Tag Archives: LocomoTV

Out with the new, in with the old

As more original dramas are produced than ever before, DQ finds there’s still a place for classic series to find new audiences.

In the ever-changing world of TV, there are few things that can be termed a constant – but one enduring trend is the appeal of ‘classic’ drama, especially the detective genre.

Back in 2004, the executives of ITV’s digital channels were charged with creating a new channel to help stem the network’s ratings decline, particularly among upmarket ABC1 viewers.

Looking at the wealth of ITV-owned library drama available, the answer came quickly enough, although there were some doubts over the appeal of repeating hits from the network’s past.

Confounding these qualms, ITV3 launched to instant success – and 11 years later regularly ranks as the sixth most watched channel in the UK, behind only the five former terrestrial channels. That’s all with a schedule that differs very little from its opening year and, one suspects, a similarly meagre budget. So why does it work?

ITV3 succeeded through the choice of quality detective shows such as Inspector Morse, Foyle’s War, Agatha Christie’s Poirot (pictured top) and Midsomer Murders that benefited from self-contained storylines within each episode and a certain timeless aspect. The series were also aided by being shot on film, avoiding the tired look of many re-runs.

Despite viewers knowing the denouement of most episodes, they stayed for repeat viewings because of the characters, scenery and the programmes’ ability to function as ‘comfort TV’ – easy for viewers to unwind in front of at the end of a long day’s work.

Nordic noir drama Jordskott
Jordskott has performed well on ITV Encore

From the beginning, these series and others of their ilk have dominated the ITV3 top 10, often scoring audiences of more than one million. In terms of its on-screen look, ITV3 went for a cleaner, more contemporary style, which helped differentiate it from other repeats channels in the UK such as Gold, Granada Plus and UKTV’s Drama. ITV3 also tried to provide bonus material with behind-the-scenes documentaries and special seasons.

Last year, ITV attempted to build on the success of ITV3 with the Sky pay TV channel ITV Encore. But even accounting for the smaller available pay audience, ITV Encore has proved a severe disappointment to the network – “a learning curve,” in the words of CEO Adam Crozier. Audience levels have rarely surpassed the 100,000 mark. But why?

At its launch, those behind ITV Encore believed there was an appetite for recent ITV drama in peak – often short-run events and miniseries. Unfortunately for the channel, series such as Broadchurch are not particularly well suited to repeat viewing – and, being episodic, demand the commitment of viewing over a number of evenings and weeks.

Unlike the relatively gentle sleuthing of Morse, Broadchurch was an emotional experience for viewers and lost impact on repetition. Gracepoint (Fox), the lacklustre US remake of Broadchurch, sunk without trace on Encore, furthering the belief that these kinds of event dramas can’t command the same kind of viewership as the more self-contained series.

One bright spot for the channel has been the relative success of the Nordic Noir series Jordskott, which confirms the popularity of the genre in the UK – and a possible way for the ailing Encore to successfully evolve. Jordskott has headed the ITV Encore weekly top 10 since its launch on June 10, with consolidated audiences tracking an average of approximately 145,000.

It can’t be too long before the ITV acquisitions team scouts similar Nordic Noir titles for the Encore schedule as the channel gradually morphs into a very different animal. Further evidence of this is that Encore has acquired Twentieth Century Fox’s The Americans seasons one to four (flagship channel ITV canned the show due to low ratings after season two).

And belying the channel’s name, Encore is also moving into original commissions, the foremost being Sean Bean-starring The Frankenstein Chronicles, which launched this month. The supernatural element of this series is continued with another original drama announced, Houdini & Doyle.

Both in the UK and internationally, the relatively low audiences commanded by repeats of event/high-concept dramas such as Lost, Rome (playing on TCM in the UK to audiences of less than 15,000), The Pacific, Battlestar Galactica, Life on Mars and Band of Brothers reflect the problems faced by Encore, where viewers appear to be tempted more by the umpteenth showings of self-contained episodes of Columbo, House, Law & Order, Magnum PI and Marple, which power channels such as Top Crime in Italy and Universal’s 13th Street in various territories.

Law & Order
Law & Order is a popular re-run choice among viewers

With procedural investigation series NCIS being the most watched drama in the world, the genre continues to play extremely well internationally and is a staple of many broadcasters’ schedules. Channel-surfing around the globe, it’s extremely rare not to find a US or UK detective series playing at any time of the day.

But with UK drama spend dropping by 44% since 2008, distributors are now having to sweat their drama back catalogues more than ever, demonstrated by the widely predicted push from FremantleMedia International, ITV Studios Global Entertainment, BBC Worldwide, Endemol Shine International and others.

As evidenced by Cozi TV and TV Land in the US, there is a nostalgic appeal to older titles such as Fremantle’s Baywatch (which launched on Cozi TV in August). But this can sometimes wear thin after initial viewings and broadcasters then become stuck with dozens of episodes of series that are eventually shuffled off into late-night slots. However, the news that Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Zac Efron are planning a 21 Jump Street-style comedy take on Baywatch should help revive interest in the original show.

FremantleMedia International launched its Classic Catalogue at Mipcom this year, highlighting a vast library of comedy and drama and for the first time curating in one place the output of its constituent companies (including Euston Films, Grundy and Alomo). The firm is focusing on spotlighting key titles over the coming months, including both reversioned classics and formats/remake opportunities for shows such as Love Hurts, Pie in the Sky and Rumple of the Bailey.

Fremantle’s ambitious Kate Harwood-led revival of Euston Films will see not only original productions but also the possibility of new versions of such hits as The Sweeney and Widows, as well as lesser-known titles including family drama Fox (1980, starring Peter Vaughan and Ray Winstone) and intense thriller Out (1978, Tom Bell and Brian Cox).

Love Hurts
Could classics like Love Hurts be remade, or sold as formats?

After the success of Channel 4’s Indian Summers and the general appeal of period drama, there may be interest in another take on the 1910s Kenyan coffee plantation saga The Flame Trees of Thika (1981).

The success of ITV’s resurrection of comedy Birds of a Feather has seen a higher profile for the writing team of Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, who are now heading the Fremantle-backed LocomoTV and, like Euston, are looking at producing both new shows and possible re-boots of golden oldies such as Goodnight Sweetheart, this time for the US market.

Fremantle’s Sarah Doole, director of global drama, says: “We’re extremely excited about our heritage catalogue of classic comedy and drama. Having looked at the titles from our back catalogue, we realised we have some real crown jewels in there.

“It’s a distinguished collection bursting with iconic hits penned by legendary writers, not to mention the raft of classic characters who have gone on to become household names. We can’t wait to showcase the titles to buyers from across the globe.”

Returning to the appeal of older drama, the audience for repeated soaps tends to be very niche, as they tend to travel badly from the originating countries with production values that can vary from mediocre to poor.

US soaps have never really worked in the UK (and vice versa) – the most recent attempt being ITV2’s transmission of the campy Sunset Beach in the early 2000s.

The Sweeney
We could see a remake of the hit series The Sweeney

UK state broadcaster BBC2 has used long-running US series such as Cagney & Lacey and The Rockford Files to plug the gaps left by budget cuts in the daytime schedule. Murder, She Wrote and Columbo perform much the same function for ITV at the weekend.

Distributors such as Stephanie Hartog (formerly of Fremantle and All3Media) agree that “the success of Downton Abbey has opened the doors to some who previously might have doubted the appeal of classic drama in their markets.”

Hartog also notes that “the growth of specific genres from areas such as the Nordics, Turkey, Israel and France have contributed to a growing trade in drama and has prompted a look at older fare.”

As Hartog says, Downton’s massive worldwide success has created an appetite for similar shows and boosted the sales of lesser-known titles, such as BBC1’s Upstairs Downstairs reboot, Downton scribe Julian Fellowes’ Titanic miniseries and Spanish drama Grand Hotel. Similarly, upcoming French English-language period romp Versailles may promote interest in older series set in roughly the same era, including Charles II: The Power & the Passion (2003), City of Vice (2008), Clarissa (1991) and The Scarlet Pimpernel (1999-2000).

In the UK, as per the rest of the world, older cult series tend to be the preserve of smaller channels; currently, 1960s series The Avengers (on Cozi in the US) and The Wild, Wild West reside on True Entertainment and The Horror Channel respectively.

Sony’s True Entertainment channel in the UK is the home for many middle-of-the-road series of the past, including Little House on the Prairie, The Waltons, The Practice, Touched by an Angel, Due South and Providence.

And, of course, the Star Trek and Stargate franchises continue to form part of many channels’ daytime schedules in territories across the world. Star Trek will also get a fresh outing in the form of a new series to launch in 2017 on US network CBS’s All Access on-demand platform.

Antenna Spain's Grand Hotel
Antenna Spain’s Grand Hotel

Keshet International sales director Cynthia Kennedy says: “The launch of new services (both linear and OTT) across the globe means old shows can find a new lease of life, with both fans of nostalgia and new audiences. BBC dramas tend to have a long shelf-life, while older titles can usually find a home on new VoD platforms in places like Central and Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America, not to mention the majors being able to bundle their new shows with back catalogue content that gets airtime on smaller channels.”

Online, RLJ’s Acorn TV has carved out a niche for itself with a variety of past and present UK titles, ranging from such classics as I Claudius and Brideshead Revisited to contemporary fare including New Worlds and Secret State. Karin Marelle, a former acquisitions and commercial director at Acorn, says: “The increasing presence and popularity of British acting talent in the US has led to interest in checking out their shows before they crossed the pond.”

Netflix and Amazon, of course, are a destination point for distributors, although older drama titles are among their less promoted shows, with many already available through YouTube.

One genre that consistently delivers viewers – in an older male demographic – is Westerns. Despite the introduction of new titles and series, TCM Europe’s highest numbers tend to be attracted by Westerns – including vintage series such as Gunsmoke as well as current or recent series like Longmire and Hell on Wheels.

AMC in the US has also enjoyed strong ratings with Westerns, with ‘Cowboy Saturday’ schedules boasting a line-up of classic movies and golden oldies such as Rawhide and The Rifleman.

The success of Marvel and DC superhero movies and series has prompted some online free-to-air VoD platforms to investigate the availability of older series and one-offs to tie in with future cinema releases such as Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (DC) and Dr Strange (Marvel).

This August’s release of Guy Ritchie’s movie version of 1960s spy caper series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. may also see interest in the show renew across various international territories. Edited TV movie versions of the series recently aired on TCM in the run-up to the film opening in the UK.

Mission Impossible V: Rogue Nation could also prompt re-running of the classic 1960s television series in countries where it has been off air over recent years.

These and other developments should help distributors with older drama libraries get a foot in the door with broadcasters.

With new channels regularly launching across the globe (sych as AMC in European territories including the UK, Serbia and Hungary), the demand for quality library series to populate the schedules will be as strong, if not stronger, than ever.

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The long way round: Corona Television heads on moving to the small screen

Corona Television’s Richard Johns and Rupert Jermyn tell DQ how a lengthy drive laid the foundations for their move from cinema to the small screen – and insist they haven’t looked in the rear-view mirror since.

Long car journeys are often noted as the cause of arguments, or they can be filled by tedious periods of bored silence as unremarkable countryside flashes past the windows.

But in the case of film producers Richard Johns and Rupert Jermyn (pictured left to right above), a four-and-a-half-hour trip across England was the moment the pair decided to set their sights on television.

The subject of conversation was Wilbur Smith’s adventure novel Birds of Prey, and by the time the duo arrived in London from a Newcastle film set, Corona Television was born.

Jermyn recalls: “We started talking about the Wilbur Smith books and by the time we reached London we realised you can’t make books like that into films. There’s too much plot, too much fun. We got in touch with Wilbur, and it turned out we were the first ones to say to him we should do TV, not film.

Johns and Jermyn cite Boardwalk Empire among the kind of ‘big, bold’ series they both watch and want to make
Johns and Jermyn cite Boardwalk Empire among the kind of ‘big, bold’ series they both watch and want to make

“That’s probably what kick-started Corona Television. It was a light-bulb moment when we said we watch more television than film. It was a very organic car journey.”

Birds of Prey, which is being adapted by JJ Connolly (Layer Cake), is one of a number of properties on Corona’s burgeoning television slate. The story, set in 1667, follows a host of characters on the high seas, set against the backdrop of the naval war between the Dutch and the English.

Corona has also partnered with Stephen Kay (Covert Affairs, Sons of Anarchy) for romance/action drama The Fight. Written and directed by Kay and starring Piper Perabo (who is also Kay’s wife), it follows a conflict photographer and a journalist as they journey across continents and risk their lives to bring back pictures and stories that might change the world.

“We’re led by good stories, whether it’s from a book, an article or an idea we have,” Jermyn says. “With the Wilbur Smith novels, we have three books of 700 pages each. We could go on for 15 seasons.”

Johns adds: “Nobody had realised there are investable characters at the heart of his books. That’s one of the reasons they’re page-turners. There’s also this episodic, cliffhanger end to each chapter, which is the way he constructed them. For us they leant themselves very naturally to returnable episodic series television.”

From working as a brand manager to making commercials and then television, Johns broke into the film industry with 1998 feature Killing Time. It was while making Dangerous Parking (2007) that he first met Jermyn, whose background was in mergers and acquisitions and who was building an equity fund for feature films when the pair first crossed paths.

In 2009, they formed Corona Pictures and made two features back to back. The second of these was the Tim Roth-starring The Liability (2012), which was shot in Newcastle and led to the car journey that catapulted them into the television industry.

Johns and Jermyn took their plans to adapt Birds of Prey, the first novel in Wilbur Smith’s Courtney trilogy, to FremantleMedia, as Sarah Doole, a former BBC Worldwide executive they knew, had joined the production company to spearhead its move into global television drama.

Jermyn says: “We also started developing one or two other things and it became obvious the relationship with Fremantle was working really well. At that point we started having a corporate conversation about how to solidify it and move forward. It’s a really cool partnership and the ambition we have is matched very equally by Fremantle’s ambition to tell big, cinematic and noisy stories. ‘Every episode is a movie’ is our unofficial tag line because that’s the TV we watch and the TV we want to make.”

FremantleMedia International came on board to distribute the series, and the two companies’ partnership was solidified further in January this year when Fremantle bought a 25% stake in Corona Television as part of a first-look deal.

Corona is adapting the Wilbur Smith novel Birds of Prey
Corona is adapting the Wilbur Smith novel Birds of Prey

“At this stage, FremantleMedia is a minority stakeholder,” says Johns. “We’re still at an early stage in our partnership but it has allowed us to rapidly consolidate developed projects and bring in new ones, so the quality and advancement of our slate has gone up tenfold since January.

“There are two or three shows that are closest to getting across the line, so in 2016 we’re looking forward to being at the coalface on more than one programme.”

Johns says Corona approaches its TV projects from the same cinematic angle as its feature films, which means telling stories with global appeal for a worldwide audience.

“We don’t want stories that resonate with the audience of just one particular territory,” he explains. “Everything we make has an international market; our stories will travel across borders. Therefore, the stories we tell, the books we option, the scripts we bring on board and our writers all share that ambition, as do the casts and directors, and the coproducers we bring together.

“All those things add up to a global outlook, which is another reason why we have such a close strategic fit with the global drama department at Fremantle. It is a global conglomerate but it’s got the hunger in the scripted space of an ambitious indie like us, so it always felt like a very good fit.”

Another area of expertise Jermyn and Johns hope to bring from their filmmaking experience to their television projects is financing – or, more specifically, coproduction. While the global television market continues to shrink as partners link up across borders, this is already a common occurrence in film.

Johns says: “Having come from international filmmaking, we’re used to coproductions. It’s second nature for us to look at a finance plan where there are up to four, five or six different financial parts. When it comes to bringing in coproducers who will bring in a talent element or a piece of finance, we’re adept at putting those deals together. It’s something we actively look out for.”

Furthermore, Jermyn says that while independent filmmakers can be a “slave to equity” as they seek the money needed to get their productions off the ground, building a television budget is a more collaborative process.

Corona partnered with writer director Stephen Kay (right) for The Fight, which starred Kay's wife Piper Perabo (left)
Corona partnered with writer and director Stephen Kay (right) for The Fight, which starred Kay’s wife Piper Perabo (left)

“If you don’t find your equity, you don’t make your movie. And if you do find your equity, it will rule the roost and tell you what you can and can’t do,” he admits. “TV is much more collaborative; you find your partners and broadcast partners. We have Fremantle, which can, for the right deal, bring some deficit funding. But more importantly it has a global distribution network. So it’s a shortcut to the market. That makes a huge difference to us.

“You have to collaborate. It’s better to own a little bit of something that does get made than a lot of something that doesn’t.”

Speaking of collaboration, in August this year Corona teamed up with British writing duo Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran in a new joint venture called LocomoTV, which aims to create original scripted programming for international audiences.

LocomoTV is also supported by FremantleMedia, which has a first-look distribution deal for any of their new programmes.

Corona Television’s co-founders both enjoy epic, cinematic television – citing series including Mad Men and True Detective – and say their aim is to make the sort of “big, bold” series they like to watch.

Pointing to Hollywood directors David Fincher and Martin Scorsese, who have been heavily involved in House of Cards and Boardwalk Empire respectively, Johns explains: “There used to be a Great Wall of China between film and television. People would not cross between the two. People in film used to look down their noses at TV. But now it’s really flipped the other way.

“It’s been a gradual process of subscription television delivered by different mediums combining to make TV the most exciting place to be, where people can do bold, creative work and spend a lot of money at the same time, which you can’t really do in movies. As long as you’ve got a sustainable story and investable characters, you’re then annualising that big expense over a long period of time. The economics have changed and it’s become a real golden age of television drama.”

Corona aims to take its first projects into production in 2016. By that time, Birds of Prey will have been in development for several years. But beyond a cross-country drive, how do Jermyn and Johns decide what material to push along the development pipeline?

“The very first person we have to pitch it to is each other,” Johns reveals. “We have a rigorous, robust process. But we both have to passionately, genuinely agree on something before we take it to any of our team or out-of-house. We both have to feel we want to watch it, but certainly we both have to believe in it to the extent that we can sell it and there’s an audience for it. So there’s got to be a business case but there’s got to be a personal element to it too.”

Jermyn adds: “You’ve got to live with it for years. The decision to take something into development is a big one. If you’re successful, you could be living with a story for 10 years – so if you don’t like it, don’t do it.

“It’s about breaking down stories and making sure you have something people love as well. It’s about treating every single project as a brand new company. You build it from there and hopefully you’ve got a good enough project that will get made and then taken to market. It really is that methodical.

“It’s very similar to film, except that you have more people you can approach and more partners you can bring in. Ironically, what makes the most money in independent film is television sales, so all we’re doing is skipping out the middle bit and working directly with broadcast partners. We still love film but we’re translating that very much more into television.”

As global television drama continues to edge closer towards the big budgets, epic scale and cinematic qualities of the movie business, Jermyn and Johns are well placed to bring their filmmaking skills to the small screen and ensure Corona Television is one to watch.

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Marks and Gran get moving with LocomoTV

Long-time collaborators Laurence Marks (left) and Maurice Gran
Long-time collaborators Laurence Marks (left) and Maurice Gran

This week saw the announcement of a new creative company built around the writing talents of Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, two of the most iconic names in the British TV business. Backed by FremantleMedia, the new company will see Marks and Gran team up with indie producer Corona Television in a JV called LocomoTV.

According to a press announcement, “the new company will create original scripted programming that will captivate a new generation of audiences all over the world. LocomoTV is already building up a head of steam with a number of projects in development.”

For those not familiar with Marks and Gran, they first began writing for television more than 35 years ago and have an enviable body of hits in both comedy and drama, including Holding the Fort, Shine on Harvey Moon, The New Statesman, Love Hurts and Goodnight Sweetheart.

The pair also created Birds of a Feather, a classic comedy show that returned to UK TV screens in January 2014 after a 16-year absence. The revival launched to 12 million viewers, becoming ITV’s biggest comedy hit in 20 years and confirming that Marks and Gran still have the Midas touch.

FremantleMedia’s involvement is a no-brainer. FM already has a stake in Corona Television and has the rights to much of Marks and Gran’s back catalogue following a series of previous acquisitions. FM says it will “work with the new company on development and has a first look to distribute any titles originated by LocomoTV.”

Marks and Gran are behind long-running UK sitcom Birds of a Feather
Marks and Gran are behind long-running UK sitcom Birds of a Feather

For Marks and Gran, the new set-up recalls an earlier stage of their TV life: “One of the most rewarding phases of our career was when we had our own company, Alomo, in partnership with Allan McKeown, a brilliant, dynamic and forceful executive. We feel a similar frisson in getting together with the ambitious and enthusiastic production pairing of Richard Johns and Rupert Jermyn (the co-CEOs of Corona). We still generate far too many ideas for new projects, so we couldn’t ignore the opportunity to team up with the Corona boys and bring some extra fizz to TV.”

As for Johns and Jermyn, they said: “Decades of success have not blunted one little bit Marks and Gran’s appetite to bring compelling, deeply human stories and characters to audiences in the UK and worldwide. Lo and Mo’s ability to deliver an emotional and dramatic reach to the broadest audiences, across all the ages, classes and the sexes, is unrivalled in contemporary British TV and is frankly pretty unique worldwide. It is testament to their deep understanding of the human condition and their skill in finding fresh and compelling ways to highlight aspects of it to audiences.”

Another British screenwriting star has also been in the news this week. Red Planet Pictures’ Tony Jordan is to write Stop! In the Name of Love, following 18 months of development. A four-hour Motown drama series for the BBC, it centres on “six smart, diverse 30-something women in contemporary England. The series will reflect the diversity of today’s UK, focusing on the women’s complicated lives as they deal with love, friendship, success and failure. The music of Berry Gordy Jr’s famous record label will be woven into each drama, with characters singing songs at key moments within the spoken narrative. Each song (five per episode) will express the situation and emotions of the characters and be integral to the drama.”

Red Planet Pictures' Tony Jordan
Red Planet Pictures’ Tony Jordan

According to Jordan, “Stop! In the Name of Love offers something completely different from any other show on television and I am delighted that the BBC has commissioned it. We’ve been developing the series for the past 18 months and have created a piece of drama that will be unmissable event TV and that truly reflects the multicultural world we’ve become. 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.”

Jordan, who learned his craft by writing more than 250 episodes of BBC soap EastEnders, has become one of the most innovative and important writers in the British TV business. Leaving aside the fact that his company created a high-profile competition for new screenwriting talent, he has written and produced a number of ground-breaking shows in his time. Examples include Life on Mars, Hustle, By Any Means and his own unique look at the biblical story in The Nativity.

Always experimental, he created the ingenious ITV double-header Echo Beach and Moving Wallpaper and is now developing a show called Dickensian, which imagines a Victorian London populated by some of Charles Dickens’ most-loved characters including Scrooge, Fagin and Miss Havisham.

In 2013, the Guardian said: “If it were not for snobbery surrounding soap operas, Tony Jordan’s name would be as celebrated as Stephen Poliakoff’s.” A couple of years on, it’s unlikely anyone could find a legitimate reason not to recognise Jordan’s creative impact.

Valentina will be written and directed by Daniel Barnz
Valentina will be written and directed by Daniel Barnz

An interesting story from the US this week, meanwhile, is that filmmaker Daniel Barnz has signed up as writer/director of Valentina, ABC Family’s planned adaptation of RCTV telenovela My Gorda Bella Valentina. Described as Revenge meets Ugly Betty, it tells the story of a young girl called Valentina whose rich mother is killed in an accident. When the mother’s family takes over her assets, Valentina realises that her mother might have been murdered by her family for control of her business. So she disappears and returns 10 years later, looking totally different and hell-bent on revenge.

Barnz’s major credits to date include Beastly, Phoebe in Wonderland and Cake, the 2014 movie in which Jennifer Aniston plays a woman who becomes fascinated by the suicide of another woman in her chronic-pain support group. Presumably Barnz has come on board hoping he can achieve the same kind of breakthrough as RCTV recently had with fellow telenovela adaptation Jane the Virgin (a hit for CW in the US).

One connection with that show is RCTV International’s Jorge Granier, who is executive producer on both productions. TV is not completely new for Barnz, who is looked after by uber-agency WME. Earlier this year he directed ABC comedy drama pilot Mix.

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