Tag Archives: Ryan Murphy

Networks and streamers look for laughs

The 2014 movie Dear White People
The 2014 movie Dear White People

This week there has been a lot of movement on the scripted comedy front. Netflix, for example, has given a series order to Dear White People, a 10-part adaptation of Justin Simien’s 2014 movie of the same name.

Due to air on the US streamer in 2017, it tells the story of a group of students of colour at a fictional Ivy League university dominated by white students. Like the film, the series will be produced for Netflix by Lionsgate.

Commenting on the deal, Chris Selak, executive VP of television at Lionsgate Television, said: “We’re proud to expand our partnership with our friends at Netflix on a comedy that tackles racial themes with a combination of intelligence, honesty, irreverence and wit. Our original film with Roadside Attractions catapulted Dear White People into the national conversation about race, and Justin and the rest of the creative team have an opportunity to expand this world and bring its timely and universal themes to a global television audience.”

Another comedy in the news this week is E4’s Foreign Bodies, which follows a motley gang of travellers on a three-month trip around Asia. The show, which is being produced by indie company Eleven and is backed by eOne, was first unveiled by E4 in January. But this week it was announced that US cable channel TNT is coming on board as a partner.

“Foreign Bodies is a terrific opportunity for TNT to work with eOne, Eleven and E4 on a series that will appeal to young adults not only in the US and the UK but also around the globe,” said Sarah Aubrey, exec VP of original programming for TNT. “It’s also a great chance to bring (the show’s creator) Tom Basden’s voice to our stateside viewers.”

The Mindy Project is getting a second season on Hulu, its fifth run overall
The Mindy Project is getting a second season on Hulu, its fifth run overall

Hulu, meanwhile, has announced that there will be a new season of The Mindy Project. The show aired on Fox in the US for three seasons before moving to Hulu for season four. The new run will take the total number of series to five (and the total number of episodes over 100).

A number of critics have been watching season four closely since it launched in September to see how the show has changed under new management. The general conclusion has been ‘not much’ – although the Hulu episodes are two to three minutes longer. This has led some observers to suggest that The Mindy Project has benefited as a result, because it can dwell a little longer on comic scenarios or character development.

Hulu’s announcement about Mindy was part of its Upfronts, which also included some news about its drama slate. It has, for example, ordered a pilot set in prehistoric times called Dawn. Created by Hank Steinberg (The Last Ship, Without a Trace) and Ken Nolan (Transformers 5, Black Hawk Down), the show centres on a tribe of Neanderthals and their battle for survival after meeting a group of Homo Sapiens.

The company also announced there will be a second season of The Path, which centres on a religious cult.

Michelle Monaghan and Aaron Paul in The Path
Michelle Monaghan and Aaron Paul in The Path

Among other major scripted stories this week is the news that FX in the US has ordered Feud – another anthology drama series from Ryan Murphy. The eight-episode show, which also involves Fox 21 Television Studios and Brad Pitt’s prodco Plan B Entertainment, will star Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange. Based on a script by Jaff Coihen and Michael Zam, it explores the rivalry between iconic US actors Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.

This week also saw National Geographic in the US move forward with Killing Reagan, a TV adaptation of Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard’s book of the same name. Playing Reagan, the actor who became US president, will be Tim Matheson (The West Wing). His wife Nancy will be played by Cynthia Nixon (Sex in the City). The script for the adaptation is from Eric Simonson, a documentarian who is also a member of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company.

The Killing franchise has been a remarkable success for Nat Geo in recent years. Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy and Killing Jesus, which were also based on books by O’Reilly and Dugard, were the most watched shows in the channel’s history. Kennedy and Jesus were also Emmy-nominated. The new show is different from the other Killing productions in that it deals with an unsuccessful assassination attempt (by John Hinckley in 1981). The other three stories famously ended with the deaths of their protagonists.

The chaotic scene in the immediate aftermath of the attempted assassination of Ronal Reagan
The chaotic scene in the immediate aftermath of the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan

There are also a couple of stories this week about planned book adaptations. Sonar Entertainment is developing a show about the contraceptive pill based on a book by Jonathan Eig. Called The Birth of the Pill, the show centres on the four people who were involved with the development of the birth control during a period of sweeping social change and rapid scientific advances. Eig has previously written three non-fiction books, two based around baseball players and one about the plot to capture gangster Al Capone. The TV adaptation is being written by Audrey Wells, who has penned a number of popular movies including The Game Plan, Shall We Dance and Under the Tuscan Sun.

In the UK, meanwhile, there are reports that production firm Rooks Nest is developing Joseph O’Neill’s acclaimed novel Netherland for TV. The project is Rooks Nest’s first move into TV drama after success with recent movies such as The Witch and Obvious Child. Netherland is set in post-9/11 New York and London and centres on Hans, a Dutch expat working on Wall Street who rediscovers his love of cricket when he joins the Staten Island cricket team. However, he soon falls under the spell of the team’s charismatic Trinidadian coach Chuck Ramkissoon.

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Fans go Gaga for Hotel – but what next?

Lady Gaga in American Horror Story: Hotel
Lady Gaga in American Horror Story: Hotel

The Golden Globes award ceremony was a perfect example of why you might want to put Lady Gaga in your TV drama. Not only is she a good actress, as evidenced by her performance in FX’s American Horror Story: Hotel, but her every slightest action sends the media into a feeding frenzy. When she brushed past fellow actor Leonardo DiCaprio to collect her award for her role in the anthology series, she made front-page news around the world.

The Gaga factor was also evident during the first episode of AHS: Hotel, which attracted a staggering 5.81 million viewers when it launched on October 7 last year. Within weeks, FX had announced an order for season six of the franchise. Creator Ryan Murphy even went as far as to suggest that it might be possible to run two seasons of the AHS franchise per year, in spring and autumn.

Celebrity casting is, however, the TV equivalent of a sugar rush. Although Gaga’s casting had an amazing impact on AHS: Hotel’s first few episodes, the show has actually been on a steady downward slide across its entire run. From its opening high it has dropped to just 1.84 million (with the figures for the most recent episode not in at time of writing).

FX can still argue, truthfully, that the show is one of its strongest performers and that its average across the season is well ahead of channel average. But to shed 70% of its audience across a season still seems like a missed opportunity. It didn’t happen to other standout cable shows like Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead or Sons of Anarchy.

So, given that Gaga triumphed at the Globes – which means her performance was, objectively, speaking a good one – what does AHS: Hotel’s ratings decline tell us? Well, possibly it means Hotel wasn’t very good. For comparison, AHS season four, Freak Show, rarely dropped below three million viewers and finished with an average of 3.85 million.

Scream Queens
Ryan Murphy’s Scream Queens has achieved so-so results on Fox

Or maybe the audience is getting bored with horror – a genre that has been on the crest of a wave recently. After all, Murphy’s other anthology horror offering, Scream Queens has only managed to turn in a so-so performance on Fox. Just how many malformed monsters can squeeze underneath one bed?

Or maybe the AHS production team needed to carry out a bit more pre-production analysis into the kind of celebrity whose fans might stick with the show (a kind of Amazon or Netflix-style data analysis). A Golden Globe winner she might be, but perhaps there wasn’t a close enough overlap between Lady Gaga’s fanbase and that of AHS. For the long-term health of the franchise, it might have been better to cast a celebrity whose fanbase wasn’t likely to jump ship halfway through. Whatever FX chooses to glean from the show’s decline, there’s no question it’s going to have to find another big name to lead in the sixth series, the subject of which is yet to be revealed.

Heroes Reborn will not return
Heroes Reborn will not return

Still in the US, NBC has just announced that Heroes Reborn will not be renewed. Speaking to journalists, NBC chairman Bob Greenblatt made out it was no big deal by suggesting the show was only ever meant to be a limited series. But the reality is that the show didn’t really capture the audience’s interest. Having started at the 6.5 million mark, it settled down at 3.7 million for the back end of the 13-part run (this is on network television, as opposed to the lower-scoring cable universe).

As its name suggests, Heroes Reborn was a reboot of Tim Kring’s original Heroes series – but it looks like the latent demand for the franchise that NBC had anticipated didn’t really exist. Perhaps we will see the franchise return again in a decade or two. But for now it’s a reminder, if we needed one, that bringing back a classic series isn’t a guarantee of success. The news won’t be too disheartening for Kring, who is partnering with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson on Fox series Boost Unit.

Pretty Little Liars
Pretty Little Liars is still going strong

Pretty Little Liars, a hit show for Freeform (the new name for ABC Family), returned to the air this week after a four-month break. And it did pretty well, generating an audience of 2.25 million viewers. There had been fears the show might suffer after a closely followed plotline was resolved in the last episode before the break. Figures were down, but not enough to set any alarm bells ringing.

In fact, it also provided a good launch pad for a new show called Shadowhunters, which followed it in the schedule. Shadowhunters, about a group of demon-hunting teenagers who are part angel, part human (sound like Buffy?), attracted 1.82 million viewers, making it the channel’s best new show in two years. The last big debut for Freeform was Ravenswood, a spin-off of the bankable Pretty Little Liars.

Shadowhunters
Shadowhunters opened strongly

In the UK, all eyes are on the BBC’s lavish six-part adaptation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. The first two episodes were pretty good and have drawn a positive critical response. The harsher critics have accused it of being a bit soapy, a bit racy, a bit English and maybe just lacking some of the gravitas you’d associate with Tolstoy. But as Sunday evening entertainment, it’s a noble effort that benefits from a strong cast and Andrew Davies’ clever ability to cut to the heart of a complex story.

In ratings terms, it debuted to 6.3 million and then dropped to 5.3 million for episode two. That’s a strong performance with a not-unexpected drop for episode two – more like Poldark than Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. The performance of episode three will probably give us our best insight into how this six-part series will pan out. Lose another 1-1.5 million and it will look as though viewers are tiring of the show. But anything above 4.5 million and it will feel like it has found a loyal audience. All of which is significant to the international drama market because the performance of War and Peace may impact investment decisions related to other classic doorstop-novel adaptations.

Gillian Anderson and Paul Dano in War and Peace
Gillian Anderson and Paul Dano in War and Peace

Playing opposite War and Peace in the UK was German-language drama Deutschland 83. Broadcast by Channel 4, the first two episodes of the show have scored 1.5 million and 1.1 million respectively, a strong performance.

With The Bridge (Sweden/Denmark) achieving audiences of around 1.4-1.5 million on BBC4 just before Christmas and The Young Montalbano (Italy) debuting with one million in January (also BBC4), it’s clear that a significant section of the UK population is now comfortable with non-English content – which is good news for mainland Europe.

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Drama wades into class war

Childhood's End was adapted from Arthur C Clarke’s novel of the same name
Childhood’s End was adapted from Arthur C Clarke’s novel of the same name

There’s a hint of a new editorial trend in scripted TV. It involves stories about crony capitalism’s worst excesses and the people trying to do something about it, whether through orthodox legal channels or some form of anarchic or vigilante subversion.

Earlier this year, for example, we saw the launch of Danmarks Radio (DR)’s Follow the Money, a story about “speculators, swindlers and corporate princes and the crimes they commit in the pursuit of wealth.” Then there was Mr Robot, USA Network’s exploration of the battle between anarchist hackers and corporate America.

At Mipcom, Showtime debuted Billions, its take on the face-off between Wall Street’s big money-makers and government regulators.

And now we have Watchdog, a drama from Jason Winer and Jon Caren about a team of vigilante activists who expose abuses of power while evading the FBI (The A-Team with a social conscience, maybe). A script has been picked up by US broadcast network Fox, with the resultant series intended to be a procedural.

It is the second major collaboration between Winer and Care, who also developed The System, a show about the criminal justice system, for Fox.

Other new dramas this week included Roadies, a one-hour comedy from Cameron Crowe (We Bought a Zoo, Almost Famous, Jerry Maguire). Destined to air as a pilot in 2016 (with a view to becoming a series), the show is about a rock band’s team of roadies. Crowe will write and direct, while JJ Abrams’ Bad Robot is producing.

Billions is coming to Showtime
Billions is coming to Showtime

Winnie Holzman, who is executive producing alongside Crowe, said: “I’ve long wanted to work with JJ and Winnie, and coming together to tell these stories has been beyond a blast. Showtime has a great track record with music-based projects, and they’ve been wonderful partners.”

Meanwhile, ITV CEO Adam Crozier used a keynote speech at Mipcom earlier this month to explain how his company has invested heavily in increasing its drama output in both the European and US market – and this week the company’s US production division, ITV Studios America, underlined its ambition by optioning crime novel Bull Mountain.

Brian Panowich’s book centres on a small-town sheriff trying to distance himself from his family’s criminal empire. Ed Bernero (Criminal Minds, Crossing Lines) has been brought in as showrunner and will write the script for the pilot.

Sticking with the US, cable channel Syfy is in the midst of a huge creative revamp. Having axed Haven and Helix earlier in the year, it has now brought an end to Dominion and Defiance. Syfy said the latter was a “truly groundbreaking series, delivering an immersive, cross-platform experience that transcended the television screen in a way that viewers had never seen before.”

Unfortunately, not enough people were watching it, which is the same reason Dominion has been dropped.

In addition to this cancellation bloodbath, Continuum and Lost Girl are also coming to an end on the channel, all of which begs the question – what’s left?

Well, there have been renewals for 12 Monkeys, Killjoys, Dark Matter and Bitten – and there has also been a slew of new commissions. Among these is Childhood’s End, an adaptation of Arthur C Clarke’s iconic novel about the peaceful invasion of Earth by the alien Overlords, “who promise to eliminate poverty, war and sickness – ushering in a golden age of peace, health and security for all of humankind.” There is, of course, a catch, revealed over six hours across three nights.

The Magicians has been adapted from a book series described as 'Harry Potter for adults'
The Magicians has been adapted from a book series described as ‘Harry Potter for adults’

Childhood’s End is part of the recent trend towards promotable event miniseries aimed at building buzz around the channel. But it isn’t a long-term answer to Syfy’s wave of cancellations.

Instead, the new titles on which Syfy seems to be pinning its hopes are space opera/police thriller The Expanse, sci-fi/espionage hybrid Hunters and The Magicians, a 12-part series based on Lev Grossman’s best-selling fantasy trilogy. The books have described as Harry Potter for adults.

The latter, due in early 2016, joins the current trend towards fantasy adventure series (probably inspired by HBO phenomenon Game of Thrones). Other titles in the swords and/or sorcery subgenre include Sonar Entertainment’s The Shannara Chronicles (for MTV), ITV Studios Global Entertainment’s Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands, FX’s The Bastard Executioner, BBC2/BBC America’s The Last Kingdom, AMC’s Into The Badlands and Starz/FremantleMedia’s American Gods.

Elsewhere, there are reports that US showrunner Ryan Murphy (Glee, Scream Queens, American Horror Story, American Crime Story) is planning a new anthology series called One Hit Wonders that may star Gwyneth Paltrow.

The show would be a musical drama/comedy about a group of women who each had hit songs in the 1990s coming together to form a supergroup. One Hit Wonders has been knocking around for a while as a movie concept but now looks set to come to the small screen.

Murphy’s Scream Queens is not rating very well at the moment, with cancellation rumours in the air after just five episodes on Fox. But another first-time Fox show that is in pretty good shape is Rosewood. There’s no question the series has benefited from being scheduled after breakout hit Empire, but Fox has clearly seen enough already to be impressed. This week, it ordered an additional nine episodes, taking the total run for the first series to 22.

Sweden's Small Town Love is being remade by ABC in the US
Sweden’s Small Town Love is being remade by ABC in the US

“Rosewood has proven to be a real self-starter for us, which is a tremendous feat on this highly competitive night,” explained Fox entertainment president David Madden.

US network ABC is also remaking a Swedish comedy-drama Small Town Love, which was a big hit for TV4, following a deal with distributor Nordic World.

The series, set in the small town of Molkom in Värmland, begins when Anette, a dinner lady, is replaced by a coffee machine and plunged into unemployment. She decides to start a nail salon and hires her daughter as financial manager. Pretty soon, it turns out that both Anette and her daughter are pregnant and that their two deadbeat boyfriends are intending to move into Annette’s tiny townhouse. The show has been commissioned for a second season that will air sometime in 2016.

Finally, in the world of international distribution, an upcoming BBC/AMC adaptation of John le Carré’s The Night Manager is proving popular among buyers. Tele München Gruppe has acquired rights to the miniseries for German-speaking Europe, while Bonnier-owned TV4 and C More will air it in the continent’s Nordic territories. Elsewhere, DR in Denmark, Sky Italia, TV3 in New Zealand and BBC First and SBS in Australia will all air the miniseries. Starring Hugh Laurie and Tom Hiddleston, it follows a former British soldier as he uncovers a secret arms trade.

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NBC continues age of Aquarius

NBC took a 'unique approach' to delivering Aquarius
NBC is pleased with the results of its ‘unique approach’ to delivering Aquarius

NBC has greenlit a second season of its 1960s-set drama Aquarius, starring David Duchovny as an LAPD cop on the hunt for Charles Manson. The renewal follows an innovative launch strategy, which saw Aquarius become the first broadcast series to be streamed in its entirety following its debut, with NBC making all 12 episodes available online for the four weeks following the initial NBC telecast.

NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke said: “With its riveting drama and innovative release strategy, Aquarius has excited the critics, hooked millions of viewers and energised our summer. It’s no secret that the way people watch television is evolving, so we took a unique approach to how we delivered Aquarius. It has driven some record numbers for NBC Digital and helped us reach viewers who might have otherwise overlooked a great summer drama.”

Robert Hayes, exec VP of NBC Entertainment Digital, added: “Beyond generating impressive view totals, the network’s release strategy with Aquarius helped us gain new insights into viewership patterns, bingeing behaviour and social engagement, expanding our knowledge of how people are watching our shows online.”

At the time of writing, Aquarius is six episodes into its first run and doesn’t seem to have suffered from NBC’s novel release approach. Traditional broadcasts of Aquarius are averaging a 1.2 rating in adults aged 18 to 49 and 5.8 million viewers overall. The show is also indexing well in time-shifted viewing and has generated a steady stream of social media requests in support of renewal.

The success of the series owes a lot to Duchovny, who continues to be one of the most bankable TV series stars. After almost a decade as male lead in The X-Files, he fronted Showtime’s Californication for seven seasons until 2014. With Aquarius proving that Duchovny hasn’t lost his mojo, it will add to the excitement around the upcoming revival of The X-Files (which will also star the equally reliable Gillian Anderson).

The renewal is welcome news for ITV Studios Global Entertainment, which has invested heavily in the distribution rights to US scripted series over the last couple of years. It has already done a deal with Seven Network in Australia for Aquarius but will now be better placed to do business with more episodes.

Arthur Conan Doyle (left) and Houdini are heading to ITV Encore
Arthur Conan Doyle (left) and Houdini are heading to ITV Encore

The last week has also seen yet another commission rooted in the literary mythology surrounding Arthur Conan Doyle and his iconic creation Sherlock Holmes. With the character sufficiently mined via the BBC’s excellent TV series Sherlock, Guy Ritchie’s recent movies and the upcoming Ian McKellen film Mr. Holmes (all that’s left is Sherlock – Boy Detective, though even that is probably in development somewhere), attention has turned to Doyle himself.

First came ITV miniseries Arthur & George (adapted from the Julian Barnes novel) and now we have Houdini and Doyle, a 10-part crime series for ITV Encore that is being executive produced by House creator David Shore. It has been written and created by David Hoselton along with Canadian screenwriter David Titcher.

The notion of a link between Houdini and Doyle was explored in the 1997 movie FairyTale: A True Story, though the ITV Encore series will need to use a fair amount of poetic licence to fill out a 10-part crime series. The show is a coproduction between the UK’s Big Talk Productions and Canada’s Shaftesbury, with Sony Pictures Television handling international distribution. The series will air on Global in Canada and Fox in the US, as well as ITV Encore in the UK.

Meanwhile, Amazon has underlined its faith in critically acclaimed transgender comedy drama Transparent by greenlighting a third season before the second season goes to air. As part of the announcement, Amazon also said it has signed a deal with Transparent creator Jill Soloway to develop more projects.

Transparent, starring Jeffrey Tambor as its transgender central character
Transparent, starring Jeffrey Tambor as its transgender central character

“Jill is truly a creative force and I’m thrilled we will be collaborating with her on additional projects in the future and on a third season of Transparent,” said Amazon Studios VP Roy Price.

Soloway, whose other credits include Six Feet Under, added: “I am blown away by the creative freedom Amazon gives me and I can’t wait to reveal where this journey is going to take us.”

This week also saw US cable channel ABC Family greenlight a pilot called Guilt, a one-hour drama series about an American abroad in London who becomes the prime suspect in the murder of her roommate. Reminiscent of the Amanda Knox case, Guilt focuses on the investigation that unfolds after a savage murder – exploring whether the central character is a naive, young girl whose poor decisions are magnified by the British tabloid press or a sociopath who actually killed her friend.

“Guilt is a sophisticated, sexy and suspenseful crime epic that will have audiences captivated week to week,” said Karey Burke, exec VP of programming and development at ABC Family.

Like many of its US cable counterparts, ABC Family is investing more in original scripted series. Other projects in the works include Beyond, from the creator of Heroes, Tim Kring.

While most of the major production announcements in the US are made in the spring, mid-summer is when networks start to give more detail about their autumn launch plans. One of the most talked-about projects coming up this year is Scream Queens, executive produced by Glee co-creators Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan. The series, which will meld comedy, mystery and horror, is debuting with a two-hour special on September 22.

Scream Queens, from Glee co-creators Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan
Scream Queens, from Glee co-creators Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan

Fox summarises the series: “All hell is about to break loose on the Wallace University campus when, 20 years after a mysterious tragedy, a devil-clad killer begins to target the sisters of Kappa House. With at least one casualty each week until the mystery is solved, anyone could be the next victim – or the murderer.”

Scream Queens is part of a growing trend towards anthology series, seen elsewhere with titles like American Horror Story (which was created by Murphy and Falchuk), True Detective and Fargo. Its strong cast includes Emma Roberts (Scream 4), Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween), Lea Michele (Glee), Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine), Oliver Hudson (Nashville), Nick Jonas (Kingdom) and pop star Ariana Grande. Early social media buzz suggests Fox will have a hit on its hands.

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