Tag Archives: Matthew Weiner

Meet The Romanoffs

Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner’s latest project has arrived on Amazon Prime Video, but The Romanoffs swims against the tide of contemporary television drama, as DQ discovers.

It’s often said that people who work in television don’t actually watch much of it. So when Mad Men completed its seven-season run on AMC in 2015, creator and showrunner Matthew Weiner decided to catch up on some of the shows he’d missed.

But after taking part in the modern phenomenon of binge-watching that matured while his 1960s-set period drama was still on air, Weiner decided that for his next series, he would write a show completely at odds with the current demand for serialised storytelling and create something that didn’t require viewers follow a long story through multiple episodes.

Matthew Weiner

As a result, The Romanoffs is a globe-trotting anthology series featuring eight separate stories about people who believe themselves to be descendants of the Russian royal family.

Set in seven countries around the world, filming took place on three continents, involving local producers and talent across Europe, the Americas and the Far East. Each feature-length episode is set in a different location with a new cast, and is released weekly in more than 200 countries on Amazon Prime Video. The first two instalments launched on October 12.

Episode one, The Violet Hour, is set in Paris where an ancestral home holds the key to a family’s future. Aaron Eckhart, Marthe Keller, Inès Melab and Louise Bourgoin star.

Other episodes include House of Special Purpose, in which a movie star and a director go head-to-head in a battle over what is real; Bright & High Circle, about a tight-knit community where loyalties are tested; End of the Line, which sees a couple face destruction as they pursue their legacy; and The Royal We (pictured top), about a couple who pursue their temptations after their marriage gets into a rut.

The series is completed by Expectation, told over a single day in New York City when a woman is confronted with every lie she ever told; Panorama, set in Mexico City where an idealistic reporter falls in love with his mysterious subject; and The One that Holds Everything, in which a man tries to escape a family curse.

The ensemble cast includes Christina Hendricks, Isabelle Huppert, Jack Huston, Diane Lane, Ron Livingston, Kathryn Hahn, Corey Still, Kerry Bishé, Janet Montgomery, Noah Wyle, Amanda Peet, John Slattery, Juan Pablo Castañeda, Radha Mitchell, Hugh Skinner and Adèle Anderson.

“Part of it was really about doing a show that’s really set around the world with a connection — is it genetic? Is it cultural? Is it nature? Is it nurture? Who we say we are versus who we really are,” Weiner says of creating the show. “I was lucky enough to come to Amazon and shoot the show in different countries and different languages and really show what people have in common but also to do a different story every week. And we’re lucky enough to go on once a week so people will get a chance to have a conversation about it, hopefully.”

The nine-time Emmy winner,  who is the creator, writer, director and an executive producer on the series, says the Romanoffs, whose ruling members were assassinated by Bolshevik troops in 1918, have always fascinated him. “It’s got this great true-crime factor to it of people who were murdered,” he explains. “Obviously they’re an autocratic family. I don’t have to tell you how people respond to royalty. And then, years later, who are you? You can say what you are and it’s impressive, but who are you?”

In The Violet Hour, Keller plays Anushka, an ageing French doyenne whose nephew Greg (Eckhart) is waiting for her to die so he can inherit her fortune. Bourgoin plays Sophie, Greg’s girlfriend, with Melab as Hajar, an agency carer sent to look after Anushka.

“The reason why I loved the part so much is it’s exactly the opposite of what I did before. She’s so mean. She’s so rascist. She’s so bourgeoise. She’s so French. And she’s so over the top,” Keller says. “When I finished shooting, it was like I had to detox because all the toxins came out and I felt like I wanted to be a good girl again. So it was an adventure for me to do that.”

Ron Livingston and Diane Lane in Bright & High Circle, the fifth episode of The Romanoffs

The actor also praises Weiner’s script: “It’s so well written; it was like music. Everything is about the right thing – of course it’s the directing, the casting. It was like music. It was the pacing, the writing, so then it’s not very difficult to play, even if it’s something far away from who you are. But that’s why we do our job.”

In contrast to Anushka is Hajar, who Melab describes as strong and compassionate. “For me it was just amazing to play this character and work with Matthew, Marthe, Aaron and Louise. I loved playing this character because she’s strong but fragile. I loved this image of a strong woman, and she’s very patient. She’s just doing her job. Even if Marthe’s character is a little bit mean sometimes, she doesn’t see her through what she does.”

Weiner says The Violet Hour is a type of fairytale, likening Hajar to a princess and Marthe to an “evil witch queen.” He continues: “Their relationship, even though it has this tone to it, it’s very realistic, but it’s really about two different legacies and passing on what belongs to you. Right now I don’t know if people want to see stories about money necessarily on TV, but to me it was interesting. It becomes a symbol of what you have and how you try to hold on to it and who’s going to get it. Is it the person who loves you the most? So they’re really two different sides to the same coin to me, where Marthe is forceful and harsh and angry and, as she says, bourgeois and a racist. And Ines is very strong but also very tender and scared inside.”

Their relationship also adheres to the theme of family that runs through the series, with Weiner observing that family is an issue for everyone in society right now. “The world is so divisive and we become more and more isolated and we cling to those aspects of our life that are our identity,” he explains.

The Violet Hour stars Aaron Eckhart and Marthe Keller

Appearing in the final episode, The One that Holds Everything, is Skinner (Harlots, Poldark) as Simon Burrows. The actor describes the episode, which has a non-linear structure, as a family saga that circles the globe, but doesn’t reveal much more, apart from the fact that it was partly filmed in Hong Kong.

“As with Mad Men and stuff, Matthew’s got this extraordinary ability to create a very full world and then the tone of it is very different to anything I’ve ever seen before. [Filming in Hong Kong] was fantastic,” he says.

Weiner, whose credits also include The Sopranos, jokes that he set the story in Hong Kong simply to give him a reason to visit a place he’d never seen before. “Some of this was an excuse to work in exotic places like Toronto and Pasadena but also Hong Kong,” he says. “It’s funny because the story Hugh is in is like a Hitchcock story.”

Viewers will see Skinner’s character at various stages of his life in a story that is told out of order. “The premise of the show basically is two people sit down next to each other on a train and a story is told and you flash back,” Weiner reveals. “Hugh is the star of that story. You see his life but you don’t see it in order, ever. ”

Expectation is told over a single day in New York City

The showrunner says his preference for an anthology format with standalone episodes was about entertaining viewers, while offering them a conclusion at the end of 80 minutes.

“You get a chance from the writing point of view, the directing point of view and from the audience point of view to have a story that commits to a resolution,” he adds. “Even movies today are sort of sequalised, so when you commit to a story, the stakes become higher immediately; you don’t know what’s going to happen. In series television, [Mad Men main character] Don Draper probably won’t actually get fired even if someone comes in and goes up against him, because he needs to be there next week.

“In this storytelling, there is a climax and a resolution and it’s perfect. And because you’re asking actors to come in for one episode instead of six years, look at the people who show up to be in it.”

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Creative arms race

As Netflix and Amazon continue to flex their financial muscles, battle lines are being drawn between network, cable and digital channels in the fight for top writing talent.

Call it what you will – peak TV, the new golden age or even the first platinum era of television – there are few signs that the number of scripted dramas being produced around the world, and particularly in the US, is on the wane.

So as the transfer window for football leagues across Europe enters its final days, television is doing its best to keep up, with rival players fighting to sign up some of the small screen’s biggest talents in the hope of continuing to attract viewers.

If former Barcelona superstar Neymar is worth a world-record transfer fee of £200m (US$258m) to Paris Saint-Germain, how valuable is showrunner extraordinaire Shonda Rhimes (pictured above) to Netflix?

However much Rhimes will earn, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos would doubtless say she is worth every cent after the showrunner agreed to bring her Shondaland production company to the US streaming giant in a multi-year deal that will see her create new series for the platform. Indeed, Sarandos described Rhimes as “one of the greatest storytellers in the history of television” after securing her signature.

Shondaland’s ABC series include long-running medical drama Grey’s Anatomy

And who is in any doubt over the credibility of that statement? This is, after all, a writer and producer who has her own night on US network ABC, with Shondaland series Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder bringing in primetime audiences every Thursday.

But while becoming synonymous with ABC, which also previously aired Shondaland dramas The Catch and Still Star-Crossed, among others, Rhimes has slowly built up a relationship with Netflix. The streamer has global rights outside of the US to How To Get Away With Murder and also airs Grey’s and Scandal in many other territories.

Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that despite a long and successful partnership with the network, she has jumped ship with the promise of untold production budgets and the opportunity to tell any story she likes without having to jump through the hoops laid out by a broadcast network’s standards and practices department.

Robert Kirkman

“Her work is gripping, inventive, pulse-pounding, heart-stopping, taboo-breaking television at its best,” Sarandos continued, with all the hyperbole of a football club chairman announcing his club’s latest star signing, lacking only a Netflix T-shirt with Rhimes’ name across the back. “I’ve gotten the chance to know Shonda and she’s a true Netflixer at heart – she loves TV and films, she cares passionately about her work and she delivers for her audience.”

Rhimes hinted at the potential to break away from the more stringent rules at ABC when she said: “Ted provides a clear, fearless space for creators at Netflix. He understood what I was looking for – the opportunity to build a vibrant new storytelling home for writers with the unique creative freedom and instantaneous global reach provided by Netflix’s singular sense of innovation. The future of Shondaland at Netflix has limitless possibilities.”

While Grey’s, now entering its 14th season, and its ABC stablemates will not be moving with Rhimes, one wonders what new projects Shondaland will be pitching to the streamer.

In the case of The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, the dark content that comprises his comic book back catalogue and the output of his Skybound Entertainment prodco provides a clue of what is likely to come now that he too has agreed an online deal, with Amazon being the beneficiary in this case.

The Walking Dead is one of the biggest shows in the world, giving cable network AMC the kinds of ratings that broadcast networks would once have considered unremarkable. Kirkman is also behind Cinemax’s Outcast and is developing pre-apocalyptic drama Five Year, which is being prepared for multiple territories including Germany, India, Brazil and Italy.

“Robert is a gifted storyteller who shares our passion for elevated genre storytelling that pushes boundaries,” said Sharon Tal Yguado, head of event series at Amazon Studios, which is ramping up its focus on science-fiction, fantasy and horror series. “Robert and the team at Skybound are some of the most innovative and fearless creatives in the business. Together, we plan to explore immersive worlds and bold ideas for Prime Video.”

Kirkman is best known as the creator of AMC’s The Walking Dead

The digital tractor beam has also managed to pull in major movie talent, with Netflix revealing it had tapped the sought-after Coen Brothers (The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men) to produce western anthology series The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – a six-parter starring Tim Blake Nelson that will feature six different frontier tales featuring the eponymous character.

“We are streaming, motherfuckers,” said Joel and Ethan Coen, understatedly, in what was another coup for Netflix in the wake of Disney’s revelation that it would be pulling its movie titles from the SVoD player in 2019.

It’s a stark reality that the some of the biggest names in TV and film will head to Netflix and Amazon due to the promise of being given the freedom to let their creative juices flow. But what is left for the networks they leave behind? AMC will have to make do without the next series from Kirkman, while Matthew Weiner, who spent eight years at the channel with Mad Men, has also set up his next show – The Romanoffs – at Amazon. Cable rival FX, meanwhile, has been tying down its biggest creative assets, among them Noah Hawley (Fargo, Legion) and Donald Glover (Atlanta), for fear of them also moving on.

Noah Hawley

But it is broadcast networks that will face the biggest challenge. Already trailing in the wake of their subscription-based competitors and unable to place the same bets on niche dramas as their cable and streaming rivals, the onus is on them to unearth new gems each year to keep their advertisers happy.

ABC Studios has been doing some transfer business of its own, reuniting with veteran showrunner Carlton Cuse (Jack Ryan, Bates Motel) who oversaw six seasons of Lost for the Alphanet Network. The hope will be that he can steer some new shows in its direction.

But like smaller football clubs facing off against their bigger rivals, television now has a new ecosystem, and it’s likely networks will have to get used to seeing their best and brightest talents picked off.

The demanding nature of network dramas means they should continue to be the biggest training ground for up-and-coming writing talent as writers rooms grapple with the demands of 22-episode seasons. That’s where the next great storytellers will emerge to take the places of Rhimes et al.

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Amazon, BBC, HBO spend big on scripted

JK Rowling (photo by Daniel Ogren)
JK Rowling (photo by Daniel Ogren)

In September 2016, the BBC announced that it had commissioned three event dramas based on JK Rowling’s crime novels, which she publishes under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. This week, HBO announced it had also come on board for the US and Canada.

The three dramas are being produced by Rowling’s UK-based company Brontë Film & TV, which previously adapted her novel The Casual Vacancy for the BBC and HBO. They will star Tom Burke as Cormoran Strike, a battle-scarred war veteran who is now a private detective. All told, nine hours of television will be extracted from the three books: The Cuckoo’s Calling (3×60’), The Silkworm (2×60’) and Career of Evil (2×60’).

Commenting on his casting, Burke said: “I’m overjoyed to be immersing myself in the role of Cormoran Strike, who is as complex as he is larger than life. I know I’m joining an extraordinary team of people on a series that, for me, is peppered with moments of real emotional depth and meticulously grounded in the page-turning momentum of these novels. Cormoran Strike’s world is rich and raw.”

JK Rowling added: “I’m thrilled about the casting of Tom Burke, a massively talented actor who’ll bring the character to perfect life. Strike is pure joy to write and I can’t wait to see Tom play him.”

Also this week, US cable channel Spike TV acquired a six-part drama about the Waco siege that left 76 people dead in 1993. Waco is a Weinstein television production and is based on the events surrounding the two-month siege of a cult headquarters in Texas, which ended in tragedy when the FBI stormed the complex. The show will start production early next year and is being written by brothers John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle.

Waco
The Waco siege ended with 76 people dead

This is not the only project Spike and The Weinstein Company are working on. Also coming up are Time: The Kalief Bowder Story and The Mist, slated for 2017. The latter is based on a Stephen King story.

Cults are becoming something of a theme in the US scripted business. Recently, we reported that Vince Gilligan and HBO had joined forces on a scripted series about the Jonestown massacre, while Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) has been attracting critical acclaim for his role in Hulu’s cult-based drama The Path.

There are also reports this week that Amazon has handed a straight-to-series order to Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner and The Weinstein Company. The show will be Weiner’s first project since Mad Men finished its seven-season run on AMC last year, and is reported by Deadline to have a budget of around US$70m.

Details on the new eight-part show are sparse, but it is believed to be a contemporary anthology series set in multiple locations around the world. Weiner is reported as saying: “In a time when there are so many options for entertainment, it’s been tremendous to see how [Amazon Studios boss] Roy Price and Amazon have taken centre stage by distinguishing themselves through bold choices.”

Matthew Weiner
Matthew Weiner

Elsewhere, indie producer Eleventh Hour Films has signed a coproduction deal with Luti Media to develop a slate of distinctive, exciting and original television dramas. Jill Green, MD of EHF and producer of hit dramas including Safe House, Foyle’s War, New Blood and Vexed, has teamed up with Luti Fagbenle, the founder of Luti Media, an award-winning production company known for music videos for artists such as Zayn Malik, Rita Ora, One Direction and Kanye West.

The intention is to pool their expertise to develop a slate of projects – both fiction and non-fiction – and work with some of the most exciting up-and-coming talent in the entertainment industry.

The partnership has already secured its first script commission with Channel 4, in the form of Laylah and the Universe, a comedy drama penned by actor/writer/director O-T Fagbenle (who recently played one of the leads in Sky1 drama The Five). They are also working with Director X on a music-driven project.

Green said: “Luti and I are very excited to produce content that will push boundaries, resonate with different broadcasters and attract a large, diverse audience. Our skill sets are very different and I know we’ll make a formidable team.”

O-T Fagbenle in The Five
O-T Fagbenle in The Five

Luti Fagbenle added: “We are blown away by the prospect of working with Jill Green and EHF. I know that this partnership – with our background in producing high-end visuals and understanding of youth and music culture combined with their enormous wealth of experience in television – will produce some distinctive work.”

While there haven’t been many new commissions this week, there have been a few interesting stories on the finance and development front. One doing the rounds is that BBC Worldwide (BBCWW) is close to doing a £50m (US$60.9m) deal with Danny Cohen’s Access Entertainment to create a portfolio of high-end dramas.

If the deal comes off, it won’t be the first time BBCWW and Access have come together. In August, they backed the launch of Tessa Ross and Juliette Howell’s new production company House Productions, which plans to build a slate of television and feature films. BBCWW took a 25% stake in House and will act as the company’s global distributor. Should the Access deal go through, the plan would be for BBCWW to act as distributor for any shows Greenlit by Access.

Also notable this week is the news that the Paris-based Series Mania Coproduction Forum has created a €50,000 prize for the best TV series project in development – available from 2017. The Coproduction Forum, which will take place from April 18 to 21 next year, chooses around 15 projects seeking additional financing, which are then presented to more than 400 decision-makers from some of the world’s leading production companies and broadcasters.

Shooter stars Ryan Phillippe
Shooter stars Ryan Phillippe

“Since its beginnings, the Series Mania Coproduction Forum has set out to identify ambitious projects with international distribution potential. Through this prize, we want to make this aid more concrete by putting a spotlight on and giving a significant financial boost to the writing of the winning project,” said Laurence Herszberg, MD of Series Mania.

On the acquisition front this week, Canadian broadcaster Quebecor has acquired the thriller series Shooter from Paramount Worldwide Television Licensing. The show, which is based on a 2007 movie of the same name, stars Ryan Phillippe as a US Army-trained sniper who is coaxed back into action after learning of a plot to kill the president.

“This gripping series has everything our audiences look for: great acting, superb production values and a compelling, binge-worthy story,” commented Yann Paquet, VP of acquisitions and partnerships at Quebecor Content.

The show is due to launch on USA Network in the US on November 15.

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Risky business: Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner reflects

Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner took a trip down memory lane at the Toronto International Film Festival, reflecting on risks, rewards and studio politics over the period drama’s seven seasons. Adam Benzine reports. 

Not taking risks is what will sink a show in the long run.

That was the key takeaway from Mad Men creator Matt Weiner (pictured above), reflecting on his AMC show’s seven-season arc during an intimate Q&A at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

Mixing things up from the usual in-conversation format, Weiner was interviewed by TIFF programmer Mike Lerner as Mad Men’s season one finale, “The Wheel,” played behind them in the background, making for a session that was part live audio commentary, part masterclass.

Mad Men starred Jon Hamm as Don Draper
Mad Men starred Jon Hamm as Don Draper

Looking back on the show’s success, relative to its challenging beginnings, “I feel frequent tings of vindication about huge risks we took that paid off,” Weiner said.

“The vehemence with which people told me that this was a dumb idea, it’ll never work, or would say, ‘I love it, but no-one will ever watch this,’” he recalled, adding that studio execs have always underestimated the intelligence of their audience.

“There’s always some fictitious viewer that they think that they’re smarter than. But I found through watching other people that I admire – David [Chase], Francis Ford Coppola – that not taking a risk is what sinks you.”

Weiner described Mad Men’s first season finale – a highly acclaimed episode best remembered for lead character Don Draper’s pitch for the Kodak Carousel slide projector – as being his “first paid directing gig” for TV.

He came to the show having served as a writer and exec producer on The Sopranos and having had some success with a small independent feature film, 1996’s What Do You Do All Day. After being passed on by HBO, Showtime and FX, Mad Men landed a 13-episode order in 2006 from AMC, which at the time had never produced an original drama series.

However, while many showrunners direct the pilot episodes of their shows, in a bid to set the tone for future episodes, AMC felt that a more experienced director was needed for Mad Men’s pilot.

January Jones as Mad Men's Betty Draper
January Jones as Mad Men’s Betty Draper

“They did not let me do the pilot – they didn’t think that my little $12,000 movie was enough, and I didn’t fight them,” Weiner said. “I was so inexperienced. But they gave me [final say over] casting, and casting is everything.”

He added that he benefited for seeing other directors helm the first season’s first dozen episodes, before taking on the finale himself.

Elsewhere during the talk, he discussed personal failure, network politics and anger from fans, particularly after a storyline that saw Draper marrying a women he barely knew.

“I had people yelling at me, ‘you ruined the show! Why would he do that?’” he laughed, before defending the need to subvert expectations to keep a series fresh. “You’ve got to change the show.”

He also said that the series was not supposed to be fondly nostalgic of the 1950s and 1960s. “Critics didn’t get it – they said, ‘oh, it’s a nostalgia thing,’” Weiner offered. “But the purpose of the whole thing was to say, this wasn’t the good old days. They never ended; stop pretending that they did.”

Finally, he discussed the uncertainty he faced going into the final episode of the show’s first season, not knowing if it would return. He had to work to create a finale that could end the series on a satisfactory note, in case it got cancelled, but be open enough to continue for a second season, were it to be renewed.

“This could’ve been the last shot of Mad Men,” he said, staring up at the big screen as the final seconds of the episode played out. “I assumed it was.”

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On the up down under

Stateless marks Cate Blanchett's directorial debut
Stateless marks Cate Blanchett’s directorial debut
Dozens of Aussie screenwriters will be dusting off their computer keyboards following the news that Screen Australia has greenlit A$640,000 (US$474,241) of development funding for 23 films and television series.

The project that has caught the attention of the international media is Stateless, which will be directed by Oscar-winning actor Cate Blanchett. Described by Screen Australia as Blanchett’s “first venture into high-end TV,” it tells the true story of Cornelia Rau, a young German-Australian who escaped a frightening cult, only to be trapped in a bizarre labyrinth of psychiatric and legal systems.

NBCUniversal-owned production company Matchbox Pictures will produce Stateless, which is based on a screenplay written by Elise McCredie. McCredie has a long and varied track record as an actress, but her first big hit as a writer was Nowhere Boys, a teen series that was also produced by Matchbox.

First airing on ABC3 in 2013, the show was successful enough to secure a renewal and to be adapted as a feature film (Book of Shadows). Sold internationally by NBCUniversal, it has also aired in the UK and Canada.

The other projects backed by Screen Australia include works from Bryan Brown and Rachel Ward, Richard Roxburgh, Marieke Hardy, Jan Chapman, Stephan Elliott and Bondi Hipsters’ Nicholas Boshier. However, the only other high-end television drama to secure Screen Australia funding this month is Trust – a drama based on a journalist’s mission to expose a shadowy movement cloaked in conspiracy theories and deception.

Trust’s writing team consists of Sarah Lambert, Blake Ayshford and Kris Mrksa. Lambert’s standout credit to date is Love Child, a critical and ratings success for Channel 9 and Playmaker in 2014.

Sarah Lambert is part of a team of writers on Trust
Sarah Lambert is part of a team of writers on Trust

Ayshford has written episodes for a number of shows including The Beautiful Lie, Nowhere Boys, Devil’s Playground, The Code and Crownies, while Mrksa’s credits include Underbelly, The Slap and Glitch.

The latter is a six-parter that started airing on ABC1 this month. Pursuing a familiar theme, it focuses on a policeman who is called to his local cemetery in the middle of the night after six people have inexplicably risen from the dead in perfect health.

Nerida Moore, senior development executive at Screen Australia, said: “The titles we’ve announced reflect a really exciting slate of projects and associated talent. They’re very individual in approach and each will have its own unique creative journey ahead. The recent changes to our Story Development Guidelines reflect our appreciation for the individual creative process and the ongoing need for flexibility in the ways we offer support. We look forward to seeing more innovation and imagination as these projects flourish.”

Elsewhere, Endemol Shine Studios has acquired the English-language reversion rights to Follow the Money, a new thriller from Danmarks Radio (DR) that is set in the world of economic crime. The deal follows an earlier adaptation success for DR’s The Killing (aka Forbrydelsen) and comes despite the fact that Follow the Money doesn’t air in Denmark until January 2016.

The original series was created by Jeppe Gjervig Gram, one of the three writers on Borgen, writing a total of 14 out of the 30 episodes. His partners on Borgen were Adam Price, who recently co-founded production company SAM, and Tobias Lindholm.

“This is yet another compelling series from DR, and we’re looking forward to developing it for the American audience in partnership with the very talented team at Anonymous Content,” said Charlie Corwin, co-chairman and co-CEO of Endemol Shine North America.

The Wire's David Simon is working on Show Me a Hero for HBO
The Wire’s David Simon is working on Show Me a Hero for HBO

Meanwhile, HBO has announced that its upcoming miniseries Show Me a Hero will debut on August 16. Starring Oscar Isaac, Catherine Keener, Alfred Molina, Winona Ryder, LaTanya Richardson-Jackson, Bob Balaban and Jim Belushi, the show is set in the 1980s and tells the story of a young mayor of a mid-sized American city who is faced with a federal court order that says he must build a small number of low-income housing units in the white neighbourhoods of his town. His attempt to do so tears the entire city apart, paralyses the municipal government and, ultimately, destroys the mayor and his political future.

Written by David Simon (The Wire, Treme), Show Me a Hero is based on a non-fiction book by Lisa Belkin that explores the issue of racial segregation in Yonkers, in the state of New York.

Simon said: “The story appeals to me not merely as political history, but because the question in Yonkers in 1987 was the same one that we face today. Are all of us – those with and those without, white, black or brown – are we all sharing some portion of the same national experience? Or is the American Dream something other than that?”

The director is Paul Haggis (Crash), who says: “Frankly, I have long desired to be a part of anything David Simon does. If he had asked me to direct a history of footwear, that’s what we would be discussing now. Luckily, it was a part of our history that intrigued me, largely because it isn’t history at all, but an exploration of issues that remain at the core of the American narrative.”

In last week’s Hit & Miss, we looked at some of the titles that have garnered a high number of Emmy nominations. Today, we are giving a shout out to the writers nominated.

In Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series, the contenders are Joshua Brand (The Americans), Gordon Smith (Better Call Saul), David Benioff and DB Weiss (Game of Thrones), Matthew Weiner and Semi Chellas (Mad Men) and Weiner alone (for Mad Men again).

Jane Anderson's work on Olive Kitteridge has earned her an Emmy nomination
Jane Anderson’s work on Olive Kitteridge has earned her an Emmy nomination

The sentimentalist vote would surely favour Weiner, to mark the end of Mad Men. But he will be hard pushed to see off Game of Thrones, which is nominated for the final episode of season five (Mother’s Mercy).

In Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie or Dramatic Special, the nominees include John Ridley (American Crime), Dee Rees, Christopher Cleveland, Bettina Glois and Horton Foote (Bessie), Stephen Merchant, Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg (Hello Ladies), Hugo Blick (The Honorable Woman), Jane Anderson (Olive Kitteridge) and Peter Straughan (Wolf Hall).

Despite the dearth of women in these two line-ups, Anderson has a good chance of winning. An industry veteran, she boasts credits ranging from The Wonder Years and How to Make an American Quilt to Mad Men.

She gave an interesting interview to HBO recently in which she discussed the challenges of adapting Olive Kitteridge from its source novel by Elizabeth Strout. “It took a long time for me to solve this as an adaptation,” she said. “Because HBO’s work is known for its edginess, we talked about how we make this very brilliant novel about older people in a small town in Maine sexy. What will make this different? What will give this edge?

“I tried an outline where we started backwards and we went back in time, and it didn’t work. Then I tried it starting with the suicide scene. It’s just three minutes of screen time that assure the audience that something really drastic is going to happen down the line. When you add stakes like that, everybody can just friggin’ relax and I can tell the story. I can just unwind it. You need that in television and you need that in a miniseries.”

Xena: Warrior Princess star Lucy Lawless has quashed speculation of a reboot
Xena: Warrior Princess star Lucy Lawless has quashed speculation of a reboot

At the other end of the spectrum with regard to female characterisation, actress Lucy Lawless has played down speculation that her iconic series Xena: Warrior Princess is undergoing a reboot at NBC. Sam Raimi was reported to be involved but Lawless later described it as a “rumour.”

She Tweeted: “Sorry, friends! News of a #Xena reboot is just a rumour. I’d love it to happen one day but it’s still in the wishful thinking stage.”

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A&E grows darker

The Omen (1976) is the basis for A&E's Damien
The Omen (1976) is the basis for A&E’s Damien
Once upon a time, US cable channel A&E was a lovely place where gentle folk went to watch costume dramas and murder mysteries. But in recent years the channel has turned to the dark side. After offering its viewers psychos (Bates Motel) and zombies (The Returned), the channel has now announced plans for a series based around iconic 1970s antichrist movie The Omen.

Called Damien, the series was originally lined up for A&E’s sister channel Lifetime. But last week parent company A+E Networks decided A&E’s asylum would be a better home. At the same time, it revealed that the size of the series order was being bumped up to 10 episodes, having originally been planned as six.

The series is being written by Glen Mazzara, who is best known for being showrunner on series three of AMC’s The Walking Dead. Prior to that, he worked on Nash Bridges and The Shield.

Mazzara’s time on The Walking Dead didn’t end well. Despite the show achieving huge ratings during his watch, a difference of opinion about the programme’s direction saw Mazzara depart after just one series. So Damien is a big opportunity for him to really make his mark, building an ongoing scripted franchise from scratch. He is doing so via his own production company, 44 Strong Productions, which he launched after leaving The Walking Dead. Also involved is Ross Fineman, who developed the series concept with Mazzara.

Glen Mazzara
Glen Mazzara

The fact A&E has entrusted Mazzara with a 10-part series shows just how highly prized the alumni of hit series are. Reinforcing this point, US cable channel E! has just greenlit a project from Jonathan Abrahams, a writer who won a Primetime Emmy for his work on series four of Mad Men. Called The Arrangement, the new project tells the story of a young actress who is offered a part in a major movie on the condition that she has a relationship with the project’s male lead.

Mad Men, of course, comes to an end on May 17 after seven critically acclaimed seasons on AMC. Presumably, this means a wave of top script-writing talent will now be unleashed on the market. All told, eight people have been credited as writers on the final season, including the show’s creator Matthew Weiner.

Weiner has not given any indication what he plans to do after Mad Men. But he is undoubtedly going to be one of the most in-demand writers/showrunners in the US. If there is a career challenge for him, perhaps, it is to see if he can couple his creative talent to a higher-rating project. While other AMC shows such as The Walking Dead and Better Call Saul have delivered impressive ratings, Mad Men bumps along at around the two million mark.

Mad Men comes to an end later this month
Mad Men comes to an end later this month

Two other names closely associated with Mad Men are Andre and Maria Jacquemetton, who wrote numerous episodes before leaving at the end of season six. The husband/wife team was briefly attached to Zodiak Media’s lavish period drama Versailles, but ultimately their version was passed over in favour of a treatment by David Wolstencroft and Simon Mirren. As yet, there is no news of what the Jacquemettons are planning next.

An ongoing theme in the scripted TV world is the number of actors and directors coming over from film – and it seems writers are also tempted to make a similar move. A good example of this is Jeb Stuart, whose movie credits include late-night kebab and lager companion flicks Die Hard and The Fugitive.

Stuart has recently finished writing The Liberator for A+E’s History Channel, a miniseries based on the Second World War heroics of Colonel Felix ‘Shotgun’ Sparks, who fought his way up through Europe before liberating the Dachau concentration camp. History is obviously happy with Stuart’s work – he’s now writing a Vietnam drama for the channel. Called The Boys of ’67, the show is based on a book by historian Andrew Wiest and will tell its story from the point of view of an infantry division. It’s tempting to think Stuart might go on to round out a trilogy with an Iraq epic next.

Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner
Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner

While the US continues to be the world’s most dynamic drama market, Canada has built an excellent business on the back of demand for North American-style scripted shows. Canuck writers have benefited from this, with numerous shows created north of the border travelling into the US and other international markets. One Canadian writer in the news this week is Aaron Martin, whose credits include teen drama DeGrassi: The Next Generation. Martin is now writing a series called Slasher for NBCUniversal’s US horror channel Chiller and for Super Channel in Canada.

The show, which is being produced in Canada by Shaftesbury, is about a young woman who returns to the town where she was born, only to find herself embroiled in a series of horrifying copycat murders based on the gruesome killings of her parents. Sounds like a show that would also work on the new-look A&E…

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