Tag Archives: Jekyll and Hyde

Jekyll and Hyde: What went wrong?

It’s never much fun seeing a show get axed – particularly if it hasn’t been on air for very long. So much time, effort, money and emotion goes into development and execution that the act of cancellation can seem like a wanton act of cruelty.

If only the programme had more time to build an audience, argue the talent behind the show. A bit of editorial tinkering, a couple of new cast members, a new slot in the schedule and just maybe…

Unfortunately, TV is still – for the most part – a numbers game and shows that don’t capture the audience’s imagination don’t survive, no matter how much pre-launch promise they had.

Richard E Grant was among the better-known names in the cast
Richard E Grant was among the better-known names in the cast

A case in point is Jekyll and Hyde, ITV’s reimagining of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novella The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, which has just been cancelled after its 10-episode first season.

Having opened to a reasonable (but not amazing) 4.3 million viewers, it withered away to just 1.8 million by the end of the run, not enough to justify its Sunday teatime family slot.

So what did the show get right and where did it go wrong? In this column, we draw on the power of hindsight to explore the reasons Jekyll and Hyde didn’t perform as hoped.

Pre-launch proposition
On paper the show looked strong. Based on a well-known Gothic brand, it had the kind of name recognition broadcasters crave when launching a new series. It also had Charlie Higson in charge of creating and writing the show. Higson, whose credits range from The Fast Show to the Young James Bond series of novels, has proved himself a success both in front of the camera and behind it.

Rising star Tom Bateman (pictured top) played both Jekyll and Hyde, having previously impressed in Da Vinci’s Demons and The Tunnel. The failure of the show can’t be pinned on Bateman’s performance, but he will need another lead role before we can tell if he’s poised to elevate to the same rank as the likes of Aidan Turner (Poldark) or James Norton (War and Peace). The supporting cast was generally good and, a positive point, diverse. Veteran actors Richard E Grant and Donald Sumpter were decent additions.

This is an area that didn’t really work out for the show. Higson tried to build a mythology of supernatural heroes, villains and monsters around the central character’s dualistic existence. But there were two problems. First, the show seemed too overt in its desire to go after the Doctor Who audience (even the opening titles echoed the BBC’s sci-fi series). Second, it demanded too much of the audience in too short a space of time. This is a common theme at the moment. Having seen the success of franchises like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Doctor Who and Game of Thrones, broadcasters are trying to build and deliver imaginative worlds in super-fast time.

Did Jekyll and Hyde demand too much of its audience?

The problem is that it can take decades for these worlds to develop sufficient solidity for fans to buy into them. It will be interesting to see if ITV has more success with a similar project, Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands. Arguably, the mash-up approach of shows like Penny Dreadful or Dickensian is a better way to build a new story system. Or maybe it’s better to focus on a simple narrative setup in season one and then expand at a later stage (like The Walking Dead).

There’s also a point worth making about the value of borrowing a ready-made mythology from books. The Last Kingdom and Outlander, both based on popular novels, have worked but original series The Bastard Executioner didn’t. The link between ITV’s Jekyll and Hyde and the original Stevenson work was really in name only, so it falls into the latter group.

The central character’s dualism didn’t quite come off, despite a whole-hearted performance from Bateman. In the original Stevenson story, Hyde is unequivocally bad. There is a Faustian thing going on – science meddling where it shouldn’t. In ITV’s show, the dualism was muddied. At times, it wasn’t clear how bad Hyde really was. He functioned in a way that almost seemed to suggest that he had some level of awareness of his condition. The transitions between Jekyll and Hyde didn’t quite work either, so the sentiment we felt towards one half of the character bled into the other.

When Hyde aggressively kissed a woman he didn’t know in episode one (yeugh), it coloured our perception of the central character’s good half too. Somehow the show didn’t quite manage to capture the authenticity of the original book (or the pathos of Bruce Banner’s relationship with his own alter-ego The Hulk). More generally, the female characters didn’t resonate especially well. The love interest, the lawyer’s eccentric sidekick, the villain’s moll and the larger than life club owner needed a touch of Happy Valley or Doctor Foster.

Some of Jekyll and Hyde’s creatures were realised better than others

Jekyll and Hyde was a pretty show, mixing attractive period backdrops with an exotic storyline set in the Indian sub-continent. It was easy to drift through two or three episodes watching the show’s sumptuous sets, so no particular criticisms here. The cast of creatures was a little more variable in quality. This is an inevitable challenge when trying to design monsters people haven’t seen before. TV also still has to contend with the fact that theatrical movies are still the quality benchmark in terms of cutting-edge CGI/SFX.

A lot was made of the suggestion that Jekyll and Hyde was ‘too scary’ for its family teatime slot. Some critics argued it should have been aired after the watershed to avoid upsetting children. Higson become embroiled in a spat with UK newspaper The Daily Mail on this point that probably poured fuel on the fire. The bottom line is that the scheduling of the show was over-ambitious – but that wasn’t the reason for its decline.

If the UK audience had liked the show but felt it was airing at the wrong time, they would have recorded it and watched it later when their children were in bed. In fact, the controversy around the show’s scheduling was as likely to bring an audience as drive it away. It didn’t, for example, capture the imagination of teenage boys the way HBO’s ultra-violent fantasy Game of Thrones does. IMDb’s modest rating of 7/10 pretty much tells it as it is.

Bad Luck
ITV took the decision to postpone an episode of Jekyll and Hyde after the terrorist attacks in Paris at the end of last year. That was the right call but any hiatus in scheduling is bound to impact a show’s momentum.

None of the above is intended to discourage bold and adventurous commissioning or creative risk-taking. But the fate of Jekyll and Hyde is a warning that fantasy is fiendishly hard to pull off.

For other opinions on the show, see this Radio Times summary or this take from The Indepedent.

At least one person out there was heartbroken that the show ended – and no, it wasn’t Charlie Higson.

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International Drama Summit: Round-up

The international drama community gathered at the BFI on London’s South Bank for three days of screenings, panel sessions, case studies and awards. Michael Pickard looks back on C21 Media’s International Drama Summit, part of Content London.

On the south bank of the River Thames, hundreds of producers, writers and broadcasters from around the world gathered in London for C21 Media’s International Drama Summit this week.

Held at the British Film Institute, the event took in three days of screenings, panel sessions and interviews covering the hottest talking points in the business – from budgets and coproductions to what commissioners are looking for to fill their schedules.

Audiences took in the first images of new Icelandic drama Trapped, written by Clive Bradley and produced by Dynamic Television. Producer Klaus Zimmermann discussed the challenges of working with nine commissioning broadcasters, among them SVT, DR1, DRK, France Télévisions and BBC4.

Figures from all areas of the drama industry descended on London for C21's International Drama Summit
Figures from all areas of the drama industry descended on London for C21’s International Drama Summit

Bradley also spoke about his positive experience working in a US-style writers room for the first time. “It’s always going to be true that if you have four rather than one brain that you will create more,” he said. “The turnaround was always going to be very quick because you’ve got at least eight months to do 10 episodes.”

There was also a packed house for a first glimpse at ITV’s forthcoming period drama Victoria, starring former Doctor Who companion Jenna Coleman. “Jenna was born to be queen,” said Damien Timmer, from producer Mammoth Screen.

Writer Daisy Goodwin added: “I’ve tried to tell the story of a teenager growing up with a crown. She’s not the queen you expect. It’s drama but everything that happens is true.”

Among the drama case studies, the creative teams from shows including Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, The Collection, Dickensian, Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands, Capital and Jekyll & Hyde took to the stage to reveal secrets from behind the scenes.

Agatha Christie Ltd CEO Hilary Strong said she always envisioned And Then There Were None to be a coproduction, with the three-parter due to air on BBC1 in the UK and Lifetime in the US.

“Working with Joel [Denton, A+E Networks ] and A+E has been a real revelation. This is a BBC show, it’s inherently British, but A+E didn’t demand we put any US stars in as per the old coproduction thing. That is over. Instead, we knew it needed a cast that resonated [in the US] so there was a dialogue.”

DQ editor Michael Pickard (far left) discusses Jekyll and Hyde with the team behind the show
DQ editor Michael Pickard (far left) discusses ITV’s Jekyll and Hyde with the team behind the show

Elsewhere, executives discussed spiralling budgets, creating an increasing need to piece together funding through multiple streams – whether via licence fees, private funding, distribution financing or pre-sales.

And while there was plenty of talk about the alleged saturation of the TV drama market, it was clear that many executives simply believe that while there might be too many shows, there aren’t enough great shows.

Morgan Wandell (pictured top), head of drama series for Amazon Studios, said as much during his keynote session when he warned producers against making run-of-the-mill, “industrial grade” procedurals.

He told delegates that Amazon Studios is aiming to make shows that are a “step above” what is already on offer, such as the SVoD platform’s recently launched The Man in the High Castle.

“If you’re making industrial-grade procedurals then good luck, but you do run the risk of being washed out,” he said, adding that some producers and writers “have built up specific muscles in TV. We’ve stripped away narrative tropes they relied on.”

Meanwhile, UK commissioners noted the changing television landscape as genre tastes and viewing habits continue to evolve.

BBC drama commissioner Polly Hill claimed TV audiences are now more open than ever to “complex, tricky” plots as she unveiled a new series from Luther creator Neil Cross set in a pre-apocalyptic London.

Sky Anne Mensah
Sky head of drama Anne Mensah took to the stage alongside commissioning editor Cameron Roach

Hard Sun, which will air in 2017 and is produced by Euston Films, follows detectives Elaine Renko and Robert Hicks, partners and enemies, who seek to protect their loved ones and enforce the law in a world slipping closer to certain destruction.

Hill told the Drama Summit that the success of the BBC’s recent drama slate, including Sherlock and Happy Valley, was evidence that “mainstream is really moving and big audiences will watch really complex, tricky subjects.”

Sky head of drama Anne Mensah and drama commissioning editor Cameron Roach described the differences between the networks they look after. Watching Sky Atlantic was compared to buying a ticket for a blockbuster film, while Sky Arts was likened to an art house cinema – though not for niche storytelling.

The pair said story was key across the board, however, adding that the pay TV broadcaster’s development team is now commissioning year-round for all three networks, including Sky1, and that channel boundaries remain fluid depending on the project.

ITV director of drama Steve November was more specific when describing his channel’s needs for the next two years. With shows such as Victoria and Jericho coming up in 2016, the broadcaster is well placed to retain viewers following the end of long-running hit Downton Abbey, which concludes with a Christmas special later this month.

And while ITV remains keen on period dramas – with Dark Angel and Doctor Thorne also coming up next year – November said he was looking for a range of new contemporary dramas to fill the 21.00 slot.

ITV drama director Steve November
ITV drama director Steve November

“I have got to be honest, I watched [the BBC’s] Dr Foster with a degree of envy and I wish we had that show,” he said. “Big romantic thrillers and a family relationship drama are real priorities for us.”

Channel 4 drama team Piers Wenger and Beth Willis also talked about the challenge of building a year-round drama slate, and how they approach traditional genres such as crime, period and sci-fi in a fresh way (see No Offence, Indian Summers and Humans respectively).

Deputy head of drama Willis said: “If it could be on another channel, we shouldn’t be doing it. We’re always looking for shows with an edge.”

Wenger, C4’s head of drama, revealed there are a variety of funding models in play at the broadcaster, such as its international coproduction strategy that saw Humans produced with US cable channel AMC.

As the conference drew to a close, the challenges of the future came into view – keeping viewers tuning into linear broadcasts, judging success in ways other than overnight ratings, piecing together financing in a world where there are no longer any set models for production and finding ways to tell new stories in an increasingly competitive market.

There will never be a formula for creating a hit series, but the ambition to find the next big hit is continuing to drive the business forward in new and innovative ways, ensuring the appetite for television drama will remain undiminished for some time to come.

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