Tag Archives: Stranger Things

Down with the kids

While some say young people are no longer watching TV, the global success of series like Riverdale and Pretty Little Liars has turned that theory on its head. DQ explores how series are driving youth audiences back to the box.

Attracting elusive youth audiences has always been high on the TV industry’s to-do list. But as more and more youngsters turn their backs on traditional forms of viewing, the debate around how to win their attention has intensified.

Indeed, you very quickly get a sense of how serious the issue has become when you realise that Channel 4 in the UK – long regarded as a radical, alternative network – has an average viewer age of 55. In the US, The CW, AMC and FX all average 40-plus, despite being home to cross-generational favourites like The Flash, The Walking Dead and American Horror Story respectively.

From the perspective of scripted content, the first obvious question is whether TV drama can play a role in pulling young audiences back in the direction of traditional viewing platforms.

George Ormond, co-founder of indie producer The Forge and executive producer of C4’s school-set drama Ackley Bridge, believes so: “With Ackley Bridge, we set out to make a show that would attract a broad, multigenerational audience but would also bring the younger audience that is so hard to attract to linear TV.

Ackley Bridge targeted a ‘broad, multigenerational audience’

“We did well on both counts. The show has lots of young fans that connected with it, but also the broader audience.”

Ackley Bridge is set in a multicultural school in Yorkshire, explains Ormond: “This felt like a great world to set a show in; contemporary, muscular, and unexplored on television. We wanted to make a show that would smack you between the eyes with surprising, untold stories that feel very modern.”

Key to ensuring younger audiences bought into the show was getting the right tone of voice, he adds. “We knew the show needed to offer something original: a strong premise and surprising, engaging and addictive stories that are outrageous and contemporary but unpatronising. It is sometimes provocative, always irreverent, never worthy. And it has heart.”

Another show that attempts to appeal to the youth demo as part of a broader audience is You Me Her, a romantic comedy that debuted on AT&T’s Audience Network in 2016 and has been renewed for a third season. In this case, the story revolves around Jack and Emma, a married, 30-something couple whose love for each other is being undermined by their fading sex life. To reinvigorate their relationship, they hire Izzy, a 25-year-old college student and part-time escort. The three develop romantic feelings for each other – creating the unfamiliar (for TV) dynamic of a polyamorous relationship.

You Me Her has a strong social media following

Creator John Scott Shepherd says the life-stage difference between the older couple and Izzy gives the show “an interesting, schizophrenic feel,” adding: “It allows us to explore issues around relationship choices but also to see the world from Izzy’s younger perspective. She lives downtown and shares an apartment with her friend Nina. So the show is recognisable as a romcom but also appeals to a younger, progressive audience because it deals with sexuality and romance in a fluid way.”

You Me Her, which airs on Netflix outside the US, has built up a strong following on social media – which Shepherd believes is to do with the show’s authentic tone. “It fits with the younger generation’s belief that you should follow your bliss. It’s OK to live how you want as long as you’re not hurting anyone.”

While Ackley Bridge and You Me Her are examples of shows that are bringing down the average age of cross-demographic networks, many broadcasters choose to position youth dramas on channels specifically targeted at a younger audience. The classic example of this is Skins, an exuberant drama that ran for seven seasons from 2007 to 2013 on C4’s youth channel E4. But a more recent example is Clique, commissioned for the BBC’s online youth channel BBC3 and made by Skins producer Balloon Entertainment.

Balloon head of development Dave Evans says show creator Jess Brittain “wanted to write a show about female friendships and how they survive – or don’t survive – through major transitions. University can be an exhilarating time for change but it can also be a hard place to survive, to learn what you want to do.”

Clique was made by Skins producer Balloon Entertainment

The show is a thriller, which is unusual, says Evans, because “university-set drama tends to sit in a comedic space – such Fresh Meat or Dear White People. But with Clique we wanted to hit the heart of the experience with more dramatic firepower.”

In terms of how you grab this audience’s attention, Evans says: “It’s about getting onto young people’s radar. Attention-grabbing scenes are useful in that if people are saying, ‘Oh wow did you see that bit when…’ or making animated GIFs, it’s more likely to hook in new viewers. That said, a young audience won’t stay unless the drama grabs them outside of all the flash and bang.”

Ironically, there are occasions when youth drama can have an ‘ageing up’ impact. German kids’ channel KIKA, for example, recently commissioned Five2Twelve (pictured top) as a way of appealing to a slightly older audience. Speaking to DQ, producer Marcus Roth says the show “plays in the 20.00 slot and deals with more mature editorial themes.”

Five2Twelve centres on five teenage boys who have all been in trouble with the police. “The courts give them one last chance to escape detention by sending them to a boot camp in the Bavarian Alps,” says director Niklas Weise. “Here they have to cope with the challenges of everyday life and learn how to get on with each other. Although most kids haven’t been on the wrong side of the law, they will recognise the issues.”

Like their counterparts, Weise and Roth say the biggest challenge is getting the language right – but that this also requires a supportive broadcaster. “The youth audience is quick to see anything fake or artificial, so you need to talk to them in a way that is authentic,” Weise adds. “But this also requires a broadcaster that is willing to support the vision you have for the project.”

NRK Norway’s Skam (Shame)

While the success or failure of a youth drama generally comes down to the relatability of the story and characters, it also helps if the producer or broadcaster can give the audience a sense of ownership over the production. In the case of hit Nordic youth series Skam (Shame), for example, originating broadcaster NRK launched the show via its website, a move that helped the show build up a strong online community.

Here, the focus of the story was high-school students attempting to deal with classic teen issues. The first season, which premiered in September 2015, focused on relationship difficulties, loneliness, identity and belonging. Subsequent series have addressed feminism, eating disorders, sexual assault, homosexuality, mental health and cyberbullying.

All of this was supported by fresh digital content that was published on the NRK website each day to maintain a connection with the audience. Other social media-savvy shows include Freeform’s cult youth drama Pretty Little Liars, as well as the aforementioned Ackley Bridge. “We did a big push on Snapchat,” says Ormond, “and ran a parallel, specially shot Snapchat strand that involved Snaps being released from characters at key points throughout each episode, as well as between episodes and in ad breaks.”

This raises another key question: how can digital media be harnessed in other ways? Komixx Entertainment has sought out youth source material in the digital realm. “With the explosion of digital platforms and social media, some social influencers now hold arguably more power than traditional celebrities,” says Andrew Cole-Bulgin, Komixx group chief creative officer and head of film and TV. “This is relevant for young-adult adaptations, as [viewers of these shows] are digital natives, having grown up with social media networks.”

Freeform teen success Pretty Little Liars

This led Komixx to back The Kissing Booth, a feature-length Netflix commission based on a teen novel sensation by Beth Reekles. “Beth was 15 when she self-published this book but it went on to generate more than 19 million reads on [online storytelling community] Wattpad,” says Cole-Bulgin. “We optioned the book because we could see that her connection with and understanding of the audience would prove a great starting point for a television production.”

The decision to make the film for Netflix, rather than a TV network, is interesting. Broadcasters may want to reach youth audiences, but producers also need to take a view on what is best for the long-term prospects of their property. In the case of The Kissing Booth, “SVoD was an obvious choice for us because that was where the youth audience have been going,” says Cole-Bulgin. “If we had this particular property for a more traditional channel, I think we’d have lost a lot of the audience.”

While Komixx adapted a digitally self-published work with The Kissing Booth, there is – still – a market for youth series based on traditional book properties. Komixx has optioned the rights to adapt Robert Muchamore’s best-selling young adult novel series Cherub into a TV drama, while The CW in the US is airing an Archie Comics adaptation called Riverdale (see box).

Elsewhere, Eleventh Hour Films is embarking on an adaptation of Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider novels, with UK broadcaster ITV as a partner. Jill Green, founder and CEO of the prodco, says: “Alex has a core audience of eight- to 15-year-olds but our aim is to reach as wide an audience as possible. We’re inspired by Stranger Things, which appealed to adults and kids.”

Stranger Things’ second season landed on Netflix last week

Reasons to feel positive about the project are varied, says Green: “The books have now sold 16 million copies worldwide. Alex Rider is known in more than 30 countries, and fans all over the world have been asking for a new dramatisation. There’s an official website and Anthony Horowitz has his own website and a Twitter platform where he engages with fans. It’s also worth noting that many 20- to 30-year-olds grew up with the books.”

Alex Rider has, in fact, had a previous outing as a movie in 2006. So why does it make sense to revive the franchise on the small screen? “TV now has the ambition, the scale, the technology and the budgets to do justice to Alex Rider,” says Green. “We’re writing it for a generation that thrives on box sets and binge-viewing.”

On the merits of free TV vs SVoD, Green adds: “We are very happy to be working with ITV but there’s no reason this series can’t go on to become a signature show on SVoD. A gripping story and great characters will always attract an audience. Whatever the platform, standout ideas and story come first.”


Riverdale Rundown
The CW’s hit youth series Riverdale is based on Archie Comics characters originally created in the 1940s.

Show creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is a lifelong fan but he admits there were “a lot of discussions about how the show might work for a modern audience. We knew there was a lot of wish-fulfilment and aspiration attached to the central group of characters, but the real breakthrough came when we decided to add a mystery genre element to the show. There’s a darkness and subversiveness to the show that has appealed to audiences and differentiates it from One Tree Hill or Beverly Hills 90210.”

Key to getting the show right was casting, says Aguirre-Sacasa, to the extent that “we wouldn’t have made the show if we hadn’t got the perfect cast. Great casting is what connects the audience to the characters. You can aim for it, but it’s not easy to get right, and when you do it’s a kind of alchemy.”

Asked whether he takes social media into account, he says: “Everyone in TV is trying to do what they can to make their show stand out – but we didn’t specifically look for people with a large fanbase. The only cast member who really had that was Cole Sprouse (star of Zack & Cody, pictured above left in Riverdale) but he was in the show because he fought for, and is perfect as, Jughead Jones.”

The CW is known for its youthful profile, but Riverdale, which returns for a second season this autumn, sits slightly apart from some of its big-hitting network siblings because it’s not a superhero show. “I think the execs at the network recognise that it’s good to have all different kinds of shows for fans to get passionate about,” says Aguirre-Sacasa.

In terms of feeding that passion, he says youthful shows inevitably include a social media component. “We did some live tweeting involving the cast,and I think that gets the fans really excited. We also know – because the show airs on Netflix outside the US – that there’s a global fanbase for Riverdale who love the whole Americana, US high-school kind of world.”

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Building Stranger Things

Netflix drama Stranger Things became an instant classic upon its launch last summer, not just for its horror story but also its celebration of 1980s culture. Production designer Chris Trujillo reveals how he created the look of the series and what’s in store for season two.

If television doomsayers greeted the emergence of SVoD platforms by sounding the death knell for genuine word-of-mouth hits and watercooler moments, they hadn’t banked on a little show called Stranger Things.

To be fair, not many people had heard of the supernatural series until it launched on Netflix in July 2016. But when it did land around the world, everything that was old became new again as this tribute to the 1980s made as much noise as the biggest prestige drama on HBO – only viewers could now watch all eight episodes in one sitting.

The drama opens in 1983 Indiana, where a young boy vanishes into thin air. As friends, family and local police search for answers, they are drawn into an extraordinary mystery involving top-secret government experiments, terrifying supernatural forces and one very strange little girl.

Lord of the Rings star Sean Astin joins the cast alongside returning actors such as Winona Ryder

The series, which returns for a second season this Friday, skilfully combines elements of thriller and horror with the nostalgia of a decade wistfully remembered for Dungeons & Dragons, Ghostbusters and walkie-talkies.

Much of the success in recreating this era on screen has been down to production designer Chris Trujillo, who drew inspiration from the likes of John Carpenter, Steven Spielberg and Stephen King. But he says creators Ross and Matt Duffer were keen to avoid creating a “dim facsimile” of their heroes’ work. In particular, they wanted to draw on the designer’s indie film background that has seen him create gritty, realistic worlds on a shoestring budget.

“My approach is always to take all those films and go a layer deeper to figure out how they made that texture – movies that were made during that era as opposed to movies that look back and try to recreate it,” Trujillo explains. “Then it becomes about the physical media of the time. We spent a lot of time poring through catalogues, Life magazine, Ladies Home Journals and tons of comics. The computer industry was just coming into the light of popular culture so there’s loads of tech magazines and fan magazines. So it was all about spending a lot of time immersing ourselves in the look, feel and texture of that stuff.”

The series is filmed in and around Atlanta, Georgia, which serves as a base for the studio lot, while nearby Jackson and other surrounding towns double for Stranger Things’ fictional setting of Hawkins. It proved to be the perfect location for Trujillo and his team to recreate the small-town vibe they were looking for, making use of a number of towns developed at different stages over the last 50 years.

Finn Wolfhard (left) followed his breakout Stranger Things role by starring in horror movie remake IT

“Once we decided we were going to make small-town USA, it became important to have a real wide range of neighbourhoods at our disposal,” he says. “The thing about Atlanta is, the way it developed, it was kind of in fits and starts and it’s made up of a lot of small towns around the main urban centre. Each of those towns has a different flavour and grew during different periods of time, whether it was the 50s, 60s, 70s or 80s.

“Atlanta is such a hotbed for filming right now – ‘That’s The Walking Dead town,’ ‘That’s The Vampire Diaries town’ – so we had to go a little further out to find our little town, but it worked out pretty well.”

With the locations identified, Trujillo found that once the trappings of modern life – satellite dishes, cars and so on – were removed from the exteriors, they quickly reverted to their original state, particularly when it came to the houses that were used as the main characters’ homes. Then the designer was able to take images of the exteriors into the studio and build matching interiors.

“One of our secret weapons in Atlanta is that every weekend there are these incredible estate sales, so you’re going into these homes that seem like they have been sealed since the 70s or 80s,” he reveals. “Often we would go into one, find stuff we could dress a set with and purchase a houseful of really useful stuff. That’s why we were able, in a lot of cases, to transcend what you might expect from a period 80s set because you can really feel this is a real space where people lived, down to the spare batteries lying on the counter. That’s a big part of the physical base.”

The Duffer Brothers offer guidance to the show’s young stars on set

Trujillo’s path to Stranger Things came through a friendship with director Leigh Janiak, with whom he worked on 2014 horror Honeymoon. Janiak is married to Ross Duffer, who pitched Trujillo a show called Montauk, an 80s-set love letter to all the movies he and his brother loved. Trujillo says he was “instantly enchanted” by the idea, which brought back his own fond memories of films such as The Goonies.

“They pitched this project to me and I just thought, ‘If ever this comes to fruition, don’t forget about me,’” he recalls. “It seemed totally far-fetched – I didn’t think anyone would let them make this show. But two years later, it was greenlit with Netflix. I basically already had a vision for it and put together this look-book, and they were super on board with it.

“A lot of people don’t realise that a lot of our references, tonally, beyond The Goonies and Stephen Spielberg stuff were a lot grittier and darker, from late-70s US movies – The Conversation, Ordinary People, Silkwood… It came from a general love of US cinema from the mid-70s through to the 80s.”

Trujillo and his team built most of the interior sets for Stranger Things, most notably the Byers house that goes through an intense transformation as it’s attacked by monsters and Christmas lights are hung up as a makeshift ouija board. The inside of Hawkins Lab, which serves as the main gateway to the paranormal world of the Upside Down, was also built after location scouts found a suitably creepy building on which to model it.

Millie Bobby Brown returns as the supernaturally gifted Eleven

And when it came to finding the props that were key to turning Stranger Things into a nostalgia trip for many viewers, Trujillo says he was largely given free rein to find the items that would add a layer of authenticity to the action.

“There are some references to walkie talkies and things that are scripted but [the Duffers] really gave me pretty open creative reins to bring my vision to life,” he says. “There’s always the process of making sure they’re happy with the line I’m going in, showing them look-books, references, drawings and concept work, but they really trust me to be on the page with them. I had a lot of creative freedom.

“We talked through things and some specific scripted things they wanted, mostly prop elements, and we all talked about the characters and figured out who they are together. Once we made the broad creative decisions about what kind of space it should be, they really let me loose.”

Following the events of season one, Stranger Things’ second run opens a year later, in 1984, as citizens of Hawkins are still reeling from the horrors of the Demogorgon and the secrets contained within Hawkins Lab. Will Byers has been rescued from the Upside Down but a bigger, sinister entity still threatens those who survived.

The show also stars Natalia Dyer and Joe Keery

Most importantly, Trujillo believes the next eight episodes retain what was at the heart of the success of season one. “You’ve got this great group of misfit friends who are dealing with new problems and having new adventures but it’s bigger,” he teases about season two. “We went bigger in scope, definitely. With the proven success of season one, I think we had to dream bigger and there’s some really exciting new sets.

“In this day and age, the sets we built for season two are not built, they’re more CGI so we’re lucky to be able to have this aesthetic that we’re building stuff that would normally be green screen now. Season two delivers on the promise of season one, it opens up the world, we have some fun new characters and great new sets and you’re going to start seeing the home life of some of the characters you would have liked to have seen in the first season.”

With a third season all but confirmed and a fourth season in the works, Trujillo can already start planning his return to Hawkins and the Upside Down to delve further into a world that will inevitably get bigger and darker, as is the trend for franchise series. Returning to Hawkins shouldn’t be a problem, however. “Everybody loves it,” Trujillo concludes. “Nobody wants it to end.”

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Comic Con’s top trailers

From the new season of Stranger Things to CBS’s long-awaited Star Trek: Discovery, DQ presents 10 of the hottest drama trailers to premiere at this year’s Comic Con event, which concluded in San Diego yesterday

Despite all the noise surrounding big-screen blockbusters such as Justice League, Thor: Ragnarok and Ready Player One, these days San Diego Comic Con is as much about television as it is about the movies.

This year’s event saw panels and special events surrounding shows such as The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, Game of Thrones and Westworld, delighting fans with behind-the-scenes gossip and clips of forthcoming adventures.

Lucky visitors were also able to catch a sneak peek at new series such as Stephen King adaptation Mr Mercedes, Syfy’s Ghost Wars and Star Trek: Discovery (pictured above), the CBS reboot of the hallowed sci-fi franchise.

Here DQ picks out 10 of the hottest new TV trailers to come out of the four-day event.

Krypton
The towering landscapes of Superman’s home planet are brought to life in US cable network Syfy’s first-look teaser for its upcoming Superman prequel, which is based on the characters created by DC Comics. The series will explore the Man of Steel’s lineage, focusing on the House of El. The series airs in 2018.

Marvel’s Inhumans
Family tensions run high in the latest Marvel offshoot to hit the small screen. The series follows the royal family of the Inhumans, a race of human beings altered by experiments carried out by an alien race known as the Kree, as they face a growing threat on their home planet and from their enemies on Earth. The series premieres on ABC on September 29, while the first two episodes will also be shown globally in IMAX theatres from the beginning of September.

American Horror Story: Cult
The teasers for American Horror Story never fail to be anything less than disturbing and unsettling, a tradition that continues with the first look at the seventh season of the FX anthology as row upon row of creepy clowns spell out their simple message: “Join us.” Creator Ryan Murphy took to Twitter to tease details of the latest instalment before Comic Con, revealing it would be known as Cult. Fans in San Diego then got to see some of the first clues to the series ahead of its launch launch on September 5.

The Gifted
San Diego was awash with volunteers ready and willing to lead the hunt for mutants in a stunt designed for Fox’s forthcoming X-Men series The Gifted. The series, which launches on October 2, tells the story of a suburban couple whose ordinary lives are rocked by the sudden discovery that their children possess mutant powers. The opening of this trailer leans on Carrie as the teenagers unwittingly destroy a high school while simultaneously discovering they aren’t exactly average, as their family is forced to go on the run to evade capture by the authorities.

Stranger Things
The Netflix series that became one of the television talking points of 2016 is back for a second season, and this new trailer shows poor Will Byers once again in the ‘Upside Down’ as he faces a monster considerably bigger than season one’s Demogorgon. The use of Michael Jackson’s Thriller with Vincent Price’s iconic spoken-word part adds to the 1980s nostalgia. Stranger Things returns on October 27.

Marvel’s The Defenders
After the lukewarm reaction to Iron Fist, Netflix aims to get its Marvel franchise back on track with The Defenders, which brings together Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist as they face off against an enemy – led by Sigourney Weaver – hellbent on destroying New York City. The Netflix series launches globally on August 18.

Star Trek: Discovery
Fans at Comic Con were given a first glimpse at this new trailer for the long-awaited series during a panel with the cast and creative team behind the show, which will premiere on CBS and CBS All Access on September 24, in Canada on Space and in 188 countries on Netflix. The new incarnation of the space franchise sets up a conflict between the Federation and the Klingons.

Westworld
With an astonishing 22 Emmy nominations, HBO’s robot-centric western has certainly been one of the biggest shows of the last 12 months – and the robots aren’t finished yet. Here’s a teaser for the upcoming second season, which will air in 2018.

The Walking Dead
Like one of the zombies that stalk AMC’s hit series, The Walking Dead shows no sign of stopping – though the war now looks set to take place between Rick’s crew and the Saviours, with both sides gearing up for battle. Season eight debuts in the US on October 22.

Game of Thrones
After an extended break, Game of Thrones is back on air and two episodes into its seven-part penultimate season. That doesn’t mean there’s any less excitement for new footage of this epic series, as this teaser reveals some of what’s in store as Jon, Cersei, Daenerys et al ramp up their fight for the Iron Throne.

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Westworld and The Crown head Golden Globe noms

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has revealed the nominations for its annual Golden Globe film and TV awards – the next edition of which will be held in February 2017.

Some TV shows on the shortlists seem to have become permanent fixtures, notably Game of Thrones, Transparent and Veep. But there will also be stiff competition from a range of excellent new shows.

Westworld’s viewing figures improved as the debut season reached its climax

A key contender in the Best Television Series – Drama category is HBO’s Westworld, which also picked up nominations in two other categories. Created by husband-and-wife team Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, the show has just finished its first season with an average of 1.8 million (same-day viewing). However, the most encouraging thing about the show is that its audience has been rising since episode five, with the finale achieving the show’s best ratings to date (2.2 million). All of which bodes well for the second, which is likely to air in 2018.

Also in the running is Netflix’s royal epic The Crown, which we discussed last week. Written by Peter Morgan, the show is up for Best Television Series – Drama as well as two acting gongs. It’s 10 years since Morgan received an Oscar nomination for The Queen, so perhaps now would be a fitting time for him to win a top award for his royal endeavours. With an IMDb score of 9.0 and superb reviews, it’s another incredibly strong contender.

Arguably the surprise package of the year has been another Netflix show, Stranger Things, which also finished its first season with an IMDb score of 9. Up for awards in two categories (including Best TV Drama), the show follows the disappearance of a young boy at the same time as the appearance of a girl with telekinetic powers.

The Duffer Brothers’ Stranger Things was one of the hits of the year

The show was created by the Duffer Brothers, who featured in this DQ feature on 1980s-inspired TV. Commenting on the Netflix relationship, Ross Duffer said: “They have been incredibly supportive of our vision from the very beginning, and they’ve placed so much trust in us. We also just love Netflix as a platform, because it allows people to watch the show at their own pace. This story is not necessarily intended to be watched over eight weeks. The hope is that people will get hooked and the crescendo will feel even more impactful when it’s watched over a relatively short period of time. We want the audience to feel like they’re watching an epic summer movie.”

The Best TV Drama category is rounded out by the much feted Game of Thrones (David Benioff and DB Weiss) and This Is Us, the only one of the five shows that airs on a free-to-air network in the US (NBC). The latter has been one of the strongest-performing new shows of the 2016/2017 season and is very likely to be renewed for a second season.

It was created by Dan Fogelman, whose credits include Tangled, Cars and Crazy, Stupid, Love. Fogelman also wrote Fox’s new drama Pitch and is waiting to see if that show has done well enough to secure a renewal.

Dan Fogelman’s This Is Us

Battling it out for Best Television Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television are American Crime, The Dresser, The Night Manager, The Night Of and The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story.

ABC’s American Crime, recently commissioned for a third season, is the creation of John Ridley, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of 12 Years a Slave. It is pretty well regarded by critics but is unlikely to come out ahead of some of the other shows in this category.

FX’s American Crime Story: The People v OJ Simpson, winner of five Emmys, is probably the one to beat. Created by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, it has been nominated in three categories at this year’s Globes.

That said, the Golden Globes isn’t shy of choosing outsiders – as it did last year when it gave Mr Robot, Mozart in the Jungle and Wolf Hall the top drama awards. Wolf Hall’s success in this category last year provides encouragement for the British nominees – The Night Manager, written by David Farr based on the John Le Carre novel; and The Dresser, the latest adaptation of Ronald Harwood’s acclaimed 1980 play of the same name (written for screen and adapted by Richard Eyre).

David Farr

However, both of them will have to go some way to beat HBO’s The Night Of, created by Richard Price and Steven Zaillian. Of course, if The Night Of does win it will owe a debt to the Brits, because it is based on Peter Moffat’s excellent series Criminal Justice (BBC, 2008/2009).

As referenced above, Mozart in the Jungle was the surprise winner of Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy category at last year’s Golden Globes. So it’s hard to predict which show will come out on top this time out. Mozart, created by Alex Timbers, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Paul Weitz, is in the running again, as are Jill Soloway’s Transparent and Armando Iannucci’s Veep, both of which are strong contenders.

This is, however, a category where the Globes could make a positive statement in favour of diversity, with both Atlanta and Black-ish on its shortlist.

Donald Glover’s Atlanta has been a success for FX this year, generating an 8.7 rating on IMDb and bedding in with a respectable 880,000 average audience for season one. ABC’s Black-ish is now in season three and hovers around the five million mark. Created by Kenya Barris, the show has been a solid performer but would be a surprising winner.

Donald Glover

The five dramas that received nominations in Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Drama were Mr Robot, Better Call Saul, The Americans, Ray Donovan and Goliath. In other words, a completely different line-up to the overall best drama category. This contrasts with Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy, where the only divergence from the overall category was a nomination for Graves instead of Veep. This is explained by the fact that the heartbeat of Veep is Julia Louis-Dreyfus, nominated in the actress category. If there’s a conclusion to be drawn out here, it’s that there is generally closer alignment between creator and cast in comedy series.

In terms of shows that have been overlooked this year, the Globes didn’t pay much attention to Fox’s Empire and Netflix’s much-feted Orange is the New Black. The mood also seems to have moved away from Shondaland dramas for the time being.

In fact, viewed from the perspective of writers, it’s been a pretty poor year for women, with Lisa Joy and Jill Soloway the only two high-profile female figures to be involved in the headline categories. It’s a reminder that supporting diversity has many dimensions.

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West spies Korea opportunities

The Idolm@ster is based on a game franchise
The Idolm@ster is based on a game franchise

Netflix has made Korea a priority in its quest for global SVoD domination – and now arch-rival Amazon Prime Video is following suit.

Last week, it was revealed that Amazon had boarded The Idolm@ster, a Korean TV series for 2017 that is based on a popular Japanese game franchise from Bandai Namco.

First mooted in spring 2016, the live-action series is about a group of aspiring female singers trying to establish their music careers. As such, it sits at the crossroads of two Asian obsessions – K-Pop and television drama. The TV drama is a no-brainer given the success of the franchise across various platforms. Since launching in 2005 as an arcade game, The Idolm@ster has inspired animation and manga versions, as well as live concerts and hit singles. It has also been adapted for digital platforms including smartphones.

The series will stream exclusively on Amazon Prime Video from early 2017 and will be localised into several languages, including Japanese and English.

James Farrell, head of content at Amazon’s Asia Pacific Prime Video, called Idolm@aster “the perfect combination of Japanese idol culture and Korean drama power. The idols include K-Pop sirens, as well as Japanese and other international singers, and we’re confident fans and viewers alike all over the world will become addicted to watching their careers bloom.”

The news continues a growing trend for global companies to exploit the Korean drama phenomenon. Recently we reported on the fact that NBC Universal participated in the financing of Moon Lovers. And this week South Korean media group CJ E&M has formed a partnership with Warner Bros-owned streamer DramaFever to coproduce local dramas for the international market. Under the terms of the alliance, called Studio Dragon, the partners will produce two original series over next three years.

“Studio Dragon is determined to become Asia’s number-one drama studio. To achieve that goal, we plan to work with industry leaders to provide unrivalled content for audiences,” said Jinnie Choi, president of Studio Dragon.

Killjoys focuses on a trio of bounty hunters
Killjoys focuses on a trio of bounty hunters

Away from Korea, US channel Syfy has announced that sci-fi series Killjoys and Dark Matter will both be returning for third seasons. Killjoys, which follows a trio of interplanetary bounty hunters, is produced by Temple Street Productions, the Toronto-based firm behind Orphan Black. The show also airs on the Space channel in Canada. In line with the Syfy announcement, Space revealed that it too would be on board the third season of the show.

In terms of audience ratings on Syfy, Killjoys attracts around 650,000 viewers per episode, which makes it a mid-ranking performer on the network. It’s a similar story for Dark Matter, which comes in at around 690,000 per episode. Interestingly, this positioning and ratings differential is broadly reflected by IMDb rankings, which come in at 7.1 and 7.4 respectively for the two shows.

Syfy has struggled to secure a bona fide hit series in recent times and is shifting towards series with built-in brand recognition. This week, it debuted Van Helsing, a reimaging of vampire mythology in which the central character has been switched from male to female (similar to Wynnona Earp).

There was also news this week about Syfy’s planned Superman prequel. Called Krypton, it is set two generations before the destruction of Superman’s home planet. The show is based on a pilot by David S Goyer and will feature British actress Georgina Campbell.

Winona Ryder in Stranger Things
Winona Ryder in Stranger Things

Last week, we discussed the success of 1980s-set thriller Stranger Things on Netflix and suggested it would only be a matter of time before a second series was greenlit.

In fact, a second season was announced the next day. Created by Matt and Ross Duffer and starring Winona Ryder, season two will debut in 2017 and will consist of nine episodes, one more than season one’s eight episodes.

We’ve also looked at Marvel’s expansion recently. The latest news on this front is that Marvel and ABC Studios are plotting a new series called New Warriors. Although a cable/SVoD home is yet to be found for the show, the plan is for it to be a comedy about a superhero squad made up of teenagers. This will follow a recent trend in the superhero genre towards irreverent franchises including Guardians of the Galaxy, Deadpool and Suicide Squad.

In terms of shows that won’t see a greenlight, the big news of the week is that AMC won’t be bringing back its restaurant drama Feed the Beast. Despite having a cast headed by David Schwimmer and Jim Sturgess, the show attracted pretty modest ratings.

In a statement, AMC said: “We have great respect and admiration for the entire team associated with Feed the Beast and our studio partner, Lionsgate. Unfortunately, the show simply didn’t achieve the results needed to move forward with a second season.”

Jim Sturgess (left) and David Schwimmer in Feed the Beast
Jim Sturgess (left) and David Schwimmer in Feed the Beast

In number terms, season one of the show averaged around 447,000, making it the second lowest-rating scripted show on the network. Interestingly, the show it beat, Halt and Catch Fire, has been renewed through to season three.

However, AMC clearly decided it couldn’t carry two scripted series on such low ratings. This presents a slight conundrum for AMC, which is that it is heavily reliant on dystopian fantasy/horror series (The Walking Dead, Fear The Walking Dead, Into the Badlands, Preacher) and could do with establishing a different editorial beachhead to appeal to a new audience subset.

Finally, DQ’s sister publication C21 is reporting that Spanish producer Boomerang TV has opened a new scripted production division in Chile. The arm will produce dramas for Chilean broadcasters and follows the arrival of Boomerang in the country in 2014. Veteran Latino producer and former Chilevisión drama chief Vicente David Sabatini becomes fiction director, while Cecilia Stoltze, formerly at TVN, has been named general producer.

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Writers dabble with the supernatural

Beyond the Walls (Au-delà Des Murs)
Beyond the Walls (Au-delà Des Murs)

AMC Networks has acquired a French supernatural drama from Newen Distribution for its horror streaming service Shudder. Three-part miniseries Beyond the Walls (Au-delà Des Murs) was originally commissioned by public broadcaster Arte in France and marked something of an editorial change of direction for the channel, focusing on a young woman who moves into an old uninhabited house that she inherits from a mystery benefactor. Already, that sounds like a mistake.

The show was created by Hervé Hadmar and Marc Herpoux, who have emerged as two of the best-known French TV auteurs on the international drama market, despite the fact neither of them really took a straightforward route into the scripted TV business.

Hadmar, for example, studied at business school and then spent 10 years as an art director at an ad agency before writing and directing his first short film, Steamed, in 1996. Two years later, in 1998, he wrote and directed his first feature.

Herpoux, a few years younger, started out in the film business, working on movies until around 2006. He then took the plunge into scripted TV, with the TV movie Catching Fire.

The two first worked together in 2008 on The Forgotten, a TV series for France 3. And from this point on it has been TV all the way. After The Forgotten, they created Pigalle, la nuit, (Canal + in 2009) and then Signature (France 2, 2011).

Sandra Winckler (Marie Dompnier) in Witnesses
Sandra Winckler (Marie Dompnier) in Witnesses

But their big breakthough on the international market was Witnesses, a crime series that followed up a strong domestic performance with widespread international sales (including Channel 4 in the UK and Netflix in the US). Then came Beyond the Walls.

Hadmar and Herpoux’s transition from film to TV reflects an important sea change in the French audiovisual business. For many years, French cinema was very much viewed as the appropriate medium for artistic auteurs. But the new wave of French TV, which includes series like Spiral, The Returned, Witnesses and Marseille, is a sign that the small screen is now regarded as a comparable creative challenge. Hadmar himself has said that TV is now more akin to literature than cinema.

In an interview with Channel 4, Hadmar explained that it was international scripted drama that influenced Witnesses, which may explain why the show has travelled so well. “The goal was to make a Nordic thriller – dark, strange and beautiful,” he said. “I loved shows like The Killing and The Bridge, as well as the British show The Fall. I wanted to write and direct a show like that, or at least try to. It’s a Nordic thriller with one question in it: does the ideal family exist?”

Asked why so many TV dramas are crossing borders these days, he said: “We all want to see great shows. As an audience we are becoming more and more curious. And the technology has meant the industry is in the middle of a revolution. Netflix, for example, is bringing new ways to watch your favourite shows. Netflix, Amazon, Channel 4, HBO, Canal+… everybody needs to take risks, to give the audience something different. So if a story is good, it will be shown all over the world.”

The Duffer brothers are behind Netflix hit Stranger Things
The Duffer brothers are behind Netflix’s 1980s-influenced hit Stranger Things

On French drama, he said the recent revival is partly explained by this creative risk-taking: “French dramas were incredibly good in the 60s and 70s. And then, for all kinds of reasons, in the 80s and 90s, until about six years ago, it was not so good. But again the industry is evolving, and now the broadcaster has no choice but to take risks. To make better shows, they have to trust the writers and directors and producers. That’s the difference today.”

Elsewhere, young US writing team the Duffer brothers seem to have reinforced their fast-won reputation with Stranger Things, the recently launched Netflix series. They first attracted the movie industry’s attention with the film Hidden, and soon after they were invited to join the writing team on M Night Shyamalan’s sci-fi TV series Wayward Pines.

Then came Stranger Things, a homage to 1980s pop culture that focuses on the disappearance of a young boy, and a girl with telekinetic powers who helps his friends in their search for him.

Jeff Davis (photo by Gage Skidmore)
Jeff Davis (photo by Gage Skidmore)

The show has been getting good reviews from critics and decent ratings on aggregators like Metacritic and IMDb. And now Symphony Advanced Media research has shown that Stranger Things is also one of the most watched shows on the SVoD platform.

Within the first 35 days of its July debut, the drama averaged 14.07 million adults age 18 to 49, putting it ahead of shows such as Making a Murderer and Daredevil. There has been no news of a second season yet, but a renewal seems likely.

A few weeks ago, we explored where some high-profile writers would go next following the conclusion of their latest hit drama series. One of these was Jeff Davis, who is finishing with Teen Wolf after six seasons. This week the industry found out what Davis is up to when US cablenet TNT announced that it has greenlit a pilot based on the Swedish vampire novel and feature film Let the Right One In. Davis wrote the script for the pilot and will executive produce alongside Marty Adelstein and Becky Clements of Tomorrow Studios and Simon Oakes of Hammer Films.

Let the Right One has already been remade in the US as a film called Let Me In. However, the pilot relies heavily on the original book written by John Ajvide Lindqvist. Keeping up this week’s supernatural theme, it follows a lonely young boy who makes friends with a charismatic female vampire who appears to be roughly his age.

The original Let the Right One In movie
The original Let the Right One In movie

Vampires, of course, are a heavily used subject in recent TV and film productions. But if anyone can manage to eke out a new franchise based in this mythology, it’s Davis, following his novel take on werewolves.

Commenting on the show, Sara Aubrey, executive VP of original programming for TNT, said: “Let the Right One In combines elements of horror, revenge thriller and adolescent romance into an unforgettable and truly unsettling tale.” The show is part of a broad-based revamp at TNT, which is trying to reach out to a younger demographic.

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Netflix channels 1980s style with Stranger Things

Netflix goes back to the ’80s with Stranger Things, a supernatural, small-screen homage to ET, Stand By Me and Halloween.

When it comes to the 1980s, there have been plenty of recent television dramas set during the iconic period best known for big hair, shoulder pads and power ballads.

From Cold War spy thriller The Americans and period tech piece Halt & Catch Fire to HBO drama Show Me A Hero and short-lived crime series Wicked City, the decade of Madonna and Michael Jackson has provided no end of inspiration to TV writers.

But rather than music or fashion, it is the big screen and the films of Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter that new Netflix series Stranger Things, which debuts today, uses as its inspiration.

Described as a love letter to 1980s classics, the eight-part series opens with the disappearance of a young boy. As friends, family and local police search for answers, they are drawn into a mystery involving top-secret government experiments, supernatural forces and one strange little girl.

Star Winona Ryder is praised as 'completely fearless' in her approach
Star Winona Ryder is praised as ‘completely fearless’ in her approach

“We have so much nostalgia and love for this era,” explains Matt Duffer, who wrote and directed the series with his brother Ross. “We really wanted to see something on television that was in the vein of the classic films we loved growing up, the Spielbergs, the John Carpenters, as well as the novels of Stephen King. And what makes all of these stories so great to us, and so resonant, is that they all explore that magical point where the ordinary meets the extraordinary.

“When we were growing up, we were just regular kids, living in the suburbs of North Carolina, playing Dungeons and Dragons with our nerdy friends. But when we watched these films and read these books, we felt transported. Suddenly our lives had the potential for adventure – maybe tomorrow we would find a treasure map in the attic, maybe my brother would vanish into the TV screen. We really want to capture that feeling with Stranger Things. We want to bring that feeling to people who grew up on those films, and we also want to bring it to a whole new generation.”

To sell the show to Netflix, the Duffers created a mock ‘trailer’ using clips from more than 25 feature films, including ET, Nightmare on Elm Street, Super 8 and Halloween. They also created a ‘look book,’ which was designed in the style of a vintage Stephen King novel.

Then, before starting the show, the writers all watched films including ET, Stand By Me, The Goonies, The Thing and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

“Television is becoming more and more cinematic, and we became excited by the potential of making a ‘longform movie,’” Matt explains. “And what better place to do that than Netflix? It was our dream home.”

Stranger Things is described as a love letter to classic 1980s movies
Stranger Things is described as a love letter to classic 1980s movies

Ross continues: “Working with Netflix has been an amazing experiencing. They have been incredibly supportive of our vision from the very beginning, and they’ve placed so much trust in us. We also just love Netflix as a platform, because it allows people to watch the show at their own pace. This story is not necessarily intended to be watched over eight weeks. The hope is that people will get hooked and the crescendo will feel even more impactful when it’s watched over a relatively short period of time. We want the audience to feel like they’re watching an epic summer movie.”

Beyond the storyline, the influence of Spielberg and his ’80s contemporaries is ever-present, particularly in the setting that was chosen for the series: the town of Hawkins, Indiana.

“There’s something Spielbergian Americana about Indiana,” executive producer Shawn Levy states. “Hawkins is a town with history, not only in its buildings and its land but, most importantly, among its characters.”

The show was filmed both on sound stages and on location in Atlanta and its suburbs, with the city providing the producers with the perfect setting to recreate the small-town look of Hawkins.

“Hawkins is an ordinary, idyllic little town filled with relatable, ordinary people and that makes it the perfect place for something supernatural to happen,” adds Ross.

As episode one plays out, what will also strike viewers beyond the setting is the attention to 1980s detail, from the costumes and synthesiser-heavy soundtrack to cultural references such as walkie talkies and playing Dungeons and Dragons.

“We never wanted it to be ‘in-your-face’ ’80s and obvious,” says production designer Chris Trujillo. “The lived-in look was important to us so that it would feel familiar to audiences and not distract them.”

Series creators Matt and Ross Duffer: the new Coens?
Series creators Matt and Ross Duffer: the new Coens?

Levy continues: “It is enjoyably nostalgic for those of us who remember the ’80s, but for a kid or a teenager for whom that is another era, it’s just a great story.”

The music, in particular, adds another layer of nostalgia to the series. The composers, Michael Stein and Kyle Dixon, were members of a synth band called Survive which the Duffers discovered after their work featured on the soundtrack of feature film The Guest.

In total, they wrote more than 13 hours of music for the series. Viewers will also hear tracks from artists such as Toto and Joy Division.

Heading the cast is Winona Ryder, best known for big-screen roles in Beetlejuice, Heathers and Edward Scissorhands and whose television credits include the aforementioned Show Me A Hero and BBC TV movie Turks & Caicos. In Stranger Things, she plays Joyce, a struggling single mother raising two boys.

“It’s a genre that I hadn’t explored before and was interesting to me,” she reveals. “I’m really lucky in my life that I’ve gotten to do a lot of different things and so it was exciting to try something new. I took a lot from performances like Ellen Burstyn in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and Marsha Mason in Max Dugan Returns and Audrey Rose.”

Matt says of Ryder: “Winona is completely fearless. She jumps in all the way, 100% and that’s what we needed for the Joyce character. She’s on her own for so much of the show, losing her grip on what is real as she goes through an emotional rollercoaster.”

As for the Duffers, Levy admits they “came out of nowhere” with the idea for a show and he believes they will become a new force in filmmaking.

“Stranger Things marks the arrival of a new vision, and a new filmmaking partnership and brotherhood that is really noteworthy,” he adds. “We’re going to be talking about the Duffer brothers the way we talked early on about the Coen brothers.”

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Netflix nurtures writing talent

Orange is the New Black
Orange is the New Black is one of Netflix’s most recognisable titles

Earlier this week, SVoD platform Netflix announced the launch dates for a raft of scripted shows. Among them is season four of Orange is the New Black (OITNB), which will premiere on Friday June 17. With Netflix now in so many countries around the world, the series is likely to be one of the global TV highlights of the year.

Adapted from Piper Kerman’s memoir of the same name, this acutely observed comedy-drama tells the story of a 30-something PR executive who unexpectedly winds up in a women’s prison.

While no one really has a clue how the show does in terms of ratings, it is widely regarded as a success story for Netflix (based on fan adulation, critical acclaim and an 8.3 rating on IMDb).

The TV series is written by Jenji Kohan, whose career credits read like a millennial generation dinner-party discussion.

Jenji Kohan
Jenji Kohan

In the 1990s, she wrote a handful of episodes for The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Boston Common, Mad About You and Sex and the City – though her biggest gig at the time was Tracey Takes On. Lift off came during the last decade when she had a lengthy association with Gilmore Girls, a brief flirtation with Will & Grace and, most significantly, created dark comedy Weeds, which ran for eight seasons (102 episodes) on premium pay TV network Showtime.

Weeds told the story of Nancy Botwin, a widowed mother of two boys who begins selling marijuana to support her family after her husband dies suddenly of a heart attack. As creator, writer and executive producer of that show, Kohan firmly established her reputation as one of the US market’s most talented comedy drama writers.

OITNB plays in a similar space – an area Kohan is clearly drawn to. In a 2013 interview, she said: “I’m always looking for those places where you can slam really disparate people up against one another, and they have to deal with each other. There are very few crossroads anymore. We talk about this country as this big melting pot, but it’s a mosaic. There’s all these pieces, they’re next to each other but they’re not necessarily mixing. I’m looking for those spaces where people actually do mix – and prison just happens to be a terrific one.”

OITNB was an immediate hit when it launched in the US in July 2013, and also proved popular with European audiences. Its appeal was reflected during the 2014 award season, when the show was nominated for 12 Emmys and Kohan was named one of Time’s Most Influential People.

Weeds
Kohan previously met success with Weeds

The latter may seem a strange accolade for a TV writer, but there’s a general acknowledgement that the show moved the dial on how the LGBT community is portrayed on screen and perceived in wider society.

While OITNB remains her primary project, Kohan has an overall deal with Lionsgate TV (which backed her on both this show and Weeds). Under this arrangement she made a pilot called The Devil You Know for HBO.

Co-written by Kohan, Bruce Miller and Tracy Miller, the pilot was a provocative period drama set around the times of the Salem Witch Trials in 17th century New England. There’s not much in the public domain about the show but the lack of any additional news suggests it might not have got past the pilot stage – though there’s no confirmation of this. (Click here to see a video of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s James Marsden talking about his role in the programme.)

Among new Netflix drama titles that look interesting is Stranger Things, which premieres globally on July 15.

The Duffer twins
The Duffer twins, know for horror film Hidden, are showrunners on Stranger Things

In this eight-hour series, a young boy vanishes into thin air. As friends, family, and local police search for answers, they are drawn into a mystery involving top-secret experiments, terrifying supernatural forces and one very strange little girl. Set in 1980s Indiana, it stars movie icon Winona Ryder and is written by twin brothers Matt and Ross Duffer.

The Duffer twins are currently on a very rapid upwards trajectory. They first caught the industry’s attention in 2011 when, straight from college, they had numerous studios competing for their horror script Hidden. That was ultimately made into a movie by Warner Bros, released in September last year. In the meantime, they also became involved in M Night Shyamalan’s Wayward Pines, working on episodes five, six, nine and 10. With Stranger Things, the Duffer Brothers will also be directing and showrunning.

Another new Netflix title sure to attract a lot of attention is Baz Luhrmann’s music-driven drama The Get Down, which focuses on 1970s New York City: “broken down and beaten up, violent, cash strapped – dying.”

Guirgis
Stephen Adly Guirgis

According to Netflix, the six-parter is “a mythic saga of how New York at the brink of bankruptcy gave birth to hip-hop, punk and disco – told through the lives and music of the south Bronx kids who changed the city, and the world, forever.”

Luhrmann’s creative team includes Oscar-winning designer Catherine Martin, hip-hop historian and writer Nelson George and writer Stephen Adly Guirgis.

To date, Guirgis is best known as a playwright, having won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for drama for Between Riverside and Crazy. His involvement in this new project reflects a trend of stage writers moving to television.

However, he does have a few screenwriting credits to his name, including an episode of NYPD Blue from 2002 and a couple of short-lived dramas called Big Apple (CBS) and UC: Undercover (NBC). He is also an actor, having appeared in movies such as Birdman. A regular feature on Broadway, Guirgis’s intimate knowledge of New York is sure to be a big benefit to Luhrmann’s Netflix show.

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