Tag Archives: Still Star-Crossed

Will power

With TNT’s Will and ABC’s Romeo & Juliet sequel Still Star-Crossed airing this summer, Stephen Arnell looks at William Shakespeare’s record as a drama character in his own right.

From the BBC’s recent The Hollow Crown and Russell T Davies’ Midsummer Night’s Dream (pictured top) to Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, Michael Fassbender’s Macbeth and Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus, TV or movie adaptations of the William Shakespeare’s work always seem to be in production.

And, of course, spoofs (Gnomeo & Juliet, Hamlet Goes Business, Strange Brew), present-day versions using Shakespeare’s plotlines but ditching the verse (My Kingdom/King Lear and My Own Private Idaho/Henry IV and V) and teen comedies based on his work but similarly verse-free, such as 10 Things I Hate About You (The Taming of The Shrew), Get Over It (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and She’s The Man (Twelfth Night) have become cottage industries in themselves.

Movie classics Forbidden Planet, West Side Story, Akira Kurosawa’s Ran and The Lion King were not-so-thinly veiled takes on The Tempest, Romeo & Juliet, King Lear and Hamlet respectively.

Will is coming to TNT in the US next week

But recent years have seen a new twist, with Shakespeare the man making increasing appearances as a character on TV and in movies.

This month will see US cable channel TNT debut the ‘young Shakespeare’ series Will, which launches on July 10. Originally intended for the now defunct Pivot, Will is part of TNT’s ongoing transformational drama drive, led by ex-Fox boss Kevin Reilly.

Apparently presenting the feisty iconoclastic ‘rock ’n’ roll’ side of the Bard, the tone of the series looks set to mirror writer and creator Craig Pearce’s previous work as the scribe on fellow Australian Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge! and The Great Gatsby.

Echoing these movies and other period dramas such as Peaky Blinders, Will boasts a contemporary soundtrack, although veteran composer Stephen Warbeck will be handling the score.

Coincidentally, Warbeck was responsible for the score to Shakespeare in Love, as well as the Henry IV section of The Hollow Crown.

Back in January, Pearce was quoted at the TCA Winter Press Tour as saying that his models in the show for the playwriting fraternity of Elizabethan England were rock stars Mick Jagger and David Bowie, adding: “Theatre back then was like punk rock.”

Still Star-Crossed, on ABC, has received lukewarm reviews

The show boasts an excellent pedigree behind the camera, with the renowned Shekhar Kapur both directing and executive-producing Will. Having helmed both Elizabeth (1998) and its sequel The Golden Age (2007), Kapur obviously has a feel for the era.

To some, Kapur’s statement that: “If today Shakespeare was around he would’ve been a rapper on the streets,” may ring alarm bells for those who prefer their historical drama straighter than the likes of Reign (The CW) and Casanova (BBC3).

Looking at the acting talent on display, Will has balanced the casting of the largely unknown young British stage actor Laurie Davidson as the lead with a strong supporting company grounded in period drama.

This includes Colm Meany (Hell on Wheels), Ewan Bremner (T2 Trainspotting, Elizabeth I) and Jamie Campbell Bower (Anonymous, Camelot) as Shakespeare’s rival playwright Christopher Marlowe.

ABC’s Still Star-Crossed, the ‘sequel’ to Romeo & Juliet based on the popular Melinda Taub novel, made its debut in May. Produced by one-woman production powerhouse Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder), the show’s Brit-skewed cast includes relative newcomers Lashana Lynch (Death in Paradise) and Wade Briggs (Please Like Me), together with old hands Anthony Head (Buffy The Vampire Slayer) and Grant Bowler (Ugly Betty).

The role of Count Paris falls to doublet and hose go-to guy Torrance Coombs, familiar to viewers as Thomas Culpepper in The Tudors (Showtime) and as Sebastian (Bash) in Reign (The CW). Reviews have been mixed, whilst audiences have declined from a soft 2.29 million launch, necessitating a schedule move from Monday to Saturday, typically the sign of imminent cancellation.

Variety commented: “While there’s pageantry aplenty, the dialogue is littered with too many lumpy Shakespeare-lite lines and some jarring uses of slang.” The Los Angeles Times wasn’t any kinder: “Parting with Still Star-Crossed after one episode isn’t likely to bring sweet sorrow, but rather the relief of a tragedy averted.”

Shakespeare has featured as a character in a fair few movies over the years, including Roland Emmerich’s Was Shakespeare a Fraud?, drama Anonymous (2011) and the Oscar-winning Shakespeare in Love (1998), the popularity of which tempted the French to try their hand with less success in 2007 with the similar Moliere.

On television, Shakespeare is currently the subject of Ben Elton’s sitcom Upstart Crow (BBC2), a show which has gone some way to restoring the writer’s reputation, harking back to his fondly remembered Blackadder – interestingly, the millennium special Blackadder Back & Forth featured Colin Firth as The Bard of Avon. And, of course, the period-drama-friendly Firth played Lord Wessex in the aforementioned Shakespeare in Love.

Recent comedy shows that have featured the playwright as a character include Comedy Central’s Drunk History (where he was played by John Cho) and The History Channel’s Great Minds with Dan Harmon, where in a bar conversation Shakespeare (Thomas Middleditch) praises the reviled De Niro/Efron comedy Dirty Grandpa at the expense of Harmon’s own Community.

In April 2016, Tom Stourton (Loaded) played Shakespeare in the popular BBC children’s history sketch series Horrible Histories. Prior to this, the Horrible Histories team were behind the little-seen 2015 comedy movie Bill, with Mathew Baynton (You Me & The Apocalypse) as the titular character, together with support turns from Damien Lewis (Billions) and Helen McCory (Peaky Blinders).

Doctor Who’s 2007 episode The Shakespeare Code

Shakespeare has also featured as a character in the long-running sci-fi series Dr Who, notably in 2007’s The Shakespeare Code, an episode that spoofed The Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown and the Back to the Future and Harry Potter movies.

The episode sees the Doctor suggesting some of the playwright’s most famous lines, including “All the world’s a stage” and “The play’s the thing” – which, to some, consciously mirrors Back to the Future’s controversial scene where Marty McFly’s guitar riffs ‘inspire’ a young Chuck Berry.

One has to go back to 1978 for the last fully fledged series with the Bard as the main character, ITV’s Will Shakespeare, a six-part series starring Tim Curry (The Rocky Horror Picture Show, It) in the lead role and Ian McShane (American Gods, Deadwood) as his peer ‘Kit’ Marlowe.

Writer John Mortimer (A Voyage Around My Father) based each episode on the creation of a particular play, with Shakespeare often introducing autobiographical details, such as ‘The Dark Lady’ and a supposedly homoerotic relationship with the Earl of Southampton (played by Nicholas Clay).

Possessing the handsome production values typical of Lew Grade’s ATV (Jesus of Nazareth, Moses the Lawgiver), the series may gain a second life if Will proves a hit.

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CBS in transgender breakthrough

Katherine Heigl, pictured in State of Affairs
Katherine Heigl, pictured in State of Affairs

CBS’s new legal drama Doubt will star Katherine Heigl. But it is the casting of transgender actress Laverne Cox in the show that is capturing the headlines.

US network CBS has given a series order to Doubt, a legal drama starring Katherine Heigl as a smart and successful defence lawyer who begins to get romantically involved with her client, who may or may not be guilty of a brutal murder.

The show is significant because it also includes transgender actress Laverne Cox (Orange is the New Black) in the cast. Assuming Cox’s role is one that doesn’t propagate the usual stereotypes that surround transgender acting talent, it will be a major breakthrough for the community, which usually finds it difficult to get meaningful roles outside niche cable channels and streaming services.

Doubt’s selection seems to have killed off another show’s chances of progressing to a full series – at least for now. Drew, which is a contemporary take on the Nancy Drew books, was in the running for a series commission from CBS until Doubt was chosen ahead of it. There is a chance it will pop up at another network, though, as CBS Studios is still shopping it around.

ABC's The Catch
The Catch has been given a second chance by ABC

Another interesting CBS story, as predicted by the US press, is that superhero series Supergirl is moving to The CW for its second season. In doing so, production will relocate to Vancouver from LA.

The move makes a lot of sense for a couple of reasons. Firstly, despite a very promising pilot episode, the show wasn’t really hitting the mark in the very exposed world of frontline network TV. Secondly, The CW (a 50/50 joint venture from CBS and Time Warner) already has a strong slate of superhero shows including Arrow, The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow, so it will be right at home.

The CBS announcements are part of a busy time of year for the US networks, which generally announce new series for their 2016/17 season in May. Another title in the news this week, for example, is NBC’s The Blacklist: Redemption, a spin-off from the well-established James Spader series The Blacklist.

NBC is a big fan of brand extensions, having also recently announced the launch of legal series Chicago Justice to go alongside scheduling stalwarts Chicago Fire, Chicago Med and Chicago PD.

Castle has reached it final season
Castle has reached it final season

A bolder move by NBC is the decision to take Eric Kripke and Shawn Ryan’s time travel series Timeless from pilot to series. Bizarrely, that means there are now three time travel shows coming through the US networks system, with ABC’s Time After Time and Fox’s Making History also greenlit as series (and remember, we’ve also just seen Hulu’s 11.22.63 air in the US).

Of course, for every new show there’s usually a cancellation to free up space in the schedule. This week’s unlucky victim on NBC is The Mysteries of Laura, axed after two moderate seasons. Other cancellations include ABC’s Castle, which is coming to an end after eight seasons on air. Create by Andrew W Marlowe, the show focused on a best-selling mystery novelist and an NYPD homicide detective who solved crimes together. When it started it secured an audience of nine to 10 million an episode, but as it comes to a close it is in the five to six million range.

Supergirl is moving from CBS to The CW
Supergirl is moving from CBS to The CW

ABC has also cancelled Nashville, Agent Carter and The Muppets. One other show it might have cancelled on the basis of its season one ratings was Shonda Rhimes’ The Catch, but instead it has decided to give the show a second chance in 2016/17.

This isn’t a massive surprise given Rhimes’ fabulous contribution to the network – but it has to go down as a bit of a risk. ABC’s faith in Rhimes has, however, been further underlined with the decision to order another new series called Still Star-Crossed, described as a sequel to Romeo & Juliet. Interestingly, ABC also had the option of going forward with a Shondaland comedy called Toast, but decided to call it quits on that one after a pilot.

Another project in the news this week is Paradime. This one is interesting because it has been optioned from a novel that hasn’t even got to publication yet, showing just how competitive the market for book rights has become. The novel, by Alan Glynn, is a psychological thriller about a man who returns to New York after a spell in Afghanistan and becomes obsessed with a businessman.

French thriller The Disappearance (Disparue)
French thriller The Disappearance (Disparue)

The show is being developed by ITV and One-Two Punch Productions, with Glenn Gordon Caron (Medium) onboard to write and direct the series. The appeal of the project is partly down to Glynn’s track record. His previous novel, The Dark Fields, was turned into the movie Limitless in 2011 and then a TV series.

Meanwhile, in Europe, the latest French thriller to be causing a stir is The Disappearance (Disparue), which has been compared to UK hits like Broadchurch and The Missing.

The show has been rating well on France 2, with an audience in excess of five million, and has now been picked up for broadcast by BBC4 in the UK. The Disappearance, written by Marie Deshaires and Catherine Touzet, is set in Lyon and tells the story of a 17-year-old girl who goes missing. As the police investigate the disappearance, a number of people close to the girl’s family are discovered to have secrets of their own that they wish to keep concealed.

Newen's Candice Renoir went to NPO2 in the Netherlands
Newen’s Candice Renoir went to NPO2 in the Netherlands

Although Disparue is a French scripted series, it actually owes a fair amount to other parts of Europe. It is, for example, based on a Spanish series called Desaparecida that first aired in 2007/08. And it was directed by Franco-Swedish filmmaker Charlotte Brändström, who has worked on Scandinavian crime series like Wallander, thus adding a bit of Nordic Noir to the show’s DNA.

Still in France, Newen Distribution has sold its detective series Candice Renoir to Dutch public broadcaster NPO2. The show, which is one of the top-rated dramas on France 2, has previously been sold to ZDFneo in Germany, CBC in Canada, RTP2 in Portugal, Kanal 11 in Estonia and Fox Crime Italy, among other broadcasters.

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Anthologies continue Amazing advance

The original Amazing Stories series was created by Steven Spielberg
The original Amazing Stories series was created by Steven Spielberg

In DQ’s recent look at the growing number of drama anthology series being launched, we observed how most of these shows are season-to-season anthologies like True Detective, American Horror Story and Fargo.

This contrasts with the classic series of the 1950s to 1980s, which were episode-to-episode anthologies, such as The Twilight Zone.

However, it now seems there is a mini-revival in the latter group. After Netflix’s decision to support Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, Hannibal showrunner Bryan Fuller is planning a reboot of Amazing Stories, an episodic anthology that ran from 1985 to 1987 on NBC in the US.

In fact, Fuller’s plan to resurrect Amazing Stories sits at the confluence of three trends. Not only is it an anthology, but it is a reboot of a 1980s TV series – another big development in 2015 (see Fantasy Island, MacGyver and more). And indirectly it is also a comic book-based series, because the original 1980s series was based on iconic science-fiction magazine Amazing Stories.

Limitless has been given a full season order
Limitless has been given a full season order

Fuller will executive produce and write a pilot script for the show, which will tell fantastic, strange and supernatural stories. Universal Television will produce, with Justin Falvey and Darryl Frank serving as executive producers alongside Fuller.

The original version of Amazing Stories was created and executive produced by Steven Spielberg for NBC. It earned 12 Emmy nominations and received five awards, but clearly didn’t rate well enough for NBC. It was based around a 30-minute format, so it will be fascinating to see if Fuller sticks to this or, more likely, creates hour-long stories. It will also be interesting to see how the tone of the series compares to another sci-fi anthology coming down the pipe: Syfy’s Channel Zero.

The benefits of episodic anthology dramas are pretty clear. They allow broadcasters to present a recognisable brand while giving creatives the opportunity to conjure up an array of distinct stories. Audiences can tune in to any episode without having to worry about what happened the previous week, while high-profile actors can get involved without worrying about having to make heavy filming commitments.

The latter point is also true for actors who guest star in crime procedurals, of course, but the problem with these is that procedural guest stars are invariably villains.

There’s one other benefit worth noting about episodic anthologies that is actually an advantage over season-to-season anthologies. This is the possibility of using episodes of the show as pilots for longer projects.

Ryan Phillippe and Sarah Michelle Gellar in the Cruel Intentions film
Ryan Phillippe and Sarah Michelle Gellar in the Cruel Intentions film

The original Amazing Stories, for example, gave birth to Family Dog, an idea that was converted into a series for CBS six years later. Although Family Dog only ran for 10 episodes, it’s an example of how the main broadcast networks might beat subscription VoD platform Amazon, which orders batches of pilots at once before putting them online, at its own game.

Still in the US, this is the time of year when the big four broadcast networks start to get a clear idea of which new shows are working and which aren’t. They then act in one of two ways. More episodes of the successful shows are usually ordered, while unsuccessful series are either axed immediately or see their initial episode order reduced (a delayed death).

This week, CBS’s Limitless was awarded an additional nine episodes, meaning it has now been given what is called ‘full season order’ of 22 episodes. Other new shows that have been rewarded with a full season order include NBC’s Blindspot, Fox’s Rosewood and ABC’s Quantico and Dr Ken.

Heading the other way, however, are NBC’s The Player and ABC’s Blood & Oil, both of which have seen their original 13-episode runs cut. Previously, Fox’s Minority Report was also cut back from 13.

Belgian series The Divine Monster is being adapted for the US
Belgian series The Divine Monster is being adapted for the US

The quest for ideas with some kind of track record remains the dominant theme in the US TV drama business. For example, NBC is planning a small-screen version of Cruel Intentions, the 1999 movie starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Philippe and Reese Witherspoon. The film itself was a modern retelling of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, an 18th century French novel about amorality among the French aristocracy. The novel has repeatedly been adapted for cinema and TV – usually as a true-to-period drama.

The best-known movie version saw John Malkovich play opposite Glenn Close and Michelle Pfeiffer, though British actor Rupert Everett appeared in a French miniseries version for TF1 that transported the story into a 1960s setting.

Elsewhere, Ugly Betty creator Silvio Horta has joined forces with Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, Prison Break, Red Dragon, Horrible Bosses) to adapt Belgian series The Divine Monster for the US. Based on the trilogy of novels by Tom Lanoye, the Eyeworks-produced original (aka Het Goddelijke Monster) aired on VRT’s flagship channel Een in 2011.

Shondaland is making Still Star-Crossed into a TV series
Shondaland is making Still Star-Crossed into a TV series

In its original form, the show was a 10-part series about the downfall of a powerful family of European entrepreneurs and politicians at the end of the 20th century. In Horta’s version the action transfers to Miami and explores the collapse of a corrupt real-estate empire.

Also in the news this week is Shonda Rhimes’ Shondaland, which is working on an adaptation of the romantic novel Still Star-Crossed by Melinda Taub. The story picks up immediately after the death of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and involves another love story played out against the backdrop of Capulet/Montague feuding.

Destined for ABC, the young-adult show represents a new direction for Shondaland, which is best known for more mature dramas such as Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. The new series will be written by Heather Mitchell, who has worked on both of the aforementioned programmes.

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