour series will focus mainly on the German point of view as submarine warfare became increasingly ferocious. Tony Saint (Margaret Thatcher: The Long Walk to Finchley, The Interceptor) and Johannes W Betz (The Tunnel, The Spiegel Affair) have been signed up as head writers, while Oliver Vogel and Moritz Polter are attached as executive producers.

Christian Franckenstein, CEO of Bavaria Film, said: “The 1981 film Das Boot is unique, and we are approaching our work with the greatest of respect for this masterpiece. We want to build on the strong brand of Das Boot, telling the story in a contemporary manner by making use of every filmmaking and storytelling technique available to us.”

Still in Germany, UFA Fiction has just unveiled plans to make a film biopic based on the lives of magicians Siegfried and Roy, two of the few truly global celebrities Germany has ever produced.

Siegfried & Roy
Siegfried & Roy

The film, which will likely be extended into a miniseries for television, will be directed by Philipp Stölzl (Winnetou, Young Goethe in Love, North Face) and scripted by Jan Berger.

Nico Hofmann, UFA producer and co-CEO, commented: “The prospect of working with Siegfried and Roy is the fulfilment of a long-held dream. It’s not only the story of two Germans who became world famous but a plunge into the world of magic and illusion. The lifework of Siegfried and Roy derives from an almost inexhaustible store of energy and creativity. This is the story of two men who set new, never repeated standards in the tough world of show business.”

Siegfried Fischbacher and Roy Uwe Horn met on a cruise ship in 1960, where they developed their first joint show, driven by their shared passion for the art of magic and illusion. They had their international breakthrough in 1966 at a charity show in Monte Carlo. From 1990, they had their own show at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas featuring white tigers, which became their trademark. The spectacular Siegfried and Roy Show was one of the most elaborate stage shows ever. On October 3, 2003, however, the artists’ unique career was brought to an abrupt halt when Roy was critically injured by his favourite tiger, Montecore.

Alongside all of the above production activity, it has also been a busy week for distributors. ITV’s Maigret has been sold by distributor BBC Worldwide to broadcasters including Channel One in Russia, NRK in Norway, TVNZ in New Zealand, RTÉ in Ireland, Finland’s YLE and Prima TV in the Czech Republic. Simultaneously, StudioCanal has sold Section Zéro to Channel One Russia.

AMC’s international network AMC Global, meanwhile, today announced that it has acquired the upcoming anthology drama series The Terror, an adaption of the bestselling novel by Dan Simmons. Scott Free, Emjag Productions and Entertainment 360 are producing the 10-episode drama, which will premiere globally within minutes of its broadcast on AMC in the US.

Is there still hope for Hannibal?
Is there still hope for Hannibal?

Written for TV by David Kajganich, the series is set in 1847, when a Royal Naval expedition crew searching for the Northwest Passage is attacked by a mysterious predator that stalks the ships and their crew in a desperate game of survival.

“We’re very excited to bring this gripping dramatic story to AMC Global,” commented Harold Gronenthal,  exec VP of programming and operations for AMC and Sundance Channel Global. “With a distinctive combination of science fiction and historical non-fiction, The Terror will complement AMC Global series as Fear the Walking Dead, Humans and Into the Badlands.”

Finally, there are reports this week that showrunner Bryan Fuller is still hoping to revive serial killer drama Hannibal. The show was cancelled by NBC after three seasons but Fuller said there might be room for a revival in late 2017 – once he has dealt with the small matter of a Star Trek reboot for CBS and Starz’ American Gods.

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The opium of the TV drama business

TV drama, for all its dynamism, is guilty of numerous clichés. One that pops up repeatedly is the portrayal of religious folk as friendless nut jobs, murderous psychopaths or boring killjoys.

Harlan Coben’s The Five and Sally Wainwright’s Happy Valley both placed credulous Christians with a soft spot for mass murderers at the heart of their plotlines, while the arch-villain in Steven Knight’s Peaky Blinders is a Catholic priest (superbly played by Paddy Considine) who would have made the Spanish Inquisition squirm – though to be fair to Knight, he also deploys religion very skillfully in his story through the use of former Quaker Linda.

There are three reasons for TV’s reliance on this trope. The first is the growing belief in secular societies that anyone who sincerely adheres to a monotheistic creationist stance is naïve at best, delusional at worst. This Richard Dawkins-inspired view of the world is then used to create caricature believers.

The second is that the image of a badass in a dog collar still seems to enthrall writers and audiences. Sometimes, this is because it addresses the duplicity of evil masquerading as good. At other times, it is because it can act as the catalyst for a story about divine retribution.

And the third is that ordinary believers – the kind who help in soup kitchens and save starving people – don’t make great TV. When not being used to cause mayhem or spout evangelical inanities, people of faith are anal, oppositional forces to main characters in TV drama who are typically much more morally ambivalent.

Whatever the creative rationale for the TV industry’s portrayal of contemporary religion, it continues to have a big influence on content – as we can see from the following scripted series. And to be fair to the TV sector, it doesn’t always do a bad job.

Preacher-smallPreacher: This new 10-part AMC production is based on a comic book series by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. Adapted for TV by Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen and Sam Caitlin, it tells the story of a small-town preacher who becomes possessed by an alien entity. He then sets off on a mission to find God, accompanied by an Irish vampire. This is an example of the badass preacher trope that stretches all the way back to Clint Eastwood in Pale Rider.

greenleafsmallGreenleaf: Launching on June 21, Greenleaf is an Oprah Winfrey-backed production for the Oprah Winfrey Network. It follows the unscrupulous world of the Greenleaf family, which runs a Memphis megachurch with predominantly African-American members. The series was created by Craig Wright, who is known for his work on series like Six Feet Under and Lost. Wright has a Masters in Divinity from the United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cites, so it will be interesting to see how he handles this subject matter. Oprah is already fending off critics of the show’s controversial subject matter, which is expected to cover dubious tax arrangements, marital infidelity, sexual abuse cover-ups and the extraordinary wealth of some megachurch ministers. In a recent interview, she said: “I am not going to do anything that disrespects the church. I am sitting where I am today because of the black church.”

hand-of-god-amazon-smallHand of God: An Amazon series starring Ron Perlman, Hand of God is the story of a corrupt judge who suffers a breakdown and believes God is compelling him onto a path of vigilante justice. Created by Ben Watkins, it received a second season order in December 2015 despite modest reviews and feedback. This one is a kind of hybrid delusional/kick-ass Christian setup.

midwinterMidwinter of the Spirit: Based on the books by Phil Rickman, Midwinter of the Spirit is a three-part drama that first aired on ITV Encore. Adapted by Stephen Volk, it’s actually not a bad portrayal of a Christian central character. It tells the story of a divorced female priest who works as an exorcist while struggling to bring up her increasingly rebellious teenage daughter. Anna Maxwell Martin does a nice job as the protagonist.

Seth-Gilliam-the-walking-dead-lgsmallThe Walking Dead: Such a good series for so many reasons, The Walking Dead (created by Robert Kirkman, with Scott M Gimple the showrunner) has explored the notion of faith very well in the shape of Father Gabriel Stokes, who has managed to retain his faith despite the unfortunate emergence of a zombie apocalypse. His human failings are apparent in the early series but are not really used as a way of attacking the notion of faith-based philosophies. He finds a way to develop human strength without relinquishing his faith.

Adam-PricesmallRides Upon the Storm: From Borgen creator Adam Price (pictured), this promises to be an insightful exploration of faith in modern society. Centred on a Protestant priest, “it’s a show that uses personal faith as the motivation of the action,” says Price. “I’ve always been interested in and puzzled by religion. It has had such a terrifying impact on the politics of the world in the last 15 years that I wanted to make a show that tries to understand it. I’ve always found that things that puzzle you can serve as the topic of compelling stories. For me, it is about satisfying curiosity.”

the-path-aaron-paul-image_1531.0.0The Path: A Hulu series starring Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad), The Path follows a man who is part of a cult that follows a fictional religion called Meyerism. It focuses on his crisis of faith and the cult’s increasingly paranoid relationship with its members and the world. The recently renewed show is written by a team headed by Jessica Goldberg, who also created it.

exorcist-tv-seriesThe Exorcist: A TV adaptation of the iconic movie, The Exorcist was picked up as a series by Fox on May 10. The pilot, written by Jeremy Slater, was described as “a serialised psychological thriller following two very different men tackling one family’s case of horrifying demonic possession, and confronting the face of true evil.” If this is anything like the film then the priests won’t come out of this too badly, subject to the usual human frailties.

leftoverssmallThe Leftovers: HBO’s acclaimed series is widely acknowledged to be a serious exploration of religion. Based on the book by Tom Perrotta, it explores what happens when 2% of the world’s population suddenly disappears. Christopher Eccleston excels as a minister who tries to reconcile the event with his own belief system. Not surprisingly, various cults arise in the aftermath of the event including a sinister group called The Guilty Remnant. Perrotta created the TV series alongside Damon Lindelof.

vikings-ragnar-rollosmallVikings: What is Vikings doing in here, you may ask? Well, there is a general unease among Christians about the way they are portrayed in Michael Hirst’s History channel series. The complaint is well summarised by the Catholic Herald, which explores the way in which audiences seem to prefer bad behaviour to moral rectitude. Somewhere in here there is a more general point about crisis of confidence in all institutions.

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BBC reveals diverse slate

David Nicholls' Us
David Nicholls’ Us is being adapted by Nick Payne

The BBC last week renewed its commitment to Steven Knight’s acclaimed 1920s gangster series Peaky Blinders with a two-season order.

But that was actually just one of a number of scripted announcements from the UK public broadcaster. There was also a renewal for The A Word, based on an Israeli format from Keshet, and a raft of new series and single drama announcements.

The most high profile of the new productions is Us, an adaptation of David Nicholls’ most recent novel of the same name. The book will be adapted by Nick Payne and produced by Drama Republic.

As for the single dramas, Tony Jordan is writing a show about Barbara Windsor, the Cockney actress who came to fame in the Carry On films and then became a regular fixture on EastEnders. Entitled Babs, the drama will be produced by BBC Studios in association with Red Planet Pictures.

Windsor said: “Although it’s been spoken about in the past to do my life story, it wasn’t until two years ago, when I was approached by the brilliant writer Tony Jordan and the BBC, that I knew this was the right time, and undoubtedly the only person I felt knew me well enough to tell my story. Tony knows the real me and what makes me tick, and I was particularly taken by the way he wants to tell my tale, which is not in the way people will expect. Tony certainly has captured the moments of my life that have made me who I am today. I am honoured and excited that Tony and the BBC have commissioned this.”

Barbara Windsor
Barbara Windsor

Jordan added: “The opportunity to tell the story of the amazing Barbara Windsor was too good to miss. I think people will be surprised there’s a lot more to her than just the Carry On Films and EastEnders. She was starring in movies and was a star of the theatre long before any of those things came along. In the Sixties, she was nominated for a Bafta for her work in the film Sparrows Can’t Sing, and a Tony award after appearing on Broadway. There’s a reason that, as a nation, we’ve all taken Barbara to our hearts. I think it is because she’s always been one of us, never forgetting where she came from – that combination of someone in the business with the highest level of professionalism, but without the airs and graces to go with it. She’s a national treasure and one of the most remarkable women I’ve met.”

For BBC2, there will be an adaptation of Sathnam Sanghera’s memoir The Boy with the Topknot, produced by Parti Productions and Kudos. Set in Wolverhampton, the series tells the humorous, touching and emotional story of a second-generation Indian growing up in Britain, exploring how he juggles his family, love life and career.

Sanghera commented: “I’m delighted that The Boy with the Topknot is being adapted for screen. Delighted and a little trepidatious. The latter because the book is a personal exposition of my childhood and family, and delighted because it’s a story I want people to know about and understand. I feel confident the BBC and Parti, along with Kudos, will handle the themes explored in the book with great warmth and sensitivity, because ultimately my family’s story is one of hope.”

The Boy With the Topknot
The Boy With the Topknot is being made into a series for BBC2

Charlotte Moore, the BBC’s acting director of TV, said: “Following BBC Drama’s tremendous start to the year, it is clear audiences are looking for greater ambition and high quality. So I’m announcing a mix of contemporary, provocative pieces and surprising stories, with three new titles and two returning series.”

On the streaming front, Amazon is set to launch two new pilots on June 17. The first, which has been discussed since late last year, is The Last Tycoon, based on F Scott Fitzgerald’s last unfinished novel. Starring Matt Bomer, the show will be available in multiple markets including the US, UK, Germany, Austria and Japan (it was previously a movie starring Robert De Niro in 1976). The other new pilot is The Interestings, based on the book by Meg Wolitzer. This one stars Lauren Ambrose and tells the story of a group of summer-camp friends over the course of their lives.

Hulu, meanwhile, has teamed up with ITV in the UK on a new series called Harlots, which is set in the world of the 18th century London sex trade. The eight-parter, produced by Monumental Pictures, will air on ITV Encore in the UK and stars Samantha Morton as a woman struggling to reconcile her roles as a mother and a brothel owner.

Harlots is written by Moira Buffini, based on an original idea by her and Alison Newman. “In 1760s London, there were brothels on every corner run by women who were both enterprising and tenacious,” said Monumental co-founder Alison Owen. “History has largely ignored them, but their stories are outrageous, brutal, humorous and real.”

The show is the latest in a line of originations involving ITV Encore, others including The Frankenstein Chronicles, Midwinter of the Spirit and Houdini & Doyle. The show will be distributed outside the US and UK by ITV Studios Global Entertainment.

Other streaming news this week included the announcement that the European Commission may impose a 20% local-content quota on streaming services like Amazon and Netflix. The move is aimed at preserving cultural diversity and supporting European production. On the face of it, this is good news for European producers, though it has the potential to increase the streamers’ content costs.

To Be a Better Man
To Be a Better Man centres on a Chinese chef

Netflix, which has recently started investing in original European content, is unhappy about the move, saying it would distort the streaming market and adversely impact on its personalised recommendation service. It added: “Rigid numerical quotas risk suffocating the market for on-demand audiovisual services. An obligation to carry content to meet a numerical quota may cause new players to struggle to achieve a sustainable business model. The focus should be on incentivising the production of European content and not imposing quotas.”

In Asia, Fox Networks Group Asia has signed a deal with Linmon Pictures to broadcast Chinese romantic drama series To Be a Better Man to viewers across the region. The show will air on general entertainment service Star Chinese Channel the same day as in China.

The 42-part series follows the story of a tough Chinese chef working at a three-star Michelin restaurant in the US. After his best friend is killed in a car accident, he returns to China with his remains and gets embroiled in various problems. To Be a Better Man was written by Li Xiao and directed by Zhang Xiao Bo.

Finally, there was more bad news this week for US movie spin-off projects. After Rush Hour and Damien were shut down last week, Limitless has become the latest casualty. This CBS show, spun off from the Bradley Cooper movie of the same name, started well but faded badly in the second half of its run.

Next autumn in the US will see the launch of new spin-offs from Training Day, Lethal Weapon, The Exorcist, Time After Time and Frequency. Presumably if this batch fares as badly as the class of 2015/2016 then the networks will need to have a rethink.

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Houdini & Doyle conjures tepid response

Houdini & Doyle stars Stephen Mangan (left) and Michael Weston
ITV Encore’s Houdini & Doyle stars Stephen Mangan (left) and Michael Weston

UK commercial broadcaster ITV launched pay TV channel ITV Encore in June 2014. Available exclusively on DTH platform Sky, the drama-exclusive channel is part of ITV’s attempt to build a stronger presence in the subscription TV business.

Much of ITV Encore is made up of repeats of shows that have previously aired on the flagship channel (Downton Abbey, Vera, Poirot). But in a bid to woo new viewers, Encore also airs the occasional original series or first-run acquisition.

Recent examples have included The Frankenstein Chronicles, Midwinter of the Spirit, Gracepoint, Jordskott and The Americans (though this one, a US acquisition from Fox, actually started out on ITV).

Another new show currently airing on ITV Encore is Houdini & Doyle, a Canadian-British coproduction that imagines that escapologist Harry Houdini and Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle teamed up to solve crimes together. Not a bad idea as far as it goes, but one that is not getting much exposure among UK viewers. With just a couple of episodes to go, it is attracting an audience of around 90,000 to 100,000 (based on BARB’s seven-day data).

This isn’t especially the fault of the show – which is actually ITV Encore’s top-rated programme at present. For some reason, the channel is not making much of an inroad with Sky’s subscriber base.

To put it in perspective, in the last week of April, Houdini & Doyle attracted 96,000 viewers compared with 2.2 million for Sky Atlantic’s top-rated drama Game of Thrones. If that comparison seems a little unfair, then it’s also worth noting that Sky1’s top-rated drama was The Flash (917,000), Fox UK’s was NCIS (909,000), Sky Living’s was Elementary (808,000) and 5USA’s was The Mysteries of Laura (574,000). Houdini & Doyle’s audience was actually lower than factual entertainment shows on Discovery and Lifetime.

Indian Summers has been cancelled after its ratings fell sharply in its second run on Channel 4
Indian Summers has been cancelled after its ratings fell sharply in its second run on Channel 4

ITV could argue that the channel is quite new (only two years old) and that competition in the UK pay TV market is intense. But its cross-promotion from its flagship channel (and others in its portfolio) ought to be having more of an impact.

So what conclusions can we draw? Well, it looks like ITV has two choices. Firstly, it could really invest in making ITV Encore a competitor to the channels mentioned above. This would require more investment in original programming and acquisitions, so that viewers would routinely check the channel on the EPG.

At the moment there simply isn’t enough new content flowing through Encore to make it a habit. To illustrate this point, the fact that The Walking Dead airs on Fox at 21.00 means I am now in the habit of looking at Fox for new shows, which is how I discovered 11.22.63. In a similar vein, Sky Atlantic’s Fortitude was the reason I went on to discover The Affair.

I’ve also watched The Frankenstein Chronicles and Midwinter of the Spirit but not found enough additional content on ITV Encore to develop the same kind of brand engagement (there’s actually a kind of profile mismatch, since I have little interest in shows like Vera).

Of course, more heavyweight content is expensive. So an alternative would be to settle for a more modest proposal – in which case ITV would be better airing shows like Houdini & Doyle on the main commercial channel and then passing them on to ITV Encore as repeats. Houdini & Doyle is only getting around 20,000 more viewers than repeats of Vera on ITV Encore, so the broadcaster wouldn’t be losing much through this approach.

But what of the show itself? While the modest UK performance of Houdini & Doyle is primarily down to ITV Encore’s lack of traction, it has to be said that the series isn’t performing very well by other measures.

BBC has found a hit with The A Word, based on a Keshet format
BBC has found a hit with The A Word, based on a format from Israel’s Keshet

In the US, it has started slowly on Fox. With 2.6 million viewers for its opening episode and a poor response from 18-49s, it is one of the channel’s lowest performers of the year (about the same as Minority Report – and we know how that ended up). Combined with a low score on IMDb and some pretty poor reviews (see this one from The Telegraph), it looks like Houdini & Doyle will go the same way as Beowulf and Jekyll & Hyde.

While we’re on a downer, we may as well deal with the death of Channel 4’s £15m epic Indian Summers. C4 says it is “incredibly proud” of the show but took the decision to cancel it after the audience dropped from around three million in season one to 1.7 million in season two.

There has been a suggestion that the falling ratings are the result of tough competition from shows like The Night Manager. But the critics have, for the most part, responded negatively to the latest run. While they have enjoyed “the sumptuous settings,” the prevailing view is that it lacks substance and suffers from a plodding plot. Hopefully, though, there will be plenty of job offers for Nikesh Patel, who has soldiered on throughout the series as Aafrin Dalal.

For good news stories, we have to return to the BBC, which has been on fire this year. Its latest success story is The A Word, which chalked up a remarkably consistent audience of 5.5 million during its recent run on Tuesday nights at 21.00.

Adapted by Peter Bowker from a format by Israel’s Keshet, the show tells the story of a couple who learn their son is autistic. It has been warmly received by critics and is certain to pick up more format deals after its run in the UK.

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November reign: How did the now ex-ITV drama boss do?

Following Steve November’s exit from ITV, Stephen Arnell assesses his tenure as the commercial broadcaster’s head of drama.

The news of ITV drama director Steve November’s departure brought to a close the first stage of new ITV director of television Kevin Lygo’s shake-up of senior commissioning roles at the network.

For the commercial broadcaster, drama is the most important genre in terms of cost, peaktime value and ratings.

Although Lygo’s background is chiefly in entertainment (his skills will be crucial in reinvigorating that critical part of the schedule), one shouldn’t forget that he was, under pseudonym Ruby Solomon, the writer of the one-off comedy-drama Walter, commissioned and broadcast by BBC1 in 2014.

And when Lygo was Channel 4’s director of television and content, drama successes under his regime included Shameless, The Devil’s Whore, Skins, Elizabeth I, Dead Set and Any Human Heart.

With characteristic speed, Lygo poached BBC drama chief Polly Hill to replace November – no doubt fulfilling a dual purpose in both attracting proven talent and inconveniencing the BBC during a period when drama is its strongest genre.

So how should we assess November’s tenure at the helm of ITV drama?

November oversaw some expensive flops, including Jekyll & Hyde - but the show has been picked up abroad
November oversaw some expensive flops, including Jekyll & Hyde – but the show has been picked up overseas

He was very fortunate in inheriting a department in rude health thanks to the previous team of Laura Mackie (director) and Sally Haynes (controller), who were responsible for a slate of hits including Downton Abbey, Broadchurch, Whitechapel, Appropriate Adult, Mr Selfridge, Scott & Bailey and Vera – all contributing to ITV’s Channel of the Year win at the Edinburgh Television Festival in 2013.

The pair rescued ITV’s reputation for quality drama, which had taken a major hit under then ITV director of television Simon Shaps, when new series such as Rock Rivals, Harley Street, Demons, Brittania High, Moving Wallpaper, Echo Beach, The Royal Today and The Palace proved major disappointments for both viewers and critics.

At the same time, Shaps axed ratings bankers Foyle’s War and Rosemary & Thyme in an attempt to change perceptions of the then-beleaguered network.

Once Shaps left ITV in 2008, his successor Peter Fincham swiftly recommissioned Foyle’s War, which continued to enjoy healthy ratings until the series eventually ended last year.

November’s tenure hasn’t had the same level of critical or ratings success as the Mackie/Haynes era, but neither has it plumbed the depths of the Shaps years; so it’s more of a qualified success.

November (pictured top at last year’s C21 International Drama Summit) was dealt a good hand in inheriting shows that still had a lot of mileage left in them; the reception given to his commissions, however, was mixed.

November's tenure ended on a strong note with the launch of Marcella
November’s tenure ended on a strong note with the launch of Marcella

He enjoyed critical success with the likes of Peter Morgan’s The Lost Honour of Christopher Jeffries and Jeff Pope’s Lucan, while new commissions including the single film Cilla and the series Grantchester, Home Fires, Safe House, Prey, Unforgotten and Black Work all attracted strong ratings and broadly favourable notices.

All these achieved audiences high enough to warrant sophomore seasons.

The strong 6.4 million (29% share) debut enjoyed by The Durrells on Sunday, April 3 will give ITV hope for a long-running pre-watershed hit in the vein of the Darling Buds of May and Wild At Heart.

With a very healthy 6.1 million viewers (27.6% share) for it’s opening episode, Nordic Noir-style crime drama Marcella also gave November a high note on which to bid farewell to the network.

But balanced against these achievements were a run of high-profile misfires. The strategy of commissioning early-evening drama for a move into territory previously solely occupied by the BBC (Doctor Who, Atlantis, Merlin and Robin Hood) proved a costly misjudgement.

Both Jekyll & Hyde and Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands returned low ratings accompanied by poor reviews, with many feeling the dramas fell between the two stalls of early-evening and post-watershed drama; too adult in tone for younger viewers and too juvenile for more mature audiences.

One wonders if doubts were expressed during development over whether commissioning apparently family-friendly ‘light’ takes on Penny Dreadful (Jekyll & Hyde) and Game of Thrones (Beowulf) would work for the Sunday early-evening ITV audience, but other considerations no doubt came into play.

With US cable-style orders of 10 and 12 episodes respectively, the underperformance of Jekyll & Hyde and Beowulf left sizeable holes in ITV’s peaktime share.

Both shows found a home in North America, with Jekyll & Hyde on Canada’s CBC and Beowulf on The Esquire Network – both transmitted post-21.00.

Doctor Thorne was well received but struggled to compete against the BBC in the schedules
Doctor Thorne was well received but struggled to compete against the BBC in its slot

It appears unlikely that ITV will venture this far from its comfort zone in the near future, as the last attempt to crack the pre-watershed weekend drama market was also a bust – the aforementioned Britannia High (2008) and Demons (2009).

Some of November’s dramas also failed to connect with audiences over the most recent Christmas holidays, avalanched by the traditional dominance of BBC1 over the period, which appeared to be the case with both Harry Price: Ghost Hunter and Peter & Wendy, which were otherwise critically well received.

Period miniseries The Great Fire, which aired in 2014, was seen as an attempt by ITV to explore an area not usually associated with the channel, but unfortunately for the network, reviews and audiences were largely indifferent.

Scheduling has been a problem for ITV when launching new dramas, with BBC1 able to overwhelm the opposition with an unusually strong slate of shows. Midwinter of the Spirit was crushed by Doctor Foster, Jericho was taken out by established hit Death in Paradise and Doctor Thorne was similarly dealt with by the huge success of The Night Manager.

In some cases, such as Doctor Thorne, ITV introduced shows after BBC1 had already established its new dramas in the slot with a number of episodes, making the task of winning viewers more difficult than if they had simply clashed head-to-head on their debuts.

With pay channel ITV Encore, it’s difficult to quantify what counts as a success in the limited universe of Sky subscribers – 2015’s Sean Bean starrer The Frankenstein Chronicles returned respectable consolidated figures and was picked up by A+E in the US.

Reviews were generally favourable but there’s no word yet on season two.

In recent weeks, Encore’s Edwardian detective mash-up Houdini & Doyle’s opening episode was given a preview on ITV to kickstart the show. It’s probably too early to see if this has paid off in terms of the ratings for the series on Sky, but reviews have been fairly poor, although production values were praised.

The casting of comedian Stephen Mangan as Arthur Conan Doyle in particular came in for criticism; it was also noted that this was the second ITV drama in to feature Doyle as a character in a year (Arthur & George being the first).

Now with Hill in the top drama job at ITV, Lygo will be hoping she can continue her run of hits, which include The Night Manager, Poldark and Doctor Foster.

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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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Right place, right time

The Americans is coming to ITV Encore, having previously aired two seasons on ITV
The Americans is coming to ITV Encore, having previously aired for two seasons on ITV

The success or failure of a show can often hinge on finding the right slot or the right channel for it to air on. For example, it would have been fascinating to see how critically acclaimed shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad or The Walking Dead performed if they had been placed in free-to-air primetime as opposed to cable TV.

It’s possible they would have been axed after a few episodes instead of developing into the pop culture phenomena we know today.

With this in mind, it’s interesting to note that UK broadcaster ITV has just acquired seasons three and four of US spy drama The Americans from Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution for its digital channel ITV Encore.

This deal comes despite the fact that the pubcaster’s main free-to-air channel ITV, which originally aired the show in the UK, dropped it after two seasons. These first two runs will now play out on ITV Encore ahead of the newly acquired seasons.

The message, then, is that The Americans is better suited to a pay environment. Perhaps this is no surprise when you consider that the show, which tells the story of two KGB spies posing as an American husband and wife in Washington during the Cold War, airs on cable channel FX in the US.

Swedish drama Jordskott is outperforming ITV Encore's British shows
Swedish drama Jordskott is outperforming ITV Encore’s British shows

But it reinforces the broader notion that we are currently operating in an era when there is a clear distinction between the kind of scripted shows that work on free as opposed to pay/SVoD television.

The decision to air the show on ITV Encore also suggests there has been a reappraisal of what the channel is going to be. Launched in 2014, a lot of its content to date has been re-runs of classic British dramas such as Poirot, Vera, Downton Abbey, Upstairs Downstairs and DCI Banks – giving the channel a crime/period profile.

However, these shows are all currently being outperformed by another acquisition, the Swedish series Jordskott. With the Nordic crime drama drawing an audience of between 100,000 and 200,000 viewers per episode (seven-day ratings figures), it suggests the ITV Encore audience would rather see original foreign series than homegrown re-runs (even if the latter are very good). Aside from Jordskott and The Americans, the channel has also aired the US version of Broadchurch (Gracepoint) and is gearing up for the launch of its first original commission, Midwinter of the Spirit.

In the US, Telemundo is celebrating the fact that on July 21 it ranked as the number-one Spanish-language network among adults 18-49 in primetime, beating Univision by 3%. According to the channel, “this marks the first time in history that Telemundo topped Univision in weekday prime with its regular line-up.”

A key part of the channel’s success has been season three of scripted series El Señor de los Cielos (aka Lord of the Skies). The show was ranked number one among all broadcast and cable networks, regardless of language, at 22.00 in adults 18-49.

El Señor de los Cielos has given US broadcaster Telemundo a big lift
El Señor de los Cielos has given US broadcaster Telemundo a big lift

A US-produced series from Argos Comunicacion and Telemundo, El Señor de los Cielos tells the story of drug dealer Aurelio Casillas and his ruthless rise to power. It is based loosely on the life of real Mexican druglord Amado Carillo Fuentes.

The show first aired in 2013 with a debut season of 74 episodes. This was followed by 84 episodes in season two and an as-yet-unquantified number in season three. So successful is the show that Telemundo confirmed plans for a fourth season at its Upfronts presentation in May this year.

Although the series is produced in the US, its high episode count makes it more like a telenovela than a US drama – an advantage when taking shows out to international distribution. By the end of season four, Telemundo will already be able to offer buyers 300 episodes (equivalent to around 12 years’ worth of a US returning series).

Still in the US, Variety conducted an interesting survey this week, asking three leading media-buying agencies which shows they think will attract the most viewers in the upcoming autumn season (and thus be most appealing to advertisers).

Among dramas, the top pick is season two of Empire (on Fox), which is no real surprise given the success of the first run. And there are high expectations for the return of the Shonda Rhimes hits Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder (both ABC).

More interesting, perhaps, are the new shows that are expected to do well. Here, the top three picks are Fox’s reboot of The X-Files, followed by NBC’s Blindspot and ABC’s The Catch. The Catch is another show for ABC from the Shonda Rhimes hit factory and is expected to be given a lead-in by one of her other shows.

Da Vinci's Demons' third season will be its last
Da Vinci’s Demons’ third season will be its last

Cable channel Spike is investing heavily in scripted shows at the moment. Its first project, Tut, debuted on July 19 and got off to a good start. With 1.7 million viewers tuning in for the first episode, Spike achieved its biggest Sunday night primetime audience since May 25, 2008.

More saliently, the figure was 123% ahead of last week’s primetime average. “We are thrilled that Tut resonated with viewers and delivered a big audience for Spike’s first scripted event series in almost a decade,” said Sharon Levy, Spike’s exec VP of original series.

Elsewhere, another piece of reimagined history is coming to a close, with Starz announcing this week that the third season of David Goyer’s Da Vinci’s Demons will be its last.

Starz MD Carmi Zlotnik said: “David Goyer brought us a plan to portray the unknown early years of a genius and we think the fans will enjoy this final chapter, which segues into the da Vinci history knows.”

A few weeks ago, we talked up the performance of a grisly French thriller called Witnesses, which was rating well in its home market. This week, the show debuted on Channel 4 in the UK, which was clearly hoping to repeat the success of its previous French drama acquisition Les Revenants (The Returned). Things didn’t quite work out as planned, however, with Witnesses only managing to attract around 550,000 viewers in its 22.00 slot. This is about a third of The Returned’s audience when it launched back in 2013.

Witnesses opened to disappointing figures on Channel 4
Witnesses opened to disappointing figures on Channel 4
In defence of Witnesses, The Returned aired an hour earlier at 2100, which would have given it access to a bigger audience. However, Witnesses was also well down on the 22.00 slot average, which will be a source of disappointment for C4. It was also bested by Channel 5’s Aussie prison drama import Wentworth.

Despite this, UK newspaper critics were mostly positive about the show. The Guardian called it “rather promising,” adding that it “bodes well for Channel 4’s imminent on-demand service, 4World Drama.”

The Independent, meanwhile, said referring to the show as ‘The French Broadchurch’ doesn’t do it justice: “This classy, creepy thriller should be judged on its own merits, rather than compared to our Dorset-filmed whodunit and its Scandi-noir forebears”.

So it’s just possible that Witnesses could be a bit of a sleeper hit. What it needs now is the 550,000 people who tuned in to the first episode to get onto social media and tell their friends to watch it.

The Sharknado franchise has proved a massive hit for Syfy
The Sharknado franchise has proved a massive hit for Syfy
On the subject of social media, a round of applause please for Syfy’s global pop culture phenomenon, Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!, which has generated a staggering two billion Twitter impressions – doubling the impressions for 2014’s Sharknado 2: The Second One.

Video clips from Sharknado 3 have generated nearly six million views to date, including 4.1 million on Syfy’s YouTube channel. The film itself debuted on Wednesday, July 22, so we’re just waiting for the TV ratings at time of writing.

Unsurprisingly given the noise created by the third edition, Syfy has greenlit Sharknado 4. Chris Regina, senior VP of programme strategy at Syfy, said: “Sharknado 3 may have devoured half of America’s celebrities, but there are still hungry fans and sharks to feed, so the adventure continues – not in a galaxy far, far away, but on your television sets next July.”

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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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