Tag Archives: Lee Daniels

Daniels’ Star risks implosion

Star has not been received well by TV critics

Lee Daniels has made a strong impression with Empire, the music industry show that has been rating so well on Fox in the US. But it looks like he is going to have a tougher time with his follow-up drama Star, which debuted on the same network on Wednesday.

The series follows three young women trying to break into the music scene. Star (played by Jude Demorest) has spent most of her life in foster care following her mother’s death from a drug overdose. She forms a girl group with Alexandra (Ryan Destiny), an aspiring singer who (unknown to Star) is the daughter of a wealthy rock musician; and her 16-year-old sister, Simone (Brittany O’Grady), who she has not seen in five years.

At time of writing, the audience figures aren’t in but an IMDb score of 6.8 doesn’t augur well. Nor do the reviews, with critics quick to pan the series. The Chicago Tribune, for example, complained about the show’s “stilted dialogue” and “sloppy narrative,” while the New York Times said Star was “all over the place.” According to the NYT, “Empire’s first season set a standard for narrative drive and engaging storytelling that Star doesn’t approach in its initial three episodes. What Star doesn’t have is a Cookie – a Taraji P. Henson to light a fire that would draw your attention away from the tackiness of the show. It needs a star.”

Baron Noir – ‘the French House of Cards’

It’s early days, of course, but it looks like Daniels will need a rapid turnaround in fortunes to keep the network bosses happy. If not, the show could go the same way as HBO’s musical miss Vinyl.

Turning to French-language/French-produced drama, the last few years have seen a steady stream of acclaimed shows coming on to the international market – examples including Braquo, Spiral, The Returned and Witnesses. 2016 has also been a pretty positive year, with series like Netflix’s Marseilles, the France-Sweden copro Midnight Sun and English-language epic Versailles attracting a lot of interest. Not to be overlooked either is The Bureau, a political thriller that has picked up a strong following on iTunes in the US and Amazon in the UK; or the two Belgian series, Truce and Public Enemy, which have attracted critical acclaim.

There are signs that this momentum will be maintained into 2017 following the news that StudioCanal has sold the German-speaking rights for eight-part series Baron Noir to Sony Channel.

A Canal+ Création Originale, Baron Noir follows French politician Philippe Rickwaert’s thirst for revenge against his political enemies. Launched to critical acclaim in France, with a second season now in development, this “French House of Cards” has also been acquired by SBS Australia and Amazon Prime Video in the UK and Ireland. “Baron Noir is a gripping political thriller and a masterpiece of French storytelling. We are proud to premiere this series on Sony Channel,” said Carsten Fink, VP of German-speaking Europe at Sony Pictures Television Networks.

Skam’s audience figures have skyrocketed this year

Another show in the news this week is the cult Norwegian youth series Skam (Shame), which is to be adapted for the US market by XIX Entertainment’s Simon Fuller. “Shame is an important show,” Fuller said. “There is precious little content created primarily for a teen audience and Shame provides this with great honesty and integrity. This show packs a punch and is leading the way in exploring multi-platform storytelling. It has become an enormous hit in Norway and has the potential to become an influential show in America, where there is simply nothing like it. Scandinavia and Norway in particular is at the forefront of innovation and creativity in the shaping of the world’s digital and creative industries right now. I’m proud to be in partnership with NRK to take Shame to a worldwide audience.”

Created by Julie Andem for NRK Super, Skam tackles topics such as school, depression, sex, homosexuality, alcohol and religion. With a fourth series now commissioned, the show has seen its weekly audience grow from 24,000 to 1.26 million in 2016. It is also popular in Denmark and Sweden and has picked up a strong teen audience via social media platforms. Addressing the deal with Fuller, Håkon Moslet, head of youth TV for NRK added: “A lot of people in the TV industry have got their eyes on Skam this fall, but no one has got a vision like Simon Fuller. He wants to be true to the original idea and make Shame a series that can change the rules in the American TV market. We’re honoured he wants to take our baby to the next international level.”

Shameless’s Emmy Rossum has agreed a new deal with Showtime

Also this week, there’s good news for Showtime following reports that the premium pay TV channel has signed a new salary deal with Shameless star Emmy Rossum. A holdup over Rossum’s pay demands had threatened the future of the show, but now that this has been resolved it leaves the door open for an eighth season of Shameless, which also stars William H Macy.

Although Showtime has not yet officially ordered an eighth run, it is very likely to do so. Shameless is currently Showtime’s second strongest performer behind Homeland and ahead of Ray Donovan and Billions. With The Affair experiencing a substantial drop in ratings for season three, having the stability that Shameless provides must surely be a priority for Showtime. Shameless is based on a UK show of the same name. Created by Paul Abbott, the original version ran for 11 seasons on Channel 4.

Finally this week, Tribune Broadcasting-owned cable network WGN has cancelled its witch-themed drama Salem after three seasons. The show, which is centred on the 17th century witch trials, is currently averaging around 260,000 viewers – well down on its performance in seasons one and two. To date, WGN has had a hit-and-miss record on drama origination. Manhattan was also a poor performer but Underground and Outsiders have both done well for the network and have been renewed for second seasons.

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Creative heavyweights step up development

 

Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman

Fox in the US is developing a drama based on the 2015 Netflix movie Parallels.

Entitled The Building, it centres on a group of people who enter a skyscraper that transports them into parallel universes, which are similar to but not quite the same as our own. In one, for example, Russia has dropped a nuclear bomb on the US.

The idea is being adapted for TV by Neil Gaiman and Chris Leone (the latter wrote and directed the movie). Albert Kim, whose writing and production credits include Sleepy Hollow and Nikita, is the showrunner. The project caps off a busy year for Gaiman, who has also been adapting his novel American Gods for Starz.

Also in the news this week is Alan Ball, creator of HBO series Six Feet Under and True Blood. Ball is reported to be teaming up with HBO again on a series that will star Holly Hunter as the mother of a non-traditional progressive family.

According to Deadline: “Once a therapist in private practice, Hunter’s Audrey now reluctantly utilises her skills as a psychologist in the corporate world, balancing her more progressive personal philosophy with the need to make money. She is a smart, caring woman who believes she knows what’s best for everyone and has no problem telling them. But with her husband now fighting depression and her children mostly grown, she finds herself somewhat adrift.”

Holly Hunter
Holly Hunter

Other high-profile stories this week include the news that Sonar Entertainment has signed a first look deal with Robert Downey Jr and Susan Downey’s production outfit Team Downey. As part of the deal, Sonar and Team Downey are working on a project called Singularity. Also involved in the creation of the series is Anthony Michael Hall, who will star.

The deal is the latest link-up between Sonar and star talent. The company is also working with George Clooney and Tom Hardy, with the latter starring in upcoming period series Taboo.

Commenting on the new deal with Team Downey, Sonar CEO Thomas Lesinski said: “We are excited about Team Downey’s vision for developing and producing a broad scope of original premium content. [This] is another example of our commitment to forge creative collaborations with the most dynamic talent in the industry.”

In terms of commissioning news, US network NBC has renewed its military medical drama The Night Shift for a fourth season. The series, produced by Sony Pictures Television (SPT), follows the medical team at the fictional San Antonio Memorial Hospital. Season one of the show averaged around 6.5 million viewers, followed by 5.3 million for season two and five million for season three.

Night Shift
The Night Shift has been given a third season

At Fox, meanwhile, there are reports of a new dance drama being developed with director McG, who began his career in the music industry. The project, which sounds little bit like the Channing Tatum movie Step Up, is called The Cut and is set in a dance conservatory. It’s the latest in a line of Fox scripted projects with a musical theme – possibly inspired by the success of Empire. For example, Empire creator Lee Daniels has been working on a series called Star for the network, while last week we reported that Glee star Darren Criss was working with Fox on Royalties.

Also this week, it was announced that Phoebe Waller-Bridge, creator and star of BBC3’s Fleabag, is to write and star in a spy drama for BBC America. The network has ordered eight episodes of Killing Eve, a thriller about a psychopathic assassin and the woman hunting her. The show is based on a novella by Luke Jennings called Villanelle.

“[The show] is a brilliantly fresh take on the cat-and-mouse thriller from Phoebe Waller-Bridge, a major talent,” said Sarah Barnett, president of BBC America. “Underneath the deceptively simple and entertaining surface is a subversive, funny, obsessive relationship between two women, that plays out across some of the most and least glamorous locations imaginable.”

Bull
First-window rights to Bull in the UK have been taken by Fox Networks Group

It’s also been a busy week on the distribution front. Fox Networks Group (FNG) Europe and Asia, for example, has secured exclusive first-window rights to CBS legal drama Bull in the UK from CBS Studios International. This follows a previous deal that gave FNG rights to Bull in markets including Spain, Portugal, Turkey and Sweden.

Elsewhere, SPT has sold the much-anticipated new ITV period drama The Halcyon to broadcasters in Scandinavia, while Vimeo has continued its move into longform TV content. Among scripted titles that will now be available on its platform are All3Media International comedy Fresh Meat and seven seasons of Company Pictures’ cult youth series Skins, available globally excluding Australia.

Paul Corney, senior VP of global digital sales at All3Media International, commented: “Vimeo has a strong presence around the world with a great brand that reaches consumers in all key markets. Its team has a dynamic outlook on content delivery and we’re looking forward to working with them to bring more fantastic new shows to the Vimeo audience.”

Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag
Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag

In terms of new book rights deals, the big story this week is that BBC Worldwide-based indie producer Baby Cow has acquired the rights to Zadie Smith’s new novel Swing Time. Smith has been lined up to adapt the novel for TV alongside her husband Nick Laird.

Swing Time is Baby Cow’s first major acquisition since Christine Langan, ex-head of BBC Films, took over as CEO this month. She said: “Zadie Smith is the voice of a generation and Swing Time is a thrillingly ambitious story of friendship, rivalry and fame.”

Smith added: “I am absolutely delighted at the prospect of working with Baby Cow on an adaptation of Swing Time. Their extraordinary track record in both drama and comedy I have always admired from afar and it’s a thrill for me to get the chance to collaborate with [founder] Steve Coogan and Christine Langan.”

Smith burst onto the literary scene with her first novel White Teeth. Swing Time, only released this week, is her fifth novel.

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Black writing talent thriving in US

Black screenwriters are rarer than unicorns in European TV drama, but there is a growing number of talented black writers making their mark in US broadcasting and streaming. This week, we look at some of the best-known names and rising stars in the hope it might inspire the European business to embrace ethnic diversity. Take note of how many of this clever bunch also happen to be women – and how many black writers are involved in hits.

latoya-morganLaToya Morgan is in the news this week after signing a two-year deal with cable network AMC. Morgan has recently finished writing for the Revolutionary War drama Turn: Washington’s Spies and will now join the team on AMC’s Into the Badlands. She will also be given the chance to develop new TV projects. She also previously worked on the Shameless writing team at Showtime.

Courtney-Kemp-Agboh[2]Courtney Kemp Agboh recently told DQ that she started her career as a comedy writer and “sucked.” Fortunately, she reinvented herself as a drama writer and has gone on to have great success with Starz series Power, which tells the story of a club owner who also runs a huge drug network. Prior to her success with Power, Kemp Agboh worked on The Good Wife.

tylerperryTyler Perry is good at most things in the media business. As a TV writer, he is best known as the creator of The Haves and the Have Nots, one of the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN)’s top-performing dramas. Perry has an ongoing deal with OWN that has seen him produce a number of scripted series include If Loving You Is Wrong and Love Thy Neighbour.

kenyabarrisKenya Barris is best known as the creator of ABC’s acclaimed comedy Black-ish, which includes Michelle Obama among its fans. This funny series focuses on the challenges faced by a successful black ad agency exec as he tries to keep hold of his heritage while assimilating with the bourgeois, mainly white community he now lives in. A third season was ordered by ABC on March 3 this year.

Lee_Daniels_2013Lee Daniels shot to the front rank of screenwriters thanks to Fox hit Empire, co-created with Danny Strong. After the success of Empire, Daniels started working on another music-based scripted show with Tom Donaghy. Called Star, the series is about three girls who form a band, and charts their rise to the top. Like Empire, Star is for Fox, with which Daniels has an overall deal.

aishamuharrarAisha Muharrar, a Harvard graduate, made a name for herself as part of the team on NBC’s Parks & Recreation, having previously worked on comedy series Sit Down Shut Up. Muharrar is now reported to be working with Parks & Rec star Amy Poehler on a new comedy for NBC about a young agnostic woman who inherits a church and its strong-willed community.

john-ridleyJohn Ridley is best-known as the Oscar-winning screenwriter of 12 Years a Slave, but he is now having a big impact in TV. Having set up the successful ABC series American Crime, he is in the process of bringing crime series Presence to the screen for ABC. He is also working on Guerrilla, a six-part limited series for Showtime and Sky Atlantic that stars Idris Elba and Freida Pinto.

Janine-Sherman-BarroisJanine Sherman Barrois was a key member of the team on CBS’s long-running crime drama Criminal Minds until she signed a deal with Warner Bros Television to create and develop new drama series. Prior to all this, she worked on The Jamie Foxx Show, The PJs and Third Watch. Sherman Barrois is also active advocate of increased industry diversity.

MishaGreenMisha Green has previously worked on Kurt Sutter’s Sons of Anarchy for FX, Syfy thriller Helix (cancelled last year after two seasons) and popular NBC drama Heroes. But her big breakthrough has come as creator (with Joe Pokaski) and executive producer of WGN’s Civil War drama Underground – which tells the story of slaves escaping to freedom via the underground railroad.

shondarhimesShonda Rhimes is one of the top drama showrunners in the business, but as well as being an amazing talent in her own right, she’s also bringing through new black talent such as Zoanne Clack (see below), Raamla Mohamed and Zahir McGhee. In terms of her own credentials, Rhimes has created or overseen several hits for ABC including Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder.

zoanneclackZoanne Clack was a doctor before she got into the TV business. Her medical background helped her secure a role working on Grey’s Anatomy, though now she has more than demonstrated her creative skills as a writer and story editor. The most recent news about Clack was that she is working on a new series for ABC about a US Army Medevac team based in the Iraqi city of Baghdad.

justinsimien_1331505284_46Justin Simien is a rising star who made the acclaimed film Dear White People. Netflix recently ordered a 10-part adaptation of the film, to be produced by Lionsgate. Due to land on Netflix in 2017, the series version of Dear White People tells the story of a group of students of colour at a fictional Ivy League university dominated by white students.

ClementVirgoClement Virgo is actually Canadian, but gets in here because of his impact on the North American TV business. Following his adaptation of Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes, he is currently working with Hill again on The Illegal. This is the story of Keita Ali, a young marathon runner who flees his repressive native home and finds himself in a community of undocumented refugees living in a wealthy country. Virgo is also exec producing OWN’s Greenleaf.

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Music shows strike a chord with networks

As a childhood fan of The Monkees, I can vouch for the fact that TV series about the music business are nothing new. But there’s no question that the current success of Fox US’s hip-hop drama Empire has inspired an unprecedented array of music-related scripted shows. So this week’s column takes a look at the writers who are riding the crest of this compositional wave.

Star: After the success of Empire, the show’s co-creator Lee Daniels is planning another music-based scripted show. Working alongside Tom Donaghy, he is making Star, a series about three girls who form a band and their rise to the top. Like Empire, Star is for Fox, at which Daniels has an overall deal. Daniels is good at doing diversity. His band will comprise one white girl, one black girl and one mixed-race girl (half white/half black). There is also a transgender black/Latino central character called Cotton. Donaghy, meanwhile, is a playwright who is also known for having worked on The Mentalist and for creating ABC’s The Whole Truth.

Vinyl

Vinyl has just started airing on HBO (February 14) to pretty good reviews. Based on an idea by Mick Jagger and Martin Scorsese, it tells the story of Richie Finestra, a record executive in the 1970s, played by Bobby Cannavale. The story credit goes to Jagger, Scorsese, Rich Cohen and Terence Winter, who also wrote the screenplay with George Mastras. As you’d expect with a project of this calibre, the writers are TV royalty. Winter, for example, was creator, writer, and executive producer of Boardwalk Empire, having previously worked on The Sopranos and written The Wolf of Wall Street. Mastras worked on all five seasons of AMC’s Breaking Bad and is also the author of a novel, Fidali’s Way. There are already reports that Winter wants to do a second season.

The Breaks has just been greenlit as a series by Viacom pay TV channel VH1, having debuted strongly as a TV movie in January. Based on the Dan Charnas book The Big Payback, it’s a history of the hip-hop business. The series story is being developed by Charnas and Seith Mann, with the latter writing, directing and executive producing. Mann’s credits include The Wire, The Walking Dead and Homeland. The story follows three young friends seeking to establish themselves as hip-hop artists in New York City in 1990.

Vital Signs is the new series Apple is reported to be making with rap legend and Beats Music co-founder Andre Young, better known as Dr Dre. The show will be a semi-autobiographical “dark drama.” Apple and Dr Dre have not yet commented on the nascent project, which means it is too early to know who will write it. One option might be Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff, the Oscar-nominated duo who wrote the screenplay for NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton – though both are embroiled in other projects. Berloff, for example, is writing Sleepless Night, a movie starring Jamie Foxx, whike Herman has been working on the Scarlett Johansson movie Ghost in the Shell.

Roadies

Roadies is a comedy from Showtime that, as its name suggests, goes backstage with a group of roadies. Directed by Cameron Crowe, the show will give an insider’s look at “the reckless, romantic, funny and often poignant lives of a committed group of roadies who live for music and the de facto family they’ve formed along the way. The music-infused ensemble comedy series chronicles the rock world through the eyes of music’s unsung heroes.” Crowe is a writer/director, mainly known for films such as Jerry Maguire and We Bought a Zoo. Less well known is the fact that he’s a huge music aficionado. After leaving college, Crowe worked for Rolling Stone, where he interviewed the likes of Dylan, Bowie and Clapton. His second film, Almost Famous, was about a teen music journalist who goes on the road with a band in the early 1970s.

New Edition project: Viacom-owned BET is making a miniseries based on the 1980s R&B heartthrobs New Edition – marking the network’s first scripted music-focused TV movie. A three-parter, the show has the backing of five of the band’s members, but not the most famous of the group, Bobby Brown. The film will chronicle New Edition’s beginnings in Boston’s Orchard Park Projects to success with tracks like Candy Girl and Cool It Now. The script is being written by Abdul Williams, who previously wrote the movie Lottery Ticket (which included Ice Cube in the cast).

Nashville

Nashville deserves a mention, even though it predates Empire by a few years. Now up to its fourth season, the show centres on the rivalry between country queen Rayna James and rising star Juliette Barnes. The show was created by Callie Khouri, who won an Academy Award in 1992 for the Thelma & Louise screenplay. Until Nashville, she mostly worked in movies, writing films such as Something to Talk About, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and Mad Money. For season four, Khouri stepped back from writing but has directed some episodes. Writing was shared among a team of 10 writers, with the opening episode penned by Meredith Lavender and Marcie Ulin. The final episode, which will air this spring, is set to be written by Taylor Hamra, who was also involved in the recent TNT reboot of oil-industry soap Dallas.

The Get Down, which we discussed in a recent column, is a Baz Luhrmann music-driven drama that focuses on 1970s New York City: “broken down and beaten up, violent, cash strapped – dying.” It’s for Netflix, which says the six-part series is “a mythic saga of how New York at the brink of bankruptcy gave birth to hip hop, punk and disco – told through the lives and music of the South Bronx kids who changed the city, and the world… forever.” This is similar terrain to Vinyl, so it will be interesting to see how it pans out in comparison. Luhrmann’s creative team includes Oscar-winning designer Catherine Martin, hip-hop historian and writer Nelson George and writer Stephen Adly Guirgis. To date, Guirgis is best known as a playwright, having won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for drama for Between Riverside and Crazy. However, he does have a few screenwriting credits to his name, including an episode of NYPD Blue from 2002 and a couple of short-lived dramas called Big Apple (CBS) and UC: Undercover (NBC). He is also an actor, appearing in movies such as Birdman.

Stop! In the Name of Love is a four-part miniseries for the BBC that will incorporate numerous Motown songs (a la Mamma Mia). The UK drama follows six smart thirtysomething women as they deal with love, friendship, success and failure. The show is a joint venture between Tony Jordan (Dickensian, Life on Mars), Duncan Kenworthy (Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral), Antenna Group MD and former president of NBCUniversal International Peter Smith, and music consultant and former chairman of Universal Music UK John Kennedy. Jordan, who is writing the series, says it will “offer something completely different from any other show on television. The music of Motown is iconic and mirrors the rich gamut of human emotion and experience as well as exploring universal themes that all cultures and ages can relate to. The musical arrangements and cutting-edge choreography will give us a uniquely modern take on a timeless genre of music.”

Mozart in the Jungle

Mozart in the Jungle is another show we’ve looked at recently following its Golden Globe triumph (Best Series – Music or Comedy). A quirky story of professional musicians working the New York concert circuit, Mozart is based on the memoir of an oboist called Blair Tindall. It was brought to the screen by a company called Picrow, with the pilot episode written by Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Alex Timbers. Once the show was commissioned as a 10-part series, a further eight people were credited with either writing scripts or providing stories. The most prominent names among these were John Strauss and Paul Weitz, the latter also directing a number of first season episodes. Season two, which was released on December 30 last year, involved some of the same writers but there were also five new additions – giving the show an ensemble feel both on and off the screen. Since we last wrote about the show, it has been give a third season.

Power isn’t quite a music series but it has strong music connections. Created and written by Courtney Kemp Agboh, the series follows James St. Patrick, nicknamed Ghost. Ghost is the owner of a popular New York nightclub – but also a major player in an illegal drug network. The show, which is produced by rapper Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson has aired for two series on Starz and was recently renewed by the network for a third.

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Starz shines in Golden Globe nominations

Outlander
Outlander is based on novels by Diana Gabaldon

It’s very much in vogue to talk about the quality of scripted series coming out of HBO, Showtime, AMC, FX, Netflix and Amazon. But this week let’s raise a glass to Starz, which has picked up Golden Globe nominations for two dramas: Outlander and Flesh and Bone.

When Starz made its first meaningful move into original production with Spartacus: Blood and Sand, it didn’t look like it would be a contender for industry gongs. But under the leadership of Chris Albrecht and Carmi Zlotnik, the US channel has really raised its game – delivering shows like Power, Black Sails and, coming in 2016, The Girlfriend Experience – as well as the above-mentioned series.

Outlander, based on the novels by Diana Gabaldon, is produced by Sony Pictures Television and Left Bank Pictures and was developed for TV by Ronald D Moore. Moore also heads a writing team that, in season one, included five credited writers (Moore, Toni Graphia, Ira Steven Behr, Anne Kenney and Matthew B Roberts).

Moore, who wrote the opening two episodes of season one, is still just 51. But his extensive writing credits include Star Trek: The Next Generation, Battlestar Galactica and Syfy series Helix. He was also reported to be working on a TV reboot of movie A Knight’s Tale for ABC.

Flesh and Bone is a one-season-only drama
Flesh and Bone is a one-season-only drama written by Moira Walley-Beckett

Flesh and Bone, meanwhile, is an eight-part miniseries about the dysfunctional but glamorous world of ballet. Created by Moira Walley-Beckett, it started airing on Starz on November 8 and is currently five episodes through its one and only season. Walley-Beckett’s career to date has seen her win a Primetime Emmy for her work as a writer on AMC’s Breaking Bad. She was also a writer-producer on ABC’s short-lived period series Pan Am.

Elsewhere, fans of Fox thriller 24 will be delighted to hear that the show’s star Kiefer Sutherland is to headline a new ABC series entitled Designated Survivor. The drama, which has been ordered straight-to-series, focuses on a junior US cabinet member who is unexpectedly appointed president after a huge attack kills everyone above him in the line of succession. The production company behind the show is Mark Gordon Co Studios (Quantico) and the writer will be David Guggenheim.

Guggenheim’s major credits to date are movies – most notably the Denzel Washington/Ryan Reynolds thriller Safe House. He is also working on a sequel to Safe House and a new instalment in the cult Bad Boys franchise. The drama is ABC’s first new scripted series for the 2016/17 and follows on from a decent showing for Quantico.

Kiefer Sutherland as 24's Jack Bauer
Kiefer Sutherland as 24’s Jack Bauer

If this is the golden age of TV drama, then one has to ask why so many old movies and TV series are being revived. Still, it’s good news for writers. The latest beneficiary is Javier Grillo-Marxuach, a former Lost writer (seasons one and two) who was been signed up to write a reboot of NBC’s cult series Xena: Warrior Princess.

The chances of Xena getting into production seem pretty good for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because of the current trend towards action-adventure shows with female leads. Secondly, because the show is popular internationally, suggesting a successful reboot could be a money-spinner for NBC’s distribution division.

Another show to secure a nomination at this year’s Golden Globes is Fox’s ratings hit Empire. Unsurprisingly, Fox has asked the show’s co-creator Lee Daniels to come up with a follow-up series. Daniels, who is currently casting the pilot, is co-writing the new series with Tom Donaghy.

Although the programme doesn’t yet have a title, it will follow the fortunes of a girl group hoping to make it in the music business. Donaghy started his career as a playwright but, like many of his peers, is now active in TV. Credits before now include The Whole Truth, Without a Trace and The Mentalist.

Could Xena: Warrior Princess be the latest show to see a revival?
Could Xena: Warrior Princess be the latest show to see a revival?

Another project in the news this month is Lookout Point’s Parisian fashion drama The Collection. Set in the aftermath of the Second World War, the eight-hour show has been picked up by Amazon and will be written by Oliver Goldstick. Goldstick’s credits include Desperate Housewives, Ugly Betty and, notably, Pretty Little Liars (PLL), for which he has written 30 episodes. He also co-created the short-lived PLL spin-off Ravenswood with I Marlene King and Joseph Dougherty.

One project in search of a writer is AMC’s new adaptation of Joe Hill horror novel NOS4A2. The story centres a young woman with an uncanny talent for finding lost things – a gift that is gradually destroying her mind. She encounters Charlie Manx, who abducts children in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith and sucks their souls to keep himself young. The licence plate on the Rolls (NOS4A2) gives you a clue as to what kind of character he is.

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Down with the kids

The TV industry is constantly being told that it is out of touch with the teen audience, which now spends so much of its leisure time snacking content on mobile or immersed in social media. So it was interesting to see which scripted shows came out on top at the Teen Choice Awards, a Fox TV event that invites teens to vote for their favourite stars and shows across a range of categories.

In the Best TV Drama category, the winner was Pretty Little Liars, with Castle, Empire, The Fosters, Grey’s Anatomy and Nashville named on the shortlist.

In the Breakout Show category, the winner was Empire, with Blackish, iZombie, Jane the Virgin and Younger also nominated (also on the latter shortlist was Becoming Us, an ABC Family reality show with a transgender theme).

So this week we’ve decided to give a shout-out to the writers and creators who seem to have their fingers on the teen pulse.

Pretty-Little-LiarsPretty Little Liars
In previous columns we’ve commented on the huge social media following established by this ABC Family show, created by I Marlene King. King is already committed to two more series of PLL (which is based on books by Sara Shepard) and also made one series of a spin-off called Ravenswood.
Going forward, she has been signed up to adapt Danielle Vega horror novel The Merciless as a film. She is also developing another Shepard novel, The Perfectionists, as a TV series for ABC Family.

Castle
Castle is a crime drama that has been airing on ABC since 2009. Now up to 151 episodes, it was created by Andrew Marlowe and focuses on the love-hate relationship between a homicide detective and a mystery novelist. Marlowe cut his teeth on movies such as Air Force One, End of Days and Hollow Man and is now developing new ideas with ABC Studios. In 2014, the prime responsibility for Castle shifted to David Amann, whose own track record includes Three Rivers, Without a Trace, Crossing Jordan and The X-Files. Amann will not, however, be involved with season eight of Castle, with no news yet about his replacement as showrunner.

empire720Empire
Empire is arguably the biggest breakout series of the last year. A Fox show that focuses on a hip-hop music business, it was created by Lee Daniels and Danny Strong. There was big news regarding Daniels this week, with reports that he is writing, directing and executive producing a new music drama pilot for Fox called Star.
Fox was impressed enough by Daniels’ idea to order a pilot based solely on his outline. Fox TV Group chairman and CEO Dana Walden said of Star: “Like Empire, it’s set against the backdrop of the music business but from a different perspective.”

the-fostersThe Fosters
Another ABC Family show, The Fosters follows the lives of the Foster family, consisting of an interracial lesbian couple raising a blended family of biological, adopted and foster children. Now in its third run, it was created by Peter Paige and Bradley Bredeweg, who still write the opening and closing episodes of each season (the rest being penned by a large writing team).
Paige is actually better known as an actor, having appeared in series such as Queer As Folk, Will & Grace, Grey’s Anatomy and Bones. He and Bredeweg teamed up again as writers on Tut, the Spike miniseries, alongside fellow writer Michael Vickerman.

Nashville
ABC’s country music drama was created by Callie Khouri, who won an Academy Award in 1992 for the Thelma & Louise screenplay. Until Nashville, she mostly worked in movies, writing films such as Something to Talk About, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and Mad Money.
Recently Khouri has shared responsibility for key episodes with Dee Johnson, whose many credits include Melrose Place, Commander in Chief and The Good Wife. She was also showrunner on season two of Boss.

Grey’s Anatomy
This long-running ABC series is the creation of Shonda Rhimes – click here for DQ’s in-depth look at the showrunner’s prodco ShondaLand.

blackishBlack-ish
Blackish is a sitcom that centres on an upper-middle-class African-American family. Recently renewed for a second season, it was created by Kenya Barris, whose previous credits include The Game, I Hate My Teenage Daughter and Are We There Yet?.
Current projects in the works from Barris include the movie Barbershop 3 and an untitled ‘girl’s trip’ project for Universal that he will co-write with Tracy Oliver, his partner on Barbershop 3.

izombieiZombie
This CW series was developed by Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero-Wright and is based on a comic book series of the same name. Thomas has been writing and creating series in the teen/young-adult space for two decades, with credits including Dawson’s Creek, Veronica Mars and 90210.
Ruggiero-Wright also worked on Veronica Mars and counts Dirty Sexy Money among her credits. iZombie recently secured a second-season pick-up.

Jane the Virgin
Jane the Virgin was created by Jennie Snyder Urman, whose recent credits include Emily Owens MD, 90210 and, a few years back, Gilmore Girls.

youngerYounger
Younger is a TV Land series about a 40-year-old recently divorced mother who gets a makeover and passes herself off as a 26-year-old. Recently commissioned for a second season, it was created by Darren Star, whose credits include Melrose Place, Beverly Hills 90210 and Sex and the City – all of which he also created.

So what can we learn from the tastes of US teenagers? Well, the really inspiring thing to note is the emphatic support for diversity in this mix. Black showrunners, gay showrunners and feminist showrunners all appear in the above list, writing about the widest possible array of characters. The clear message is that US teens are running ahead of the curve in the pursuit of diversity and social equality.

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Spin it to win it: The rising popularity of spin-off series

As AMC prepares to launch Fear The Walking Dead, Michael Pickard looks at the trend towards producing spin-offs of popular shows and examines why such series are so popular with television networks.

In the increasingly congested world of television drama, it takes a brave commissioner to back a slate of original series for fear they might crash and burn without ever breaking into the public consciousness.

So what better way to offer new programming and give viewers more of what they like than to build on an existing hit series?

Reboots, re-imaginings, prequels, sequels and companion series are nothing new, of course.

Andrew Lincoln in the sixth season of the original The Walking Dead
Andrew Lincoln in the sixth season of the original The Walking Dead

Among the biggest successes was The Bionic Woman, a follow-up to 1970s series The Six Million Dollar Man, while Star Trek: The Original Series led to countless continuations, including The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise.

Stargate SG-1 led to Infinity, Atlantis and Universe; Doctor Who branched off with Torchwood; and, more recently, The Vampire Diaries spawned The Originals, Pretty Little Liars moved to Ravenswood and Once Upon a Time led to Once Upon a Time in Wonderland.

In Britain, the success of time-travelling police drama Life on Mars led to hard-hitting detective Gene Hunt getting his own series in follow-up Ashes to Ashes, while Inspector Morse was followed by sequel Lewis and prequel Endeavour.

Perhaps the most famous examples of spin-offs are the long-running procedural series that have been reworked for multiple locations across the US. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, set in Las Vegas, was spun off for New York and Miami, and also led to cyber-crime series CSI: Cyber.

JAG led to NCIS, which itself has had spin-offs NCIS: Los Angeles, failed pilot Red and New Orleans.

Meanwhile, another long-running series, Law & Order, led to Special Victims Unit, Criminal Intent, Trial by Jury and Los Angeles, and has been adapted in the UK and Russia.

Elsewhere, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was followed by Angel, and Chicago Fire is now part of an NBC franchise created by Law & Order’s Dick Wolf that includes Chicago PD and Chicago Med.

The list goes on – and it’s about to get even longer.

Fear the Walking Dead (FTWD, pictured top), which launches on US cable network AMC on August 23, is a “companion series” to the hugely successful zombie drama The Walking Dead, which is now entering its sixth season on the same channel.

Could Empire, which airs on Fox, be the next show to get a spin-off?
Could Empire, which airs on Fox, be the next show to get a spin-off?

Ahead of the spin-off’s launch, The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman shared his hopes for the new series in an open letter, in which he hinted that Fear will stand alone from its parent show.

“Here we go again,” he begins. “I don’t say that with the exhausted tone one might expect coming from someone embarking on a companion show while also working on the sixth season of the original. Truth be told, I would have to fill this space with exclamation points to accurately represent just how excited I am about Fear the Walking Dead. It’s so cool for me to be expanding The Walking Dead universe in such exciting and new ways.”

Kirkman, who created the comic book on which The Walking Dead is based, says the original series has always been about the characters – and the spin-off series gives him and the writing team the chance to introduce a new band of survivors in their post-outbreak world.

“These people have their own experiences and reasons to survive,” he explains. “They’re complicated, real characters who will not be dealing with the undead the same way. They’ll learn new things, they’ll find new tools, they’ll learn faster or slower. But what we end up with is a very, very different show… set in a world we love exploring as much as we’d all never want to live there.”

At a recent Television Critics Association panel to discuss the series, FTWD showrunner Dave Erickson separated the two shows further by stating that, unlike those in the original, characters the new series won’t use the term ‘walkers’ to describe the zombies.

Executive producer Dave Alpert added: “The show (The Walking Dead) in season six is different from what’s happening in season one and there were so many questions about what happened in season one that we thought it was a ripe area that wouldn’t tread on the mothership. We look at Fear as unique enough to stand on its own with characters you’d be invested in.”

With the trend for spin-offs showing no sign of slowing down, surely expanding what’s arguably the biggest show on television has to be a safe bet.

AMC certainly believes there are more stories to tell in the Walking Dead world, with FTWD already building on its six-part first season with a 15-episode second run in the works.

Another show that could get a companion series is music drama Empire. Creator Lee Daniels teased the idea when discussing the Fox series, which is preparing for its season two launch, as it is already known that he’s developing another drama about an all-girl band called Star.

Spin-off series offer fans the chance to enjoy more of their favourite television series by expanding the world in which they’re set, so long as they contain engaging characters and unique stories. They can also lead to ‘event’ crossover episodes – as is the case with Arrow and The Flash on The CW.

But if variety is the spice of life, TV networks might be wise to ensure they don’t rely on diluting their most popular franchises for fear of fulfilling the law of diminishing returns.

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Fox consolidates Empire

Empire delivered the best first-season result of any new series on the ‘big four’ networks in 10 years
Empire delivered the best first-season result of any new series on the ‘big four’ networks in 10 years

The undisputed scripted success of 2014 was Empire, a music industry-focused series that gave Fox the US’s highest-rated broadcast drama in seven years.

Starring Terrence Howard and Taraji P Henson, the final episode of season one secured a massive 16.7 million viewers. Among the many landmarks achieved by the series, it delivered the best first-season result of any new series on the ‘big four’ networks since Grey’s Anatomy ended its first season on ABC way back in 2005.

Not surprisingly, Fox was quick to order a second run, which will begin in September. But it is also doing its utmost to tie down the talent that built Empire. In May, it signed an overall deal with Ilene Chaiken, executive producer/showrunner of the series. And this week it set up a similar structure with the show’s co-creator Lee Daniels, which will allow him to develop, write, direct and supervise new television projects under his Lee Daniels Entertainment banner.

Like Chaiken, he will also remain an executive producer on the popular Fox drama.

Commenting on the Daniels deal, Fox Television Group chairmen and CEOs Gary Newman and Dana Walden said: “Lee Daniels has a gift for telling authentic, provocative stories that are both truthful and wildly entertaining. His casting instincts are incredible, whether he is discovering tomorrow’s stars or attracting the most accomplished performers to his projects. As a director, he elevates world-class material to even greater heights, balancing heart-wrenching poignancy with surprising moments of levity. We love working with this inspired storyteller, and this deal is about deepening our relationship.”

Writer and actor Danny Strong co-created Empire
Writer and actor Danny Strong co-created Empire

Daniels co-created Empire with Danny Strong, with whom he had previously worked on the Oprah Winfrey/Forest Whitaker movie The Butler. Echoing that project, Daniels’ primary responsibility on Empire has been as the show’s director, while Strong has shouldered more of the writing responsibility.

Strong and Chaiken were both credited with four episodes in season one, including the record-breaking finale. They are also down to co-write the first episode of the second season.

Like Chaiken and Daniels, Strong is in demand at the moment. Since winning a Primetime Emmy in 2012 for the HBO TV movie Game Change, he has written The Butler, Empire, and the final two movies in The Hunger Games franchise (Mockingjay parts 1 and 2).

And despite his commitments to Empire season two, he has also found time to write the script for a new movie adaptation of Guys and Dolls. It’s also worth noting that Strong has a pretty impressive list of acting credits, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Seinfeld, How I Met Your Mother and Mad Men.

While Strong is likely to be busy with Empire for the foreseeable future, it will be interesting to see if the Daniels deal with Fox sees the two of them team up on a new project.

Zoo, based on a sci-fi thriller novel
Zoo, based on a sci-fi thriller novel

Elsewhere, Tuesday night saw CBS launch Zoo, a 13-part series that imagines a world in which animals start attacking humans. The show, based on a sci-fi thriller by novelists James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge, was also picked up this week by Sky1 in the UK.

Other broadcasters to acquire the series include Germany’s ProSiebenSat.1 Group, TF1 in France, CTV in Canada, Italy’s RAI, Mediaset España, Network Ten in Australia, M-Net across Africa, Yes in Israel, AXN India, FX Turkey, DR3 in Denmark, TV2 Norway, nc+ Poland and MTV in Finland.

Patterson’s novels have been adapted for the screen before, most recently in the shape of the Alex Cross movies. However, the last time his books formed the basis of a full-blown series was when ABC adapted Women’s Murder Club in 2007. The show only ran for one season before it was cancelled.

Conscious, perhaps, that the US is a cutthroat market, Patterson has been exploring whether his works might be suited to adaptations in other territories. For example, he co-wrote a book called The Postcard Killers with Swedish writer Liza Marklund. With Marklund’s Annika Bengtzon already a TV hit in Sweden, that might open the door for Postcard Killers to crack the Nordics.

Bitten will return for a third season
Bitten will return for a third season
The last few months have seen a number of other book-based projects bubble to the surface of the TV pile, including works by Philip K Dick, Len Deighton, Neil Gaiman, Gerald Durrell and Winston Graham.

Also in the headlines this week is Kelley Armstrong, whose Women of the Otherworld novels gave birth to hit TV series Bitten, which airs on Space in Canada and Syfy in the US. This week it was revealed that Syfy has picked up the series for a third season.

Chris Regina, senior VP of programme strategy at Syfy and Chiller, said: “Bitten’s emotional and engrossing storyline, combined with some truly creepy horror moments, really resonates with fans.”

The main writer on the show is Daegan Fryklind, who also serves as showrunner. Fryklind’s efforts are supported by Wil Zmak, Larry Bambrick, Jenn Engels and Garfield Lindsay Miller. Fryklind recently gave a very insightful interview in which she outlined some of the challenges of adapting a popular book to TV. These include everything from casting choices and production restraints through to decisions about diverging from source material.

Daegan Fryklind: taking 'bold choices' with Bitten
Daegan Fryklind: taking ‘bold choices’ with Bitten
“We killed a character who does not die in the books in order to create more story and growth for (another character),” she says of Bitten. “That was a bold choice, and Kelley took the heat for that.”

Another interesting piece of writer insight can be found this week at deadline.com, where Steven Knight, creator of hugely impressive gangland drama Peaky Blinders, gave an update on progress of season three – which is expected in early 2016.

Speaking last week, Knight said he was “sitting in front of it right this second, the scripts. I’m finishing the last episode. We start shooting September 10 in Birmingham and in the North (of England), but as much as possible in Birmingham.”

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