Tag Archives: NBCUniversal International Networks

Turbulent times

Having made her name stateside in The Good Wife, British actor Archie Panjabi takes the lead in new thriller Departure. She speaks to DQ about her role in the series, being an executive producer and working in Hollywood.

For those afraid of flying, the first nine minutes of Departure are probably best avoided. After a succession of passengers strap in for a red-eye flight between New York and London, the tension rises rapidly as turbulence and an almighty explosion hit the aircraft somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, causing it to disappear from the radar.

Accident investigator Kendra Malley (Archie Panjabi) is subsequently ordered by her boss, Howard Lawson (Christopher Plummer), to investigate the disappearance of Flight 716. What follows is a twisting, pacy thriller that sees Kendra try to solve the mystery of why the plane vanished – terrorism, electrical faults and pilot error are all under suspicion – and the fate of its 256 passengers.

It was a setup that instantly appealed to Panjabi, best known for her six-season stint on CBS legal drama The Good Wife. “It was fun, it was thrilling. It’s a good script,” she tells DQ at the Monte Carlo TV Festival. “They sent me all six episodes, which is a rarity, and I couldn’t put them down. That’s a good sign! If I’m reading it, I want to know what happens and that’s the hook for the show. It’s about something deeply fascinating, particularly today, and I wanted to know what happened. Christopher was already attached to it, it’s a good story and it’s reflective of our time. I thought, ‘Let’s do it!’”

As well as attempting to uncover what happened to the plane, Kendra is also battling her grief over the death of her husband, which had seen her take a leave from work – only to be brought back to the coalface when Howard summons her to work on this new case.

Archie Panjabi as Kendra in Departure

“That’s also what drew me to it,” the actor explains. “On the one hand ,it is investigative because you want to find out the answers but, on the other hand, you have her story running in parallel. She’s gone through this awful accident. She hasn’t really dealt with her grief and this forces her to deal with it.

“That’s what gave me an added bonus to do the story. It wasn’t just about the plane; it was about how she, in trying to bring closure to the victims’ families, is faced with her own truths and has to deal with that, which is quite difficult for her because she’s quite good at helping other people but not dealing with her own past. You really get to see that in the later episodes where there’s some really quite heavy, emotional stuff.”

At the heart of the London-set story is the “great big wheel of suspects,” as Panjabi describes it, with numerous potential causes of the plane’s disappearance placed under the microscope by a supporting cast of characters played by Kris Holden-Tied, Tamara Duarte, Mark Rendall, Peter Mensah and Claire Forlani. Rebecca Liddiard plays Madelyn, one of the passengers who may be linked to the mystery.

“You just don’t know,” Panjabi says of the reason behind the aircraft’s fate. “But just when you think you’ve found evidence that points to one culprit, you find something else and that wheel just gets bigger and bigger. It gets quite scary in terms of what causes the flight to disappear.”

To play Kendra, Panjabi had to brush up on her aviation knowledge, including getting to grips with ACAS, the Airborne Collision Avoidance System. But the technicalities of Kendra’s day job are always balanced with the pressures the character faces at home, dealing with the loss of her husband and the ongoing conflict with her stepson.

Christopher Plummer (left) is among the British actor’s co-stars

The British actor’s role isn’t merely confined to the screen, however, as Panjabi is also an executive producer, working alongside director TJ Scott and production companies Shaftesbury in Canada and the UK’s Greenpoint Productions. She describes the partnership behind the scenes as a collaborative affair, where her ideas were taken on board and she was consulted about potential changes. “That made it a lot more fun and the way TV should be,” she says. “It didn’t feel like I had my EP hat on. It just felt like you could talk about ideas and the direction of the script.

“I was very open because there’s so much about making TV I don’t know. So for me, it was a very educational lesson. I feel like I come with the character study and instinctive stuff and that just adds to all the other wealth of talent you have.”

Panjabi built her career with roles in British series such as The Bill, Life on Mars and Silent Witness before heading to the US and joining the cast of The Good Wife in 2009. She went on to appear as investigator Kalinda Sharma in more than 130 episodes before she left the show in 2015. She has since starred in NBC drama Blindspot and returned to the UK for ITV thriller Next of Kin.

The actor says it was a dream come true to land work in Hollywood, noting: “As great as the British industry is, and I love it, Hollywood is just the ultimate for every actor. When I went there, I had no expectations but I was so excited to go. What’s really nice is you also get a lot more recognition in England so you can come back and still work.”

Discussing The Good Wife, Panjabi says she was “blessed” to work on the show and loved playing Kalinada for six years. “I was allowed to have an input on my character and she was just so fun to play because she was so mysterious,” she adds.

Panjabi spent six years playing Kalinda Sharma in the Good Wife

The strength of the British system, she says, is that the director is the “captain” of the production, rather than the hierarchy of producers more commonly found in the US. Her next production, HBO limited series I Know This Much is True, is led by writer/director Derek Cianfrance.

“I love that because, visually and creatively, he’s got the power to work with the actors,” she says of the series, which stars Mark Ruffalo as identical twins in a story about betrayal, sacrifice and forgiveness. “But when you have a whole hierarchy and you have to ask permission for every creative change, I think you lose some of the magic. Some of the more successful shows are going to the British model where you’re just working with the director. I love that way of working. It was a bit like that on Departure. TJ was the captain.”

Departure, which is created by Vincent Shiao with Malcolm MacRury as showrunner, was filmed across six weeks in Toronto, with further location shooting in London. “We had plane crashes, a submersible, a car crash – there are so many things that happened. I don’t know how we did that in 40 days. But TJ was always very calm and willing to adapt and compromise and chill. It was a really fun shoot,” Panjabi says.

With recent real-life disasters generating headlines about aviation security and safety around the world, Departure certainly taps into a topical subject. The actor describes the series as “unique” and notes that while a plane crash is “everybody’s worst fear,” the series does offer some hope to viewers in the end. “I just think a series like this has not been done,” she continues. “We’re witnessing the families and what they go through and how it also affects someone investigating it and how they deal with the politics of that, because you have the government on your shoulders, the press, the victims’ families – how do you cope with that?”

Departure will air on NBCUniversal International Networks across Europe and Africa, plus 13th Street in France, Spain and Poland, following deals with distributor Red Arrow Studios International. It is also due to air on Canada’s Global TV next year.

Now three episodes into its run on Universal TV in the UK, the show is proving to be intensely watchable, which proves Panjabi’s attitude to picking scripts is on the money: “I just read something and think instinctively, as a viewer, would I watch it? It’s all about the people, the character and the script.”

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Investigating The Murders

The Murders, an eight-part Canadian police procedural, stars Jessica Lucas (Gotham, Cloverfield) as rookie homicide detective Kate Jameson on the hunt for a mysterious killer who uses music for destructive ends.

In this DQTV interview held at Canneseries, Lucas explains why she was drawn to play Jameson, who she describes as a strong, smart detective who is also deeply flawed.

She also reflects on taking the lead in a series that celebrates diversity, her dual role as an executive producer and actor, and why she felt empowered to bring her own ideas to the series.

The Murders is produced by Muse Entertainment for CityTV and distributed by APC Studios. NBCUniversal International Networks acquired the series for its channels across Europe and Africa.

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Music to die for

Canadian police procedural The Murders puts music front and centre as a detective tries to make amends for the mistake that led to a colleague’s death. DQ speaks to showrunner Damon Vignale.

Since it was first released by Lefty Frizzell in 1959, country ballad Long Black Veil has been covered by performers including Johnny Cash, Nick Cave, Bruce Springsteen and Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger.

Sixty years later, it is now set for another outing in Canadian crime drama The Murders. But the song doesn’t simply provide the soundtrack to the opening episode – it plays a pivotal role in the plot.

In fact, Long Black Veil was the origin point for the whole series, owing to the fact it is described as a ‘murder ballad,’ a song that describes a killing. In this case, the lyrics tell a story from the point of view of an executed man falsely accused of murder. He refuses to give an alibi due to the fact that, on the night of the killing, he was sleeping with his best friend’s wife and would rather die than admit the truth.

Damon Vignale

“Something about it just led to me thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting if there was a serial killer who was marrying music to his crimes?’” says showrunner, creator and executive producer Damon Vignale. “So the first episode essentially opens with that exact storyline. We have a character who’s accused of murder, he’s brought into the police station and his alibi proves false. As they investigate, they realise he was with his best friend’s wife. So he’s cleared but he ends up dead and they find a song on his cellphone that was texted to him, and it’s Long Black Veil.”

That became the launchpad for music to play a key role in each episode, with a different song used each time to tie into the theme of that particular story. And it certainly makes for a different type of crime drama.

Solving the crimes is rookie homicide detective Kate Jameson, played by Jessica Lucas. Set in Vancouver, the episodic case-of-the-week drama follows Jameson as she searches for redemption in her investigative work after her negligence causes a tragedy. In the pilot episode, Jameson partners with Detective Mike Huntley (Lochlyn Munro) as they navigate the case of a mysterious serial killer who uses music for destructive ends. The first episode also introduces a serialised story that will run across the eight-part season.

The series is produced by Muse Entertainment for Canada’s Citytv and distributed by About Premium Content. NBCUniversal International Networks has already pre-bought the series for its channels across Europe and Africa.

The Murders opens with Kate, the daughter of a homicide detective and an ex-lawyer who is now running for mayor. Justice runs in her blood. So when she leaves a gun in her car and it ends up being used in the murder of her partner, events spiral out of control.

“I just thought it would be really interesting to have a character who is all about being the best cop she can be and right out of the gate there’s this big stumbling block that could ruin her career,” Vignale says. “How does she navigate that and what guilt does she carry with that throughout the series? She does carry this feeling of responsibility, this failure that she’s responsible for her partner’s death, and is constantly trying to find retribution in her cases.”

The Murders stars Lochlyn Munro and Jessica Lucas

The show also explores Kate’s familial background. Vignale says she was written as a biracial character – her mother is caucasian, her father is black – because that’s the showrunner’s own background. “There’s often a dialogue about black and white but I rarely hear stuff talked about in the grey area, where you’re not white, you’re not black, you’re just living your life. I thought it would be interesting to explore that in this character,” he continues. “We don’t go heavily into it but we certainly don’t shy away from it.”

In casting Kate, the production team sought out Lucas, who Vignale says was ready to step into a lead role after stints on Gotham and Gracepoint. “There’s a list of actors who are at that place in their career where they’re ready to take the lead of a show and we felt pretty strongly that Jessica was at that place where she can carry a show. You don’t know until you get in there and start working and looking at the edits, and she is strong. I’m really pleased. She really is the face of the show and carries it. I’m really excited for people to see it.”

The Murders marks the first time Vignale has taken up the showrunner role, having watched and learned from others including Simon Barry (Ghost Wars, Continuum), Dennis Heaton (Motive) and Bruce Smith (19-2). While juggling duties in the writers room, on set and in the edit, he sees the biggest part of the job as setting the tone in terms of both the story and in production.

In the writers room, “we really start on plot,” Vignale says. “Once we have that, we start to look at what themes we can use that relate to our characters. So that our characters and this plot are now working together. Those things are at the forefront for me. Then of course, you want really great twists and misdirects, you want to surprise people, and we do try to put our investigators in a bit of danger. Then the crime drama gets across into that thriller aspect, which I think is exciting and I try to push into a show as much as I can.

The series launches on Canada’s Citytv today

“A lot of the time it’s just about inspiring the best in the work and in people, which can be a challenging endeavour,” he continues. “Simon told me there’s going to be a lot of noise, and what you have to decide is what you’re going to listen to and what you’re not. What he suggested is you focus on your writers, directors, actors, editors and the music. You focus on those things because when you watch the show, they all have to do with what you see and hear. So put all your attention there and just hire great people and let them to do what they do.”

That being said, as a showrunner, “you really are thrown into the middle of a circus,” Vignale admits. “There are jugglers and people on the high wire. It really does feel like that, and you’re trying to make it all work and flow so the audience has a good time.

“There’s always a challenge around budget. A cop show costs money and, to make it real, you need cars, police, a corner van. You need all the stuff that goes with that. It’s a balance so when you watch the show it feels big but, at the same time, you’re driving the story through it so it’s achievable in production.”

Ahead of The Murders’ launch on Citytv today, Vignale is already developing scripts for a potential second season. Should he get the green light, he already has a plan in place for a five-season run, with each season exploring themes around one of the five senses. If season one is about sound, season two would look at touch and so on.

In a television landscape where crime dramas still dominate and hunger for episodic procedurals has been overshadowed by trends for binge-watching and serialised storylines, The Murders and its musically themed plots will likely have viewers singing for more.

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