Tag Archives: Pitch

China opens up to outside influences

The Night Manager brought 40 million views on VoD platform Youku Tudou
The Night Manager brought 40 million views on VoD platform Youku Tudou

About once a year the media reports that the Chinese government is planning to clamp down on the amount of foreign drama that appears on the country’s TV channels and streaming platforms. But developments in the past few months suggest that this is either inaccurate or isn’t having much of an impact.

This summer, for example, critically acclaimed BBC-AMC series The Night Manager generated an impressive 40 million views on streaming platform Youku Tudou. More recently, we reported Fuji TV’s entry into the China market via a scripted content partnership with Shanghai Media Group. And last week we reported how Sony Pictures Television (SPT)’s on-demand platform Crackle has joined forces with another leading internet TV service, iQIYI, on a three-part Mandarin-language drama.

Tencent Holdings acquired fashion drama The Collection from BBC Worldwide
Tencent Holdings acquired fashion drama The Collection from BBC Worldwide

There’s more activity this week that suggests China is continuing to open up to outside influences. Firstly, in a deal announced at Asia Television Forum in Singapore, China’s Tencent Holdings picked up fashion drama The Collection from BBC Worldwide. Secondly, UK producer/broadcaster ITV revealed that it has formed a partnership with Chinese producer Huace Film & TV that will see the latter remake an ITV scripted show for China. Discussions are still underway as to which show, but the deal is being heralded as a breakthrough by the UK company.

Commenting on the news, Mike Beale, executive VP of global development and formats for ITV Studios, said: “Much like the rest of the world, the demand for drama in Asia continues to grow, and our relationships with some of the world’s best producers and writers positions us perfectly to take advantage of this.”

Left Bank Pictures' reboot of Strike Back will feature a largely new cast
Left Bank Pictures’ reboot of Strike Back will feature a largely new cast

Elsewhere, Sky1 in the UK and Cinemax in the US have announced that there is to be a new series of action-adventure drama Strike Back. As with previous series, the show will be produced by SPT-owned Left Bank Pictures, but there will be a largely new cast.

Based on a novel by Chris Ryan, Strike Back centres on the activities of Section 20, a secret branch of the UK defence forces that undertakes high-risk missions around the world. The show ran for five seasons until 2015 – a total of 46 episodes. It then had a hiatus, with production of the new series starting in 2017.

The previous series of the show did well on Sky1 and Cinemax and was also sold into markets like Australia, Canada and France. Commenting on the show’s comeback, Adam MacDonald, director of Sky1, said: “We’re thrilled to be working with Cinemax again to deliver more edge-of-your-seat action-adventure. At such an interesting time in global politics, this series delivers a compelling take on world events and the murky world of espionage.”

Executive producer Andy Harries added: “Strike Back is the show that took Left Bank Pictures onto the international stage and we are thrilled to be back with such an exciting cast and a world-class team of writers, directors and producers. With a fan base spread over 150 countries, Strike Back is TV at its very best, where the military comes first. Our new stars have amazing physical skills, which, combined with their training, will make the show rock.”

Leaving aside the long-running success of Homeland on Showtime, Strike Back’s mix of action and espionage is something of a rarity in the international market right now, with broadcasters having moved in the direction of sci-fi, superheroes and fantasy. However, there are a few upcoming titles that suggest the market is shifting back in this direction. These include History Channel’s Navy Seal drama Six and Fox’s reboot of 24. There are also a few new shows coming out of Israel such as False Flag and Fauda, the latter having been picked up globally by Netflix.

Fox is said to have committed to a script based on Basket Case
Fox is said to have committed to a script based on Basket Case

In another interesting move, Fox is reported to have given a script commitment to Basket Case, a TV drama based on the 2002 novel by Carl Hiaasen. Although a terrific writer with around 15 novels and five children’s books to his name, Hiaasen’s work has rarely been adapted for film or TV. His 1993 novel Strip Tease was turned into a film in 1996 and his 2002 kids book Hoot received similar treatment in 2006. But other than that, there is little to report.

Basket Case centres on a former hotshot investigative reporter, Jack Tagger, who’s now an obituary writer. It will be adapted by White Collar and Graceland creator Jeff Eastin, and Life in Pieces executive producer Jason Winer. Presumably if it’s a hit we can expect Hiaasen novels to become another regular source of inspiration for the scripted TV trade.

Still in the US, Fox drama Pitch has just come to the end of its first season. The show, which tells the story of the first woman to play for a Major League Baseball team, was well received by critics but delivered pretty poor ratings – 4.23 million at the start falling to 2.89 million at the end of its 10-episode run. This puts it down among the weaker scripted performers on Fox, such as Scream Queens, The Exorcist and the rapidly-fading Rosewood.

Pitch could perform better on a new network
Pitch could perform better on a new network

With its low ratings, Pitch would be an easy cancellation for Fox. But the fact is that the channel doesn’t have many hits at the moment – with Empire and Lethal Weapon some way ahead of the pack. So it may decide to back a second season of Pitch.

If Pitch is cancelled, there is talk of it moving to another network. Of course, there is always talk of series moving network when they are dropped, but Pitch really does seem like a show that could do a job in a less ferocious competitive scenario. If the show doesn’t survive in any form, then it just goes to prove how hard it is to make dramas that have sports as their backdrop.

Finally, Australian pubcaster ABC and Screen Australia have teamed up again to uncover the next generation of home-grown comedy talent through their Fresh Blood talent initiative.

Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am
Aussie comedy Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am resulted from a Fresh Blood pitch

The first wave of Fresh Blood launched in 2013 with 72 comedy sketches created by 24 teams. Five of those teams were selected to make TV pilots for ABC and two of them were then launched as six-episode half-hour series: Fancy Boy and Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am. A new wave of Fresh Blood sees 20 up-and-coming comedy teams each awarded US$15,000 to produce three sketches. During 2018, four of those teams will be selected to produce a TV comedy pilot.

Mike Cowap, investment manager at Screen Australia, said. “For new comedy writers, performers and directors, Fresh Blood is a launchpad like no other, providing opportunities and exposure that can set up ambitious creators for successful futures.”

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In full swing

With two of the most anticipated new US shows to his name in dramedy This Is Us and baseball series Pitch, Dan Fogelman is hoping to hit a home run this year.

Somewhere in LA, Dan Fogelman is in a car travelling between the sets of two of the hottest new US dramas airing this fall. The reason? He created them both.

The first, NBC’s ensemble drama This Is Us, is described as a “refreshingly honest and provocative” series that follows the lives of a group of people who share the same birthday. The cast includes Milo Ventimiglia, Sterling K Brown and Mandy Moore.

Dan Fogelman
Dan Fogelman

Working with Rick Singer, Fogelman also co-created Pitch (pictured top), a baseball drama on Fox that stars Kylie Bunbury as the first woman to play Major League Baseball (MLB) when she is called up by the San Diego Padres. Both shows are produced by 20th Century Fox Television and distributed by 20th Century Fox Distribution

“I don’t know what I call my job,” Fogelman jokes. “I’m all over the place.”

But to him, it’s no surprise he’s now working on two shows – the only new series to which he was attached during the 2016 pilot season. “I expected them to go [to series],” he admits, having seen his previous shows Galavant (ABC) and Grandfathered (Fox) both cancelled earlier this year. “I felt confident in the premises and the people who were involved.

“As soon as we got the calls, I just tried to get people in right away to map out the whole seasons for both shows. Everybody ends up in the same boat – getting the phone call in May, putting together the writers room in June and July – and after that, it’s out of control because you’re shooting, writing, preparing, editing and breaking stories all at the same time.”

If you think bringing two new dramas to air at the same time is hard enough, Fogelman is also working under a huge weight of expectation, particularly with This Is Us. Ahead of the series’ September 20 launch, the This Is Us trailer, released online in May, had racked up more than 100 million views. NBC subsequently placed a full 18-episode season order before episode two aired.

“I love the show so much,” says Fogelman, who is showrunning the series. “The pressure is self-creating! It’s very special; it’s unique. The show taps into something. I was just hoping [the trailer] didn’t build expectations beyond what’s possible – I hoped people would keep a level head.”

Fogelman has previously described the show as “Lost as a dramedy,” building on the same themes of love, life and friendship that were present in his 2011 rom-com movie Crazy Stupid Love. He explains: “The series plays with time quite a bit and the interconnectedness of all the characters. Lost always did a good job playing with time and connecting unrelated characters in interesting ways. We’re being really ambitious with the storytelling. Our main focus is on the main characters but, because we’re playing with time, the way everything is interconnected is complicated. You see things and learn how they are affecting present-day issues.”

In particular, balancing the tone of the series has proven one of the biggest challenges: “The characters are sentimental without being saccharine; they move people without being manipulative,” the writer says. “It’s a high-wire act.”

But perhaps, if the number of trailer views is anything to go by, This Is Us offers the kind of story audiences are yearning for amid the recent slew of superhero and fantasy dramas.

This Is Us
This Is Us follows the lives of a group of people with the same birthday

“I have been saying for while that 20 years ago there weren’t comic book movies or superheroes on TV,” Fogelman explains. “There tends to be a groundswell for things that aren’t around as much. It’s inspired by TV from the 1980s and films of the 1970s like Kramer and Kramer and Terms of Endearment, which aren’t being made as much.

“It’s got to be special if it’s going to work. There’s so much on with TV and film. If you’re not doing something really well, I don’t think you have a big chance of succeeding. I’m still mystified by the response to the trailer!”

But compared with This Is Us, Pitch is a whole new ballgame, not just because of its storyline but also due the fact it is the first scripted series to be officially associated with MLB. It debuted on Fox on September 22 and will complete its initial 10-episode run on December 8.

“Without MLB, it would have been a no-go for me,” says Fogelman, who reveals that the idea for Pitch was initially developed as a movie before being moved to the small screen.

“It was a complicated deal. At times, people were asking if I’d do it without MLB, with fictional teams. That was a non-starter for me. I’m less interested in that show. My vision was to have a very authentic show about a special young woman making it in the major leagues. Without that it just felt false. We needed MLB and we needed to find the girl. I would have passed on it or pushed it aside without one of those things.”

With a licensing deal in place to use real teams and real stadia – the Padres’ own Petco Park was taken over by the production for 10 days to film the pilot before the baseball season started in April – the other piece of the jigsaw was finding the star.

Pitch
Pitch stars Kylie Bunbury

“It was a long process to find Kylie,” Fogelman explains. “We were scouring everywhere – LA, New York, checking acting schools all over the country. We were reaching out to university softball and athletic teams but we weren’t finding what we were looking for. We met interesting actors but so many boxes needed to be ticked in terms of acting believability, athleticism and the ability to carry a TV show. They weren’t checking all the boxes. One day, Kylie came in to read and then, later on, I watched her tape back and knew she was the one.”

As Ginny Baker (Bunbury) makes her debut for the Padres in the pilot, viewers might question where the series could take her in the future. But Fogelman, who is an executive producer on the series, is reassured that there is a “road map” in place to take the series into multiple seasons.

“The story of Pitch is a young woman becoming the first woman to move into the MLB,” he says. “The rest of the season goes from being about the first woman to make it, to what kind of woman she is going to become and where she makes friendships and relationships. How is she going to operate in this world? It’s a coming-of-age story. She’s figuring herself out. That was the key part of the show for me.”

Coming from features, Fogelman admits he didn’t grow up in a writers room culture but he has been exposed to the daily grind of television over the past four years,.

“I tell everyone not to be shy and to take ownership,” he says. “A lot of people come from writers rooms where it’s autonomous and they’re nervous all the time. I’m always wary of that. I’m besieged all day by making decisions so I empower everyone I’ve hired to do their own work.”

Directing two films next year, Fogelman’s immediate future will be spent flipping back and forth between big and small screens. “It’s all just storytelling at the end of the day,” he adds, nonchalantly. “But TV is more intimate. Films released into 3,000 theatres aren’t really character-driven, so writers are now more drawn to TV.”

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NBC has strong start with This Is Us

This Is Us
Season one of This Is Us will now comprise 18 episodes

After a promising debut for This Is Us, NBC has given the new drama an additional five episodes, taking the total number of instalments for the first season to 18. The decision was made on the eve of the show’s second episode.

Citing Live+5-day data, NBC said the show’s premiere attracted 14.3 million viewers. It also set records on NBC’s digital platform.

Commenting on the decision to extend the show from its initial 13-episode order, NBC’s Jennifer Salke said: “It’s a rare moment in this business when a show so instantly delivers both critical acclaim and hit ratings, but This Is Us is just such an achievement. Creator Dan Fogelman, along with co-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa and the producers, cast and crew, has delivered the kind of heart and depth that resonates with every segment of the audience and we’re proud to extend it.”

This Is Us is also making waves in the international market, with Channel 4 in the UK picking up the show last week. Jay Hunt, Channel 4’s chief creative officer, said: “This Is Us is unmissably life affirming with a warmth that has drawn critical acclaim and bumper ratings. It’s a great addition to our slate of acquired shows – from Deutschland 83 to Fargo.”

Fogelman’s other new series, Pitch, hasn’t had such a bright start, however. The story of the first-ever female Major League Baseball pitcher, the show was one of Fox’s weaker performers last week, bringing in 4.2 million viewers.

It has had a decent amount of critical approval, which means it will almost certainly complete its initial 13-episode run, but it will need to win over audiences quickly to secure an extended run or second season.

The first episode of CBS's Macgyver reboot picked up almost 11 million viewers
The first episode of CBS’s Macgyver reboot picked up almost 11 million viewers

Among the other new US series to have hit the air, CBS reboot MacGyver has had a strong start, securing an audience of around 10.9 million for its first episode. This is the best performance by a Friday-night scripted series on the network since Hawaii Five-0 in 2014.

With the show’s debut clearly benefiting from in-built name awareness, it will be interesting to see if it manages to hold on to that number through episodes two and three. If it does, it means the revival is an inspired move. If it drops away quickly, it will resemble ABC’s experience with The Muppets last year – namely a strong start followed by rapid loss of audience interest.

The fate of MacGyver may have some influence on whether the big four US networks continue to look at reviving classic series. Others currently in the works are The Rockford Files and LA Law, and success for MacGyver will certainly mean more.

By contrast to MacGyver, ABC’s Notorious has started very badly and looks like a prime candidate for early cancellation. Fox’s reboot of The Exorcist, with 2.9 million viewers, has also started slowly but may find its niche in international distribution because of its name recognition and supernatural subject matter.

Still in the US, FX has revealed that season four of its vampire virus series The Strain will be the last. The Strain’s writer and showrunner  is Carlton Cuse, who is also coming to the end of A&E’s Bates Motel.

The Strain will conclude with its fourth outing
The Strain will conclude with its fourth outing

There had been talk of The Strain operating to a five-season story arc, but four seasons is probably enough to play the concept out. Strong in season one, the pace and direction of the narrative started to falter in season two – something that has been reflected in the ratings.

The downward path of the ratings tells the story. While season one averaged 2.2 million, season two came in at 1.34 million (this season also suffered from an awkward piece of recasting). Now in season three, the show is averaging 1.1 million but the latest episode attracted just 880,000 – the sign of a franchise coming to the end of its life.

Elsewhere, it has been a busy week for Australian drama. On the domestic front, Nine Network has commissioned a second season of Doctor Doctor, a local comedy drama about a formerly high-flying surgeon who is forced to work as a GP in the small country town where he grew up. The series, which sounds similar to DRG’s hit format Doc Martin, was only two episodes into the first season when Nine announced the recommission.

The show’s synopsis says: “When he is knocked off his pedestal and on to the Impaired Registrants Programme, prodigal Sydney surgeon and party boy Hugh Knight must return to his home in rural Whyhope where he might learn to swallow his pride and mend his ways – or not.”

Deep Water has been picked up by Acorn
Deep Water has been picked up by Acorn

Meanwhile, US-based SVoD platform Acorn has acquired two Australian series from distributor DCD Rights. The first is Deep Water, a four-part series inspired by a crime wave targeting gay people in Sydney’s coastal communities in the 1980s and 90s. The show is a Blackfella Films production for SBS Broadcasting Australia, Screen Australia and Screen New South Wales.

Acorn TV has also picked up the second season of political thriller The Code, which is produced by Playmaker Media for Australian public broadcaster ABC. Both series have also been acquired by BBC4 in the UK, a channel that is often used as a barometer of whether a show has international sales potential.

Finally, some desperately sad news this week with the untimely death of Gary Glasberg, executive producer/showrunner of NCIS and creator/executive producer of NCIS: New Orleans. Glasberg, just 50 years old, died suddenly in his sleep on September 28.

A well-liked figure, Glasberg joined NCIS in 2009 and helped confirm its status as one of the biggest drama hits in the world – a huge ratings success in the US and widely distributed internationally.

Gary Glasberg
Gary Glasberg

His previous credits included The Mentalist, Crossing Jordan and Bones.

“Today is an overwhelmingly sad day for NCIS, CBS and anyone who was blessed to spend time with Gary Glasberg,” said CBS president of entertainment Glenn Geller. “We have lost a cherished friend, gifted creative voice, respected leader and, most memorably, someone whose warmth and kindness was felt by all around him. Our heartfelt thoughts and sympathies go out to his wife, Mimi, his two sons and all his family and friends.”

CBS TV Studios president David Stapf added: “He brought kindness, integrity and class to everything he did. His remarkable talent as a writer and producer was only matched by his ability to connect with people.”

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