Tag Archives: Mainstreet Pictures

A walk down Mainstreet

Mainstreet Pictures co-MDs Sally Haynes and Laura Mackie tell DQ about making the third season of crime drama Unforgotten, the trouble with in-demand writers, and their aim to produce television people want to talk about.

Unforgotten is the quiet star of the television crime genre. It is unshowy and patient, yet each season boasts a gripping storyline, ducking and weaving until it lands an emotional right hook that can floor even the most hardened viewer.

At once about the police investigation into a historic crime and also the ‘family’ of potential suspects introduced early on, the ITV series, written by Chris Lang, keeps you guessing until DCI Cassie Stuart and DI Sunny Khan – played by Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar – piece together the clues before a devastating denouement.

Laura Mackie

The show returns for a third season this Sunday that will again see the duo delve into an emotionally charged cold case. The new season sees Alex Jennings (A Very English Scandal), Kevin McNally (Designated Survivor), Neil Morrissey (The Good Karma Hospital) and James Fleet (Indian Summers) play a close-knit group of old school friends who have stood by one another through thick and thin. But when the body of a teenage girl who went missing at the turn of the millennium is found at a building site, the four men find themselves and their relationships in the spotlight.

And though the crime at the heart of the story may be several years old, the characters also face more topical themes such as the stigma around mental health problems and the dark side of social media.

Distributed by BBC Studios, Unforgotten comes from Mainstreet Pictures, and was the first series produced by the label set up by former ITV drama heads Laura Mackie and Sally Haynes in 2013 after they both left the broadcaster. They have since gone on to produce another ITV miniseries, Paula Milne’s domestic horror HIM, while BBC drama Age Before Beauty, written by Debbie Horsfield (Poldark) and set in a Manchester beauty salon, will air this summer. They also recently won another BBC commission for Gold Digger, written by Marnie Dickens (Thirteen).

Unforgotten, however, is in that unique sweet spot. With two seasons behind it, the show is a bonafide hit – six million people watched the second run – and everyone involved in making the series now knows what the finished product should look like.

“It’s interesting with Unforgotten this year because Victoria [Fea, senior drama commissioner] has looked at all the cuts, but you do get to the point where a show knows what it is,” says Mackie. “It has its DNA and it’s a much faster process. We’ve got into the groove of what that show is and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It’s very much a different story but remains an emotional genre piece, particularly this year.”

Speaking to DQ inside their Holborn office in central London, it’s clear Haynes and Mackie have a lot of love for Unforgotten. “It’s our first child,” says Mackie, who notes that the third season is slightly unusual in that one director, Andy Wilson, has steered all six episodes.

Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar play the detective duo at the heart of Unforgotten

But above all, “it’s a very deceptively simple format,” she says. “The clever thing about it is when Chris pitched it to us, he understood you need a satisfying whodunnit plot but he also wanted to look at society and different families and the secrets and lies within families. And that’s the format, whether it’s dealing with the characters of the age of Tom Courtenay in season one, a younger cast in season two or the suspects in season three who are all friends and it’s a slightly more notorious case. That gives it a slightly different feel.”

As Haynes notes, “it’s hard to find a gap in the crime genre without going to jazz hands or alien detectives.”

Some shows might do that, but it’s hard to imagine Cassie or Sunny breaking into song and dance midway through their investigation. Instead, it’s hard to recall a pair of more down-to-earth and unflashy detectives on screen, and the tender relationship they share is always at the heart of the drama, whatever case they are investigating. Haynes admits there’s something “rather wonderful” about the pair’s bond. “It’s very subtle and very sweet but it’s very engaging. Nicola is stunning.”

“Cassie’s an empathist – she just quietly gets on with the case and I think people have liked the fact that, in a world where there are a lot of quite noisy crime shows, this is quite a quiet show but probably better for it because it feels a bit different,” Mackie adds.

Mackie and Haynes, co-MDs of Mainstreet Pictures, both worked together at the BBC, where their credits included Cutting It and Bleak House. They then made the move to ITV, where Mackie was controller of drama and Haynes was director of drama commissioning, responsible for series including Scott & Bailey, Vera, Endeavour, Appropriate Adult, Broadchurch and Downton Abbey.

Neil Morrissey is among those starring in Unforgotten’s third season

Now five years after leaving the broadcaster, their aim at Mainstreet is to produce edgy shows that appeal to a mainstream audience. “Our ambition is to make big shows that people talk about,” Haynes says. “A lot of the shows we greenlit at ITV, that’s our taste – Downton, Broadchurch, Appropriate Adult. I love making shows for a lot of people to watch.”

Mackie picks up: “We’re both populists and there’s nothing wrong with that. We don’t want to do more of the same and not everything’s going to work. We did HIM; it probably wasn’t right for ITV and perhaps could have sat more comfortably on another channel, but you don’t always know. You have to go with your gut.”

Having overseen Downton’s extraordinary success both at home and around the world, the pair say they have two period dramas in development as they look for a gap in a genre that is seemingly a constant presence on British television, whether it’s The Miniaturist, Little Women and Poldark on the BBC or Victoria and the forthcoming adaptation of Vanity Fair on ITV.

“When we commissioned Downton, there was no period apart from a couple of classic adaptations – we did Wuthering Heights with Tom Hardy and Charlotte Riley,” Mackie continues. “It was the era that, every autumn, we did classic adaptations. When Julian [Fellowes, Downton creator] and Carnival brought us Downton, period drama wasn’t in vogue but we really liked it. I still remember when we read that script and we said to each other, ‘I love it.’

“When we’re developing, we have to try to find something that’s so obvious, you can’t believe it hasn’t been done before. They’re the best ideas, but they’re hard to find. Gold Digger has a real voice to it but that’s very much our taste; Age Before Beauty and Unforgotten too. All you can go on is your gut.”

Mackie and Haynes were responsible for commissioning mega-hit drama Downton Abbey

The duo waited three years for Horsfield to find the time in between seasons of Poldark to write Age Before Beauty. The show’s long development process exemplifies one of the biggest challenges facing UK drama, namely the reliance on a top tier of first-class writers.

But when it comes to finding writers to work with, Mackie argues you must look beyond the usual suspects. “We’ve got Debbie and Chris but people get booked up,” she says. “We had to wait for Debbie because she’s writing Poldark. So you have to look at writers of all levels. We both started as script editors, so we love finding new writers.”

The bigger difficulty, they claim, is the lack of opportunities for writers to cut their teeth on long-running serials. “When we were at ITV, there was Heartbeat and The Bill and various other things,” Mackie continues, noting that commissioners are still drawn to series that carry one author’s voice. “But new writers like Marnie are being given opportunities to write their own authored stuff. It’s not easy, but I think broadcasters are open-minded if the project is good and it’s with a company they think can support it.

“Some writers could just do with time on series, because it’s hard. But there’s always room for people coming through. You can’t just rely on the usual suspects, because they’re all too busy.”

It shouldn’t be hard to draw Lang back for a fourth season of Unforgotten, with Mackie and Haynes teasing that the writer already has a story in mind.

For Haynes, the show’s success boils down to its simplicity. “It’s an emotional story that is also a genre piece,” she says. “I’ve read every script dozens of times, watched every cut dozens of times and still have a cry.”

Mackie adds: “Because Chris wanted to write about the suspects and their lives, it does allow you to tell a family drama or the stories you don’t have room for in a traditional crime drama. Cassie and Sunny are also deceptively ordinary, and ordinary is hard to do. It’s an emotional thriller.”

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The domestic horror of HIM

Paula Milne discusses her latest TV drama, HIM, which she describes as her attempt at writing a male version of big-screen horror Carrie.

While horror has been a resurgent theme in small-screen drama in recent years – think The Walking Dead, Ash vs Evil Dead and American Horror Story – the stories are almost always rooted in an element of fantasy.

It’s notable, then, that ITV drama HIM is described as a “domestic horror,” with the plot playing out against the backdrop of a troubled family living in the heart of suburbia.

Created and written by Paula Milne, the story focuses on a 17-year-old boy (known only as HIM) who is trapped between the two homes of his divorced parents, each now remarried with new families. He is both a reminder of their failures in the past and a threat to their happiness in the future.

Paula Milne
Paula Milne

Riding a rollercoaster of emotions, he must also contain the terrifying secret that he inherited a supernatural power from his grandfather – a power that his grandmother urges him to use only for good.

And when his 17-year-old stepsister Faith moves into his family home, HIM is irrevocably drawn to her – but they both know their mutual attraction could have devastating consequences.

The three-part drama, currently on air in the UK, is produced by Mainstreet Pictures and executive produced by Laura Mackie and Sally Haynes. It is produced by Chrissy Skinns, directed by Andy De Emmony and distributed internationally by ITV Studios Global Entertainment.

Milne’s writing credits include The Virgin Queen, The Politician’s Husband and White Heat. And, having written political thrillers and cop shows, she was eager to turn her hand to another genre.

“ITV asked me if I would like to write something for them,” Milne recalls of the 2014 conversation that led to HIM. “I wanted to write a horror piece and I think boys get a bad rap, so I told them I wanted to do a male version of Carrie – and, fair play, they went along with it.

“It played to their strengths in the sense that I already wanted it to be set in suburbia and there’s the extended family/divorce stuff and race issues. It’s very contemporary but very ordinary. If the audience believes the ordinariness, they’re more likely to believe [in the lead character’s] power.”

Milne describes genre as “a great friend to a writer,” offering the potential to dress any story up in a variety of different costumes. The daughter of a film critic, the origins of her relationship with horror lie in her watching Hammer Horror and Roger Corman films, though the roots of HIM can also be found in her own family.

Simona Dawson plays HIM's step-sister Faith
Simona Dawson plays HIM’s step-sister Faith

Married twice, divorced twice and with four children, the writer says she could see her youngest child Harry struggling with life in his teens and perhaps carrying the disappointment of his parents. She took this foundation and placed on top of it the confusion caused by an attraction to a step-sibling, being replaced by babies in two different homes, and academic struggles – in addition to harbouring a secret power.

“There were various elements I had already thought of and it seemed to be important he didn’t suddenly discover he had this power,” Milne explains. “That’s what happened with Carrie. The shock of that would then drive the whole thing and he would probably have to tell somebody. But if from a very early age his grandmother had seen he could do something, she’d have said his grandfather had the same power and told him to be very careful, so he was.

“But when his parents first split up and he uses his power to throw a cricket ball through the window, that’s when we start to see that his power emerges when he’s deeply emotionally affected and has no way to express it. What can you throw at this boy that could take him on a journey that might end in death – his or someone else’s?”

In the miniseries, HIM has the power of telekinesis – the ability to move objects without touching them. “You should be very specific [with the power],” Milne notes. “By being very specific and confident about the power he has and what he can and cannot do with it, you hope the audience will buy into it.

“But the risk is that the power is lessened by the domestic story. That’s why the nosebleed HIM gets when he uses his power was important – red is anger. But it’s never scary. It’s scary in what could happen to him if he loses control of his power and, arguably, what could happen to somebody else.”

Before putting pen to paper, Milne carried out considerable research into telekinesis and found a whole new world in which to set her story.

“There are people who really do believe it and I needed to know why,” she says. “They feel marginalised and wronged and it was really interesting. So I started with that and then the key incidents of the family and the dynamics. I have a big sheet of Imperial paper and do a storyboard. I always knew it would be three episodes – a trilogy is good, satisfying number. Then you think about the events that lead up to the key incidents. Then there are lots of [story idea] bubbles; I number them, handwrite the scripts twice and then put them on the computer.”

Katherine Kelly as HIM's mother
Katherine Kelly as HIM’s mother

In putting her vision onto the page, Milne also keeps her notes sparse. She doesn’t specify the exact look of a character, instead focusing much more on details such as time of day, or that viewers should not see a character’s face until a certain point in the story, for example.

“I remember on another show, the producer rang and said, ‘Can we change that dinner scene to a breakfast scene,’” she remembers. “I said, ‘No, people have a completely different conversation and are completely different at dinner than they are at breakfast.’”

Milne also forged a strong relationship with director De Emmony, who impressed her with both his technical skills and his interpretation of the emotional material in the script.

“That is quite unusual. Normally you get one or the other, but he was really good,” she says. “He had the challenges. It’s easy to sit there and write it, but he had to do it.

“To get the best out of people, they’ve got to inhabit it, they’ve got to own it. So the key time is in prep. We talk about the concept of the characters and what we’re trying to do. I also got Andy to meet Harry, my son, and showed him pictures of him at that time. So you get him to that place.

I went on set maybe twice. There are some writers who love to be on set, but I’m not one of them. What I really love to do is write. I see the dailies so occasionally I ask for a pick-up scene if someone doesn’t say their line right. But how collaborative the writer is with the director depends on how collaborative the director wants to be, and Andy was [collaborative].”

It’s not those early stages of setting the style and tone of a story that Milne most enjoys, however, but the payoffs that arrive as the plot winds towards its conclusion. She gives one example from the final episode, where HIM’s mother and father discuss him and their regret at how their own relationship fell apart.

“It shows what they went through and that they’re just ordinary people who make mistakes,” Milne explains. “You can’t get a scene like that except at the end when you’ve earned the audience’s interest in them. It’s really important to set things up well and delicately and nuanced, but the real payoffs are always at the end.”

For her next project, Milne jumps genre again and lands in Cold War Germany for 1970s thriller The Same Sky, which debuts in Germany on ZDF in January and then on Netflix around the world. The multi-stranded story concerns an East German Romeo spy sent to the West to seduce a British intelligence officer, a gay teacher trying to escape East Germany and a young girl who turns to steroids as she seeks swimming stardom.

“What was great about writing something like that was [the characters are] ordinary people going through extraordinary times,” she says of the six-part series – a departure from the decidedly extraordinary HIM who finds himself an outcast in very ordinary surroundings.

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The horror, the horror!

Bob Cranmer’s book The Demon of Brownsville Road is being adapted as Haunted
Bob Cranmer’s book is being adapted by Fox as Haunted
With shows like AMC’s The Walking Dead and FX’s American Horror Story performing so well, it’s no real surprise that everyone wants to climb aboard the horror show bandwagon.

FX sister channel Fox, for example, has already backed Scream Queens and is now planning another horror comedy series based on Bob Cranmer’s book The Demon of Brownsville Road. Called Haunted, the new show centres on a military agent who is partnered with her demonologist ex-boyfriend to help a family overcome a demonic infestation at their house. William Brent Bell (The Devil Inside) has been signed up to write the project.

ABC Family, soon to be renamed Freeform, is also moving into horror for the first time with Dead of Summer, which is set in a doomed summer camp in the late 1980s. The network, which has given the show a straight-to-series order, is from Adam Horowitz, Edward Kitsis and Once Upon a Time writer Ian Goldberg.

Meanwhile, Syfy has advanced a horror project it first started talking about in the summer. Channel Zero is an anthology series developed by Nick Antosca (Hannibal). This week Syfy greenlit what is being described as two six-part seasons. The first is based on Candle Cove by Kris Straub, which originates from an online horror concept known as creepypasta. There is no news yet on the second batch of six, though the assumption is that it will centre on a different story.

Meanwhile, in the UK, broadcaster ITV has ordered a three-part horror miniseries called Him. Produced by Mainstreet Pictures and written by Paula Milne, the story focuses on a 17-year-old boy with a hidden supernatural power inherited from his grandfather.

In the realm of sci-fi, one of the week’s most interesting projects comes courtesy of The CW, which is working on Cry, a drama about a doctor who works out how to bring cryogenically preserved people back to life. In an interesting twist on the Frankenstein myth, he starts by unfreezing his own father – but there are, of course, unexpected consequences. The show is being made in partnership with Paulist Productions, a Catholic-oriented company that makes shows exploring moral dilemmas.

Original cult sci-fi series Lost in Space is set for a TV reboot
Cult 1960s sci-fi series Lost in Space is set for a TV reboot courtesy of Netflix

Bigger news for sci-fi geeks is that Netflix is planning a remake of cult classic Lost In Space, which ran for three seasons in the 1960s. Created by Irwin Allen, the original story centred on an ordinary family called the Robinsons that becomes marooned in space along with the reprehensible Dr Zachary Smith. The franchise, which started life in a comic book, was brought back in 1998 as a not-very-good movie starring Matt LeBlanc. However it is probably better suited to TV. The challenge for writers Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless will be getting the tone of the project right. While it will need to be more plausible than the original to satisfy sci-fi fans, it would probably be a mistake to take it too far from the family-adventure feel of the original.

In the UK, meanwhile, actor Ray Winstone is to star as visionary author HG Wells in a new drama for pay TV channel Sky Arts. Called The Nightmare Worlds of HG Wells, the Clerkenwell Films drama will be an anthology series consisting of four stories about madness, obsession, hallucinations and horror (there it is again). These are based on Wells’ stories and will be adapted by Graham Duff. The series was commissioned by Sky Arts director Phil Edgar-Jones, who says: “One of my earliest memories is seeing row upon row of blue-covered HG Wells books on my grandad’s bookcase and being fascinated by the strange and disturbing worlds inside them. The team at Clerkenwell has brought four fantastic Wells stories to life in a wonderfully realised, stunningly performed compendium.”

There’s also some buzz around medical series this week. After a strong opening on NBC for Chicago Med, CBS has now given an extended order to its own medical show, Code Black. Although the show has not rated well, it now has 18 episodes to prove its worth.

Medical show Code Black has had its run extended by CBS
Medical show Code Black has had its run extended by CBS to 18 episodes

In the UK, another ITV commission announced this week is The Good Karma Hospital. Set in Goa, India, this six-parter follows a team of UK and Indian medics as they cope with work, life and love at an over-worked, under-resourced hospital. ITV says: “Run by a gloriously eccentric Englishwoman, the Good Karma turns no-one away – locals, ex-pats and tourists are all welcome. With a stunning location, exotic medical cases and unforgettable characters, the series mixes the heartbreaking with the humorous, as the doctors, nurses and patients discover that the hospital is more than a rundown medical outpost – it’s a home.”

The show goes into production next year and is being produced by Tiger Aspect. It is created and written by Dan Sefton, whose credits include Death in Paradise. There’s some logic to this since Death In Paradise (about a British policeman in the Caribbean) is another show that uses the interaction of different cultures as a backdrop.

UK dramas that showcase the Indian sub-continent are in vogue at the moment. First came Channel 4’s Indian Summers (shot in Malaysia but set in India) and then ITV’s Jekyll & Hyde. Also in the mix have been the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movies.

The Good Karma Hospital has been commissioned for ITV by director of drama Steve November and controller of drama Victoria Fea. November says: “Dan Sefton’s scripts are beautifully written and deal with themes we’ll all identify with – love, loss, relationships, family conflict, facing adversity and the importance of seizing the day. The Good Karma Hospital is a feel-good drama full of warmth and characters we will love.”

The Bastard Executioner has been axed by FX after one season
The Bastard Executioner has been axed by FX after one season

From Germany, news this week that ARD is producing a series based on the novels of Swiss author Martin Suter. Allmen, produced by UFA Fiction and Mia Film in the Czech Republic, is the story of a rich bon vivant who gets caught up in a murder after turning to crime to pay off his debts. Filming is taking place in Switzerland and the Czech Republic until mid-February next year.

Finally, there was bad news this week for showrunner Kurt Sutter whose medieval drama The Bastard Executioner has been axed after just one season by broadcaster FX. Having opened in September with an audience of four million, it fell away to 1.9 million by the end of its run. But this probably doesn’t signify the end of the sword and savagery genre. HBO’s Game of Thrones, Starz’s Outlander and History’s Vikings continue to do well while the BBC’s The Last Kingdom has also received decent reviews. Also coming up is ITV’s retelling of the Beowulf saga, which should provide us with another indicator of the genre’s popularity.

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Under the influence: Unforgotten writer Chris Lang

With his new ITV show Unforgotten focusing on the investigation into a 39-year-old murder case, writer Chris Lang tells Michael Pickard how police documentaries have changed the way he looks at crime dramas.

Could you live with yourself for 40 years after committing a heinous crime? That’s the question at the heart of Unforgotten, a new six-part drama now airing on ITV.

Created and written by Chris Lang (Undeniable, A Mother’s Son), it opens as the bones of a young man are found beneath the foundations of a demolished house, launching an investigation into a 39-year-old murder that will unravel the lives of four people who discover the past won’t stay buried forever.

Chris Lang
Chris Lang

Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar pair up as DCI Cassie Stuart and DS Sunil ‘Sunny’ Khan, who gradually unravel the secrets hidden by four potential suspects – played by Bernard Hill, Trevor Eve, Ruth Sheen and Tom Courtenay.

“It’s been an incredibly enjoyable experience,” says Lang of the show’s production. “I would relish the opportunity to do it all again. It’s such a difficult process making shows and you never quite know if the alchemy is going to come together to make something good and if it’s going to be an enjoyable experience. It is just a kind of magic when it works, and I believe it has on this occasion.”

Lang’s initial inspiration for the story came from a news report concerning a historical police investigation that led to the conviction of an 80-year-old man: “I was struck by how that person’s life, in a space of a few hours, had collapsed. I just thought that was a really interesting starting point – what’s it like to live with a crime for 30 or 40 years and have a family and career, only to see them dismantled in an instant? What’s that like for the person and all those people around you? That crystallised a few ideas and then other ideas were added to that to create a story.”

The series, which is distributed internationally by BBC Worldwide, is the first commission for Mainstreet Pictures, the fledgling production company formed by former ITV drama heads and Unforgotten executive producers Laura Mackie and Sally Haynes.

Unforgotten stars Sanjeev Bhaskar and Nicola Walker as a pair of detectives
Unforgotten stars Sanjeev Bhaskar and Nicola Walker as a pair of detectives

“It was quite an easy commission,” Lang recalls. “I took it to Laura and Sally who I knew very well and who had just left ITV (in June 2013). We met and had a chat; I wasn’t expecting to pitch to them but they seemed very excited by the idea.

“I was working on something else and they did what good producers do – they kept hassling me to give it to them. So they did their job well and I’m glad they did. Then we pitched it to ITV and they got it immediately. It seemed a natural fit and they’ve been extremely supportive all the way through.”

In less than two years, Unforgotten has grown from an idea to a fully realised drama, which is partly attributed to Lang penning the script in just six months.

“People often say I’m a fast writer. I don’t think I’m particularly fast but I work long days,” he explains. “I start at 08.30 and often don’t finish until 19.00, and I don’t really take a lunch break. I put the hours in. People often ask me how one becomes a writer – well, you sit down at a desk and write. Quite often what you write is rubbish, but you go back the next day and rewrite it. I probably wrote the whole series in six months. Each episode probably took four or five weeks to write.”

The show was greenlit by ITV in March 2014 and went into pre-production last December with the unusual advantage of having all six scripts completed.

Bernard Hill (Lord of the Rings) also has a leading role
Bernard Hill (Lord of the Rings) also has a lead role

“For production purposes that’s a godsend because you can tie down so much,” Lang adds. “You know where everything’s set and what characters you have to cast. When I’ve worked on other people’s shows and written for existing series, you’re frequently working in a state of total chaos. The scripts might not come in until three or four days before shooting – it’s terrible for everyone. I hate doing that, so I always endeavour to have all the scripts ready before we go into pre-production.”

Explaining Unforgotten’s tone, Lang says there’s no blood or gore – “It’s not that sort of show.” Instead, he has firmly rooted it in reality in order to demonstrate changes in society over the past 50 years.

“I wanted to reflect something of the movement in society and our various attitudes,” he says. “I never wanted the storyline to feel forced or fantastical in any way. I’ve written many thrillers over the years and I hope the more I do it, the more I learn that telling stories that are completely rooted in believability are much more appealing to an audience. I hope I’ve achieved that. That was the ambition.”

The premise of the story does bring with it one particular test for any writer: how do you introduce so many characters at the beginning of a series and ensure viewers stick with it until they learn how they might all be connected? Lang says it was a “real structural challenge” but that it was a deliberate strategy, aided by a strong cast.

Unforgotten is the first commission for Mainstreet Pictures
Airing on ITV, Unforgotten is the first commission for Mainstreet Pictures

“A lot of dramas employ a structural device that’s quite linear, that presents one suspect and discounts them and moves on to the next again and again over the course of six or 10 parts,” he says. “I began to find that quite unsatisfying because you would invest your time and emotion in one character and then they’d be gone, so I really wanted to present a cast of characters that viewers stay with for the whole show.

“It helps when you’ve managed to attract the cast we did. Within the first 14 minutes of the show, we have introduced to the audience not just Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Baskar but Tom Courtney, Trevor Eve, Bernard Hill and Ruth Sheen and all their families, featuring Hannah Gordon, Gemma Jones and Claire Goose. If we can’t hold them with that cast, we’re sunk, but I think we can.”

With additional credits including ITV’s The Bill and Sky Atlantic/Canal+ coproduction The Tunnel, based on Scandinavian mega-hit The Bridge (Bron/Broen), Lang has plenty of experience writing police dramas.

But he credits documentary series such as 24 Hours in Police Custody, The Met and The Detectives with influencing the realistic tone and style of Unforgotten.

“The genre has evolved massively in my time as a writer,” he says. “The Bill was incredibly procedural and all about the minutiae of on-the-job coppers, but shows like 24 Hours in Police Custody are rewriting the rules about how we see the police. Our design team and director Andy Wilson used them as really helpful templates for how policing looks and feels.

“There’s a definite and deliberate move away from the highly stylised police shows where you’ve got beautiful offices and moodily lit basements where it’s arty and gorgeous. Ours are just incredibly ordinary but I hope incredibly real. Hopefully it reflects the reality more than the stylised shows do.”

For now, Lang is thankful he is working in “the best time to be a writer that there’s ever been.” In particular, he points to the “paradigm shift” demonstrated by the movement of creative talent from film to television, rather than the other way.

“Drama is riding high everywhere,” he says. “I’m constantly going to meet producers who are moving from film to television because it’s where a lot of the real creativity is now taking place in a way it wasn’t 10 or 20 years ago. In television, writers have always had more respect than in film – even more so now. So it’s a great time. Television just feels incredibly creative and it’s the place where talent wants to be. Making a film was always the holy grail of being a writer or director but I don’t think that’s the case anymore.”

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