Tag Archives: Left Bank Pictures

Crowning glory

Ahead of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s impending nuptials, royal marriages will be pushed further into the spotlight in season two of Netflix’s The Crown. DQ visits the set to hear how the Queen’s union with Prince Philip is pushed to the limit in the second run.

In what looks like a car park at Elstree Film Studios, situated next to a large branch of Tesco, sits Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street.

The doors and gates of Buckingham Palace are surrounded by green screens that allow The Crown’s crew to work their magic so that it really looks like a palace rather than a particularly ornate bit of plywood. Meanwhile, the door of the somewhat grubby-looking prime ministerial home is taller than normal; it was raised by nine inches to make John Lithgow look more like the rather smaller Winston Churchill in the first season and now it is stuck at that size.

These two buildings, weighted with history, are at the heart of British life and the interweaving stories of what goes on behind their doors are the spine of the award-winning show, one of the most ambitious pieces of television ever made.

The first two seasons cost a rumoured £100m (US$133m) but almost every penny can be seen on screen. This season also spans Antarctica, the South Seas, the Suez Canal, Scotland, Lisbon, Washington, Nazi Germany, Paris and Ghana, while much of the action of the first three episodes takes place on the Royal Yacht Britannia. No effort has been spared to make this sumptuous world believable.

The second season of The Crown sharpens the focus on the relationship between the Queen and Prince Philip, played by Claire Foy and Matt Smith respectively

The characters, too, are larger than life, encompassing everyone from the Kennedys and preacher Billy Graham to cuckolded prime minister Harold Macmillan and Christine Keeler, the showgirl who helped bring down a government. But, at the heart of it, is a special but often dysfunctional family.

The Crown showed the world a very different side of the royals in its 10-part first season. Starring Claire Foy as a naïve but eager-to-please princess who found the crown thrust upon her two decades before she expected it and Matt Smith as her alpha male husband who was forced to give up his own aspirations to stand behind his wife, the show humanised them and made them more understandable.

“I am not a Queen nutter or anything,” insists Peter Morgan, the show’s creator and writer. He first wrote about Elizabeth II in The Queen, the Oscar-winning film about how the Palace and prime minister Tony Blair reacted to the death of Princess Diana. That led to The Audience, the award-winning play where he looked at the secret weekly meetings between the monarch and prime ministers over the decades. The Crown, the entire second season of which landed on Netflix today, was the obvious next step.

As a younger man, Morgan was a republican, but he admits he has since changed his mind. “Most sensible people in the early 1990s probably thought this lot should be kicked out,” he says. “But if we had a referendum on the royal family tomorrow, I think 80% of the country would vote to keep them. I certainly would. I really would. Look at the heads of state everywhere else – there has been a catastrophic failure of the political class in the last couple of years, but [the Queen] represents stability.”

Dexter star Michael C Hall as JFK alongside Jodi Balfour as Jackie Kennedy

The second season of the Netflix show, which is made by Left Bank Pictures and distributor Sony Pictures Television, starts in 1956 with prime minister Anthony Eden’s disastrous Suez Crisis and ends in 1964 with his successor, Harold Macmillan, resigning amid the Profumo scandal. In every crisis, the Queen is left to pick up the broken pieces, as she has so many times since.

In this season we also see how, despite her home life being turbulent, the Queen always puts duty first. Her marriage to Philip is particularly under the spotlight at the start of the 10-episode run.

“Doesn’t everybody in Britain know Philip’s had an affair?” teases Morgan. The answer is no; no one knows for sure whether he had an affair or two, but there have been plenty of rumours. The season plays on them, and how they and Philip’s playboy behaviour impact the Queen. The rumours arc across the season, starting with Philip’s five-month tour on the HMS Britannia that took him away from his family to open the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and visit some of the Commonwealth’s far-flung islands. It ends with his name being mixed up in the Profumo affair.

History has proved the Queen and the Duke of Cambridge’s marriage to be spectacularly successful and last month they celebrated 70 years together. It meant the programme-makers had to think hard about how to treat these rumours, and they tread the line carefully.

The Crown creator Peter Morgan sandwiched between stars Smith and Foy

“There has never been any confirmation of an affair and it would be prurient, really horrible and irresponsible to make hefty suggestions,” says Left Bank’s Suzanne Mackie. “We know for a fact that this has been a very long and successful marriage. So many people we have talked to, historians and people who have worked in the palace, say they have witnessed a lot of love and affection in this marriage. We have nothing but respect for that. It would be ghastly of us to say anything else.

“And yet, like any marriage, it has to go through periods of change and periods of uncertainty and instability. It is something most of us have experienced; this is a real marriage and we would be whitewashing it to say it was happy all the way through. So we go on a complicated twisting, winding road and we hope that we come out with something truthful.”

While the programme-makers have always been keen to stress they are making drama, not a documentary, they try not to steer too far from facts. A group of historians dubbed The Brains Trust both suggest storylines to Morgan and also ensure the spirit, if not the letter, of the drama is correct.

One story sees the Queen fall out with Jackie Kennedy (Jodi Balfour) over nasty comments the First Lady made about the monarch. This plot element was based on rumours in Cecil Beaton’s diaries but is heavily fictionalised. A separate story about the Duke of Windsor (Alex Jennings), the Queen’s uncle who abdicated the throne, and his Nazi past is more based on fact. It hinges around the discovery of the Marburg Files, which indicated just how sympathetic the Duke was to Germany’s ambitions.

Matthew Goode and Vanessa Kirby, who play Tony Armstrong-Jones and Princess Margaret

“You can access the files at the British library and they are amazing,” says Philippa Lowthorpe, the Bafta-winning director who helmed the episode. “When we were filming, I carried them around in my bag so when the crew asked – and they frequently did – how much of it really was true, I could fish them out and show them.

“They are telegrams and letters from people who were around the Duke. Everybody was talking about him. They were manipulating him but he didn’t seem to mind. He had sympathies with Hitler and his philosophy.

“We used copies of the real files throughout the show and there’s a scene where the Queen is given them. It was the first time Claire got to read them – there are about 60 documents in the file – and when she finished the scene she just said, ‘Oh my God.’” Just to emphasis how true this story is, real pictures of the Duke are used at the end of this particular episode.

Meanwhile, the turbulence we see in the love life of Princess Margaret, played by Vanessa Kirby, who in this season meets and marries the philanderer Tony Armstrong-Jones (Matthew Goode), is also based on fact.

“Tony represents the shock of the new, which is a real theme of the series,” says director Ben Caron, who directed three episodes of season two. “This is the end of the age of deference and the royals are being thrust into the modern era. Tony is from an artistic world and he challenges all the conventions people have got used to.”

The plan is to have six seasons altogether and filming for the third starts in July but with an entirely new cast who will take the royals into the 70s and 80s, the era of Margaret Thatcher and Princess Diana. Olivia Colman, the Bafta- and Golden Globe-winning star of Broadchurch and The Night Manager, will replace Claire Foy as an older version of the Queen, while the producers are close to choosing the rest of their royal family.

Caron, who directed the final scene to feature Foy, Kirby and Goode (ironically one that has not made the final cut), says wrapping the shoot was a bittersweet moment. “The gaffers put on an amazing light display and turned the whole room into a big disco,” he says. “Everyone had slowly started appearing on set from all the departments you don’t always see and you suddenly realise the magnitude of the thing.

“There were a few speeches and some champagne. We’ve all been on this amazing two-year journey together – we’ve seen more of each other than we’ve seen of our own families and it was tough having to say goodbye to the cast. But, for the rest of us, the work continues.”

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Dream on

Films including Blade Runner and Minority Report saw the work of acclaimed novelist Philip K Dick transformed for the big screen to great success. Now the late author’s writing is coming to television in an anthology series featuring 10 standalone stories based on his short stories.

Holliday Grainger, Richard Madden, Steve Buscemi, Bryan Cranston, Timothy Spall and Anna Paquin are among the stars in front of the camera, while writers and directors include Jack Thorne, Matthew Graham, Tony Grisoni and David Farr.

In this DQ TV interview, executive producers Michael Dinner and David Kanter discuss why Electric Dreams is more than a dystopian show but also a “very human show,” and how the programme was produced on both sides of the Atlantic.

They also explain why3 the deal to make the series took years to put together, with multiple producers attached to the project, which will air on Channel 4 in the UK and Amazon Prime in the US.

Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams is produced by Rooney McP Productions, Electric Shepherd Productions, Anonymous Content, Tall Ship Productions, Moonshot Entertainment and Left Bank Pictures in association with Sony Pictures Television. Sony is also the distributor.

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Eclectic dreams

The work of renowned author Philip K Dick has inspired a new anthology series heading to Channel 4 in the UK and Amazon. Michael Pickard takes a look at the 10 imaginative stories that make up Electric Dreams.

Since Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams was first announced in May last year, it seems not a week has passed without a new A-list actor, star writer or acclaimed director joining the anthology series.

Comprising 10 single films, each inspired by one of author Dick’s renowned short stories, a roster of leading British and American writers and directors have taken up the challenge to adapt the works for television.

Each story is set in a different and unique world, with some at the far reaches of the universe and others much closer to home. But while on the surface they may seem poles apart, they all focus on the importance and significance of humanity.

From Sony Pictures Television, Electric Dreams is executive produced by Michael Dinner of Rooney McP Productions alongside Isa Dick Hackett, Kalen Egan and Christopher Tricarico of Electric Shepherd Productions, David Kanter and Matt DeRoss of Anonymous Content, Ronald D. Moore and Maril Davis of Tall Ship Productions, Bryan Cranston and James Degus of Moonshot Entertainment, Lila Rawlings and Marigo Kehoe of Left Bank Pictures, plus Don Kurt and Kate DiMento. Sony is also handling international distribution.

Here, DQ takes a look at the details of all 10 episodes, which are due to air on Channel 4 in the UK and Amazon in the US later this year.

Crazy Diamond
Boardwalk Empire’s Steve Buscemi plays Ed Morris in what is described as “the ultimate Philip K Dick comic film-noir nightmare.” Inspired by the story of the same name, the story follows average man Ed, who is approached by a gorgeous synthetic woman with an illegal plan that could change his life completely. He agrees to help – and then his world begins to crumble.
Starring alongside Buscemi are Sidse Babett Knudsen (Westworld, Borgen), Julia Davis (Gavin & Stacy) and Joanna Scanlan (No Offence). The episode (pictured top) is written by Tony Grisoni and directed by Marc Munden.

Timothy Spall, pictured in The Enfield Haunting, stars in The Commuter

The Commuter
The morning commute is turned on its head in this mysterious tale from Bafta-winning writer Jack Thorne (National Treasure, This is England). Timothy Spall (The Enfield Haunting) stars as Ed Jacobson, an unassuming employee at a train station who is alarmed to discover that a number of daily commuters are taking the train to a town that shouldn’t exist. This one is directed by Tom Harper (War & Peace).

Impossible Planet
In an episode that promises two be out of this world, Jack Reynor (Free Fire) and Benedict Wong (Marco Polo) play two disillusioned, disenchanted and indifferent space tourism employees who agree to an elderly woman’s (Geraldine Chaplin, A Monster Calls) request for a trip back to Earth – the existence of which is a long-debunked myth. She appears easily confused, plus she’s rich – so, for the right payment, what’s the harm in indulging her fantasies? As the journey unfolds, however, their scam begins to eat away at them and they ultimately find themselves dealt a bittersweet surprise. Impossible Planet is written and directed by David Farr (The Night Manager) and based on the short story of the same name.

Human Is
Essie Davis (Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries) stars as a woman suffering in a loveless marriage who finds that her emotionally abusive husband (played by Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston) appears to be a different man upon his return from battle – in more ways than one. With a cast that also includes Liam Cunningham and Ruth Bradley, this episode is written by Jessica Mecklenburg and directed by Francesca Gregorini.

Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston (left) takes the lead in Human Is

Father Thing
The world is under attack in Father Thing as aliens quietly invade our homes. Charlie, played by Jack Gore (Billions), must make the most difficult decisions imaginable as he tries to protect his mother (Mireille Enos, The Catch) and the human race as he is among the first to realise that humans are being replaced by dangerous monsters. Greg Kinnear (As Good As It Gets) also stars in this instalment by writer and director Michael Dinner (Sneaky Pete).

Real Life
This future-set episode sees Anna Paquin (True Bloood) play Sarah, a police officer who shares ‘headspace’ with George (Terrence Howard, Empire), a brilliant game designer, with each pursuing violent killers whose plans could have shattering consequences. In a race against time, and sharing a bond that no one else can see, they learn that the very thing that connects them could also destroy them. Additional cast members include Rachelle Lefevre (Under the Dome), Lara Pulver (Sherlock), Jacob Vargas (Luke Cage), Sam Witwer (Once Upon A Time) and Guy Burnet (Hand of God). The episode is written by Ronald D Moore (Outlander, Battlestar Galactica) and directed by Jeffrey Reiner (The Affair).

The Hood Maker
Set in a world without advanced technology, mutant telepaths have become humanity’s only mechanism for long-distance communication. But their powers have unintended implications, and when the public begin to embrace mysterious, telepath-blocking hoods, two detectives with an entangled past are brought in to investigate. Richard Madden (Game of Thrones), Holliday Grainger (The Finest Hours) and Anneika Rose (Line of Fire) star in The Hood Maker, which is written by Matthew Graham (Life on Mars) and directed by Julian Jarrold (Becoming Jane).

True Blood’s Anna Paquin plays a police officer in Real Life

Kill All Others
A man hangs dead from a lamppost, apparently murdered and inexplicably ignored by passers-by, after a politician (Vera Farmiga, Bates Motel) makes a shocking statement encouraging violence. But when one man, the extraordinarily average Philbert Noyce (Mel Rodriguez, The Last Man on Earth), dares to question the situation, he becomes an instant target. Written and directed by Dee Rees (Bessie), this episode also stars Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton), Glenn Morshower (Aftermath) and Sarah Brown (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation).

Autofac
Set in a world where society has collapsed, a massive, automatic product-manufacturing factory continues to operate according to the principles of consumerism – humans consume products to be happy and, in order to consume continuously, they must be denied freedom of choice and free will. When a small band of rebels decide to shut down the factory, they discover they may actually be the perfect consumers after all. Juno Temple (Vinyl) stars as Emily, one of the rebels, alongside Janelle Monae (Hidden Figures) as Alexis, an Autofac representative. Jay Paulson and David Lyons also appear in the episode, which is written by Travis Beacham and directed by Peter Horton.

Safe and Sound
Annalise Basso (Captain Fantastic) stars as a small-town girl, already gripped with social anxiety, who moves to a big futuristic city with her mother, played by Maura Tierney (The Affair). Exposed for the first time to urban society’s emphasis on security and terrorist prevention, it isn’t long before her schooldays are consumed by fear and paranoia. However, soon finds guidance and companionship in the most unexpected of places. Safe and Sound is written by Kalen Egan and Travis Sentell and directed by Alan Taylor.

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Halcyon days

The party’s just getting started inside London’s most glamorous bomb shelter – but, as DQ discovers, all might not be as it seems behind the doors of The Halcyon.

It’s somewhat jarring to see groups of people checking their smartphones while standing around in 1940s period costume. But that’s the scene between takes when DQ spends a day at the West London Film Studios.

It’s here that two stages have been transformed into The Halcyon, a glamorous five-star hotel at the centre of London society and a world at war that forms the setting of an ITV drama of the same name.

The eight-part show follows the staff and guests of the hotel in 1940 and, in particular, pits hotel manager Richard Garland (played by Steven Mackintosh) against owner Lady Priscilla Hamilton (Olivia Williams). The Halcyon’s cast also includes Kara Tointon (Mr Selfridge), Alex Jennings (The Queen), Matt Ryan (Constantine), Hermione Corfield (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) and Mark Benton (Eddie the Eagle). Produced by Left Bank Pictures (The Crown) and distributed by Sony Pictures Television, it was created by Charlotte Jones along with lead writer Jack Lothian. Sharon Hughff (Strike Back, Waterloo Road) exec produces and Chris Croucher (Downton Abbey) is the producer.

Early in the show’s four-year development process, its creators were clear they didn’t want to create an ‘upstairs-downstairs’ drama akin to Downton Abbey. Instead, they wanted to tell a story about the hotel’s owners and its employees, with the central focus naturally falling on Lady Hamilton, who gives up her country estate to move to London and run the hotel, creating a “total nightmare” for Garland.

“It took a good seven or eight months to find that point of conflict and really get it working,” explains Hughff. “We thought the show was about so many other things and, with so many characters, it takes a long time to develop because you have so many relationships, but that central relationship was the crux of the drama.”

Another key storyline involves a Romeo and Juliet-inspired romance between Lady Hamilton’s son and Garland’s daughter, whose budding romance causes more trouble for their warring parents. “Around them, there are layers and layers of other characters who all have their own intrigue and interest, and you get drawn into those aspects of the story,” Hughff continues.

The Halcyon’s set model

“We always wanted there to be a mystery running through the middle of the series, so Richard Garland has a great big secret, which we learn halfway through the season. And by the end of the season, he gels with Lady Hamilton because she does something bad and he covers it up for her.”

The production crew constructed the hotel’s grand foyer with a sweeping staircase, a bar area and dance floor, a backstage space, a kitchen and several bedrooms. The front, rear and restaurant exteriors, meanwhile, were all filmed on location. Eagle-eyed viewers might recognise the front of the hotel as The Land Registry Offices in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, central London, while the same city’s Liberal Club serves as the restaurant.

Construction of the set took 12 weeks, with around 100 people working on the build at one point. Add in those buying props, dressing the sets and working in the art department and Croucher estimates upwards of 150 people were working on the production at its peak.

Former EastEnders star Kara Tointon plays a singer

“The Second World War is such a rich tapestry of story,” he says. “From our costume team [led by Downton Abbey’s Anna Mary Scott Robbins] to our make-up and design teams, everyone was just so enthused when we started it, because it’s such an amazing period.

“We talked a lot about The West Wing when we were designing the set and, because everything’s connected, you can do these great walk-and-talks where you go from the foyer to the bar to backstage.”

Croucher describes the latter area as The Halcyon’s “crowning glory,” where the tiles, corridors and staircases all match Blythe House, an archive building for the Victoria & Albert, Science and British Museums that doubles as the exterior of the rear of the hotel.

“There are these amazing corridors and staircases so we can constantly make the world feel bigger,” he says. “We designed it so you can have characters in the bar and then they move backstage and then come into the front of house, so there’s constant movement.

The hotel foyer

“We’re lucky because the studio is quite long. You know when you’re in a hotel and the corridors just go on forever? That’s what we wanted to replicate. I also love that all the corridors are designed to enable us to show different floors.”

Meanwhile, a fully functional kitchen allows the camera to capture close-ups of the chefs at work, with real steam filling the air around them. And though it would have been laborious, not to mention expensive, to build 150 bedrooms akin to a real hotel, four bedrooms were constructed and regularly redressed to give the appearance of dozens of different rooms.

“Every room has several doors in and out and we can repaint them and put different furniture in,” Croucher reveals, adding that it took two days to repaint and redress each room. “All of the spaces are constantly changing. It’s a schedule nightmare because we have to be in and out of different rooms. But you really feel like you’ve got this grand hotel.

“In our minds, the hotel was built in 1890, which is why all the back-of-house stuff is quite Victorian. But it had an Art Deco revamp in 1920 and we now meet it in 1940.”

The set’s fully functional kitchen

As expansive as the hotel set is, a quarter of shooting was done on location. One example is a visit to an RAF base where Lady Hamilton’s son Freddie is a pilot.

“As great as it is to all be in the hotel, ultimately you also need to see a bit of the war,” Croucher says, “which is why we show the East End Blitz and the RAF, because otherwise the world becomes too insular.”

Croucher and his production team met the challenge of recreating the Blitz by taking over some period streets in Greenwich to film the nighttime bombing campaign, which begins in episode five. “It was amazing to be able to shoot in those East End streets,” he enthuses. “Those are the challenges I love the most. Filming the blackout was particularly challenging because if you stand in central London now at night, there is a light as far as you can see. There’s always ambient light. We managed to control 50% of the lights in our area but cranes and the like have to be painted out in post-production.”

The production also made use of an RAF base, one of a handful of locations depicted outside the hotel

The West Wing wasn’t the only influence in play, with Hughff revealing that the look and feel of 2007 movie Atonement, plus music from HBO miniseries Band of Brothers and The Imitation Game (2014), also provided inspiration.

Indeed, music is a central element of the series, with original songs created for the show in the style of the 1940s. When DQ visits the set, the stage is ready for the Sonny Sullivan Band as the hotel prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Actor Tointon sings in the series, while award-winning singer-songwriter Jamie Cullum has written two songs for its soundtrack and fellow musician Beverly Knight also performs in scenes set at the Café De Paris.

“Music is really the heartbeat of the show,” Croucher says. “What was great about that period was everyone genuinely thought each day could be their last so the parties were even bigger and wilder and more extravagant, and we tried to show that.”

Behind the camera, director Stephen Woolfenden (Harry Potter) took charge of the first filming block, establishing the show’s visual style and a sense of how the hotel works.

“We wanted it to look sumptuous, elegant and sexy,” notes Hughff. “We have a bar and music and we wanted to make sure the parties were ones we’d all want to go to. We also didn’t want it to look flat and set-like. It’s hard when you build a set; you’ve got to do a lot of work to make it look like it has many dimensions, and the crew has done such an incredible job.”

Despite the creators’ aforementioned reluctance to compare The Halcyon to fellow ITV period drama Downton Abbey, it is hoped the new series could have similar longevity to Downton, which finished last year after six seasons. Launching in the UK on January 2, there is scope for The Halycon to run for five seasons from 1940 until the end of the war in 1945.

But Left Bank Pictures MD Marigo Kehoe says the similarities end there: “A lot of people say this is the next Downton Abbey but we didn’t set out for it to be. Andy [Harries, Left Bank CEO] and I have never done things that are just in a box. We’ve done Strike Back, an action-adventure series, and Wallander. It’s a huge breadth of stuff.

“We’d had this in development for a long time, actually, and what was going on in the hotels during the build-up to the war and the war itself is a fascinating topic.”

Croucher concludes: “‘London’s most glamorous air-raid shelter’ is a line we use a lot. Everyone knows the Second World War but hopefully the hotel will allow us to put a great spin on that. It’s a side of the war you haven’t seen before – the side where the party still carries on.”

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China opens up to outside influences

The Night Manager brought 40 million views on VoD platform Youku Tudou
The Night Manager brought 40 million views on VoD platform Youku Tudou

About once a year the media reports that the Chinese government is planning to clamp down on the amount of foreign drama that appears on the country’s TV channels and streaming platforms. But developments in the past few months suggest that this is either inaccurate or isn’t having much of an impact.

This summer, for example, critically acclaimed BBC-AMC series The Night Manager generated an impressive 40 million views on streaming platform Youku Tudou. More recently, we reported Fuji TV’s entry into the China market via a scripted content partnership with Shanghai Media Group. And last week we reported how Sony Pictures Television (SPT)’s on-demand platform Crackle has joined forces with another leading internet TV service, iQIYI, on a three-part Mandarin-language drama.

Tencent Holdings acquired fashion drama The Collection from BBC Worldwide
Tencent Holdings acquired fashion drama The Collection from BBC Worldwide

There’s more activity this week that suggests China is continuing to open up to outside influences. Firstly, in a deal announced at Asia Television Forum in Singapore, China’s Tencent Holdings picked up fashion drama The Collection from BBC Worldwide. Secondly, UK producer/broadcaster ITV revealed that it has formed a partnership with Chinese producer Huace Film & TV that will see the latter remake an ITV scripted show for China. Discussions are still underway as to which show, but the deal is being heralded as a breakthrough by the UK company.

Commenting on the news, Mike Beale, executive VP of global development and formats for ITV Studios, said: “Much like the rest of the world, the demand for drama in Asia continues to grow, and our relationships with some of the world’s best producers and writers positions us perfectly to take advantage of this.”

Left Bank Pictures' reboot of Strike Back will feature a largely new cast
Left Bank Pictures’ reboot of Strike Back will feature a largely new cast

Elsewhere, Sky1 in the UK and Cinemax in the US have announced that there is to be a new series of action-adventure drama Strike Back. As with previous series, the show will be produced by SPT-owned Left Bank Pictures, but there will be a largely new cast.

Based on a novel by Chris Ryan, Strike Back centres on the activities of Section 20, a secret branch of the UK defence forces that undertakes high-risk missions around the world. The show ran for five seasons until 2015 – a total of 46 episodes. It then had a hiatus, with production of the new series starting in 2017.

The previous series of the show did well on Sky1 and Cinemax and was also sold into markets like Australia, Canada and France. Commenting on the show’s comeback, Adam MacDonald, director of Sky1, said: “We’re thrilled to be working with Cinemax again to deliver more edge-of-your-seat action-adventure. At such an interesting time in global politics, this series delivers a compelling take on world events and the murky world of espionage.”

Executive producer Andy Harries added: “Strike Back is the show that took Left Bank Pictures onto the international stage and we are thrilled to be back with such an exciting cast and a world-class team of writers, directors and producers. With a fan base spread over 150 countries, Strike Back is TV at its very best, where the military comes first. Our new stars have amazing physical skills, which, combined with their training, will make the show rock.”

Leaving aside the long-running success of Homeland on Showtime, Strike Back’s mix of action and espionage is something of a rarity in the international market right now, with broadcasters having moved in the direction of sci-fi, superheroes and fantasy. However, there are a few upcoming titles that suggest the market is shifting back in this direction. These include History Channel’s Navy Seal drama Six and Fox’s reboot of 24. There are also a few new shows coming out of Israel such as False Flag and Fauda, the latter having been picked up globally by Netflix.

Fox is said to have committed to a script based on Basket Case
Fox is said to have committed to a script based on Basket Case

In another interesting move, Fox is reported to have given a script commitment to Basket Case, a TV drama based on the 2002 novel by Carl Hiaasen. Although a terrific writer with around 15 novels and five children’s books to his name, Hiaasen’s work has rarely been adapted for film or TV. His 1993 novel Strip Tease was turned into a film in 1996 and his 2002 kids book Hoot received similar treatment in 2006. But other than that, there is little to report.

Basket Case centres on a former hotshot investigative reporter, Jack Tagger, who’s now an obituary writer. It will be adapted by White Collar and Graceland creator Jeff Eastin, and Life in Pieces executive producer Jason Winer. Presumably if it’s a hit we can expect Hiaasen novels to become another regular source of inspiration for the scripted TV trade.

Still in the US, Fox drama Pitch has just come to the end of its first season. The show, which tells the story of the first woman to play for a Major League Baseball team, was well received by critics but delivered pretty poor ratings – 4.23 million at the start falling to 2.89 million at the end of its 10-episode run. This puts it down among the weaker scripted performers on Fox, such as Scream Queens, The Exorcist and the rapidly-fading Rosewood.

Pitch could perform better on a new network
Pitch could perform better on a new network

With its low ratings, Pitch would be an easy cancellation for Fox. But the fact is that the channel doesn’t have many hits at the moment – with Empire and Lethal Weapon some way ahead of the pack. So it may decide to back a second season of Pitch.

If Pitch is cancelled, there is talk of it moving to another network. Of course, there is always talk of series moving network when they are dropped, but Pitch really does seem like a show that could do a job in a less ferocious competitive scenario. If the show doesn’t survive in any form, then it just goes to prove how hard it is to make dramas that have sports as their backdrop.

Finally, Australian pubcaster ABC and Screen Australia have teamed up again to uncover the next generation of home-grown comedy talent through their Fresh Blood talent initiative.

Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am
Aussie comedy Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am resulted from a Fresh Blood pitch

The first wave of Fresh Blood launched in 2013 with 72 comedy sketches created by 24 teams. Five of those teams were selected to make TV pilots for ABC and two of them were then launched as six-episode half-hour series: Fancy Boy and Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am. A new wave of Fresh Blood sees 20 up-and-coming comedy teams each awarded US$15,000 to produce three sketches. During 2018, four of those teams will be selected to produce a TV comedy pilot.

Mike Cowap, investment manager at Screen Australia, said. “For new comedy writers, performers and directors, Fresh Blood is a launchpad like no other, providing opportunities and exposure that can set up ambitious creators for successful futures.”

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A royally good show

Television’s most expensive ever series dramatises the early reign of Queen Elizabeth II. DQ hears from the creative team behind The Crown.

At a rumoured £100m (US$124m), Netflix has paid a princely sum for its latest original series.

No expense was spared for The Crown, the US streaming service’s first original British drama that was given a 20-episode, two season order. Season one launches today.

The series tells the story of Queen Elizabeth II’s early reign, revealing her personal intrigues and romances as well as the political rivalries that shaped the second half of the 20th century.

Peter Morgan
Peter Morgan

Opening in 1947, it begins as Britain is still reeling from the devastation of the Second World War. Food supplies are still rationed and the government is running out of money. But against this backdrop, the nation is mesmerised by the marriage of young princess Elizabeth to the dashing Philip Mountbatten.

Expecting many years of married bliss before ascending to the throne, Elizabeth’s simple life is cut short when her father, King George VI, dies unexpectedly and she inherits the crown at the age of 25 –along with the unimaginable burden it brings.

The Crown sees creator Peter Morgan (The Queen) reunite with director Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Hours) and executive producer Andy Harries (The Queen), a trio that previously worked on the Tony Award-winning play The Audience, which recalled Elizabeth II’s weekly meetings with her prime ministers across 60 years of her reign.

Suzanne Mackie executive produces, with Hans Zimmer (Gladiator, Inception) composing the music, making The Crown his first ever television project. It is produced by Left Bank Pictures.

Claire Foy (Wolf Hall) and Matt Smith (Doctor Who) star as Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, with Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret and John Lithgow as Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The cast also includes Jared Harris, Victoria Hamilton, Dame Eileen Atkins, Alex Jennings and Lia Williams.

Netflix has commissioned two seasons of the drama at a cost of £100m, with filming taking place across southern England, featuring stately homes, churches, airfields, streetscapes, town halls and schools. Lancaster House, on Pall Mall in central London, doubles for the state rooms inside Buckingham Palace, while other sets were recreated at Elstree Studios in north London, including the private chambers of Elizabeth and Philip, the Buckingham Palace offices and 10 Downing Street offices, as well as back lots with the gates of Buckingham Palace and the world-famous 10 Downing Street front door.

Location filming also included trips to Scotland and South Africa, which is the setting for Elizabeth and Philip’s trip to Kenya early in the first season.

Daldry says: “We were thrilled to make this. I have to say it’s been one of the most enjoyable professional experiences of my life. It’s been an extraordinary journey. We’re in the middle of shooting season two. In the end, we’re expecting to do six seasons, maybe seven.”

Here, DQ hears more from the director as well as Morgan and Mackie as they discuss the origins of the project, working with Netflix and why they see Claire Foy as the leading actress of her generation.

The Crown
Filming on season two of The Crown is already underway

The Crown’s origins come from Peter Morgan’s enjoyment in writing scenes between the Queen and her prime ministers…

Morgan: A few years ago I wrote [2003 film] The Deal, the story about Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. [Left Bank Pictures CEO and The Crown executive producer] Andy Harries then said, “Why don’t you do the same again but with the murder of [Princess] Diana?” So I tried to write that and it was preposterous. I said I wanted to put Tony Blair in and they said, “Don’t put Tony Blair in.” Then I did and we made The Queen with Helen Mirren, and I so enjoyed writing the bits between the prime minister and the Queen. I don’t really like writing about The Queen on her own, I like writing about her in conjunction with prime ministers, because it’s sort of about how we’re made up and what we’re about. Then I thought I’d quite like to write some more prime ministers so I wrote the play [The Audience]. The scene I most enjoyed writing was the one between Winston Churchill and her. So that’s where it came from. I then wrote a film version but then thought it might work better for television.
I thought I was just writing two episodes. Then we went to America to see if anybody wanted to coproduce and Netflix said they’d like two seasons, which took us aback a bit. Then I started writing. We’re now filming season two.

Daldry: Peter and I have always been trying to work together. Then we did the play and decided we wanted to continue working together. It’s been lovely and we’ve had a fantastic working relationship on the play and we continued to work on this. I’m assuming we’ll carry on; the story carries on. I want to because I find it endlessly fascinating. It’s not just the story of the royal family, it’s the story of who we are, why we’re here and what we dream of, in a way. That’s where I find it amazingly interesting. It’s the story of our nation.

A writer wouldn’t choose royalty as their protagonist, they’d choose Tony Soprano…

Morgan: As a dramatist you wouldn’t necessarily choose her as a centrepiece – you’d choose Tony Soprano, because he has violence and mood swings and he is decisive and you can pretty much take him in any direction and it feels plausible. The Queen is not necessarily who I would choose as a protagonist but because of the predicament she finds herself in, the more I dug into it, the more writing about her became interesting to me – writing about a woman who becomes two women and the effect that this extraordinary burden has on her. Whichever point of the second half of the 20th century you dip into, either [the royal family] are making a complete mess of things or the politicians are making a complete mess of things. They’re pulling themselves in and out of pitfalls and there’s something so spectacularly illogical about the British constitution that it becomes quite romantic.

Matt Smith
Former Doctor Who star Matt Smith plays Prince Philip

(Almost) everything you see on screen really happened

Daldry: We do have the most amazing research team in the world. It works as a team effort so every circumstance that you can possibly imagine that we dramatise – even the things you think are created by the director – they are documented moments. They actually happened. It’s endlessly fascinating to us. Of course, it is an interpretation of those events, it’s bound to be. We’re not trying to make a documentary, we’re artists interpreting it, but the facts themselves are phenomenally interesting. A good example [of artistic licence] would be at the very end of episode two. The Queen goes to Sandringham and sees the body of her father. I know she didn’t [in real life], it’s documented she did not see the body of her father. But I think it would be more dramatically interesting if she went into the bedroom and saw her father. Everything is a moment of discussion about where we part from absolute reality and where we want to heighten the drama. Emotionally I felt she wanted to see it, even if it’s not literally true.

Morgan: It’s commonplace on a show like this to have a writers room. But we don’t really have a writers room; we have a researchers room. We have seven or eight people working full time doing research so what will happen is I will ask them to do this and that or find this and that as I’m writing it and I will map out at the same time what an approximate structure is for the episode or for the season or the story or whatever it is. So they are constantly feeding back at me while I’m writing.

Everyone working on The Crown was in awe of Claire Foy’s performance…

Daldry: We’d always appreciated Claire Foy in all the shows that she’d done but now it suddenly seems she has become the leading actress of her generation. Suddenly she’s gone into this extraordinary realm. We are all in awe of Claire. It’s an extraordinary performance of being the most visible/invisible woman in the world but also a woman you never quite get to grips with. All the times I’ve spent time with the Queen, you know her and you don’t know her. You think you’re getting somewhere and there’s this other world you have no access to. Claire does this extraordinary tightrope walk between giving you access and not giving you access. It’s an extraordinary performance.

Mackie: She was pregnant when she auditioned so by the time we got to principle photography, it was a very inauspicious start. We started at Elstree and we realised we needed bigger rooms and scale and depth and corridors. Starting in Scotland was very necessary. Claire had just given birth and although we started in the summer, it was horrendously windy, the weather was awful and, poor thing, she was just trying desperately to adapt to this sudden shock of being on set in a very beautiful but challenging location with a newborn baby and playing a princess. She was stoical, brilliant and professional. And we’re gifted with a cast who are not only very, very good but also incredibly nice. We’ve not had tantrums or difficulties. Claire carries so much of this and she’s a delight.

the-crown-s1-ep5-3
Claire Foy is earning rave reviews for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II

“It’s an expensive show, but it’s not that expensive…”

Morgan: No writer has ever been told the truth about money, ever. But when I read [the cost of the show], I think, ‘That doesn’t describe the experience we were having.’ Whatever sums of money we did get, you have to halve it because we have two seasons.

Daldry: It’s an expensive show, but it’s not that expensive. At the moment we’re discussing a scene in season two where Jackie Kennedy comes to see the Queen. We think it’s quite important to show the expanse and scale of Air Force One in comparison to the British Comet. So Peter and I are quite vigorously hanging onto the idea we have to build Air Force One.

Writing for Netflix made a period drama feel modern and progressive…

Morgan: There’s something about Netflix that made it feel modern and progressive, and that galvanised me and my storytelling and made me excited to go back to this material because I felt I was doing it at the same time as I was moving forwards. I felt somehow that even though I was writing about something in the past, I was at some level at the cutting edge of where we were going. Even if I do continue with this, I imagine the way in which we’ll be watching seasons further down the road will be very different to how we’re watching now. I’m too unimaginative to be able to project where we’ll be with watching television in five or 10 years.

Daldry: One of the great things about Netflix is I said: “How do you feel about the show? Are you happy with the show?” They said: “The best thing about this show is we said yes and got out of the way.” It’s such an unusual experience. They were so enthusiastic and so easy to work with. It’s great [not to have anyone] telling you what to do – just saying, “Keep going and we’re loving what you’re doing.”

John Lithgow
US actor John Lithgow as Winston Churchill

The royal family weren’t involved in the production…

Morgan: I want to keep my distance. I’ve ducked the opportunity to meet [the Queen] a couple of times, not because I don’t want to but I’d be in shock. I just think it’s better for her, better for us to have complete independence. I want to be free to write how and what I want. I want the work to speak for itself and I don’t want to feel that I’m endorsed or supported or that I owe anyone. Equally, I want them to have total deniability and to [be able to] say I got it all wrong. Both sides being able to give one another that respect and independence is important.

Writing season two while filming the first was tough…

Morgan: I was polishing certain episodes that were being shot, I was looking at rushes of certain episodes being shot, there were other episodes to be shot and I was still having to write season two. I got pretty low during that – but I didn’t have time to get low, I was just sunken eyed. It was tough.

There will be a new queen in future seasons…

Daldry: At the moment we’re casting for the difficulty Prince Charles had at [his school] Gordonstoun. We’re casting Jackie Kennedy, JFK – the casting process never stops. And it’s a fantastic ensemble of actors. We are trying, and we are achieving at the moment, to [bring together] a wonderful group of people. It’s not only the best of our British acting talent but people with the right spirit and the right grace. John Lithgow was an unusual piece of casting. He said: “Why on Earth do you think of me as Churchill?” I said: “You’re American, you’ll be fine.”

Morgan: We did it [cast an American actor] for The Queen with James Cromwell [who played Prince Philip] and I thought when certain parts are so iconic and you feel like you’ve seen the turn being done before, somehow Lithgow brings an iconic, leftfield aspect.

Daldry: We are going to have to cast another queen. Claire Foy will do a second season and then we’re recasting for the queen in middle age.

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Royal rumble: Left Bank puts on The Crown for Netflix

Andy Harries, CEO of UK prodco Left Bank Pictures, reveals how Netflix’s forthcoming UK original The Crown has shaken up the industry.

In order to secure Left Bank Pictures’ ambitious royal family period piece The Crown, Netflix’s Ted Sarandos appears to have channelled his inner Don Corleone.

“Netflix made us an offer we couldn’t refuse,” says the production company’s CEO Andy Harries, recalling the moment he pitched the show to Sarandos in the streaming giant’s US offices.

Harries: ' The BBC and ITV shouldn't look at The Crown as part of an overall trend that will destroy their business. I don't think that's the case – it's a bit of a one-off.'
Harries: ‘ The BBC and ITV shouldn’t look at The Crown as part of an overall trend that will destroy their business. I don’t think that’s the case – it’s a bit of a one-off.’

The enormity of the offer blew the likes of the BBC and ITV out of the water, ensuring that Harries wouldn’t, as he was expecting, have to set up a US-UK coproduction to make the show, which has a budget of around £5m (US$7m) per hour.

Whether any of the UK broadcasters’ drama buyers woke up with a horse’s head on their pillow, we’ll never know. But the fact is that the money Netflix put down ensured it will be the exclusive home to The Crown in the 190-plus territories in which the service is now available.

The drama was inspired by Peter Morgan’s hit play The Audience, which Harries produced, and has been directed by Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot), so comes with some of the biggest names in UK drama attached.

Season one begins with a 25-year-old Princess Elizabeth (played by Claire Foy) in 1952 as she builds a relationship with the UK’s wartime leader Winston Churchill (Third Rock from the Sun’s John Lithgow), with each subsequent season looking at the politics, events and personal stories across a different decade of Elizabeth’s reign.

Clearly, Netflix has high hopes that the series will become the jewel that cements its position as the number-one SVoD service, spearheaded by exclusive series with huge international appeal.

“The Crown is storytelling that lives somewhere between television and cinema from Britain’s foremost chroniclers of modern politics, class and society,” says Cindy Holland, VP of original content at Netflix.

Given the global interest in the British royal family, Netflix’s interest in a series written by Morgan – the scribe behind the smash hit The Queen – was perhaps understandable.

“We were lucky because our ambitions tied in with their global ambitions. Little did we know, but they were looking for a global show to roll out around the world,” says Harries of the serendipitous nature of his company’s meeting with Netflix.

Harries describes The Crown as “the right project at the right time” and praises Netflix’s “no notes” philosophy: “They don’t directly interfere, so working with them has been a huge pleasure.”

The Crown
The Crown is Netflix’s first UK original

With the show set to become Netflix’s first UK original, the deal marked a watershed moment for the country’s TV business. But Harries can’t say it came completely out of the blue, given that he has seen a gradual shift in Left Bank’s main broadcasters since the company was founded in 2007.

Netflix, Amazon and HBO have usurped the BBC, ITV and Sky as Left Bank’s biggest customers, something that Harries says “reflects the huge growth in scripted programming and the differing systems by which scripted programming is being bought and distributed.”

The company has always produced with one eye on the States and Harries is a big advocate of having the power of a major US distributor (Sony Pictures Television took a majority stake in Left Bank in 2012) behind it during deal making.

The firm has produced Strike Back for HBO sibling network Cinemax and Sky, alongside shows such as Wallander for the BBC and feature films including The Damned United.

Deals will increasingly be done with broadcasters on the basis of windowing, believes Harries, suggesting that buying and selling in the scripted marketplace is going to become a whole lot more complicated down the line.

“You’ll do three months here, another six months there and nine months there. Although that hasn’t really started happening in the UK yet, it will,” says the former controller of drama/comedy at Granada Television.

When The Crown is finally unveiled on November 4, it’s very likely there’ll be an outcry in the UK that the series is not available on the public broadcaster, or at least a terrestrial channel, given the subject matter.

So how threatened should the BBC and ITV feel by Netflix so dramatically moving in on their patch? A bit, but not massively, answers Harries.

Left Bank was also behind Wallander, starring Kenneth Branagh
Left Bank has also been behind Wallander, starring Kenneth Branagh

“In the UK, the culture of broadcast television still has meaning. It might not in 10 years’ time, but it still does at the moment. There’s no doubt that both the BBC and ITV were extremely disappointed [not to land The Crown]. Ultimately the BBC and ITV shouldn’t look at The Crown as part of an overall trend that will destroy their business. I don’t think that’s the case – it’s a bit of a one-off.”

Nevertheless, it certainly “challenges” the two most famous British networks, who Harries admits are “still making great shows and I’ll still take great shows to them.”

ITV, at least, doesn’t appear to have held a grudge for too long, commissioning eight-part drama The Halcyon, set in a London hotel in wartime 1940, from Left Bank towards the end of last year.

Described as “Downton-esque,” The Halcyon follows the scandalous goings-on in the “most glamorous air-raid shelter in the world,” a home from home for politicians, overthrown monarchs and shady dealmakers.

“1940 was one of the most dramatic years in our island’s history. Who could have imagined that London would survive the Blitz? What was it like to be in a five-star hotel in the West End through this extraordinary period?” asks Harries.

“It’s such a compelling idea for a drama. The world of the Halcyon hotel has to carry on, through thick and thin and against all odds. The bedrooms have to be made safe, the bars have to stay open and the band has to play on. People have to sleep, eat and survive.”

The Halcyon began filming in London and surrounding areas in April this year. It is being sold internationally by Sony, and foreign buyers such as PBS in the US will likely be crossing their fingers that it could fill the Downton Abbey-shaped hole in their schedules.

However, as Harries says, there’s no such thing as a guaranteed hit when it comes to television production, particularly in such a crowded market.

“There’s a been huge boom in scripted and in people pouring money into these companies producing drama, so the expectations are high. But I’m not sure all the expectations are going to be met,” he warns. “I worry slightly that we might be on the edge of a boom-and-bust situation. I hope not. The appetite for drama is very large – but you still have to make it great.

“If you look at the figures at the moment for some of the dramas on TV, some of them aren’t doing terribly well. ITV might have Downton one week, but it could be followed by another show that simply doesn’t perform.”

Talent is key when it comes to improving your chances of survival, adds the exec, who believes the strength of the UK’s drama production industry – which consists of well over 100 different producers – shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Despite the tax breaks that have kept the industry so buoyant over the past few years, there are a number of recent developments that are restricting the ability of producers to “wheel and deal,” as Harries puts it.

“There are problems. The BBC is contracting, ITV is moving towards its own production base, which is understandable, and Sky now has its own distribution company,” Harries says.

Supporting the BBC and Channel 4 while not messing with the terms of trade is among the steps Harries says are necessary to protect the industry, which he describes as “strong and successful, but quite fragile.”

Harries says the money currently “flooding in” to the UK from the States is helping to support local producers and, historically, the UK-US coproduction model has ensured local broadcasters get bigger and sometimes better shows.

But should Netflix’s land grab for global rights become the norm then the dollars coming in could ultimately undermine the local broadcasters that have helped to establish producers such as Left Bank.

Indeed, The Crown was most likely the project the BBC’s former director of television Danny Cohen was referencing when he warned in December 2014 that the pubcaster was increasingly struggling to compete with Netflix for programme rights.

Harries may assure the likes of the BBC and ITV that the deal for The Crown was a “one-off.” But one would suspect that, deep down, they know that’s unlikely to be the case.

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Morgan and Thorne doing it write

Peter Morgan
Peter Morgan

The UK’s Royal Television Society (RTS) held its annual Programme Awards last week. Winning scripted shows included The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies (which took Best Drama Serial), No Offence (drama series), Catastrophe (scripted comedy), Coalition (single drama) and Emmerdale (soap/continuing drama).

There were also writer awards for Peter Morgan (The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies) and Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan, who write and star in Catastrophe.

Morgan overcame competition from Russell T Davies (Cucumber) and Shane Meadows and Jack Thorne (This is England ’90), with judges describing his writing as “skilful and poignant… absolutely first rate.” They called the drama “compelling and tender… it took the viewer on a deeply moving emotional journey.”

Morgan, 53 next month, is not new to TV. But until now he has been best known for a series of idiosyncratic feature films.

Having written the romcom Meet Frank, Daniel and Laurence in 1998 and TV series The Jury in 2002, his career took a decisive step forward in 2003 with a TV movie called The Deal, which told the story of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s power-sharing deal. In 2006, he wrote a superb film-length follow-up called The Queen, which explored the reaction of the political and royal establishment to the death of Princess Diana. This earned him an Academy Award nomination and a deserved Golden Globe.

The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies centres on the true story on a man wrongly implicated in a murder case
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies centres on the true story of a man wrongly implicated in a murder case

More acclaim followed with productions including The Last King of Scotland (adapted for the screen with Jeremy Brock); Frost/Nixon (play and screenplay); The Other Boleyn Girl, The Damned United, Rush and The Aftermath (the third in Morgan’s so-called Blair trilogy). And then came the RTS Award-winning Christopher Jefferies miniseries, written for UK broadcaster ITV.

Morgan, who has a brilliant knack of making the political seem personal, isn’t finished with TV. He’s currently working with Left Bank Pictures on The Crown, an epic US$100m drama for Netflix.

Based on a play by Morgan called The Audience, it tells the story of Queen Elizabeth II’s early reign. Anyone familiar with Morgan’s previous writing on the themes of power, establishment and intrigue will appreciate that he is perfectly suited to such a project – though it will be interesting to see how he copes with the much larger creative canvas offered by a 10-part TV series.

When the project was announced, he said: “The Crown is not only about the royal family but about an empire in decline, a world in disarray and the dawn of a new era. I am beyond thrilled to be reunited with partners from film, theatre and TV (director Stephen Daldry and producer Andy Harries) for this epic project and delighted to be working for the first time with Netflix.”

This Is England '90 is the final part of Jack Thorne's franchise
This Is England ’90 is likely the final part of Jack Thorne and Shane Meadows’ franchise

To date, Netflix has only ordered a first season. But it’s highly likely there will be future series of the show covering more recent stages in the Queen’s reign. So it might be a while before we see another movie or miniseries from Morgan.

As an interesting side note, Bafta has just announced its own TV awards nominations and there is no place there for Morgan’s Jefferies drama. Titles shortlisted for this event include Humans, The Last Panthers, No Offence and Wolf Hall (for Best Drama Series); Doctor Foster, The Enfield Haunting, London Spy, This Is England ’90 (miniseries); The Good Wife, Narcos, Spiral and Transparent (International Series); and The C-Word, Cyberbully, Don’t Take My Baby and The Go-Between (single drama).

In the context of the Baftas, the big winner is Thorne, who is attached to The Last Panthers, This Is England ’90 and Don’t Take My Baby.

In other news this week, Sky1 has commissioned a second season of Stan Lee’s Lucky Man, which is produced by Carnival Films in collaboration with Lee’s POW! Entertainment. As the name suggests, Lucky Man is based on an idea by superhero icon Stan Lee. But it’s another example of the trend towards greenlighting dramas with high-profile names and then getting other people to do the actual writing job.

The third season of Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror will debut on Netflix
The third season of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror will debut on Netflix

In this case, for example, the show was written by Neil Biswas, Ben Schiffer, Rachel Anthony, James Allen, Stephen Gallagher and Alan Westaway. Biswas, who is credited on all 10 episodes of Lucky Man season one, was already known to Sky, having written an episode of Sinbad a few years ago. His other credits include The Take, Bradford Riots and In a Land of Plenty.

Elsewhere, there was further evidence this week of the superstar status now afforded to leading TV writers, with Channel 4 losing out to Netflix on the UK first-window rights to season three of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror.

Channel 4 was the first company to back Brooker’s project but a huge financial deal saw Netflix take control of an expanded version of the project for season three. Channel 4 thought it would still be given the opportunity to premiere the show in the UK, but Black Mirror producer Endemol Shine has licensed first-run rights to Netflix. This isn’t hugely surprising but C4 is not happy.

11.22.63 stars James Franco (left)
11.22.63 stars James Franco (left)

In a statement, Channel 4 chief creative officer Jay Hunt said: “Black Mirror couldn’t be a more Channel 4 show. We grew it from a dangerous idea to a brand that resonated globally. Of course, it’s disappointing that the first broadcast window in the UK is then sold to the highest bidder, ignoring the risk a publicly owned channel like 4 took backing it.”

Other projects in the news this week include Hulu series 11.22.63. Based on a book of the same name by Stephen King, the series centres on Jake Epping, a recently divorced teacher from Maine (played by James Franco) who travels back in time and has an opportunity to prevent the assassination of US president John F Kennedy (though things don’t quite go as planned). The show is executive produced by JJ Abrams, Stephen King and Bridget Carpenter, who has also taken a lead role in its writing.

This week, 11.22.63 was picked up by Canal+ in France, having previously been licensed for use by Fox Networks Europe. The show currently has an 8.8 rating on IMDb, which marks it out as a strong performer.

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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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ITV checks into The Halcyon hotel

Spain's Gran Hotel
Spain’s Gran Hotel

Hotels are great places to set dramas. Not only do you get to see the behind-the-scenes activities of the staff, from lowly bellboy to entrepreneurial owner, you also have guests coming in and out every week.

As with hospitals and shops, this means a constant turnover of stories and characters as the series progresses.

Hotel dramas are nothing new – think back to the UK’s iconic soap Crossroads, for example – but in the last few years they have certainly been in vogue.

There was, for example, the BBC’s Hotel Babylon, set in the world of a luxury five-star hotel. And then came ZDF period drama Hotel Adlon. In the US, we have seen American Horror Story’s most recent season set in a hotel, while Spain has given us the best example of them all with Grand Hotel.

An opulent series set in the early 20th century, the show has proved a big hit at home and in the international distribution market. Not to be overlooked either is Stephen Poliakoff’s new spy drama Close to the Enemy, set in a run-down hotel after the Second World War.

American Horror Story's current outing is based in a hotel
American Horror Story’s current outing is based in a hotel

And so to the point of this preamble, which is that ITV in the UK has commissioned The Halcyon, a series set in a London-based five-star hotel during the Second World War. Produced by Left Bank Pictures and written by Charlotte Jones, it will focus on the guests and staff of the hotel in 1940. As such, it adds the unsettling backdrop of conflict to the transitory nature of hotel life – bombs overhead, staff going to war, soldiers passing through and perhaps even spies.

The eight-hour drama will be produced by Chris Croucher, who also produced the last two seasons of ITV’s period hit Downton Abbey. So there is clearly a hope that The Halcyon can go some way towards replacing that show.

ITV director of drama Steve November said: “A hotel is the perfect place to show ambition in telling the story of the Second World War. It was an extraordinary time in our country’s history, and London was a transforming city. The Halcyon takes us right to the heart of this as the hotel is busy, energetic and vibrant, which reflects how people carried on with their lives with defiance in the air.”

ITV's Steve November
ITV’s Steve November

Left Bank CEO Andy Harries added: “1940 was one of the most dramatic years in our island’s history. Who could have imagined London would survive the blitz and Luftwaffe’s attempted destruction of the city? What was it like to be in a five-star hotel in the West End through this extraordinary period? It’s such a compelling idea for a drama. The world of The Halcyon has to carry on through thick and thin and against all odds. The bedrooms have to be made safe, the bars have to stay open and the band has to play on. People have to sleep, eat and survive.”

Left Bank is owned by Sony Pictures Television (SPT), so the likelihood is that SPT will hold the international distribution rights to the show. If so, this will echo the business model of Downton Abbey, which was commissioned by ITV but produced by NBCUniversal-owned Carnival Films. The series will begin filming in London and surrounding areas from April 2016.

It’s been a good week for Left Bank, which has also been commissioned by ITV to make a fifth season of crime drama DCI Banks. The series, which premiered in 2010, is based on the novels by Peter Robinson and stars Stephen Tompkinson. It is set and filmed in the county of Yorkshire.

Stephen Tomkinson in DCI Banks
Stephen Tompkinson in DCI Banks

Harries said: “I’m delighted we are producing a fifth season of DCI Banks, one of ITV’s best-loved dramas. The stunning backdrop of the Yorkshire countryside is contrasted with the uncompromising storylines the team is dealing with.”

Left Bank isn’t the only indie to have benefited from ITV’s voracious appetite for new drama this week. Indie producer CPL Productions has been given the greenlight to make Brief Encounters, a six-parter looking at a group of four women who get into the lingerie and sex-shop business in the 1980s.

The series is inspired by chapters telling the story of the early days of the Ann Summers party plan business found in Good Vibrations, the memoir by Ann Summers boss Jacqueline Gold. “Brief Encounters is a refreshingly different domestic drama taking us back to the wonderful world of the 1980s,” said November. “We’re really excited by this commission – it’s full of heart, story and great new characters.”

Executive producer Arabella McGuigan added: “Brief Encounters is gutsy, emotional, warm and surprising. Like the real Ann Summers saleswomen, through their camaraderie our women discover hidden strengths and an ability to come out fighting no matter what life throws at you. As wives, mothers and businesswomen, they unleash talent – and they blossom.”

Luther creator Neil Cross's new show is set in a pre-apocalyptic London
Luther creator Neil Cross’s new show is set in a pre-apocalyptic UK

CPL belongs to Red Arrow Entertainment, which presumably means distribution will be handled within the Red Arrow family.

Still in the UK, public broadcaster BBC1 has commissioned a new detective series from Euston Films called Hard Sun. The six-parter is being written by Neil Cross, creator of Luther and a writer on Doctor Who. FremantleMedia International is handling sales.

It’s described as a pre-apocalyptic drama, meaning it is set against the backdrop of a dying world. “Imagine the world you see when you look out your window… except it’s been given a death sentence,” Cross said. “There’s no hero to come save us; no contingency plan. What’s it like, trying to keep order, trying to enforce the law in a city that, day by day, slips closer to certain destruction? How do you get up in the morning? How do you get out of bed and leave your family and go out there, putting your own life at risk? And what about the predators? What about the murderers, the rapists, the thieves? What about the psychopaths, the religious nuts, the cult leaders, the serial killers? Who would fear a prison sentence?”

Meanwhile, comic books continue to be a fruitful source of TV ideas, with US cable channel Syfy developing a new series based on the Dark Horse comic Harrow County. The story focuses on a teenage girl who finds ghosts, goblins, and the restless dead in a nearby forest. She subsequently learns she is the reincarnation of a powerful witch.

Blood and Water has been renewed by OMNI Television in Canada
Blood and Water has been renewed by OMNI Television in Canada

The series is being written by Becky Kirsch, who has previously worked on Syfy’s Dominion and 12 Monkeys.

Discovery is also reported to be working on an anthology drama series. According to Deadline, the broadcaster is developing a show called Manifesto, which will explore how the FBI caught infamous criminal masterminds, with each closed-ended season following a different case. The show sounds similar in structure to Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story on FX.

Finally, in Canada, OMNI Television has announced that it has renewed crime drama Blood and Water, just a month after the first season’s debut. The show, which is set in Vancouver, is unusual because it delves into the lives of Chinese immigrants and is produced in English, Mandarin, and Cantonese.

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