Tag Archives: Penny Dreadful

Happy endings

Where once flagging TV series would have been quickly axed, now they are getting more time to establish themselves. Are TV bosses getting sentimental or are other forces at play?

The scripted TV business has never really been known for its sentimentality. Year after year, decent shows have been brutally axed the moment they show any fragility in the ratings.

But recently this approach has been tempered by a slightly more tolerant attitude among commissioning editors. Increasingly, shows that a few years ago would have been cancelled in the middle of their first season are being allowed to bow out gracefully at the end of their run.

Similarly, series that might have been shelved after a season or two are being given extra runs – either to achieve narrative closure or to allow more time to try to pick up a sustainable audience.

This shift has come about for a few reasons, but is primarily the result of competition between channels and the increased clout of SVoD services.

“For me, it’s fundamentally about SVoD’s appetite for scripted content,” says Joel Denton, MD of international content and partnerships at A&E Networks. “The revenue from the SVoD window means networks don’t need to be so quick to close down shows. This can create a virtuous circle where the two platforms feed off each other in a way that builds shows. Something that starts life as a modest critical success may develop into a big hit.”

Did the early announcement that Mad Men’s seventh season would be its last help Jon Hamm (second from right) finally win an Emmy for his portrayal of Don Draper?

Clearly, some shows still disappoint and need to be dropped – examples being HBO’s much-hyped Vinyl and FX’s The Bastard Executioner. “But if you have a good instinct about a show then there’s a financial logic to sticking with it – even if it needs fixing in some way,” says Denton. “Cancel it after five episodes and you’re throwing US$30m to US$40m down the drain. Stick with it and you may be able to turn it into a franchise that has long-term value in both domestic and international markets.”

A classic case in point, says Denton, is AMC’s acclaimed 1960s drama Mad Men, which debuted in 2007 to the kind of ratings that would have got it cancelled on a lot of cable networks. When it ended seven seasons later, its contribution to AMC’s brand was immeasurable. And it continues to win fans around the world via Netflix, which underlined the value of supporting shows when it acquired the rights to the series in 2011 for US$90m.

Linked to all of the above is the growing fear of pulling out of a show before it has had a chance to really establish itself as a profitable franchise. “Because of the range of choice in the market, a show’s audience doesn’t necessarily find it straight away,” says Denton. “Shows like Longmire have been cancelled by networks and then brought back to life by SVoD platforms. So perhaps networks are more cautious about doing all the hard work and seeing Netflix [which resurrected Longmire after it was axed by A&E] or Amazon benefit.”

Stephen Cornwell, co-founder of The Ink Factory and producer of one of 2016’s hit dramas, The Night Manager, agrees SVoD is the key factor: “It may look like the broadcasters are changing, but these soft landings are the result of the new economic model introduced by the SVoD second window.”

This, however, is “reinforced by evolving expectations among audiences,” adds Cornwell. “In this post-broadcast world, viewers are attracted to limited series with clear conclusions. That’s why we have seen such a lot of interest in shows like The Night Manager, Fargo and The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story. When the audience is looking for narrative completion, commissioning editors need to ensure they are meeting their expectations.”

Networks would undoubtedly be keen to extend the The Night Manager, but the people behind the show decided against continuing the series

This may explain the growing tendency for broadcasters and platforms to announce their intentions for a show well in advance. Increasingly, says Cornwell, audiences are reluctant to invest time and emotion in a series if there is a risk it might be cancelled before the creative team has finished telling the story.

Cornwell also believes the trend towards soft landings may have something to do with a power shift in the relationship between channels/platforms and creative talent: “Our company is built around changes in the market that have put the creative at the centre of the process. The TV business is so noisy now that the calibre of creative talent is, more than ever, the key differentiator between productions. At the same time, audiences don’t care anymore if a series is two seasons, five seasons or an anthology series, as long as it’s great TV.”

One implication of this is that broadcasters need to be prepared to fully back a creative’s vision. It’s difficult, for example, to entice the likes of Cameron Crowe (Roadies), M Night Shyamalan (Wayward Pines), Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders) and John Logan (Penny Dreadful) into the TV business, only to shut down their shows before they’ve built momentum.

The tendency for broadcasters and platforms to prematurely announce their intentions for a show is not just something we are seeing with new series. It’s also become increasingly common for them to flag up the end of long-running, successful franchises such as Pretty Little Liars, Bates Motel, Person of Interest, Teen Wolf and Black Sails.

Creator John Logan was behind the decision to end Penny Dreadful after three seasons

So what’s this about? If a network knows a show is going to come to an end next year, why not just get on and give it the chop? Christian Vesper, FremantleMedia’s executive VP and creative director of global drama, who last year left AMC-owned art house channel SundanceTV, recalls how the latter gave notice that Rectify would end after season four: “I don’t think any channel is going to recommission a show unless it makes financial sense, but I do think there is a respect for storytelling at play. I know that was very important to the producers and to us.”

There is also a PR value to this kind of early announcement, Vesper adds. For example, warning audiences that the end is nigh is a way of galvanising them into action. It gets social media buzzing with the news that a climax is on its way. In terms of career management, it also puts the talent back in the shop window, telling the rest of the industry approximately when they will next be available.

Maybe, on a subtle level, it also has an impact on a show’s prospects on the awards circuit. For example, it wasn’t until the final season of Mad Men that John Hamm finally won a Best Actor Emmy – despite having been nominated in every single season.

Cornwell’s point about the shifting balance of power can even be taken a stage further. Perhaps the current trend towards soft landings is not just broadcasters and platforms treating creatives with kid gloves. There may also be more situations where the decision about when to end or extend a show is not being driven by the network or platform – but by the creative partner. The Ink Factory, for example, could get the greenlight for a second season of The Night Manager tomorrow if it wanted — especially after stars Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie and Olivia Colman won Golden Globes earlier this month — but Cornwell says the prodco would only go back to the show if it felt there was a good story to tell.

It’s this creative-led thinking that has also brought us anthology dramas such as American Horror Story and series like Penny Dreadful, whose creator John Logan was responsible for the decision end the show after three seasons. There’s also the emergence of prequels like Bates Motel and Black Sails, which – if the creatives have their way – need to finish at the point the source material begins.

Bates Motel is among shows to have been granted a ‘soft landing’ as opposed to immediate cancellation

Orphan Black (pictured top) is another show that underlines this point. At last year’s Comic-Con, the creators of the BBC America series explained why they had decided to end the show after five seasons. According to co-creator Graeme Manson, it was because they wanted to end it on their own terms: “We sort of had five seasons in mind, and the thing we didn’t want to do was get kind of soft around the middle. We think it’s better to cancel than to get cancelled, than to peter out.”

A by-product of such scenarios, then, is that the broadcasters and platforms have a pretty good idea of when a show is going to end. This means it becomes easier to turn the conclusion of a series into some kind of cultural event. The fact that it may be ending sooner than they might have liked is not such a problem given the longevity of scripted series in the new on-demand world. Better to have three perfect seasons repeating for a decade than seven with a short shelf life.

Speaking from a producer’s perspective, Tiger Aspect joint MD of drama Frith Tiplady says her company has enjoyed being given visibility of the future of its shows: “The BBC commissioned seasons four and five of Peaky Blinders together, and we were given advanced warning that Ripper Street [Amazon/BBC] would finish after season five. That’s brilliant for us because it means we can finish telling stories the way we want. It also shows a respect for the audience and the auteurs involved.”

None of the above is to suggest we are witnessing the end of the sudden axe – especially from commercial networks, which remain notoriously quick to remove deadwood from their schedules.

While the business models associated with SVoD platforms, premium cable channels and public broadcasters tend to favour soft landings, ad-funded networks have less room for manoeuvre. ITV in the UK would probably have liked to have spent more time fixing Beowulf and Jekyll & Hyde, but below-par ratings made that impossible. There’s also the possibility we may soon start to see a contraction in the scripted business that results in more cancellations. For now, however, here’s to happy endings.

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HBO, FX dominate Emmy noms

Games of Thrones and The People vs OJ Simpson picked up a lot of Emmy nominations this week – but can they convert them into awards?

Game of Thrones
HBO’s Game of Thrones picked up 23 nominations

The 2016 Emmy Award nominees were announced this week. All told, nearly 50 scripted series (excluding comedies) picked up at least one nomination, although only a handful are likely to convert those nominations into awards when the winners are announced on September 16 at the Microsoft Theater in LA.

A few years ago, winning an Emmy would have been seen as a nice endorsement of a show but little more. These days, however, it has taken on added significance for a couple of reasons.

The first is that the quality of TV drama has risen so rapidly. Winning an Emmy now really is an impressive achievement, and in some categories is not really that different to winning an Oscar. The second is that it is increasingly difficult to gauge the success of a show purely on the basis of its ratings (in the case of SVoD shows, there are no ratings).

FX's The People vs OJ Simpson: American Crime Story
The People vs OJ Simpson: American Crime Story

So racking up Emmys is a way of alerting the industry to the quality of a show, something that probably converts into business at Mipcom, the first major programming market to follow the Emmy ceremony.

So which shows caught the eye in this year’s nominations? Well, it’s no real surprise to see HBO’s Game of Thrones is out in front with 23 nominations. Such is the quality and ambition of the show that the only thing likely to stop it winning awards this year is that it secured a record-breaking 12 Emmys last year, from 24 nominations.

Awards judges, sometimes deliberately, sometimes subconsciously, have a tendency to steer away from previous winners to make sure that everyone gets a fair share of acclaim.

At this stage, the biggest threat to HBO’s hit series comes from the FX camp, with The People vs OJ Simpson: American Crime Story securing 22 nominations and Fargo securing 18.

House of Cards
Netflix’s long-running House of Cards was nominated in 13 categories

Netflix’s House of Cards secured 13 nominations but the biggest snub of the year went to the subscription VoD platform’s other flagship show Orange Is The New Black, with just one nomination.

The Night Manager was a huge hit on BBC1 in the UK but a modest performer on AMC in the US. However, the Emmys have rectified that situation slightly by granting the show 12 nominations.

After these shows, there is a huddle of titles securing multiple nominations, including Downton Abbey (10); All The Way and American Horror Story: Hotel (both eight); Better Call Saul and Roots (both seven); Mr Robot, Penny Dreadful and Sherlock: The Abominable Bride (all six); The Americans and Ray Donovan (both five); American Crime, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, The Good Wife, Homeland, The Knick and The Man in the High Castle (all four); and Empire, Gotham, Luther, Masters of Sex, Narcos and Vikings (all three).

BBC1 hit The Night Manager was only a modest performer on AMC
BBC1 hit The Night Manager was only a modest performer on AMC

Of course, some categories are more prestigious than others. So it’s interesting to note that USA Network’s Mr Robot made its way on to both the Outstanding Drama series category and the Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series category (Sam Esmail).

The same is true for The Americans, which has been nominated for Emmys before but not usually in the most prestigious categories. Perhaps this is a sign that 2016 is the show’s year to come out on top. Worth noting also is that it is another FX series – evidence of a cable channel firing on all cylinders creatively.

The Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series category throws up another couple of interesting points. One is that it has included Marti Noxon and Sarah Gertrude Shapiro’s UnREAL, which airs on Lifetime.

This is quite an achievement given that the show didn’t really feature anywhere else in the Emmys list. The other is that two of the nominations are for writers of shows that are ending: Julian Fellowes’ Downton Abbey and Robert and Michelle King’s The Good Wife. That might be enough to swing votes their way.

The Americans has its first Outstanding Drama nom
The Americans has its first Outstanding Drama nom

The Outstanding Limited Series category is a face-off between American Crime, Fargo, The Night Manager, The People vs OJ Simpson and Roots. Once again we can see a decent level of diversity here both in front of and behind the camera. American Crime’s inclusion is a welcome nod for an ABC series that has been welcomed by critics but not done too well in the ratings.

As is evident from the above listings, the only serious non-US competition for Emmys comes from the Brits. The Night Manager and Downton Abbey are the UK’s frontrunners to win Emmys, but there were also decent showings from Penny Dreadful, Luther and Sherlock: The Abominable Bride.

With War & Peace picking up a music nomination, the BBC secured a total of 22, which is more than most. It’s also worth noting that Showtime’s US adaptation of Shameless picked up two comedy nominations.

Bryan Cranston plays Lyndon B Johnson in HBO's All The Way
Bryan Cranston plays Lyndon B Johnson in HBO’s All The Way

Looking more broadly at the scripted comedy categories, there were three top performers: HBO’s Veep with 17 noms, HBO’s Silicon Valley with 11 and Amazon’s Transparent with 10. Overall, the Emmys were pretty good for the major SVoD platforms, with established shows like House of Cards and Transparent the strongest performers.

Despite Man In The High Castle attracting four, it looks like Amazon came out just behind Netflix, which secured a smattering of nominations for its Marvel-based shows, Narcos, Bloodline and Sense8.

Cable channel AMC picked up a total of five nominations related to its Walking Dead universe and will take pleasure in the success of The Night Manager (which it aired) – but overall the network can expect a quiet year at the Emmys.

Other shows to score at least one flavour of Emmy nomination included 11.22.63, Bates Motel, Black Sails, Horace & Pete, Minority Report, Outlander and Vinyl.

The Oscars would do well to take note of the fact that the Lead Actor in a Limited Series category includes three black actors out of six, though on this occasion Idris Elba, Cuba Gooding Jr and the superb Courtney B Vance may find that Bryan Cranston’s impressive performance in HBO’s Lyndon B Johnson biopic All The Way proves hard for the Emmy judges to overlook. Black actress Kerry Washington also impressed in Confirmation and Viola Davis (How To Get Away With Murder) and Taraji P Henson (Empire) achieved nominations for Lead Actress in a Drama.

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The growing complexity of commissioning

Vinyl has been cancelled
Vinyl has been cancelled

The process of renewing and cancelling scripted shows used to be pretty straightforward. But these days there is a growing number of variations on this theme.

Recently, for example, we shone a spotlight on Nashville, which was cancelled by ABC and then revived by CMT. And this week, we have a reverse example in the shape of HBO’s Vinyl.

In this case, the music-based series was initially given a second season but has now been cancelled. Despite much hype and creators including Mick Jagger and Martin Scorsese, the first season didn’t rate well and was a prime candidate to get the chop when it finished airing in April.

Instead, programming chief Michael Lombardo decided to stick with it. Now, however, Lombardo has been replaced by Casey Bloys and it is he who has called time on the series. A similar thing happened to VH1’s Hindsight earlier in the year, though in that case it was a change in editorial direction, not bad ratings, that drove the decision.

‘Uncancellations’ and ‘unrenewals’ are not the only new developments in the scripted market. As we’ve reported before, there is also a growing trend for US networks to order two or three seasons of a hit show in one go as a way of locking up the key talent involved (a high-profile example being Netflix’s Orange is the New Black).

The Last Kingdom
The Last Kingdom

We’re also seeing situations where international coproductions have to rejig their broadcast partner structure because one of them drops out or is no longer regarded as suitable. Netflix, for example, has just replaced BBC America as a partner on period series The Last Kingdom.

Then there is the emerging tendency for shows to be co-commissioned by networks (such as the recent simulcast of Roots across A+E’s main US cable channels) and for commissions that are destined to start their life on OTT or SVoD platforms.

We’ve seen Amazon, Netflix and Hulu lead the way on this latter development, of course, but now we have a number of shows that have opened or will open their account on platforms like Crackle, BBC iPlayer or CBS All Access.

At the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity this week, CBS CEO and president Les Moonves talked about the decision to debut the latest TV reboot of Star Trek on CBS All Access, an OTT platform that costs US$5.99 per month. It is due to launch in January.

According to Moonves, every part of CBS wanted to get its hands on Star Trek first – and there was also a lot of interest from third-party platforms like Netflix. But it’s a sign of the changing profile of the TV business that a company like CBS that makes most of its money from advertising and syndication/distribution should place this iconic property on a nascent subscription service.

Penny Dreadful's creator has called time on the show
Penny Dreadful’s creator, John Logan, has called time on the show

Other interesting developments have seen creators, rather than networks, call time on series.

Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, for example, was still in good shape when it came to the end of season three. But creator John Logan has simply decided it has reached its natural end: “I created Penny Dreadful to tell the story of a woman grappling with her faith, and with the demons inside her,” he said. “For me, the character of Vanessa Ives (played by Eva Green) is the heart of this series. From the beginning, I imagined her story would unfold over a three-season arc, ending with Vanessa finding peace as she returns to her faith.”

This is an interesting dynamic, because it runs counter to the usual notion of TV networks being the all-powerful decision-makers, with creatives holding their breath in anticipation of a recommission. As TV becomes increasingly reliant on A-list auteurs and high-profile actors for content that cuts through the clutter of competition, it will encounter this situation more and more.

Maybe networks and distributors will want six or seven seasons of a show in order to fully monetise their investment, but the creative in question may only want to do two or three seasons before following their muse somewhere else. It’s an interesting conundrum that is an inevitable part of a TV system that has become more film-like in terms of its approach. In the case of actors, the problem can be addressed through the use of anthology-style series, but with writers it’s not so simple.

Reference to anthologies is, of course, another example of how the traditional commissioning model is adapting to the realities of 21st century television. Franchises like American Horror Story, Fargo and True Detective are all examples of how networks can, in effect, get a completely new show while leverage existing brand awareness.

Oprah Winfrey (left) in Greenleaf
Oprah Winfrey (left) in Greenleaf

This kind of renewal can have a re-energising effect on a show – and it’s not the only way that the drama business tries to breathe new life into shows.

Showrunner replacement, especially in the context of the US, is an increasingly common way of trying to sustain a franchise that networks like but don’t think is firing on all cylinders – or where the original showrunner is maybe running out of juice, or distracted by other projects.

We’ve also seen the interesting example of Supergirl moving from CBS to The CW in pursuit of a more appropriate audience.

Finally, in the increasingly complex world of commissioning and renewal, we’ve seen the emergence of the spin-off, which, like the anthology, seeks to marry fresh content with brand track record. Dick Wolf’s Chicago family of shows for NBC and Fear The Walking Dead for AMC show that this approach can work across the range. All in all then, the world of hits and misses, renewals and cancellations, has become much more sophisticated in the multiplatform universe.

Away from the complexities of commissioning and cancellation, one of the big new debuts of the week was Greenleaf, a new scripted series for Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) that stars Winfrey herself. The premiere of the drama attracted an audience of 3.04 million and a 2.18 rating in OWN’s target market of women aged 25 to 54. That makes it the biggest series launch in OWN’s five-year history.

Written by Craig Wright and executive produced by Winfrey and Clement Virgo, Greenleaf is produced by Lionsgate and explores the inner workings of the powerful family behind a Memphis megachurch.

With its predominantly African-American cast and characters, it’s the latest example of the pulling power of shows that appeal to the black audience in the US. It’s also an example of the immense appeal of Winfrey in any screen incarnation (chat show, TV drama or film).

Compared to other cable networks, Greenleaf was the most-watched show on its debut evening. It is also the second-most-watched scripted cable debut of 2016 so far after FX’s American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson – which reinforces the point about subject matter that resonates strong with the black community.

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What the Dickens? The art of the shared universe

As BBC1 prepares to air Dickensian, which brings together multiple characters from across Charles Dickens’ works, DQ highlights some of the other shows to have taken the shared-universe approach.

At first glance, Tony Jordan’s mash-up of some of Charles Dickens’ most memorable characters in BBC1’s upcoming Dickensian (pictured above) appears particularly novel. However, the idea of multiple characters from writers’ various works appearing in a wholly original script is, in fact, not especially new.

Red Planet Pictures' Tony Jordan
Red Planet Pictures’ Tony Jordan

And the idea of spinning-off or reimagining Dickens’ characters has actually been undertaken before – witness the late John Sullivan’s four-part series Micawber (ITV, Christmas 2001), which starred David Jason, and the previous year’s modern-day take on A Christmas Carol (also ITV), with the network’s then ‘actor de jour’ Ross Kemp.

Back in 1998, Gravity director Alfonso Cuaron helmed a contemporary version of Great Expectations, boasting a cast including Robert De Niro, Gwyneth Paltrow and Ethan Hawke.

But with 20 30-minute episodes over the Christmas period (echoing Jordan’s EastEnders origins), there is certainly a risk for the BBC in commissioning Dickensian. The corporation must be hoping that viewers will make the commitment to watch at such a competitive time of the year.

Furthermore, there’s always the risk that the series will merely be a clever pastiche, when compared with viewers’ recollections of the novels or previous TV versions and films.

Dickens’ work has long provided a steady stream of adaptations for TV, the episodic nature his novels ideally suited to the medium. Most recently there has been the BBC’s Mystery of Edwin Drood (2012) and 2011’s three-part Great Expectations, which starred Gillian Anderson and Ray Winstone.

Gillian Anderson in Great Expectations
Gillian Anderson in Great Expectations

John le Carre’s Circus spy novels provide an example of an author’s shared universe of characters appearing in multiple stories – sometimes in leading roles, sometimes as support. For example, George Smiley’s relatively small amount of page time in The Honourable Schoolboy and The Looking Glass War contrasts with his dominance in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley’s People.

Returning to the subject of mash-ups, these shows have become increasingly popular recently, no doubt aided by the fact that many of the characters featured now reside in the public domain, meaning no fees are due to the estate of the authors.

Both Penny Dreadful (Sky Atlantic/Showtime) and Jekyll & Hyde (ITV) feature or will feature a number of the characters from the novels of Oscar Wilde (Dorian Gray), Mary Shelley (Dr Frankenstein), Bram Stoker (Dracula) and generic figures or urban myths such as werewolves, witches, Spring Heeled Jack and other supernatural beings.

Season three of Penny Dreadful will apparently see the debut of HG Wells’s warped geneticist Dr Moreau.

Penny Dreadful features an array of classic characters
Penny Dreadful features several classic characters

The progenitor of these shows was, of course, Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen graphic novels, which were unfortunately marred by a weak movie version back in 2001 (incidentally providing a rather sad finale to Sean Connery’s on-screen career).

Recent rumours over the summer were that the books were going to be re-booted as a TV series by The Blacklist producer John Davis – this time with a brief to stay faithful to the source material. Fans are waiting with bated breath, but don’t expect Alan Moore to be involved in the production process – numerous bad experiences on previous movie adaptations of his work having soured him on the idea.

The world of the police procedural has always been fecund in terms of shared universes, with the CSI/Law & Order franchises, Hawaii Five-O and others featuring crossovers; the character of Detective John Munch (Richard Belzer) has incredibly managed to appear in Homicide: Life on the Street, The X-Files, The Wire and Law & Order: SVU.

Similarly, Dick Van Dyke’s Dr Mark Sloan has featured in both Diagnosis: Murder and Jake & The Fat Man.

Diagnosis: Murder also showcased a bewildering array of characters from other shows, including Ben Matlock (Matlock), Cinnamon Carter (Mission: Impossible) and Joe Mannix (Mannix).

The X-Files is on its way back to TV
The X-Files is on its way back to TV

The Simpsons have met Family Guy and Futurama, while Aliens have battled Predators on the big screen. Fox’s The X-Files, meanwhile, had a phenomenal tour of duty in its first nine seasons, sharing an on-screen universe with Millennium, The Lone Gunman, Picket Fences, Homicide: Life on the Streets and, of course, the aforementioned Simpsons.

But the real market leader in terms of cinematic/TV shared universes is Marvel, with company president Kevin Fiege’s long-term strategy paying off in spades, judging by the stellar box-office returns achieved by Marvel-produced movies since 2008’s ground-breaking Iron Man.

When Marvel made a serious move into TV with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC) in 2013, it was generally felt to be a rare misstep, as although the show has made it to a third season, it has never really set pulses racing.

Rushed writing schedules to capitalise on the success of the movies may have had something to do with season one’s perceived problems.

Generic storylines and a rather dated approach (reminiscent of Marvel’s Mutant X in the early 2000s) have hampered what on paper looked like a sure-fire hit.

As ever, Marvel learned from its mistakes, and when Netflix ponied up for a number of series, the company rose to the challenge, with the first Daredevil hitting a home run in terms of critical and fan reaction, which has since been overtaken by the recent release of Jessica Jones, which has prompted talk of Emmy nominations.

The Flash
DC Comics’ The Flash

The two series, together with upcoming shows Luke Cage and Iron Fist, will culminate in the team-up miniseries The Defenders, which will apparently have a wider role in the Marvel Universe than the environs of New York’s Hell’s Kitchen district.

And, of course, an honourable mention should be made of ABC’s Agent Carter, a series filler that is felt to have surpassed its bigger-budget sibling, boasting some critically praised performances and a strong sense of place in its late-1940s US setting.

Never one to miss an opportunity, DC Comics has recently enjoyed great success in TV, with Arrow, The Flash and Supergirl all performing well internationally. Interestingly, unlike Marvel, the DC cinematic universe will be standalone, so there’ll be no Arrow, Flash or Supergirl appearances in the current movie production slate – or at least not in their TV incarnations.

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Will C4’s robots return?

Emily Berrington as a 'Synth' in Humans
Emily Berrington as a ‘Synth’ in Humans

The finale of Humans’ first season airs in the UK this weekend and the show continues to do exceptionally well for Channel 4. BARB ratings for the first six episodes show there was an inevitable dip after stellar ratings for the first two parts, but that the show has stayed remarkably consistent since then. From episodes three to six, it recorded between 3.63 million and 3.93 million viewers (seven-day figures) – way ahead of anything else on C4.

With the show now approaching its climax, it would be a major surprise if it didn’t equal or surpass those figures for episodes seven and eight. And then a commission for a second season would look highly likely.

The only cloud on the horizon for Humans is that AMC in the US is not getting such good ratings with the series (which may place a question mark over its involvement in a second season), but the strength of the C4 showing ought to be enough to see it through.

Still in the UK, there was a strong showing for BBC1’s Agatha Christie adaptation Partners In Crime, which attracted 6.5 million viewers for its first episode (Sunday at 21.00). Starring David Walliams and Jessica Raine as amateur detectives Tommy and Tuppence, the six-part show is the channel’s biggest new drama launch since Poldark, demonstrating that Sunday evening is still a time when audiences like to spend time with familiar faces and brands.

Partners in Crime opened strongly for BBC1 on Sunday evening
Partners in Crime opened strongly for BBC1 on Sunday evening

Earlier in July, Sky Atlantic and Showtime announced plans for a third season of gothic horror drama Penny Dreadful. Looking at the final ratings for season two of the show on Sky Atlantic, it’s easy to see why. According to BARB’s seven-day data, the final episode attracted an audience of 544,000 – up from 450,000-500,000 for the previous few episodes.

With Game of Thrones finished for another year, Penny Dreadful became channel’s top-performing drama, some way ahead of The Affair (433,000) and True Detective season two (352,000). In the week following Penny Dreadful’s departure, nothing on Sky Atlantic managed to attract more than 315,000 viewers. The show has also been attracting attention internationally, securing a deal with Australian subscription VoD platform Presto last week.

In the US, MTV is halfway through the first 10-part season of Scream, a horror series that has been spun out of the iconic feature-film franchise. A strong debut saw the show attract six million viewers (live plus three), making it “the most watched new series premiere of the summer on cable with millennials,” according to MTV. In an added bonus, the first episode was also streamed more than 500,000 times on MTV.com and the MTV app.

Scream will get a second season after performing well on MTV
Scream will get a second season after performing well on MTV

Since then the ratings have dropped a little but stayed strong enough for MTV to announce a second season. At the midway point, 21 million viewers have tuned in to Scream on air while the series has generated 7.9 million streams across other platforms.

Speaking at the Television Critics Association’s summer event this week, MTV head of scripted programming Mina Lefevre said: “It has been a wonderful experience working with (Scream exec producer) Bob Weinstein and his team, who are such connoisseurs of this genre, and we are thrilled by how viewers have responded to the reinvention of Scream.”

Meanwhile, the US TV industry’s love affair with Scandinavia took a double hit this week. Following the news that Netflix has cancelled Lilyhammer, NBC announced that it has canned eOne’s low-rated comedy Welcome to Sweden. The show, created by Greg Poehler, did moderately well in season one but has fallen away badly in season two, with NBC pulling it from the air after just four editions of its 10-episode run.

Welcome to Sweden has been cancelled soon into its second run
Welcome to Sweden has been cancelled soon into its second run

Commenting on Instagram, Poehler said: “Due to some craptastically low ratings in the US, WTS is officially done. I am eternally grateful to all of our fans. When you make a show – and write, produce, obsess and act in it – all you want is for someone, somewhere, to tell you they appreciate it. There have been so many of you in both Sweden and the US that have done so, and every compliment has made me immeasurably happy. So, thank you. Thank you, thank you…”

In the Hispanic US market, Telemundo continues to make inroads into the audience share of its major competitor Univision. DQ reported on the success of El Senor de los Cielos last week, and now Telemundo says the finale of Tierra de Reyes (Land of Honor) attracted 2.39 million total viewers.

This helped make Telemundo the number-one Spanish-language network in primetime, beating Univision. It has also just launched Bajo el Mismo Cielo (Under the Same Sky), the story of a hard-working Mexican immigrant who crosses the border illegally and settles with his family in LA. Episode one attracted 1.72 million viewers and also hit 3.3 million global Facebook users with a 30-minute preview.

On the corporate front, the TV market is waiting to see the implications of the US$1bn merger between Banijay Group and Zodiak Media (announced this week). Between them, the two companies own approximately 45 prodcos.

Tierra de Reyes has helped Telemundo make up ground against Univision
Tierra de Reyes has helped Telemundo make up ground against Univision

While there are some complementary areas between the two businesses, there is also a lot of overlap in markets like the US, France and Scandinavia. In drama terms, the deal brings together companies including Touchpaper (UK), Yellow Bird (Scandinavia), Magnolia (Italy), Marathon Media (France), DLO Producciones (Spain) and Screentime (Australia and New Zealand).

Finally, this week’s big corporate ‘miss’ is Ryan Kavanaugh’s film and TV studio Relativity Media, which has filed for bankruptcy after racking up $320m in unpaid loans. Kavanaugh’s next-generation studio model, with its strong emphasis on data analysis, enthralled the industry for a few years but in the end couldn’t survive a number of high-profile box-office failures.

Speaking at Mipcom in 2013, Kavanaugh expressed his intention to get more into the TV business, expounding his theory that films “are perhaps the greatest TV pilots ever.” His goal at that stage was to sell five or six TV series properties a year. However, this never came to pass. The main TV titles to come out of Relativity have been National Geographic’s Act of Valor and Limitless, a spin-off of the Bradley Cooper-starring movie in the form of a series will soon air on CBS.

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Scripted staying power

American Gods
Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is coming to Starz as a TV series

This is one of those weeks that makes you realise the current boom in scripted series is far from over. In Europe and the US, across pay TV and free TV, the latest greenlights must easily represent in excess of US$50m of new productions.

Not only that, they all look like projects that will actually make it to screen, rather than ending up in the dustbin of failed developments.

One of the most high-profile announcements came from US premium cable channel Starz, whose aggressive pursuit of its two main rivals HBO and Showtime has seen it back ambitious series such as Power, Outlander, Black Sails and Flesh and Bone. Now it has announced plans for a series based on Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods.

Bryan Fuller (Dead Like Me, Hannibal) and Michael Green (Gotham, Heroes) will write the screen version and act as showrunners, with Gaiman on board as executive producer. The show is being produced by FremantleMedia North America (FMNA), with international sales handled by FremantleMedia International.

Commenting on the project, Gaiman said: “I am thrilled, ‎scared, delighted, nervous and a ball of glorious anticipation. The team that is going to bring the world of American Gods to the screen has been assembled like the master criminals in a caper movie: I’m relieved and confident that my baby is in good hands.”

The project is an important one for FMNA, which has just experienced the disappointment of a cancellation for supernatural series The Returned. FMNA co-CEO Craig Cegielski said: “Neil’s novel is a brilliant work of art and together with the talented Bryan Fuller and Michael Green, we are committed to delivering a series that is nothing short of extraordinary.”

Showtime has also been in the news this week, having renewed Penny Dreadful, its horror drama copro with Sky Atlantic, for a third season of nine episodes. The series, which has built up a lot of momentum since season two, will shoot in Dublin with TX due in 2016.

Penny Dreadful
Sky Atlantic and Showtime copro Penny Dreadful has been given a third season

Showtime president David Nevins said: “(Creator) John Logan’s brilliant writing and the show’s amazingly talented ensemble continue to draw a passionate, global fanbase into the meticulously crafted world of Penny Dreadful.”

Sky Atlantic director Zai Bennett added: “Penny Dreadful is the perfect fit for Sky Atlantic; truly international in scale and ambition but with a raft of British talent at its core, and filmed in the Republic of Ireland. I’m thrilled to have the series returning to the channel, and to once again be partnering with John Logan and continuing to work with our good friends at Showtime.”

HBO has cropped up in the headlines this week too, following the revelation in the Hollywood Reporter that David Simon, creator of The Wire, is working on a series for the channel called The Deuce, about the rise of the porn industry in the 1970s. While there has been no official confirmation on this from HBO, Simon is currently working with the channel on a series called Show Me a Hero, so the prospect of a second greenlight seems close to the mark.

In Europe, one of the biggest announcements of the week came during the Monte Carlo TV Festival, where Christophe Riandee, vice-CEO of Gaumont, announced that Gaumont Television Europe plans to produce a new 13×60’ English language series entitled Crosshair. A Europe-based thriller that follows a former CIA assassin turned gunman for hire, Crosshair is written by Ken Sanzel, whose credits include CBS series Numb3rs.

Crosshair is the third project under the Gaumont Television Europe banner, after Spy City and 1001, an English-language thriller created by Real Humans’ Lars Lundström.

“We are seeing a huge trend into drama production making Europe a new frontier for TV,” said Riandee, “and a project like Crosshair is the perfect fit. It’s a new idea and a new world for a procedural series.”

Other activities that back Riandee’s upbeat assessment of the scene in Europe include the news that Israeli producer and distributor Keshet International wants to be more active in the European drama space, with plans to fund three or four productions a year. This would build on previously announced plans to work with France’s Atlantique Productions on an eight-part series called Crater Lake (written by Ron Lesham).

There was also a triple greenlight announcement from UK-based broadcaster ITV this week. The most interesting news is that it has commissioned Hans Rosenfeldt, creator of Scandinavian drama The Bridge, to make his first series in the UK. Called Marcella, the 8×60’ show (produced by Buccaneer Media) follows a female detective working on a murder case.

Prime Suspect
Prime Suspect, starring Helen Mirren. ITV has announced plans for Tennison, a prequel to the hit crime series

ITV also announced plans for a series called Tennison, a prequel to its long-running hit crime series Prime Suspect, which featured Helen Mirren as detective Jane Tennison. The new series, from Noho Film and Television and La Plante Global, is a six-parter. The decision to go down the prequel route follows ITV’s success with Endeavour, a prequel to fellow long-running crime series Morse.

The third part of ITV’s production news is the commission of six-part drama series The Durrells, based on author Gerald Durrell’s Corfu memoirs, including My Family and Other Animals. The series is being written by Simon Nye (Men Behaving Badly) and produced by Sally Woodward Gentle.

Durrell’s works are a perennial favourite for film and TV producers, with My Family and Other Animals adapted for the big screen in 2005. So it will be interesting to see how the TV series takes the franchise on. Woodward Gentle said: “Gerald Durrell’s novels are some of the warmest, wittiest, books of the last century. It is no wonder they are so well loved. It is a real treat to be working on them with the brilliant Simon Nye. I hope that his obvious love of the characters and the material will be hugely infectious.”

Finally, there was interesting news from Hulu regarding The Way, a 10-part series it ordered in March from Jason Katims (Parenthood). On Wednesday, Aaron Paul – aka Breaking Bad’s Jesse Pinkman – was revealed as the male lead in the drama, which centres on a controversial faith movement.

Hulu’s origination programme hasn’t received as much attention as that of Netflix or Amazon, but it does have some standout projects. Aside from The Way, it has greenlit a series called 11/22/63 from Stephen King and JJ Abrams that will star James Franco.

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Daring to be different

Sky Drama senior commissioning editor Cameron Roach says the satcaster needs to provide content different to that of its terrestrial rivals, rather than try to compete, and is eyeing crime, relationship series and coproductions to meet the challenge.

The four broad entertainment channels headlining the subscription offer from UK satcaster Sky have become home to some of the country’s most talked-about drama series of late.

Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire on Sky Atlantic, Scandal and Elementary on Sky Living – the hits are stacking up. The problem is, they’re mostly acquired from the US.

Under the guidance of entertainment channels director Stuart Murphy, Sky has committed to spending £600m a year on original content. It has already coproduced The Tunnel, an Anglo-French remake of the Swedish-Danish noir The Bridge, with Canal+ and Penny Dreadful with Showtime in the US.

Boardwalk Empire
Boardwalk Empire

Solo, it has commissioned shows such as The Smoke and Charlie Brooker’s crime spoof A Touch of Cloth for Sky1, while medical drama Critical is in the works.

But it’s with these originals, often critically acclaimed, that Sky is struggling to cut through against the terrestrials – and senior commissioning editor Cameron Roach believes the broadcaster has to change tack and offer an alternative to BBC, ITV and Channel 4, rather than trying to compete with them directly.

“The Tunnel was an impeccable piece announcing our ambitions for Sky Atlantic, taking an existing brand and doing something different,” Roach says, pointing to the two International Emmy nominations the series received.

“We need to show our subscribers we are offering them fantastic drama on our channels. Unfortunately, some of the subscribers are still unaware we create original content in drama, and the offering from BBC and ITV is so brilliant that we need to see ourselves not as competition, but as complementing what is there. That’s the mission statement.

“What we need to work hard on for the Sky brand is people knowing that it’s ‘Sky drama’ and attributing it to a channel. Too often when we have a successful show, people attribute it elsewhere because they don’t think we make shows.”

To that end, Sky is looking for its own take on the crime genre following the unrivalled success of ITV’s Broadchurch, while also aiming to take advantage of market gaps left by the sudden rush towards crime commissions.

“We know our audience loves crime. It’s done brilliantly on BBC1 and ITV – how can we do it differently? It’s no good for us to just do another crime show when crime is so available to the terrestrial audience,” Roach says.

“Crime has been so prevalent that the relationship shows have been forgotten, and that’s a really interesting thing. Ten years ago there were significant relationship shows on the terrestrials and that’s not happening now. That feels like an opportunity to me.”

Roach knows all about the challenges posed by the terrestrial channels, having been part of ITV2’s launch team and a producer on long-running ITV prison drama Bad Girls. He also worked on BBC’s smash hit Life on Mars while at Kudos Productions, as well as the corporation’s Waterloo Road series. He joined Sky’s drama department as a senior commissioning editor in 2013.

Penny Dreadful
Penny Dreadful

He believes it’s important producers start thinking about new places to uncover writing talent. In this vein, Sky is working with online drama producer PurpleGeko to produce a TV version of its Venus vs Mars drama, two seasons of which have aired online. Roach hopes to create a UK version of the HBO hit Girls with the show, and says the online world is an untapped resource in the drama space.

“The message to the production community is ‘seek more diverse talent.’ It’s an industry responsibility – it’s not about me and (drama head) Anne Mensah ticking diversity boxes. If you look at the hits YouTube channels are getting, it’s phenomenal. Producers can be too narrow. The top writers are so oversubscribed – we need ideas to come from other areas as well. We’re always excited when producers have different ways into subject matters.”

Sky, more than any other broadcaster in the UK, is known for its On Demand and catch-up services either through the Sky Plus DVR recorder or Sky Player online. Roach says viewers tend to watch Sky1 as a linear channel, while the series on Sky Atlantic are more binge-viewed as box sets – but he’s still sure Sky can create “event television” like the Broadchurch finale and is eyeing a Sky Living commission starring Timothy Spall – The Enfield Haunting – as a test case.

“I’m excited by how Line of Duty became an event for BBC2 and the Broadchurch finale became an event for ITV,” he says. “It shows we can have that emotional investment from the audience. We’d be naive to think it’s just in the on-demand space.

“When The Enfield Haunting happens as a three-parter on Sky Living in May, we’re looking at how we can use social media to make it an event. People will want to watch that live.”

Sky’s drama team is working hard on clear branding and distinct direction for the four channels under its control – Sky1, Sky Atlantic, Sky Living and Sky Arts.

Controller Adam MacDonald has spoken about Sky1 being more “life affirming,” coining “enjoy the ride” as a mission statement. “It can go to dark, difficult places like The Smoke and Critical, but ultimately the lead characters are heroic,” says Roach.

“Pushing forward, we want a place that has more humour and comedy within content. We will do emotional, challenging pieces but we will enjoy the ride a bit more.”

Sky Living remains female-skewing but has undergone a rebrand, with its pink colour scheme swapped for a silver look to help change audience perception.

Sky Atlantic, which recently came under the control of former BBC3 controller Zai Bennett, premiered Fortitude January and was previously the home of The Tunnel and Penny Dreadful. It’s also where Sky’s HBO acquisitions sit.

“We want to be ambitious with our pieces there,” Roach says. “We want them to be talk-about TV. We want the Sky subscriber to have absolute value in that channel.”

Sky Arts, meanwhile, is viewed as “more of a playground.” Roach explains: “We’re saying to the creative community ‘we enjoy working with you, come and have a play and we’ll see what happens.’”

The Tunnel
The Tunnel

While The Tunnel and Penny Dreadful have been successful, headline-grabbing coproductions, Roach says Sky thinks very carefully about when and where to get involved in such arrangements, preferring to fully fund where possible.

“What we like to do is fully fund our developments, working closely with indies in the UK, Europe, the US or Australia,” he says. “We want to work with creative teams to understand the idea, take it to a pilot script stage before we start talking to too many partners. What’s important to us is a singular vision that makes drama stand out; involving too many partners early on can harm that.

“Another track we can take is where partner broadcasters have developed pieces and we see an absolute appeal for our subscribers within them – with Dracula and Penny Dreadful, they were Showtime shows and we were minority partners. Penny Dreadful had a largely British cast, it was shot in Dublin and it was set in London. For our subscriber it felt like their show, not an acquisition, and therefore it’s a relevant coproduction for us.

“Those are the questions we’ll always ask when a coproduction opportunity comes to us. Is it right? Can we claim ownership in the UK and Ireland? If we can, we’re likely to go for it. If we can’t but we like the content, we’ll work closely with our acquisitions team and advise them of our enthusiasm for it.”

Sky will be hoping its slight change of strategy, and considerable ongoing investment, can bring it results throughout the rest of the year.

With Sky’s merger with Sky Deutschland and Sky Italia, creating a pan-European pay TV brand, now completed – producing a commissioner on a colossal scale – this could be a formidable drama player in years to come.

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