Tag Archives: Øyevitne

Eyes on Adi

Based on Norwegian drama Øyevitne, Eyewitness explores a grisly crime from the point of view of the witnesses. When two innocent teenaged boys secretly meet up in the forest, they bear witness to a shooting and barely escape with their lives. Desperate to keep their relationship a secret and in fear of being found by the perpetrator, they remain silent – but soon learn that when you witness a horrible event it changes everything, forever.

Creator Adi Hasak tells DQ why he was intimidated by the original series, how he adapted it for US audiences and why he believes showrunners must become more entrepreneurial as he looks to Europe for new series ideas.

Eyewitness is produced for USA Network by Universal Cable Productions and is distributed by NBCUniversal International TV Distribution.

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Eyes on the prize: USA Network reworks Nordic noir

Norwegian thriller Øyevitne gets a US makeover when Eyewitness launches on USA Network. DQ speaks to showrunner Adi Hasak about translating the original series for a new audience.

It’s fair to say that US adaptations of international dramas have a less than stellar success rate.

It’s a fact that hadn’t escaped Adi Hasak when he pitched Eyewitness, a 10-part drama based on Norwegian series Øyevitne that debuts on USA Network on October 16.

Adi Hasak
Adi Hasak

“I was very aware of the rate of success translating a format,” he admits. “The only one that’s really worked is Homeland, which is based on [Israeli prisoner-of-war thriller] Hatufim, but they’re two separate shows. Short of comparing the premise, they’re very different.

“The one thing we have is an extraordinary format. It was absolutely spectacular and the story is so good. So early on, I decided three things: to be true to the format, to be smart enough to adapt it for an American audience and to make it mine.”

The story begins when two teenage boys meet up in a forest, only to witness a shooting. Desperate to keep their relationship a secret and in fear of being found by the gunman, they remain silent while the local sheriff clashes with the FBI in her attempts to find the killer.

Ordered straight-to-series by USA, it is produced by Universal Cable Productions (UCP) and distributed by NBCUniversal.

“What I loved about it was there are two tentpoles to the show – a boy coming out and searching for his identity and the local sheriff who has come to this small town and is looking for her own identity,” Hasak explains. “The other thing that was remarkable is, five minutes in, the audience knows who the killer is, so this is not a whodunnit. We know exactly who the killer is.”

Showrunner Hasak, who has written all 10 episodes, Americanised the story by simplifying several plot points, such as including one biker gang instead of two and removing the police hierarchy found in Øyevitne.

But with dead space now to fill, he sought to spend more time with the characters and explore storylines that had only been hinted at in the Norwegian series – all of which made the writing process a very personal experience for Hasak.

“In the original, it’s alluded to the fact the sheriff was a detective in Oslo – but why did she move to this small town?” he says. “So I gave her post-traumatic stress disorder – she had a very bad experience as a cop in Buffalo where we set her backstory. I suffered from some of those same symptoms, serving in an Airborne unit in the 1980s in Lebanon, and being from Israel and surrounded by cycles of violence, I was extremely intrigued by how an act of violence affects people around it.

Julianne Nicholson
Julianne Nicholson as Sheriff Helen Torrance

“It became a very personal narrative for me and an experience unlike anything I’ve ever had before. But it was an intense few months. It was like writing a novel – 500 pages. It was both frightening and a remarkable experience.”

The challenge of making a thriller without a whodunnit element meant Hasak relied heavily on the original story, marking out three to five plot points in each episode he wanted to hit, but leaving room to make the story his own.

“It’s very important for me to be respectful to the original creator, Jarl Emsell Larsen, and I wasn’t just using the concept and running with it,” Hasak says. “I wanted to lean hard on a lot of what he had done but I wasn’t focused on the thriller and the murder. This really is a story about compassion, family and love. We had several conversations early on where I asked him why he had made several decisions. I told him some of the changes I had in mind. But once I went into the creative process, our communication came to an end.”

When it comes to adapting a foreign-language drama for the US, Hasak says there is the Homeland route, where producers take a show’s premise and make it their own, or the original can simply be translated into English. Eyewitness, he says, is a compromise that is extremely respectful of Øyevitne and yet isn’t intimidated by it.

The show centres on a pair of teenage boys who witness a murder
The show centres on a pair of teenage boys who witness a murder

“When I had to look for original things to do, I wandered back to Øyevitne and looked for clues,” he continues. “We give the sheriff a huge backstory with PTSD but in the original, it almost happens in passing. One character says to another, ‘Wasn’t she a cop in Oslo and something happened to her?” and it’s never discussed again. We wanted to look at that and find out why this big detective is suddenly in a small town. The flip side is her marriage. It was extremely important to me to make this a study of a marriage under the clouds of this thriller/mystery and a wife getting dragged into a case and away from her husband.”

Hasak is also the creator of Shades of Blue, the NBC crime drama starring Jennifer Lopez and Ray Liotta. And while that show has a cast of movie stars and is shot in Brooklyn, Eyewitness couldn’t be more different. Commissioned by USA from just the original format and a script, Hasak took the production to northern Ontario, where he had 77 days to film the series.

“A producer once told me that if you do this long enough, the Gods smile at you,” Hasak says. “That’s what happened – something very special happened on this shoot. It was extremely challenging because it was a lower-budget show but somehow we made it. When you’re limited you actually rise to the occasion and do your best work.

Eyewitness is a remake of Norwegian series Øyevitne

“Julianne Nicholson [who plays Sheriff Helen Torrance] is simply an artist at the height of her creative powers and she’s an inspiration to the cast and crew. And the first two episodes were directed by Catherine Hardwicke [Twilight], who is one of those rare directors who is artistic and historically has worked extremely well with young actors. So we were sent to make this little thriller in northern Ontario and came back with this special, unique, character-driven show we think is going to do very well.”

With its closed-ended story, Øyevitne was a one-and-done – but Hasak believes Eyewitness can capitalise on the current trend for anthology series, meaning the show could run for many seasons.

“When I sold it to USA and UCP, I sold it as a crime anthology much like American Crime Story and American Horror Story,” he reveals. “Each year could be a huge story with an eyewitness. In America, we have a love of the voyeuristic nature of witnessing crime. You can go back to the movies Witness and Rear Window. If this show works as we hope it does, you know you’ll be seeing a show with an eyewitness but that will be the only thing it has in common [with the preceding season]. If there is a season two, I was thinking of setting it in an inner-city, so I think that’s the direction the franchise would go in.”

Whether Hasak would again write every episode is another matter. Admitting his wife wasn’t happy that he took on such an undertaking, he jokes that showrunning is definitely a job for more than one person.

“It’s a 24/7 job but it’s extremely rewarding,” he adds. “In features, the writer is a side note but in TV, it’s so different. Eyewitness has been the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had. The writer in TV really does become the auteur of the show. That was always something I have looked forward to doing and it was a remarkable experience.”

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Scripted formats show writers’ double vision

Hardly a week goes by without some new development on the scripted format front. So here we explore 12 of the shows that have been adapted – successfully and unsuccessfully – for the US, and the writing teams behind them.

Where images have been included, the original series is on the left and its adaptation on the right.

Broadchurch-GracepointBroadchurch was a big hit for ITV in the UK when season one aired in 2013. It then sold around the world and was adapted by Fox in the US as Gracepoint, with the same lead actor (David Tennant). The UK version, which then had a moderately successful second season, was created and written by Chris Chibnall – who is now working on a third and final run before taking over on the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The 10-part US version was set up by Chibnall before being handed over to Anya Epstein and Dan Futterman, who wrote all of the remaining episodes except for number six (Jason Kim). Gracepoint was pretty well reviewed by critics and sold to other English-speaking markets. But it was not renewed after failing to secure a sizeable audience (average ratings were around 3.5 to four million).

Collision, created by UK writer Anthony Horowitz (Foyle’s War), attracted an audience of seven million when it aired on ITV in the UK during 2009. In November last year it was picked up by NBC as a 10-part series. Interestingly, Horowitz will be the showrunner for the US version, with CSI exec producer Carol Mendelsohn on board as partner. Mendelsohn is also exec producer of Game of Silence (see below), suggesting she is now regarded as a safe pair of hands for format adaptations after her many years working on CSI.

The original version of Collision comprised five episodes but Horowitz says he has no concerns about the project being extended because he believes the storyline will benefit from the extra episodes. Sometimes formats suffer from being stretched in this way.

Forbrydelsen-KillingForbrydelsen (The Killing) is a Danish series (DR/ZDF Enterprises) created by Soren Sveistrup. Active across three seasons, it became an international hit and made its star Sofie Gråbøl a household name. It was adapted by AMC in 2011 and has so far run to four seasons – despite being cancelled a couple of times along the way. It was saved by Netflix, which came on board as a partner for season three and then took over the show in its entirety for season four.

The US version was developed by Veena Sud, whose previous big credit was CBS procedural Cold Case. Sud shared writing duties with a large team, including the likes of Nic Pizzolatto (True Detective) and Jeremy Doner (Damages). She stayed with the show through season four, by which time writing duties were shared with Dan Nowak, Sean Whitesell, Nicole Yorkin and Dawn Prestwich (the latter two a writing team whose credits include Chicago Hope, FlashForward and The Education of Max Bickford).

Hatufim-HomelandHatufim, aka Prisoners of War, is perhaps the most celebrated example of a successful scripted format. Created in Israel by Gideon Raff, it was adapted as Homeland for Showtime in the US by Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa. Five seasons of the US show have aired so far, with a sixth ordered in December 2015.

As is common with US series, there is a big team involved in writing a show like Homeland. The latest season of 12 episodes involved 11 writers altogether. Key names include Chip Johannessen, who has been involved with the show since the start. A new name on the season six team sheet was David Fury, who has worked on an array of titles ranging from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Hannibal.

Janus is proof that US networks are looking further afield in search of great ideas. A crime story originated in Austria, it was picked up by ABC last autumn. Kevin O’Hare, who has written pilots for ABC and Syfy, is adapting the thriller and writing the pilot. The original version was written by Jacob Groll and Sarah Wassermair.

Prior to this seven-part serial, Groll was best known for documentary The Sound of Hollywood, while Wassermair’s credits include musicals for children’s theatre. However, the pair have also been working together on ORF’s popular crime series Soko Donau.

JanetheVirginJuana La Virgen is a Venezuelan telenovela that was adapted for The CW network in the US as Jane the Virgin. The original was created by Perla Farias and the US version by Jennie Snyder Urman, whose writing efforts are supported by a large team (the show has 22 episodes per season).

As evident from the titles above, a lot of adaptations don’t get further than the end of their first season. So the fact that this one has just been greenlit for a third run is a notable achievement. Although season two ratings are down compared with season one, the show has settled into a stable 0.9 to one million range.

Revenants-ReturnedLes Revenants was hailed as evidence that French TV drama had become a force to be reckoned with. A hit for Canal+ in 2012, the format was snapped up by A&E in the US – where it was remade as The Returned. The French version (based on a film) was created by Fabrice Gobert, who then wrote the screenplay for season one with Emmanuel Carrere and Fabien Adda (with writing credits also going to Camille Fontaine and Nathalie Saugeon).

A second season was aired at the end of 2015, with Audrey Fouche joining Gobert and Adda as a key writer (also credited on one episode was Coline Abert). Despite being led by showrunner Carlton Cuse alongside Raelle Tucker (True Blood), the US version failed to secure a second-season renewal following lacklustre ratings.

Øyevitne is a Norwegian crime thriller that is being adapted as Eyewitness for USA Network. In the US it has received a 10-episode, straight-to-series order. The US version comes from Shades of Blue creator Adi Hasak, who wrote it and will serve as showrunner. The original series creator is Jarl Emsell Larsen, who will executive produce the US version.

The series explores a grisly crime from the point of view of the eyewitnesses, two boys involved in a clandestine gay affair. While the Nordics have been getting a lot of attention in recent times, this is actually the first Norwegian scripted show to be adapted for the US.

Penoza-RedWidowPenoza is a popular Dutch drama created by Pieter Bart Korthuis and Diederik van Rooijen for KRO-NCRV. The show has run for four seasons (2010-2015), with a fifth, commissioned in February, set to air in September 2017. The format was acquired by ABC in the US in 2012 and ran for one season during 2013 with the name Red Widow.

The US version performed poorly and wasn’t renewed, dropping from 7.1 million at the start of its run to 3.47 million at the end. That was a rare blip for writer Melissa Rosenberg, whose credits include the entire Twilight saga of movies, Showtime’s Dexter and Netflix hit series Jessica Jones.

RakeRake is an Australian television series that centres on a brilliant but self-destructive lawyer. It was created by Peter Duncan, who then shared writing duties with Andrew Knight across the first three series. A fourth season will be broadcast this year on ABC Australia.

The show was adapted for Fox in the US in 2013, with Peter Duncan at the helm of a writing team of five. However, the show didn’t rate well and was moved around the schedule before being cancelled.

ShamelessShameless: Company Pictures produced Shameless for Channel 4 in the UK before it was picked up as a format by premium pay TV channel Showtime. The UK version was the brainchild of Paul Abbott, who also wrote a number of episodes. Other high-profile names involved included Danny Brocklehurst, who is now enjoying some success with Sky1’s The Five. Another prominent writer among many was Ed McCardie (Spotless).

Abbott was involved in setting up the US version, which may explain why the show has been a success, with six seasons already being aired. Key names in terms of transitioning the show included John Wells (ER, The West Wing) and Nancy Pimental – both of whom are still heavily involved, alongside a team of five writers for the latest season. Interestingly, the last season of the UK version also used a team approach, with eight writers penning 14 episodes.

Suskunlar-GameofSilenceSuskunlar is a Turkish drama that first aired on Show TV in 2012 and was then sold in its completed form to 30 countries. It was written by Pinar Bulut, who has also written a number of projects with her husband Kerem Deren, including fellow international hit Ezel.

The show was picked up by NBC in the US and has just started airing under the title Game of Silence. The pilot for the US version was written by David Hudgins, whose credits include Everwood and Parenthood. The second episode was penned by Wendy West (The Blacklist and Dexter). Hudgins has expressed a desire to take the show on into a second season, but early ratings suggest that it will need to do better for that to happen. After attracting 6.4 million viewers for episode one, it dropped 39% to 3.9 million for episode two.

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Natpe’s Latin flavour

Loaded is coming to
Televisa is adapting Keshet’s Loaded

In 2011, US programme market Natpe moved from Las Vegas to Miami to be closer to the Latin American TV community. So it’s fitting that Natpe 2016 (held between January 19 and 21 last week) provided a platform for so many Latin American scripted TV announcements.

Pick of the bunch was the news that Brazilian media giant Globo is moving into Spanish-language production with a thriller called Supermax. Although Globo has previously coproduced Spanish-language shows with the likes of Azteca in Mexico and Telemundo in the US, Supermax marks the first time it has fully funded a drama in Spanish.

The 10-part series, being produced in-house with Argentinian filmmaker Daniel Burman as showrunner, follows eight characters who travel to a remote prison to participate in a reality show. Although production doesn’t start until April, it has already been picked up by Azteca for broadcast in Mexico.

Commenting, Globo executive director of international business Raphael Corrêa Netto said: “We’ve taken a strategic look at the market and worked out how to leverage our creative capabilities. We wanted to develop and produce (this show) based on our thinking for the global market – from script development to production and design.”

In other Latino news, Mexican media conglomerate Televisa has revealed that it is to adapt four Keshet International Israeli dramas from the original Hebrew into Spanish. One of them is a title we discussed last week, Loaded, which is also being remade by Channel 4 in the UK. The other three are yet to be selected but will be produced over the course of the next three years.

Blue Demon
Blue Demon promises an ‘intimate look’ at a Mexican wrestling legend

Televisa is also involved in a coproduction with Sony Pictures Television (SPT) that will focus on the life of Alejandro Muñoz Moreno, a Mexican wrestler better known as the Blue Demon. The 65×60’drama, simply called Blue Demon, will air across Latin America on Televisa platforms and before being distributed worldwide jointly by SPT and Televisa.

The show is the latest title to come out of a coproduction alliance formed by the two partners in 2014. Angelica Guerra, senior VP and MD of production, Latin America and US Hispanic for SPT, said: “There is a growing demand in the region for stories about real people and events, a trend that started in Colombia and has made its way to Mexico. Blue Demon will offer audiences an intimate look at one of (freestyle wrestling’s) greatest legends, exploring a complex and turbulent world that few knew about.”

Also coming out of Miami was news that producer Ben Silverman is teaming up with Eric Newman, the showrunner behind Netflix hit Narcos, on a series about Juan Esteban Aristizábal Vásquez, the Colombian singing sensation better known as Juanes. The show, whose English title is Chasing the Sun, will follow Juanes’s early life in Colombia through to his arrival as an aspiring musician in Miami.

Jaunes, aka Juan Esteban Aristizábal Vásquez
Jaunes, aka Juan Esteban Aristizábal Vásquez

The goal is to produce an edgy series, with the press announcement saying it will “stylistically be in the vein of an Entourage-meets-Narcos bilingual drama.” No network is attached as yet, but Silverman has a good track record for bringing Latin American ideas to the world with series such as Jane the Virgin and Ugly Betty. Note that it is being set us as a bilingual series.

In other greenlight news this week, USA Network has given a straight-to-series, 10-episode order to Eyewitness, a drama based on Norwegian crime thriller Øyevitne. The US version will be created by Adi Hasak, whose credits include Shades of Blue. He will work alongside Norwegian series creator Jarl Emsell Larsen.

Øyevitne, which aired on NRK, was one of the most talked-about Scandinavian shows of 2015. It focuses on two gay teenage boys who secretly meet up in a forest. During one such liaison, they witness a shooting and barely escape with their lives. Desperate to keep their relationship a secret and in fear of being found by the perpetrator, they remain silent.

Eyewitness (Øyevitne) originally aired on NRK

Commenting on the decision to pick up the show, Alex Sepiol, senior VP of original scripted programming at USA, said: “Eyewitness takes a horrific crime and, in compelling fashion, uses it to examine a whole network of unique character relationships. We were immediately drawn to the source material, and Adi has found a very smart way to adapt it into a universal and engaging story.”

The dark tone of the show fits a broader agenda at USA, which is reinventing itself as a more exciting destination for young viewers. Alongside the Eyewitness project, it has Golden Globe-winning hacker drama Mr Robot and Carlton Cuse-produced series Colony. Earlier this week, it also announced another new drama called Falling Water. This series centres on three strangers who realise they are dreaming separate parts of the same dream that has major implications for problems in each of their lives.

“Today’s world demands shows that challenge and reward the audience in spectacular ways,” said Jeff Wachtel, president and chief content officer at USA Network’s parent company NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment. “Falling Water is the type of show that can move the needle of popular culture with its thrilling exploration of the dark side of the mind.”

Netflix has commissioned a series based on the novel Altered Carbon

Meanwhile, Netflix, now up to 75 million subscribers worldwide, continues to commission new shows. Its latest addition is a 10-part sci-fi series based on Richard K Morgan’s book Altered Carbon. Set in the 25th century, Morgan’s novel imagines a world where the human mind has been digitised and the soul is transferrable from one body to the next. The series is being produced by Skydance Television and written by Laeta Kalogridis. Kalogridis’s previous credits include the screenplays for the movies Shutter Island and Terminator Genisys.

Elsewhere, there have been rumours circulating in the last few days that Fox in the US would love to commission a follow-up to its six-part X-Files reboot, which debuted last night in the US. However, the big obstacle to that appears to be scheduling the talent.

In an interview with Variety, male lead David Duchovny said: “Gillian (Anderson, co-star) and I have talked about (doing more episodes), and then we just stop because we get to 2023 and we still haven’t found a date we can do it. It’s like, ‘Let’s just wait and see what happens after this,’ and then we can start to talk seriously about whether we can make it work again.” Possibly, if the ratings are good enough to justify it, there might be room to squeeze in another short run of six or eight episodes.

Will we get more X-Files?
Will we get more X-Files?

Finally, the big story on the drama acquisition front is that pay TV platform Sky has done a deal with CBS that means its Sky Atlantic channel will become the exclusive home to Showtime’s original drama series across the UK, Ireland, Germany, Austria and Italy. The agreement covers all new and future series including Billions, which premiered strongly in the US this week, and the forthcoming revival of cult drama Twin Peaks.

Commenting on the deal, Sky content MD Gary Davey said: “This is one of the most important content deals Sky has ever agreed, cementing Sky’s position as the market leader in Europe for world-class drama. The agreement means our customers can enjoy an incredible slate of upcoming new dramas and can also explore hundreds of hours of amazing series such as Dexter, Californication, The Affair and House of Lies on demand from the back catalogue.”

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