Tag Archives: NBCUniversal International Distribution

Home from home

A small town serves as a sanctuary for a group of people with secrets to hide in supernatural mystery Midnight, Texas. DQ speaks to showrunner Monica Owusu-Breen about adapting Charlaine Harris’s novels and the show’s political parallels.

When the first novel in the Midnight, Texas series was published in May 2014, Donald Trump was still a year away from entering the race to succeed Barack Obama as US president.

Charlaine Harris’s Midnight Crossroad introduced the inhabitants of a derelict town with little to distinguish itself besides its quaint and quiet atmosphere. For someone looking for a place to hide, Midnight is the perfect location.

Monica Owusu-Breen

The paranormal saga sets Midnight up as a town where outsiders can find sanctuary from those who would otherwise seek to persecute them, and a sense of community among others with secrets of their own.

Three years on from that initial publication date, Harris has followed up her first book with sequels Day Shift and Night Shift, and Trump is now in the White House, making headlines for his anti-immigrant agenda and his attempts to withdraw funding from so-called sanctuary cities that limit their cooperation with national immigration laws, promoting themselves as safe havens for undocumented immigrants.

As such, the arrival of a television adaptation of Harris’s novels could not be more timely – and the show’s correlation with contemporary politics is not lost on series creator and showrunner Monica Owusu-Breen. At the heart of Midnight, Texas, she says, is “the idea of a town full of diverse people from all walks of life who find sanctuary in America and then fight the forces of evil together, respecting each other’s differences as strengths, not weaknesses. The whole thing has this metaphorical quality that was not intentional at the pilot stage but became super meaningful as the show progressed.”

US network NBC put Midnight, Texas into development in 2015 and ordered a pilot in January 2016. The show was picked up to series last May and the 10-part first season debuted last month. NBCUniversal International Distribution is selling the show worldwide, with Syfy in the UK among those to have picked up the supernatural drama.

Like the books, the series explores the eponymous remote town that is home to a vampire, a witch, an angel and an assassin – a haven for those who are different and have to hide from the outside world. However, the arrival of a powerful psychic and a murder from within threaten their tight-knit community.

Despite the long-running success of another series based on Harris’s novels – HBO’s True Blood – Midnight, Texas opened in the US to soft ratings of 3.6 million viewers. Perhaps that’s not surprising for a genre series far removed from the legal and medical procedurals that draw the biggest crowds to network television, particularly during the ratings-light summer season.

Francois Arnaud leads the cast as psychic Manfred, a new arrival to Midnight

Owusu-Breen jokes that she checked with NBC executives to make sure they knew what they were getting when they ordered this “crazy” show. “When I read the books, I had a personal connection to it and there was also this crazy, madcap world of surprising beings,” she says. “Charlaine has this boundless imagination and there was a joy in that for me. There definitely were moments when I would look at look my NBC executive and say, ‘You guys want this? You’re sure, right?’ But it was so fun, weird and hopeful.”

In any other series, the characters that populate Midnight would most likely be the villains of the piece, but that’s part of the fun – particularly when recent arrival Manfred (played by François Arnaud), the aforementioned psychic, begins to discover who his new neighbours are.

“They all felt like they could have their own show,” Owusu-Breen says of Midnight’s inhabitants. “What you realise is these people come from really ugly pasts. Some of them have histories that are profoundly painful, so for them to come to Midnight and find sanctuary is really quite beautiful. While they start off as these fun, crazy characters, what got them to Midnight and those reveals really adds heart to them.”

As network television sticks to largely episodic fare amid the wave of serialised drama on cable and streaming platforms, Owusu-Breen remarks that with Midnight, Texas, she’s having her cake and eating it too. “I was on [Fox sci-fi drama] Fringe and our showrunner coined the phrase ‘Mythalone’ – a series of standalone episodes that add up to a whole story, like chapters in a book. Every episode is part of the greater myth of the story.

Fitz Henley plays a witch named Fiji

“In every episode, we’re following Manfred because he’s our hero. But we also explore one of the Midnighters in each episode, so by the end of the 10 instalments, you will understand who these people are and why they’re there. Then we have an overarching myth than will hopefully feel satisfying when you get to the end.”

Owusu-Breen was introduced to the world of Midnight, Texas when her agent sent her the books as a potential development project, and she says there were immediate parallels with her personal life. Her mother-in-law was a small-town psychic, while the showrunner would spend her summers as a child in a small Spanish town “in the middle of nowhere,” where everybody knew each other and their business.

“The novels have this oddly personal resonance for me, and as I continued to read the saga, I realised I loved these characters,” she admits. “The community of Midnight is so peculiar that I could see the story going on endlessly. So it felt so fertile for a TV writer to approach. What I loved, too, is that Charlaine has a very specific voice – she doesn’t shy away from being funny, she doesn’t shy away from being romantic, so those two things also made the show feel special for me. It’s very rare you find material that rich.

“TV is a character’s medium; you’re asking people to tune in every week to see the same people, so if they’re not interesting… she creates these wildly interesting characters. They’re strange and they surprise you at every turn, but they’re fun and funny and obviously human despite being supernatural.”

Peter Mensah as vampire Lemuel

Season one blends the murder mystery of Harris’s first novel with the supernatural elements of book three, with Owusu-Breen describing the books as a roadmap for the series. A major element of the show was putting Manfred front and centre, serving ostensibly as the series lead before making way for the rest of the ensemble.

“In the book he was less of a driving force but we’re following him as the newcomer into the town,” the showrunner explains. “He’s the outsider and he’s the one who becomes an insider, so he has a different role than he plays in the books.”

Midnight, Texas is Owusu-Breen’s first solo showrunning job, having previously shared the role on ABC drama Brothers & Sisters. So when setting up her writers room, she was keen to bring with her a lesson she had learned on her previous job writing for ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – a “no assholes” policy.

“What that meant in practice is we had a delightful working environment where people were competitive and generous with ideas and could disagree without getting mean,” she reveals. “So I really took that to heart, because it didn’t hinder the creativity. It actually made it a more positive experience because you spend 10 hours in a room with the same people. So for me it was important to get writers who engage in the spirit of this material, which is funny and a little wacky, and also at its core it’s got sentiment and heart. You don’t want to get mired in cynicism, so it was a very fun writers room. The stories weren’t easy to break because they’re crazy, but I had a wonderful writing staff. We laid out Charlaine’s tentpoles [from the books], deciding what we wanted at the beginning, middle and end of the season, and then we just built stories around those.”

Assassin Olivia is portrayed by Arielle Kebbel

By the end of the first season, Midnight, Texas becomes a “repulsively large show” as a story that begins with a murder mystery ends with a ‘Hellmouth’ opening in the middle of the town.

“Thankfully we had directors, a line producer and creatives who just jumped at the challenge, so when we needed a lot of dead bodies, they’d come up with some ideas,” the showrunner says. “It was very funny how everyone rallied around everything. Some episodes are a little darker and emotional, while some are wildly fantastical and have a ton of CGI.  think we kept everyone on their toes but, at the end of the day, everyone had a really good time reaching for the stars.

“We close up the story of the first season and then open up a possible world for the second season. I try not to get my hopes up [about winning a second season renewal] but book two is there and I’ve got ideas I’m playing with. I’m just going to enjoy season one and see how the rest of the world likes it.”

Should political events in the US continue on their current trajectory, Midnight, Texas could prove to be a suitably diverting sanctuary for viewers to take cover from current affairs.

tagged in: , , , , ,

Settling down in Jamestown

Eight-part drama Jamestown charts the early days of the first British settlers as they embark on their lives in America, among them a group of women destined to marry the men of the colony.

Facing all manner of trials, the settlers come together to conquer and adjust to the realities of their new lives on the other side of the world. But while Jamestown is a place for them to build new lives and start again, it’s also somewhere past secrets can be buried.

Writer Bill Gallagher (Lark Rise to Candleford, The Paradise) tells DQ about the historical facts that inspired the story of Jamestown, the research he undertook in Virginia and why he compares the series to a novel.

He also discusses the value of collaboration to help create the identity of a show, which in turn informs the direction, casting and other decisions during production.

Jamestown, which debuts on May 5, is produced by Carnival Films for Sky1 and is distributed by NBCUniversal International Distribution.

tagged in: , , , ,

Lady Luck

Thekla Reuten tells DQ about joining the cast of Stan Lee’s Lucky Man and ponders what she might do with a bit of good fortune.

Fortune didn’t always favour James Nesbitt during the first season of Stan Lee’s Lucky Man, in which he plays a detective given a magical bracelet that gives him unlimited good luck.

Circumstances have become trickier still for Nesbitt’s DI Harry Clayton in season two, with his world thrown further into chaos after his discovery of the existence of a second bracelet that belongs to a mysterious stranger called Isabella.

Enter Thekla Reuten, a Dutch actor whose big-screen credits include In Bruges and The American. She has also previously appeared in British TV dramas Restless and Hidden, and US series such as Showtime’s Sleeper Cell and long-running ABC series Lost.

“I’m always after the story,” she tells DQ about how she chooses her parts. “It can be theatre, which is how I started out, it can be film and it can be television. Who knows what medium will be invented in the near future? But for me it’s always about the story and the people involved. That’s what grabs me.”

Reuten stars alongside James Nesbitt in the second season of Lucky Man

The decision to play Isabella appealed to Reuten for several reasons, most notably her intrigue at a cop show tinged with comic-book sensibilities. As its full title suggests, the show, produced by Carnival Films in association with POW! Entertainment and distributed by NBCUniversal International Distribution, was co-created by comic-book legend Stan Lee.

“It’s a thrilling combination,” she says. “Isabella was described as a mysterious, glamorous woman because she’s very experienced with her bracelet – she’s had it for 10 years, which we learn in the first episode. It can be very hard when a role starts out so mysteriously but she pushes the storyline forward so we’ll find out about her with Harry while watching the series.

“What I did love about her is she’s a mother and, because of the bracelet, she also leans towards being a comic-book character because she has this power and she knows how to work with it. She has seen that Harry’s found it all quite vexing for the first season, and he seems to want to get rid of it. But she wants to show him the other side of it. Also, they’re the only two people in the world with a bracelet and it’s lonely. It’s made Harry very isolated during the first season, while she’s had it for 10 years. So there’s an instant connection when he sees another person with a bracelet; it’s a shock as well at first but he’s intrigued.”

Though she had never met him before, Reuten says working with Nesbitt also soon became part of the charm of joining the cast in season two. She describes the leading man as “lovely, generous and down to Earth” and says they shared the same ideas about their characters and their screen relationship from the first script read-through.

Reuten and Nesbitt film outside London’s Somerset House

“I could ask him lots of questions about the superhero element and these two worlds combining, and we just had a really good connection over that, talking about how we could give Isabella and Harry their world,” explains Reuten, who was hoisted up onto wires alongside her co-star for publicity shots for the show, which returned to Sky1 in the UK last month.

“It felt very organic and lovely. In working with him in the middle of London, he was very open and kind to people approaching him, and very patient if they wanted to take a picture. You just feel he’s loved by a huge audience and they are happy to approach him. It’s been a big pleasure.”

Viewers of season one will remember the central role the UK’s capital city plays in the series, with producers keen to present a postcard view of London by using various landmarks as backdrops throughout the series.

Reuten spent six months living in London during filming last summer and says it was the perfect way to see the sights. “I knew London a little bit, being here every now and then for a day or two, but with the locations that my character goes to – I was on the Millennium Bridge [which can be seen behind Reuten in the top image], in the National Gallery before opening time, at Piccadilly Circus on a Friday afternoon, in the West End and on rooftops with all these amazing views of London – it felt like being on a London holiday!”

She recalls “bumping into” Somerset House during one expedition around town on a day off, only to discover a couple of days later that she would be filming at the historic location.

Reuten’s character, Isabella, has had her lucky bracelet for a decade

“I saw on the call sheet my character was going to walk through the fountains of Somerset House – that’s one of my favourite scenes,” she says. “That’s a big extra when you work on a show and you can spend your days off at Somerset House in the fountains and it’s all yours for a whole morning. It was also really special to be in the National Gallery before opening – somehow being in front of those paintings on your own makes it really different. There’s something about it, it’s really magical. So I’m very thankful for those enormous treats that come with a job that I’m already very happy doing.”

More challenging were the shoots at the aforementioned tourist hotspots of Piccadilly Circus and the Millennium Bridge, where Reuten and Nesbitt were tasked with completing their scenes as star-spotting crowds grew around them.

“The Millennium Bridge is a public place so you’re not allowed to stop people there,” says the actor. “So they were being guided around us. We had quite a lot of heavy dialogue and we were doing this while people were there checking out Jimmy. You have to work hard building a little wall around you but it’s great, it’s wonderful! You just have to focus really hard and shut the outside world out.”

She continues: “We were in the West End on a Friday night, it was Halloween, and trying to walk there with Jimmy and play a scene was a big challenge. People were very happy because they’d had a little drink – they were all dressed up really weirdly so if they jumped into shot, you couldn’t use it. Normally you could just ignore it but, with those crazy outfits, that was impossible. So that was fun!”

Ultimately, viewers will see Isabella take DI Clayton on a new journey as he continues to question life with the lucky bracelet, but Reuten also points to the family stories that make the series stand out from the crowd.

“What I like about the second season is that the stories about Harry and his family are stronger,” she says. “Obviously, when you do a second season, you build from the first one. And the characters that Amara Karan (DS Suri Chohan), Darren Boyd (DI Steve Orwell), Steven Mackintosh (DSI Alistair Winter) and Sienna Guillory (Eve) all play, that goes to the next level as well. I really like how the show has these private lives and the different cases, and then my storyline pushing it forward. Isabella pushes the story of the bracelet to a more extreme situation.”

But what would Reuten do if she were given the power of never-ending luck?

“I really wouldn’t want to have it – that’s what I know from being in the series!” she jokes. “It’s fine the way it is. Where you have it,  you enjoy it – and yet it can be gone before you know it.

“I definitely know a few changes in the world I would like to make, and there are quite a few obvious ones! It’s a really strange world at the moment, with lots of negativity and divisiveness. In the end, I hope everyone sees that it’s not the way we should want to have the world. So I would use a little magic on that.”

tagged in: , , , , , , ,

Feeling Lucky

James Nesbitt is reunited with his enchanted bracelet in the second season of Stan Lee’s Lucky Man. DQ chats to the cast and production team on set in East London.

The offices of the Murder Investigation Squad (MIS) have a panoramic viewpoint overlooking the River Thames, offering sights of some of London’s best-known landmarks.

Yet on the police station set of Stan Lee’s Lucky Man, this impressive vista is revealed to be an illuminated backdrop. Elsewhere, banks of computer screens stand in front of a backlit map of the city, surrounded by bare-concrete walls and pillars that complement the grey steel desks and filing cabinets that complete the Bethnal Green set’s industrial look.

The series, which first launched on the UK’s Sky1 in January 2016, is back for a second season after becoming the pay TV network’s highest-rated original drama series ever, attracting an average audience of 1.9 million.

Viewers followed the fortunes of Detective Inspector Harry Clayton (James Nesbitt), who acquires an ancient bracelet that makes him incredibly lucky. Now the stakes are set to rise higher as he discovers the existence of a second bracelet.

Lucky Man star James Nesbitt works it for the camera

The new 10-part season, launching tomorrow, also takes on a new structure, shifting from the serialised storyline of season one and picking up a story-of-the-week format as DI Clayton becomes embroiled in new cases in each episode.

Co-created by comic book writer Stan Lee, Lucky Man is produced by Carnival Films in association with POW! Entertainment and distributed by NBCUniversal International Distribution.

“If the first season was about getting the bracelet, understanding what it is, believing in it and realising the power of it, the second season is about what Harry does with it,” explains exec producer Richard Fell. “He’s confronted by the possibilities of what it might or might not do when he meets the mysterious Isabella, who has had a bracelet for 10 years. This means Harry has to make some decisions about what he’s going to do now he’s accepted he has a lucky bracelet and how powerful it really is. And, in that classic Stan Lee way, is it a curse, a blessing or both – and how do you balance it out?”

Fell describes Lucky Man as “a little bit of crime drama, a little bit of high-concept superhero drama and definitely an action show.” But underneath it all is a very British drama, he says, with the lead character pitched as a flawed hero who often walks far too close to the line. “A British show doing a British version of The Flash or even Spider-Man would grate slightly,” he admits. “Harry is definitely a very British hero.”

Exec producer Richard Fell

Madonna Baptiste, who joined Lucky Man as producer for season two, feels many ingredients contributed to the show’s successful debut run. “It was fun, entertaining, had a great cast and great crimes,” she says. “It was a nice mix but ultimately it was great entertainment, plus it had the appeal of Stan Lee so it felt a little bit global. It was ambitious and it was a great Sky1 show. That’s what I loved about it. It was something I hadn’t seen before.”

Back on set during repeated takes of an interrogation scene for episode seven, Nesbitt is asked to kick over the same chair several times as Lily-Anne Lau (a returning Jing Lusi) gets the better of Clayton and his partner DS Suri Chohan (Amara Karan).

Chatting between takes, Nesbitt says: “I wasn’t sure where season two would go or how the character would develop but they’ve done a great job.” Wrapped in a knee-length coat to guard against the biting cold temperatures on set, Karan adds: “There’s a great cast and there’s lots of group scenes so everyone’s involved all the time.”

The actor, who is now a huge star thanks to her turn as lawyer Chandra Kapoor in HBO miniseries The Night Of, also teased that there will be lots of surprises for her character as season two plays out. “It’s an amazing script and there’s lots of action,” she adds. “I’m getting physical this season and even get to fire a gun!”

Fell describes the series as “entertaining, bold and fun,” with the “brilliant” Nesbitt at its heart. “He’s the kind of actor who can convey what is quite a wild idea – a lucky bracelet that actually works – and give it heart so it doesn’t feel too silly,” he says. “There are moments where he brings it back to Earth. It’s a combination of those things. It’s great Friday night telly, it’s really fun. And it looks good, it’s got a lot of energy.”

 

Baptiste adds of the show’s star: “James just knows the character and the character’s voice. For me, that was helpful because you would send him the script and he would say, ‘I don’t think the line is right.’ He’s an absolute professional and everybody loves him. He brings the fun and he’s just entertaining. You love to watch him and that energy transfers to the set. But he does long hours, he’s constantly filming. He’s in 90% of the scenes. It’s challenging for him but I have never seen him grumpy. He’s always enthusiastic.”

For Lusi, whose casino owner Lau once again goes head-to-head with Clayton, returning to film season two felt like she had never been away. “I hope her return is unexpected,” she says of her character. “One of my favourite things about Lily-Anne is that she is unpredictable, so I hope the viewers don’t see her coming. With regards to what to expect, let’s just say she hasn’t exactly seen the error of her ways from season one. Her wardrobe still rocks though!”

Lusi, who has also appeared in crime dramas Scott & Bailey and Law & Order: UK, says the show’s premise perfectly blends elements of both detective and superhero series. “I really like the style of the show – the slickness, gloss and pace,” she adds. “It’s different to a lot of other British shows and Lucky Man is quite daring in that respect. The creatives made a unique and complex world that the actors revelled in bringing to life, and every day we laughed a lot. It’s important to have fun, no matter what you do, and fun we certainly had.”

Actor Jing Lusi on set

The actor reveals she was more relaxed during filming this time around than she was for season one thanks to her chemistry with Nesbitt and Karan. “I knew that if anything went wrong, we would just laugh it off and carry on,” she explains. “The worst thing you can do on set is to pressure yourself. There’s enough pressure as it is, you don’t need to add to that.”

The producers faced entirely different pressures, however, as the show’s unique challenges included filming in multiple locations across London, and capturing stunts and explosions. The season opens with a dramatic car chase around the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf in the City of London.

Baptiste says: “We’ve done lots of falls from high buildings and fight sequences and they’ve all been fairly big and ambitious. They’ve all been quite brilliant. We did want to have a stunt on Tower Bridge but there’s a thing about bridges and people diving off them – you’re not allowed to do that sort of thing. The writers will create something huge and we try to make it manageable. We go as big as we can.”

Locations are also key to the show’s identity, with the creative team very consciously presenting postcard London and all its iconic landmarks. “The shows I really like are those that are sunk into the place where they’re filmed,” Fell says. “London is a character and it’s exciting. It’s got dark bits and light bits and it’s vibrant, amazing, diverse and full of energy. We wanted the show to have that look and feel. It’s a very different London [to that presented in other shows], purposefully. It is a bit of a love poem to the city. Everyone who’s worked on it has lived here for years and loves it and wants it to look good.”

“We did a bunch of shots on the Millennium Bridge and Jimmy [Nesbitt] and Thekla [Reuten, who plays Isabella] were trying to act a scene and there’s tourists coming in and having their pictures taken. For them to maintain their confidence and focus among that chaos is testament to how good they are. That’s probably the most challenging part about this show because we want to be right in it, in the middle of London.”

With filming completed in December, Baptiste recognises season one as a tough act to follow and hopes fans won’t be disappointed when the show returns. “We just want to build on that and give the fans a little bit more – but give them what they loved about the series too. There’s something very British about Lucky Man but American shows broaden our horizons and it ups everyone’s game. Lucky Man rises to that challenge very well.”

tagged in: , , , , , ,

Medical examiner

Fact trumps fiction in US medical drama Pure Genius, which offers a glimpse into treatments of the future. Michael Pickard discusses the show with writer David Renaud.

David Renaud
David Renaud

From storylines featuring mind-reading technology to using spider silk screws to repair a broken leg, US series Pure Genius might appear more medical fantasy than medical drama.

But as staff writer David Renaud reveals, there’s nothing in the show that’s completely fictitious.

“Everything is real, everything is based on reality,” he says of the CBS drama, which began its first 13-episode season in October. “There’s this weird perception that it isn’t but it doesn’t take much Google searching to find out most of this stuff is happening. When [showrunner] Jason Katims convened the writers’ room, he did not want to make a science fiction show. He wanted to make an aspirational medical show and that’s been the directive we’ve tried to follow as we explore the technology and medicine behind a lot of the cases in the show.”

Set at futuristic hospital Bunker Hill, the story centres on young Silicon Valley tech billionaire James Bell (played by Augustus Prew) who builds the ultimate cutting-edge hospital that treats only the rarest medical mysteries. Lending credibility to this new venture is Dr Walter Wallace (Dermot Mulroney), a maverick surgeon who’s the first to discover that his boss’s mission is to take the bureaucracy out of medicine, use the most forward thinking technology practitioners and just save lives – including his own.

The cast also features Odette Annable, Reshma Shetty, Aaron Jennings, Ward Horton and Brenda Song.

Katims (Parenthood, Friday Night Lights) executive produces with David Semel and Michelle Lee for Universal Television Studios and CBS Television Studios. Distribution is handled by NBCUniversal International Distribution, with Universal Channel picking up the show in the UK.

pure-genius
Pure Genius has its roots in real and developing medical techniques

Renaud is a family-doctor-turned-TV-writer who left medicine to complete the Disney-ABC Writing Program in 2015/16. His first show was ABC’s Blood & Oil, before he joined the writers’ room of Pure Genius earlier this year.

And it was while reading the pilot script for the show, formerly known as Bunker Hill, that the medical drama stood out to him, particularly due to the similarities he shared with the lead character.

“I had a spinal cord injury when I was in high school and after that injury, I woke up in a hospital room with the doctor telling me I was never going to walk again. So I decided I was going to try to find a cure for paralysis,” Renaud reveals. “The fact I went to med school to find a cure for myself really spoke to me about James Bell. I definitely connected to James’ motivation [to use the hospital to find a cure for his own illness].

“I’m also a huge fan of Parenthood, Friday Night Lights and all of Jason’s work, so any opportunity to work with him, no matter what the show was, I would have snapped up. So it was just lucky he was getting into the medical drama game.”

This isn’t your usual medical drama, however. From the opening scenes of the pilot, it’s clear Bunker Hill is a very special hospital where all manner of technology and techniques are used to save patients’ lives by any means possible. But under Katims’ leadership, characters always come first when it comes to creating storylines for each episode.

“Jason is really a character person and cares about why patients are there and how an illness can impact their life in a positive and negative way,” Renaud says. “We’ll usually start with character stories and bring in a really cool technology, like the liver regeneration. Jason wanted to tell a story about whether two people can come together over a broken relationship and then we needed to find some medical way to tell that story. I found this interesting article about regenerating the livers of alcoholics – so what if the only person that could give someone a liver was an alcoholic? That research is actually being done in Edinburgh; everything on the show is really happening.”

Pure Genius 2
Maverick surgeon Dr Walter Wallace is played by Dermot Mulroney

So while everything shown on Pure Genius has its roots in reality, Renaud admits there have been occasions where some stories look further into the future than others.

“In the beginning, Jason would always ask if something was real because he didn’t want anything fake,” he continues. “Then we got to the point where he trusted us! Jason was very particular about everything being rooted in reality. The brain reading in episode one is definitely pushing that technology more than five minutes into the future. They’re doing brain-to-brain communication – that is definitely happening, at a very basic level. It’s a bit of a leap but it’s definitely happening.”

Bringing new medical procedures and techniques to the small screen isn’t just a job for the writers, however, as both production designer Steven Jordan and property master Jeff Johnson are tasked with creating whatever is in the script, with just days to complete the job before each episode starts filming.

“We have a lot of sets built that Steven’s designed but every episode has a new location,” Renaud notes. “There’s also a lot of props and medical technologies we give them and they have a week-and-a-half to turn around, so they read the script and have got to have spider silk screws or a liver to pull out of someone to put into someone else.

“For the props, we’ll usually give them examples of things in reality they can be based on and Jeff will go and put his interpretation on it for the Bunker Hill version. Sometimes there are things we’ve read about in a research paper and there’s no way to tell what something looks like. But then Jason and the director can weigh in on what something looks like. To me, as a young writer, it gets turned around incredibly efficiently and very fast.”

PG
Pure Genius is set in the fictitious Bunker Hill hospital

With Pure Genius joining a list of US medical dramas that boasts long-running series such as Grey’s Anatomy and daytime soap General Hospital as well as Code Black, Chicago Med and Mercy Street, among others, the genre continues to find compelling stories to tell against the backdrop of life-and-death situations.

And it’s for that very reason that Renaud believes hospital-set scripted series remain so popular among viewers.

“Not everyone’s been to space like in Battlestar Galactica but everybody has been touched by a health crisis, whether themselves or a family member,” he observes. “So I feel like these stories are relatable, the stakes are high, medical dramas tend to do well when lives get saved and there’s something about the hope that somebody will do everything they can to save your life. There’s a bit of wish fulfilment tucked in there.

“They’re not going anywhere. There will always be medical dramas because these are human stories, and they’re great stories to tell.”

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

US studios extend int’l footprint

Gone is a 12-part series adapted from Chelsea Cain’s novel One Kick
Gone is a 12-part series adapted from Chelsea Cain’s novel One Kick

About two years ago, the international scripted TV business started to express its concern that there was a shortage of US procedural dramas coming on to the market. With the trend towards limited series and increased emphasis on superhero/sci-fi, buyers in markets like France and Germany feared a gap.

A number of companies said they would address the shortfall, including NBCUniversal International Studios (NBCUIS), which formed a partnership with RTL (Germany) and TF1 (France) with the intention of creating US-style procedural dramas. This week, they delivered on their promise by greenlighting Gone, a 12-part series based on Chelsea Cain’s novel One Kick.

Gone, which will be broadcast in late 2017/early 2018, tells the story of Kit Lannigan, survivor of a child abduction case and Frank Booth, the FBI agent who rescued her. Determined never to fall victim again, Kick trains in martial arts and the use of firearms.

She finds her calling when Booth persuades her to join a task force dedicated to solving abductions and missing persons cases. Paired with former army intelligence officer John Bishop, Kick brings her unique understanding of the mind of a predator to the team.

Gone will be executive produced by Matt Lopez, JoAnn Alfano and Sara Colleton. All episodes will be written, cast and produced in the US.

Hilary Bevan Jones
Hilary Bevan Jones

RTL and TF1 will broadcast and distribute the series in their territories (German and French respectively) and NBCUniversal International Distribution will license rights for the US and the rest of the world on behalf of the partnership.

Michael Edelstein, president of NBCUIS, said: “We are all delighted to be moving forward so quickly on our first series. In Gone, Matt Lopez has created a fascinating character who we believe will connect with procedural audiences around the world. We are assembling a first-rate production team and look forward to future series with our partners.”

Fabrice Bailly, head of programmes and acquisition TF1 Group, said: “The collaborative relationship represents a new way of working, for both studios and European broadcasters, to achieve high-quality procedural dramas.”

Joerg Graf, exec VP of production and acquisition at RTL Deutschland, added: “TF1 and NBCUniversal International Studios share our view that tailor-made formats will meet the need of our viewers for high-quality crime dramas.”

While the project is a welcome development, one point of interest is that Gone’s 12-episode run is still shorter than a standard US procedural. The first season of Fox’s Lethal Weapon, for example, is 18 episodes, while ABC’s Quantico has received 22-episode orders in seasons one and two. So a 12-episode order still leaves open a questions over the volume of new procedural episodes such cross-border alliances can bring to market.

Crackle original Chosen has aired for four seasons
Crackle original Chosen has aired for four seasons

Another interesting story this week is the announcement that Fox Networks Group (FNG) Europe and Africa has commissioned its first original drama in the region. While it isn’t a procedural like Gone, it does illustrate the increasing level of US studio engagement in the international market (in our last column, we also reported how HBO Europe is increasing its slate of original dramas).

Called The Nine, the new FNG show is created by Matthew Parkhill and Simon Maxwell (American Odyssey) and produced by Hilary Bevan Jones (Close To The Enemy, State of Play). An eight-hour drama, it tells the story of an ex-spy “who is brought back into the game to avenge the death of his son, only to find himself at the heart of a covert intelligence war and a conspiracy to profit from spreading chaos throughout the Middle East.”

Maxwell and Parkhill said: “We wanted to tell a story set against the backdrop of our dangerous and uncertain times. The Nine unfolds through the eyes of a man caught between two versions of himself, the past and the present. The genre of an espionage thriller gives us the perfect opportunity to mix his personal story with the turbulence of an ever-changing geo-political landscape.”

UK indie Big Talk Productions is rebooting1970s sci-fi series Sapphire & Steel
UK indie Big Talk Productions is rebooting1970s sci-fi series Sapphire & Steel

The project was commissioned by Jeff Ford, senior VP of content development, and Sara Johnson, VP scripted drama for FNG, Europe and Africa, and will go into pre-production in the new year.

“Following the success we’ve had with our Fox global content, we made a commitment to develop drama for this region that has the potential to be a success worldwide,” said Ford.

Another story that showcases the increasing international clout of the US studios’ production operations is the news that Sony Pictures Television (SPT)’s on-demand platform Crackle has joined forces with Chinese streaming service iQIYI on a three-part Mandarin-language drama. The partners will create a new version of Chosen, a Crackle original that has aired for four seasons.

SPT’s Playmaker Media is producing with support from Screen NSW and the show will be shot entirely in Australia. Production begins in the spring with a launch due at the end of 2017.

The Ritual Bath is the first book in the Decker-Lazarus series
The Ritual Bath is the first book in the Decker-Lazarus series

The past week has also seen a number of production and development announcements flowing out of C21’s Content London event. For example, ITV Studios-owned indie Big Talk Productions confirmed that it is remaking sci-fi series Sapphire & Steel, with Luther creator Neil Cross attached to the project.

Also, screenwriter/director Tony Grisoni revealed that he is developing a drama set against the 1943 Allied liberation of Sicily, with UK broadcaster Channel 4 paying for script development.

In the US, meanwhile, Thunderbird Entertainment has teamed up with David Salzman (Dallas) to develop a TV series based on Faye Kellerman’s Decker-Lazarus series of mystery novels.

The initial development process will focus on The Ritual Bath, the first book in the Decker-Lazarus series. The story follows a tough LAPD detective and a widowed mother of two who witnesses a brutal crime and becomes embroiled in solving it.

Nickelodeon has greenlit a third season of School of Rock, based on the Jack Black movie
Nickelodeon has greenlit a third season of School of Rock, based on the Jack Black movie

Also in the US, Nickelodeon has greenlit a third season of School of Rock, a tween/teen series based on the 2003 cult movie of the same name. Originally ordered straight-to-series, the show was given a rapid second season order of 13 episodes and has been attracting an average of around 1.4 million viewers.

The third season, which will go into production in 2017, will have 20 episodes, suggesting Nickelodeon is very happy with the show. School of Rock was the first series order for Paramount TV and is the first to go to a third season. The studio has also enjoyed success with Epix show Berlin Station and USA Network’s Shooter.

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