Tag Archives: Seth Fisher

James Patterson enters the true crime arena

Steven Avery, the subject of Making a Murderer
Steven Avery, the subject of Making a Murderer

Series that deal with real-life crimes are nothing new, but until recently they have mostly inhabited the factual/reality TV space. Currently, however, there is a growing trend towards true crimes as the subject of scripted series.

Netflix’s Making A Murderer was one of the triggers for this genre. Although it was a documentary series, its filmic style – combined with the way it unravelled over 10 episodes – had an immediate impact on the way producers looked at the potential of true crime. Then there was The People vs OJ Simpson: American Crime Story, an excellent FX drama that has picked up a number of Emmy nominations this year.

Choosing the right crime is clearly half the battle in making a series like this appeal to audiences. But then you also need a writer who knows how to skilfully balance fact with fiction, someone who is willing to do the necessary research – for the sake of accuracy – but also knows how to make the characters and storylines engaging and immersive over several episodes.

Last week, for example, we reported that Rene Balcer is going to write a Law & Order-branded true crime scripted series based around Lyle and Erik Menendez, the brothers convicted of murdering their parents in 1996. Balcer is an ideal example of the kind of writer who can handle this type of project, because he combines a forensic attention to detail with a storyteller’s verve.

James Patterson
James Patterson

This week, US network Investigation Discovery announced that it is also getting into the true crime game. Although it hasn’t yet named the subject, it has signed a development deal with author James Patterson – who will create a six-part series. Explaining why the channel has elected to work with Patterson, Henry Schleiff, group president for ID, American Heroes Channel and Destination America, said: “As the best-selling author around the world since 2001, there is no bigger name than James Patterson. He is the ultimate storyteller, and for a television network known for its own powerful storytelling, to have him as our ‘partner in crime’ is truly a match made in heaven for his readers and ID’s viewers.”

It’s not clear yet whether Patterson will actually pen the scripts, or simply provide the storyline to the ID show. However, there’s no question his name will add gravitas to the project, in the way the Law & Order franchise will do for the Menendez project.

The blurring of the line between fact and fiction – and the need for writers to be able to operate in this space – is also evident in the case of Harley & The Davidsons, another high-profile production doing the rounds. Discovery Channel has just released a trailer of the limited series, which tells the story of the founders of Harley Davidson Motorcycles at the start of the 20th Century. At time of writing the trailer had been viewed seven million times, more than any other Discovery programme trailer ever.

Harley and the Davidsons
Harley & The Davidsons is being prepared for Discovery

The show is being made by Raw Television, a company best know for its factual productions, and written by Evan Wright and Seth Fisher. Wright’s credits include Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle and FX’s The Bridge, while Fisher worked on National Geographic’s founding-fathers drama Saints and Strangers. Harley Davidson opened up its archives and family members provided historical details to help the production form characters and key events. However, producers had complete editorial independence, underlining the need for a compelling story to carry the show.

In other news, UK broadcaster ITV has commissioned a four-part drama series to be written by Chris Lang and Matt Arlidge. Called Innocent, the show tells the story of a man who spends seven years in prison after being convicted of murdering his wife. When he is acquitted over a technicality, he sets about proving his innocence to his estranged family. Lang’s writing credits go all the way back to sketch comedy series Smith & Jones in the 1980s, though more recent credits include Unforgotten, Undeniable and The Tunnel. Arlidge counts Mistresses and Monarch of the Glen among his credits. The show was commissioned by ITV controller of drama Victoria Fea, who said: “Innocent is a contemporary relationship drama with a thriller pulse. Chris and Matt’s scripts have created an intense web of characters with interwoven lives – with a seemingly ordinary husband and father at its heart.”

Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson
Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson

Other projects revealed to be in the works this week include a superhero drama for Starz that has been created by Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson. Jackson was also involved in the creation of Starz hit series Power, though the actual writing job on that is handled by Courtney Kemp Agboh. The new project, called Tomorrow Today, is about a military veteran who, after being falsely imprisoned, becomes the experiment of a mad doctor trying to create the perfect man.

Starz is also working with Lionsgate and Televisa USA on an adaptation of Mexican telenovela Teresa. Writer/producer Carlos Portugal will showrun the series, which follows an undocumented young Latina as she makes her way into the world of LA wealth. “Teresa will showcase a modern take on what it means to be Latina in America,” said Starz MD Carmi Zlotnik.

Portugal’s previous credits include Meet the Browns and East Los High. The latter is an Emmy-nominated Hulu series about a group of Latino teens in their final years at a fictional high school in East LA. Portugal and the producers of the show worked with various public health organisations to incorporate storylines that encouraged young Latinos to make healthy life choices.

Katori Hall
Katori Hall

Starz has also unveiled plans for a series called Pussy Valley, which looks at the lives of pole dancers working in a strip club in Mississippi. That might look like controversial territory, but Starz has put the project in the hands of playwright Katori Hall – whose numerous acclaimed theatre shows include The Mountaintop, about Martin Luther King Jr’s last night before his assassination.

Commenting, Zlotnik said Hall “has successfully created exciting and complex roles for black women in American theatre and we’re confident she’ll continue to do so with Pussy Valley.”

This week has also seen announcements about a brace of new shows centred on personal grooming. In the US, Eliot Laurence (Welcome to Me) is writing a series called Claws that is said to be in the vein of Desperate Housewives. It follows the lives of five Florida manicurists. In the UK, the BBC has ordered a drama from Poldark writer Debbie Horsfield called Age Before Beauty.

The new drama will follow the lives and loves of workers in a salon. It is the second time Horsfield has explored this area (after Cutting It in 2002). The show is being made by Mainstreet Pictures, the independent production company set up by Laura Mackie and Sally Haynes. Commenting on the series, Mackie said: “Debbie is writing at the top of her game and in Age Before Beauty she’s created a colourful and memorable set of characters and a story that examines our obsession with the ageing process in an emotional, entertaining and surprising way.”

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Coben sees Red with new prodco

The Five writer Harlan Coben
Author Harlan Coben has formed Final Twist Productions alongside Red Production Company

As we’ve discussed previously, there’s a growing trend in the TV business for producers to go in search of talent and ideas from theatre, film and the book world. A good example was Red Production Company’s decision to link up with author Harlan Coben on The Five, an original series for European pay TV broadcaster Sky.

The primary rationale for this is to get access to good ideas. But there is also a commercial advantage in being able to add a name like Harlan Coben to your package. Producers regularly bemoan the fact that there aren’t enough top rank writers to go round, so this is one way of sprinkling sufficient fairy dust on a project to help it pass muster with the commissioning broadcaster.

As it happens, Coben didn’t write The Five. He provided the idea, which was then turned into TV by Danny Brocklehurst (with Coben an active participant in the creative process). Potentially there’s a double benefit here. If The Five does well, Coben-backed projects have greater appeal. At the same time, Danny Brocklehurst also becomes an increasingly in-demand writer.

Anyway, the point of all this speculation is that Coben has just announced that he is launching his own independent production company in partnership with Red. Coben will be joint CEO of the new company, Final Twist Productions, alongside Red founder Nicola Shindler, with StudioCanal handling international distribution of any original content that emerges from the firm.

The new company is already in development on a series called Six Years, adapted from Coben’s bestselling novel. It tells the story of Jake, a college professor who six years earlier watched the love of his life, Natalie, marry another man. But when Natalie’s husband is murdered and Jake goes to find her, he discovers the grieving widow is not Natalie at all, but a woman he’s never seen before. As Jake seeks to uncover the truth, his search takes him on a dark journey that puts his life at risk.

Shindler: 'We wanted to do something that was incredibly hooky'
Red Production Company’s Nicola Shindler

Significantly, the new firm will be based in the US and will develop “contemporary, thrilling drama for American broadcast networks.” This is a significant step both for Red and StudioCanal, both of which take pride in their European DNA.

Coben said: “Nicola and I had such a terrific experience creating The Five for Sky1. I couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve made. Final Twist Productions will take our American-British teamwork to the next level by bringing Nicola’s daring new outlook and producing style to the USA.”

Shindler was equally enthusiastic: “I am excited about our upcoming projects for US audiences, which will have Harlan’s characteristic blend of suspense, humour and hope.”

The race to lock in great writing talent has also seen Zodiak Rights, part of the newly enlarged Banijay Group, sign a first-look finance and distribution deal with Arise Pictures this week. Key to this deal is access to an original slate of programming created and written by Arise’s co-founder, LA-based British writer/director David Raymond (The Other Man, Sins, Absence of War).

Tim Mutimer, head of distribution at Banijay Group, said: “David is brilliant at creating original, returnable series with global appeal, and Arise comes equipped with a slate of content that perfectly aligns with the Banijay Group scripted strategy. We are delighted to be working together to utilise the international distribution channels of the newly merged group to help bring these projects to the market.”

David Raymond working on set
David Raymond working on set

Raymond added: “For me, the great thing here is the creative support. By collaborating with a global partner, we have been able to create a flexible commercial framework that puts the creatives first and moulds the finance plan around the project’s individual requirements. It’s liberating and gives us a platform to focus on narrative and hopefully create content that audiences are going to want to return to.”

The first series under the deal is expected to go into production later this year – details to follow.

Other interesting announcements this week include Sonar Entertainment’s decision to option the rights to bestselling graphic novel The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story, written by Vivek J Tiwary. The critically acclaimed novel will be developed as a multi-part event series, with Tiwary adapting his work for TV and serving as executive producer.

The Fifth Beatle recounts the story of Beatles manager Brian Epstein and his effort to drive the unknown band from playing in a cellar in Liverpool to international superstardom. Epstein overcame great obstacles, being a gay man at a time when homosexual acts were illegal.

Tiwary says: “Brian Epstein’s story is rich in inspiration and is set amid a backdrop of great cultural change and the legendary history of The Beatles, so an event series feels like the only way to do Brian justice. We’re going to do wonderful things with the extra creative room afforded to us and I’m thrilled to be working with Sonar to take advantage of all the exciting elements this format has to offer.”

The Fifth Beatle
Vivek J Tiwary’s The Fifth Beatle is being made into an event series

News of the adaptation comes as another man often referred to as the ‘fifth Beatle’ – legendary producer George Martin – passed away aged 90.

Another interesting project in the works is a series about Grand Duchess Anastasia, which is being prepared for Freeform (formerly ABC Family) in the US. Anastasia was probably executed with the rest of the Russian royal family during the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. But there were rumours in the following years that she had actually escaped with her life. This project supposes she did survive and went to live in Paris, where she became a spy.

The idea is from Daniel Mackey and Seth Fisher. We’ve talked about Fisher in this column previously. Having made his name as the writer, director, star and editor of Blumenthal, he moved on to co-write National Geographic Channel’s four-hour Mayflower pilgrims miniseries Saints and Strangers. In January he was also named as co-writer of Discovery Channel’s Harley & The Davidsons, a limited series about the origins of the iconic motorcycle brand. Clearly he is seen as being good at spicing up history. His partner on the new project – Mackey – is less well established. His major credit to date is web series Aim High.

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Overmyer and Fisher board the Mayflower

Seth Fisher has teamed with Eric Overmyer on Saints and Strangers
Seth Fisher has teamed with Eric Overmyer on Saints and Strangers

National Geographic Channel announced a star-studded cast for its upcoming four-hour miniseries Saints and Strangers this week. The story of the Mayflower pilgrims’ arrival in the New World, it will feature the likes of Anna Camp (Pitch Perfect), Michael Jibson (Hatfields & McCoys), Vincent Kartheiser (Mad Men), Natascha McElhone (Californication) and Ron Livingston (Band of Brothers).

The original script for the miniseries was written by Chip Johannessen (Homeland), with revisions by Walon Green (Killing Jesus). But the final version is in the hands of Eric Overmyer and Seth Fisher, a combination that promises a mix of experience and innovation.

Overmyer, the senior partner, has a lengthy list of credits that includes Homicide: Life on the Street, Law & Order and The Wire. In all of these productions, he came on board when the projects were up and running as a writer/consulting producer. However, he has also proved his ability to set up high-profile series from scratch. He was, for example, co-creator of HBO’s Treme, which explored post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans. More recently, he developed the Amazon original series Bosch, pulling together talent he had worked with on The Wire, Law & Order, Treme and Boardwalk Empire (another credit).

Fisher is a different proposition. 30 years Overmyer’s junior, he is best known as the writer, director, star and editor of Blumenthal, a movie that explores a New York City family’s reactions to the sudden death of famous playwright Harold Blumenthal. Part of a new generation of can-do creative entrepreneurs, Fisher accompanied the production of Blumenthal with a blog called watchmemakeamovie.com. As the blog’s fanbase increased, Fisher launched a crowdfunding campaign that helped make Blumenthal a reality. The novelty of his approach will bring an interesting energy to the NGC project.

Meanwhile, Channel 4 (C4) in the UK has announced plans for a 12-month project aimed at developing black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) writing talent. C4 is working on the project with Acme Films, which will oversee a competitive development process. At the start, Acme will review a number of ideas submitted by writers for series aimed at C4 or its digital sister channel E4. Acme will choose eight for a pitch-development process. Of these, four will progress to a second phase, which will require them to write draft scripts and a series outline. This process will lead to two finalists, which will go through a further development phase with a view to creating an original series.

Channel 4 deputy head of drama Beth Willis
Channel 4 deputy head of drama Beth Willis

The initiative is called Studio4 and is part of Channel 4’s 360° Diversity Charter, which it launched in January. The aim of the scheme is to launch the careers of five new writers from diverse backgrounds. Commenting on the scheme, C4 deputy head of drama Beth Willis said Studio4 would be an opportunity for BAME writers to “fast-track their ideas with script commissions with regular support from experienced writers, script editors and producers as well as the commissioners at Channel 4.”

In a related move, Channel 4 has also hooked up two writers from ethnic backgrounds with leading prodcos Lime Pictures and Red Production Company. Nuzhat Ali and Sharma Walfall picked up the C4 and Northumbria University Writing for Television gong at the recent Northern Writers’ Awards. As a prize, they will take up 10-month placements with Lime and Red, which will school them in script commissioning.

As part of its efforts to instil a diverse culture at the broadcaster, C4 has also appointed Nina Bhagwat as its off-screen diversity executive, while Ramy El-Bergamy has been brought in to address the issue of diversity on-screen.

Back in the US, Deadline reported this week that Criminal Minds executive producer/writer Janine Sherman Barrois has signed an overall deal at Warner Bros Television to create and develop new drama and comedy series. Barrois, whose previous credits include Third Watch and ER, is also a judge on the Writers Guild of America’s Writers Access Project, which was set up to identify diversity writers.

A more expansive version of the C4 scheme outlined above, the WGA Access project is designed to open up opportunities for writers from five categories: minorities, the disabled, women, people aged 55 and over, and gay and lesbian writers. WGA members are invited to enter a piece of material and, if they get through the judging process, their work will be presented to showrunners and other hiring executives for their consideration in the upcoming television staffing season.

Among the week’s most interesting project announcements, Virgin Produced and City Entertainment have teamed up with Johnny Depp and Christi Dembrowski’s Infinitum Nihil to produce a new drama series based on the acclaimed documentary Muscle Shoals. Greg Camalier, who directed and produced the doc, will produce the television adaption, while Virgin Produced exec VP of production Rene Rigal will oversee the project alongside Infinitum Nihil’s Bobby DeLeon. Like the documentary, the series will explore the south through its “colourful characters, cultural and political history and southern gothic settings, which became a melting pot of diverse musical and cultural traditions.”

Jason Felts, CEO of Virgin Produced, said: “Greg’s film unearthed the poetic mysticism and inspired us to produce a series that utilises music and narrative in a unique and ground-breaking way. This provocative story about the rich region and pioneering artists that birthed the iconic Muscle Shoals sound fits in with Virgin’s music roots and provides an ideal opportunity to partner with Depp, Infinitum and City Entertainment.”

As yet, no writer, cast or broadcaster has been named for the project, which is part of Virgin Produced’s expansion out of film production into TV.

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