There are several reasons why the US scripted content business casts such a shadow over the international drama market.
The first is that the US produces so many great scripted shows. Barely a week goes by without an eye-catching new drama going into production or development. Even now, as dozens of new shows hit the US autumn schedules, it is noticeable that the next wave of scripted projects is already shooting down the pipeline.
Second, viewers around the world love US shows. While dramas from other territories tend to have fairly well-defined regional hot spots, US shows can be found on free TV, pay TV and SVoD almost anywhere. This widespread appeal is reinforced by the availability of so many titles on US-based thematic channels (Fox, AXN and so on).
The third reason is that so many producers around the world still see entry into the US market as the pinnacle of their creative ambition. This is particularly evident in the field of scripted formats, where IP owners’ relentless pursuit of localisation is matched by a voracious appetite for ideas among US channels.
And finally, there’s the fact that the US still dictates so many of the trends in the international scripted market. The rise of Netflix and Amazon, and all of the creative innovations this has brought about, is one example. But so is the shift towards day-and-date windowing – expertly introduced by major US rights owners.
Having said all this, Mipcom (which began yesterday in Cannes and runs until Thursday) is one point in the calendar where US shows have to fight for exposure alongside titles from around the world.
For example, one of the biggest stories of the week so far is that UFA Fiction and Amazon are joining forces to create a sequel to German-language series Deutschland 83 (D83). Called Deutschland 86, the new show will premiere exclusively on Amazon Prime Video in Germany in 2018. In addition, all episodes of D83 are available for streaming for Prime members in Germany and Austria.
As with the first series, Sundance in the US is a coproduction partner and FremantleMedia International handles international sales. RTL, the German broadcaster that commissioned D83, has acquired free TV rights to D86.
Created by Anna Winger (head writer) and Jörg Winger, D86 returns three years after D83, in 1986, and picks up the story of East German Agent Martin Rauch. Martin has been banished to Africa until he is recruited to fight for the last gasp of Communism abroad.
Set against the backdrop of real events during the last Summer of Anxiety, when terrorism raged across Western Europe, Martin’s mission takes him to Johannesburg, Tripoli, Paris, West Berlin and finally back to East Berlin, where he is forced to face new realities at home – and to make an impossible decision
Nico Hofmann, co-CEO of UFA, said: “With this latest collaboration between Amazon, RTL Television, FremantleMedia International and UFA, a long-awaited wish comes true. This deal is a milestone in coproduction history. It will be resetting standards for the upcoming years.”
Dr Christoph Schneider, MD of Amazon Prime Video Germany, added: “After the Amazon Original You Are Wanted with Matthias Schweighöfer and Michael Bully Herbig’s Bullyparade – Der Film, Deutschland 86 is the latest German-made production that will be available exclusively on Prime Video. German series and movies are important for our Prime members and we are happy to build on our engagement with German production industry and bring new shows to our customers.”
In another interesting new development, Sweden-based distributor Eccho Rights has picked up three drama scripts from Indian broadcaster Star for the global market. The titles involved are Vera (Ek Veer Ki Ardaas… Veera), Tangled Sisters (Ek Hazaaron Mein Meri Behena) and Unexpected Love (Diya Aur Baati Hum).
The deal is significant because Eccho has made a name for itself selling Turkish scripted formats to the international market. If it has anything like the same success with Indian titles, it will represent a major breakthrough in the global drama business. The titles are also interesting because they have so many episodes – meaning there is a lot of content for buyers to work with.
Nixon Yau Lim, head of Asia Pacific at Eccho Rights, commented: “The globalisation of drama is developing at a very interesting speed and one focus of Eccho Rights is to expand our partnership with producers to manage their script assets in new markets.”
Also of interest this week is the news that Sony Pictures Television has licensed three drama formats to Russian broadcasters, two of which are from the UK. The first is a local version of UK drama Doc Martin called Doctor Martov, which will air on Channel 1. The show is being produced by Lean-M Productions, which will also produce local versions of Mad Dogs and The Good Wife for NTV.
Away from Mipcom, UK broadcaster ITV announced a slate of news dramas this week, the first commissions by its new head of drama Polly Hill. The titles are Trauma by Mike Bartlett, Girlfriends by Kay Mellor, White Dragon by Mark Denton and Jonny Stockwood, and Next of Kin by Paul Rutman and Natasha Narayan.
Hill said: “All four are authored contemporary pieces, from wonderful writers who have a compelling story to tell. I think audiences are looking for drama with real authorship, and I am delighted that I start at ITV with a mix of great experience and new voices. This is just the start of what I hope will be an exciting journey for us and the audience.”
Trauma is a three-part story set in the trauma department of a central London hospital. It tells the story of a 15-year-old boy who dies under the care of trauma consultant Jon Stephens. Devastated and heartbroken, the boy’s father believes Jon is responsible for his death and as he strives for justice, he begins to unpick the fabric of Jon’s life.
“Trauma is a story about two fathers with very different lives, locked in conflict,” says Bartlett, creator of last year’s hit BBC drama Doctor Foster. “I hope the series will be moving, terrifying and timely. If we mistrust institutions and experts, what happens when we desperately need them?”
White Dragon, meanwhile, is a conspiracy thriller from screenwriting newcomers Mark Denton and Jonny Stockwood. Filmed on location in Asia, it will tell the story of Professor Jonah Mulray, whose life is turned upside down when his wife, Megan, is killed in a car-crash in Hong Kong. Not long after arriving in Hong Kong, Jonah makes a shocking discovery about his wife.
Finally, a few stories from the US. First up, US cable channel Syfy has ordered a second season of Van Helsing, a female take on the classic vampire hunter story. The hour-long drama will go into production in January 2017, with an additional 13 episodes planned.
There are also reports this week that Amazon has teamed up with producer Chuck Lorre to make a TV series based on Tom Wolfe’s acclaimed 1980s novel The Bonfire of the Vanities. The book was turned into a movie in 1990 that failed to live up to the hype. However, its sprawling New York-based narrative is probably better-suited to a limited TV series treatment.
Finally, MTV has greenlit a shortened third run of its horror series Scream. Season one had 13 episodes and season two had 10. The new series will have six episodes and, given the show’s rapidly declining audience ratings, will probably also be its finale.
As the dust settles on another action-packed San Diego Comic-Con, there is plenty to look forward to if the new footage previewed at the event is anything to go by.
From teasers for forthcoming new series to big reveals about new seasons of fan favourites, expectations were certainly heightened by what was showcased during four days of panels, screenings and guest appearances at the San Diego Convention Centre.
Here’s a rundown of the best videos unveiled at Comic-Con:
Starz unveiled the first trailer for American Gods, based on the novel by Neil Gaiman and due to air in 2017
BBC America also dropped the first footage of comic book adaptation Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
Fox previewed a new trailer for its take on classic horror movie The Exorcist
Another new series Syfy’s Incorporated, which is set in a world controlled by corporations. It is produced by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon
The trailer for The Walking Dead season seven introduces King Ezekiel and his tiger (pictured at the top of this page)
But not to be outdone, spin-off Fear The Walking Dead gave fans a teaser of a new storyline that feature a cult that sacrifices its own members in the second half of season two
If that wasn’t enough blood, Starz also previewed season two of Ash vs Evil Dead as star Bruce Campbell announced Lee Majors was joining the cast
Fans saw the first glimpse of season four of Sherlock
Here’s the first footage from Prison Break, which is returning to Fox in 2016/17
ABC used Comic-Con to reveal that Aladdin and Jafar would be making their debuts in the first scene of sixth season of Once Upon a Time
But excitement for the sixth season trailer of MTV’s Teen Wolf was tempered with the announcement that the new run would also be its last
Of course, Comic-Con royalty status is reserved for the big comic book publishers, and this year was no exception in terms of their television crossovers.
Among its film and television panels, DC Comics unveiled the third-season trailer for The CW’s The Flash, which introduces the comic’s Flashpoint storyline after Barry Allen goes back in time to prevent his mother’s murder
Fans inside the convention centre also saw footage from the fifth season of Arrow
The most recent entry into the DC Comics television landscape, Legends of Tomorrow, debuted its season-two trailer
Meanwhile, Batman prequel Gotham unveiled clues about its upcoming third season
It was Marvel, however, that stole the show and provided some of the biggest talking points from this year’s event.
The studio unveiled the first trailer for Legion, the new FX drama from Noah Hawley (Fargo) that is set in the X-Men universe
Marvel also debuted footage from its upcoming Netflix shows. First up is Luke Cage, which debuts online on September 30
Iron Fist follows, completing the line-up of superheroes to appear on the SVoD service in the wake of Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage
The studio also confirmed there will be a third season of Daredevil with this teaser
But also in 2017, the quartet will come together in miniseries The Defenders, as previewed in this teaser that plays against the soundtrack of Nirvana’s Come As You Are
Not to be forgotten, however, is a little show called Star Trek, which returns to television next year on CBS and CBS All Access in the US and Netflix around the world. And in the week the latest feature film in the franchise, Star Trek Beyond, hit cinemas, Trekkies got to see this test footage from Star Trek: Discovery, which will follow the crew of the USS Discovery.
These days, a lot of emphasis is placed on the audience’s ability to time-shift TV. But there’s no question there is still an important role for dramas that can do a job in a particular slot.
Right now, for example, The Durrells (based on Gerald Durrell’s classic Corfu Trilogy of novels) is doing a brilliant job for ITV in the UK at 20.00 on Sunday evenings.
Although the show is only three episodes old at time of writing, it already feels like it has been sitting in ITV’s schedule forever – offering exactly the kind of escapism many of us crave the day before the working week kicks in again (depending, of course, on the country where you reside).
Not that The Durrells should be regarded simply as popcorn TV. It is beautifully adapted by Simon Nye and the acting is really, really good. Keeley Hawes, who plays the mother (Louisa) of author Lawrence Durrell, naturalist Gerald Durrell and their two siblings, is superb, displaying immaculate comic timing and eye-watering sensitivity. Also impressive is Daisy Waterstone as Gerald’s sister, Margo (none of which is to disparage the other cast members).
The show is currently scoring a rating of 8.0 on IMDb, which is pretty good – and it is proving popular with critics. Gerard O’Donovan in The Telegraph applauds it for its “warmth, nostalgia, beautiful locations” and calls it a “gem.” Christopher Stevens in The Daily Mail gives it five stars, adding: “Perfect Sunday night viewing requires period costume, exotic locations, a dash of sex (but nothing explicit) and lashings of laughs. Sounds simple on paper… but it’s pretty near impossible to achieve on screen. But The Durrells was a masterclass in ideal Sunday telly – never too demanding, and yet completely satisfying.”
All of this positive feeling is backed by great audience figures. The first episode launched with 6.4 million viewers, making it ITV’s best-performing new drama since Cilla in September 2014. It has since consolidated to 8.2 million viewers (33% share) – showing that it is also possible to transfer the Sunday night feeling to other times of the week.
ITV knows it’s on to a good thing and has commissioned a second season from producer Sid Gentle Films. Sid Gentle CEO Sally Woodward-Gentle said: “The combination of Gerald Durrell’s warm, witty stories and Simon Nye’s brilliance at adapting them meant we knew that we had created something special. The reaction has been fantastic and I am delighted we are able to continue the story and reunite the fantastic cast and crew who have become a close-knit ‘family’ on and off screen.”
Filming on season two will take place later this year in Corfu. In other news, the show has been picked up by SVT Sweden, which may have been tempted by the fact that one of the central characters is a hunky Swede called Sven (Ulric von der Esch).
In the US, AMC’s Breaking Bad prequel Better Call Saul finished season two on April 18 with a season average of 2.16 million viewers across 10 episodes. The show stayed pretty solid around the two million mark for the whole season and has been rewarded with a third season during which Breaking Bad’s urbane drug dealer Gus Fring will return.
In terms of comparative performance, the show rates better than Mad Men (which ran for seven seasons) and Hell On Wheels (five). It also has an impressive 8.8 rating on IMDb.
Last week, we looked at the success of John Le Carré adaptation The Night Manager on BBC1 in the UK and asked how it would fare when it switched to AMC in the US. The show has now started airing stateside, where the same-day showing of episode one attracted 0.93 million.
This is a fairly modest opening that suggests it isn’t going to make much impact with US audiences. As a comparison, Humans debuted with 1.73 million on AMC after a strong showing on Channel 4 in the UK. It then fell to around the 1.1 million mark for episode two and stayed there for the rest of its run.
In other words, its retrenched position was stronger than The Night Manager’s opener. The Night Manager also scored quite low with the 18-49 demographic on its AMC debut.
Of course, a modest US opening shouldn’t detract from the quality of the show. It may just be that AMC’s audience is attuned to a different style of scripted content.
It’s also worth noting that The Night Manager has been sold to networks all around the world. The latest deals for the show include agreements with Chinese streaming service Youku Tudou and French public broadcaster France Télévisions. The drama has previously been sold to the likes of Tele München Gruppe for German-speaking Europe, C More and TV4 for the Nordic territories, DR for Denmark, Sky Italia for Italy, BBC First and SBS for Australia, TV3 for New Zealand and AMC International for Iberia, Eastern Europe, Russia, Asia (excluding Japan), Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.
This week has also seen MTV in the US renew its fantasy series The Shannara Chronicles, despite the fact that the series has not achieved especially high ratings. The first run of 10 episodes came in at about 890,000 on average, with the back end occasionally falling below the 800,000 mark.
Mina Lefevre, executive VP and head of scripted development at MTV, said the production team “delivered a beautiful, ground-breaking show with compelling stories and character journeys, which brought in new viewers.”
Further underlining Lefevre’s ‘new viewer’ argument, part of the reason MTV is sticking with the show is its performance on digital platforms, “where it garnered 16.6 million streams across all MTV’s digital properties and brought significant traffic growth to the MTV app,” according to the company. “The series also ranks as the highest-grossing digital download for a single season on MTV ever.”
As we’ve reported in previous weeks, a number of shows see their performance improve dramatically when time-shifting and digital viewing are added to the total. American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson on FX had a huge three-day ratings gain for its finale episode (up by 2.91 million viewers to 6.18 million).
In the UK, it was a similar story for new Sky1 crime drama Stan Lee’s Lucky Man, starring James Nesbitt. Episode one of the 10-part series launched in January and delivered an overnight audience of 600,000. But the total figure for the episode rose to 1.74 million as the audience took the opportunity to watch via Sky+ recordings, On Demand and Sky Go.
This increase of 1.14 million was the biggest growth in viewing figures that the first episode of any Sky original drama series has ever achieved in the week after transmission. It also made it the best performing original drama series launch on Sky1 for nearly four years. This underlines the point that, in the new TV economy, there are some shows that are perfect for certain slots (such as The Durrells) but others seem to work well as schedule-neutral programming.
With so much time-shifted viewing taking place these days, you can understand why TV executives get frustrated when scripted shows are judged on the basis on their same-day audience.
Same-day ratings are a good indicator of a show’s social currency but have little value as the basis of a renewal decision.
This point is well illustrated by US cable data for the week of February 8 to 14, which makes it clear some shows are being saved up for later viewing.
A good example is MTV’s The Shannara Chronicles, which is expected to earn the greenlight for a second season soon. For the week in question, its same-day audience was 801,000. But after seven days this had risen 164% to 2.1 million.
Similarly impressive were USA Network’s Colony, which recorded a 129% rise from 1.07 million to 2.46 million; Showtime’s Billions, which rose 115% from 1.01 million to 2.17 million; American Crime Story: The People Vs OJ Simpson, up 112% from 3.88 million (same day) to 8.26 million (live+7); and USA Networks hit Suits, up 99% from 1.7 million to 3.4 million.
The one criticism you can make of seven-day ratings is that they suggest a lack of urgency on the part of the audience to watch a show. Compare the above results with The Walking Dead, for example, which recorded a 45% rise from 13.7 million to 19.98 million over the course of the first week. A key reason why the time-shifted viewing figure is lower here is that audiences can’t wait to discover who is next to succumb to the dreaded ‘walkers’ – and perhaps avoid dreaded spoilers. Still, the best advice is to avoid immediate judgement of a show.
Elsewhere in the US, the big story of the week is that CBS has just renewed its hugely popular procedural NCIS for two more seasons (taking the show up to 15 seasons). Echoing the point made above, a salutary lesson from this show is that the first few seasons, while not bad, weren’t massive ratings winners. The show only really started to pick up momentum in season three and four before going into overdrive in season six.
These days NCIS continues to deliver huge ratings and has also spawned a spin-off – NCIS: New Orleans. Given that NBC is also having a lot of success with Dick Wolf’s Chicago procedurals, you can’t help thinking that US networks might start putting a bit more effort into finding the next big police/lawyer/hospital show.
One programme whose future is completely in the balance is The Mysteries of Laura, an NBC drama about a policewoman trying to juggle her home life with her work responsibilities. The show has just finished its second season with modest ratings and there is no word yet on whether it will be renewed by the network. The general consensus is that it could go either way.
There are two reasons why this matters. The first is that it is a female-led show, so renewal on modest ratings might give us a clue as to NBC’s intentions regarding gender-balance. The other is that the show is actually a format, based on a Spain’s Los Misterios de Laura (TVE 2009-2014).
European drama formats don’t often manage to survive for very long in the US so it would be nice to see this one get renewed. That might persuade other networks to keep the faith with format-based shows. Too many early cancellations of scripted formats isn’t great news for anyone trying to crack the US.
Still on the subject of international formats, one of the week’s big stories is that Indian entertainment channel Star Plus has ordered a local version of Keshet International (KI) format Prisoners of War (aka Hatufim), which was famously remade as Homeland in the US. The Indian version will be produced by Emmay Entertainment and directed by Nikkhil Advani, a Bollywood director whose credits include Kal Ho Na Ho, D-Day, Delhi Safari and Katti Batti.
Created, written and directed by Gideon Raff, Prisoners of War follows two soldiers as they attempt to re-adjust to their lives after returning home from 17 years in captivity. Aside from the US deal, it has already been licensed for adaptation in South Korea (Star J Entertainment), Russia (Weit Media) and Turkey (Medyapim). In the context of India, you could easily imagine a plot involving soldiers who have been imprisoned in Pakistan.
KI distribution MD Keren Shahar said: “The versatility of the format is evident, since it has attracted a dedicated following anywhere it has aired in the world. Securing this deal with a highly esteemed partner is indicative of KI’s future ambitions in India.”
Still looking overseas, we’re now just a month away from MipTV. The international programme market, held in Cannes, has always played a big role in whether scripted shows manage to attract the attention of buyers. And now it is building on that position by increasing the number of drama screenings it hosts.
At this year’s MipTV, titles given screenings include Bodo (TVP Poland), Bordertown (Fox US), Ku’Damm 56 – Rebel With a Cause (ZDF Enterprises), Medici: Masters of Florence (Wild Bunch), Roots (A&E US), Section Zero (Studiocanal), The A Word (Keshet) and Victoria (ITV). A solid performance for any of these shows down in Cannes could provide a useful boost to their international sales prospects.
One other series that rates a mention is the Canadian half-hour comedy Schitt’s Creek, which has just been renewed for a third season by CBC Canada. The decision comes despite the fact that the second season is only four episodes in. More good news for Schitt’s Creek is that the third season has also been picked up by US cable network Pop (a JV between CBS and Lionsgate).
Pop is yet to air the second season of the show, which centres on a wealthy family that suddenly finds itself broke and forced to live in Schitt’s Creek, a small town they once bought as a joke. Eugene and Daniel Levy co-created and star in the comedy. The third season renewal will also be welcomed by ITV Studios Global Entertainment, which distributes.
Fox’s reboot of The X-Files has, as expected, delivered superb ratings. The first episode of the show, which aired after an important NFL game last Sunday, attracted a massive 16.2 million viewers. Episode two, on Monday, fell to 9.2 million. But this is still a strong result that put CBS rival Supergirl in the shade.
In addition to its own high ratings, The X-Files also provided a great launchpad for Lucifer, a brand new Fox show that aired straight afterwards on Monday. Based on the somewhat bizarre notion that the Devil comes up from hell to help LA cops solve crimes, Lucifer attracted a healthy 7.15 million viewers and also achieved a pretty impressive 8.7 rating on IMDb.
With critics reporting that the next few episodes of The X-Files are strong, the show is likely to hold its ratings pretty well. However, the big issue with the show is that there are only six episodes.
Reports suggest that, having seen the early ratings, Fox would like to renew the show. Whether that happens will depend on the schedules of stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. However, it’s hard to believe they won’t squeeze in six more if Fox opens its chequebook wide enough.
Aside from its importance on home turf, the show is also a key asset for the Fox family internationally. It was aired day-and-date across 60 territories on Fox platforms and was also picked up by Channel 5 in the UK and Network Ten in Australia – all of which is another good reason for Fox to pull out all the stops to secure a second season.
Still in the US, episode two of Showtime’s Billions dropped about 30% compared with its debut episode, down from 1.44 million to 950,000 (overnights). That still compares pretty favourably with other Showtime titles and was enough to convince the network to renew the show. It’s part of a portfolio of scripted series that also includes Homeland, The Affair and Ray Donovan.
As we’ve mentioned in previous columns, lack of ratings data means it’s pretty hard to know whether a Netflix show is a hit or a miss until it’s cancelled or renewed. However, the fact that Kevin Spacey vehicle House of Cards has just been renewed for a fifth season, before the fourth has even begun, means it’s obviously working pretty well for the SVoD platform.
That said, it is moving into more challenging territory. There was a feeling among critics that season three suffered from story fatigue. With Spacey’s character Frank Underwood and his Lady Macbeth-like wife Claire (played by the excellent Robin Wright) having achieved their goals, this line of argument concluded that the concept had gone about as far as it could go.
This may explain why the renewal announcement was accompanied by the news that House of Cards showrunner Beau Willimon will not return for season five.
There’s no questioning the superb job Willimon has done so far, but in terms of keeping up the show’s (and his own) creative energy, it’s probably a smart move. Willimon appeared to acknowledge this when he said: “After five years, it’s time for me to move on to new endeavours, but I’m supremely proud of what we’ve built together, wish the show much continued success and leave it in the hands of a very capable team.”
Of course, the question now is who will pick up the showrunner mantle – and whether they will be able to sustain the high standards Willimon has established during his tenure. Season four of House of Cards debuts on March 4.
There is so much noise around the closing stages of the NFL season at the start of the year in the US that it is easy to overlook some of the new show debuts on cable. But a bit of digging around shows that Syfy channel has had a pretty good start with its fantasy series The Magicians, based on the book by Lev Grossman.
The first episode aired just before Christmas and achieved a decent 920,000-strong audience. Then the second episode, aired this Monday, posted a healthy 21% rise to 1.11 million. The critical response has been muted, but those figures mean The Magicians is the channel’s highest-rating show, and – barring some kind of calamity – a pretty strong contender for renewal.
MTV’s fantasy series The Shannara Chronicles is hitting similar numbers. Although it had one under-performing episode in mid-January, it’s generally pulling in just over one million viewers per episode. This isn’t as good as long-running stalwart Teen Wolf but it is better than the recent revival of Scream, which has already been renewed. Again, this points towards renewal.
Finally, there’s a lot of talk in the market at the moment about the lack of drama procedurals. But one that has been doing great business for most of this decade is CBS police series Blue Bloods. For the first five seasons (2010-2014), the show regularly pulled in 12.5-13 million viewers.
It’s a bit down this year but it’s still doing a good job anchoring CBS’s schedule. It’s also a decent performer internationally. In January, it returned to Sky Atlantic in the UK, where it is rock solid at around the 375,000 mark. By contrast, Scandi-based drama 100 Code debuted on the same channel to 315,000 viewers, but dropped to 184,000 for episode two.
More worrying for CBS is slippage on its new show Limitless, based on the film of the same name. After the series started with around 9.8 million viewers, episode 13 hit a season low of 6.3 million, with the all-important 18-49 demo also in decline. There are nine more episodes in season one, so CBS will want to see a bit of a pickup in performance before it is tempted to renew the show.
Small-screen producers are going further than ever in their efforts to send shivers down viewers’ spines, with more horror now heading to TV than ever before. DQ finds out more from those at the forefront of this terrifying trend.
If you thought it was safe to climb out from behind your sofa, you might want to think again.
From The Outer Limits and Tales from the Crypt to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, True Blood and Being Human, horror has never been far from television screens.
Now a new breed of dramas are landing on the small screen with ambitions to leave viewers on the edge of their seats – or hiding behind them. But what’s behind this new wave of small-screen terror, and why do audiences keep coming back for more?
In the UK, horror can be found as far back as 1953 in the guise of The Quatermass Experiment, a BBC drama set in the near future against the backdrop of the British space programme. Told in six parts, the story followed the first manned flight into space – but when the rocket returns to Earth, two astronauts are missing and the third is behaving strangely. It then transpires an alien life form contaminated the mission, and scientists led by Professor Bernard Quatermass must stop the alien from destroying the planet.
A decade later in the US, shows such as The Twilight Zone and Boris Karloff’s Thriller brought terrifying stories to life during the early 1960s.
Dr Stacey Abbott, a reader in film and television studies at the University of Roehampton in London and author of TV Horror: Investigating the Dark Side of the Small Screen, says many early horror series were dressed up as science fiction: “While working in tropes of alien invasions, they were also about the horrors of things from outer space invading Earth and the fear the movement towards space exploration was creating. People thought it was very exciting but it was also a potential threat.
“In TV, horror often gets couched as science fiction because sci-fi seems more acceptable and the horror bits are buried. TV is hybrid – there’s no TV series that falls into just one genre category. It’s always drawing upon different genres, but horror often gets hidden beneath other genres to make it more acceptable.”
One modern example is The X-Files, which is returning for a 10th season on Fox in January 2016 after a 14-year absence. Creator Chris Carter’s interest lay in TV horror but he sold the show as science fiction and got it on the air, says Abbott. “Watch an episode like Home, which is about cannibalism and incest, and it’s really indebted to horror. It’s still considered one the scariest episodes,” she adds.
In the 1970s, the rise of cinematic horror led networks to look to the movies to fill late-night slots, while anthology series became commonplace in the 1980s, with examples such as Friday the 13th: The Series (which ran for three seasons from 1987) and Freddie’s Nightmare (two seasons from 1988). Both shows were spin-offs of big-screen movie franchises, and US network The CW is currently developing a reboot of the former.
Horror re-emerged again in the 1990s in the wake of Twin Peaks, David Lynch’s mystery drama that dipped its toes into the genre through its unsettling tone and supernatural elements.
“I would definitely count Twin Peaks as TV horror in many respects, and that impacts on shows like The X-Files, which impacts on Buffy. Something like Buffy is a good example of a show that presents itself as a teen drama but draws upon horror tropes and regularly parodies the genre,” says Abbott.
“Buffy was part of the first wave of modern horror series,” says Marti Noxon (UnREAL, Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce), who began her career on The WB network series and its spin-off, Angel. “There were other sci-fi and fantasy shows that were starting to get traction around that time and, of course, there’s a long history with things like The Twilight Zone.”
Created by Joss Whedon (The Avengers) and based on the 1992 movie of the same name, Buffy starred Sarah Michelle Gellar as the titular heroine, the latest in a long line of ‘slayers,’ who battled demons while navigating the pitfalls of high school. Noxon says Buffy’s cult status meant Whedon and his team were given a lot of room to write the show they wanted, without network interference: “It was pretty heady in terms of the experience I had working with Joss – he was a mentor and inspiration to me – but I didn’t know until the show was over that we were in this very privileged position, as we’d pretty much been making TV for ourselves.”
Buffy’s adventures always began as character stories first and foremost, Noxon explains, with horror built into the narrative. The show was also where she learned about ‘Trojan horses’ – the art of writing an exciting and entertaining scene that doubled as a metaphor for a life lesson or moral.
“All the Buffy writers would say the same thing – you start with character first, and the conversations in the room always started with the story we wanted to tell, and we built the horror story around that,” she explains. “We weren’t being very opaque about it – you could see most of the monsters were metaphors in vampire costumes. Joss taught me all about the Trojan horse – making something very entertaining and fun while speaking about something else. People don’t always know they’re eating their vegetables but they are.”
Like Buffy, many horror series on television take inspiration from the cinema. A&E’s Bates Motel (Psycho) and Damien (The Omen) and MTV’s Teen Wolf all have big-screen predecessors.
Another is Scream, MTV’s adaptation of the franchise from the late Wes Craven that spawned four films and threw new light on horror, in part because it played up to and parodied the stereotypes associated with the genre.
The series, which has been renewed for a second season to air next year, follows a group of teenagers whose world turns upside down when a viral video serves as the catalyst for a murder that opens up a window to their town’s troubled past.
Creator/executive producer Jill Blotevogel says that in the past networks would have shied away from a horror series like Scream, fearing it wouldn’t have drawn a big enough audience. But the success of shows including AMC’s The Walking Dead have proven that any show with “great drama and great characters” can bring people in.
“You have to forget that it’s Scream and that it’s a horror movie and instead think of it as a drama where you fall in love with these characters,” Blotevogel says. “That’s the joy of extending a horror property into a series, and a lot of the networks have found the horror series that defines them. You’ve got Bates Motel, iZombie (The CW), Hannibal (recently cancelled by NBC). These are series that aren’t just horror but signature horror. They all have their unique style, and MTV was really interested in doing something like that to make a big splash.”
Botevogel’s other credits include CBS drama Harper’s Island. She says that show – about a murder spree on an island where everyone is a suspect – gave her the experience she needed to write a series where many characters would meet a gruesome fate. “We had long conversations with our studio and network about how many people we could kill and when we could kill them, because they were pretty adamant they didn’t want it to be just random kills of a crossing guard or hotel maid or someone who doesn’t matter. They wanted it to be people we cared about,” she says. “It’s been a real push-pull, a real learning experience for everyone because it’s definitely a different kind of show.
But how did Scream approach how graphic it should be? “We didn’t want to take the gore level to something that’s just gross for the sake of being gross,” admits Blotevogel, who says the team wanted to create TV that would be talked about on social networks and around the water cooler.
“As always in the US, you have standards and practices. We have guidelines that say, ‘yes you can do this,’ or ‘make sure you cut away so it’s not too graphic.’ But as we saw in the pilot, we had a pretty graphic throat-slicing and it definitely made a lot of people scream.”
If Scream faced a balancing act over its graphic content, one new drama heading to US premium cable network Starz is facing no such uncertainty. When horror flick The Evil Dead was first released in 1983, it was banned in several countries, including the UK, over its violent content, helping it to become one of the first ‘video nasties.’
And its small-screen adaptation, Ash vs Evil Dead (pictured top), which launches this Halloween, will stay true to the gory spirit of the film franchise (the original spawned two sequels and a 2013 remake). Starz MD Carmi Zlotnik says: “The premium space enables us to do everything broadcast and cable networks cannot in terms of content and allows us to do horror in its truest form – uncut and unadulterated. ‘Barrels of blood’ would not do it justice, we had no problem with blood or gore.”
The story of a group of friends who awaken demonic forces while staying in an isolated cabin is executive produced by Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, Bruce Campbell, the original filmmakers, and showrunner Craig DiGregorio. Campbell also reprises his role as main character Ash.
The project landed at Starz through its existing relationship with Tapert, who worked on Spartacus, and the script proved to have everything the network wanted – “horror, comedy, vast amounts of blood. We call it ‘splatstick,’” says Marta Fernandez, Starz senior VP of original programming.
“If it were on network television, it would be a completely different animal. It would be watered down. We go so far with blood and gore, which is the trademark of The Evil Dead, that we would have to step that back so far for a network drama.”
While you might be able to get away with bigger scares in pay TV, that hasn’t stopped US networks jumping into horror. The X-Files is coming back to Fox; iZombie airs on The CW alongside The Vampire Diaries and its spin-off The Originals; and Dracula aired on NBC in partnership with the UK’s Sky Living in 2013.
A further example is Hannibal, another NBC entry that concluded its three-season run this summer. The series focuses on the relationship between forensic scientist Hannibal Lecter and FBI investigator Will Graham, played by Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy respectively.
Hannibal and fellow horror series Hemlock Grove (the third and final season launched on Netflix this month) were both produced by Gaumont International Television (GIT) – but former CEO Katie O’Connell Marsh, who stepped down from the company during its recent rebranding to Gaumont TV, says the company never set out intending for its first two commissions to sit so heavily in horror.
“I’m not personally into horror, but I am into really good character drama,” she says. “That’s how I look at them. Everyone comes to entertainment from their own viewpoint, and for me it’s really just great character and great exploration. There are things in Hannibal that were rough for even me to watch, but it’s beautifully rendered.”
Hannibal was picked up by NBC through writer Bryan Fuller’s links to the network, and O’Connell Marsh says there were no second thoughts about developing the series for a broadcast network, despite Lecter’s cannibalistic tendencies.
“I actually think NBC is such a great place for that. Because of the limitations, it makes the show in some ways more interesting and scarier,” she explains. “Sometimes what you imagine is behind the door is scarier than what’s actually there. In so many ways, the restraint of US broadcast television made the show that much more interesting. If we could have done whatever we wanted, maybe Hannibal wouldn’t have been as scary or provocative.
“Bryan has often said NBC’s standards and practices department were very supportive. It wasn’t like there was a battle every episode. They understood the show and what Bryan was trying to do. We skirted the line a lot of the time but they were really encouraging.”
O’Connell Marsh says Netflix has been equally supportive with Hemlock Grove, a show executive produced by horror aficionado Eli Roth, the man behind the ultra-gory Hostel movie franchise. Based on the book by Brian McGreevy, Hemlock Grove follows a murder mystery that revolves around the residents of a former Pennsylvania steel town that is home to a number of peculiar inhabitants – and killer creatures. “Horror isn’t the question, it’s the concept of a show,” she adds. “Underneath Hannibal is a bromance with murder and mystery. In Hemlock Grove, it’s the ultimate family drama. And the sustainability of a show is equal parts the vision and the story.”
One horror less concerned with blood and gore and more focused on the supernatural and psychological was British drama The Enfield Haunting. The three-part series, based on Guy Lyon Playfair’s non-fiction book This House is Haunted, tells the story of the phenomenon known as the Enfield Poltergeist, which supposedly terrorised a house in the north London borough in 1977. It starred Timothy Spall, Juliet Stevenson and Matthew MacFadyen and aired this year on Sky Living and A&E in the US.
“Sky was after something that would be properly scary and would move the genre on in some way,” says executive producer and Eleven Film co-founder Jamie Campbell. “Part of what appealed to Sky, and part of what the audience found appealing, was that it was based on a true story. Sky was very keen that we retained the integrity of the book and was keen for us to make it scary.”
However, Campbell believes there’s a limited appeal for horror on television: “Commissioners are apprehensive about horror because you eliminate a serious amount of the audience. But that’s quite exciting because the audience that does come to it, as Enfield showed, is committed and will invest in it.
“The sweet spot is finding something that will appeal to fans of horror but has enough going for it that people who aren’t necessarily fans of the genre will take a chance on it. And if it’s well made, they stick with it.”
Campbell also cites French supernatural drama Les Revenants (The Returned), which returned to Canal+ for a second season in September, as an original horror series that moved the genre forward. “(Producer) Haut et Court has great taste and you can see that in all aspects of the series,” he says. “What was really driving it was story, keeping you interested, and I suspect the genre came second to the story.”
Ultimately, Campbell says, there are two different ways of tackling horror. One is in keeping with the all-out path trodden by The Evil Dead, while the other is to take a more stylish approach – with Campbell again using Les Revenants as an example of the latter.
“There’s an audience that will come to horror if you do it in a slightly different way, pay more attention to story and make it a more rarefied experience but still revel in the genre. If you can do that, then it can be really interesting.”
But if any further proof were needed of horror’s current influence on TV schedules, US cable network AMC this summer launched its highly anticipated companion to zombie drama The Walking Dead, one of the biggest shows currently on air. Fear The Walking Dead complements the original by taking its fans back to the start – focusing on how LA fell to the ‘walkers.’
The show boasts many of the key creatives from The Walking Dead, including Robert Kirkman, Gale Anne Hurd, David Alpert and Greg Nicotero. Its premiere on AMC drew 10.1 million viewers, becoming the number-one series premiere in cable television history in terms of total viewers.
Showrunner Dave Erickson says that, at its roots, the series is a family drama, wrapped in the familiar trappings of the horror genre. “In Fear, we start as a family drama and we bring in the tropes from the genre,” he explains. “There’s something about horror shows that are vessels. You can impress upon them any fear, anxiety, phobia – anything that haunts you, you can make part of that world. People typically like to be scared. The adrenaline rush – that’s what causes people to watch horror films.
“They also work psychologically. They reflect societal ills, anxieties that we carry with us every day and, ultimately, they’re somewhat cathartic. Specifically with the zombie genre, there’s something very primal in killing zombies. They’re basically people who have been dehumanised, and that makes it OK to take them down.”
As with other genres, horror is used as the dressing for stories about heroes and heroines, troubled families and bloodthirsty crimes. But whatever aspect these shows take, they are all united by their ambition to scare their audience. So why do people watch them?
“People just love to be scared,” says Scream’s Blotevogel, a self-confessed horror fan. “I think people are reassured about their own lives when they see awful things happening to other people because they can put it out there and say it’s just a TV show. Everybody loves to be scared. It’s just built into our DNA. I’m so glad the genre is having a renaissance on TV and I hope it continues.”
DQ hears from the writers behind several UK dramas about the differences between US and UK writing and production methods, and how the UK could improve its practices.
If you want to explain the fundamental difference between US and UK dramas, you might need to point no further the credits.
For while long-running American series, with up to around 22 episodes a year, have a team of writers piecing together plot lines in a writers room, British shows commonly have a single author telling their own story across a range of formats – from TV movies and two-parters to six-episode miniseries.
This difference in writing and production methods was the subject of debate at this year’s Royal Television Society (RTS) Cambridge Convention, in a session entitled The Single Voice and the Showrunner.
As described by writer Bryan Elsley, the role of showrunner emerged through the highly seasonal nature of the US production cycle where a pilot season leads into a number of commissions placed in May, with shows expected to be on air that fall.
It’s a “mass production model to produce large volumes of television,” Elsley explains, where the showrunner sits at the top of a hierarchy of staff to ensure scripts are written and produced.
“The showrunner role is not just to do with the writing room. The showrunner is effectively the producer, is responsible for all aspects of production and post-production and delivery of the show, and is in charge of those processes. That high level of organisation is a big feature of the American model.”
Elsley is best known for creating E4’s controversial teen drama Skins, which he later adapted for US cable network MTV in 2011. However, the US version was cancelled after one season following falling ratings and a number of off-screen problems.
“I’d been learning some showrunning skills on season four of Skins, as I was in charge of the writers room and was effectively in charge of production,” he says. “When I got to the States and was handed a US$16m budget and told to start, I was literally given a room in Manhattan with some desks in it and told when they wanted the show.
“At that moment I realised I was lacking in some of the basic skills. It was a very chastening experience. Much has been said about my difficult relationship with MTV. I was having real problems. I wasn’t absolutely clear how to do things and I struggled with phone calls on which there would be 15 executives, none of whom were in the same city as me.
“Then we ran into editorial problems with lawsuits and right-wing pressure groups, and all of those things put us into the ground. It was quite tough. But I did think as I walked away – and Armando Iannucci (Veep) has proven this is possible – it must be possible for British writers to exist in that mania and not sink. In an environment where big US productions are coming to our country and hiring in, we need to be skilled in order for them to have confidence for us to be in some of the primary positions in those shows.”
Tahsin Guner’s credits include long-running UK dramas Doctors, Holby City, Casualty and EastEnders. More recently he developed BBC1’s Father Brown, based on the novels by GK Chesterton and starring Mark Williams as a crime-solving priest.
Guner says his experiences have differed across the shows on which he has worked. These range from times he has felt supported and has received constructive feedback, to others when notes hindered the writing process and each new script draft felt like a first draft.
“It’s not a great position to be in because you don’t feel like you’re doing your best work,” he says. “Sometimes it’s for logistic reasons or because an actor can’t make it, but other times it feels like you’re being given notes on a whim and being asked to change the script and they’ll shoot whatever’s left at the end of the process.”
In particular, Guner says writers on continuing dramas, who often only gather once every few months at “story conferences,” should be brought more into the production.
“One thing that doesn’t happen but should is for the writer to meet with the director before the shoot,” he argues. “It’s absurd to me that that doesn’t happen as standard practice. The week before it shoots, the writer should have a meeting with the director just so you can clarify your thoughts on particular scenes and they can point things out in the script. It would save a lot of heartache because you do rewrite after rewrite. You get notes from the director via the script editor and you’re kept as far away from production as possible. It seems a case of picking your battles. You don’t want to be too difficult but you want to be a bit difficult.”
However, Guner is clear that continuing dramas provide great training for upcoming writers, who get to see a script they have written on air within months.
“They’re machines,” he says. “You constantly have to pull the rabbit out of the hat very quickly, and the deadlines are ridiculous. I’ve never worked so hard. Just from that process, you develop tools and tricks and you really do improve your writing. Doing somebody else’s show, you still need to put your stamp on it. You want to feel like it’s your episode.
“There’s more flexibility with Holby and Casualty because you have to create your guest stories that integrate with your serial. But even with something like EastEnders, if you get five or six writers to do that same episode from the same storybook, you’ll get five or six different episodes. They’ll be tonally different; their focus will be different. You learn a hell of a lot working on continuing drama.”
If there’s one way to maintain a single voice throughout a television drama, it’s for the writer to also produce and direct the series. That’s the case for Hugo Blick, who performed all three roles on The Honourable Woman and The Shadow Line (both BBC2). But it takes a unique filmmaker to make this approach work.
“I have a compartmentalised personality,” Blick says. “If, as a producer, I have a problem where a sequence goes to four or five takes, I’m starting to think it’s the script. Most writers wouldn’t, they’d say it’s everybody else. So my producer is saying it’s the script, let’s move this on. And whatever it’s moved on to is usually better than the script was. That compartmentalisation is a little unique but it helps with the efficiency of telling what is hopefully a distinct, bespoke, authored Tiffany jewel for BBC2.”
But surely that production model can only work on short-run dramas where one person can oversee all three areas? Blick agrees it would be very different on a multi-season drama.
“If you were making an authored piece, it has to go top down from writers,” he explains. “It can’t go from the execs. All I’m trying to do is say, ‘I’ve got a thing of wonder that I think you should be a part of.’ That clarity is so important. The Honourable Woman was looking for reconciliation on the world stage because she couldn’t find it in herself – that’s it. Then I’m going to put on top of it the most irreconcilable conflict you can think of – Israel and Palestine.
“The other thing is that there are 300 people who come with you on the journey, but there are 13 heads of department you have to work with. To get this to function efficiently, I always say that there’s a nail in the middle of the desert – the nail is my vision and everybody’s got to gather around it. And we all have to strike it, crucially at the same time. But they have to strike it for themselves. Once I’ve given the vision, what the designer does to this vision is up to them. On The Honourable Woman, I only saw the designer on the last day of a 100-day shoot, because he was entrusted to do exactly what he thought supported that vision.”
Regina Moriarty came to TV through Sammy’s War, part of Channel 4’s Coming Up strand for new writers, and BBC3 TV movie Murdered by my Boyfriend – the story of a 17-year-old victim of domestic abuse that won the RTS award for Best Single Drama in 2014 and the Best Leading Actress Bafta for star Georgina Campbell earlier this year.
“To have two single dramas to start off with is quite unusual because other writers I know haven’t been as lucky,” Moriarty says. “For me it was a great experience and very nurturing. I was really helped along and it was a hugely positive experience in both cases. But for a lot of people I know, their first jobs are in continuing drama and it’s a tough way in and quite demanding. It’s also a fantastic learning experience, but perhaps not quite so nurturing as the experience I had.
“Schemes like Coming Up don’t mean anything’s going to be made but they’re a fantastic point of entry and there probably aren’t enough of them. It is really competitive but if you can get one thing into that scheme, it can set you up.”
Elsley, who also wrote Channel 4 drama Dates, says there’s a lot that’s great with the way British drama is made: “It’s an environment where someone like Hugo Blick can emerge quickly, resolutely and fully supported.”
But the key thing, he says, is to have a needs-based approach, where the industry remains flexible to the requirements of different productions.
“You need to look at what your show is, how many episodes there are and who the central creative forces behind it are – they might be writers or something else – and properly organise around that,” Elsley explains. “We need to step towards properly focused, budgeted, processed drama production that can happen on a tiny scale, and this has to happen on a massive scale.”
Jill Blotevogel, creator and executive producer of the TV version of Scream, tells Michael Pickard how she brought the iconic horror franchise to the small screen.
When Scream was released in 1996, it slayed audiences with its mix of scares, gory killings, sense of humour and its awareness of classic horror movie tropes.
The film was credited with revitalising the horror film genre and – like other classics before it, such as Halloween, Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street – it spawned several sequels, most recently with Scream 4 in 2011.
Now the film franchise is winning new fans after being adapted for the small screen.
US cable network MTV greenlit a pilot in April 2013 and, produced by The Weinstein Company’s Dimension Films, it was subsequently ordered to series in October last year. The show, which had earlier been teased online after the first eight minutes of the pilot were released, debuted in the US on June 30 this year.
The cast includes Willa Fitzgerald, Amadeus Serafini, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Carlson Young, Connor Weil and John Karna.
Scream’s creator and executive producer Jill Blotevogel, whose credits include CBS murder-mystery Harper’s Island, was brought to the project to write the pilot script and she says Scream is part of a renaissance currently being experienced in TV at the expense of the movie industry.
“It’s a great time to be a writer in Hollywood,” she says. “Features have really become polarised. They only do a few big tentpole movies and some indies so writers who used to be able to express themselves a lot more in features have been flocking to TV, and you’re also seeing this amazing calibre of actors and actresses coming to TV.
“I think it’s a real renaissance in TV and the rise of cable networks trying to make their mark has been the drive behind that.”
Blotevogel says the idea of a Scream series hadn’t initially occurred to MTV executives when they were looking through Dimensions Films’ back catalogue for possible adaptation ideas: “MTV had been speaking to Dimension and Bob Weinstein about properties to develop from his film catalogue. MTV had just done Teen Wolf and had great success with it. They talked about various things and then jokingly said, ‘What about Scream?’ and they both laughed and said, ‘You can’t do that.’
“Then they thought about it for a bit and said, ‘Maybe we can.’ That was the beginning of a two-year journey, where various writers came in to pitch ways to do it.”
However, MTV was yet to find the right fit for its version of Ghostface, the killer clad in the iconic white mask and black robes. Previous writers had brought in supernatural elements to try to bring a new edge to the franchise, but Blotevogel explains that it was essential that what made the original film so popular remained at the heart of the television series.
What she did do, however, was insert contemporary issues, such as the dangers of social media, which she could mould into a modern-day horror story.
“They brought me in a year-and-a-half ago to read the script and pitch what my take would be, and I just said you have to go back to what works about Scream,” she says. “It is a human character, it’s a very visceral thing. You can’t have a ghost in the machine for Scream. It’s a story but it’s not Scream.
“So for me it was finding a way to make what they did in 1996 feel fresh for 2015. Certainly a lot of it came down to how teenagers make themselves vulnerable to technology and social media, and how they don’t even realise how much they’re putting things out there that could be used against them or could open up their lives to someone who they may not want knowing so much about them.
“In the pilot, the idea of putting a sequence in a glasshouse where there’s no place to hide was part of the metaphor we were going for of teenagers making themselves vulnerable and wearing masks.
“We all put out these images of ourselves on social media that may not be our true selves and that was a really good jumping off point for the story, looking to create a big diverse cast where they all have secrets, they all have stories they’re trying to keep hidden.”
With Scream’s success as a slasher film, seeing a large proportion of characters die during its feature-length running time, one of the main challenges to overcome in the adaptation process was keeping true to the spirit of the original without killing off the entire cast.
Blotevogel explains: “The killer is not just slashing and piling up bodies. On a TV series you’ve got to have a longer-term mystery. Your killer has to have a long game in mind, rather than just running round racking up bodies. You can’t have the FBI descend and place a curfew on the town in episode two because then you can’t have the Friday Night Lights part of it, you can’t have the teen drama.
“That’s been the biggest balance taking a slasher movie to TV – finding a way to keep the world normal enough to keep the teen dynamic and your soap opera elements, but also reminding people that it’s Scream.”
Blotevogel’s blend of horror and drama has obviously impressed MTV executives and viewers alike, as last month, midway through Scream’s debut run, the cable channel renewed the show for a second season.
It also revealed that season one had attracted more than 21 million viewers and another 7.9 million streams online.
Announcing the renewal, Mina Lefevre, MTV’s executive VP of series development and head of scripted programming, said: “It has been a wonderful experience working with Bob Weinstein and his team, who are such connoisseurs of this genre, and we are thrilled by how our viewers have responded to the reinvention of Scream. We look forward to another season filled with suspense, horror and more twists and turns.”
Weinstein added: “The Scream franchise has been such a huge part of our history and to watch it evolve, find a new generation of fans and succeed at MTV makes this all the more sweet. We promise even more scares, surprises, romance and of course kills in season two.”
Blotevogel says the show has been mapped out to feature the same story with the same characters in the same town over several seasons.
“You get to go deeper into the story (in every season), but we are going to give you satisfying revelations at the end of every season,” she says. “There are things that will satisfy you and keep you coming back.
“If you think about a show like (AMC drama) The Killing, how that ended its first season was not very satisfying. People did not get the answer that they were looking for. I think a lot of TV shows have learnt their lesson from watching what happened there, and you now know you’ve got to have an ending for season one that still has the potential for the future, and the realisation that it’s not completely over.
“Because we have two levels of mythology in our show – we have the things that happened 20 years ago and the things that are happening in the present day – we have a lot of places to go to. We’ve built in a lot of possibilities knowing we’re going to extend this world.”
The finale of Humans’ first season airs in the UK this weekend and the show continues to do exceptionally well for Channel 4. BARB ratings for the first six episodes show there was an inevitable dip after stellar ratings for the first two parts, but that the show has stayed remarkably consistent since then. From episodes three to six, it recorded between 3.63 million and 3.93 million viewers (seven-day figures) – way ahead of anything else on C4.
With the show now approaching its climax, it would be a major surprise if it didn’t equal or surpass those figures for episodes seven and eight. And then a commission for a second season would look highly likely.
The only cloud on the horizon for Humans is that AMC in the US is not getting such good ratings with the series (which may place a question mark over its involvement in a second season), but the strength of the C4 showing ought to be enough to see it through.
Still in the UK, there was a strong showing for BBC1’s Agatha Christie adaptation Partners In Crime, which attracted 6.5 million viewers for its first episode (Sunday at 21.00). Starring David Walliams and Jessica Raine as amateur detectives Tommy and Tuppence, the six-part show is the channel’s biggest new drama launch since Poldark, demonstrating that Sunday evening is still a time when audiences like to spend time with familiar faces and brands.
Earlier in July, Sky Atlantic and Showtime announced plans for a third season of gothic horror drama Penny Dreadful. Looking at the final ratings for season two of the show on Sky Atlantic, it’s easy to see why. According to BARB’s seven-day data, the final episode attracted an audience of 544,000 – up from 450,000-500,000 for the previous few episodes.
With Game of Thrones finished for another year, Penny Dreadful became channel’s top-performing drama, some way ahead of The Affair (433,000) and True Detective season two (352,000). In the week following Penny Dreadful’s departure, nothing on Sky Atlantic managed to attract more than 315,000 viewers. The show has also been attracting attention internationally, securing a deal with Australian subscription VoD platform Presto last week.
In the US, MTV is halfway through the first 10-part season of Scream, a horror series that has been spun out of the iconic feature-film franchise. A strong debut saw the show attract six million viewers (live plus three), making it “the most watched new series premiere of the summer on cable with millennials,” according to MTV. In an added bonus, the first episode was also streamed more than 500,000 times on MTV.com and the MTV app.
Since then the ratings have dropped a little but stayed strong enough for MTV to announce a second season. At the midway point, 21 million viewers have tuned in to Scream on air while the series has generated 7.9 million streams across other platforms.
Speaking at the Television Critics Association’s summer event this week, MTV head of scripted programming Mina Lefevre said: “It has been a wonderful experience working with (Scream exec producer) Bob Weinstein and his team, who are such connoisseurs of this genre, and we are thrilled by how viewers have responded to the reinvention of Scream.”
Meanwhile, the US TV industry’s love affair with Scandinavia took a double hit this week. Following the news that Netflix has cancelled Lilyhammer, NBC announced that it has canned eOne’s low-rated comedy Welcome to Sweden. The show, created by Greg Poehler, did moderately well in season one but has fallen away badly in season two, with NBC pulling it from the air after just four editions of its 10-episode run.
Commenting on Instagram, Poehler said: “Due to some craptastically low ratings in the US, WTS is officially done. I am eternally grateful to all of our fans. When you make a show – and write, produce, obsess and act in it – all you want is for someone, somewhere, to tell you they appreciate it. There have been so many of you in both Sweden and the US that have done so, and every compliment has made me immeasurably happy. So, thank you. Thank you, thank you…”
In the Hispanic US market, Telemundo continues to make inroads into the audience share of its major competitor Univision. DQ reported on the success of El Senor de los Cielos last week, and now Telemundo says the finale of Tierra de Reyes (Land of Honor) attracted 2.39 million total viewers.
This helped make Telemundo the number-one Spanish-language network in primetime, beating Univision. It has also just launched Bajo el Mismo Cielo (Under the Same Sky), the story of a hard-working Mexican immigrant who crosses the border illegally and settles with his family in LA. Episode one attracted 1.72 million viewers and also hit 3.3 million global Facebook users with a 30-minute preview.
On the corporate front, the TV market is waiting to see the implications of the US$1bn merger between Banijay Group and Zodiak Media (announced this week). Between them, the two companies own approximately 45 prodcos.
While there are some complementary areas between the two businesses, there is also a lot of overlap in markets like the US, France and Scandinavia. In drama terms, the deal brings together companies including Touchpaper (UK), Yellow Bird (Scandinavia), Magnolia (Italy), Marathon Media (France), DLO Producciones (Spain) and Screentime (Australia and New Zealand).
Finally, this week’s big corporate ‘miss’ is Ryan Kavanaugh’s film and TV studio Relativity Media, which has filed for bankruptcy after racking up $320m in unpaid loans. Kavanaugh’s next-generation studio model, with its strong emphasis on data analysis, enthralled the industry for a few years but in the end couldn’t survive a number of high-profile box-office failures.
Speaking at Mipcom in 2013, Kavanaugh expressed his intention to get more into the TV business, expounding his theory that films “are perhaps the greatest TV pilots ever.” His goal at that stage was to sell five or six TV series properties a year. However, this never came to pass. The main TV titles to come out of Relativity have been National Geographic’s Act of Valor and Limitless, a spin-off of the Bradley Cooper-starring movie in the form of a series will soon air on CBS.
Viacom’s portfolio of adult-targeted cable channels doesn’t look like an obvious place to find original scripted shows. But, keen not to be left behind in the drama arms race, Viacom brands such as MTV, Spike, CMT and BET are spending heavily on the genre.
MTV’s investment in The Shannara Chronicles and Scream is regarded by many as the channel’s biggest editorial shake-up since it launched in 1981. And now Spike – already committed to Tut – has unveiled plans for a major increase in the number of series it has on air.
In an announcement last week, Spike said its new development slate spans “a wide range of genres and periods, all of it character-driven material set in unique, compelling worlds. These include series about an occupied American heartland during World War III, a family living in a world without privacy, the Gilded Age pioneers of criminal defence law, and medical researchers pushing the boundaries of ethics and legality.”
Sharon Levy, exec VP of original series at Spike, added: “Our slate is indicative of our goal to be a network that creates high-quality and dynamic scripted entertainment with a distinctive edge and point of view.”
The title that has attracted most attention is World War III, which imagines the US as an occupied territory. This is a popular theme at the moment, with titles such as Occupied, SS-GB and The Man in the High Castle also in the works at the moment.
Spike’s project centres on “one man with a troubled past (who) will galvanise a resistance movement, calling upon ordinary citizens to become the extraordinary heroes of WWIII.”
The series is executive produced by Hollywood director Bryan Singer and written by creators Aaron and Matthew Benay. Singer’s involvement is particularly noteworthy, given his strong track record that includes House, Dirty Sexy Money and the X-Men movie franchise.
Spike’s other scripted shows in development include psychological horror series Bad Medicine, dystopian thriller Secret America and Mr In Between, which focuses on a high-stakes courier who traffics sensitive information between people for whom privacy is a matter of life and death, and which perhaps echoes the Transporter franchise.
There is also a period drama called Hummel & Howe. Set in the Gilded Age of the late 19th century in New York City, this series showcases the lives of William Howe and Abraham Hummel – two criminals desperate to escape their past who become the greatest criminal defence attorneys in American history. The series is written by Andy Bellin, whose main credits to date are the movies Trust and Lovelace.
Meanwhile, Spike will be waiting anxiously on the ratings for the first episode of Tut, which aired yesterday (July 19). Early indications from IMDb are that the audience was lukewarm about the opening episode, with a modest 7.8 rating based on 112 users, but we’ll get a clearer picture when the overnights come in.
Across the pond, indie producer Bentley Productions has been asked by broadcaster ITV to make Harry Price: Ghost Hunter, a two-hour special based on a novel by Neil Spring.
Commissioned by Steve November and Victoria Fea, the story begins when a fraudulent ghost hunter is asked to investigate the haunting of the home of a local politician, whose wife will be committed to an asylum if he fails to succeed.
All3Media-owned Bentley is best known as the producer of crime drama mega-hit Midsomer Murders (which has run for 17 seasons and been sold to 225 territories), so it will hope Ghost Hunter can inherit some of that show’s longevity. The task of writing the TV feature has fallen to Jack Lothian, whose credits include Doc Martin, Death in Paradise and Ashes to Ashes.
While various movies have been loosely based on William Shakespeare’s life (Shakespeare In Love and Anonymous spring to mind), the Bard rarely comes up as the subject of a TV series. Now former eOne executive Patrice Théroux and producer Leif Bristow plan to change that with a six-part miniseries about the playwright’s attempt to balance his work life in London with family life in Stratford-upon-Avon. Writer Shane Connaughton (My Left Foot) has been signed up to pen the series, which is called The Family Shakespeare.
In terms of renewals and pickups, one interesting story this week is that Seven Network in Australia has acquired forthcoming US series Heroes Reborn, a continuation of popular NBC sci-fi drama Heroes. Seven also aired the original series between 2008 and 2010, starting in a primetime slot on Seven but ending its life on digital sister channel 7Two. The plan is for the new series to come into Seven’s schedule as quickly as possible after the launch in the US, which is targeted for late September. Other new US dramas heading to Seven at around the same time are The Player and Quantico.
Meanwhile, US renewal news includes ABC Family’s decision to give a second season to Stitchers, an original drama series in which a young woman is recruited into a covert government agency to be ‘stitched’ into the minds of the recently deceased, using their memories to investigate murders and decipher mysteries that otherwise would have gone to the grave. The show is doing well among young female viewers – always a big positive for cable channels.
Karey Burke, ABC Family exec VP of programming and development, said: “Fans are enjoying the camaraderie of the Stitchers team and a lead character who is unapologetically smart, focused and a great role model to young women.”
On the corporate front, this week’s big story is that Israeli firm Keshet International has opened a studio in Los Angeles that will oversee the development, production and sale of scripted shows in the US. Former Fox director of programming Peter Traugott has been named president of scripted at the company, which will be called Keshet Studios. He will report to Keshet International CEO Alon Shtruzman. Also on board is Rachel Kaplan as executive VP.
Following on from the success of Keshet’s Prisoners of War, which was remade as Homeland in the US, Shtruzman says: “Keshet Studios was a natural progression for our expanding business and we are thrilled to have an official home base in the States with executives who share our programming sensibility. Peter and Rachel both have tremendous instincts for developing and producing compelling and innovative scripted TV. Coupled with (Keshet CEO) Avi Nir’s creative vision and the prolific Israeli-international pipeline, Keshet Studios is set to significantly grow our US slate.”
As the dust settles on another Comic-Con, Michael Pickard rounds up all the news and casts his eye over the hottest trailers that were unveiled to thousands of fans in San Diego.
And so Comic-Con ends for another year. As more than 130,000 people make their way home from the San Diego Convention Centre, the latest round of this annual four-day event has only served to establish it further as the new must-go place for television series, and their producers, directors, writers and cast members, to build up the noise surrounding their launch or return to our screens.
Alongside announcements about series renewals and surprise star appearances, it’s always intriguing to see where television drama – and genre fare in particular – is heading over the coming year.
Panels were hosted by shows including Limitless, Orphan Black, iZombie, Scorpion and Sherlock. Game of Thrones, The 100 and Marvel’s broadcast series – Agent Carter and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – also drew fans to hear gossip from the set and more about what fate might lie in store for their favourite characters.
Elsewhere, MTV announced Teen Wolf had been renewed for a sixth season, while cable network WGN America ordered a third run of its spellbinding period drama Salem.
Comic book drama Arrow released an image of the Green Arrow’s costume ahead of season four launching on The CW this fall, while the casts of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow and The Flash, both also on The CW, joined in the fun.
Universal Cable Productions announced it is teaming with Warren Ellis and Gale Anne Hurd (The Walking Dead) to adapt 1970s Mexican network Televisa’s format El Pantera, as well as adapting UK film The Machine with writer Caradog James for Syfy. It has also optioned IDW Publishing comic Kill Shakespeare.
The producer of NBC reboot Heroes Reborn, Imperative Entertainment, said it had optioned rights to adapt Hugh Howey novel Sand, which tells of a family of sand divers who use wetsuit-type technology to dive beneath the desert that covers a lawless dystopian world to retrieve valuable relics that help them survive.
Minority Report producer Darryl Frank also revealed that Steven Spielberg had been working with executives on the Fox reboot of the celebrated director’s 2002 feature film.
At Syfy, the network revealed new details about its six-hour adaptation of Arthur C Clark’s novel Childhood’s End, and former Lost star Josh Holloway was reunited with the show’s executive producer Carlton Cuse as they discussed their latest collaboration: USA Network’s forthcoming Colony.
Showrunner Bryan Fuller also gave hope to fans of Hannibal that the now-cancelled NBC drama could be resurrected as a feature film, though there were celebrations at the Grimm panel, where the show’s stars and executive producers discussed plans for the NBC series’ landmark 100th episode.
But for all the talk at Comic-Con, its the exclusive clips and trailers that got fans off their seats and on their feet inside the convention centre.
Here DQ showcases trailers for some of the most anticipated shows heading to television over the next year:
The streets of San Diego will soon be filled with superheroes and comic book characters as the 45th Comic-Con International descends on the city. Once regarded as a niche event for comic geeks and sci-fi nerds, the event, which takes place from July 9-12, now attracts a staggering 130,000 visitors.
Aimed primarily at fans of graphic novels, superhero and sci-fi franchises, video games and animation series, Comic-Con is viewed as an important opportunity to engage with the kind of key influencers that drive more mainstream audience tastes. For this reason, it’s an event content owners dare not miss.
This year, every TV studio worth its salt will be in San Diego with projects that they believe match the Comic-Con profile. MTV, for example, is in town with long-running drama Teen Wolf and two upcoming series – Scream and The Shannara Chronicles. Like Teen Wolf, Scream is a movie spin-off, while Shannara is a fantasy series based on the best-selling books by Terry Brooks.
Underlining the seriousness with which broadcasters now take the event, MTV’s presence at Comic-Con will consist of a branded booth, sessions and visits by show-related talent including Tyler Posey, Dylan O’Brien, Bella Thorne, John Rhys Davies and Austin Butler. In the case of Shannara, for example, Brooks will join the cast and production team in a Q&A session where a first-look trailer will be shown.
Separately, MTV will also host the second annual MTV Fandom Awards, which honour diehard fans whose excitement has pushed movies, TV shows, books and comics from subculture to mainstream worldwide success in the past year.
Jostling with MTV for attention will be TNT, which is showcasing The Last Ship and Falling Skies. In addition to sessions with cast and production teams, TNT’s offering will include an Oculus Rift virtual-reality experience that will transport fans into The Last Ship’s fictional universe, where they must board a cargo ship taken over by ‘Immunes’ (immune survivors of a deadly plague that has nearly destroyed the entire population of the planet).
Not surprisingly, fellow cable channel Syfy will also have a high-profile presence at the event, with shows such as The Expanse, Childhood’s End, 12 Monkeys, Dominion and Z Nation, and movie Sharknado 3, in attendance. A good indicator of the emphasis placed on Comic-Con is that Syfy will use it to air a screening of the first two episodes of Dominion season two, with episode two airing one week before it premieres on Syfy.
In the case of Childhood’s End, based on the Arthur C Clarke novel, the cast will join screenwriter Matthew Graham (Doctor Who) as he discusses the transition to screen.
Also seeking the spotlight alongside MTV, TNT and Syfy will be FX, which is bringing a broad slate including Archer, American Horror Story: Hotel, Scream Queens, Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll, The Strain, and Kurt Sutter’s new project The Bastard Executioner. In a session entitled the FX TV Block, the channel will present a sneak preview of Sutter’s new series, due to debut this autumn.
BBC America’s contribution to the event is a Doctor Who session featuring lead writer and executive producer Steven Moffat and the Doctor himself, Peter Capaldi, who is making his first Comic-Con appearance. Capaldi said: “Tales of San Diego Comic-Con are told in awe on every set around the known fantasy/sci-fi production world. It’s become a fabled kingdom. (Appearing there) is a further twist to the cosplay and comic madness I may never recover from.”
While the above channels inhabit the basic cable market, all of the key competitive sets are in attendance. Premium cable channel Showtime is in San Diego with Penny Dreadful (recently recommissioned for a third season), while its putative rival Starz is bringing Outlander and its hotly anticipated Evil Dead reboot Ash vs Evil Dead. The latter is currently in production in New Zealand and will premiere in the autumn as a 10-part series. It is executive produced by Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert and Bruce Campbell, who were all involved in the original franchise and will be at Comic-Con along with series co-star Lucy Lawless.
As for Showtime and Starz’ key rival HBO, the cablenet will bring a swathe of Games of Thrones stars to Comic-Con. There will also be an outing for Outcasts, a new series debuting on HBO sister service Cinemax. A Comic-Con panel focused on the show – which is based on the Skybound/Image comic and produced by Fox International Studios – will include executive producers Robert Kirkman and Chris Black, as well as various cast members.
Among the big four US networks, CBS is bringing its biggest panel line-up ever – featuring talent behind the likes of Limitless, Zoo, Extant, Scorpion, and Under the Dome. Illustrating the emphasis placed on in-event marketing, CBS has organised a Limitless café where attendees can get complimentary coffee, ‘Limitless’ refills, phone-charging services and free wifi. There will also be a screening of the first episode of the new show, which is based on the Bradley Cooper-starring movie.
ABC, meanwhile, is bringing hit series Once Upon a Time and newcomer The Muppets, while sister division Marvel will have its own dedicated conference activities to discuss Marvel’s Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D, Marvel’s Agent Carter and other upcoming projects.
NBC’s line-up includes Heroes Reborn, Blindspot, The Player, Hannibal, and Grimm. In the case of the Heroes reboot, there will be a panel featuring creator Tim Kring plus various production and cast members. Alongside a trailer, NBC is promising a Heroes Reborn “4D interactive experience where fans will have the opportunity to access their own pyro-kinetic ability. Through a multi-sensory experience of interactive visuals and kinetic effects, fans will enter the world of Heroes Reborn and use their power with fire to escape a dangerous scenario.” Ooh err.
20th Century Fox’s focus will be on Fantastic Four, Deadpool, and X-Men: Apocalypse, while Warner Bros will headline with Supergirl, Arrow, The Flash, Gotham and animation series Teen Titans Go!
Reiterating the effort put into in-event marketing, Warner Bros is featuring these characters on 40,000 limited-edition hotel keycards at top hotels in the San Diego area. In terms of the event itself, a big focal point is Warner Bros Television Presents a Night of DC Entertainment, a three-hour session that will feature a pilot screening of new action series Supergirl, followed by a Q&A with stars and producers.
So what does it all amount to? Well, the truth is that there is no concrete evidence that a strong showing at Comic-Con influences the performance of a show once it hits the screen. But ignoring the impact of pre-launch social media commentary from fanboys and journalists is just too big a risk to take. So the best advice is – pull on your Supergirl cape and go enjoy the party.