Tag Archives: John Logan

Happy endings

Where once flagging TV series would have been quickly axed, now they are getting more time to establish themselves. Are TV bosses getting sentimental or are other forces at play?

The scripted TV business has never really been known for its sentimentality. Year after year, decent shows have been brutally axed the moment they show any fragility in the ratings.

But recently this approach has been tempered by a slightly more tolerant attitude among commissioning editors. Increasingly, shows that a few years ago would have been cancelled in the middle of their first season are being allowed to bow out gracefully at the end of their run.

Similarly, series that might have been shelved after a season or two are being given extra runs – either to achieve narrative closure or to allow more time to try to pick up a sustainable audience.

This shift has come about for a few reasons, but is primarily the result of competition between channels and the increased clout of SVoD services.

“For me, it’s fundamentally about SVoD’s appetite for scripted content,” says Joel Denton, MD of international content and partnerships at A&E Networks. “The revenue from the SVoD window means networks don’t need to be so quick to close down shows. This can create a virtuous circle where the two platforms feed off each other in a way that builds shows. Something that starts life as a modest critical success may develop into a big hit.”

Did the early announcement that Mad Men’s seventh season would be its last help Jon Hamm (second from right) finally win an Emmy for his portrayal of Don Draper?

Clearly, some shows still disappoint and need to be dropped – examples being HBO’s much-hyped Vinyl and FX’s The Bastard Executioner. “But if you have a good instinct about a show then there’s a financial logic to sticking with it – even if it needs fixing in some way,” says Denton. “Cancel it after five episodes and you’re throwing US$30m to US$40m down the drain. Stick with it and you may be able to turn it into a franchise that has long-term value in both domestic and international markets.”

A classic case in point, says Denton, is AMC’s acclaimed 1960s drama Mad Men, which debuted in 2007 to the kind of ratings that would have got it cancelled on a lot of cable networks. When it ended seven seasons later, its contribution to AMC’s brand was immeasurable. And it continues to win fans around the world via Netflix, which underlined the value of supporting shows when it acquired the rights to the series in 2011 for US$90m.

Linked to all of the above is the growing fear of pulling out of a show before it has had a chance to really establish itself as a profitable franchise. “Because of the range of choice in the market, a show’s audience doesn’t necessarily find it straight away,” says Denton. “Shows like Longmire have been cancelled by networks and then brought back to life by SVoD platforms. So perhaps networks are more cautious about doing all the hard work and seeing Netflix [which resurrected Longmire after it was axed by A&E] or Amazon benefit.”

Stephen Cornwell, co-founder of The Ink Factory and producer of one of 2016’s hit dramas, The Night Manager, agrees SVoD is the key factor: “It may look like the broadcasters are changing, but these soft landings are the result of the new economic model introduced by the SVoD second window.”

This, however, is “reinforced by evolving expectations among audiences,” adds Cornwell. “In this post-broadcast world, viewers are attracted to limited series with clear conclusions. That’s why we have seen such a lot of interest in shows like The Night Manager, Fargo and The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story. When the audience is looking for narrative completion, commissioning editors need to ensure they are meeting their expectations.”

Networks would undoubtedly be keen to extend the The Night Manager, but the people behind the show decided against continuing the series

This may explain the growing tendency for broadcasters and platforms to announce their intentions for a show well in advance. Increasingly, says Cornwell, audiences are reluctant to invest time and emotion in a series if there is a risk it might be cancelled before the creative team has finished telling the story.

Cornwell also believes the trend towards soft landings may have something to do with a power shift in the relationship between channels/platforms and creative talent: “Our company is built around changes in the market that have put the creative at the centre of the process. The TV business is so noisy now that the calibre of creative talent is, more than ever, the key differentiator between productions. At the same time, audiences don’t care anymore if a series is two seasons, five seasons or an anthology series, as long as it’s great TV.”

One implication of this is that broadcasters need to be prepared to fully back a creative’s vision. It’s difficult, for example, to entice the likes of Cameron Crowe (Roadies), M Night Shyamalan (Wayward Pines), Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders) and John Logan (Penny Dreadful) into the TV business, only to shut down their shows before they’ve built momentum.

The tendency for broadcasters and platforms to prematurely announce their intentions for a show is not just something we are seeing with new series. It’s also become increasingly common for them to flag up the end of long-running, successful franchises such as Pretty Little Liars, Bates Motel, Person of Interest, Teen Wolf and Black Sails.

Creator John Logan was behind the decision to end Penny Dreadful after three seasons

So what’s this about? If a network knows a show is going to come to an end next year, why not just get on and give it the chop? Christian Vesper, FremantleMedia’s executive VP and creative director of global drama, who last year left AMC-owned art house channel SundanceTV, recalls how the latter gave notice that Rectify would end after season four: “I don’t think any channel is going to recommission a show unless it makes financial sense, but I do think there is a respect for storytelling at play. I know that was very important to the producers and to us.”

There is also a PR value to this kind of early announcement, Vesper adds. For example, warning audiences that the end is nigh is a way of galvanising them into action. It gets social media buzzing with the news that a climax is on its way. In terms of career management, it also puts the talent back in the shop window, telling the rest of the industry approximately when they will next be available.

Maybe, on a subtle level, it also has an impact on a show’s prospects on the awards circuit. For example, it wasn’t until the final season of Mad Men that John Hamm finally won a Best Actor Emmy – despite having been nominated in every single season.

Cornwell’s point about the shifting balance of power can even be taken a stage further. Perhaps the current trend towards soft landings is not just broadcasters and platforms treating creatives with kid gloves. There may also be more situations where the decision about when to end or extend a show is not being driven by the network or platform – but by the creative partner. The Ink Factory, for example, could get the greenlight for a second season of The Night Manager tomorrow if it wanted — especially after stars Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie and Olivia Colman won Golden Globes earlier this month — but Cornwell says the prodco would only go back to the show if it felt there was a good story to tell.

It’s this creative-led thinking that has also brought us anthology dramas such as American Horror Story and series like Penny Dreadful, whose creator John Logan was responsible for the decision end the show after three seasons. There’s also the emergence of prequels like Bates Motel and Black Sails, which – if the creatives have their way – need to finish at the point the source material begins.

Bates Motel is among shows to have been granted a ‘soft landing’ as opposed to immediate cancellation

Orphan Black (pictured top) is another show that underlines this point. At last year’s Comic-Con, the creators of the BBC America series explained why they had decided to end the show after five seasons. According to co-creator Graeme Manson, it was because they wanted to end it on their own terms: “We sort of had five seasons in mind, and the thing we didn’t want to do was get kind of soft around the middle. We think it’s better to cancel than to get cancelled, than to peter out.”

A by-product of such scenarios, then, is that the broadcasters and platforms have a pretty good idea of when a show is going to end. This means it becomes easier to turn the conclusion of a series into some kind of cultural event. The fact that it may be ending sooner than they might have liked is not such a problem given the longevity of scripted series in the new on-demand world. Better to have three perfect seasons repeating for a decade than seven with a short shelf life.

Speaking from a producer’s perspective, Tiger Aspect joint MD of drama Frith Tiplady says her company has enjoyed being given visibility of the future of its shows: “The BBC commissioned seasons four and five of Peaky Blinders together, and we were given advanced warning that Ripper Street [Amazon/BBC] would finish after season five. That’s brilliant for us because it means we can finish telling stories the way we want. It also shows a respect for the audience and the auteurs involved.”

None of the above is to suggest we are witnessing the end of the sudden axe – especially from commercial networks, which remain notoriously quick to remove deadwood from their schedules.

While the business models associated with SVoD platforms, premium cable channels and public broadcasters tend to favour soft landings, ad-funded networks have less room for manoeuvre. ITV in the UK would probably have liked to have spent more time fixing Beowulf and Jekyll & Hyde, but below-par ratings made that impossible. There’s also the possibility we may soon start to see a contraction in the scripted business that results in more cancellations. For now, however, here’s to happy endings.

tagged in: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Where next for in-demand US writers?

In 2016, several US shows have been killed off despite airing successfully for a number of seasons. This week, we look at the creators and writers behind these shows, many of whom will be in strong demand after the conclusion of their latest projects.

Carlton-Cuse-Official-880x1024Bates Motel has been a strong performer for cable network A&E but is due to end in 2017 after season five. The first script was written by Anthony Cipriano, and then Carlton Cuse (pictured) and Kerry Ehrin joined as head writers. Cuse and Ehrin continue to run the show and will be in charge of the last season – which is expected to be a retelling of Psycho, on which the series is based. Cuse is one of the busiest showrunners in Hollywood, so won’t be short of things to do. His other gigs include FX’s The Strain and a new project for Amazon based on Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan novels. Ehrin has been linked with a couple of projects over the last two years (a romantic comedy for NBC and a terrorism drama for CBS) but there’s no concrete news on her plans after Bates Motel.

black-sailsBlack Sails is a prequel to Treasure Island, in the same way Bates Motel is a prequel to Psycho. Created by Jonathan E. Steinberg and Robert Levine, it airs on Starz but will finish after its fourth season. Steinberg and Levine have written many of the episodes together and also include Human Target and Jericho among their previous credits. Their plans after Black Sails are yet to be revealed. Steinberg wrote a pilot for an updated version of Beauty and the Beast for ABC, but this appears to have gone quiet.

castleCastle rumbled along for eight seasons on ABC before being cancelled in May 2016 (though it was very nearly given a short-run ninth season). It was created by Andrew W. Marlowe who wrote a lot of episodes up until season eight before stepping back. The most prominent writers on the latest season were showrunners Alexi Hawley and Terence Paul Winter. The latest news regarding Marlowe is that he is writing a comedy crime series for Tandem Productions with his wife Terri Edda Miller. Called Take Two, the LA-based series centres on private investigator Eddie Valetik and former cop show actress Emma Swift, who come together to form an unlikely crime-busting partnership. Hawley and Winter have yet to reveal their plans following the show’s termination. Hawley’s credits include The Following and State of Affairs, while Winter worked on All of Us.

Michelle-King-and-Robert-King-2The Good Wife ran for seven seasons and 156 episodes on CBS, ending on May 8, 2016. The award-winning legal/political drama ended on a high, which is good news for its creators Robert King and Michelle King (pictured). The Kings have their own production company, King Size Productions, which they operate under a three-year overall deal they signed with CBS in late 2014. Key projects to have come out of this setup include political satire BrainDead, which debuted on June 13 on CBS. Ratings for the show have not been great, suggesting an early cancellation (though it may be saved thanks to a streaming rights deal with Amazon).

house-of-liesHouse of Lies was a Showtime comedy series that followed a group of unscrupulous management consultants. Its fifth and final season ended last month. The show was created by Matthew Carnahan, who also wrote a lot of its episodes. In 2014, he also found time to write a movie called Ride, which starred his partner Helen Hunt. Previously he wrote a novel called Serpent Girl. House of Lies made the news earlier this year when it filmed in Cuba. There are no details yet re Carnahan’s next project.

Jonathan_Nolan_2_croppedPerson of Interest was a CBS sci-fi drama that ran for five seasons and ended on June 21 this year. Created by Jonathan Nolan (pictured), it was well received by critics and fans, securing an 8.5 rating on IMDb. Nolan is never short of stuff to do, but is currently most closely associated with Westworld, his HBO reboot of the classic movie. He co-wrote the last episode of Person of Interest but a lot of the writing work in recent seasons has been done by Greg Plageman, Denise Thé and Tony Camerino. There’s no news yet on what any of these three are planning for their next projects.

Jeff_Davis_by_Gage_SkidmoreTeen Wolf will end after next year’s season six on MTV. Developed by Jeff Davis (pictured), it’s loosely based on the 1985 film of the same name. Davis has been the dominant writer throughout, typically writing around half of the scripts in each season. Less well known is that he also created CBS’s Criminal Minds, which has gone on to run for 11 seasons. With his track record and the fact he is just 41 years old, Davis is sure to secure another significant gig in the near future. However, the news about Teen Wolf only broke a few days ago, so there has been no word on his future plans.

Graeme Manson

Orphan Black is a Canadian sci-fi thriller that has built up a strong cult audience. The show has been greenlit for a fifth season by Space in Canada and BBC America but will end after that. There was a panel on the show at this month’s Comic-Con during which the creators Graeme Manson (writer, pictured) and John Fawcett (director) confirmed it was their decision to end the show. They didn’t discuss future plans except to say they’re open to the possibility of a spin-off series or feature film. For Manson, the series was his big breakthrough moment, so expect him to be in demand.

John Logan

Penny Dreadful, Sky/Showtime’s gothic horror series, will end after three seasons. Like Orphan Black, the decision to end the show came from its creator, John Logan (pictured), who said: “I created Penny Dreadful to tell the story of a woman grappling with her faith, and with the demons inside her,” he said. “For me, the character of Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) is the heart of this series. From the beginning, I imagined her story would unfold over a three-season arc, ending with Vanessa finding peace as she returns to her faith.” Logan, of course, is not short of work, having penned numerous movies including Gladiator, The Aviator, Skyfall and Spectre. His next announced film projects are Just Kids, The next James Bond film and Alien: Covenant. The big question, of course, is whether he’ll be tempted back to TV at any point in the near future.

Kevin Williamson

The Vampire Diaries is soon to end after clocking up eight seasons on The CW. Parting with the show has been made easier for the network by the success of its superhero series. Based on books by LJ Smith, The Vampire Diaries was developed by Kevin Williamson (pictured) and Julie Plec. The latter wrote a couple of episodes in season six but the major writing responsibilities in recent times have belonged to Caroline Dries and Brian Young. Williamson is now busy with a series for ABC called Time After Time and a paranormal project for The CW called Frequency. Williamson and Plec are also exec producers on Fox pilot Recon, which is written by Dries. This one is about an FBI agent who embeds herself in a suspected terrorist family.

tagged in: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The growing complexity of commissioning

Vinyl has been cancelled
Vinyl has been cancelled

The process of renewing and cancelling scripted shows used to be pretty straightforward. But these days there is a growing number of variations on this theme.

Recently, for example, we shone a spotlight on Nashville, which was cancelled by ABC and then revived by CMT. And this week, we have a reverse example in the shape of HBO’s Vinyl.

In this case, the music-based series was initially given a second season but has now been cancelled. Despite much hype and creators including Mick Jagger and Martin Scorsese, the first season didn’t rate well and was a prime candidate to get the chop when it finished airing in April.

Instead, programming chief Michael Lombardo decided to stick with it. Now, however, Lombardo has been replaced by Casey Bloys and it is he who has called time on the series. A similar thing happened to VH1’s Hindsight earlier in the year, though in that case it was a change in editorial direction, not bad ratings, that drove the decision.

‘Uncancellations’ and ‘unrenewals’ are not the only new developments in the scripted market. As we’ve reported before, there is also a growing trend for US networks to order two or three seasons of a hit show in one go as a way of locking up the key talent involved (a high-profile example being Netflix’s Orange is the New Black).

The Last Kingdom
The Last Kingdom

We’re also seeing situations where international coproductions have to rejig their broadcast partner structure because one of them drops out or is no longer regarded as suitable. Netflix, for example, has just replaced BBC America as a partner on period series The Last Kingdom.

Then there is the emerging tendency for shows to be co-commissioned by networks (such as the recent simulcast of Roots across A+E’s main US cable channels) and for commissions that are destined to start their life on OTT or SVoD platforms.

We’ve seen Amazon, Netflix and Hulu lead the way on this latter development, of course, but now we have a number of shows that have opened or will open their account on platforms like Crackle, BBC iPlayer or CBS All Access.

At the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity this week, CBS CEO and president Les Moonves talked about the decision to debut the latest TV reboot of Star Trek on CBS All Access, an OTT platform that costs US$5.99 per month. It is due to launch in January.

According to Moonves, every part of CBS wanted to get its hands on Star Trek first – and there was also a lot of interest from third-party platforms like Netflix. But it’s a sign of the changing profile of the TV business that a company like CBS that makes most of its money from advertising and syndication/distribution should place this iconic property on a nascent subscription service.

Penny Dreadful's creator has called time on the show
Penny Dreadful’s creator, John Logan, has called time on the show

Other interesting developments have seen creators, rather than networks, call time on series.

Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, for example, was still in good shape when it came to the end of season three. But creator John Logan has simply decided it has reached its natural end: “I created Penny Dreadful to tell the story of a woman grappling with her faith, and with the demons inside her,” he said. “For me, the character of Vanessa Ives (played by Eva Green) is the heart of this series. From the beginning, I imagined her story would unfold over a three-season arc, ending with Vanessa finding peace as she returns to her faith.”

This is an interesting dynamic, because it runs counter to the usual notion of TV networks being the all-powerful decision-makers, with creatives holding their breath in anticipation of a recommission. As TV becomes increasingly reliant on A-list auteurs and high-profile actors for content that cuts through the clutter of competition, it will encounter this situation more and more.

Maybe networks and distributors will want six or seven seasons of a show in order to fully monetise their investment, but the creative in question may only want to do two or three seasons before following their muse somewhere else. It’s an interesting conundrum that is an inevitable part of a TV system that has become more film-like in terms of its approach. In the case of actors, the problem can be addressed through the use of anthology-style series, but with writers it’s not so simple.

Reference to anthologies is, of course, another example of how the traditional commissioning model is adapting to the realities of 21st century television. Franchises like American Horror Story, Fargo and True Detective are all examples of how networks can, in effect, get a completely new show while leverage existing brand awareness.

Oprah Winfrey (left) in Greenleaf
Oprah Winfrey (left) in Greenleaf

This kind of renewal can have a re-energising effect on a show – and it’s not the only way that the drama business tries to breathe new life into shows.

Showrunner replacement, especially in the context of the US, is an increasingly common way of trying to sustain a franchise that networks like but don’t think is firing on all cylinders – or where the original showrunner is maybe running out of juice, or distracted by other projects.

We’ve also seen the interesting example of Supergirl moving from CBS to The CW in pursuit of a more appropriate audience.

Finally, in the increasingly complex world of commissioning and renewal, we’ve seen the emergence of the spin-off, which, like the anthology, seeks to marry fresh content with brand track record. Dick Wolf’s Chicago family of shows for NBC and Fear The Walking Dead for AMC show that this approach can work across the range. All in all then, the world of hits and misses, renewals and cancellations, has become much more sophisticated in the multiplatform universe.

Away from the complexities of commissioning and cancellation, one of the big new debuts of the week was Greenleaf, a new scripted series for Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) that stars Winfrey herself. The premiere of the drama attracted an audience of 3.04 million and a 2.18 rating in OWN’s target market of women aged 25 to 54. That makes it the biggest series launch in OWN’s five-year history.

Written by Craig Wright and executive produced by Winfrey and Clement Virgo, Greenleaf is produced by Lionsgate and explores the inner workings of the powerful family behind a Memphis megachurch.

With its predominantly African-American cast and characters, it’s the latest example of the pulling power of shows that appeal to the black audience in the US. It’s also an example of the immense appeal of Winfrey in any screen incarnation (chat show, TV drama or film).

Compared to other cable networks, Greenleaf was the most-watched show on its debut evening. It is also the second-most-watched scripted cable debut of 2016 so far after FX’s American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson – which reinforces the point about subject matter that resonates strong with the black community.

tagged in: , , , , , , , , , , , ,