Tag Archives: Peter Mattei

Oscar winner goes to war with Amazon

Charles Randolph
Charles Randolph

Oscar-wining writer Charles Randolph (The Big Short) has signed a development deal with Amazon Studios. His first project will be a 10×60’ drama series that will explore what it would take to create a present-day civil war in the US.

There are no further details on the project yet, but presumably Randolph will be able to draw inspiration from the current US presidential election process. Prior to The Big Short, the writer was best known for movies including Love & Other Drugs and The Life of David Gale. But he has written for TV before, with pilots for HBO and ABC.

Another writer in the news this week is Sam Catlin, who is getting rave reviews for his work on AMC’s forthcoming supernatural series Preacher. Deadline, for example, is predicting that the show has the potential to be the channel’s next The Walking Dead (though that accolade maybe should already have gone to Fear the Walking Dead or Into the Badlands).

The latest show in the ongoing comic-based series trend, Preacher revolves around a reformed criminal called Jesse Custer who is scratching out an existence as a preacher in a dusty Texas town. Jesse is visited by a higher spiritual power that gives him the power to make people obey him just by speaking to them.

Preacher
Preacher is exec produced by Sam Catlin, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg

Caitlin’s main credit to date is AMC’s Breaking Bad, of which he wrote 10 episodes. However, he did also pen an episode of Fox’s Rake, the US adaptation of an Australian show of the same name. That series (created by Peter Duncan) followed a criminal defence lawyer whose personal problems and self-destructive behaviour have him owing money to everyone around him. Catlin is also an executive producer on Preacher alongside Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg.

Also in the news this week is WGN’s Outsiders, which has just been greenlit for a second season. Set in the Appalachian Mountains, Outsiders centres on a family called the Farrells who have turned their back on society and live by their own rules.

The show, which has been a hit for WGN, was created by Peter Mattei and is executive produced by Peter Tolan. While Tolan has extensive writing credits (including long-running drama Rescue Me), Outsiders is a breakthrough project for Mattei, whose only other writing credits are Love in the Time of Money (2002) and Clarissa Explains It All (1991). Other writers credited with working on season one of Outsiders include Ryan Farley and William Schmidt.

While the international TV market is still dominated by US shows, an increasing number of European-originated series are selling well around the world. An interesting case in point is Spotless, which was this week picked up by Globosat Brazil.

Outsiders
Peter Mattei’s Outsiders has been given a second season on WGN America

An unusual production, Spotless was made by StudioCanal-owned Tandem Productions for Canal+ in France. However, it was shot in English and filmed on location in London. Adding to the intrigue, it stars French actors Marc-André Grondin and Denis Ménochet as a pair of brothers – one a criminal, the other the owner of a crime scene cleaning business.

Prior to Globosat, the show was picked up by Esquire Network in the US and has also sold to DirecTV Latin America and M-Net South Africa. The goal behind the series was to give it European roots but enough of a sheen to resemble a fast-paced US drama. To achieve this, Tandem used a writer/creator team of UK-based Bafta winner Ed McCardie and Academy Award winner Corinne Marrinan.

This combination drew on two distinct schools of creativity. While McCardie’s writing credits before Spotless included London’s Burning, The Last Detective and Shameless, Marrinan’s background is as a US-based writer-producer on CSI. The Spotless setup resembles that of Red Production Company’s The Five, where the US talent (Harlan Coben) constructed the idea and was involved in story development while the UK talent (Danny Brocklehurst) did the actual writing. In the case of Spotless, McCardie was responsible for the writing while Marrinan is cited as the show’s creator.

Spotless
Spotless follows a criminal and his brother who runs a crime scene cleaning business

Interestingly, Tandem took a slightly different route with its other key procedural-type thriller, Crossing Lines, now in its third season. In this case, the show was set up with Ed Bernero as a US-style showrunner – though it still centred on European locations. The show then employed a US writers-room model involving a number of different writers – including Marrinan. Overall showrunning responsibility for the show shifted in season three to Frank Spotnitz, but the writers-room model has been retained. Both seem to work, however, with Crossing Lines being aired on Sat1 in Germany, NBC in the US, Canada’s CBC and TF1 in France, among others.

In other stories this week, Australian broadcaster Network 10 has acquired a high-end drama about adventurer Sir Edmund Hillary that is billed as the most ambitious and expensive series to ever come out of New Zealand. Entitled Hillary, the TVNZ series has been written by Tom Scott. In NZ, Scott is quite a celebrity, having established himself as a leading satirical cartoonist before writing several films, books and TV screenplays.

The new series is based on a biography of Hillary that Scott wrote in 1996 and involved a lengthy shoot in Nepal. It’s a six-part series that will air this year.

Finally, Fox International Channels has set a date for the launch of Outcast, an exorcism drama from The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman and based on the Skybound/Image comic by Kirkman and artist Paul Azaceta. The 10-episode series will debut on June 3 on Fox channels in more than 125 countries as part of a day-and-date launch outside the US. Within the US it will air on HBO-owned channel Cinemax.

Outcast, which has already been greenlit for a second season, is exec produced by Kirkman, Chris Black, David Alpert, Sharon Tal Yguado and Sue Naegle. The showrunner is Chris Black, who has a string of high-profile writer/producer credits including Red Widow, Mad Men, Ugly Betty, Desperate Housewives and Star Trek: Enterprise.

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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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Outside chance: DQ talks to Peter Mattei

After initially being told his script wouldn’t find a TV home, Outsiders creator Peter Mattei says he found the perfect fit in WGN America. He tells DQ how his story of renegades who clash with the modern world came in from the cold.

Novelist, playwright, filmmaker, screenwriter – it’s fair to say Peter Mattei (pictured above right) has more titles than most. So it’s a sign of the ongoing strength of television drama that he chose the small screen as the medium for his latest project.

Outsiders marks US cable channel WGN America’s latest foray into the world of original programming. Described as a struggle for power and control set in the rugged hills of Appalachia, the series focuses on the Farrell Clan, a tight-knit family of renegades who have lived atop the rugged Shay Mountain for more than 200 years, and their fight to defend their way of life from the town below and anyone who would dare to challenge them.

The series stars Hollywood actor David Morse
The series stars Hollywood actor David Morse

Produced by Sony Pictures Television and Tribune Studios, it was created and written by Mattei, who executive produces alongside Fedora Entertainment’s Peter Tolan, Paul Giamatti, Dan Carey for Touchy Feely Films and Fedora’s Michael Wimer.

“I had pitched and sold a batch of TV ideas over the years and none of them really went forward,” Mattei explains. “I wasn’t sure whether I should do this one as a novel or film but I saw it as a longform story. The kind of independent films I’m interested in aren’t being seen and it’s hard to get money, so the idea of doing it as a TV show was more appealing.

“It’s a great time to be doing longform novelistic stories. I wanted to do it as TV but I knew it wasn’t pitchable because it’s so strange, so I just wrote it.”

Mattei says the series was inspired by a number of contemporary issues facing the US, notably in terms of politics and the financial crisis, gentrification and the idea of freedom.

“I was interested in this idea of people living an alternate lifestyle, in cults and communes,” he says. “What if there were people living a lifestyle that people were living 200 years ago and were determined not to change? What would happen if these people were discovered living among us and their way of life was threatened? What if they were illiterate? And the ideas fell in together.”

The author of 2013 satirical novel The Great Whatsis, Mattei wrote the pilot script for Outsiders (originally called Titans) and for a few years was told by friends in the business that it was a great idea but one that wouldn’t fly on television.

Unperturbed, he passed it to his agent, who also represents Giamatti, and they teamed up to take it out to the networks. Arriving at WGN, Mattei was impressed by the broadcaster’s ambition and immediately felt it was a perfect fit for his show.

From left: Actor Ryan Hurst, creator and exec producer Peter Mattei, executive producer Peter Tolan, actor Christina Jackson, actor Paul Giamatti, actor Kyle Gallner, actor David Morse, actor Gillian Alexy
From left: Actor Ryan Hurst, creator and exec producer Peter Mattei, executive producer Peter Tolan, actor Christina Jackson, actor Paul Giamatti, actor Kyle Gallner, actor David Morse, actor Gillian Alexy

Equally impressed, WGN gave Outsiders a 13-episode straight-to-series order, following in the footsteps of its earlier original series Salem and Manhattan. It makes its debut on the network tonight.

“They’re an upstart, similar to AMC when they did Breaking Bad and Mad Men,” Mattei says of WGN. “They’re looking for interesting, edgy material to differentiate themselves and have a straight-to-series model. They also loved the material and it seemed like the perfect fit. After a period of writing, they decided to move forward with it and they brought in Sony as a co-studio (with Tribune, the production arm of WGN parent Tribune Media). I knew I needed a partner and Sony brought Peter (Tolan) in. He loved it too.

“It still feels surreal. This was a very strange idea I cooked up and wrote very quickly – I didn’t think about it too much. I wasn’t trying to sell anything. I wanted to write something I thought would be cool on air. A year later, seeing it coming to life, it’s very surreal. Since I had never made a show before, I felt like I was a student of the process and absorbed everything from Peter. We put the writers room together. It was incredibly daunting to plot 13 episodes of a show when I had barely scratched the surface.”

Though Mattei worked alongside Tolan to run the writers room, he says being a showrunner is different to anything he has done before.

“Showrunning is definitely one of those things you can apprentice if you’re working on a show, but if you’ve never done it before, there doesn’t seem to be a playbook,” he says. “Everyone does it very differently. For me, having the equivalent of four full-time jobs was really hard. I was the only writer on set and the only producer on set.

lasfjas
The show focuses on a family of renegades

“The experience was twofold: the time I was in LA with the writers room and plotting out the season’s story arc, and being in Pittsburgh during production. Because it was a made-up universe, it was very different to anything everybody had worked on before. It’s not a lawyer show where you know how everyone behaves. I don’t know how my characters talk or how they dress. I had lots of ideas and also the way this story looked was very important to me. I wanted it to be very cinematic. We just shot a 10-hour movie in 13 parts.”

The look of the show was so important to Mattei that he put together a 60-page presentation outlining the appearance of both the world of the show and its characters – drawing inspiration from such groups as bikers and gypsies – and the style of music that should be used. He also worked with director Adam Bernstein to hire the director of photography and costume and production designers.

“I really got involved more than most showrunners do in terms of production,” he says. “We wanted it to be really cinematic so I wanted to be on the ground.”

Mattei values the work of his collaborators and says he is keen to let people have their own voice. “I just want to make sure what we are doing is the best thing we can do,” he adds. “This is the first year of the show and it’s such a made-up fantastical world that there was a lot of back and forth with the actors and designers about what the show would be. By midway, we knew what we were doing and I felt confident I would know the answer to any question people could ask.”

Outsiders also boasts a strong ensemble cast, headlined by David Morse, who is best known for big-screen roles in The Green Mile, Contact, The Hurt Locker and The Rock. He has also appeared in episodes of HBO dramas True Detective and Treme. Other cast members include Thomas M Wright, Ryan Hurst, Joe Anderson, Gillian Alexy, Kyle Gallner, Christina Jackson, Francie Swift and Phyllis Somerville.

“When we set out in casting, we just wanted great actors in every role as opposed to having specific ideas of the look of a character,” Mattei says. “We were very lucky because when the script got out, there were certain actors who came to us.

“We were overjoyed when we heard from David Morse. He was someone whose name I had thrown out as the kind of actor I wanted to work with. He’s an actor’s actor. All our actors were really smart about their characters and their story arcs. It was a very collaborative process where they would give feedback on stories. We did table reads and a lot of rewriting based on those.”

Having taken a series to air after several false starts, Mattei says he now cannot imagine doing anything other than television. “I’m a dilettante; I like to try everything. I’m sure at some point I would love to get back in theatre – it’s been 20 years – and to make a film as well. For the moment, this is an incredible moment for US TV. I hope it lasts. It feels to me like when I got into making films and was in the middle of the independent film community at Sundance. TV feels like that, filled with excitement and so many people making smart stuff. It’s full of energy where lots of things are possible and really great work is happening.

“Mr Robot is amazing. It’s incredibly good. I also liked Black Mirror – that was a real masterpiece. When there’s stuff out there like that, you get really inspired.”

Looking back on making the first season of Outsiders, Mattei describes it as “easily the most intense experience” of his life.

He adds: “I was not at all prepared for how demanding it would be to run a show like this. I fucked up a lot of stuff and struggled with a lot of stuff. We all did. It’s one of those experiences. It’s really quite a journey. It’s so much more intense than making a film. We were taking 15 days to make 90 minutes, not 30 days. The pace is daunting. We have been through a war together.”

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