Tag Archives: Janus

Scripted formats show writers’ double vision

Hardly a week goes by without some new development on the scripted format front. So here we explore 12 of the shows that have been adapted – successfully and unsuccessfully – for the US, and the writing teams behind them.

Where images have been included, the original series is on the left and its adaptation on the right.

Broadchurch-GracepointBroadchurch was a big hit for ITV in the UK when season one aired in 2013. It then sold around the world and was adapted by Fox in the US as Gracepoint, with the same lead actor (David Tennant). The UK version, which then had a moderately successful second season, was created and written by Chris Chibnall – who is now working on a third and final run before taking over on the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The 10-part US version was set up by Chibnall before being handed over to Anya Epstein and Dan Futterman, who wrote all of the remaining episodes except for number six (Jason Kim). Gracepoint was pretty well reviewed by critics and sold to other English-speaking markets. But it was not renewed after failing to secure a sizeable audience (average ratings were around 3.5 to four million).

Collision, created by UK writer Anthony Horowitz (Foyle’s War), attracted an audience of seven million when it aired on ITV in the UK during 2009. In November last year it was picked up by NBC as a 10-part series. Interestingly, Horowitz will be the showrunner for the US version, with CSI exec producer Carol Mendelsohn on board as partner. Mendelsohn is also exec producer of Game of Silence (see below), suggesting she is now regarded as a safe pair of hands for format adaptations after her many years working on CSI.

The original version of Collision comprised five episodes but Horowitz says he has no concerns about the project being extended because he believes the storyline will benefit from the extra episodes. Sometimes formats suffer from being stretched in this way.

Forbrydelsen-KillingForbrydelsen (The Killing) is a Danish series (DR/ZDF Enterprises) created by Soren Sveistrup. Active across three seasons, it became an international hit and made its star Sofie Gråbøl a household name. It was adapted by AMC in 2011 and has so far run to four seasons – despite being cancelled a couple of times along the way. It was saved by Netflix, which came on board as a partner for season three and then took over the show in its entirety for season four.

The US version was developed by Veena Sud, whose previous big credit was CBS procedural Cold Case. Sud shared writing duties with a large team, including the likes of Nic Pizzolatto (True Detective) and Jeremy Doner (Damages). She stayed with the show through season four, by which time writing duties were shared with Dan Nowak, Sean Whitesell, Nicole Yorkin and Dawn Prestwich (the latter two a writing team whose credits include Chicago Hope, FlashForward and The Education of Max Bickford).

Hatufim-HomelandHatufim, aka Prisoners of War, is perhaps the most celebrated example of a successful scripted format. Created in Israel by Gideon Raff, it was adapted as Homeland for Showtime in the US by Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa. Five seasons of the US show have aired so far, with a sixth ordered in December 2015.

As is common with US series, there is a big team involved in writing a show like Homeland. The latest season of 12 episodes involved 11 writers altogether. Key names include Chip Johannessen, who has been involved with the show since the start. A new name on the season six team sheet was David Fury, who has worked on an array of titles ranging from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Hannibal.

Janus is proof that US networks are looking further afield in search of great ideas. A crime story originated in Austria, it was picked up by ABC last autumn. Kevin O’Hare, who has written pilots for ABC and Syfy, is adapting the thriller and writing the pilot. The original version was written by Jacob Groll and Sarah Wassermair.

Prior to this seven-part serial, Groll was best known for documentary The Sound of Hollywood, while Wassermair’s credits include musicals for children’s theatre. However, the pair have also been working together on ORF’s popular crime series Soko Donau.

JanetheVirginJuana La Virgen is a Venezuelan telenovela that was adapted for The CW network in the US as Jane the Virgin. The original was created by Perla Farias and the US version by Jennie Snyder Urman, whose writing efforts are supported by a large team (the show has 22 episodes per season).

As evident from the titles above, a lot of adaptations don’t get further than the end of their first season. So the fact that this one has just been greenlit for a third run is a notable achievement. Although season two ratings are down compared with season one, the show has settled into a stable 0.9 to one million range.

Revenants-ReturnedLes Revenants was hailed as evidence that French TV drama had become a force to be reckoned with. A hit for Canal+ in 2012, the format was snapped up by A&E in the US – where it was remade as The Returned. The French version (based on a film) was created by Fabrice Gobert, who then wrote the screenplay for season one with Emmanuel Carrere and Fabien Adda (with writing credits also going to Camille Fontaine and Nathalie Saugeon).

A second season was aired at the end of 2015, with Audrey Fouche joining Gobert and Adda as a key writer (also credited on one episode was Coline Abert). Despite being led by showrunner Carlton Cuse alongside Raelle Tucker (True Blood), the US version failed to secure a second-season renewal following lacklustre ratings.

Øyevitne is a Norwegian crime thriller that is being adapted as Eyewitness for USA Network. In the US it has received a 10-episode, straight-to-series order. The US version comes from Shades of Blue creator Adi Hasak, who wrote it and will serve as showrunner. The original series creator is Jarl Emsell Larsen, who will executive produce the US version.

The series explores a grisly crime from the point of view of the eyewitnesses, two boys involved in a clandestine gay affair. While the Nordics have been getting a lot of attention in recent times, this is actually the first Norwegian scripted show to be adapted for the US.

Penoza-RedWidowPenoza is a popular Dutch drama created by Pieter Bart Korthuis and Diederik van Rooijen for KRO-NCRV. The show has run for four seasons (2010-2015), with a fifth, commissioned in February, set to air in September 2017. The format was acquired by ABC in the US in 2012 and ran for one season during 2013 with the name Red Widow.

The US version performed poorly and wasn’t renewed, dropping from 7.1 million at the start of its run to 3.47 million at the end. That was a rare blip for writer Melissa Rosenberg, whose credits include the entire Twilight saga of movies, Showtime’s Dexter and Netflix hit series Jessica Jones.

RakeRake is an Australian television series that centres on a brilliant but self-destructive lawyer. It was created by Peter Duncan, who then shared writing duties with Andrew Knight across the first three series. A fourth season will be broadcast this year on ABC Australia.

The show was adapted for Fox in the US in 2013, with Peter Duncan at the helm of a writing team of five. However, the show didn’t rate well and was moved around the schedule before being cancelled.

ShamelessShameless: Company Pictures produced Shameless for Channel 4 in the UK before it was picked up as a format by premium pay TV channel Showtime. The UK version was the brainchild of Paul Abbott, who also wrote a number of episodes. Other high-profile names involved included Danny Brocklehurst, who is now enjoying some success with Sky1’s The Five. Another prominent writer among many was Ed McCardie (Spotless).

Abbott was involved in setting up the US version, which may explain why the show has been a success, with six seasons already being aired. Key names in terms of transitioning the show included John Wells (ER, The West Wing) and Nancy Pimental – both of whom are still heavily involved, alongside a team of five writers for the latest season. Interestingly, the last season of the UK version also used a team approach, with eight writers penning 14 episodes.

Suskunlar-GameofSilenceSuskunlar is a Turkish drama that first aired on Show TV in 2012 and was then sold in its completed form to 30 countries. It was written by Pinar Bulut, who has also written a number of projects with her husband Kerem Deren, including fellow international hit Ezel.

The show was picked up by NBC in the US and has just started airing under the title Game of Silence. The pilot for the US version was written by David Hudgins, whose credits include Everwood and Parenthood. The second episode was penned by Wendy West (The Blacklist and Dexter). Hudgins has expressed a desire to take the show on into a second season, but early ratings suggest that it will need to do better for that to happen. After attracting 6.4 million viewers for episode one, it dropped 39% to 3.9 million for episode two.

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ABC uncovers Austria’s scripted gems

Braunschlag, one of two Austrian dramas being adapted by ABC
Braunschlag, one of two Austrian dramas being adapted by ABC

The Austrians are well known on the international market for the quality of their factual programming, but the country has never really made much of an impact in the scripted arena.

Its most high-profile drama export is Kommissar Rex, a police procedural about a German Shepherd dog (Rex) and the humans he works with at Vienna’s homicide unit. The show ran from 1994 to 2004 and was then revived as an Austro-Italian coproduction, with Rex’s activities shifting to Rome.

This week, however, Austria has been making headlines with two scripted shows aired by public broadcaster ORF that have picked up by ABC network in the US. That, surely, is proof that the US networks are now looking everywhere for compelling drama ideas that can be adapted for their domestic market.

The first of the two ideas is a comedy called Braunschlag. Produced by Superfilm, it follows the mayor of a community called Braunschlag who embarks upon a plan to save the town from bankruptcy. In the ORF version the mayor is male, but in ABC’s version the character will be a young woman. In both cases, the protagonist has to deal with all manner of problems, from dysfunctional family relations to meddling from the mafia.

Braunschlag scribe David Schalko
Braunschlag scribe David Schalko

Braunschlag was written by David Schalko, who turned his back on a career in economics to become a writer. After stints as a poet, author, advertising copywriter and music video producer, his TV career really took off in 2002 when he co-created satirical comedy show Sendung Ohne Namen, a finalist at the New York Television Awards and the Rose d’Or Festival.

Schalko’s subsequent credits included Undercover, Sunshine Airlines, Heaven, The Miracle of Vienna, Braggart and Kupetzy, before he went on to pen Braunschlag in 2012. Throughout his career Schalko has never been afraid to use experimental narrative styles – something that doesn’t always chime with critics and audiences. But in the case of Braunschlag he scored a major hit, attracting more than one million viewers on Tuesday nights and securing another Rose d’Or nomination.

Since then he has written an eight-part miniseries for ORF called Old Money (Altes Geld), about greed and corruption among the super rich. The story centres on a rich industrialist who learns he has a liver problem and will die within a year unless he finds an organ donor. Like Braunschlag, Old Money is produced by Superfilm (a company that Schalko co-founded).

Janus has also been picked up by ABC
Janus has also been picked up by ABC

The other Austrian success this week is Janus, a crime drama written by Jacob Groll and Sarah Wassermair. Also picked up by ABC, Janus focuses on Dr Leo Benedict, a forensic psychologist who deals with deranged criminals. When Leo looks into a series of mysterious suicides, he stumbles across a shadowy pharmaceutical company called Janus and is shocked when he discovers what is actually behind the suicides.

Prior to this seven-part serial, Groll was best known for his documentary The Sound of Hollywood, while Wassermair’s credits include musicals for children’s theatre. However, the two of them have also been working together on ORF’s popular crime series Soko Donau (aka Vienna Crime Squad). So far they have collaborated on eight episodes, with the ninth soon to air (Heldentod, the first episode of season 11). It’s not clear yet how much they will have to do with the US adaptation of Janus but the deal will certainly bring them a welcome profile boost.

Elsewhere, the big breakthrough of the week belongs to US writer Corinne Brinkerhoff, who is writing and executive producing American Gothic. Produced by Amblin TV for CBS, the show is a murder mystery set in Boston.

Corinne Brinkerhoff is writing American Gothic
Corinne Brinkerhoff is writing American Gothic

Due to air in a slightly softer summer slot, it is about a prominent Boston family that makes “a chilling discovery that links their recently deceased patriarch to a string of murders spanning decades, amid the suspicion that one of them may have been his accomplice.”

Brinkerhoff has consolidated her reputation as a writer on shows such as The Good Wife and Elementary. However, her entry into the business came when she landed a job as a production assistant for David E Kelly.

In an interview with Lara Ehrlich from BU Today (the newspaper of her former university, Boston), she recalls how it started: “I typed up (story ideas for Kelly’s show Boston Legal) every week for a couple of months, with no response. I completely understood – the guy is a titan of the TV industry, and he had his hands full without poring over the half-baked notions of a production assistant. But I was young and eager, and I’d never written a spec script outside of BU classwork, so I took my two favourite ideas and wrote a spec for Boston Legal.

“One day he said, ‘Let’s talk about your ideas.’ He liked two out of probably 40. As luck would have it, they were the same two I’d written into the spec script. I handed him the script and asked if he’d read it. He called me the next day. He said something like: ‘This is good. This should be an episode.’”

Felicity Huffman (pictured in American Crime) will star in House of Moore
Felicity Huffman (pictured in American Crime) will star in House of Moore

After Boston Legal, The Good Wife was a big step up, acting as a bridge to Brinkerhoff’s new role. She added: “I was terrified. I don’t think I spoke for the first three months. I guess they liked my scripts enough to let me stick around. My three years on that show really taught me how to build stories collaboratively in a writers room. There was an emphasis on making choices that subvert expectations and thinking visually instead of just verbally when writing a scene. It was an extremely valuable experience – and lots of fun. We spent 45 hours a week together in a little room, and the other writers became my hilarious, neurotic little second family.”

Another writer in the news this week is Ben Barnz, who has been greenlit by ABC to write House of Moore, a dark comedy set in the fashion world. Similar in tone to The Devil Wears Prada, the show is being set up as a vehicle for actress Felicity Huffman (American Crime, Desperate Housewives), who will also executive produce.

This is the second high-profile TV project to which Barnz has been linked this autumn. In September, he was named as writer/director of Valentina, ABC Family’s planned adaptation of RCTV telenovela My Gorda Bella Valentina. All of this is a significant switch in direction for the scribe, whose credits to date include movies such as Beastly and Cake.

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Drama in demand at Mipcom

Deutschland 83
Deutschland 83

A devastating flood at the start of this year’s Mipcom didn’t seem to affect the amount of business being done throughout the week, with the trade in scripted shows especially brisk.

One title that managed to rack up a number of sales was FremantleMedia International’s German-language spy thriller Deutschland 83, which was sold to Channel One (Russia), Sky Italia, Hulu (US), SundanceTV (English-speaking Canada) and Stan (Australia and New Zealand), among others. This follows on from previous deals with broadcasters including SundanceTV in the US, Canal+ (France) and Channel 4/Walter Presents (UK).

A coming-of-age story set in Germany during the Cold War, Deutschland 83 follows Martin Rauch, a 24-year-old East German native who is sent to West Germany as an undercover spy for the Stasi foreign service. The show is part of a broad trend in the TV business towards espionage-based thrillers – the trigger for which was probably the Israeli scripted format Hatufim (Prisoners of War), which was reinvented as Homeland in the US.

Occupied
Occupied

Other espionage-based shows selling well this week included Zodiak Rights’ Occupied, a Nordic series that imagines a situation in which Russia invades Norway to take control of the country’s oil industry. The show, which has debuted strongly in Norway, was picked up for broadcast in Poland (a country that also has an acute interest in Russian foreign policy).

Similarly, there was a lot of interest in Keshet International’s False Flag, which was featured in The Wit’s popular conference session Fresh TV Fiction. This Israeli series centres on five seemingly ordinary Israeli citizens who are accused of kidnapping a senior Iranian politician. It has been picked up by Fox International Channels – which is planning an English-language version via Fox International Studios and has also acquired the rights to the Hebrew version. The latter, which will air in 127 territories via FIC’s channels, is the broadcaster’s first non-English-language series acquired on a global basis.

FALSE-FLAG_KI_V12_1075X850_RGB_300DPIThere has always been a strong trade in non-English-language drama between countries where English is not the first language. But a big change in the business over the past few years has been the willingness of English-language broadcasters and platforms to air such shows. Netflix, Hulu and BBC4 in the UK can take a lot of credit for kickstarting this trend, but it has become a lot more widespread in the past six to 12 months.

One interesting development in this regard is Walter Presents, a foreign-language drama on-demand platform that is being launched in January by Channel 4 in the UK and its strategic partner GSN. Walter Presents was busy at Mipcom snapping up the rights to a wide range of non-English dramas. It struck a deal with German distributor ZDF Enterprises for a number of series, including 10-part Belgian black comedy drama Clan, which follows the exploits of four frustrated sisters as they plot to kill their obnoxious brother-in-law, and 10-part Swedish political thriller Blue Eyes. Also acquired from ZDF were eight-part crime drama The Team, six-part Polish crime thriller The Pack and Swedish family saga Thicker than Water.

The platform’s buying spree also encompassed deals with French content providers such as TF1 International and Film & Picture TV Distribution, plus 20 hours of Dutch-language shows from Netherlands-based Dutch Features Global Entertainment.

Rai Com, the commercial arm of Italian public broadcaster Rai, has been another beneficiary of this interest in non-English drama. At Mipcom it secured deals for the new season of its detective series The Young Montalbano, licensing it to the BBC, RLJ (UK video rights) and Hi Gloss (Australia and New Zealand video).

The Frankenstein Chronicles
The Frankenstein Chronicles

There have been numerous examples of US cable channels commissioning new scripted content recently. But making drama is expensive, so some channels have sensibly decided to explore the international acquisitions route as well. An example we cited a couple of columns ago is Esquire Network, which has picked up Spotless and Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands. A&E Network did something similar at Mipcom, picking up The Frankenstein Chronicles, produced by Rainmark Films, distributed by Endemol Shine International and starring Sean Bean (Game of Thrones).

SundanceTV is following a similar trajectory, though it prefers to get involved as a coproduction partner, giving it a little more oversight and input into the end product. Having previously partnered up on The Honourable Woman and D83, for example, it was busy at Mipcom picking up a new portfolio of non-US dramas.

Rebellion
Rebellion

One interesting title that it has jumped on board is RTÉ’s historical drama Rebellion, which tells the story of the birth of modern Ireland. It has also linked up with Sky Atlantic and Canal+ on The Last Panthers. Produced by France’s Haut et Court and the UK’s Warp Films, the series centres on the evolution of criminality in Europe, taking place in locations across the continent, from Serbia to Marseilles in France.

More evidence of the vibrancy of the European drama scene right now is the news that Zodiak Rights-supported Versailles has been given a second season, while TF1 in France and RTL in Germany are backing the new UFA Fiction/Beta Film drama series Hitler (working title). Meanwhile, The Copenhagen Film Fund has confirmed it is in talks about financing a fourth season of SVT and DR’s hit crime drama The Bridge.

Versailles
Versailles

Out of the UK, notable deals included the sale of All3Media International’s The Missing to German public broadcaster ZDF and FremantleMedia International’s No Offence to France TV.

The Brits are also beneficiaries of the growing demand for drama content from subscription VoD platforms. This week, for example, South African service ShowMax bought 125 hours of content from ITV Studios Global Entertainment, including Jekyll & Hyde, Rectify, Mr Selfridge, Good Witch and Texas Rising.

In terms of US series, the major TV studios were quick to seal deals. Disney Media Distribution licensed ABC Studios’ The Muppets to 122 territories, while the latest Shondaland drama series, The Catch, has been licensed to 186 territories. Executive produced by Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers, The Catch is a thriller about a successful fraud investigator who becomes the victim of fraud by her fiancé.

The Catch
The Catch

Sony Pictures Television also announced international deals for its shows. Wesley Snipes drama The Player hasn’t started very strongly in the US, but SPT has still managed to sell it into 105 territories, with high-profile deals in France (TF1), Germany (RTL), Spain (AXN) and Australia (Seven). SPT has also had a good start with The Art of More, a Dennis Quaid drama that was created for on-demand service Crackle. To date, the show has been sold into 25 territories via broadcasters such as Viacom’s Colors Infinity channel in India, OSN across the Middle East and D-Smart in Turkey. Of the two dramas, The Art of More feels more like a show that may run for a few seasons.

Other US shows to do business this week include NBC’s strong starter Blindspot, which was licensed to Sky Living (alongside Limitless and The Catch). Meanwhile, NBCUniversal thriller Mr Robot was picked up by Finland’s public broadcaster YLE.

While the majority of news from Mipcom 2015 concerned the sale of completed shows, there was also a smattering of commissioning and format announcements at the market. Viacom-owned BET, for example, is reported to be planning a six-part drama miniseries called Madiba, focusing on the life of Nelson Mandela and starring Laurence Fishburne; while StudioCanal-owned Tandem Productions is to adapt Code to Zero, the international bestselling novel by Ken Follett (Tandem previously adapted Follett’s Pillars of the Earth epic). Note also the above references to Versailles, Hitler and The Bridge.

The Art of More
The Art of More

On the format front, German network Vox is remaking Spanish drama The Red Band, TF1 in France is to produce a local adaptation of BBC drama The Escape Artist and CTC in Russia is adapting Keshet International’s romantic comedy The Baker and the Beauty.

Perhaps the most exciting format news of the week, however, is that US broadcast network ABC is adapting Janus, a drama from Austrian pubcaster ORF. This deal demonstrates that the powerful US networks are continuing to cast their net far and wide in search of great scripted ideas.

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