Hell on Wheels producer Entertainment One is proving to be a nimble operator as it bends to the changing television landscape.
While the independent film market is struggling in the face of big budget blockbusters, it is proving to be a source of inspiration for the television arm of Entertainment One (eOne).
The global production giant still plays the traditional US network game, with series orders for both Kiefer Sutherland-starrer Designated Survivor and Conviction at ABC.
But it is also adopting an indie filmmaking approach by developing, financing and packaging projects in-house before taking them out to the market. A case in point is “polyromantic” comedy drama You Me Her, ordered by DirecTV’s Audience Network, which sees husband and wife Greg Poehler and Rachel Blanchard embark on a three-way affair with an escort (Priscilla Faia).
“That was shot as an indie picture,” explains Pancho Mansfield, president of global scripted programming at eOne. “All the scripts were written in advance and every episode has the same director. They shot 10 episodes, 350 pages, in 35 days and it looks great and feels like a feature romantic comedy. It’s just five hours long instead of 90 minutes.”
In the increasingly saturated television market, it’s not just networks feeling the competitive strain but producers and studios too. “So it’s critical for us to control our IP and, at times, develop internally,” Mansfield continues.
“If it’s the right idea, we will write scripts internally and package them. A show like HBO’s True Detective is part of a new category of feature TV, where you have movie stars coming to do television and it’s all put together and goes direct to series. It’s becoming more and more common, as the feature business isn’t satisfying for a lot of talent in that industry.”
eOne, whose credits include Saving Hope, Rogue and Bitten, partnered with Sienna Films on Cardinal (pictured top), a serialised drama for CTV based on the novel Forty Words for Sorrow by Giles Blunt. The show stars Billy Campbell and Karine Vanasse as a pair of detectives attempting to uncover what happened to a 13-year-old girl whose body is found in an abandoned mine.
“TNT, USA Network – all these networks that used to have blue-sky, comfort-food, closed-ended episodic procedurals are out of that business,” Mansfield says. “They’re all into serialised provocative drama that has to have some hook to make them stand out.”
But the studio is also seeking to meet the needs of international buyers that are no longer sated by content produced for US networks, especially when it comes to procedurals. One example is Private Eyes, which stars Jason Priestley as an ex-pro athlete who turns to solving crimes alongside his partner, played by Cindy Sampson.
John Morayniss, CEO of eOne Television, notes: “There are not a lot of procedurals being originally commissioned in the US anymore. That will change, it goes in cycles, but we know the international market still wants them. So if we have the opportunity to produce one of those light procedurals you’re not getting out of the US, we’re going to do it.
“What’s interesting about a lot of those shows is they end up being reverse-engineered back in the US. It’s not that networks don’t want them, they’re just not motivated to develop them in the same way anymore. So you just have to be nimble enough to know who your target buyers are, both in the US and internationally, and hopefully you’ll have the right talent to make it commercial, sellable and desirable.”
Mansfield adds: “Channels are looking for the best programming that makes sense for their networks. We’re seeing networks doing things in the US that we didn’t expect. We expected niche programming from SundanceTV but now it’s broadening out and certainly the digital platforms can do it. It is challenging for certain networks that still rely on ratings, but for studios, developers and producers it’s a very exciting time.”