Tag Archives: Robert Kirkman

Creative arms race

As Netflix and Amazon continue to flex their financial muscles, battle lines are being drawn between network, cable and digital channels in the fight for top writing talent.

Call it what you will – peak TV, the new golden age or even the first platinum era of television – there are few signs that the number of scripted dramas being produced around the world, and particularly in the US, is on the wane.

So as the transfer window for football leagues across Europe enters its final days, television is doing its best to keep up, with rival players fighting to sign up some of the small screen’s biggest talents in the hope of continuing to attract viewers.

If former Barcelona superstar Neymar is worth a world-record transfer fee of £200m (US$258m) to Paris Saint-Germain, how valuable is showrunner extraordinaire Shonda Rhimes (pictured above) to Netflix?

However much Rhimes will earn, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos would doubtless say she is worth every cent after the showrunner agreed to bring her Shondaland production company to the US streaming giant in a multi-year deal that will see her create new series for the platform. Indeed, Sarandos described Rhimes as “one of the greatest storytellers in the history of television” after securing her signature.

Shondaland’s ABC series include long-running medical drama Grey’s Anatomy

And who is in any doubt over the credibility of that statement? This is, after all, a writer and producer who has her own night on US network ABC, with Shondaland series Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder bringing in primetime audiences every Thursday.

But while becoming synonymous with ABC, which also previously aired Shondaland dramas The Catch and Still Star-Crossed, among others, Rhimes has slowly built up a relationship with Netflix. The streamer has global rights outside of the US to How To Get Away With Murder and also airs Grey’s and Scandal in many other territories.

Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that despite a long and successful partnership with the network, she has jumped ship with the promise of untold production budgets and the opportunity to tell any story she likes without having to jump through the hoops laid out by a broadcast network’s standards and practices department.

Robert Kirkman

“Her work is gripping, inventive, pulse-pounding, heart-stopping, taboo-breaking television at its best,” Sarandos continued, with all the hyperbole of a football club chairman announcing his club’s latest star signing, lacking only a Netflix T-shirt with Rhimes’ name across the back. “I’ve gotten the chance to know Shonda and she’s a true Netflixer at heart – she loves TV and films, she cares passionately about her work and she delivers for her audience.”

Rhimes hinted at the potential to break away from the more stringent rules at ABC when she said: “Ted provides a clear, fearless space for creators at Netflix. He understood what I was looking for – the opportunity to build a vibrant new storytelling home for writers with the unique creative freedom and instantaneous global reach provided by Netflix’s singular sense of innovation. The future of Shondaland at Netflix has limitless possibilities.”

While Grey’s, now entering its 14th season, and its ABC stablemates will not be moving with Rhimes, one wonders what new projects Shondaland will be pitching to the streamer.

In the case of The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, the dark content that comprises his comic book back catalogue and the output of his Skybound Entertainment prodco provides a clue of what is likely to come now that he too has agreed an online deal, with Amazon being the beneficiary in this case.

The Walking Dead is one of the biggest shows in the world, giving cable network AMC the kinds of ratings that broadcast networks would once have considered unremarkable. Kirkman is also behind Cinemax’s Outcast and is developing pre-apocalyptic drama Five Year, which is being prepared for multiple territories including Germany, India, Brazil and Italy.

“Robert is a gifted storyteller who shares our passion for elevated genre storytelling that pushes boundaries,” said Sharon Tal Yguado, head of event series at Amazon Studios, which is ramping up its focus on science-fiction, fantasy and horror series. “Robert and the team at Skybound are some of the most innovative and fearless creatives in the business. Together, we plan to explore immersive worlds and bold ideas for Prime Video.”

Kirkman is best known as the creator of AMC’s The Walking Dead

The digital tractor beam has also managed to pull in major movie talent, with Netflix revealing it had tapped the sought-after Coen Brothers (The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men) to produce western anthology series The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – a six-parter starring Tim Blake Nelson that will feature six different frontier tales featuring the eponymous character.

“We are streaming, motherfuckers,” said Joel and Ethan Coen, understatedly, in what was another coup for Netflix in the wake of Disney’s revelation that it would be pulling its movie titles from the SVoD player in 2019.

It’s a stark reality that the some of the biggest names in TV and film will head to Netflix and Amazon due to the promise of being given the freedom to let their creative juices flow. But what is left for the networks they leave behind? AMC will have to make do without the next series from Kirkman, while Matthew Weiner, who spent eight years at the channel with Mad Men, has also set up his next show – The Romanoffs – at Amazon. Cable rival FX, meanwhile, has been tying down its biggest creative assets, among them Noah Hawley (Fargo, Legion) and Donald Glover (Atlanta), for fear of them also moving on.

Noah Hawley

But it is broadcast networks that will face the biggest challenge. Already trailing in the wake of their subscription-based competitors and unable to place the same bets on niche dramas as their cable and streaming rivals, the onus is on them to unearth new gems each year to keep their advertisers happy.

ABC Studios has been doing some transfer business of its own, reuniting with veteran showrunner Carlton Cuse (Jack Ryan, Bates Motel) who oversaw six seasons of Lost for the Alphanet Network. The hope will be that he can steer some new shows in its direction.

But like smaller football clubs facing off against their bigger rivals, television now has a new ecosystem, and it’s likely networks will have to get used to seeing their best and brightest talents picked off.

The demanding nature of network dramas means they should continue to be the biggest training ground for up-and-coming writing talent as writers rooms grapple with the demands of 22-episode seasons. That’s where the next great storytellers will emerge to take the places of Rhimes et al.

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Spirited display from pay TV

Outcast
Outcast was given a cross-platform launch

The success of movie franchise The Conjuring suggests the supernatural is back in business. After the original film came a spin-off called Annabelle, which grossed around US$250m worldwide. Then came The Conjuring 2, which recently topped the box office worldwide (except in China). And now there’s talk of a new movie spin-off called The Nun, which is based on The Conjuring 2’s demonic antagonist.

The TV business has also realised that ghosts and ghouls are fertile territory. In the US, HBO sister channel Cinemax has just launched Robert ‘The Walking Dead’ Kirkman’s new 10-part project Outcast, in which a young man searches for answers as to why he’s been suffering from supernatural possessions throughout his life.

Echoing recent trends, the show was given a cross-platform launch – starting two weeks before its official debut date (June 3). Aggregating the data from HBO/Cinemax platforms, YouTube, Facebook and Playstation 4 (all of which aired the first episode), the show was viewed around four million times – a record for Cinemax. With the show also generating a good response among critics and on IMDb (8.2), it looks like Kirkman could be in for another long journey.

The Enfield Haunting
The Enfield Haunting could come back to Sky in the form of a franchise

Sky TV in the UK has also decided there is a future in spookery. After the success of last year’s miniseries The Enfield Haunting, it has revealed plans to revisit the genre. Details are not yet clear but there are reports that Sky will revive the franchise as a series of 90-minute feature length dramas. It’s not obvious exactly how this will work as The Enfield Haunting was a self-enclosed story. It may decide to work with the same characters, or retain part of the brand (The XXX Haunting). But the fact that it is considering a feature-length format is interesting, since this is a growing trend among pay TV/SVoD platforms.

On top of Outcast, the HBO family has had a pretty good week in the scripted genre. Fantasy phenomenon Game of Thrones picked up the Jury Grand Prize at the Banff World Media Festival’s 2016 Rockie Awards. There was also good news for Damon Lindelof, who picked up Banff’s Showrunner of the Year Award. Lindelof, whose credits include Lost, is currently in charge of HBO’s acclaimed drama The Leftovers.

Feed the Beast
Feed the Beast stars David Schwimmer (left) and Jim Sturgess

The news was less positive over at AMC, where new restaurant drama Feed the Beast has had a lacklustre debut. Despite starring a talented duo in David Schwimmer (Friends) and Jim Sturgess (One Day), the show has seen its ratings slip badly after a reasonable first episode. The premiere attracted 976,000, but this was followed up by an episode-two audience of just 398,000 and an episode-three audience of 484,000. Its 6.9 IMDb rating is also discouraging.

Other shows in the news this week include Orphan Black, the cult sci-fi thriller that has been such a big hit for US cable channel BBC America and Canadian sci-fi channel Space. This week, just ahead of the season four finale, BBC America announced there would be a fifth season of the clone drama in 2017 – but that this would be the last.

Orphan Black
Orphan Black has been given a fifth and final season

“Orphan Black is a thrilling, genre-bending ride that has captured our fans’ imaginations and hearts like no other show,” said Sarah Barnett, president of BBC America. “Our genius team of actors, writers and producers have, time after time, taken us to a place of awe, delight and utter shock and surprise. Tatiana (Maslany, the lead actress) has been a complete revelation– hers is one of the most remarkable performances on TV –and she is joined by an extraordinary cast. We can’t wait to take our passionate audience on one final gobsmacking clone adventure.”

Co-creators John Fawcett and Graeme Manson added: “The past four seasons have been a phenomenal adventure and we are eternally grateful to our loyal fans who have loved our weird little show. We are thankful to our partners at Temple Street, and to BBC America and Space for their support and giving us the opportunity to end on a high.”

Also in the news this week is Filmpool’s constructed reality show Day and Night. Originated in Germany and sold as a format on the international market, each episode of Day and Night spans 24 hours in the lives of eight diverse young inhabitants of a trendy apartment in the heart of a vibrant metropolis. Although it is a drama, Day and Night adds to its authenticity by using amateur actors and real locations.

Day and Night Berlin
Day and Night Berlin

The show is sold abroad by All3Media International, which this week secured orders for more than 350 new episodes. RTL Hungary has just greenlit the highest number of episodes of Day and Night in one order (outside Germany) with 249 new one-hour episodes now set to air on RTL Klub. This brings the total episodes ordered for Hungary since its first airing in 2013 to more than 1000.

In Bulgaria, meanwhile, MTG has ordered another 140 one-hour episodes of Day and Night for air on the Nova channel later this year. Others countries where the show has done well include France (W9), Austria (ATV) and Slovakia (PLUS).

Lucy Roberts, formats sales manager for northern EMEA at All3Media International, said: “We’re delighted that Day and Night is continuing to go from strength to strength across the CEE region. The format is fantastic proof of Filmpool’s expertise in this genre, boasting scripts and characters that are always engaging and relevant to its target audience, and multiple story arcs and themes that keep viewers hooked across the whole series. Combine this with the ability to generate a huge buzz on social media and its diverse commercial interactive opportunities, and Day and Night represents a great proposition for broadcasters looking to target the youth audience.”

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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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CBS boldly goes for Star Trek series

The original Star Trek series
The original Star Trek series

It’s 50 years since sci-fi adventure series Star Trek launched as a TV series. Since then it has given birth to seven TV series and 12 films – and that’s not the end of its intergalactic journey.

This summer there will be a new movie, Star Trek Beyond. And then in 2017 comes a new TV series, to be aired on CBS.

The CBS show is being co-created and produced by Bryan Fuller, who is also the showrunner. Fuller, whose major credits to date include Hannibal, revealed this week that he has invited Nicholas Meyer onto the writing team of the show.

Meyer is widely acknowledged to have re-energised the franchise with his work on the 1982 movie The Wrath of Khan and his subsequent involvement in the fourth and sixth films.

Fuller said: “Nicholas Meyer chased Kirk and Khan around the Mutara Nebula and around Genesis’ flames, he saved the whales with the Enterprise and waged war and peace between Klingons and the Federation. We are thrilled to announce that one of Star Trek’s greatest storytellers will be boldly returning as Nicholas Meyer beams aboard the new Star Trek writing staff.”

It’s too early to know how CBS plans to evolve the show (a female captain on the USS Enterprise, maybe?), but you can guarantee it will be a focal point in terms of international distribution during the coming year.

The last TV iteration of the franchise, Enterprise, aired on The UPN Network (a precursor to The CW) in the US from 2001 to 2005. Internationally, it was mainly restricted to science-fiction-themed channels. But the new Star Trek series feels like it has potential to have a greater impact on the global market.

The most likely outcome is that it will end up on a mix of pay TV and mainstream TV channels (though it is the kind of show that might just sneak into weekend teatime slots on some of the world’s bigger free TV broadcasters). But there are a couple of other possibilities.

American Crime Story
David Schwimmer and John Travolta in American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson

One is that CBS might use the show to try to brand its international networks, in the way AMC is now doing with AMC Global and Fear The Walking Dead. Another is that CBS might get an irresistible offer from Netflix or Amazon, both of which have aired the Star Trek back catalogue on their platforms.

Whatever the outcome, expect to see a lot of Star Trek activity at Comic-Con International in San Diego in July.

Meanwhile, four episodes in and American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson has seen its audience slide from 5.1 million to 2.99 million on FX. That’s still very good, however, and has already led to a renewal. For anyone wondering what the subject of the next series might be, FX CEO John Landgraf has been telling the US media it will focus on 2005’s Hurricane Katrina and the devastating impact it had on the people of New Orleans.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Landgraf said next season won’t focus on a singular crime “but there were a series of pretty serious crimes that took place in and around Katrina. Part of what Ryan [Murphy], Nina [Jacobson] and Brad [Simpson] want do with this franchise is use these compelling and entertaining stories to delve into what lies beneath the surface of crime and of our society.

“Katrina is really an interesting decision in that regard. It’s a big, epic story. On one level, it’s a disaster story with all the sort of human scale and tragedy and interest that any story might have, but then inside it there are all these other fascinating sub-stories. Why were the levees flawed? How did they get that way? Why were there hospitals where life-support systems were being turned off? How did a bunch of people end up inside the Superdome, essentially living in squalid conditions?”

One point not raised in this comment is that Katrina brings with it the same background of racial tensions and media frenzy that swirled around the OJ case. Initially, African Americans were accused of committing a series of criminal acts under cover of the storm, but subsequent investigation found that this was the kind of hysterical misinformed rumour that often accompanies such tragic events. Instead, the real story of Katrina was the number of black deaths that took place at the hands of white gun-toting vigilantes. So it will be interesting to see how FX steers through this subject.

Death in Paradise has sold to well over 200 countries
Death in Paradise, which has sold to well over 200 countries, is getting a sixth season

Spike Lee previously looked at Katrina for HBO in the documentary When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts. Released in 2006, this was a superb, award-winning piece of work but one that focused primarily on personal testimony related to the storm. It came out before stories about the vigilante killings had been properly investigated and accepted as genuine.

Other noteworthy stories this week include the news that multilingual video-streaming site Viki is partnering with The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman on a new scripted series. Five Year is an original story about a family living under the threat of a deadly meteor hurtling toward Earth.

In an interesting twist, the 16-part show is being produced as a Korean drama by Kirkman’s US-based company Skybound Entertainment.

“This has been a story I have wanted to tell for quite some time, but David [Alpert, production partner and Skybound president/co-founder] and I wanted to make sure it found a proper home where it could grow and breathe creatively. Looking at what Viki has done in not only the dramatic series space, but transforming the way viewers consume and translate media, we knew immediately Five Year had found its home.”

US-Asia TV collaborations are still rare but Viki CEO Tammy Nam believes this is changing: “We’re thrilled to be working with the creators of one of the most popular TV series of all time. The fact that David and Robert wanted to make Five Year as a K-drama is a testament to the popularity and quality of Asian programming. In many ways, Viki and Skybound represent the future of global entertainment, particularly with Hollywood-Asia collaborations and VoD platforms like Viki leading distribution and fan-building.”

In Europe, the biggest greenlight news of the week has been the BBC’s decision to give Red Planet Pictures’ Guadeloupe-based crime drama Death in Paradise a sixth season. Claimed to be the third highest-rating UK drama of 2015, it is also the fourth best-selling British drama export, having been sold to 237 territories.

Also in the UK, BBC2 has ordered a second season of Touchpaper TV’s confessional drama series Murder. The Bafta-winning series was co-created by Robert Jones and Kath Mattock and written by Robert Jones. Continuing with the same format, Murder uses confessions to revisit the missing moments leading up to a death, in search of the truth. Jones and Mattock spent months in the public galleries of the Old Bailey researching real-life murder cases for inspiration and authenticity.

Intercut with CCTV footage, live action and forensic evidence, the show sees protagonists speaking to the camera and giving their version of events. But where does the truth lie when different versions don’t add up?

Elsewhere, SVT in Sweden has ordered a multi-generational drama set at the end of the Second World War in and around a family-run restaurant. Our Time is Now is a 20-part series that explores the lives of the family members and delves into their ambitions following the end of the conflict. The show is set to air in late 2017 and is being coproduced by SVT, Modern Times Group-owned Viaplay and film fund Film Väst. The main writer is Ulf Kvensler and the story is based on an idea by Johan Rosalind.

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Dave Erickson: Giving new life to Dead franchise

After several near-misses, Fear The Walking Dead showrunner Dave Erickson tells Michael Pickard why this was the right time to join the world of the ‘walkers.’

For Dave Erickson, it seemed the opportunity might never arise. Having almost joined the writing team of The Walking Dead on several occasions, the timing was never quite right.

But when AMC announced a companion series to its hit zombie drama, Erickson finally landed his chance – as showrunner, no less – and is now steering a show that shattered cable records when it launched in August.

“I wrote a pilot based on a treatment by (The Walking Dead creator) Robert Kirkman five years ago. I didn’t know Robert or his work, but I started reading his comics,” Erickson tells DQ. “Shortly after, The Walking Dead launched on AMC and I danced around working for him on that show a couple of times but never actually did.

Dave Erickson (right) alongside FTWD exec producer Gale Anne Hurd
Dave Erickson (right) alongside FTWD exec producer Gale Anne Hurd

“I was always working. It coincided with my time working for Kurt Sutter on Sons of Anarchy. There was always an overlap; there was never a window of time that I could have done a season of The Walking Dead without it conflicting with Sons.

“But (Kirkman) and I stayed in touch, and when he came up with the idea to do the new series, he called to see if I was available – and I was.”

That new series, Fear The Walking Dead (FTWD), launched on AMC to record ratings for a series launch in terms of both total viewers (10.13 million) and adults aged 18-49 (6.3 million).

The story follows the struggles of one family living in LA at the dawn of the zombie apocalypse.

With its six-episode first season drawing to a close in October, the show has already been renewed for a 15-episode season to air in 2016. Season six of The Walking Dead also begins in October.

Signing up for FTWD, Erickson says he was aware of the popularity of the original series – which is regularly described as the biggest show on TV and draws ratings that dwarf those of many network shows. But it wasn’t until he appeared at San Diego Comic-Con this summer that the magnitude of its fandom became clear.

“I’m a bit of a luddite, I don’t track the ratings, but I knew how big The Walking Dead was,” he explains. “However, I didn’t get caught up in it until Comic-Con. It was my first one, and it was an interesting awakening getting up close and personal with the fanbase.

Erickson says there are no plans at present for the two Walking Dead shows to synchronise timelines
Erickson says there are no plans at present for the two Walking Dead shows to synchronise timelines

“What was interesting to me (about FTWD) was the way Robert looked back at the comics and the original show and saw elements he hadn’t fully explored. He saw opportunities for more narrative. Because the original series begins with Rick (Andrew Lincoln) waking up from a coma, there’s a big chunk of story readers and the audience never got to see. There’s the opportunity to see the fall of a major city and the building blocks of the apocalypse, but he was also interested in exploring specific thematics.

“He was very interested in the theme of violence. The Walking Dead goes from zero to apocalypse very quickly. Robert’s point in our show is that killing is hard – and because the walkers (The Walking Dead universe’s term for zombies) are ‘fresher,’ they seem human.

“So it’s a physical challenge to stop a walker but it also takes an emotional toll. There’s psychological trauma that goes with that, and Robert felt that was something he hadn’t had the opportunity to do in the original.”

Erickson was also able to bring his own ideas to the show, most notably the struggles of the central family. “The idea of a blended family and resentful children of divorce was something I wanted to explore,” he says. “The great irony for me is that, fundamentally, it’s a family drama. It’s a story of two parents trying to rein in this dysfunctional family and bring them under one roof and the only way that happens is because of the onset of the zombie apocalypse.”

As well as Sons of Anarchy, the FX crime drama that ended after seven seasons last December, the showrunner’s credits include another AMC series, Low Winter Sun, and Netflix original series Marco Polo.

He cites Sons creator Kurt Sutter as one of his showrunning role models, alongside Low Winter Sun’s Chris Mundy.

Speaking about creating the first season of FTWD, he says: “We had more lead time because Robert and I had written a pilot. We’d also done a fairly comprehensive season arc so we had a very specific line for the first six episodes.

FTWD achieved the most successful series premiere in US cable history
FTWD achieved the most successful series premiere in US cable history

“When the writers room was assembled, we were working off this document, but the great thing about bringing the room together and getting fresh eyes on your material is you realise sometimes there are other options and the choices you made may not be the best ones. It’s pretty much the same set-up as we had for Sons of Anarchy. Marco Polo was the same too. The room comes together and it’s about talking through characters and trying to figure out how they respond to whatever obstacle or conflict you throw at them.”

Going into season two, does Erickson have a map for the rest of the series? “I have arcs in mind, I have scenes in mind,” he says. “I have moments for specific characters and places I want to land. It’s just a question as things evolve whether they will be included in season four or season seven, for example. I need some kind of end point for an episode and a season. It doesn’t mean that won’t change as you get deeper into the story, but I like to have mile markers.”

Despite FTWD and The Walking Dead being set in the same zombie-ravaged universe, Erickson says the two are fundamentally different shows and that there are no plans to synchronise their timelines any time soon.

“It’s not a priority right now. It’s about letting our show and our characters evolve and seeing how that defines the chronology,” he explains. “We have the same DNA; the show lives under the same mythological umbrella as The Walking Dead and the comic. The walkers are infected, they have similar rules, they die the same way and they come back the same way. But it’s become its own thing.

“It does have a different base – it’s slower at the beginning because I’m taking time to develop the family. We have time to examine the family dynamic – whereas in the original show, they went ‘full zombie’ very quickly and the family drama element was always at par or catching up with the apocalypse itself.

“We’re able to examine smaller stories on this larger apocalyptic stage. It’s very much a smaller story set against this larger backdrop, as opposed to the larger backdrop being established first and trying to play on that. It’s definitely apocalyptic – we depict the fall of civilisation – but I think we found a way to do that through a very specific filter and a very specific lens.”

On the back of its record-breaking debut, FTWD has proved an able companion for The Walking Dead. With web series Fear The Walking Dead: Flight 462 set to launch alongside its season one finale, fans are certain to get their fill of zombies before season two returns next year.

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Spin it to win it: The rising popularity of spin-off series

As AMC prepares to launch Fear The Walking Dead, Michael Pickard looks at the trend towards producing spin-offs of popular shows and examines why such series are so popular with television networks.

In the increasingly congested world of television drama, it takes a brave commissioner to back a slate of original series for fear they might crash and burn without ever breaking into the public consciousness.

So what better way to offer new programming and give viewers more of what they like than to build on an existing hit series?

Reboots, re-imaginings, prequels, sequels and companion series are nothing new, of course.

Andrew Lincoln in the sixth season of the original The Walking Dead
Andrew Lincoln in the sixth season of the original The Walking Dead

Among the biggest successes was The Bionic Woman, a follow-up to 1970s series The Six Million Dollar Man, while Star Trek: The Original Series led to countless continuations, including The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise.

Stargate SG-1 led to Infinity, Atlantis and Universe; Doctor Who branched off with Torchwood; and, more recently, The Vampire Diaries spawned The Originals, Pretty Little Liars moved to Ravenswood and Once Upon a Time led to Once Upon a Time in Wonderland.

In Britain, the success of time-travelling police drama Life on Mars led to hard-hitting detective Gene Hunt getting his own series in follow-up Ashes to Ashes, while Inspector Morse was followed by sequel Lewis and prequel Endeavour.

Perhaps the most famous examples of spin-offs are the long-running procedural series that have been reworked for multiple locations across the US. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, set in Las Vegas, was spun off for New York and Miami, and also led to cyber-crime series CSI: Cyber.

JAG led to NCIS, which itself has had spin-offs NCIS: Los Angeles, failed pilot Red and New Orleans.

Meanwhile, another long-running series, Law & Order, led to Special Victims Unit, Criminal Intent, Trial by Jury and Los Angeles, and has been adapted in the UK and Russia.

Elsewhere, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was followed by Angel, and Chicago Fire is now part of an NBC franchise created by Law & Order’s Dick Wolf that includes Chicago PD and Chicago Med.

The list goes on – and it’s about to get even longer.

Fear the Walking Dead (FTWD, pictured top), which launches on US cable network AMC on August 23, is a “companion series” to the hugely successful zombie drama The Walking Dead, which is now entering its sixth season on the same channel.

Could Empire, which airs on Fox, be the next show to get a spin-off?
Could Empire, which airs on Fox, be the next show to get a spin-off?

Ahead of the spin-off’s launch, The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman shared his hopes for the new series in an open letter, in which he hinted that Fear will stand alone from its parent show.

“Here we go again,” he begins. “I don’t say that with the exhausted tone one might expect coming from someone embarking on a companion show while also working on the sixth season of the original. Truth be told, I would have to fill this space with exclamation points to accurately represent just how excited I am about Fear the Walking Dead. It’s so cool for me to be expanding The Walking Dead universe in such exciting and new ways.”

Kirkman, who created the comic book on which The Walking Dead is based, says the original series has always been about the characters – and the spin-off series gives him and the writing team the chance to introduce a new band of survivors in their post-outbreak world.

“These people have their own experiences and reasons to survive,” he explains. “They’re complicated, real characters who will not be dealing with the undead the same way. They’ll learn new things, they’ll find new tools, they’ll learn faster or slower. But what we end up with is a very, very different show… set in a world we love exploring as much as we’d all never want to live there.”

At a recent Television Critics Association panel to discuss the series, FTWD showrunner Dave Erickson separated the two shows further by stating that, unlike those in the original, characters the new series won’t use the term ‘walkers’ to describe the zombies.

Executive producer Dave Alpert added: “The show (The Walking Dead) in season six is different from what’s happening in season one and there were so many questions about what happened in season one that we thought it was a ripe area that wouldn’t tread on the mothership. We look at Fear as unique enough to stand on its own with characters you’d be invested in.”

With the trend for spin-offs showing no sign of slowing down, surely expanding what’s arguably the biggest show on television has to be a safe bet.

AMC certainly believes there are more stories to tell in the Walking Dead world, with FTWD already building on its six-part first season with a 15-episode second run in the works.

Another show that could get a companion series is music drama Empire. Creator Lee Daniels teased the idea when discussing the Fox series, which is preparing for its season two launch, as it is already known that he’s developing another drama about an all-girl band called Star.

Spin-off series offer fans the chance to enjoy more of their favourite television series by expanding the world in which they’re set, so long as they contain engaging characters and unique stories. They can also lead to ‘event’ crossover episodes – as is the case with Arrow and The Flash on The CW.

But if variety is the spice of life, TV networks might be wise to ensure they don’t rely on diluting their most popular franchises for fear of fulfilling the law of diminishing returns.

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