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Patriot games

Michael Dorman and Terry O’Quinn lead the line in Patriot, Amazon’s latest original drama, which centres on the complicated life of a US intelligence officer. They tell DQ about their father-son relationship on screen and the unique style of showrunner Steve Conrad.

Since November 2015, visitors to Amazon Video have been able to tune into the pilot episode of a spy thriller called Patriot. That enough of them watched it and, more importantly, liked it means that 15 months later, nine more episodes are now available to subscribers to complete the 10-part first season.

The opening episode introduces viewers to the complicated life of intelligence officer John Tavner, whose latest mission is to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. To do so, he must go deep undercover as an employee at a Midwestern industrial piping firm.

However, a bout of PTSD, the federal government’s incompetence and the challenge of keeping his day job lead to an ever-increasing number of fiascos that threaten the entire operation.

Patriot stars Michael Dorman as John Tavner

Focusing on the less glamorous aspects of spying, Patriot sees Tavner struggle with situations that force him to choose between bad alternatives and his efforts to conceal his plan, often leading to matters unravelling further.

Australian newcomer Michael Dorman stars as Tavner, with Terry O’Quinn (Lost) as his father and State Department director of intelligence Tom Tavner and Michael Chernus (Orange is the New Black) as his brother, Texas congressman Edward Tavner.

Kathleen Munroe plays John’s wife, Alice; Aliette Opheim is Agathe, a brilliant young homicide detective from Luxembourg hot on John’s trail; and Kurtwood Smith (That 70s Show) is Mr Claret, John’s ‘boss’ at the piping firm.

With the pilot shot in Montreal and most of the series set in Chicago, in addition to visits to Prague to film the European-based exterior scenes, joining Patriot was a chance for Dorman to venture outside Australia for the first time. The actor began his career in the theatre before moving into TV and film down under.

“This one was a whole new playground for me,” he tells DQ at the Berlin International Film Festival, where Patriot received its world premiere. “I’d never worked in the new way of delivering content and, even though it’s a TV show, the way the creative team approached it was that it is more like a film. I guess we look at it like it’s a 10-hour film we’ve shot in a really small amount of time.”

The actor admits he enjoyed the pilot script so much, he knew immediately that he wanted to be a part of it.

Kathleen Munroe as Alice alongside Michael Chernus as Edward

“[Writer/director] Steve Conrad’s writing is unique compared with any other writing,” the actor continues. “He’s got his own style and it’s got a real rhythm to me, and that’s what excited me. Also, it was the fact I was laughing out loud. You read so many scripts and, with some of them, you’re pushing yourself through it. This one I couldn’t put down.

“I remember reading it in bed, which is something I don’t normally do, and emailing my team as soon as I finished, saying I had to be part of it. I was just reading it and for me it was more about the process of how we could make it happen.”

Dorman describes his character as having an “amazing ability to remain composed when the world around him is falling apart; he’ll make whatever decision he has to take at the very last moment, whether he likes it or not.”

The show goes on to explore the consequences of those decisions, which usually lead Tavner into increasingly sticky situations, while also analysing his job affects his character. Music subsequently becomes an outlet for Tavner to reveal his inner-most thoughts, and scenes in the opening episodes show him playing some of his own songs to a crowded bar, much to the exasperation of his brother Edward, who is cajoled by their father to keep an eye on him.

“He’s the perfect intelligence officer in the sense that, no matter how he falls, he’ll get back up,” Dorman says. “And he’s someone who can think on his feet and decide the best way forward when every way is a bad way. So he goes with the least bad way, but he’ll still do it. The conventional style is someone who can fight off every threat.”

The series delves into the difficult decisions faced by a spy deep undercover

The series can be shocking, not least in the opening sequence when Tavner goes to great lengths to win a job at the piping firm by pushing a rival jobseeker under a truck. But it’s also laced with black humour that goes hand in hand with the sense of doom enveloping the spy’s mission. This is evident in one fight scene when Tavner must escape from the grasp of five Brazilian brothers who suffocate him with jiu-jitsu holds.

“We worked a lot and we worked hard,” Dorman says. “I was completely invested, my heart was in it the whole way. It never felt like a burden, it always felt like a gift. And to be working alongside people who have been telling stories a lot longer than me, to grow from them and learn from Steve about the craft in storytelling, it was pretty inspiring for me.”

It was music that helped Dorman connect with his on-screen father, actor Terry O’Quinn, a hugely experienced character actor best known for starring in Lost.

“When I first met Terry in the pilot, we had to do a duet of an old song by Townes Van Zandt called If I Needed You,” Dorman reveals. “That was a great way to meet him and enjoy spending time with him – and then it became something that we just always did. We always had our guitars on set or if we were off set we would just play music together and you see it on the show. It was the best of both worlds.

For O’Quinn, writing is the crucial factor whenever he’s looking for a new project. “It’s the script, then it’s who we’re doing it with and where we’re doing it, then what we’re going to eat and what hotel I’m staying at,” he jokes. So what was it about Patriot that encouraged him to sign on for 10 episodes?

“I just loved the story,” he explains. “Steve Conrad’s dialogue was very particular. He’s one of those guys who, when he writes a period after a word, he obviously wants you to pause in all those places. He’s somebody who’s very meticulous. I’d also seen his work before [The Pursuit of Happyness, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty], so that recommended him to me.”

O’Quinn also believes Patriot goes beyond just being a spy thriller, also fulfilling the role of a family drama in which the central characters are always helping each other out of trouble.

Terry O’Quinn (right) as John Locke in Lost

“When I describe it to people, I say there’s some international intrigue, some politics; it’s sort of spy thing, sort of dark comedy,” he admits. “It’s hard to describe!”

O’Quinn adds that working with Amazon has been “terrific,” not only because of the democratic way the streamer uses viewer feedback as part of its commissioning strategy.

“I don’t know why the networks don’t do that now,” he says. “All the networks should show a pilot one night and say, ‘Call us up if you like it and we’ll make some more.’ It makes perfectly good sense.

“Amazon gave Steve a lot of freedom to do what he wanted to do and shoot what he wanted to shoot. Steve and Jimmy [Whitaker], our cinematographer, were so prepared and so precise in what they wanted to shoot. They didn’t waste a lot of time, they didn’t shoot a lot of stuff they didn’t need. It was very clean and that sets the actors free. But Steve is so precise and particular. He could say things like, ‘Could you not blink in that line?’ and you’re like, ‘OK.’ I love it. I like working with someone who knows what they want.”

As a viewer, O’Quinn reveals he’s a fan of Game of Thrones – “My girlfriend got me hooked” – and British period drama Peaky Blinders. But there’s one show from his own CV that is still a talking point almost seven years since it finished.

“Lost was one of those ultimate experiences,” he says of the ABC drama that has proven to be one of the most talked-about series of the last decade. “It’s a one-off. There was nothing like it and I’ve never had an experience like it. I’m forever grateful for having been in it and I enjoyed it immensely.

“We were shooting in Hawaii, we all got along great and the set was a happy place. So after that, for a while, I’ve compared everything to it and it’s a pretty hard thing to come up to. But this [Patriot] comes pretty close. If we’re able to do this for a while longer, it would be akin to that.”

With hints of a cliffhanger ending at the conclusion of season one, it seems Conrad’s intention is to return for a second season – something Dorman would also be keen to see.

“I wouldn’t turn away from this one [for a second season],” he adds. “The character was great but it was more about the project as a whole and the people working on it that I found were rare gems. Steve Conrad, Jimmy Whitaker, [camera operator)] Jody Miller and all the producers who were onboard were all like-minded. I didn’t feel like there were too many chefs in the kitchen. Everyone was on the same page. That’s the element I would love to be a part of again.”

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Netflix and Amazon blast into 2016

mindhunter
Mind Hunter is being adapted for TV

Just as the traditional TV business was winding down for the holiday season, the industry’s SVoD giants unveiled plans for a slate of new scripted shows.

Netflix, for example, is planning a new series called Mindhunter with director David Fincher. Based on the 1996 book Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit, the series will be Fincher’s follow-up to House of Cards, the political series that put Netflix drama on the map.

House of Cards, meanwhile, will return for a fourth season on March 4.

Online rival Amazon also had big news concerning its origination plans. On the eve of the holiday season, it announced it was taking five primetime pilots to series – two one-hour dramas and three half-hour comedies.

The first of the new dramas is Good Girls Revolt, which follows a group of young female researchers working in a 1960s newsroom. A coproduction with TriStar Television, the show was inspired by Lynn Povich’s book The Good Girls Revolt and is written by Dana Calvo (Made in Jersey).

Good Girls Revolt
Amazon’s Good Girls Revolt, written by Made in Jersey’s Dana Calvo

The second of Amazon’s greenlit dramas is political thriller Patriot, which follows the adventures of intelligence officer John Tavner. Assigned with preventing Iran from going nuclear, Tavner assumes a perilous ‘non-official cover’ – that of a mid-level employee at an industrial piping firm. Patriot is being written and directed by Steven Conrad (known for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty).

In addition to its new commissions, Amazon also confirmed its renewal of a number of existing shows. These include the drama series Hand of God and The Man in the High Castle. According to Amazon, the latter (written by Frank Spotnitz) is the platform’s most-streamed original show yet.

All of this comes in addition to other Amazon projects such as a new series of crime drama Bosch and a previously announced David E Kelley drama called Trial, starring Billy Bob Thornton. In total, this means Amazon is doubling its slate of original primetime comedies and dramas from six to 12 as it begins 2016. On top of this, the streamer is also ratcheting up its commitment to children’s series.

The Man in the High Castle has performed strongly for Amazon
Frank Spotnitz’s The Man in the High Castle has performed strongly for Amazon

Outside these SVoD announcements, the holiday season has been quiet in terms of greenlights. However, there have been a few announcements of interest.

Among these is the news that US cable channel Syfy has ordered a second season of space drama The Expanse. Based on a bestselling book series, the show is set 200 years in the future and follows the case of a missing young woman that brings a detective and a rogue ship’s captain together in a race across the solar system that will expose the greatest conspiracy in human history.

The show has been getting solid but not spectacular ratings, attracting 1.6 million viewers per episode in live+3 ratings. However, Syfy clearly sees something worth supporting because it will also increase the number of episodes from 10 in season one to 13 in season two.

“The Expanse is firing on all cylinders creatively, building a passionate fanbase among viewers and critics alike, and delivering on Syfy’s promise of smart, provocative science-fiction entertainment,” said Dave Howe, president of Syfy and Chiller.

Syfy has greenlit a second season of The Expanse
Syfy has greenlit a second season of The Expanse

Still in the US, cable channel TNT has renewed its fantasy adventure The Librarians (a spin-off from the TV movie franchise of the same name) and crime dramas Murder In The First and Major Crimes. These will go into the 2016 line-up alongside previously renewed shows Rizzoli & Isles and The Last Ship and new arrivals Good Behavior, Animal Kingdom and The Alienist. The slate is designed to help TNT rebrand itself as an edgier network.

In the UK, public broadcaster BBC1 has announced a second season of Ordinary Lies, a Red Production Company drama that centres on a group of characters harbouring secrets. According to the BBC, the new series will centre on a different scenario and set of characters – reinforcing the current trend towards anthology series.

While the first season was set in a car showroom, the second will be based in the “HQ of a large, national sports goods company with an array of new, compelling and clandestine characters.” Season one performed well, bringing in an audience of around six million.

BBC is treading the anthology path with the second run of Ordinary Lies
BBC is treading the anthology path with the second run of Ordinary Lies

In other BBC news, the corporation has given a second season to Carnival’s historical drama The Last Kingdom but has cancelled cop show Cuffs after one season. The eight-part production attracted an audience of just over three million, which is not really strong enough to justify a renewal.

A BBC spokesman said: “We are very proud of Cuffs and would like to thank all those involved, but in order to create space for new shows and to keep increasing the range of BBC1 drama, the show will not be returning for a second season.” Almost exactly the same words were used to justify the axing of Atlantis and Our Zoo.

One of the more unusual media stories of the last few weeks was the news that Sky Arts in the UK is to make a one-off drama about a weird and wonderful road trip that pop icon Michael Jackson took with actors Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando in 2011. Entitled Elizabeth, Michael and Marlon, the show is being produced by Little Rock Pictures and will reportedly star Joseph Fiennes as Jackson, Stockard Channing as Taylor and Brian Cox as Brando.

The decision to cast a white actor (Fiennes) as a black icon (Jackson) is an unusual one – so it will be interesting to see what kind of reception his performance gets. It comes at a time when the British TV industry is receiving regular criticism for its failure to support ethnic minority talent in front of and behind the camera.

Ralph Fiennes is set to portray pop legend Michael Jackson
Ralph Fiennes is set to portray pop legend Michael Jackson in Elizabeth, Michael and Marlon

In Canada, commercial broadcaster CTV has announced that there will be a fifth season of its popular supernatural medical drama Saving Hope. The show also airs on US cable channel Ion Television and Australian entertainment channel SoHo.

Also on the distribution front, Japan’s Wowow has acquired exclusive broadcast rights to NBC series Blindspot from Warner Bros International Television Distribution. Other recent Wowow series acquisitions from the US include The Player and Zoo.

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Amazon ups the ante

Christina Ricci will play Zelda Fitzgerald (pictured) in Z
Christina Ricci will play Zelda Fitzgerald (pictured) in Z

After a strong showing at the Emmys, Amazon is in buoyant mood. It’s now hoping to keep up the momentum with six new drama and comedy pilots that will launch on Amazon Video later this year in the US, UK, Germany and Austria. As with previous pilots, Amazon will use audience feedback to decide whether to take any of the new scripted shows to series.

The pilots include Good Girls Revolt, a story set in 1969 that follows a group of young women seeking to be treated fairly and ultimately sparking changes that upend marriages, careers, love and friendships. Created and written by Dana Calvo, the show is based on landmark sexual discrimination cases chronicled in a book by Lynn Povich. Amazon is coproducing with Tristar TV.

Another female-protagonist drama is Z, a bio-series about Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of author F. Scott Fitzgerald. Written by Dawn Prestwich (The Killing), Z will star Christina Ricci as the beautiful and talented southern belle who became the original flapper and icon of the flamboyant Jazz Age in the 1920s. The story will follow Zelda’s social successes and her descent into mental illness.

Amazon will also reinforce the recent revival of the western genre with Edge, based on George G. Gilman’s best-selling book series of the same name. Set in 1868, the story centres on Josiah ‘Edge’ Hedges – a Union officer turned cowboy who prowls the post-Civil War American West doling out his own savage brand of justice. Edge was developed by Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Iron Man 3) and Fred Dekker (Tales from the Crypt, Star Trek: Enterprise). The pair also wrote the screenplay.

Amazon has ordered a pilot based on George G. Gilman book series Edge
Amazon has ordered a pilot based on George G. Gilman book series Edge

The other three Amazon pilots are Highston, One Mississippi and Patriot, a political thriller about an intelligence officer assigned with preventing Iran from going nuclear. Patriot is written and directed by Steven Conrad (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Weather Man), who executive produces alongside Gil Bellows, Glen Ficarra, Charlie Gogolak and John Requa.

Amazon Studios VP Roy Price said: “Our latest pilot season brings together diverse shows that we think customers will really enjoy. We have something for everyone in this season and I am excited to see which shows spark conversation among our customers and what they want to be made into series.”

Amazon’s continued drive into scripted TV was further reinforced this week with the acquisition of exclusive rights to USA Network’s critically acclaimed drama Mr Robot. The first series (10 episodes) of the show will be available to Amazon subscribers in the US, UK, Germany, Austria and Japan from spring 2016.

Meanwhile, reports have been bubbling under for a couple of weeks that Netflix might be about to commission Charlie Brooker to make some new episodes of his dystopian anthology series Black Mirror. This story has now been confirmed, with Netflix greenlighting 12 episodes. Brooker described the SVoD giant as “the most fitting platform imaginable” for the series, which until now has been produced for Channel 4 in the UK. Explaining the appeal, he said: “Netflix connects us with a global audience so that we can create bigger, stranger, more international and diverse stories than before, while maintaining that Black Mirror feel.”

Black Mirror's National Anthem episode made headlines in the UK last week due to allegations about prime minister David Cameron
Black Mirror’s National Anthem episode (pictured) made headlines in the UK last week following allegations about prime minister David Cameron

Netflix will premiere the show exclusively worldwide, except in the UK and Ireland where plans are still being determined. This hesitation over the UK is unlike Netflix, but is probably due to Channel 4’s involvement in the franchise to date. Possibly, Netflix and Brooker are looking for a way to include C4 in the deal so that it can benefit from the expansion of a show it helped to build.

Netflix VP of original content Cindy Holland said: “Charlie has created a one-of-a-kind series with an uncanny voice and prescient, darkly comedic vision. We’re tremendously proud to bring Black Mirror to our members as a Netflix original series.”

In terms of other renewals, there is good news for Mistresses, which has been awarded a fourth season by ABC. Another female ensemble series, Lifetime’s Devious Maids, is also returning for a fourth season next year. Announcing the recommission, Liz Gateley, EVP of programming for Lifetime, said: “Devious Maids is a steady hit that continues to deliver for us. It has found a loyal audience that is socially engaged with the show. The entire writing and production team worked hard to up the storytelling this year and the cast delivered great performances, so the show just gets better and better.”

Inspired by the hit telenovela, Ellas son… la alegría del hogar, Devious Maids is produced by ABC Studios. Last season it drove Lifetime to rank as the number-two cable network with scripted programming in the Monday 21.00-22.00 slot among women aged 25-54 and 18-49, while its August 24 season finale reached season highs among total viewers, adults aged 25-54 and women aged 25-54.

Devious Maids has been given a fourth run
Devious Maids has been given a fourth run on Lifetime

This week also saw an announcement by Italian public broadcaster Rai that it has commissioned an eight-part drama. Medici: Masters of Florence will chronicle the rise of the Medici family, with Richard Madden (Game of Thrones) playing Cosimo de’ Medici and Hoffman portraying family patriarch Giovanni de’ Medici.

The series, which will be produced by Lux Vide and Frank Spotnitz’s Big Light Productions, has been created by Spotnitz and Nicholas Meyer (The Seven-Per-Cent Solution), with Sergio Mimica-Gezzan (The Pillars of the Earth) directing. Germany’s Wild Bunch TV is a co-financier and will oversee international sales, starting at Mipcom next month.

Spotnitz, a US writer who has carved out a strong niche for himself writing European coproductions in English, called the tale of the Medicis a “powerful story that resonates even now.”

Medici: Masters of Florence is a major step forward for Rai at a time when Italian producers and broadcasters are starting to have a much bigger impact on the international drama market. RAI Fiction director Tinny Andreatta said the show “has great international appeal and we hope it will open up a new era of creative coproductions.”

Finally, Televisa USA, a subsidiary of Mexican media giant Televisa responsible for English-language programming, and Lantica Media have announced they are developing a new version of Gran Hotel, based on hit Spanish series from Bambu Producciones. The show will be shot at Lantica’s Pinewood Dominican Republic Studios and is based on an original script by Stephen Kronish (24, Kennedys).

The original Gran Hotel
The original Gran Hotel

The new version of the format, which is distributed internationally by Beta Film, will be set in 1950s Cuba. “It was a time when mobsters, politicians and celebrities flocked to Havana, the world’s most exotic and permissive playground,” said Chris Philip, head of production and distribution for Televisa USA. “Setting Gran Hotel in a sexy, sinful atmosphere offers up a rich fusion of glamour and intrigue deeply rooted in an exceptional murder-mystery format with a proven global footprint.

Antonio Gennari, CEO of Lantica Media, added: “Since the introduction of (a new) film law and incentives, the Dominican Republic has seen substantial growth in film and TV production. The country offers mesmerising scenery and world-class production capabilities that will serve as the ideal backdrop for Havana’s Gran Hotel.” As part of the announcement, Gennari said Lantica and Televisa USA were also planning other projects.

The original Gran Hotel aired for three seasons on Antena 3 in Spain. During its first season, it reached an 18.5% share of viewers in Spain and was also sold to broadcasters in France, the UK and Russia, as well as being reversioned in Italy.

Beta Film SVP Christian Gockel said: “Gran Hotel is one of Beta’s biggest sales hits and franchises of recent years, as proven currently on Rai’s primetime. As coproducers of the Italian adaptation, we are thrilled to see Gran Hotel opening its doors in Cuba’s 1950s.”

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