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Lorre parks in hall of fame

Chuck Lorre
Chuck Lorre

Chuck Lorre, the creative force behind hit comedies such as The Big Bang Theory, Mom, Mike & Molly and Two and a Half Men, is to be inducted into the NAB Broadcasting Hall of Fame.

Commenting on the decision, NAB exec VP of Television Marcellus Alexander said: “An artist in the prime of his career, Chuck Lorre is a legendary television writer and producer. His biting wit and memorable characters have become a part of our culture and defined an era of scripted comedies for Warner Bros TV and CBS.”

Lorre began adult life as a songwriter, penning the Debbie Harry hit single French Kissin’ in the USA. His first writing gig was working on ABC’s hit comedy Roseanne. After this, he created a CBS show called Frannie’s Turn, which lasted just five episodes.

Franny's Turn
Lorre created Franny’s Turn

Although Frannie’s Turn didn’t work out, it was a good early indicator of the way Lorre likes to use comedy to tackle topical social issues. In this case, the story centred on a 50-something seamstress who decides to fight back against her domineering husband. His next project, ABC’s Grace Under Fire, focused on a single mother with three kids who had recently divorced her abusive husband. Later in his career, he would turn his attention to issues such as obesity (Mike & Molly) and sobriety (Mom) with notable success.

During the 1990s, Lorre’s credits included CBS’s Cybill (another divorced single mother; four seasons) and ABC’s Dharma and Greg (about a couple who marry after their first date despite being complete opposites; five seasons).

Then came Lorre’s first monster hit, Two and a Half Men, created with Lee Aronsohn. This show, produced through Warner Bros TV, ran on CBS from 2003 to 2015 and managed to survive a massive fallout with lead actor Charlie Sheen in 2011, with Ashton Kutcher subsequently taking the central role. Still a staple on pay TV networks around the world, Two and a Half Men’s final episode managed to pull in an audience of 13.5 million for CBS.

Ashton Kutcher (right) replaced Charlie Sheen on Two and a Half Men
Ashton Kutcher (right) replaced Charlie Sheen on Two and a Half Men

Working under an overall deal with Warner Bros TV, Lorre’s career has gone from strength to strength ever since. In 2007, he launched The Big Bang Theory – also on CBS. The story of two physics geeks with no social skills, the show’s first season averaged an audience of around 9.7 million. Support for the show grew year after year until it hit the 20 million mark in season six. Although the ratings for the current season (nine) have dropped back to the 15-16 million mark, The Big Bang Theory is still the number-one US entertainment series among total viewers and adults aged 18 to 49.

Lorre also executive produces Mike & Molly, which is coming to an end this year after six seasons on CBS, and is into his third season on CBS’s Mom, which he created with Eddie Gorodetsky and Gemma Baker. After a particularly strong series two (which averaged around 11.8 million viewers), the show is currently drawing audiences of eight to eight-and-half million.

Mike & Molly
Mike & Molly will conclude with its sixth season on CBS later this year

With Mike & Molly ending and The Big Bang Theory unlikely to last too much longer, the big question is what will the 63-year-old Lorre do next? Well, the latest reports suggest he is working with David Javerbaum on a multi-camera comedy about a group of potheads who run a legal marijuana dispensary in Colorado.

If anyone else had tried to pitch that idea, it probably would have been vetoed straightaway. But in Lorre’s hands it might just work. Chances are, however, it could be a bit too risky for CBS – so it might turn up on one of the subscription VoD platforms, Netflix or Amazon.

As an interesting footnote, Lorre post a series of short anecdotes and observations online which he calls his Vanity Cards (see chucklorre.com). In one, he talks amusingly about why he changed his name from Levine to Lorre. “The reason I changed my name was simple. My mother, never a fan of my father’s family, had an unfortunate habit of using Levine as a stinging insult. When displeased with me, she would often say/shriek, ‘You know what you are? You’re a Levine! A no good, rotten Levine!’” he explains.

The Big Bang Theory
The Big Bang Theory, Lorre’s biggest hit

“So, for as far back as I can remember, every time I heard my last name I would experience acute feelings of low self-esteem. My first wife suggested I change my name to remedy the situation. In fact, it was she who came up with the name Lorre, complete with the fancy spelling. I thought it sounded great. Chuck Lorre. Finally a name that did not make me squirm. It didn’t occur to me that in England my new name translated into Chuck Truck.

“But most interestingly, I had forgotten that when I was around eight years old my father’s business began to fail, forcing my mother to find work in a clothing store called… Lorie’s. Pretty creepy, huh? Did I abandon my father’s name only to unconsciously name myself after a place associated with my mother’s abandonment of me? Or, even creepier, did my ex-wife somehow know all this and propose the name Lorre just to screw with me? Hmmm… I was a no good, rotten husband so I certainly had it coming.”

In other news, Viacom-owned cable channel Spike is teaming up with sister network Paramount to develop a drama called Pendergast. Based on novels by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, the show follows an eccentric FBI special agent solving crimes in New York City. Pendergast is being developed with Universal Cable Productions and written by John McLaughlin, who is also executive producing alongside Gale Anne Hurd (The Walking Dead).

WGN America's Outsiders
WGN America’s Outsiders

McLaughlin’s credits range across film and TV, though he is best known for movies Black Swan and Hitchcock. Some years back he was also part of the writing team that adapted Paul Abbot’s Touching Evil for the US market.

Elsewhere, it has been a good week for Outsiders, which became the most viewed original series in WGN America’s history. The first episode generated 3.9 million viewers in Live +3 ratings, and gathered a total of 5.5 million viewers during its premiere week.

The 13×60’ show, set in the Appalachian hills, represents something of a breakthrough moment for creator Peter Mattei. “We felt that Outsiders was exceptional,” says Matt Cherniss, president and general manager of WGN America and Tribune Studios, “but there is no greater validation than this kind of viewer response. We’re grateful for the stellar cast and creative team, Peter Mattei, Peter Tolan and Paul Giamatti, and our producing partners at Sony Pictures Television, and we thank the fans, who inspire us to deliver one-of-a-kind storytelling.”

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Strengthening the content pipeline

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Joel SIlver is working on two drama pilots

Hollywood producer Joel Silver has been given the go-ahead to develop scripted pilots for both CBS and Fox in the US. These will be developed via a division called Silver Pictures Television, within the framework of Silver’s new first-look deal with Lionsgate TV.

The Lionsgate deal is described as a multi-year partnership, which means it will continue beyond the first two announced projects.

For CBS, Silver is developing Bathory. Set in 17th century Budapest, the show is a new take on vampire mythology following Elizabeth Bathory, a Hungarian aristocrat who was also one of history’s most notorious female serial killers. Meanwhile, the Fox project, Soar, centres on a former NBA prodigy turned criminal who becomes the basketball coach at an upmarket high school after his release from prison.

Silver is one of the best-known names in the Hollywood film business, responsible for franchises such as Lethal Weapon, The Matrix and Die Hard. But he also has a track record in TV, with credits including Veronica Mars, Moonlight and Tales From the Crypt.

Commenting on the partnership with Lionsgate TV, he said: “Lionsgate has established a reputation for creating some of the most ground-breaking and memorable television brands in the world, and I look forward to contributing a roster of big, audience-pleasing event properties to their incredible pipeline.”

Explaining the appeal of the partnership from Lionsgate TV’s perspective, chairman Kevin Beggs said: “Joel has created some of the biggest franchises of all time and established an incredible network of relationships with top writers and creative talent.”

The Silver deal isn’t the only big news coming out of Lionsgate at the moment. The TV division has also announced that it is developing a one-hour drama series called The Rook with Twilight author Stephenie Meyer.

According to Lionsgate, the series, which is being produced out of the UK, will centre on a female protagonist with extraordinary powers who is employed by a mysterious British government agency responsible for defending Britain from supernatural threats.

Elizabeth Bathory is thought to be history's most prolific female murderer
Elizabeth Bathory is thought to be history’s most prolific female murderer

The series is being developed by Lionsgate for a major British broadcaster and Hulu in the US. It’s the latest in a line of shows that US content creators are producing in Europe, presumably to access tax breaks.

In addition, Liberty Global and Discovery Communications each intend to pay US$195m to acquire 3.4% stakes in Lionsgate. As a result, Discovery CEO David Zaslav and Liberty Global president and CEO Michael Fries will join the Lionsgate board. A key consequence of this is likely to be greater collaboration between the partners in content development and production.

Zaslav said: “As with all our creative partners, we look forward to telling world-class stories with the team at Lionsgate, and strengthening Discovery’s content pipeline across our platforms around the world.”

A big scripted TV distribution story this week saw BBC Worldwide strike a deal with NBC Universal International Networks that means sci-fi series Doctor Who will appear on the Syfy channel across Latin America next year.

Until now, the show has aired on the BBC-owned networks in the region. But from 2016, Syfy will show a re-run of season eight, followed by the exclusive regional premiere of season nine. Seasons five to seven have also been confirmed to be part of the offer of the network later in the year.

“More than 50 years and eight seasons on BBC’s own networks in Latin America helped Doctor Who develop a loyal following within the region, where the series has an exceptional number of fervent fans,” said Anna Gordon, executive VP and MD of BBC Worldwide Latin America/US Hispanic. “Our partnership with Syfy reintroduces one of our company’s most acclaimed shows to Latin America and brings it closer to dedicated science-fiction and fantasy fans.”

Doctor Who is on its way to Syfy
Doctor Who is on its way to Syfy in Latin America

Klaudia Bermudez-Key, senior VP and general manager of NBCU Networks International for Latin America, added: “Syfy is known for pushing the limits of imagination, and it is undoubtedly the perfect home for the iconic Doctor Who. The series is a perfect addition to the content found on Syfy, which appeals to audiences across the region. Our viewers continuously expect a high-quality standard for all programming content, and we are delivering accordingly.”

Still in the world of distribution, European pay TV broadcaster Sky has extended its content deal with US premium cable channel HBO to cover all five of its European territories (UK, Ireland, Germany, Austria and Italy). Under the terms of the deal, which runs until 2020, Sky will have exclusive first-run rights to HBO shows such as Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger’s music industry drama Vinyl and JJ Abrams’ reboot of sci-fi classic Westworld.

Significantly, given the growing competition from subscription VoD platforms such as Netflix and Amazon, the deal will also extend Sky’s VoD rights. More box sets of hit HBO shows such as Boardwalk Empire will be available on Sky’s digital platforms for longer periods, while episodes of current series will be available on catch-up as they air on linear TV.

Commenting on the deal, HBO president of programming sales Charles Schreger said Sky has “shined a spotlight on our original programming and treated the shows as preciously as if they were their own. This ongoing relationship has been rewarding and successful to both of us and this expansion is representative of the trust and admiration we have for them as well as a belief that we can elevate each other even further.”

Seen in totality, the above stories all demonstrate how the world’s leading pay TV providers (Liberty Global, Discovery, NBCU and Sky) are seeking tighter control over premium content.

In the UK, meanwhile, commercial broadcaster ITV (which also, incidentally, is 9.9% owned by Liberty Global) has ordered a second season of critically acclaimed crime drama Unforgotten.

Unforgotten will return to ITV for a second season
Unforgotten will return to ITV for a second season

Produced by Mainstreet Pictures, the six-parter focuses on a cold-case murder enquiry after the bones of a man are discovered beneath a demolished house. Recently finished, the show attracted a respectable audience of around four to five million.

The series was created and written by Chris Lang, who said: “I am immensely excited to be writing a second season of Unforgotten and relish the challenge of introducing a brand new story, where long-buried secrets will once again be slowly brought to light.”

ITV director of drama Steve November and controller of drama Victoria Fea commissioned the new series. The executive producers are Sally Haynes, Chris Lang and Laura Mackie.

Finally, Deadline is reporting another score for Scandinavian drama. According to a report last week, Anonymous Content and Paramount are developing an English-language version of TV4 Sweden’s hit series Torpederna, to be adapted by Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting).

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