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.
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.
tagged in: Channel 4, City Entertainment, Eric Overmyer, Janine Sherman Barrois, Jason Felts, Lime Pictures, National Geographic Channel, Nuzhat Ali, Red Production Company, Saints and Strangers, Seth Fisher, Sharma Walfall, Studio4, Virgin Produced, Warner Bros Television