Inspired by the television series and feature film of the same name, CBS action drama S.W.A.T. tells the story of a specialised police tactical unit operating in LA. In particular, it centres on Daniel ‘Hondo’ Harrelson (Shemar Moore), who is torn between the police and looking after his own community.
Executive producers Shawn Ryan and Aaron Rahsaan Thomas, who wrote the pilot, tell DQ about the origins of the series and how it was shaped by current events in the US as they sought to investigate how the police interact with communities.
They also reveal why they opted to design the series as an episode-of-the-week procedural for US network CBS and share their thoughts on the current trend for military-inspired drama series.
S.W.A.T. is produced by Sony Pictures Television in association with CBS Television and distributed by Sony.
As TV showrunners adjust to their celebrity status in Hollywood, what are the biggest they face in the business?
This DQ show hears from some of the top executives in the industry on topics such as the shortage of showrunners in the era of ‘peak TV,’ the use of technology, the impact of social media and the new opportunities available for writer-producers to get their stories on screen.
Contributors include Michelle Ashford (Masters of Sex), Glen Mazzara (The Walking Dead), Howard Gordon (Homeland), Terri Miller and Andrew Marlowe (Castle), Clyde Phillips (Dexter), Graham Yost (Sneaky Pete), Amblin Television’s Justin Falvey and Darryl Frank (Bull), Ben Silverman (Ugly Betty, Jane the Virgin), Shawn Ryan (The Shield, Timeless), Eric Kriple (Timeless), Jeff Melvoin (Army Wives, Alias, Northern Exposure), Marta Kauffman (Friends, Grace & Frankie), Matt Miller (Lethal Weapon), Eric Newman (Narcos), Nic Pizzolatto (True Detective), Carlton Cuse (Bates Motel) and Ilene Chaiken (Empire).
Watch part one, Rise of the celebrity showrunner, here.
They were once just a name on the credits roll, but showrunners have gained celebrity status over the past decade and are now considered the major creative force behind every television drama.
This DQ show examines the showrunner’s rise to power and why it can be one of the most satisfying jobs in Hollywood.
In the first of a two-part programme, DQ hears from leading showrunners about the challenges of this all-consuming position.
Contributors include Shawn Ryan (The Shield), Terence Winter (Boardwalk Empire), Ilene Chaiken (Empire), Glen Mazzara (The Walking Dead), Clyde Phillips (Dexter), Eric Newman (Narcos), Terri Miller and Andrew Marlowe (Castle), Maggie Friedman and Corinne Brinkerhoff (No Tomorrow), Jon Bokenkamp (The Blacklist), Les Bohem (Shut Eye), Michelle Ashford (Masters of Sex), Graham Yost (Sneaky Pete), Howard Gordon (Homeland), Matt Miller (Lethal Weapon), Peter Lenkov (MacGyver), Oliver Goldstick (The Collection) and Carol Flint (Designated Survivor).
Part two will be available from Wednesday March 29.
The TV industry’s annual calendar is packed with great events – though not all of them have a high profile outside their domestic market.
A good example is the ATX Television Festival, which has taken place in Austin, Texas, over the last few days. For those not familiar with ATX, the organisers say: “We have the functionality of a traditional film festival with screenings followed by Q&As from cast and creators; panels focused on industry related topics; and an array of events that includes parties, live music, meet-ups and social media events. Unlike traditional festivals, however, we celebrate the history of the medium as well as the future. We spotlight classic shows, never-aired pilots, cancelled-too-soon series, cult favorites, current hits, and premieres of new series.”
Significantly, ATX gets plenty of support from big hitters in the US TV industry. At this year’s event, there were panels with the likes of Betsy Beers (Grey’s Anatomy), Noah Hawley (Fargo), Beau Willimon (House of Cards), Tom Fontana (Homicide: Life on the Streets), David Simon (The Wire) and Howard Gordon (Homeland).
There were also sessions exploring the depiction of the LGBT community in scripted TV, comic book adaptations, the way faith and religion are tackled, the role of the director in TV drama and the secret to making a successful fantasy series for TV.
One of the most interesting sessions saw writers from FX’s iconic series The Shield (2002-2008) meet up to discuss how the show shaped their respective careers.
Scott Rosenbaum, who has gone on to executive produce series like V, Conquistadors and Gang Related, said: “There was an immense amount of pressure. It was very, very competitive because we all wanted our ideas to get on screen and when we didn’t, we could be angry or petulant – but I think that’s what made it so great, this sense of competition.”
Aside from Rosenbaum, other Shield writers on the panel included Glen Mazzara and Kurt Sutter, who have gone on to work on both megahits and short-lived failures. In Mazzara’s case, credits include The Walking Dead and Damien, while Sutter’s post-Shield work includes Sons of Anarchy and The Bastard Executioner.
Also on the panel was Shawn Ryan, showrunner of The Shield. Ryan has gone on to create and produce a number of new series since The Shield including Last Resort, Lie To Me and Mad Dogs — with NBC’s new time-travel drama Timeless his next adventure.
However, he clearly still has a residual affection for The Shield and its central character, Detective Vic Mackey (played by Michael Chiklis). Quizzed on the show, he gave the impression that he could be persuaded to go back to the franchise if the conditions were right and he could call on some of the original writing team: “I have some ideas where Vic Mackey is, but I don’t know where Vic Mackey is until someone puts me in a writers room with a group of these people (on the panel) and some people who aren’t here and gives us a week to sort it out. Usually my first idea or instinct isn’t the right one, so I have some thoughts. I’d love to hear their thoughts and I’d love someone to pay us to sit in a room.”
Rosenbaum also gave some insight into the psychology of working in the writers room of such a high-octane show. Recalling the addition of established showrunner Charles Eglee (NYPD Blue, Moonlighting) to the team, he said: “There was a proprietary feeling of, ‘This is our show. We’re the ones who did this. Why do we have to have a new person come along? We’re capable of doing this.’”
However, that initial resistance disappeared when “we realised we had someone really special. My first impression of him was that I thought he was one of the smartest people I’d ever met.”
Another ATX panel of interest was “Westerns: Then and Now,” which saw HBO give a sneak peak of Westworld. Co-creator Jonathan Nolan said: “It was Game of Thrones that made us feel like we could pull this off. The 30-second pitch for Westworld was that we were sort of making Days of Heaven and Alien simultaneously and then putting them together, which is kind of my dream project – exploring two genres and playing with the juxtaposition of both. It’s fantastic.
“HBO felt like the only place we could make this. And Game of Thrones was the inspiration for us. Game of Thrones has this commitment to practical production value, which is not necessarily what’s in play (elsewhere) these days.”
Meanwhile, still in the US, the creator of CBS hit series Elementary, Rob Doherty, has just signed a three-year deal with CBS Television Studios.
CBS has already renewed the show for a fifth season, but the new deal suggests Elementary will get a least a couple more runs yet – which is no surprise when you learn how much money it generates for the network. In May, CBS boss Leslie Moonves said Elementary made CBS an estimated US$80m in profit last year (the result of being a wholly-owned CBS property).
Elementary is Doherty’s biggest hit to date, though he has written and produced for a number of series, including Ringer, Medium, Point Pleasant, Tru Calling and Dark Angel.
Outside the US, the big story of the week is that Canal+ in France has renewed its spy drama The Bureau for a third season. Federation Entertainment and TOP will start filming the third run in September. This is the second piece of good news for the show, after its existing seasons were picked up by Amazon Prime UK.
The Bureau was created by Eric Rochant, who is also known for writing and directing movies such as Autobus, Mobius, Love Without Pity and The Patriots. In terms of TV projects, he also wrote and directed a number of episodes of Canal+’s Mafiosa, le Clan. Created by Hugues Pagan, this show also ran on Canal+ for five seasons (40 episodes in total) from 2006 to 2014.
Finally, coming full circle to the subject of interesting industry events, screenwriter and director Bill Gallagher (The Paradise, Lark Rise to Candleford) has joined the line-up for C21 Media’s International Drama Summit, part of Content London (November 29-December 1). Gallagher will discuss new work such as Sky1’s forthcoming eight-parter Jamestown at the event, as well as his approach to the craft and his role as a creator and writer.
Jamestown, about the first British settlers in America, is being produced by Downton Abbey and Lucky Man producer Carnival Films and is slated to air later this year on the UK satcaster.
Last week it was announced that writer/director Tony Grisoni had also joined the line-up for the International Drama Summit.
Let’s start this week by congratulating this year’s Oscar-winning writers.
The prize for Best Original Screenplay went to Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy for Spotlight, a film about The Boston Globe’s investigation into child sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests. Meanwhile, Best Adapted Screenplay was claimed by Adam McKay and Charles Randolph for their financial comedy-drama The Big Short, based on the best-selling non-fiction book by Michael Lewis.
Singer’s credits to date have pretty much all been in TV and include The West Wing, Law & Order and Lie to Me.
McCarthy is more of an actor/writer/director type. Although he has acted in TV series (such as The Wire, Boston Public and Law & Order), his writing has generally been in the film arena. High-profile credits include Up, with Bob Peterson and Pete Docter, and Million Dollar Arm. He was also nominated in the director category for Spotlight.
Turning to The Big Short duo, Adam McKay is a director, producer, screenwriter, comedian and actor who has a long-standing creative partnership with Will Ferrell, with whom he usually writes films. His TV credits include two seasons as head writer on NBC’s acclaimed sketch comedy series Saturday Night Live.
Randolph, meanwhile, is a writer/producer whose credits include The Life of David Gale, The Interpreter and Love & Other Drugs. Randolph was also the writer of an ABC drama pilot called Exposed, based upon the books by best-selling Swedish author Liza Marklund. This show was doing the rounds in 2014 with a lot of high-profile acting talent attached but has since gone pretty quiet.
Outside the Oscars, the big writing story of the week is that the new showrunners for season five of Netflix’s House of Cards have been named. They are Melissa James Gibson and Frank Pugliese, who have both been working on the drama since season three.
Gibson’s credits to date cover various media. She has written plays including Placebo, What Rhymes with America, This, Suitcase or Those that Resemble Flies from a Distance and Brooklyn Bridge. She has taught playwriting at Princeton University and is an alumnus of the Yale School of Drama. She wrote the film All is Bright (Tribeca Film Festival). In addition to House of Cards, her television work includes The Americans (FX), for which she received a Writers’ Guild Awards nomination.
Pugliese’s work in theatre includes Aven’U Boys, The King of Connecticut, The Talk, The Alarm, The Democracy Project, The Summer Winds, Hope is the Thing with Feathers and KAOS. His TV credits include Homicide, for which he won a Writers’ Guild Award, Law & Order, Borgias and Copper. Film credits include Shot in the Heart, Undefeated and the upcoming Border Crossing. Pugliese is associate professor of TV writing at the Columbia University Graduate Film Department and is the co-director of the television writing programme at La Femis in Paris.
Gibson and Pugliese replace Beau Willimon, whose last series as showrunner of House of Cards will be released on this Friday. They received a polite vote of approval from star and executive producer Kevin Spacey, who said: “I welcome Frank and Melissa in their new roles on House of Cards and look forward to collaborating with them and our creative team on season five.”
Elsewhere, CBS has announced that it’s renewing its procedural juggernaut NCIS for another two seasons. Already in season 13, the show regularly draws an audience of 20 million (including time-shifted viewing) – making it one of the top programmes in the US. It is also licensed to around 200 countries worldwide.
CBS Entertainment president Glen Geller said: “It’s extraordinary that in its 13th season and with more than 300 episodes to its credit, NCIS continues to excel at such a high level on a global scale. It is testimony to an amazing cast, led on and off the screen by the exceptional Mark Harmon, for skillfully bringing this appealing team of heroes to life; and to Gary Glasberg and his writers for crafting compelling stories that feature NCIS’s blend of mystery, quirk, drama and comedy every single week.”
As Geller says, the success of the show is inextricably linked with the involvement of Harmon, its star and executive producer, and Glasberg, who heads the writing team on NCIS and was also the creator of NCIS: New Orleans.
Glasberg’s career actually began on animated shows such as Rugrats before progressing via series such as Crossing Jordan, Bones and The Mentalist. His name first popped up as a writer in the middle of NCIS season seven (2009-10). Starting from season eight, he took on the responsibility of writing the first and last episode of each season and also penning another two or three episodes per run. He also wrote the set-up episodes for NCIS: New Orleans but has since handed primary writing duties to a separate team. In terms of influences, Glasberg is reported to be a big fan of TV series M*A*S*H.
In the UK, meanwhile, Sky Vision, the distribution and production arm of Sky, has signed a three-script development deal with UK-based indie producer Merman. Sky will have first-look access to projects from Merman, which was founded in 2014 by Sharon Horgan and Clelia Mountford, plus the option to distribute.
While Mountford is a producer, Horgan has established herself as an in-demand actor, writer and director. Her key credits in the UK are Pulling and Catastrophe, though she is also making a name for herself in the US. After Pulling went to pilot in the US, she created a series for HBO called Divorce. Starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Thomas Hayden Church, Divorce is due to premier in 2016.
Kylie Munnich, Sky Vision director of drama and comedy, said Merman “is a creative force to be reckoned with. Its high-quality scripts attract some of the industry’s leading names and we’re excited to be working with them on future projects.”
On a less happy note, Amazon will not be renewing Mad Dogs, which was adapted for the platform by Shawn Ryan from the UK version of the show that aired on Sky1 in 2011.
Ryan worked with the UK show’s creator Cris Cole on the Amazon version, which consisted of 10 episodes. Ryan wrote on Twitter that he and Cole “laid out a story for season two we believed in. Ultimately, Amazon didn’t want to make that story and we didn’t want to make the kind of story they wanted us to make, so…”
This week filming began on Maximilian, a lavish three-part period drama from MR Film, Beta Film, ORF and ZDF, budgeted at €15.5m (US$17.3m). The shoot is expected to take place over four months in Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic, and will involve 60 castles, palaces, church naves and medieval streets, 3000 extras, 550 horses, 800 costumes and 100 suits of armour.
A 100-strong team has worked for months in a 4,000-square-metre hall in Vienna to construct and produce all sorts of set decorations, costumes, wigs, weapons and – for the two battle scenes – fake corpses.
At the heart of all this pomp and circumstance is what the producers call “a captivating love story towards the end of the Middle Ages.”
Amid the power politics of medieval Europe, the narrative focuses on the romance between Mary of Burgundy and Maximilian, the headstrong son of Emperor Frederick III.
Beta Film CEO Jan Mojto said: “The powerful relationship between Maximilian and Mary works its fascination through its contrasts: here the Austrian Middle Ages, there the Flemish Renaissance; here impoverished knights, there bustling commercial centres; here political calculations, there grand, genuine emotions. These are the conflicting poles that must be aligned. And I have no doubt that director Andreas Prochaska and his outstanding roster of Franco-German stars will carry this off splendidly.”
Not to be overlooked either is Martin Ambrosch, the Austrian screenwriter who was tasked with writing the script for Maximilian. Born in 1964, Ambrosch started his career writing movies such as Frank Novotony’s Nachtfalter, Valentin Hitz’s Kaltfront and Antonin Svoboda’s Spiele Leben.
From 2001 to 2011 he was a writer, and later head writer, of crime drama SOKO Kitzbühel, for which he wrote more than 35 episodes. More recently, he wrote the pilot and eight episodes of ARD’s Das Glück Dieser Erde and a series of coproduced TV movies for ZDF/ORF under the Spuren des Bösen (Anatomy of Evil) banner.
The Spuren des Bösen films were directed by Prochaska (referenced above as director of Maximilian). The same writer/director duo then worked together on Sarajevo, an Austrian feature about the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914, an event that is generally regarded as having triggered World War One.
Maximilian is arguably Ambrosch and Prochaska’s biggest challenge to date, but they have certainly proved themselves capable of handling epic content. It will be interesting to see if the end result is able to travel as well internationally as other recent German-backed successes such as Generation War and Deutschland 83.
Production has also begun on season four of Victorian-era detective drama Ripper Street. The show was axed after two seasons on the BBC in the UK, but was subsequently revived by Amazon, which has also committed to a fifth season.
Ripper Street was created by Richard Warlow, who is also the lead writer on the series. Explaining the project’s appeal, he told the show’s US broadcaster BBC America: “It was all to do with trying to create a different kind of period show in a different kind of period London, where we could tell thriller stories instead of a drama. I hope we’re still a drama, but we’re essentially a police thriller in a world where I hope people haven’t seen a police thriller before.”
Represented by Curtis Brown, Warlow worked as a development executive at Pathe and DNA Films before getting his first break as a screenwriter with the original screenplay Three Mile Horizon, optioned to Paramount Pictures.
His other TV credits include writing on all three seasons of Mistresses, as well as showrunning its second and third series . In terms of upcoming projects, he is currently working on a new series for TXTV Ltd entitled The Boiling House and is adapting Hilary Mantel’s novel A Place of Greater Safety for Fox/DNA.
The latter, which tells the story of The French Revolution, is being developed for the BBC, which is presumably hoping for the same sort of success it has seen with fellow Mantel adaptation Wolf Hall.
Amazon, meanwhile, has confirmed that the second season of its transgender comedy Transparent will be streamed from December 4. The show is the creation of Jill Soloway, whose previous credits include Six Feet Under. One interesting fact about the new run is that there is a transgender female writer, classical pianist Our Lady J, on the team.
Although the first season of the show was widely acclaimed by both mainstream critics and the transgender community, Soloway had previously made it clear she wanted a transgender female writer on board to help with the show’s authenticity.
Speaking at a New York Festival last year, she said: “No matter what we did, we were always going to be ‘otherising’ Maura (the central character) in some way. And in the same way where I wouldn’t want a man to say, ‘I can have a writers room full of men and we can write women just fine,’ I can’t say that I can create a show about a trans woman and not have a trans woman writing for me.”
With a marked absence of transgender writers in the business, Our Lady J was selected at the end of 2014 from a number of writers who submitted short stories to the Transparent team.
Describing herself as a “post-religious” gospel singer, Our Lady J announced her involvement in the show via social media: “I’ll be taking the next year off from touring to dedicate my life to the Pfefferman’s as staff writer for season two of #transparenttv. Thank you for having faith in me, @jillsoloway. The world is beginning to see us as we have seen ourselves.”
Meanwhile, it was reported this week that there is going to be a nine-day mid-production shutdown on Baz Luhrmann’s The Get Down so that additional work can be done on scripts. The production, from Sony Pictures, is currently four episodes through what will be a 13-hour series.
Set in 1970s New York, the show was created by Lurhmann and Shawn Ryan and includes Jaden Smith in its cast. While Lurhmann is an example of film talent shifting to TV, Ryan is a veteran of the small screen. He was creator and showrunner of The Shield and The Chicago Code and co-creator of Last Resort. He is also used to working with marquee talent, having partnered David Mamet on covert-ops action series The Unit.