Tag Archives: Mike O’Leary

The kids (writers) are alright

MTV's Degrassi has been airing for 15 years
Degrassi has been airing for 15 years

It’s easy to dismiss kids’ and teen drama as being somehow inferior to adult drama, but the English-speaking market has produced a steady stream of shows that hit the highest standards of creativity in terms of writing, direction and production.

At the younger end of the spectrum, we’ve seen series like Nickelodeon’s iCarly, a sparkling piece of drama from the Dan Schneider stable. For older teens, there have been shows like Skins and Misfits, which beautifully encapsulate adolescent rebellion. In between there have been dozens of great shows ranging from H2O: Just Add Water to Degrassi, still going after 15 years.

The value of such shows depends on where they fall in the demographic spectrum. But basically there are two potential benefits. First, they can reach an audience that is supposedly disenchanted with longform television. This means they can then be nurtured through to adult shows. Second, the best examples encourage co-viewing between parents and kids, something broadcasters love because it’s a characteristic they can sell to advertisers.

The continued appeal of such shows is underlined by the fact that SVoD platform Netflix has just commissioned indie producer Lime Pictures (Hollyoaks) to make a 10-part series aimed at tweens. As yet untitled, the “Horse Mystery project” is a coming-of-age story about an American teenager, Zoe, and her summer of intrigue in the British countryside. It is in production in Cheshire, England, and will then move to Anglesey, Wales, later this year.

E4's Misfits
E4’s Misfits

Set on a beautiful island off the coast of Britain, the show sees 15-year-old Zoe’s life change during her stay at Bright Field Stables when she meets a horse called Raven. The show, which will be available on Netflix globally in 2017, is based on an original idea created and written by Anna McCleery and Vicki Lutas.

The big break for both McCleery and Lutas was another teen drama called The Cut, which launched in 2009. An unusual experiment, it was aired daily on the internet in five-minute chunks and then in consolidated 25-minute episodes on TV. McCleery then worked on Hollyoaks before the two were reunited for the new series.

Commenting on the show, Lime head of scripted drama Rebecca Hodgson said: “Anna and Vicki have a uniquely quirky and warm voice which lights up the characters and world of the show. We have assembled a fabulous cast and crew and our locations are gorgeous. I couldn’t be prouder.”

Below we highlight the best of the current kids/tween shows and their writers:

mad-fat-diaryMy Mad Fat Diary: Based on the book My Mad Fat Teenage Diary (non-fiction) by Rae Earl, My Mad Fat Diary is an E4 TV series that tells the bittersweet story of a troubled young girl who is trying to get her life back together after spending four months in a psychiatric hospital following her attempted suicide. Earl was also heavily involved in the writing of the series alongside Tom Bidwell (other writers included George Kay and Laura Neal). Earl was born in England but lives in Hobart, Australia, and continues to have success as an author (now of fiction). Bidwell started out on soaps and his next writing project is a new TV remake of Richard Adams’ classic novel Watership Down.

cul-de-sacThe Cul De Sac: Produced by Greenstone TV Productions, The Cul De Sac centres on a group of teens who wake to a world where the adults have disappeared and all technology has ceased to function. While most focus on their survival, others see it as an opportunity to create a new order. The New Zealand show was created by Stephen J Campbell, whose 20 years in the industry have seen him create teen dramas like Secret Agent Men and The Amazing Extraordinary Friends. Campbell has spoken of why he likes this area of programming: “Making content for young people is fantastic fun. They’re very open to new ideas and concepts – they’re always looking for the next cool thing, but they are also brutally honest. If you miss the mark, they will not hesitate to tell you. However, if you do manage to engage them, they’ll stay with you for the entire journey – or until the next cool thing comes along.”

Anne-of-Green-GablesAnne of Green Gables: Based on the classic novel by LM Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables is a two-hour Canadian production from Breakthrough Entertainment. Over the summer a deal was done that will see the production appear on PBS in the US. The new version, which stars Martin Sheen, has been directed by John Kent Harrison and based on the original script by Susan Coyne. The author’s granddaughter, Kate Macdonald Butler, served as executive producer. Coyne is a respected Canadian writer and actress, who is known as one of the co-creators and co-stars of Slings and Arrows, a TV series about a Canadian Shakespearean theatre company. She has been nominated for four Writers Guild of Canada awards, winning three. She is also a veteran of the Toronto theatre scene. Michael Kelley, senior VP of programming and business affairs at PBS, said: “The story and Anne character have become a staple of childhood innocence and inspiration. Breakthrough’s revival of this globally recognised literary story has delighted so many viewers in Canada and around the world and we are glad to secure this film for broadcast on PBS.”

noweher-boysThe Nowhere Boys: This acclaimed series (winner of an International Emmy) follows four boys who get lost in a forest and discover, when they return home, that they are in an alternate world identical to theirs except for one startling difference – they don’t exist. The show launched on ABC3 in 2013 and so far is up to season three. The original idea came from Tony Ayres, though he hasn’t written any episodes. He is, however, credited as co-writer on a feature film spin-off entitled Nowhere Boys: The Book of Shadows. All told, 11 writers have contributed to the series, though the three most prolific are Roger Monk, Craig Irvin and David Hannam. Monks’ previous credits include Dance Academy and East of Everything, while Hannam has worked on Dance Academy and cult soap Neighbours. Irvin is a new recruit to the TV business, having only written shorts like Gusto and Tethered before Nowhere Boys. Giula Sandler, credited with four episodes, has written episodes of Glitch and McLeod’s Daughters.

girlmeetworldGirl Meets World: You could pick out any US teen/tween drama from The Thundermans to The Vampire Diaries and find something positive to say about it. Disney’s Girl Meets World, which airs on ABC, is interesting because it’s a sequel to Boys Meets World, which aired from 1993 to 2000. The original series centred on Cory Matthews, including his relationship with Topanga Lawrence and their eventual marriage. Ben Savage and Danielle Fishel, who portrayed Cory and Topanga, reprise their roles in Girl Meets World, which centres on the life of the couple’s daughter, Riley Matthews. Both series were created by Michael Jacobs and April Kelly. Jacobs has written several TV series including Dinosaurs, Charles In Charge, My Two Dads and The Torkelsons. Kelly’s output is also prolific and includes iconic series such as Happy Days and Mork & Mindy. Among other credits, she wrote TV series The Pursuit of Happiness and is the author of Murder in One Take (with Marsha Lyons).

eipicEipic: This is an irreverent Irish-language drama series that is very contemporary but has echoes of past events. It centres on five rural teenagers who take over their abandoned local post office to start a musical revolution in 2016. The story is about escape, empowerment and what it means to be a teenage “hero” in contemporary rural Ireland set against the backdrop of the 1916 centenary celebrations. The series was penned by Mike O’Leary, whose credits include Ghosthunters On Icy Trails, Misfits, Doubt On Loan and Not Safe For Work.

 

tagged in: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

When Irish scribes are smiling

James Phelan
James Phelan

Irish public broadcaster RTÉ is making its biggest investment in drama for six years.

Explaining why, acting MD of RTÉ Television Dermot Horan said: “We know that Irish people want to see their stories on screen and that’s why this year we [have] three new series in production in the coming months. Our role is to deliver programming that captivates and inspires the broader population and I believe this new line-up delivers on that promise.”

In writing terms, RTÉ’s investment is a boost for James Phelan, creator of Striking Out, a four-part comedy drama that is being touted as Ireland’s answer to Ally McBeal. Produced by Blinder Films, it features Amy Huberman as a solicitor who sets up her own practice after her fiancé and colleague cheats on her.

RTÉ head of television drama Jane Gogan described the show, which was called Cheaters during development,  as “a series that reflects a modern world and stories of family and emotional relationships – the flux, the chaos and the ridiculous – and how such stories end up in the legal system. This is a good time to explore this subject but, then, when isn’t?”

Striking Out
Striking Out – ‘Ireland’s answer to Ally McBeal’

After some success in screenwriting schemes, theatre and short films, Phelan’s introduction to the TV business came in 2009 with Galway Races, a well-received comedy drama for Gaelic-language channel TG4.

More recently, he attracted attention for Wrecking the Rising, a three-part comedy drama, also for TG4. The latter, which was produced in a mix of English and Gaelic, is a time-travel show in which three historical re-enactors are propelled back in time to the 1916 Easter Risings. In a year that has seen plenty of serious coverage of that landmark political event, Phelan’s story was an interesting dramatic diversion.

In an interview with Film Ireland earlier this year, Phelan was asked whether he was afraid that viewer fatigue would kill the show’s chances. His response was: “Of course. I’m afraid of everything. Afraid we’ll be lost in the flood; afraid that we won’t get a chance to connect. But we hope people give us a chance because we really are something radically different in relation to 1916. It’s not just marketing rhetoric, we are genuinely the antidote to all the solemn stuff. We rip through history and though we are not ripping the piss, we provide something original, outrageous, extreme but also extremely funny and thought-provoking. There’s been a lot of classical treatments of 1916 knocking around — this is more punk rock.”

Wrecking the Rising
Wrecking the Rising took a comedic approach to the Easter Rising

Fortunately, the Irish media bought into Phelan’s approach, which augurs well for his new series. The Irish Times said: “Despite having roughly the production budget of a bag of cans, Wrecking the Rising is for the most part delightful, with a sold foundation from James Phelan’s script, which nimbly supplements its more broad and silly moments with some self-aware, snappy insights.”

Incidentally, Phelan wasn’t the only writer to come at the Easter Risings centenary from an unusual angle this year.

Another of Ireland’s rising stars, Mike O’Leary (who wrote an episode of Misfits), penned EIPIC, a six-part Irish language drama series for TG4. In this show, a group of five rural teenagers take over their local abandoned post office to start a musical revolution in 2016.

TG4 called it “a bold story about escape, empowerment and what it means to be a teenage ‘hero’ in contemporary rural Ireland set against the backdrop of the 1916 centenary celebrations.”

Colin Teevan
Colin Teevan

Back to RTÉ’s new tranche of drama investment, another beneficiary is Colin Teevan, who wrote RTÉ’s Rebellion – a serious dramatic look at the Easter Risings. There were reports at the start of the year that Teevan was working on a second season, though at the time he said a greenlight depended on Rebellion’s ratings performance. The show, perhaps not surprisingly, caused a heated debate about the accuracy of its history. However, RTÉ has now confirmed there will be a follow-up series entitled Resistance.

Teevan is a literary powerhouse whose entrance into the TV business came after he had established himself as a highly regarded theatre writer. Aside from writing acclaimed plays such as Kingdom, he is a collaborator with the likes of Kathryn Hunter, Sir Peter Hall, Hideki Noda, Walter Meirjohann and Dalia Ibelhauptaite. In addition, he is also professor of playwriting and screenwriting at Birkbeck College, London University.

Rebellion
Rebellion was a more serious look at the Rising

Teevan clocked up a few TV credits at the start of this decade but it was his three-part miniseries Charlie that really announced his arrival as a leading Irish TV writer. Produced for RTÉ in 2015, it told the story of charismatic Irish taoiseach (prime minister) Charles Haughey – using his extended career at the top as a way of exploring the emergence of the modern Irish state.

Another drama coming to RTÉ’s autumn schedule is My Mother and Other Strangers, which is also due to air on the BBC in the UK. Set in Northern Ireland, the show follows the fortunes of the Coyne family and their neighbours as they struggle to maintain a normal life after a huge US Air Force airfield, populated by 4,000 service men and women, lands in the middle of their rural parish in 1943. Written by Barry Devlin (Ballykissangel), it was first reported on back in summer 2015.

Meanwhile, in the UK, there were reports this week that the transformation of BBC3 from a conventional TV channel into an online service had contributed to an 18% fall in 16- to 34-year-olds viewing BBC content. However, one positive outcome of the BBC’s reinvention of BBC3 is that it appears to be doing well on the BBC’s on-demand platform, BBC iPlayer.

Thirteen
Thirteen was very popular on BBC iPlayer

Figures released last week show that seven of the top 20 most requested programmes of the year on iPlayer came from BBC3. Most requested of all was the contemporary drama Thirteen, with three million requests.

The show stars the impressive Jodie Comer as a 26-year-old woman trying to put her life back together after escaping from a cellar where she has been imprisoned for 13 years. It was written by newcomer Marnie Dickens, a 30-year-old Oxford graduate whose breakthrough success follows a few years of hard graft as a floor runner and assistant director.

In a recent interview with the scribe, The Oxford Mail reported that “this year is looking even busier than the last for Dickens – her new series Forty Elephants, about a 1920s criminal gang of women, is currently being developed by the BBC, and she is also teaming up with Doctor Foster star Suranne Jones on a new project called Kit and Nim.”

Kay Mellor
Kay Mellor

Also in the news this week is Kay Mellor, whose many credits include Band of Gold, Fat Friends and The Syndicate. Now she is writing Love, Lies and Records, a six-part series about a registrar trying to juggle her personal life with the daily dramas of births, marriages and deaths, and the impact they have on her.

Mellor said: “This has been cooking in my brain for quite a while and it feels like the right time to put it on the screen. The idea came to me when I was registering my mother’s death at Leeds Town Hall, closely followed by a friend’s wedding in the very same place. I remembered registering the birth of both of my daughters there too, and I realised that the register office and registrars really are at the very heart of life. It’s a place of laughter, tears and great drama.”

The six-hour series has been commissioned by Charlotte Moore, director of BBC Content, and Lucy Richer, acting controller of drama. It will be produced by Rollem Productions and filmed in and around Leeds. The executive producers are Kay Mellor for Rollem Productions and Elizabeth Kilgarriff for the BBC.

tagged in: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,