Tag Archives: Sony Pictures Television

Crackle’s Halpin hand

US streaming platform Crackle delves into the world of cop gangs with 10-part drama The Oath. Showrunner Joe Halpin reveals how the show is informed by his own career in the LAPD and how he made the move from police officer to TV writer.

The jump from undercover cop to television writer might seem improbable, but that’s the one made by Joe Halpin. After 17 years in law enforcement, he worked his way from low-budget features to television and is now showrunner of the latest original series to land on US streamer Crackle.

The Oath centres on police gangs and sheds light on the corrupt and secretive societies that do whatever they must to protect each other from enemies on the outside and within their own ranks.

The 10-part series opens as a group of corrupt cops known as The Ravens are arrested by the FBI, which is targeting the multiple cop gangs in the police department. Led by Steve Hammond (Ryan Kwanten), the Ravens are pressured to inform on the other gangs and forced by Agent Aria Price (Elisabeth Röhm) to take on undercover agent Damon Byrd (Arlen Escarpeta) and sell him as one of their own.

L-R: The Oath director Jeff Thomas, exec producer Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson and showrunner Joe Halpin

With the threat of prison hanging over their heads, Steve must ensure his fellow Ravens – his adopted brother Cole (Cory Hardrict), his partner Pete Ramos (JJ Soria) and Karen Beach (Katrina Law) – stay in line as they operate under the shadow of the Feds while keeping the deal a secret from the other Ravens, including their imprisoned former leader, Tom Hammond (Sean Bean), father of Steve and Cole.

The series is executive produced by Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson and his G-Unit Film & Television label, along with Todd Hoffman and Dennis Kim of Storied Media Group, Anne Clements and Halpin. Sony Pictures Television holds distribution rights.

Halpin, who is the creator, writer and showrunner of the Oath, is emphatic when he explains how the plotlines are informed by something he experienced, witnessed or was privy to during his career as a cop. “I just thought it would be a great area for storytelling, and what better way to have a conversation about a problem within the department than create a show that reveals something most people don’t know about?” he says.

British-born Halpin moved to the US with his family when he was 12. He spent 17 years in law enforcement, starting in the LA County Sheriff’s department where he worked in jails holding members of notorious LA gangs including the Bloods and the Crips. After spending time as a training officer and field officer, he moved into narcotics, working on undercover operations. He later carried out undercover and surveillance work for the FBI and the DEA.

The series revolves around gangs within the police

Halpin later became in demand for celebrity bodyguard work and was shadowing Steven Seagal during a trip to Poland when he first began to consider the possibility of using his experiences as a cop to become a writer. A year later, he sold a script that was turned into a feature.

“It wasn’t anything I was looking to do but once I sat down and started doing it, I became obsessed with it and doing it well,” Halpin recalls. “There are a lot of people in this business who are glorified tech advisors, who never quite learn to write but they’re kept around because they’re great in the [writers] room and great at story. But I wanted to make sure I wasn’t one of those people. I eventually got out of low-end features and got into television because I realised that’s where the real writers and real experienced storytellers were nowadays.”

He has since earned credits on shows such as True Justice, Hawaii Five-0, Secrets & Lies and Ice. And now his experience working for the LAPD has directly influenced The Oath, with The Ravens based on a police gang he was a member of, The Reapers. “I eventually went on to lead that gang and during that time I was being investigated and followed by both LAPD and the DA [district attorney]’s office,” he reveals. “So when I eventually got out and got into writing, I thought that world was a great place and a rich world for storytelling.”

The story behind The Oath is something Halpin says he has been pitching since he found his way into the television business, though he admits he wasn’t ready to make the show until now. “I wasn’t prepared, I wasn’t really good enough or experienced enough up until this point,” he says. But after Halpin forged a relationship with Crackle, the project moved very quickly. The writers room only opened in January last year but the full series will roll out on March 8.

Sean Bean (left) plays an incarcerated former gang leader

In the room, Halpin and his team of writers laid the track for each character – their physical and emotional story arcs – before breaking down each episode to ensure it was well paced throughout the season. The biggest challenge, however, was to maintain the tension across 10 episodes. “It’s like holding a piece of string tightly,” Halpin explains. “If you make a mistake in the structure of not maintaining that tension then you can lose the audience and it becomes ineffectual storytelling. So I really focus on making sure the pacing and the structure is very strong in each episode.”

Under the stewardship of directors Jeff T Thomas and Luis Prieto, much of the series was shot with handheld cameras, granting Halpin’s wish that The Oath feel extremely voyeuristic, inviting the audience into the story.

Filming took place in San Juan, Puerto Rico, which provided a vivid backdrop for the series, ostensibly set in an unspecified southern US city. Production was far from straightforward, however, as the cast and creative team were twice flown off the island to avoid two incoming category five hurricanes.

“That was obviously difficult, not because of the difficulty or the interruption but because the crew became like family so there was a lot of survivor’s guilt for myself and the actors to get on a plane and leave,” the showrunner says. “But we stayed in touch on WhatsApp and we were talking to them as the hurricane was hitting, making sure everyone was OK.”

Creator and showrunner Halpin drew from his own experience working in law enforcement

He admits he was a little wary about the location when Crackle first suggested San Juan, having imagined The Oath being filmed in the South Central district of LA where he himself walked the streets. “But then when I visited and I saw the areas and the professionalism of the crew they were using out there, I realised it would enhance the show, it would make storytelling that much better and more vivid,” he says. “It’s almost like someone took a crayon to South Central – it has that same danger in the air but it’s colourful.

“Where I see familiar things like the streets of LA, New York or Vancouver where you film a lot, I kind of tune out when they’re driving in a car. But when I watch shows like Narcos, where I see different colour schemes and different architecture, it interests me more and I thought it would be great for our show because it looks like its set in the southern United States but you just don’t know where, and we did that on purpose because we didn’t want to paint any single police department with the brush of corruption. It enhanced the storytelling and made it a more dynamic exciting world.”

As a showrunner, Halpin says he “thrives during chaos,” which makes him perfect for a hugely demanding role that constantly demands he stays focused on the job while putting out numerous fires along the way. The secret to success, he suggests, is being able to trust and delegate to those around him, taking his lead from showrunners he admires such as Rick Eid (now overseeing Chicago PD) and Peter Leskov (Hawaii Five-0, MacGyver).

“What I’ve learned is the biggest sin a showrunner can commit is to not make a decision,” Halpin notes. “Whether people like it or don’t like it, you’re expected to make a decision and I equate it to asking someone back in the 1800s to go out to sea with you. You’re out there and there’s no sign of land and the food’s getting short. If you don’t know where you’re going, they’re going to cut your throat, throw you overboard and go back where they came from. If you’re going to lead people, you have to have a very clear vision and know where you’re going. If anything, it reinforced that people around me expect me to be prepared and to know where I’m going and to always be that way whenever I’m running a show.”

He’s now planning multiple season of The Oath, which he says could live on beyond the current cast of characters by sticking to its central theme of cop gang culture.

“It’s definitely set so we go deeper down the rabbit hole in season two, three, four and five,” Halpin adds. “Like any great serialised show, there’s a very good chance we’ll lose a few of the players along the way and we’ll acquire new players, but that world and that core group we’ll probably stay with for at least four or five seasons.”

tagged in: , , , , , ,

Crowning glory

Ahead of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s impending nuptials, royal marriages will be pushed further into the spotlight in season two of Netflix’s The Crown. DQ visits the set to hear how the Queen’s union with Prince Philip is pushed to the limit in the second run.

In what looks like a car park at Elstree Film Studios, situated next to a large branch of Tesco, sits Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street.

The doors and gates of Buckingham Palace are surrounded by green screens that allow The Crown’s crew to work their magic so that it really looks like a palace rather than a particularly ornate bit of plywood. Meanwhile, the door of the somewhat grubby-looking prime ministerial home is taller than normal; it was raised by nine inches to make John Lithgow look more like the rather smaller Winston Churchill in the first season and now it is stuck at that size.

These two buildings, weighted with history, are at the heart of British life and the interweaving stories of what goes on behind their doors are the spine of the award-winning show, one of the most ambitious pieces of television ever made.

The first two seasons cost a rumoured £100m (US$133m) but almost every penny can be seen on screen. This season also spans Antarctica, the South Seas, the Suez Canal, Scotland, Lisbon, Washington, Nazi Germany, Paris and Ghana, while much of the action of the first three episodes takes place on the Royal Yacht Britannia. No effort has been spared to make this sumptuous world believable.

The second season of The Crown sharpens the focus on the relationship between the Queen and Prince Philip, played by Claire Foy and Matt Smith respectively

The characters, too, are larger than life, encompassing everyone from the Kennedys and preacher Billy Graham to cuckolded prime minister Harold Macmillan and Christine Keeler, the showgirl who helped bring down a government. But, at the heart of it, is a special but often dysfunctional family.

The Crown showed the world a very different side of the royals in its 10-part first season. Starring Claire Foy as a naïve but eager-to-please princess who found the crown thrust upon her two decades before she expected it and Matt Smith as her alpha male husband who was forced to give up his own aspirations to stand behind his wife, the show humanised them and made them more understandable.

“I am not a Queen nutter or anything,” insists Peter Morgan, the show’s creator and writer. He first wrote about Elizabeth II in The Queen, the Oscar-winning film about how the Palace and prime minister Tony Blair reacted to the death of Princess Diana. That led to The Audience, the award-winning play where he looked at the secret weekly meetings between the monarch and prime ministers over the decades. The Crown, the entire second season of which landed on Netflix today, was the obvious next step.

As a younger man, Morgan was a republican, but he admits he has since changed his mind. “Most sensible people in the early 1990s probably thought this lot should be kicked out,” he says. “But if we had a referendum on the royal family tomorrow, I think 80% of the country would vote to keep them. I certainly would. I really would. Look at the heads of state everywhere else – there has been a catastrophic failure of the political class in the last couple of years, but [the Queen] represents stability.”

Dexter star Michael C Hall as JFK alongside Jodi Balfour as Jackie Kennedy

The second season of the Netflix show, which is made by Left Bank Pictures and distributor Sony Pictures Television, starts in 1956 with prime minister Anthony Eden’s disastrous Suez Crisis and ends in 1964 with his successor, Harold Macmillan, resigning amid the Profumo scandal. In every crisis, the Queen is left to pick up the broken pieces, as she has so many times since.

In this season we also see how, despite her home life being turbulent, the Queen always puts duty first. Her marriage to Philip is particularly under the spotlight at the start of the 10-episode run.

“Doesn’t everybody in Britain know Philip’s had an affair?” teases Morgan. The answer is no; no one knows for sure whether he had an affair or two, but there have been plenty of rumours. The season plays on them, and how they and Philip’s playboy behaviour impact the Queen. The rumours arc across the season, starting with Philip’s five-month tour on the HMS Britannia that took him away from his family to open the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and visit some of the Commonwealth’s far-flung islands. It ends with his name being mixed up in the Profumo affair.

History has proved the Queen and the Duke of Cambridge’s marriage to be spectacularly successful and last month they celebrated 70 years together. It meant the programme-makers had to think hard about how to treat these rumours, and they tread the line carefully.

The Crown creator Peter Morgan sandwiched between stars Smith and Foy

“There has never been any confirmation of an affair and it would be prurient, really horrible and irresponsible to make hefty suggestions,” says Left Bank’s Suzanne Mackie. “We know for a fact that this has been a very long and successful marriage. So many people we have talked to, historians and people who have worked in the palace, say they have witnessed a lot of love and affection in this marriage. We have nothing but respect for that. It would be ghastly of us to say anything else.

“And yet, like any marriage, it has to go through periods of change and periods of uncertainty and instability. It is something most of us have experienced; this is a real marriage and we would be whitewashing it to say it was happy all the way through. So we go on a complicated twisting, winding road and we hope that we come out with something truthful.”

While the programme-makers have always been keen to stress they are making drama, not a documentary, they try not to steer too far from facts. A group of historians dubbed The Brains Trust both suggest storylines to Morgan and also ensure the spirit, if not the letter, of the drama is correct.

One story sees the Queen fall out with Jackie Kennedy (Jodi Balfour) over nasty comments the First Lady made about the monarch. This plot element was based on rumours in Cecil Beaton’s diaries but is heavily fictionalised. A separate story about the Duke of Windsor (Alex Jennings), the Queen’s uncle who abdicated the throne, and his Nazi past is more based on fact. It hinges around the discovery of the Marburg Files, which indicated just how sympathetic the Duke was to Germany’s ambitions.

Matthew Goode and Vanessa Kirby, who play Tony Armstrong-Jones and Princess Margaret

“You can access the files at the British library and they are amazing,” says Philippa Lowthorpe, the Bafta-winning director who helmed the episode. “When we were filming, I carried them around in my bag so when the crew asked – and they frequently did – how much of it really was true, I could fish them out and show them.

“They are telegrams and letters from people who were around the Duke. Everybody was talking about him. They were manipulating him but he didn’t seem to mind. He had sympathies with Hitler and his philosophy.

“We used copies of the real files throughout the show and there’s a scene where the Queen is given them. It was the first time Claire got to read them – there are about 60 documents in the file – and when she finished the scene she just said, ‘Oh my God.’” Just to emphasis how true this story is, real pictures of the Duke are used at the end of this particular episode.

Meanwhile, the turbulence we see in the love life of Princess Margaret, played by Vanessa Kirby, who in this season meets and marries the philanderer Tony Armstrong-Jones (Matthew Goode), is also based on fact.

“Tony represents the shock of the new, which is a real theme of the series,” says director Ben Caron, who directed three episodes of season two. “This is the end of the age of deference and the royals are being thrust into the modern era. Tony is from an artistic world and he challenges all the conventions people have got used to.”

The plan is to have six seasons altogether and filming for the third starts in July but with an entirely new cast who will take the royals into the 70s and 80s, the era of Margaret Thatcher and Princess Diana. Olivia Colman, the Bafta- and Golden Globe-winning star of Broadchurch and The Night Manager, will replace Claire Foy as an older version of the Queen, while the producers are close to choosing the rest of their royal family.

Caron, who directed the final scene to feature Foy, Kirby and Goode (ironically one that has not made the final cut), says wrapping the shoot was a bittersweet moment. “The gaffers put on an amazing light display and turned the whole room into a big disco,” he says. “Everyone had slowly started appearing on set from all the departments you don’t always see and you suddenly realise the magnitude of the thing.

“There were a few speeches and some champagne. We’ve all been on this amazing two-year journey together – we’ve seen more of each other than we’ve seen of our own families and it was tough having to say goodbye to the cast. But, for the rest of us, the work continues.”

tagged in: , , , , ,

Back from the dead

After working together on Israeli spy drama False Flag, executive producers Maria Feldman and Oded Ruskin reunited for Absentia.

Castle alum Stana Katic plays FBI agent Emily Byrne, who has been missing, presumed dead, for six years. In her absence, her husband remarried and his new wife is raising Emily’s child. But when she’s found alive, she doesn’t remember anything and must live in this new reality. As the show progresses, evidence emerges that suggests she’s not as innocent as she seems.

The series, which is airing on Sony Pictures Television Networks-owned AXN channels around the world, mixes thriller, horror and mystery elements but at its base is a family drama.

In this DQTV interview, Ruskin describes his directing style and how he works with actors to get the best performances on screen, while Feldman recalls the rapid speed at which the production came together.

Absentia is produced and distributed by Sony Pictures Television.

tagged in: , , , , ,

Keep dreaming

The creative team behind Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams discuss the origins of the ambitious sci-fi anthology series and reveal how they brought together a host of A-list actors, writers and directors for the show.

To say Philip K Dick adaptations are a fixture on screen at the moment is akin to saying the sky is blue. The late sci-fi writer’s work is hot property.

The Hood Maker, the first episode in the series, featured Noma Dumezweni and Richard Madden

The trend was set two years ago with global giant Amazon launching original series The Man in the High Castle. Based on Dick’s novel of the same name, a third season of the show was greenlit earlier this year. Looming large on the horizon too is Blade Runner 2049, the much-anticipated follow-up to the revered 1982 movie Blade Runner, also based on a Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?.

And now Channel 4 has jumped on the bandwagon with Electric Dreams, a sci-fi anthology series of 10 hour-long episodes, drawn from a selection from the 120-plus short stories the author penned during his life.

The genesis of the Sony Pictures Television coproduction came five years ago when Michael Dinner, writer and series executive producer, was approached by US prodco Anonymous Content and Dick’s daughter Isa Dick Hackett with the idea of doing a series based on one of the short stories. Two weeks later, at a screening of episodes The Hood Maker and Crazy Diamond, Dinner recalls: “I had the nerve to call and say, ‘How about all of them?’”

The Hood Maker, the season premiere, debuted on September 17 to broadly positive reviews. In the pantheon of stars on board the show, Holliday Grainger (who also stars in BBC1’s Strike, the adaptation of JK Rowling’s three crime novels written under her Robert Galbraith pseudonym) is not perhaps the biggest name; but her turn as telepath Honor is balanced and full of range for a character essentially supposed to be a dispassionate drone. Her rapport with co-star Richard Madden (Game of Thrones) is full of feeling and has depth, which is impressive since the episode unfolds at 100 miles per hour.

Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston (right) stars in Human Is

The acting line-ups for the nine other episodes are star-studded. Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Timothy Spall (Mr Turner), Anna Paquin (True Blood), Terrence Howard (Empire), and Janelle Monae (Hidden Figures) are but a few of the recognisable faces on screen.

Sidse Babett Knudsen (Westworld, Borgen), who stars alongside Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire) in Crazy Diamond, says the adaptability of the sci-fi genre allowed the actors to bring individuality to their roles and not feel restricted by the character in the original script.

“It’s a strange read, the script; I couldn’t explain it, but I liked it,” she says. “The whole thing is very odd – we’re odd, and the style is odd, but it’s exceptionally playful.

“What this genre allows is that nobody can come and say, ‘That’s not really believable,’ because what is believable? You can always insist on things being the way they are – this is the way we choose to interact and have emotions.”

Noma Dumezweni (Harry Potter & the Cursed Child), who features in The Hood Maker, says the stellar casts caught her eye, and that this unique quality, along with the individuality of each episode, is the series’ strength.

“Just watching these two episodes, I can’t wait to see the others because they’re so fucking individual,” she says. “For me, there is no meaning; Electric Dreams is the thing that’s holding this all together. I want to see what each director’s done with their vision.”

Steve Buscemi alongside Julia Davis in Crazy Diamond

It’s not just in front of the camera where there is variety. Electric Dreams is made up of five UK and five US productions, has 10 different writers, 10 different directors and multiple executive producers. It is unsurprising, then, that Dinner calls the episodes “little movies.”

“I had this crazy notion of doing an anthology show, but one that encompassed 10 different unique points of view, not done like traditional American television,” he says. “So, then I solicited friends [to help].”

Dinner turned to veteran sci-fi producer and screenwriter Ronald D Moore – the “resident sci-fi geek” at Sony’s studio lot – before bringing on board Cranston, who happened to be moving into an office below Dinner’s, and who too is an avid Dick fan.

“We went after writers whose work we really liked. Some of them brought with them the stories that were favourites of theirs, and we also curated stories and sent them to writers. We put this all-star team together,” says Dinner.

“[We had a vision that] each show would have a diversity of viewpoint and we’d really give artists who came and joined us the opportunity to bring their own vision and interpretation to it,” Moore adds.

Along with Moore and Dinner, Maril Davis (Tall Ship Productions) exec produces. Cranston, who stars in episode Human Is, is also exec producing on behalf of Moon Shot Entertainment, along with James Degus. Isa Dick Hackett, Kalen Egan and Christopher Tricarico of Electric Shepherd Productions and Anonymous Content’s David Kanter and Matt DeRoss also have executive producer credits.

Impossible Planet deals with space tourism

So was having so many bodies on each show – literally thousands of miles apart from each other at any given stage – a challenge for the producers? Though he is satisfied with the outcomes of each individual project, Dinner says it was tricky at times.

“We were crazy because we were shooting on two continents, almost simultaneously,” he says. “We started shooting in Great Britain about five weeks earlier than the US. There were a lot of producers, so people would come and go to [and from] Great Britain.”

Moore jokes that they undertook such an extravagant project “because we’re insane,” but concedes the complexity of the series was tough.

“It’s a lot of ground to cover and I can’t even begin to tell you how difficult it is to produce a show like this,” he says. “Every episode is a new cast, new locations, new costumes, new sets, everything. It’s hard to produce. It’s unique, I’ve never done anything like it. I suspect none of us have.”

It seems like a bit of a departure for C4 too. Electric Dreams was commissioned by outgoing chief creative officer Jay Hunt, Piers Wenger (who is now at the BBC) and Simon Maxwell, head of international drama. Earlier this year, Maxwell said the budget for Electric Dreams was “significant” and that the show would have been unaffordable without forming a coproduction. Amazon Prime has the US rights.

It is not solely monetary success C4 needs. There is perhaps some pride to salvage owing to the big hole in the channel’s scheduling left by fellow sci-fi show Black Mirror, which moved to streaming giant Netflix last year. However, there is confidence among Dinner and Moore their show can emulate the dramatic success of its predecessor. Indeed, the former believes they have brought a cinematic experience to linear television.

“With each one as we finish it up, it’s thrilling. I’m as excited about the other directors’, the other writers’ [episodes] as I am about the one I did,” he says. “It’s fun to work with the talent and work with people we really admire, [bringing together] directors with writers and writers with directors.

“We get to make 10 movies in a season. The ability to 10 stories and do 10 movies is awesome.”

Given the series is only a 12th of Dick’s short story output, do the producers have hopes they could be future Electric Dreams series?

“Five years ago, we said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to invite people to play in our sandbox?,’” Dinner adds. “We wondered if people would come and they did. If it’s a success, more people will come to the sandbox.”

tagged in: , , , , ,

Dream on

Films including Blade Runner and Minority Report saw the work of acclaimed novelist Philip K Dick transformed for the big screen to great success. Now the late author’s writing is coming to television in an anthology series featuring 10 standalone stories based on his short stories.

Holliday Grainger, Richard Madden, Steve Buscemi, Bryan Cranston, Timothy Spall and Anna Paquin are among the stars in front of the camera, while writers and directors include Jack Thorne, Matthew Graham, Tony Grisoni and David Farr.

In this DQ TV interview, executive producers Michael Dinner and David Kanter discuss why Electric Dreams is more than a dystopian show but also a “very human show,” and how the programme was produced on both sides of the Atlantic.

They also explain why3 the deal to make the series took years to put together, with multiple producers attached to the project, which will air on Channel 4 in the UK and Amazon Prime in the US.

Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams is produced by Rooney McP Productions, Electric Shepherd Productions, Anonymous Content, Tall Ship Productions, Moonshot Entertainment and Left Bank Pictures in association with Sony Pictures Television. Sony is also the distributor.

tagged in: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Eclectic dreams

The work of renowned author Philip K Dick has inspired a new anthology series heading to Channel 4 in the UK and Amazon. Michael Pickard takes a look at the 10 imaginative stories that make up Electric Dreams.

Since Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams was first announced in May last year, it seems not a week has passed without a new A-list actor, star writer or acclaimed director joining the anthology series.

Comprising 10 single films, each inspired by one of author Dick’s renowned short stories, a roster of leading British and American writers and directors have taken up the challenge to adapt the works for television.

Each story is set in a different and unique world, with some at the far reaches of the universe and others much closer to home. But while on the surface they may seem poles apart, they all focus on the importance and significance of humanity.

From Sony Pictures Television, Electric Dreams is executive produced by Michael Dinner of Rooney McP Productions alongside Isa Dick Hackett, Kalen Egan and Christopher Tricarico of Electric Shepherd Productions, David Kanter and Matt DeRoss of Anonymous Content, Ronald D. Moore and Maril Davis of Tall Ship Productions, Bryan Cranston and James Degus of Moonshot Entertainment, Lila Rawlings and Marigo Kehoe of Left Bank Pictures, plus Don Kurt and Kate DiMento. Sony is also handling international distribution.

Here, DQ takes a look at the details of all 10 episodes, which are due to air on Channel 4 in the UK and Amazon in the US later this year.

Crazy Diamond
Boardwalk Empire’s Steve Buscemi plays Ed Morris in what is described as “the ultimate Philip K Dick comic film-noir nightmare.” Inspired by the story of the same name, the story follows average man Ed, who is approached by a gorgeous synthetic woman with an illegal plan that could change his life completely. He agrees to help – and then his world begins to crumble.
Starring alongside Buscemi are Sidse Babett Knudsen (Westworld, Borgen), Julia Davis (Gavin & Stacy) and Joanna Scanlan (No Offence). The episode (pictured top) is written by Tony Grisoni and directed by Marc Munden.

Timothy Spall, pictured in The Enfield Haunting, stars in The Commuter

The Commuter
The morning commute is turned on its head in this mysterious tale from Bafta-winning writer Jack Thorne (National Treasure, This is England). Timothy Spall (The Enfield Haunting) stars as Ed Jacobson, an unassuming employee at a train station who is alarmed to discover that a number of daily commuters are taking the train to a town that shouldn’t exist. This one is directed by Tom Harper (War & Peace).

Impossible Planet
In an episode that promises two be out of this world, Jack Reynor (Free Fire) and Benedict Wong (Marco Polo) play two disillusioned, disenchanted and indifferent space tourism employees who agree to an elderly woman’s (Geraldine Chaplin, A Monster Calls) request for a trip back to Earth – the existence of which is a long-debunked myth. She appears easily confused, plus she’s rich – so, for the right payment, what’s the harm in indulging her fantasies? As the journey unfolds, however, their scam begins to eat away at them and they ultimately find themselves dealt a bittersweet surprise. Impossible Planet is written and directed by David Farr (The Night Manager) and based on the short story of the same name.

Human Is
Essie Davis (Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries) stars as a woman suffering in a loveless marriage who finds that her emotionally abusive husband (played by Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston) appears to be a different man upon his return from battle – in more ways than one. With a cast that also includes Liam Cunningham and Ruth Bradley, this episode is written by Jessica Mecklenburg and directed by Francesca Gregorini.

Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston (left) takes the lead in Human Is

Father Thing
The world is under attack in Father Thing as aliens quietly invade our homes. Charlie, played by Jack Gore (Billions), must make the most difficult decisions imaginable as he tries to protect his mother (Mireille Enos, The Catch) and the human race as he is among the first to realise that humans are being replaced by dangerous monsters. Greg Kinnear (As Good As It Gets) also stars in this instalment by writer and director Michael Dinner (Sneaky Pete).

Real Life
This future-set episode sees Anna Paquin (True Bloood) play Sarah, a police officer who shares ‘headspace’ with George (Terrence Howard, Empire), a brilliant game designer, with each pursuing violent killers whose plans could have shattering consequences. In a race against time, and sharing a bond that no one else can see, they learn that the very thing that connects them could also destroy them. Additional cast members include Rachelle Lefevre (Under the Dome), Lara Pulver (Sherlock), Jacob Vargas (Luke Cage), Sam Witwer (Once Upon A Time) and Guy Burnet (Hand of God). The episode is written by Ronald D Moore (Outlander, Battlestar Galactica) and directed by Jeffrey Reiner (The Affair).

The Hood Maker
Set in a world without advanced technology, mutant telepaths have become humanity’s only mechanism for long-distance communication. But their powers have unintended implications, and when the public begin to embrace mysterious, telepath-blocking hoods, two detectives with an entangled past are brought in to investigate. Richard Madden (Game of Thrones), Holliday Grainger (The Finest Hours) and Anneika Rose (Line of Fire) star in The Hood Maker, which is written by Matthew Graham (Life on Mars) and directed by Julian Jarrold (Becoming Jane).

True Blood’s Anna Paquin plays a police officer in Real Life

Kill All Others
A man hangs dead from a lamppost, apparently murdered and inexplicably ignored by passers-by, after a politician (Vera Farmiga, Bates Motel) makes a shocking statement encouraging violence. But when one man, the extraordinarily average Philbert Noyce (Mel Rodriguez, The Last Man on Earth), dares to question the situation, he becomes an instant target. Written and directed by Dee Rees (Bessie), this episode also stars Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton), Glenn Morshower (Aftermath) and Sarah Brown (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation).

Autofac
Set in a world where society has collapsed, a massive, automatic product-manufacturing factory continues to operate according to the principles of consumerism – humans consume products to be happy and, in order to consume continuously, they must be denied freedom of choice and free will. When a small band of rebels decide to shut down the factory, they discover they may actually be the perfect consumers after all. Juno Temple (Vinyl) stars as Emily, one of the rebels, alongside Janelle Monae (Hidden Figures) as Alexis, an Autofac representative. Jay Paulson and David Lyons also appear in the episode, which is written by Travis Beacham and directed by Peter Horton.

Safe and Sound
Annalise Basso (Captain Fantastic) stars as a small-town girl, already gripped with social anxiety, who moves to a big futuristic city with her mother, played by Maura Tierney (The Affair). Exposed for the first time to urban society’s emphasis on security and terrorist prevention, it isn’t long before her schooldays are consumed by fear and paranoia. However, soon finds guidance and companionship in the most unexpected of places. Safe and Sound is written by Kalen Egan and Travis Sentell and directed by Alan Taylor.

tagged in: , , , , , , , ,

Fan power

Events such as Comic-Con and social media have unleashed a new breed of super-fan – but how are TV shows utilising this new audience, and what influence do they have on the shows they love?

Most TV dramas have audiences – but some have fans.

You know the type. They attend Comic-Con in fancy dress – like the Walking Dead fan in Dortmund pictured above – and have limited-edition action figures of the cast at home, still in the original packaging. Or they organise weekend-long pyjama parties to binge-watch entire box sets for the 20th time.

It would be easy to write off fans as the TV industry’s eccentric relatives. But the reality is broadcasters, platforms and producers pay them a lot of attention.

“Fandom is central to our brand strategy,” says Carmi Zlotnik, MD of US premium cablenet Starz. “The phrase ‘For All Fankind’ is our battle cry. Igniting white-hot passion for shows is what drives our subscriber business.”

Starz series Outlander was developed from novels by Diana Gabaldon

For Starz, the question of fan power first arises if the network is developing IP that has a pre-existing fanbase, Zlotnik adds. “Take something like Outlander, which we developed from Diana Gabaldon’s novels. That came with a 20-year publishing history and an audience of 25 million. Or American Gods, which we are adapting from bestselling author Neil Gaiman’s iconic novel. Part of the appeal in both cases is that you have a hard core of fans that can evangelise on behalf of your show. But the challenge is making sure they get behind your interpretation. You have to be able to honour their passion while recognising that the needs of the book and the show may be different.”

Pivotal to this is having an author that is enthusiastic about discussing the show’s direction with the original fanbase, says Zlotnik, explaining why particular narrative, locations or casting decisions have been made.

This is particularly important when the TV series needs to diverge from the source material – something fans find much easier to swallow if the author is on board.

As Gabaldon has said: “I tell people the book is the book and the show is the show, and you’re going to enjoy both of them immensely – but not if you sit in front of the show with the book in your hand going, ‘Wait, wait, you left that out!’”

For the author to take this position, it’s crucial they have a great working relationship with the showrunner, adds Zlotnik. “We’re fortunate that Diana and [showrunner] Ronald D Moore are in lockstep on Outlander and that there is a close connection between Neil and [co-showrunner] Bryan Fuller and Michael Green on American Gods.”

One important proviso to all of the above is to ensure the existence of a fanbase doesn’t become the sole determinant of whether a show gets made, says Chris Parnell, executive VP of US drama development and programming for Sony Pictures Television (SPT). “We have created shows with pre-existing fanbases such as Outlander, Preacher and Powers,” he says, “but everything still has to come down to the idea. A rabid, under-served fan base is a good selling tool when talking to a broadcaster, and it provides a platform for getting season one moving. But you have to evaluate whether the story you’re looking at will make a good television series.”

Like Outlander, Preacher is based on source material with a legion of loyal fans, whose reaction to the adaptation is crucial

Of course, not all shows are based on existing IP so here the responsibility lies even more squarely on the shoulders of the showrunner and cast. “With Power, we were fortunate to have Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson on board as an executive producer,” says Starz’ Zlotnik. “He attracted a lot of interest before launch. But showrunner Courtney Kemp Agboh has since done a great job of keeping up a dialogue with fans.”

Fan management takes on a different complexion once the show is on air. By this point, the pre-existing fanbase has been joined by viewers with no existing creative baggage. With an end product to view, the relationship with fans increasingly pivots around what they are saying on social media.

“A big difference compared with 10 years ago is that you can get an immediate sense of what the audience thinks,” says Tiger Aspect joint MD of drama Frith Tiplady, whose recent credits include Ripper Street, Peaky Blinders and My Mad Fat Diary. “That’s fantastic when you consider that the only feedback we used to get was from commissioners or critics, who might have their own reasons for disliking your show.”

A key question, then, is what to do with this fan commentary. Should it, for example, influence the creative team’s decisions about the show? “Mostly we’re dealing with shows where the entire series is in the can before the audience sees it, so the question is whether you take what they say into account for subsequent seasons,” says Tiplady. “Generally, I’d say the writer has a story to tell and they know what it is, so you don’t want them to be swayed too much by fans. But if there is a character the audience loves then there may be room to expand their role – or not kill them off – in season two.”

While writers and producers need to be cautious about paying too much attention to specific fan opinions, there is clearly a growing belief that engaging with fans around the outskirts of a show is a worthwhile exercise.

This is manifested in various ways, such as the rapidly growing number of after-show chat series (The Talking Dead, After the Thrones), attendance at events like Comic-Con and the use of social media forums.

Darren Prew and Kerry Ford (second and third from right) dressed as Jon Snow and Daenerys Targayen after they won a Blinkbox Movies competition to hold a Game of Thrones-style wedding at Eastnor Castle

“AMC’s The Walking Dead and Shonda Rhimes’ ABC dramas have been pioneers in using social media,” says Jenna Santoianni, senior VP of TV series at prodco Sonar Entertainment. “As far as possible, you always need to be looking at what fan activities you can get involved in to raise the profile of your show. When MTV launched The Shannara Chronicles [produced by Sonar] last year, for example, one of the show’s stars, Austin Butler, took over MTV’s Snapchat to promote the show. He also live-tweeted to the east and west coasts of the US.”

Sonar has worked closely with Terry Brooks – the author of the books on which The Shannara Chronicles is based – ensuring he is central to the decision-making process. “Six or seven months ahead of the launch, we screened a trailer at Comic-Con,” Santoianni says. “That was aimed at Terry’s loyal fans, the people who would be evangelists for the show and get the word out.”

Naturally, shows that play to the younger end of the millennial spread tend to have a high profile on social media. Freeform’s Pretty Little Liars is often cited as the best example of this, having amassed more than 100 million show-related tweets since it launched in 2010, as well as strong figures for Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Pinterest engagement. In part, this is down to the fan demographic, but there is also the fact that the show’s stars themselves are hardcore social media users.

In terms of harnessing that interest, Freeform has spent a lot of time analysing fan conversations and then using that as the basis for marketing the show. This strategy seems to have paid off, with Pretty Little Liars coming to an end next year after seven seasons.

That isn’t because of ratings weakness, either. The series is Freeform’s top-rating show and is likely to end on a high having pre-warned the audience it is ending – via social media.

A costumed fan meets The Flash himself, Grant Gustin

Stephen Stohn, executive producer of iconic teen series Degrassi: Next Class, has been living and breathing the Degrassi franchise for decades. His wife, Linda Schuyler, created it, and Stohn says fan dialogue was always central to their philosophy: “We didn’t just want to create TV, we wanted to create engagement and that is part of the reason why the show has had such longevity. Long before social media really took off as a mainstream phenomenon, we launched a walled-garden website which allowed users to log in as Degrassi students.”

Changing media usage has left that model behind, but Stohn believes the principles underlying the show have kept it relevant: “We always look to create a conversation with fans, and I think that’s especially relevant now that Next Class is streaming on Netflix. Deeper engagement with audiences means they are more likely to subscribe — or, at the very least, that they are less likely to churn out of the service.”

However, Stohn stresses that, from a producer’s perspective, fan engagement is not fundamentally driven by business objectives. “We do it because we’re passionate about telling stories that connect with our audience,” he insists. “We get some incredibly moving feedback from our fans about how the show has echoed aspects of their lives. Our writers are very active on social media, which is what drives Degrassi’s authenticity.”

While there’s logic to all of the above, does this mean fan power can bring shows back from the dead? Over the years, hardcore fans have done everything from funding billboards in support of axed shows to organising demonstrations at network offices. Banana crates, Tabasco sauce and Mars Bars have all been sent to executives in zany attempts to save threatened shows.

These days, however, “it seems as though every time there is a series cancellation, someone launches a campaign to bring it back,” says Tiger Aspect’s Tiplady. “But we’re actually among the fortunate few to have had a scripted show brought back, when Ripper Street was renewed.”

Originally a BBC show, Ripper Street was cancelled after season two but was then revived for a third season following a new financial package that saw Amazon come on board as a partner.

“There’s no question that we were energised by the fan campaign to bring Ripper Street back, but it was a mix of factors that made it happen,” Tiplady admits. “I think timing came into it. Amazon needed strong scripted content at that time and we were ready to go. The BBC didn’t want to cancel the show – it was a question of financing – so when a solution was found, they were happy about it.”

Supergirl’s David Harewood poses with a fan of the show

This seems to be a pattern. While fan campaigns can generate positive PR, there also needs to be a clear business benefit and a sense of a tactical opportunity. In the US, for example, ABC cancelled Nashville after four seasons, only for the show to be picked up for a fifth season by Viacom-owned country music-themed channel CMT.

At the time, CMT president Brian Philips said: “CMT heard the fans. The wave of love and appreciation they have unleashed for Nashville has been overwhelming. We see our fans and ourselves in this show and we will treasure it like no other network. It belongs on CMT.”

While all of this is probably true, the decision was also underpinned by some compelling commercial factors. First, the show was attracting 6.7 million viewers in Live+7 ratings – not enough for ABC but plenty for a cable channel like CMT to work with. Second, it was uniquely ‘on brand’ for CMT. Third, cable channels are desperate for scripted shows, so the prospect of a ready-made franchise would have been very appealing. And, finally, Hulu participated in the deal, echoing the BBC/Amazon partnership that brought back Ripper Street.

If the notion of fans resurrecting scripted shows is slightly over-romanticised, another area where fan power has so far proved limited is crowdfunding via platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. While we’ve seen films and animation series secure multimillion-dollar sums to support production, there are no high-profile examples on the scripted TV front – yet.

However, it’s reasonable to suggest that long-running fan support for a classic show is an indicator that it might be ripe for a reboot. And there’s certainly a suspicion that negative fan feedback can kill a show off.

This was the view of Rhett Reese, co-creator of Zombieland, a TV spin-off of the iconic 2009 movie that was piloted for Amazon in 2013. “I’ll never understand the vehement hate the pilot received from die-hard fans,” he said at the time. “You guys successfully hated it out of existence.”

Overall, there’s no question that fan behaviour needs to be a part of producer, broadcaster and streamer thinking. Indeed, we’re reaching a point in the evolution of TV where the intensity of fan love can be a better measure of a show’s future potential than its season one ratings.

Commenting on this contention, SPT’s Parnell says: “There’s so much competition that people don’t necessarily get to see a show when it is launched. So it may be that big ratings in season one are not the only indicator of a show’s future prospects. We’ve seen series like Bloodline [Netflix] and Underground [WGN America] build fup momentum off the back of strong fan interest.”

This would, again, chime with the view from the commissioning side. Speaking at last year’s Edinburgh International TV Festival, Amazon Studios head Roy Price concluded: “The key to standing out is the show has to have a voice that people care about, that people love and that is really distinctive. The returns on ordinary are rapidly declining. It’s got to be neat, it’s got to be amazing, it’s got to be worth talking about.”

tagged in: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Halcyon days

The party’s just getting started inside London’s most glamorous bomb shelter – but, as DQ discovers, all might not be as it seems behind the doors of The Halcyon.

It’s somewhat jarring to see groups of people checking their smartphones while standing around in 1940s period costume. But that’s the scene between takes when DQ spends a day at the West London Film Studios.

It’s here that two stages have been transformed into The Halcyon, a glamorous five-star hotel at the centre of London society and a world at war that forms the setting of an ITV drama of the same name.

The eight-part show follows the staff and guests of the hotel in 1940 and, in particular, pits hotel manager Richard Garland (played by Steven Mackintosh) against owner Lady Priscilla Hamilton (Olivia Williams). The Halcyon’s cast also includes Kara Tointon (Mr Selfridge), Alex Jennings (The Queen), Matt Ryan (Constantine), Hermione Corfield (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) and Mark Benton (Eddie the Eagle). Produced by Left Bank Pictures (The Crown) and distributed by Sony Pictures Television, it was created by Charlotte Jones along with lead writer Jack Lothian. Sharon Hughff (Strike Back, Waterloo Road) exec produces and Chris Croucher (Downton Abbey) is the producer.

Early in the show’s four-year development process, its creators were clear they didn’t want to create an ‘upstairs-downstairs’ drama akin to Downton Abbey. Instead, they wanted to tell a story about the hotel’s owners and its employees, with the central focus naturally falling on Lady Hamilton, who gives up her country estate to move to London and run the hotel, creating a “total nightmare” for Garland.

“It took a good seven or eight months to find that point of conflict and really get it working,” explains Hughff. “We thought the show was about so many other things and, with so many characters, it takes a long time to develop because you have so many relationships, but that central relationship was the crux of the drama.”

Another key storyline involves a Romeo and Juliet-inspired romance between Lady Hamilton’s son and Garland’s daughter, whose budding romance causes more trouble for their warring parents. “Around them, there are layers and layers of other characters who all have their own intrigue and interest, and you get drawn into those aspects of the story,” Hughff continues.

The Halcyon’s set model

“We always wanted there to be a mystery running through the middle of the series, so Richard Garland has a great big secret, which we learn halfway through the season. And by the end of the season, he gels with Lady Hamilton because she does something bad and he covers it up for her.”

The production crew constructed the hotel’s grand foyer with a sweeping staircase, a bar area and dance floor, a backstage space, a kitchen and several bedrooms. The front, rear and restaurant exteriors, meanwhile, were all filmed on location. Eagle-eyed viewers might recognise the front of the hotel as The Land Registry Offices in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, central London, while the same city’s Liberal Club serves as the restaurant.

Construction of the set took 12 weeks, with around 100 people working on the build at one point. Add in those buying props, dressing the sets and working in the art department and Croucher estimates upwards of 150 people were working on the production at its peak.

Former EastEnders star Kara Tointon plays a singer

“The Second World War is such a rich tapestry of story,” he says. “From our costume team [led by Downton Abbey’s Anna Mary Scott Robbins] to our make-up and design teams, everyone was just so enthused when we started it, because it’s such an amazing period.

“We talked a lot about The West Wing when we were designing the set and, because everything’s connected, you can do these great walk-and-talks where you go from the foyer to the bar to backstage.”

Croucher describes the latter area as The Halcyon’s “crowning glory,” where the tiles, corridors and staircases all match Blythe House, an archive building for the Victoria & Albert, Science and British Museums that doubles as the exterior of the rear of the hotel.

“There are these amazing corridors and staircases so we can constantly make the world feel bigger,” he says. “We designed it so you can have characters in the bar and then they move backstage and then come into the front of house, so there’s constant movement.

The hotel foyer

“We’re lucky because the studio is quite long. You know when you’re in a hotel and the corridors just go on forever? That’s what we wanted to replicate. I also love that all the corridors are designed to enable us to show different floors.”

Meanwhile, a fully functional kitchen allows the camera to capture close-ups of the chefs at work, with real steam filling the air around them. And though it would have been laborious, not to mention expensive, to build 150 bedrooms akin to a real hotel, four bedrooms were constructed and regularly redressed to give the appearance of dozens of different rooms.

“Every room has several doors in and out and we can repaint them and put different furniture in,” Croucher reveals, adding that it took two days to repaint and redress each room. “All of the spaces are constantly changing. It’s a schedule nightmare because we have to be in and out of different rooms. But you really feel like you’ve got this grand hotel.

“In our minds, the hotel was built in 1890, which is why all the back-of-house stuff is quite Victorian. But it had an Art Deco revamp in 1920 and we now meet it in 1940.”

The set’s fully functional kitchen

As expansive as the hotel set is, a quarter of shooting was done on location. One example is a visit to an RAF base where Lady Hamilton’s son Freddie is a pilot.

“As great as it is to all be in the hotel, ultimately you also need to see a bit of the war,” Croucher says, “which is why we show the East End Blitz and the RAF, because otherwise the world becomes too insular.”

Croucher and his production team met the challenge of recreating the Blitz by taking over some period streets in Greenwich to film the nighttime bombing campaign, which begins in episode five. “It was amazing to be able to shoot in those East End streets,” he enthuses. “Those are the challenges I love the most. Filming the blackout was particularly challenging because if you stand in central London now at night, there is a light as far as you can see. There’s always ambient light. We managed to control 50% of the lights in our area but cranes and the like have to be painted out in post-production.”

The production also made use of an RAF base, one of a handful of locations depicted outside the hotel

The West Wing wasn’t the only influence in play, with Hughff revealing that the look and feel of 2007 movie Atonement, plus music from HBO miniseries Band of Brothers and The Imitation Game (2014), also provided inspiration.

Indeed, music is a central element of the series, with original songs created for the show in the style of the 1940s. When DQ visits the set, the stage is ready for the Sonny Sullivan Band as the hotel prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Actor Tointon sings in the series, while award-winning singer-songwriter Jamie Cullum has written two songs for its soundtrack and fellow musician Beverly Knight also performs in scenes set at the Café De Paris.

“Music is really the heartbeat of the show,” Croucher says. “What was great about that period was everyone genuinely thought each day could be their last so the parties were even bigger and wilder and more extravagant, and we tried to show that.”

Behind the camera, director Stephen Woolfenden (Harry Potter) took charge of the first filming block, establishing the show’s visual style and a sense of how the hotel works.

“We wanted it to look sumptuous, elegant and sexy,” notes Hughff. “We have a bar and music and we wanted to make sure the parties were ones we’d all want to go to. We also didn’t want it to look flat and set-like. It’s hard when you build a set; you’ve got to do a lot of work to make it look like it has many dimensions, and the crew has done such an incredible job.”

Despite the creators’ aforementioned reluctance to compare The Halcyon to fellow ITV period drama Downton Abbey, it is hoped the new series could have similar longevity to Downton, which finished last year after six seasons. Launching in the UK on January 2, there is scope for The Halycon to run for five seasons from 1940 until the end of the war in 1945.

But Left Bank Pictures MD Marigo Kehoe says the similarities end there: “A lot of people say this is the next Downton Abbey but we didn’t set out for it to be. Andy [Harries, Left Bank CEO] and I have never done things that are just in a box. We’ve done Strike Back, an action-adventure series, and Wallander. It’s a huge breadth of stuff.

“We’d had this in development for a long time, actually, and what was going on in the hotels during the build-up to the war and the war itself is a fascinating topic.”

Croucher concludes: “‘London’s most glamorous air-raid shelter’ is a line we use a lot. Everyone knows the Second World War but hopefully the hotel will allow us to put a great spin on that. It’s a side of the war you haven’t seen before – the side where the party still carries on.”

tagged in: , , , , , , ,

China opens up to outside influences

The Night Manager brought 40 million views on VoD platform Youku Tudou
The Night Manager brought 40 million views on VoD platform Youku Tudou

About once a year the media reports that the Chinese government is planning to clamp down on the amount of foreign drama that appears on the country’s TV channels and streaming platforms. But developments in the past few months suggest that this is either inaccurate or isn’t having much of an impact.

This summer, for example, critically acclaimed BBC-AMC series The Night Manager generated an impressive 40 million views on streaming platform Youku Tudou. More recently, we reported Fuji TV’s entry into the China market via a scripted content partnership with Shanghai Media Group. And last week we reported how Sony Pictures Television (SPT)’s on-demand platform Crackle has joined forces with another leading internet TV service, iQIYI, on a three-part Mandarin-language drama.

Tencent Holdings acquired fashion drama The Collection from BBC Worldwide
Tencent Holdings acquired fashion drama The Collection from BBC Worldwide

There’s more activity this week that suggests China is continuing to open up to outside influences. Firstly, in a deal announced at Asia Television Forum in Singapore, China’s Tencent Holdings picked up fashion drama The Collection from BBC Worldwide. Secondly, UK producer/broadcaster ITV revealed that it has formed a partnership with Chinese producer Huace Film & TV that will see the latter remake an ITV scripted show for China. Discussions are still underway as to which show, but the deal is being heralded as a breakthrough by the UK company.

Commenting on the news, Mike Beale, executive VP of global development and formats for ITV Studios, said: “Much like the rest of the world, the demand for drama in Asia continues to grow, and our relationships with some of the world’s best producers and writers positions us perfectly to take advantage of this.”

Left Bank Pictures' reboot of Strike Back will feature a largely new cast
Left Bank Pictures’ reboot of Strike Back will feature a largely new cast

Elsewhere, Sky1 in the UK and Cinemax in the US have announced that there is to be a new series of action-adventure drama Strike Back. As with previous series, the show will be produced by SPT-owned Left Bank Pictures, but there will be a largely new cast.

Based on a novel by Chris Ryan, Strike Back centres on the activities of Section 20, a secret branch of the UK defence forces that undertakes high-risk missions around the world. The show ran for five seasons until 2015 – a total of 46 episodes. It then had a hiatus, with production of the new series starting in 2017.

The previous series of the show did well on Sky1 and Cinemax and was also sold into markets like Australia, Canada and France. Commenting on the show’s comeback, Adam MacDonald, director of Sky1, said: “We’re thrilled to be working with Cinemax again to deliver more edge-of-your-seat action-adventure. At such an interesting time in global politics, this series delivers a compelling take on world events and the murky world of espionage.”

Executive producer Andy Harries added: “Strike Back is the show that took Left Bank Pictures onto the international stage and we are thrilled to be back with such an exciting cast and a world-class team of writers, directors and producers. With a fan base spread over 150 countries, Strike Back is TV at its very best, where the military comes first. Our new stars have amazing physical skills, which, combined with their training, will make the show rock.”

Leaving aside the long-running success of Homeland on Showtime, Strike Back’s mix of action and espionage is something of a rarity in the international market right now, with broadcasters having moved in the direction of sci-fi, superheroes and fantasy. However, there are a few upcoming titles that suggest the market is shifting back in this direction. These include History Channel’s Navy Seal drama Six and Fox’s reboot of 24. There are also a few new shows coming out of Israel such as False Flag and Fauda, the latter having been picked up globally by Netflix.

Fox is said to have committed to a script based on Basket Case
Fox is said to have committed to a script based on Basket Case

In another interesting move, Fox is reported to have given a script commitment to Basket Case, a TV drama based on the 2002 novel by Carl Hiaasen. Although a terrific writer with around 15 novels and five children’s books to his name, Hiaasen’s work has rarely been adapted for film or TV. His 1993 novel Strip Tease was turned into a film in 1996 and his 2002 kids book Hoot received similar treatment in 2006. But other than that, there is little to report.

Basket Case centres on a former hotshot investigative reporter, Jack Tagger, who’s now an obituary writer. It will be adapted by White Collar and Graceland creator Jeff Eastin, and Life in Pieces executive producer Jason Winer. Presumably if it’s a hit we can expect Hiaasen novels to become another regular source of inspiration for the scripted TV trade.

Still in the US, Fox drama Pitch has just come to the end of its first season. The show, which tells the story of the first woman to play for a Major League Baseball team, was well received by critics but delivered pretty poor ratings – 4.23 million at the start falling to 2.89 million at the end of its 10-episode run. This puts it down among the weaker scripted performers on Fox, such as Scream Queens, The Exorcist and the rapidly-fading Rosewood.

Pitch could perform better on a new network
Pitch could perform better on a new network

With its low ratings, Pitch would be an easy cancellation for Fox. But the fact is that the channel doesn’t have many hits at the moment – with Empire and Lethal Weapon some way ahead of the pack. So it may decide to back a second season of Pitch.

If Pitch is cancelled, there is talk of it moving to another network. Of course, there is always talk of series moving network when they are dropped, but Pitch really does seem like a show that could do a job in a less ferocious competitive scenario. If the show doesn’t survive in any form, then it just goes to prove how hard it is to make dramas that have sports as their backdrop.

Finally, Australian pubcaster ABC and Screen Australia have teamed up again to uncover the next generation of home-grown comedy talent through their Fresh Blood talent initiative.

Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am
Aussie comedy Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am resulted from a Fresh Blood pitch

The first wave of Fresh Blood launched in 2013 with 72 comedy sketches created by 24 teams. Five of those teams were selected to make TV pilots for ABC and two of them were then launched as six-episode half-hour series: Fancy Boy and Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am. A new wave of Fresh Blood sees 20 up-and-coming comedy teams each awarded US$15,000 to produce three sketches. During 2018, four of those teams will be selected to produce a TV comedy pilot.

Mike Cowap, investment manager at Screen Australia, said. “For new comedy writers, performers and directors, Fresh Blood is a launchpad like no other, providing opportunities and exposure that can set up ambitious creators for successful futures.”

tagged in: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

US studios extend int’l footprint

Gone is a 12-part series adapted from Chelsea Cain’s novel One Kick
Gone is a 12-part series adapted from Chelsea Cain’s novel One Kick

About two years ago, the international scripted TV business started to express its concern that there was a shortage of US procedural dramas coming on to the market. With the trend towards limited series and increased emphasis on superhero/sci-fi, buyers in markets like France and Germany feared a gap.

A number of companies said they would address the shortfall, including NBCUniversal International Studios (NBCUIS), which formed a partnership with RTL (Germany) and TF1 (France) with the intention of creating US-style procedural dramas. This week, they delivered on their promise by greenlighting Gone, a 12-part series based on Chelsea Cain’s novel One Kick.

Gone, which will be broadcast in late 2017/early 2018, tells the story of Kit Lannigan, survivor of a child abduction case and Frank Booth, the FBI agent who rescued her. Determined never to fall victim again, Kick trains in martial arts and the use of firearms.

She finds her calling when Booth persuades her to join a task force dedicated to solving abductions and missing persons cases. Paired with former army intelligence officer John Bishop, Kick brings her unique understanding of the mind of a predator to the team.

Gone will be executive produced by Matt Lopez, JoAnn Alfano and Sara Colleton. All episodes will be written, cast and produced in the US.

Hilary Bevan Jones
Hilary Bevan Jones

RTL and TF1 will broadcast and distribute the series in their territories (German and French respectively) and NBCUniversal International Distribution will license rights for the US and the rest of the world on behalf of the partnership.

Michael Edelstein, president of NBCUIS, said: “We are all delighted to be moving forward so quickly on our first series. In Gone, Matt Lopez has created a fascinating character who we believe will connect with procedural audiences around the world. We are assembling a first-rate production team and look forward to future series with our partners.”

Fabrice Bailly, head of programmes and acquisition TF1 Group, said: “The collaborative relationship represents a new way of working, for both studios and European broadcasters, to achieve high-quality procedural dramas.”

Joerg Graf, exec VP of production and acquisition at RTL Deutschland, added: “TF1 and NBCUniversal International Studios share our view that tailor-made formats will meet the need of our viewers for high-quality crime dramas.”

While the project is a welcome development, one point of interest is that Gone’s 12-episode run is still shorter than a standard US procedural. The first season of Fox’s Lethal Weapon, for example, is 18 episodes, while ABC’s Quantico has received 22-episode orders in seasons one and two. So a 12-episode order still leaves open a questions over the volume of new procedural episodes such cross-border alliances can bring to market.

Crackle original Chosen has aired for four seasons
Crackle original Chosen has aired for four seasons

Another interesting story this week is the announcement that Fox Networks Group (FNG) Europe and Africa has commissioned its first original drama in the region. While it isn’t a procedural like Gone, it does illustrate the increasing level of US studio engagement in the international market (in our last column, we also reported how HBO Europe is increasing its slate of original dramas).

Called The Nine, the new FNG show is created by Matthew Parkhill and Simon Maxwell (American Odyssey) and produced by Hilary Bevan Jones (Close To The Enemy, State of Play). An eight-hour drama, it tells the story of an ex-spy “who is brought back into the game to avenge the death of his son, only to find himself at the heart of a covert intelligence war and a conspiracy to profit from spreading chaos throughout the Middle East.”

Maxwell and Parkhill said: “We wanted to tell a story set against the backdrop of our dangerous and uncertain times. The Nine unfolds through the eyes of a man caught between two versions of himself, the past and the present. The genre of an espionage thriller gives us the perfect opportunity to mix his personal story with the turbulence of an ever-changing geo-political landscape.”

UK indie Big Talk Productions is rebooting1970s sci-fi series Sapphire & Steel
UK indie Big Talk Productions is rebooting1970s sci-fi series Sapphire & Steel

The project was commissioned by Jeff Ford, senior VP of content development, and Sara Johnson, VP scripted drama for FNG, Europe and Africa, and will go into pre-production in the new year.

“Following the success we’ve had with our Fox global content, we made a commitment to develop drama for this region that has the potential to be a success worldwide,” said Ford.

Another story that showcases the increasing international clout of the US studios’ production operations is the news that Sony Pictures Television (SPT)’s on-demand platform Crackle has joined forces with Chinese streaming service iQIYI on a three-part Mandarin-language drama. The partners will create a new version of Chosen, a Crackle original that has aired for four seasons.

SPT’s Playmaker Media is producing with support from Screen NSW and the show will be shot entirely in Australia. Production begins in the spring with a launch due at the end of 2017.

The Ritual Bath is the first book in the Decker-Lazarus series
The Ritual Bath is the first book in the Decker-Lazarus series

The past week has also seen a number of production and development announcements flowing out of C21’s Content London event. For example, ITV Studios-owned indie Big Talk Productions confirmed that it is remaking sci-fi series Sapphire & Steel, with Luther creator Neil Cross attached to the project.

Also, screenwriter/director Tony Grisoni revealed that he is developing a drama set against the 1943 Allied liberation of Sicily, with UK broadcaster Channel 4 paying for script development.

In the US, meanwhile, Thunderbird Entertainment has teamed up with David Salzman (Dallas) to develop a TV series based on Faye Kellerman’s Decker-Lazarus series of mystery novels.

The initial development process will focus on The Ritual Bath, the first book in the Decker-Lazarus series. The story follows a tough LAPD detective and a widowed mother of two who witnesses a brutal crime and becomes embroiled in solving it.

Nickelodeon has greenlit a third season of School of Rock, based on the Jack Black movie
Nickelodeon has greenlit a third season of School of Rock, based on the Jack Black movie

Also in the US, Nickelodeon has greenlit a third season of School of Rock, a tween/teen series based on the 2003 cult movie of the same name. Originally ordered straight-to-series, the show was given a rapid second season order of 13 episodes and has been attracting an average of around 1.4 million viewers.

The third season, which will go into production in 2017, will have 20 episodes, suggesting Nickelodeon is very happy with the show. School of Rock was the first series order for Paramount TV and is the first to go to a third season. The studio has also enjoyed success with Epix show Berlin Station and USA Network’s Shooter.

tagged in: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Buyers stick to the scripted in Mipcom

The sequel to Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit was screened in Cannes
The sequel to Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit was screened in Cannes

The Japanese have a good strike rate when it comes to exporting animation and entertainment formats. But they have struggled with drama. There are a few reasons for this but, when it comes down to it, the core problem is that scripted shows that work in Japanese primetime don’t travel that well.

The country’s leading players want to do something about this because the revenues they are generating from the domestic media market aren’t as strong as they used to be. So now they are looking at formats and coproductions as ways of building up their international profile and generating a new revenue stream. They are also starting to ask themselves if there is a way of making shows that can tap into the world drama zeitgeist that has propelled Korean, Turkish, Nordic and Israeli drama around the globe.

There were a couple of examples of the way Japan is seeking to shift its mindset at the Mipcom market in Cannes this week. One was a deal that will see Nippon TV drama Mother adapted for the Turkish market by MF Yapim & MEDYAPIM. The new show will be called Anne and will air on leading broadcaster Star TV. It’s the first time a Japanese company has struck this kind of deal in Turkey.

Also this week, Japanese public broadcaster NHK screened Moribito II: Guardian of the Spirit, an ambitious live-action fantasy series based on the novels of Nahoko Uehashi – likened by some to JRR Tolkien’s epic The Lord of the Rings.

Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria
Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria

Produced in 4K and HDR, this is the second in a planned trilogy of TV series, the first of which consisted of four parts. The show has been attracting interest from channel buyers beyond Japan’s usual sphere of influence, suggesting the country may be starting to have the kind of international impact it wants.

Interestingly, NHK brought the actor Kento Hayashi to Cannes to help promote the Moribito franchise. Hayashi also starred in Netflix’s first Japanese original, Hibana, another scripted show that has captured the attention of audiences and critics around the world.

Away from Japanese activity, companies that had a good week in Cannes included ITV Studios Global Entertainment, which said its hit period drama series Victoria has now sold to more than 150 countries, including new deals with the likes of Sky Germany, VRT Belgium and Spanish pay TV platform Movistar+. It also sold comedy drama Cold Feet – renewed for a new season in 2017 – to the likes of NPO Netherlands, ITV Choice Africa, Yes in Israel, TV4 Sweden and NRK Norway.

Further evidence of the appeal of lavish period pieces came with the pre-sales buzz around Zodiak Rights’ Versailles, which is going into its second season. At Mipcom, the show was picked up by a range of broadcasters and platforms including BBC2 (UK), Amazon Prime (UK), C More (Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland), DirecTV (Latin America) and Movistar+.

Timeless
Timeless was picked up by Channel 4

Moving beyond period pieces, other shows that cut through the promotional clutter included Sony Pictures Television (SPT)’s time-travel drama Timeless, which sold to the UK’s Channel 4 to air on its youth-skewing E4 network. The show was also picked up by the likes of OSN in the Middle East, Fox in Italy, AXN in Japan, Viacom 18’s Colors Infinity in India and Sohu in China.

SPT also sold new sitcom Kevin Can Wait to Channel 4 in the UK, though perhaps the most interesting Sony-related story at Mipcom was the news that its international television network group AXN has joined forces with Pinewood Television to a develop a slate of six TV drama projects.

The series will be financed in partnership between Sony Pictures Television Networks and Pinewood Television. The plan is for them to air on AXN channels in Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe, with a programming emphasis on high-impact action, crime and mystery. The deal was brokered by Marie Jacobson, executive VP of programming and production at SPTN, and Peter Gerwe, a director for Pinewood Television.

Midnight Sun
StudioCanal thriller Midnight Sun

Jacobson said: “As we look for alternative paths to expand original series development, Pinewood TV make for the ideal partners. We are look forward to developing projects with them that play both in the UK and on our channels around the world.”

Other high-profile dramas to attract buyer attention at the market this week included StudioCanal’s Swedish-French eight-hour drama Midnight Sun, picked up by ZDF in Germany, SBS in Australia, HOT in Israel and DR in Denmark.

Distributor FremantleMedia International licensed its big-budget series The Young Pope to Kadokawa Corporation in Japan, while Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution licensed The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story to French pay TV operator Canal+.

Another show that enjoyed some success this week was DRG-distributed The Level, a six-part thriller that was picked up by ABC Australia, UTV in Ireland, TVNZ in New Zealand and DBS Satellite Services in Israel, among others. Produced by Kate Norrish and Polly Leys, joint MDs of Hillbilly Films, the show follows a reputable cop with a secret that is about to unravel. The show has previously been picked up by Acorn Media Enterprises for the US market.

Jude Law in The Young Pope
Jude Law in The Young Pope

Reiterating the growing interest in non-English drama, Global Screen enjoyed some success with Rivals Forever – The Sneaker Battle, which tells the true story of how brothers Adi and Rudi Dassler set up Adidas and Puma. France Télévisions acquired free TV rights and will air the series in early 2017 on France 3, while Just Entertainment in the Netherlands has landed video, pay TV and VoD rights. Other buyers included DR (Denmark), FTV Prima (Czech Republic), LRT (Lithuania) and HBO Europe (for Eastern Europe).

Turkish drama successes included Mistco’s sale of TRT period drama Resurrection to Kazakhstan Channel 31. Eccho Rights also sold four Turkish dramas to Chilean broadcaster Mega. The four shows were all produced by Ay Yapim and include the recent hit series Insider. This continues a good run of success for Turkish content in the Latin American region.

While Mipcom is fundamentally a sales market, its conference programme is also a useful way of tuning into international trends and opportunities in drama. There was an interesting keynote with showrunner Adi Hasak, who has managed to get two shows away with US networks (Shades of Blue, Eyewitness) in the last three years despite having no real track record with the US channel business. He believes the current voracious demand for ideas has made this possible: “This is a small business, where everyone knows everyone. If you create material that speaks to buyers, they will respond.”

Participant Media CEO David Linde also talked about the way his company is starting to extend its influence beyond film into TV and social media. Known for movies like An Inconvenient Truth, Food Inc, Snitch and Spotlight, the firm’s expansion into TV will see a new series about journalists breaking stories, developed by the team behind Oscar winner Spotlight.

tagged in: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Amazon boards D83 sequel

Deutschland 86 is set three years after its predecessor (pictured)
Deutschland 86 is set three years after its predecessor (pictured)

There are several reasons why the US scripted content business casts such a shadow over the international drama market.

The first is that the US produces so many great scripted shows. Barely a week goes by without an eye-catching new drama going into production or development. Even now, as dozens of new shows hit the US autumn schedules, it is noticeable that the next wave of scripted projects is already shooting down the pipeline.

Second, viewers around the world love US shows. While dramas from other territories tend to have fairly well-defined regional hot spots, US shows can be found on free TV, pay TV and SVoD almost anywhere. This widespread appeal is reinforced by the availability of so many titles on US-based thematic channels (Fox, AXN and so on).

The third reason is that so many producers around the world still see entry into the US market as the pinnacle of their creative ambition. This is particularly evident in the field of scripted formats, where IP owners’ relentless pursuit of localisation is matched by a voracious appetite for ideas among US channels.

And finally, there’s the fact that the US still dictates so many of the trends in the international scripted market. The rise of Netflix and Amazon, and all of the creative innovations this has brought about, is one example. But so is the shift towards day-and-date windowing – expertly introduced by major US rights owners.

UFA Fiction CEO Nico Hofmann
UFA Fiction CEO Nico Hofmann

Having said all this, Mipcom (which began yesterday in Cannes and runs until Thursday) is one point in the calendar where US shows have to fight for exposure alongside titles from around the world.

For example, one of the biggest stories of the week so far is that UFA Fiction and Amazon are joining forces to create a sequel to German-language series Deutschland 83 (D83). Called Deutschland 86, the new show will premiere exclusively on Amazon Prime Video in Germany in 2018. In addition, all episodes of D83 are available for streaming for Prime members in Germany and Austria.

As with the first series, Sundance in the US is a coproduction partner and FremantleMedia International handles international sales. RTL, the German broadcaster that commissioned D83, has acquired free TV rights to D86.

Created by Anna Winger (head writer) and Jörg Winger, D86 returns three years after D83, in 1986, and picks up the story of East German Agent Martin Rauch. Martin has been banished to Africa until he is recruited to fight for the last gasp of Communism abroad.

Set against the backdrop of real events during the last Summer of Anxiety, when terrorism raged across Western Europe, Martin’s mission takes him to Johannesburg, Tripoli, Paris, West Berlin and finally back to East Berlin, where he is forced to face new realities at home – and to make an impossible decision

Nico Hofmann, co-CEO of UFA, said: “With this latest collaboration between Amazon, RTL Television, FremantleMedia International and UFA, a long-awaited wish comes true. This deal is a milestone in coproduction history. It will be resetting standards for the upcoming years.”

Tangled Sisters is among the Indian shows acquired by Eccho Rights
Tangled Sisters is among the Indian shows acquired by Eccho Rights

Dr Christoph Schneider, MD of Amazon Prime Video Germany, added: “After the Amazon Original You Are Wanted with Matthias Schweighöfer and Michael Bully Herbig’s Bullyparade – Der Film, Deutschland 86 is the latest German-made production that will be available exclusively on Prime Video. German series and movies are important for our Prime members and we are happy to build on our engagement with German production industry and bring new shows to our customers.”

In another interesting new development, Sweden-based distributor Eccho Rights has picked up three drama scripts from Indian broadcaster Star for the global market. The titles involved are Vera (Ek Veer Ki Ardaas… Veera), Tangled Sisters (Ek Hazaaron Mein Meri Behena) and Unexpected Love (Diya Aur Baati Hum).

The deal is significant because Eccho has made a name for itself selling Turkish scripted formats to the international market. If it has anything like the same success with Indian titles, it will represent a major breakthrough in the global drama business. The titles are also interesting because they have so many episodes – meaning there is a lot of content for buyers to work with.

Nixon Yau Lim, head of Asia Pacific at Eccho Rights, commented: “The globalisation of drama is developing at a very interesting speed and one focus of Eccho Rights is to expand our partnership with producers to manage their script assets in new markets.”

Martin Clunes in Doc Martin
Martin Clunes in Doc Martin

Also of interest this week is the news that Sony Pictures Television has licensed three drama formats to Russian broadcasters, two of which are from the UK. The first is a local version of UK drama Doc Martin called Doctor Martov, which will air on Channel 1. The show is being produced by Lean-M Productions, which will also produce local versions of Mad Dogs and The Good Wife for NTV.

Away from Mipcom, UK broadcaster ITV announced a slate of news dramas this week, the first commissions by its new head of drama Polly Hill. The titles are Trauma by Mike Bartlett, Girlfriends by Kay Mellor, White Dragon by Mark Denton and Jonny Stockwood, and Next of Kin by Paul Rutman and Natasha Narayan.

Hill said: “All four are authored contemporary pieces, from wonderful writers who have a compelling story to tell. I think audiences are looking for drama with real authorship, and I am delighted that I start at ITV with a mix of great experience and new voices. This is just the start of what I hope will be an exciting journey for us and the audience.”

Mike Bartlett
Mike Bartlett

Trauma is a three-part story set in the trauma department of a central London hospital. It tells the story of a 15-year-old boy who dies under the care of trauma consultant Jon Stephens. Devastated and heartbroken, the boy’s father believes Jon is responsible for his death and as he strives for justice, he begins to unpick the fabric of Jon’s life.

“Trauma is a story about two fathers with very different lives, locked in conflict,” says Bartlett, creator of last year’s hit BBC drama Doctor Foster. “I hope the series will be moving, terrifying and timely. If we mistrust institutions and experts, what happens when we desperately need them?”

White Dragon, meanwhile, is a conspiracy thriller from screenwriting newcomers Mark Denton and Jonny Stockwood. Filmed on location in Asia, it will tell the story of Professor Jonah Mulray, whose life is turned upside down when his wife, Megan, is killed in a car-crash in Hong Kong. Not long after arriving in Hong Kong, Jonah makes a shocking discovery about his wife.

Finally, a few stories from the US. First up, US cable channel Syfy has ordered a second season of Van Helsing, a female take on the classic vampire hunter story. The hour-long drama will go into production in January 2017, with an additional 13 episodes planned.

Van Helsing has been given a second season
Van Helsing has been given a second season

There are also reports this week that Amazon has teamed up with producer Chuck Lorre to make a TV series based on Tom Wolfe’s acclaimed 1980s novel The Bonfire of the Vanities. The book was turned into a movie in 1990 that failed to live up to the hype. However, its sprawling New York-based narrative is probably better-suited to a limited TV series treatment.

Finally, MTV has greenlit a shortened third run of its horror series Scream. Season one had 13 episodes and season two had 10. The new series will have six episodes and, given the show’s rapidly declining audience ratings, will probably also be its finale.

tagged in: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Netflix plays Chandra’s Games in India

Vikram Chandra
Vikram Chandra is adapting his novel Sacred Games for Netflix

Hot on the heels of Amazon’s announcement of its content origination plans in Japan, Netflix has revealed a new scripted project in India.

Sacred Games is based on Vikram Chandra’s acclaimed novel of the same name. The author, who will also write the adaptation, said: “Over the last few years, I’ve watched with great excitement and pleasure as Netflix has transformed narrative television with its ground-breaking, genre-bending shows. I’m confident all the colour, vitality and music of the fictional world I’ve lived with for so long will come fully alive on the large-scale canvas provided by Netflix. I’m thrilled to be working with Netflix and Phantom Films (the show’s production company).”

The show is set in Mumbai against a backdrop of crime, political corruption, and espionage. Seven years in the making, it centres on Inspector Sartaj Singh, one of the few Sikhs on the Mumbai police force. The story pits Singh against Ganesh Gaitonde, the most wanted gangster in India. Shot on location in India, the series will be a hybrid Hindi-English production. It will be available to Netflix members globally upon completion.

Now 55 years old, Chandra was born in New Delhi and has a number of novels to his name, including the award-winning Red Earth and Pouring Rain, which has been published in territories such as the UK and US.

Commenting on the opportunity to work with Chandra, Madhu Mantena of Phantom Films said: “We are very happy to start this journey with Netflix by producing Vikram’s outstanding story. And we are confident we will create some exciting and groundbreaking television content from here on.”

Erik Barmack, VP of international original series at Netflix, added: “We are delighted to partner with creative powerhouse Phantom Films to bring Vikram Chandra’s epic novel to life with the best Indian and global film talent available today. Sacred Games reinforces our commitment to bring the authenticity of local stories to Netflix members across 190 countries worldwide.”

David Carr
The late New York Times columnist David Carr, whose memoir is being made into a series by AMC and Sony Pictures Television

Other high-profile stories this week include AMC and Sony Pictures Television’s decision to develop a six-part miniseries based on The Night of the Gun, the memoir by late New York Times columnist David Carr.

Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul) will play Carr while Eileen Myers is attached as an executive producer and writer. Myers has several high-profile credits, including Mad Dogs, Masters of Sex, Last Resort, Hung, Big Love and Dark Blue.

For those unfamiliar with Carr’s memoir, it is an acclaimed depiction of his battle with cocaine and alcohol addiction. As an active figure in the US media business, he is credited with having kick-started the career of Lena Dunham, creator of HBO’s Girls.

Elsewhere, CBS has given a straight-to-series order to Ransom, a new hostage negotiator series created by David Vainola and Frank Spotnitz (The Man in the High Castle). The show has been set up as an international coproduction, with France’s TF1 and Canada’s Global also signed up for the 13-parter. Also on board is global content distributor Entertainment One (eOne).

The series will star Luke Roberts as Eric Beaumont, an expert crisis and hostage negotiator who resolves difficult kidnap and ransom cases. The show is inspired by the experiences of crisis negotiator Laurent Combalbert, one of the top negotiators in the world.

Spotnitz said: “The world of crisis negotiation is incredibly compelling, as demonstrated by the fascinating real-life cases Laurent Combalbert has negotiated. Laurent has inspired a brilliant and complex character, and you can’t help but be moved seeing all the lives he’s saved around the world.”

James Wood
Evelyn Waugh novel Decline and Fall is being adapted by James Wood

Amazon continues to be busy – picking up a number of new scripted pilots. Among them is Carnival Row, a supernatural series from Guillermo Del Toro, Travis Beacham and Rene Echeverria. A coproduction between Amazon Studios and Legendary TV, the show is based on a feature-film script created by Beacham 11 years ago. Since then, he has established himself as a leading action-adventure movie screenwriter with titles like Clash of the Titans and Pacific Rim (on which he worked with Del Toro).

Another Amazon pilot continues the current fascination with Cuba now that the country is opening up to the international market. Called Tropicana, it is set in the world of the Tropicana nightclub against the backdrop of pre-revolutionary Cuba. Written/executive produced by Josh Goldin and Rachel Abramowitz and executive produced by Andrea Simon, the series will feature all the usual suspects including the mafia, the CIA, Batista loyalists and Castro revolutionaries. Goldin and Abramowitz previously worked together on Klondike, while Goldin’s solo credits include Darkman.

Interesting projects bubbling up in the UK include a BBC2 adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s superb novel Decline and Fall. With comedian Jack Whitehall already installed as the lead of the three-part miniseries, there are reports that Eva Longoria is in negotiations to co-star.

The adaptation is being handled by James Wood, who came to fame with BBC comedy Rev. Set in the 1920s, Decline and Fall follows student Paul Pennyfeather, who is unfairly expelled from Oxford University and ends up teaching at a boys school in Wales.

Still in the UK, FremantleMedia has announced that it is backing a new scripted indie to be headed by feted producer Laurence Bowen. Called Dancing Ledge, the company is setting up new offices in Notting Hill with projects from some of the UK’s most talented writers and a development deal with The Hobbit star Martin Freeman.

Laurence Bowen
Laurence Bowen has set up Dancing Ledge

According to Fremantle, the new Dancing Ledge slate includes a dozen projects for UK and US broadcasters including dramas by Mark Gatiss, Guy Hibbert, Chris Lunt, Dan Sefton, and John Donnelly, as well as a new limited event-series development commission for History written by Simon Block (Home Fires). Bowen is also developing several scripted ideas with Martin Freeman.

Commenting on the new company’s excellent writer relationships, Bowen said: “Dancing Ledge is only ever going to be as good as the writers it works with and we are lucky enough to already be working with some of the very best in the UK.”

Finally, Canadian broadcaster CityTV has greenlit some dramas. Bad Blood: The Vito Rizzuto Story, will debut on City and FX in the US in 2017 and is inspired by the life and death of mobster Rizzuto. New Metric Media, Sphere Media and DHX Media will produce the series, based on the book Business or Blood: Mafia Boss Vito Rizzuto’s Last War – co-authored by Toronto Star reporter Peter Edwards and Antonio Nicaso.

Another commission is Second Jen, a coming-of-age comedy about two second-generation Chinese and Filipino-Canadian millennials and best friends. Created by and starring Samantha Wan and Amanda Joy, the show will be produced by Don Ferguson Productions and premiere on Citytv.com in the autumn.

tagged in: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

ABC Oz makes Clever decision

Cleverman
Cleverman made its debut last week

Cleverman, the futuristic drama from Goalpost Pictures in Australia and Pukeko Pictures New Zealand, has been greenlit for a second six-part season just as the first launched on ABC down under and SundanceTV in the US.

Starring Hunter Page-Lochard, Iain Glen and Ryan Corr, the drama tells the story of two Indigenous brothers as they struggle to survive in a dystopian landscape where people exploit and segregate a hairy human-like species with special powers.

The show was originally commissioned by ABC TV Australia with the assistance of Screen Australia, Screen NSW and the New Zealand Screen Production Grant. Subsequently, Red Arrow International came on board as a distributor and SundanceTV joined up as a coproducer.

Sally Riley, head of scripted production at ABC TV, said: “It’s rare that you get the green light for a second season of a show before the first season has even gone to air, so for me it’s a testament to the quality and audience appeal of Cleverman. It is also a testament to the unflinching support the show has from our funding partners Screen Australia and Screen NSW here in Oz, and our international partners Red Arrow and SundanceTV.”

Joel Stillerman, president of original programming and development for AMC and SundanceTV, added: “The world that (show creator) Ryan Griffen and the rest of the team behind Cleverman have created is a perfect blend of timeless mythology seen through the prism of a near-future lens. This is a series that sophisticated genre fans will no doubt fall in love with.”

Red Arrow International MD Henrik Pabst said: “Cleverman has already generated a huge amount of interest with international broadcasters, and the great news about season two will continue to build on this success.”

Outlander
Outlander has been given two more seasons

Channels that have already signed up for the show include online streamer BBC3 in the UK.

Cleverman was one of a number of high-profile renewal stories this week. In a piece of good news for the Scottish production business, US premium cable channel Starz announced there will be two new seasons of its period/time-travel epic Outlander, adapted by Ronald D Moore from Diana Gabaldon’s books.

Seasons three and four will be based on the third and fourth books in the series: Voyager and Drums of Autumn.

“Outlander is like nothing seen before on television,” said Starz CEO Chris Albrecht. “From its depiction of a truly powerful female lead character, to the devastating decimation of the Highlander way of life, to what is a rarely seen, genuine and timeless love story, it is a show that not only transports the viewer but inspires the passion and admiration of its fans.”

The show has been a solid performer for Starz, attracting an average of 1.1 million viewers (overnight figures) for its current second run. “The audience has rewarded Outlander with their praise and loyalty, and we know we will deliver the best seasons yet in the years ahead,” said Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg, presidents of US programming and production at Sony Pictures Television – the company that produces the show for Starz. “Starz has been an incredible partner and has helped shape this into one of the most iconic premiere series on the air today.”

As discussed in our last column, an early renewal was also given to Lifetime’s UnREAL this week. The same is true for Amazon’s acclaimed comedy drama Transparent, created by Jill Soloway. With season three yet to air, the show has already been given a season four commitment.

Transparent
Amazon has renewed Transparent (pictured) and unveiled a slew of Japanese originals

“As the quality of television rises to new heights, Transparent continues to stand out for its depth of character, compassionate storytelling and its infinite creative risk-taking,” said Joe Lewis, head of half hour television at Amazon Studios. “We’re grateful that customers have responded so enthusiastically and we’re excited to bring another chapter.”

Amazon has also been in the news for unveiling a slate of new shows for its Prime Video service in Japan. The line-up, presented by Amazon Japan president Jasper Cheung, Amazon Studios chief Roy Price and Amazon Japan content head James Farrell, includes 12 Japanese-made titles, some of which are scripted. Price said Japan is a high priority, adding: “Of our 40 new original global contents, 20 are Japanese originals.”

Among the new dramas on the slate are Baby Steps, a teen rom-com series based on a popular girls’ comic about a would-be tennis star who takes up the game to impress a pretty classmate. Others include Businessmen vs Aliens, a sci-fi comedy scripted and directed by Yuichi Fukuda; and Magi, a historical drama about four Japanese youths who journeyed to the Vatican nearly four centuries ago – and returned home to find Christianity banned. Also in the pipeline for Amazon Japan are new adaptations of popular superhero franchises Kamen Rider and Ultraman.

In terms of movie-to-TV adaptations, cable channel TV Land is reportedly planning a reboot of The First Wives Club, a popular 1996 feature film starring Diane Keaton, Bette Midler and Goldie Hawn.

Umbre
HBO Europe’s Romanian crime drama Umbre has been picked up by Hulu

Set in present-day San Francisco, the new version will revolve around three women – friends and classmates in the ’90s – who reconnect after their close friend from college dies in a freak accident. When they discover that they are all at a romantic crossroads, they band together to tackle divorce, relationships and life’s other annoying challenges. As an idea, it doesn’t sound that bad – though you have to ask how much extra value is generated by connecting the idea to the 1990s movie, rather than just presenting it as an original concept.

Elsewhere, Hulu has picked up HBO Europe’s Romanian crime drama Umbre for streaming in the US. Produced entirely in Romania by Multi Media Est, the story follows a taxi driver who doubles as a collector for a major local mobster and whose life is threatened when he accidentally kills someone. DQ sister publication C21 reports that show is based on Small Time Gangster, an Australian show produced by Sydney-based prodco Boilermaker Burberry and distributed by UK-based DRG.

Finally, Netflix has greenlit a new comedy from Jenji Kohan (creator of Orange Is The New Black). Entitled G.L.O.W., the new series tells the story of a 1980s female wrestling league.

tagged in: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Rémi Aubuchon talks up PlayStation’s Powers

Rogue superheroes are back on the run in the second season of PlayStation Networks original series Powers. DQ speaks to showrunner Rémi Aubuchon.

If you thought the world of superheroes was confined to US network The CW – with Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow among its roster of costumed crusaders – you’d be mistaken.

PlayStation Network broke into original series for the first time with the launch of Powers in March 2015 and the drama, based on the graphic novel series of the same name, returns today for its second season.

The action-packed show follows two homicide detectives, played by Sharlto Copley and Susan Heyward, who are assigned to investigate cases involving people with extraordinary abilities in a world where superheroes aren’t actually heroic.

The new season promises to delve into the storyline made famous by the first comic – entitled Who Killed Retro Girl? – as the Powers Division investigates the shocking murder of the world-famous superhero (Michelle Forbes) and the mysteries that her death uncovers.

Rémi Aubuchon
Rémi Aubuchon

“More than season one, we are leaning a little more heavily on the book itself,” explains showrunner Rémi Aubuchon. “When we had our initial discussions about season two, Brian Michael Bendis (creator) and I felt we skipped over a lot of cool things in the book that we didn’t pay attention to because we thought we couldn’t actually recreate them.

“We didn’t know we could realise them in a dramatic way that would be satisfying for television. But with a lot of discussion we figured out how we could do that and in fact we committed to some of the really wonderful things that were in the book that we hadn’t yet explored.”

Aubuchon, whose credits include 24, Wildfire and Falling Skies, describes the original Powers comics as a reaction to traditional comic-book superheroes – one that explores what it means to be a superhero and how they would influence our world.

“I find it fascinating that genre television has become as popular as it has,” he says. “Part of that is just that as the audience gets older, this is what they grew up with and this is what they’re familiar with. But I think also in the crazy-ass world that we live in, the fantasy of a superhero who could take care of us is appealing.

“We can say it’s really good that The Flash is there, but what if he was having a bad day and didn’t feel like rescuing people? Or if he suddenly got caught up in the celebrity machine and was much less interested in saving the world than he was in seeing how many endorsements he could get? I loved every second of that part of telling the story of Powers and using it as a metaphor not just for celebrity but for trying to figure out your place in the world and what you are willing to do to get ahead. If you have extraordinary powers or talent, how far are you willing to exploit that for personal gain? I think those are really good, fun things.”

The first season of Powers, which is produced by Jinxworld and Circle of Confusion in association with Sony Pictures Television, can now be seen around the world on traditional television channels – but its first home is one of an increasing number of non-traditional platforms moving into original series. This makes PlayStation Network stand out, Aubuchon argues, because it is willing to take risks with storytelling.

He adds: “There’s certain traditional building blocks to telling a story that I think you have to follow but I really love it when an audience reacts to something by saying, ‘I didn’t expect that!’ and I think the PlayStation platform gives us that opportunity.”

Aubuchon is also mindful of the network’s key audience – gamers – and admits the platform has influenced the structure and pace of the show.

Powers stars Sharlto Copley
Powers stars Sharlto Copley and Susan Heyward

“We have to constantly make sure the episode is moving as fast as it can because we’re very aware that our unique core audience is used to having a lot of information put before them in a fairly rapid format, and we need to keep up with that,” he explains. “I personally believe that’s the trend we’re heading towards in terms of television and the medium, which I think is changing rapidly.

“There’s still an audience out there that’s interested in the traditional network presentation of material but I don’t think that audience is going to be the majority in a very short period of time. We’ve got a very new, young, engaged audience that is demanding more than just your 42 minutes of people walking around talking about things.”

In terms of visual style, however, the showrunner says both he and PlayStation were determined that Powers should not look like a video game or appear to viewers as if they were in the middle of a role-playing game: “We wanted to have a traditional story told in that respect, but in the way we approach the cinematography, we have a very active moving camera; we move in and out of shadows. We are influenced by gaming in that just when you think we’re turning right, we make a sharp left turn somewhere. And I think that is where the big influence comes in in terms of the medium and the platform.”

Aubuchon started out in theatre before building his television career with writing credits on shows including 413 Hope Street, From the Earth to the Moon and Chicago Hope. He later produced The Lyon’s Den, Summerland and Persons Unknown.

“I don’t think theatre and TV are very different, only that nobody watches theatre anymore,” he says starkly. “I am and always have been about character. I feel that I’m of the school that believes character is structure and structure is character and you can’t separate the two.

“Not everyone, especially in television, feels that way but I feel very strongly about that and that is influenced by my work in theatre where you only have the actors on stage to tell the story, and they have to, by sheer talent and words, be able to convey the power of the dramatic story.”

The show focuses on people with superpowers who couldn't exactly be called 'superheroes'
The show focuses on people with superpowers who couldn’t exactly be called ‘superheroes’

It was, therefore, in character drama that Aubuchon first began writing for television – but the self-described “nerd” admits he “tried very hard” to move into genre series.

“The first attempt I made was the pilot for Caprica (a prequel to the hit sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica), where I wanted to have a sweeping saga of families caught up in this world,” he recalls. “If I could have made a living in theatre, I think I would have stayed in theatre forever and ever because there’s something about just the smell of the theatre that gets me excited. But unfortunately the lure of television called, and this is where I am.”

Now working on a genre show with the scale and ambition of Powers, every day poses a new challenge, but Aubuchon says that is part of the reward.

“What I think we did really right this season was to take the DNA from the Power book and really bring it to the screen,” he explains. “We tried hard to do that in the first season but, like in any first season of television, there’s lots of trial and error and we weren’t always as successful as we wanted to be. But this season we were very successful trying to translate a comic-book page to a real 24-frames-per-second dramatic piece. It’s not as easy as it seems and I feel very proud of that. We actually brought the comic book to the television screen.”

The showrunner and his producing partners – Bendis, Michael Oeming and David Engel – are already looking towards a third season, and with 12 books from which to adapt material, Powers could be around for the next decade.

But beyond the series, Aubuchon believes consoles like the PlayStation will become one-stop entertainment shops for users to access a host of platforms in the future.

“The idea of having a traditional network that presents the stuff to you they want to look at is, if not dead, then slowly dying,” he says. “Audiences, because the technology is available to do this, are putting together their own personal networks of what they want to see. There are so many choices of television shows out there right now and they’re over a broad range of networks and content providers.

“Places like PlayStation Networks are trying to develop a platform where people will come for any type of entertainment, whether it’s gaming, Spotify, Powers, Netflix, Amazon or any other content – and that to me is a really good model and that’s where we’re heading. I’m glad to be at the cutting edge.”

tagged in: , , , , ,

Nordic drama in good company

Ole Søndberg produced the BBC version of Wallander starring Kenneth Branagh
Ole Søndberg produced the BBC version of Wallander starring Kenneth Branagh

London-based producer and financer Nevision has teamed up with Danish production company Good Company Films (GoodCo) to co-develop a new TV drama for the global audience.

The project in development is 10-part drama Midnights, which the partners describe as “a political thriller set in a present world that is both familiar and strange, about Nordic immortals who discover that they are dying amid the emerging Cold War in the Arctic.”

Midnights was created by Anna Reeves and will be produced by Stinna Lassen and Vibeke Windeløv. The executive producers are Ole Søndberg and Anni Faurbye Fernandez, who formed GoodCo in autumn 2014 along with Lassen and Windeløv. Søndberg is best known for starting Yellow Bird Films and for producing the Swedish and English versions of Wallander, the US version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the Millennium Trilogy based on Stieg Larsson’s novels. Fernandez was previously CEO and executive producer of Yellow Bird.

ABC in Oz has brought back legal drama Janet King for a third season
ABC in Oz has brought back legal drama Janet King for a third season

Also involved in the project is Nevision-backed About Premium Content (APC). APC will help source pre-sales and will handle international distribution for the series outside Scandinavia. Laurent Boissel, APC’s CEO, said: “Nevision and APC together are able to offer a bespoke studio-like solution where the producer’s independence and creativity is fully preserved.”

Nevision executive chairman James Cabourne added: “GoodCo is a very exciting company with a team that has an amazing track record in producing quality drama that resonates with a global audience. The success of Wallander is testament to this and we are excited to be partnering with GoodCo on Midnights.”

Elsewhere in the world of drama, Australian pubcaster ABC has renewed legal drama Janet King for a third season. The new eight-part run from Screentime Australia will go into production this year for 2017. It focuses on the life of a female prosecutor who returns from maternity leave to find her workplace even more demanding than when she left. DCD Rights distributes the series.

Cleverman is BBC3's first drama acquisition since it became a web-only network
Cleverman is BBC3’s first drama acquisition since it became a web-only network

Sticking with the subject of drama distribution, there have been a few notable stories this week. BBC3 in the UK, for example, has acquired Cleverman, its first drama purchase since the channel moved from traditional broadcasting to online streaming.

A six-hour series from Australia’s Goalpost Pictures and New Zealand’s Pukeko Pictures, Cleverman follows a group of non-humans battling for survival in a world where humans feel increasingly inferior and want to silence, exploit and kill them.

Sue Deeks, head of programme acquisition at the BBC, described the series as “incredibly original and ambitious.” The show, which is distributed by Red Arrow International, will be available first in the US (SundanceTV, June 1) and Australia (ABC, June 2). The UK screening of the show will come later in the year. Henrik Pabst, MD at Red Arrow International, said the series “is one of the biggest and most ambitious shows to come out of Australia and speaks to a growing world audience unafraid of adventurous TV.”

DRTV's Follow The Money will air on CBC in Canada
DRTV’s financial crime drama Follow The Money will air on CBC in Canada

In Canada, meanwhile, public broadcaster CBC has just announced a summer schedule that includes UK political thriller Undercover (written by Peter Moffat) and Danish financial crime drama Follow The Money. The latter, which comes from the successful DRTV stable, is being aired at 21.00 on Saturdays. This seems like a bold move for a non-English-language drama, though it has already aired on BBC4 in the UK. Other non-Nordic markets to acquire the show include Belgium and the Netherlands.

Also significant is the news that Amazon Prime Video has acquired new AMC show Preacher for the UK, Austria, Germany and Japan. The show is distributed internationally by Sony Pictures Television (SPT), which has also sold it to Viaplay across the Nordics, OSN across the Middle East and D-Smart in Turkey. AMC has an international channel of its own that could have acquired Preacher, but presumably SPT was able to extract more international revenue by putting together a multi-partner plan.

US VoD service Acorn TV has added UK biopic drama Cilla
US VoD service Acorn TV has added UK biopic drama Cilla

The news that US on-demand service Acorn TV has added two UK dramas to its programming line-up underlines the increased demand for scripted shows in the VoD space. They are police procedural Suspects, totalling 17 episodes, and Cilla, a three-part biopic about popular UK entertainer Cilla Black.

As we have noted in recent columns, this is a busy time of year for US channels as they unveil their plans for the summer and autumn seasons. Today’s headliner is Turner Broadcasting’s cable channel TNT, which has ordered a series about the life of a young William Shakespeare. It has also greenlit a pilot called Civil. Both are part of a wide-ranging channel overhaul that has involved a significant increase in scripted investment.

The Shakespeare series, Will, is written by Craig Pierce and follows the life of the young playwright in London. This being US television, the 10-part production will be a contemporary version of Shakespeare’s life played against a modern soundtrack. The theatre scene in 16th century England will be treated as though it was the punk rock revolution of its time.

Amazon Prime Video has taken AMC's Preacher for the UK, Austria, Germany and Japan
Amazon Prime Video has taken AMC’s Preacher for the UK, Austria, Germany and Japan

“Will has an energy and style that is unlike anything else on television today,” said Sarah Aubrey, executive VP of original programming for TNT. “Shakespeare was a 16th century rock star, and Will captures what that must have felt like for the young writer and his fans. We are delighted to be working with such an extraordinary team of executive producers and cast in putting a fresh, bold spin on the story of Shakespeare.”

As for Civil, the backdrop is a fiercely fought presidential election that plunges the US into a modern-day Civil War. It is written by Oscar nominee Scott Smith (A Simple Plan) and directed by Emmy nominee Allen Coulter (Damages, Nurse Jackie). Other new dramas coming through at TNT include Animal Kingdom, Good Behaviour, The Alienist and Tales from the Crypt.

Omen spin-off Damien has ended after a single season
Omen spin-off Damien has ended after a single season on A&E

Also in the US this week, some cancellation news. First, A&E has shut down its Omen spin-off Damien after a single season of 10 episodes. The decision comes after poor ratings, with the show starting moderately and fading to around 400,000 by the end of its run.

Showrunner Glen Mazzara confirmed the cancellation on Twitter: “This hurts to say but #Damien will not be getting a second season. Thank you from all of us to our amazing fans.”

Bates Motel aside, A&E hasn’t been having much luck with original scripted content recently. The Returned was cancelled after one season while Unforgettable has also bitten the dust (though after a longer run). A&E cancelled Longmire after three seasons and then had to stand by and watch as Netflix picked up the show and commissioned a couple more seasons.

Don Cheadle in Showtime's now-axed comedy House of Lies
Don Cheadle in Showtime’s now-axed comedy House of Lies

Also, Showtime has announced that the current season of House of Lies will be the last. Commenting on the show, which stars Don Cheadle, Showtime president and CEO David Nevins said: “House of Lies is a comedy that has frequently been ahead of the curve. The core cast of Don Cheadle, Kristen Bell, Ben Schwartz and Josh Lawson is one of the best comedy teams on television. They have brought the series to an incredibly satisfying conclusion with the historic final episode shot in Cuba.”

In ratings terms, the show is averaging around 350,000 – significantly down on season four and very poor in comparison with most other Showtime titles. The decision to cancel will have been made easier by the encouraging start made by Showtime’s new financial drama Billions.

tagged in: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The magic touch

A series described as “the Edwardian X-Files” pits Harry Houdini against Arthur Conan Doyle in supernatural crime drama Houdini & Doyle. Michael Pickard reports.

While Houdini & Doyle represents the increasing globalisation of television drama, there’s familiarity for viewers in this new supernatural crime drama.

Commissioned by ITV in the UK, the series has a strong international footprint. It was produced by British indie Big Talk Productions and Canada’s Shaftesbury, while filming took place in Manchester, Liverpool and Toronto. It will also air in Canada on Global and on US network Fox, with Sony Pictures Television distributing.

And audiences tuning in on both sides of the Atlantic can look forward to a show described as “the Edwardian X-Files,” which unites real-life friends and adversaries author Arthur Conan Doyle and illusionist Harry Houdini as a pair of crime solvers in early 20th century England.

But while Sherlock Holmes author Doyle, played by Stephen Mangan (pictured left above), is a passionate believer in the paranormal, Houdini (Six Feet Under’s Michael Weston, alongside Mangan above) refuses to believe in the supernatural, leading them into conflict and competition as they help Scotland Yard solve some bizarre and inexplicable crimes.

The series is executive produced by House creator David Shore and co-creators David Hoselton (Chicago PD) and David Titcher (The Librarians), alongside Kenton Allen, Luke Alkin, Matthew Justice, Christina Jennings, Scott Garvie and Maggie Murphy.

Showrunner Hoselton says: “It was a setup that seemed almost too good to be true: the real-life friendship between Sherlock Holmes’ creator and the great magician, bonded by a mutual interest in the paranormal. And most intriguing of all was the fact they were on unexpected sides of the debate, for one would assume Doyle to be the sceptic and Houdini the believer, but it was quite the opposite.”

Houdini-&-Doyle-s1-ep1-4
Rebecca Liddiard (left) plays constable Adelaide Stratton

The drama does take some “artistic licence” with history, however. The two men were already past middle age when they met in real life, but the series moves their friendship back 20 years to 1901, which Hoselton says is the ideal time for viewers to meet the characters.

“A new century, a new king, a new era chock-a-block with new ideas,” he says of the show’s setting. “In a highly unpopular move, Doyle had killed off Holmes to devote more time to ‘weightier work,’ and Houdini was at the apex of his career as the highest-paid performer in the world.”

The pair are grounded by constable Adelaide Stratton (played by Rebecca Liddiard), the UK’s first female police officer, who is based on a real person and provides a window into an evolving world 17 years before women got the vote.

Hostler adds: “Armed with equal parts scepticism, hope and humour, this trio felt like the perfect group to explore the world of the supernatural – and if they happen to raise a few profound questions in the process, all the better.”

Mangan, best known for his role in comedy Episodes, admits he agreed to take part in Houdini & Doyle after discovering David Shore was involved in the project.

“You can never guarantee anything will be a success,” he explains. “But if the person at the top of the tree knows what they’re doing then it certainly helps. So when I found out that person was David, it was a very simple decision. I read a couple of scripts and agreed to do it.”

The British actor, who describes the series as “the Edwardian X-Files,” continues: “Not every single crime is explained. It would be a little dull if that were the case. As much as I love Scooby Doo, as a crime drama it starts to get a little bit predictable after a while. And you don’t want that. What I love about this show is that every episode is written by a different person and they all have very different feelings.”

Houdini-&-Doyle-s1-ep1-3
Mangan’s Doyle is a believer in the supernatural, while Weston’s Houdini is more sceptical

Weston was also drawn to the project by Shore’s involvement, having previously appeared in House. “It’s such a unique idea, set in this period time of these two epic figures,” he says. “And they’ve done it with such wit, humour and humanity. Yet it’s this great adventure and procedural at the same time.”

Accepting their parts meant Mangan and Weston were jumping into the deep end – literally, as the opening scene finds the pair up to their necks in a cellar as water rises around them. The stunt was filmed using a shipping container filled with water in a Manchester car park, though the container had to be reinforced to stop the sides collapsing due to the weight of the water.

“It was really intense, but fun,” says Weston. “We have incredible wardrobe and set departments that build these extravagant things. They built this set for us and we were in water for hours and hours.

“They were raising the level gradually and let us go right to the point of real danger. We always want to make it look real and feel real. So we will do it as close as we can. We really were gasping for air and happy when it was all over. But it was awesome fun. You get a little adrenaline rush.”

Mangan continues: “That’s one of the few stunts I do. Michael does most of them – he was suspended upside down in a straightjacket and lowered into a tube of water. He’s always leaping around while I’m typing at a typewriter.”

The series debuts on ITV and pay TV channel ITV Encore on March 13, before rolling out on Global and Fox on May 2.

But despite Houdini & Doyle’s supernatural flavour, Mangan says the appeal for viewers will be the familiarity of its case-of-the-week procedural structure.

“There’s a reason why there are so many crime dramas around, and it’s because they hook you in,” he adds. “You just want to know whodunnit. But at the same time there is a variety in each show. Each episode is like a self-contained film all on its own plus a double act. Again, a classic formula – two very different blokes. I think they have fallen upon two fascinating characters in Houdini and Doyle. It’s exciting, compelling and funny – and a real bonanza for anyone turned on by moustaches.”

tagged in: , , , , , ,

Outside chance: DQ talks to Peter Mattei

After initially being told his script wouldn’t find a TV home, Outsiders creator Peter Mattei says he found the perfect fit in WGN America. He tells DQ how his story of renegades who clash with the modern world came in from the cold.

Novelist, playwright, filmmaker, screenwriter – it’s fair to say Peter Mattei (pictured above right) has more titles than most. So it’s a sign of the ongoing strength of television drama that he chose the small screen as the medium for his latest project.

Outsiders marks US cable channel WGN America’s latest foray into the world of original programming. Described as a struggle for power and control set in the rugged hills of Appalachia, the series focuses on the Farrell Clan, a tight-knit family of renegades who have lived atop the rugged Shay Mountain for more than 200 years, and their fight to defend their way of life from the town below and anyone who would dare to challenge them.

The series stars Hollywood actor David Morse
The series stars Hollywood actor David Morse

Produced by Sony Pictures Television and Tribune Studios, it was created and written by Mattei, who executive produces alongside Fedora Entertainment’s Peter Tolan, Paul Giamatti, Dan Carey for Touchy Feely Films and Fedora’s Michael Wimer.

“I had pitched and sold a batch of TV ideas over the years and none of them really went forward,” Mattei explains. “I wasn’t sure whether I should do this one as a novel or film but I saw it as a longform story. The kind of independent films I’m interested in aren’t being seen and it’s hard to get money, so the idea of doing it as a TV show was more appealing.

“It’s a great time to be doing longform novelistic stories. I wanted to do it as TV but I knew it wasn’t pitchable because it’s so strange, so I just wrote it.”

Mattei says the series was inspired by a number of contemporary issues facing the US, notably in terms of politics and the financial crisis, gentrification and the idea of freedom.

“I was interested in this idea of people living an alternate lifestyle, in cults and communes,” he says. “What if there were people living a lifestyle that people were living 200 years ago and were determined not to change? What would happen if these people were discovered living among us and their way of life was threatened? What if they were illiterate? And the ideas fell in together.”

The author of 2013 satirical novel The Great Whatsis, Mattei wrote the pilot script for Outsiders (originally called Titans) and for a few years was told by friends in the business that it was a great idea but one that wouldn’t fly on television.

Unperturbed, he passed it to his agent, who also represents Giamatti, and they teamed up to take it out to the networks. Arriving at WGN, Mattei was impressed by the broadcaster’s ambition and immediately felt it was a perfect fit for his show.

From left: Actor Ryan Hurst, creator and exec producer Peter Mattei, executive producer Peter Tolan, actor Christina Jackson, actor Paul Giamatti, actor Kyle Gallner, actor David Morse, actor Gillian Alexy
From left: Actor Ryan Hurst, creator and exec producer Peter Mattei, executive producer Peter Tolan, actor Christina Jackson, actor Paul Giamatti, actor Kyle Gallner, actor David Morse, actor Gillian Alexy

Equally impressed, WGN gave Outsiders a 13-episode straight-to-series order, following in the footsteps of its earlier original series Salem and Manhattan. It makes its debut on the network tonight.

“They’re an upstart, similar to AMC when they did Breaking Bad and Mad Men,” Mattei says of WGN. “They’re looking for interesting, edgy material to differentiate themselves and have a straight-to-series model. They also loved the material and it seemed like the perfect fit. After a period of writing, they decided to move forward with it and they brought in Sony as a co-studio (with Tribune, the production arm of WGN parent Tribune Media). I knew I needed a partner and Sony brought Peter (Tolan) in. He loved it too.

“It still feels surreal. This was a very strange idea I cooked up and wrote very quickly – I didn’t think about it too much. I wasn’t trying to sell anything. I wanted to write something I thought would be cool on air. A year later, seeing it coming to life, it’s very surreal. Since I had never made a show before, I felt like I was a student of the process and absorbed everything from Peter. We put the writers room together. It was incredibly daunting to plot 13 episodes of a show when I had barely scratched the surface.”

Though Mattei worked alongside Tolan to run the writers room, he says being a showrunner is different to anything he has done before.

“Showrunning is definitely one of those things you can apprentice if you’re working on a show, but if you’ve never done it before, there doesn’t seem to be a playbook,” he says. “Everyone does it very differently. For me, having the equivalent of four full-time jobs was really hard. I was the only writer on set and the only producer on set.

lasfjas
The show focuses on a family of renegades

“The experience was twofold: the time I was in LA with the writers room and plotting out the season’s story arc, and being in Pittsburgh during production. Because it was a made-up universe, it was very different to anything everybody had worked on before. It’s not a lawyer show where you know how everyone behaves. I don’t know how my characters talk or how they dress. I had lots of ideas and also the way this story looked was very important to me. I wanted it to be very cinematic. We just shot a 10-hour movie in 13 parts.”

The look of the show was so important to Mattei that he put together a 60-page presentation outlining the appearance of both the world of the show and its characters – drawing inspiration from such groups as bikers and gypsies – and the style of music that should be used. He also worked with director Adam Bernstein to hire the director of photography and costume and production designers.

“I really got involved more than most showrunners do in terms of production,” he says. “We wanted it to be really cinematic so I wanted to be on the ground.”

Mattei values the work of his collaborators and says he is keen to let people have their own voice. “I just want to make sure what we are doing is the best thing we can do,” he adds. “This is the first year of the show and it’s such a made-up fantastical world that there was a lot of back and forth with the actors and designers about what the show would be. By midway, we knew what we were doing and I felt confident I would know the answer to any question people could ask.”

Outsiders also boasts a strong ensemble cast, headlined by David Morse, who is best known for big-screen roles in The Green Mile, Contact, The Hurt Locker and The Rock. He has also appeared in episodes of HBO dramas True Detective and Treme. Other cast members include Thomas M Wright, Ryan Hurst, Joe Anderson, Gillian Alexy, Kyle Gallner, Christina Jackson, Francie Swift and Phyllis Somerville.

“When we set out in casting, we just wanted great actors in every role as opposed to having specific ideas of the look of a character,” Mattei says. “We were very lucky because when the script got out, there were certain actors who came to us.

“We were overjoyed when we heard from David Morse. He was someone whose name I had thrown out as the kind of actor I wanted to work with. He’s an actor’s actor. All our actors were really smart about their characters and their story arcs. It was a very collaborative process where they would give feedback on stories. We did table reads and a lot of rewriting based on those.”

Having taken a series to air after several false starts, Mattei says he now cannot imagine doing anything other than television. “I’m a dilettante; I like to try everything. I’m sure at some point I would love to get back in theatre – it’s been 20 years – and to make a film as well. For the moment, this is an incredible moment for US TV. I hope it lasts. It feels to me like when I got into making films and was in the middle of the independent film community at Sundance. TV feels like that, filled with excitement and so many people making smart stuff. It’s full of energy where lots of things are possible and really great work is happening.

“Mr Robot is amazing. It’s incredibly good. I also liked Black Mirror – that was a real masterpiece. When there’s stuff out there like that, you get really inspired.”

Looking back on making the first season of Outsiders, Mattei describes it as “easily the most intense experience” of his life.

He adds: “I was not at all prepared for how demanding it would be to run a show like this. I fucked up a lot of stuff and struggled with a lot of stuff. We all did. It’s one of those experiences. It’s really quite a journey. It’s so much more intense than making a film. We were taking 15 days to make 90 minutes, not 30 days. The pace is daunting. We have been through a war together.”

tagged in: , , , ,

Natpe’s Latin flavour

Loaded is coming to
Televisa is adapting Keshet’s Loaded

In 2011, US programme market Natpe moved from Las Vegas to Miami to be closer to the Latin American TV community. So it’s fitting that Natpe 2016 (held between January 19 and 21 last week) provided a platform for so many Latin American scripted TV announcements.

Pick of the bunch was the news that Brazilian media giant Globo is moving into Spanish-language production with a thriller called Supermax. Although Globo has previously coproduced Spanish-language shows with the likes of Azteca in Mexico and Telemundo in the US, Supermax marks the first time it has fully funded a drama in Spanish.

The 10-part series, being produced in-house with Argentinian filmmaker Daniel Burman as showrunner, follows eight characters who travel to a remote prison to participate in a reality show. Although production doesn’t start until April, it has already been picked up by Azteca for broadcast in Mexico.

Commenting, Globo executive director of international business Raphael Corrêa Netto said: “We’ve taken a strategic look at the market and worked out how to leverage our creative capabilities. We wanted to develop and produce (this show) based on our thinking for the global market – from script development to production and design.”

In other Latino news, Mexican media conglomerate Televisa has revealed that it is to adapt four Keshet International Israeli dramas from the original Hebrew into Spanish. One of them is a title we discussed last week, Loaded, which is also being remade by Channel 4 in the UK. The other three are yet to be selected but will be produced over the course of the next three years.

Blue Demon
Blue Demon promises an ‘intimate look’ at a Mexican wrestling legend

Televisa is also involved in a coproduction with Sony Pictures Television (SPT) that will focus on the life of Alejandro Muñoz Moreno, a Mexican wrestler better known as the Blue Demon. The 65×60’drama, simply called Blue Demon, will air across Latin America on Televisa platforms and before being distributed worldwide jointly by SPT and Televisa.

The show is the latest title to come out of a coproduction alliance formed by the two partners in 2014. Angelica Guerra, senior VP and MD of production, Latin America and US Hispanic for SPT, said: “There is a growing demand in the region for stories about real people and events, a trend that started in Colombia and has made its way to Mexico. Blue Demon will offer audiences an intimate look at one of (freestyle wrestling’s) greatest legends, exploring a complex and turbulent world that few knew about.”

Also coming out of Miami was news that producer Ben Silverman is teaming up with Eric Newman, the showrunner behind Netflix hit Narcos, on a series about Juan Esteban Aristizábal Vásquez, the Colombian singing sensation better known as Juanes. The show, whose English title is Chasing the Sun, will follow Juanes’s early life in Colombia through to his arrival as an aspiring musician in Miami.

Jaunes, aka Juan Esteban Aristizábal Vásquez
Jaunes, aka Juan Esteban Aristizábal Vásquez

The goal is to produce an edgy series, with the press announcement saying it will “stylistically be in the vein of an Entourage-meets-Narcos bilingual drama.” No network is attached as yet, but Silverman has a good track record for bringing Latin American ideas to the world with series such as Jane the Virgin and Ugly Betty. Note that it is being set us as a bilingual series.

In other greenlight news this week, USA Network has given a straight-to-series, 10-episode order to Eyewitness, a drama based on Norwegian crime thriller Øyevitne. The US version will be created by Adi Hasak, whose credits include Shades of Blue. He will work alongside Norwegian series creator Jarl Emsell Larsen.

Øyevitne, which aired on NRK, was one of the most talked-about Scandinavian shows of 2015. It focuses on two gay teenage boys who secretly meet up in a forest. During one such liaison, they witness a shooting and barely escape with their lives. Desperate to keep their relationship a secret and in fear of being found by the perpetrator, they remain silent.

eyewitness-3808
Eyewitness (Øyevitne) originally aired on NRK

Commenting on the decision to pick up the show, Alex Sepiol, senior VP of original scripted programming at USA, said: “Eyewitness takes a horrific crime and, in compelling fashion, uses it to examine a whole network of unique character relationships. We were immediately drawn to the source material, and Adi has found a very smart way to adapt it into a universal and engaging story.”

The dark tone of the show fits a broader agenda at USA, which is reinventing itself as a more exciting destination for young viewers. Alongside the Eyewitness project, it has Golden Globe-winning hacker drama Mr Robot and Carlton Cuse-produced series Colony. Earlier this week, it also announced another new drama called Falling Water. This series centres on three strangers who realise they are dreaming separate parts of the same dream that has major implications for problems in each of their lives.

“Today’s world demands shows that challenge and reward the audience in spectacular ways,” said Jeff Wachtel, president and chief content officer at USA Network’s parent company NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment. “Falling Water is the type of show that can move the needle of popular culture with its thrilling exploration of the dark side of the mind.”

Altered_Carbon_cover_1_(Amazon)
Netflix has commissioned a series based on the novel Altered Carbon

Meanwhile, Netflix, now up to 75 million subscribers worldwide, continues to commission new shows. Its latest addition is a 10-part sci-fi series based on Richard K Morgan’s book Altered Carbon. Set in the 25th century, Morgan’s novel imagines a world where the human mind has been digitised and the soul is transferrable from one body to the next. The series is being produced by Skydance Television and written by Laeta Kalogridis. Kalogridis’s previous credits include the screenplays for the movies Shutter Island and Terminator Genisys.

Elsewhere, there have been rumours circulating in the last few days that Fox in the US would love to commission a follow-up to its six-part X-Files reboot, which debuted last night in the US. However, the big obstacle to that appears to be scheduling the talent.

In an interview with Variety, male lead David Duchovny said: “Gillian (Anderson, co-star) and I have talked about (doing more episodes), and then we just stop because we get to 2023 and we still haven’t found a date we can do it. It’s like, ‘Let’s just wait and see what happens after this,’ and then we can start to talk seriously about whether we can make it work again.” Possibly, if the ratings are good enough to justify it, there might be room to squeeze in another short run of six or eight episodes.

Will we get more X-Files?
Will we get more X-Files?

Finally, the big story on the drama acquisition front is that pay TV platform Sky has done a deal with CBS that means its Sky Atlantic channel will become the exclusive home to Showtime’s original drama series across the UK, Ireland, Germany, Austria and Italy. The agreement covers all new and future series including Billions, which premiered strongly in the US this week, and the forthcoming revival of cult drama Twin Peaks.

Commenting on the deal, Sky content MD Gary Davey said: “This is one of the most important content deals Sky has ever agreed, cementing Sky’s position as the market leader in Europe for world-class drama. The agreement means our customers can enjoy an incredible slate of upcoming new dramas and can also explore hundreds of hours of amazing series such as Dexter, Californication, The Affair and House of Lies on demand from the back catalogue.”

tagged in: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Starz shines in Golden Globe nominations

Outlander
Outlander is based on novels by Diana Gabaldon

It’s very much in vogue to talk about the quality of scripted series coming out of HBO, Showtime, AMC, FX, Netflix and Amazon. But this week let’s raise a glass to Starz, which has picked up Golden Globe nominations for two dramas: Outlander and Flesh and Bone.

When Starz made its first meaningful move into original production with Spartacus: Blood and Sand, it didn’t look like it would be a contender for industry gongs. But under the leadership of Chris Albrecht and Carmi Zlotnik, the US channel has really raised its game – delivering shows like Power, Black Sails and, coming in 2016, The Girlfriend Experience – as well as the above-mentioned series.

Outlander, based on the novels by Diana Gabaldon, is produced by Sony Pictures Television and Left Bank Pictures and was developed for TV by Ronald D Moore. Moore also heads a writing team that, in season one, included five credited writers (Moore, Toni Graphia, Ira Steven Behr, Anne Kenney and Matthew B Roberts).

Moore, who wrote the opening two episodes of season one, is still just 51. But his extensive writing credits include Star Trek: The Next Generation, Battlestar Galactica and Syfy series Helix. He was also reported to be working on a TV reboot of movie A Knight’s Tale for ABC.

Flesh and Bone is a one-season-only drama
Flesh and Bone is a one-season-only drama written by Moira Walley-Beckett

Flesh and Bone, meanwhile, is an eight-part miniseries about the dysfunctional but glamorous world of ballet. Created by Moira Walley-Beckett, it started airing on Starz on November 8 and is currently five episodes through its one and only season. Walley-Beckett’s career to date has seen her win a Primetime Emmy for her work as a writer on AMC’s Breaking Bad. She was also a writer-producer on ABC’s short-lived period series Pan Am.

Elsewhere, fans of Fox thriller 24 will be delighted to hear that the show’s star Kiefer Sutherland is to headline a new ABC series entitled Designated Survivor. The drama, which has been ordered straight-to-series, focuses on a junior US cabinet member who is unexpectedly appointed president after a huge attack kills everyone above him in the line of succession. The production company behind the show is Mark Gordon Co Studios (Quantico) and the writer will be David Guggenheim.

Guggenheim’s major credits to date are movies – most notably the Denzel Washington/Ryan Reynolds thriller Safe House. He is also working on a sequel to Safe House and a new instalment in the cult Bad Boys franchise. The drama is ABC’s first new scripted series for the 2016/17 and follows on from a decent showing for Quantico.

Kiefer Sutherland as 24's Jack Bauer
Kiefer Sutherland as 24’s Jack Bauer

If this is the golden age of TV drama, then one has to ask why so many old movies and TV series are being revived. Still, it’s good news for writers. The latest beneficiary is Javier Grillo-Marxuach, a former Lost writer (seasons one and two) who was been signed up to write a reboot of NBC’s cult series Xena: Warrior Princess.

The chances of Xena getting into production seem pretty good for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because of the current trend towards action-adventure shows with female leads. Secondly, because the show is popular internationally, suggesting a successful reboot could be a money-spinner for NBC’s distribution division.

Another show to secure a nomination at this year’s Golden Globes is Fox’s ratings hit Empire. Unsurprisingly, Fox has asked the show’s co-creator Lee Daniels to come up with a follow-up series. Daniels, who is currently casting the pilot, is co-writing the new series with Tom Donaghy.

Although the programme doesn’t yet have a title, it will follow the fortunes of a girl group hoping to make it in the music business. Donaghy started his career as a playwright but, like many of his peers, is now active in TV. Credits before now include The Whole Truth, Without a Trace and The Mentalist.

Could Xena: Warrior Princess be the latest show to see a revival?
Could Xena: Warrior Princess be the latest show to see a revival?

Another project in the news this month is Lookout Point’s Parisian fashion drama The Collection. Set in the aftermath of the Second World War, the eight-hour show has been picked up by Amazon and will be written by Oliver Goldstick. Goldstick’s credits include Desperate Housewives, Ugly Betty and, notably, Pretty Little Liars (PLL), for which he has written 30 episodes. He also co-created the short-lived PLL spin-off Ravenswood with I Marlene King and Joseph Dougherty.

One project in search of a writer is AMC’s new adaptation of Joe Hill horror novel NOS4A2. The story centres a young woman with an uncanny talent for finding lost things – a gift that is gradually destroying her mind. She encounters Charlie Manx, who abducts children in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith and sucks their souls to keep himself young. The licence plate on the Rolls (NOS4A2) gives you a clue as to what kind of character he is.

tagged in: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,