Tag Archives: Survivor’s Remorse

Scripted TV’s sporting chance?

This summer, TV schedules around the world have been dominated by sports events such as Euro 2016, Test Cricket and Formula1 and now the Rio Olympics. But for some reason, our collective love of sport has rarely translated into a memorable scripted TV series.

Friday Night Lights lasted five seasons on NBC
Friday Night Lights lasted five seasons on NBC

Shows that have tried and failed to capture the essence of sport include FX boxing drama Lights Out, which lasted for a single season in 2011, and ESPN’s Playmakers – a series that managed to attract the ire of the NFL during its 11-episode lifespan (2003).

Faring better, USA Networks’ Necessary Roughness lasted three seasons, while NBC’s Friday Night Lights managed five. But neither really scored heavily in terms of TV audience interest. The Game, a comedy drama that launched on The CW and then transferred to BET, is one of the few successes in this space, running for eight seasons before its 2015 cancellation.

The situation hasn’t been that different outside the US, with examples of sports-themed dramas few and far between. In the UK, Footballers’ Wives was a modest success between 2002 and 2006, while Australia produced an entertaining cricket series called Bodyline in 1984. But, overall, sport is massively under-represented in drama when you consider its wider appeal.

Foxcatcher
Foxcatcher told a dramatic wrestling story

In contrast to TV, the film industry has delivered a steady stream of pretty good sports-themed movies. There are, for example, several stories in which the central character succeeds against the odds – a line of attack that has given us both comedies (Cool Runnings, Eddie the Eagle) and dramas (The Blindside, The Natural, Tin Cup).

There are also plenty of films set against interesting periods in the history of sport (Chariots of Fire, Ali, Invictus, Eight Men Out, Rush). When you also factor in Jerry Maguire, The Mean Machine, The Bad News Bears, Foxcatcher and Million Dollar Arm, it’s not a bad track record compared to TV.

So what’s the difference? Well, one factor seems to be that the pacing of movies is more like that of live sport. Executed well, the twists and turns of a 90- or 100-minute film are not that different to a good football, basketball or baseball game. Both have an adrenaline-boosting immediacy that appeals to audiences. Sitting in a movie theatre also resembles sitting in a sports arena much more closely than the typical home-viewing experience.

Jerry Maguire
Jerry Maguire had romance at its core

Another factor is the issue of authenticity. One thing that causes problems for any film or TV series focusing on contemporary sport is that we know the protagonists are not real, because we see the real versions doing amazing things all the time. Even with the benefit of fast-cut editing, actors struggle to replicate the magic of true athletes.

Similarly, the fans that sports stories are aimed at generally have deep-rooted loyalties to real teams. As a fan of Arsenal FC, I have no interest in dramas that attempt to portray fictionalised football teams (though I get that there are legal and branding issues that make the use of real talent and clubs a challenging area).

The same reality gap must also be an issue for fans of other football teams or of NFL, NBA and MLB clubs. This is why, when TV does get interested in sport, it is currently more inclined to aim for behind-the-scenes sports documentaries (though a potential problem here is that the subjects of such stories often have editorial control, leading to sanitised shows).

The movies have tended to avoid the authenticity issue by dealing with historical subject matter (so we have a less acute sense of who the protagonist is) or stories about ‘triers’ as opposed to ‘winners.’ But historically, when they have tried to tackle hardcore sports subjects head on, they have had an advantage over TV – access to A-list talent.

Ballers
Ballers focuses on off-the-field action

If, for example, you are going to portray Muhammad Ali then it’s not so hard to accept Will Smith in that role because he has a star status that suits the subject. Similarly, it wasn’t too difficult to imagine Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo as Olympic gold medal-winning wrestlers in 2014’s hit movie Foxcatcher.

Having said all this, there has been a shift in the way we perceive TV recently. While a TV drama might still struggle to replicate the immediacy and adrenaline of the movie experience, it can now attract A-list talent. Perhaps that’s why we are finally seeing a decent sport-themed series in the shape of HBO’s Ballers.

True, Ballers is not securing massive audiences – but it is one of HBO’s top-rating shows and has just been commissioned for a third season. For anyone not familiar with the show, it stars Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson – who has all the necessary attributes to front a sports-themed series (sporting background, big-screen image). He plays a former NFL superstar who now acts as an adviser to young talent coming to terms with their new lifestyles.

Survivor's Remorse
Survivor’s Remorse is executive produced by basketball star LeBron James

Subject-wise, the show is smart. It doesn’t focus on the games themselves, which would be an editorial mistake. Instead it tries to explore the lifestyle of those involved in the world of NFL. It does, however, reference teams like the Miami Dolphins – rather than alienating the audience with fictitious alternatives.

Other sports-themed shows that are holding their own on TV including Starz basketball drama Survivor’s Remorse, which benefits in the authenticity stakes from the fact that LeBron James, basketball’s biggest star, is an executive producer. Also doing pretty well is Kingdom, which operates against the backdrop of the mixed martial arts world. Aired by AT&T’s Audience Network, it was recently renewed for a third season. Here again you can see reasons why this show might work. One is that it stars Nick Jonas, a music industry heartthrob who has successfully reinvented himself as a charismatic screen presence. The other is that MMA isn’t NFL or Premier League soccer.

Kingdom
Kingdom stars Nick Jonas as an MMA fighter

In other words, the authenticity bar isn’t quite so high for the audience, which can enjoy the drama without having to worry too much about the sport itself. Besides, it’s easier to film the tightly cropped world of one-on-one combat than a major team-based sports event (where we are used to 60-plus cameras covering every aspect of the live action).

The TV industry’s shift towards limited series should also, in theory, make it easy to pull off a sports-based story. Not many would justify a returning series model. But there are some great period stories that could be told over six or eight episodes – rather than as a feature film. One series that perhaps shows the way is Rivals Forever, a German drama for ARD about the Dassler Brothers, who founded the rival Puma and Adidas sporting brands.

As the film industry has demonstrated, there is great subject matter in sport that could form the basis of a limited series. Andy Samberg and Murray Miller, for example, are making a sports doping mockumentary for HBO. But this is surely a subject that would make also brilliant TV drama. Imagine an The People vs OJ Simpson: American Crime Story-style approach to the life of disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong. Or a Billions-style drama exploring recent allegations of systematic state-sponsored doping by Russia.

Possibly, with the demand for scripted series showing no sign of letting up, now is the time for drama producers and writers to revisit their relationship with sport-based storytelling.

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Stephen’s still the adaptations King

Stephen King is a prolific author
Stephen King is a prolific author

Stephen King surely ranks as the most screen-adapted author of all time. With more than 50 movies and 20 TV productions based on King’s books, even Charles Dickens must be trailing in his wake.

One of the reasons King stories are adapted so often is that they invariably do a great job. Even when they aren’t mega hits, they tend to appear at the good end of the spectrum. A case in point is Under the Dome, which has just been cancelled by CBS after three seasons (the final episode airing on September 10).

Launched in June 2013, it picked up 17.8 million Live+7 viewers for its first episode. But although it has since faded, Under the Dome is generally viewed as a success for CBS, which also accrued streaming and international revenues.

CBS Entertainment chair Nina Tassler said: “Two years ago, Under the Dome broke new ground in the summer and became an instant hit on CBS, as well as with viewers around the world. Dome’s event storytelling and multi-platform business model paved the way for more original summer programming with the rollouts of Extant and Zoo.”

Under the Dome has been cancelled by CBS
Under the Dome has been cancelled by CBS

As for ‘the King,’ he probably isn’t losing too much sleep about Dome’s decline. Although another of his stories, Haven, has just been cancelled by Syfy after five seasons, there are new TV versions of his work coming through. Sonar Entertainment, for example, is working on an adaptation of Mr Mercedes, while Hulu is planning an adaptation of King’s 2011 time-travel novel 11/22/63 (a title they might have to change if it hits the international market).

And that’s not all. There are also reports of a highly ambitious plan to convert King’s classic novel The Stand into both a miniseries and a movie. The idea is that Showtime will air an eight-part miniseries based on the novel, which will then be followed by a film. Again, this highlights the way King’s work also seems especially good at driving schedule experiments.

Meanwhile, coming up in the next magazine issue of DQ will be a feature about Italian drama’s assault on the international stage – led initially by Gomorrah. So it’s interesting to note this week that another great Italian opus, 1992, has been picked up by Netflix for the US. Produced by Wildside (recently acquired by FremantleMedia), 1992 is a highly acclaimed series that looks at corruption in the Italian establishment in the 1990s. With Gomorrah and 1992 both spawning sequels, it looks like the Italian scripted community will now be vying for attention with the Scandinavians, French, Germans, Turks, Israelis and Spanish.

Netflix original Narcos
Netflix original Narcos

Netflix has also announced the renewal of Narcos, a series exploring the life and times of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar and his infamous Medellin Cartel. Created by Chris Brancato, Carlo Bernard and Doug Miro and directed by Jose Padilha, the series has attracted a very impressive 9.2 rating on IMDb, which puts it at the elite end of the rankings alongside shows like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, The Wire, Sherlock and The Sopranos.

Elsewhere, another show to be cancelled this week was USA Networks’ Complications. But there was better news for Starz’ acclaimed comedy series Survivor’s Remorse, which follows the life of Cam Calloway (played by Jessie T Usher), a hard-working young basketball star who is thrust into the limelight after signing a huge contract with a pro basketball team in Atlanta.

“We are thrilled to renew Survivor’s Remorse for a third season,” said Starz MD Carmi Zlotnik,. “Since it began, the critics instantly embraced the show, and now we’ve seen its fans grow season after season. The creative team tackles the most topical of issues with heart and humour as the Calloway family deals with ‘pro-money and pro-problems’ off the basketball court.” An interesting note regarding Survivor’s Remorse is that its showrunner is the multi-talented Mike O’Malley, who also starred in Glee.

Ray Winstone in The Trials of Jimmy Rose
Ray Winstone in The Trials of Jimmy Rose

In the UK, a new three-part drama called The Trials of Jimmy Rose (see DQ’s feature on the show here) debuted on ITV this week to 4.1 million viewers (Sunday 21.00). This is probably seen as a bit of disappointment given that it is below the slot average – despite starring industry icon Ray Winstone.

Winstone plays a convicted criminal who comes out of jail after 12 years to find his family life in a state of disintegration. Episode one was praised by the critics, with The Telegraph saying: “Winstone’s portrayal of a once proud man being broken down was skillfully done, particularly when showing us the emotional distance time had put between Jimmy and wife Jackie. Alan Whiting’s spare script and Adrian Shergold’s tight direction eked emotion from small details. A casual putdown from a bus driver, a zero-hours job in a DIY store, Jimmy’s inability to command respect from young bloods, all reeked of humiliation.”

The show’s prospects were possibly dented by the fact it was up against the final episode of BBC1’s Agatha Christie adaptation Partners in Crime. Although Partners in Crime has tailed off quite badly, it still secured 3.3 million viewers, some of whom might have tried out the Winstone drama had it not been Partners’ finale. ITV will be hoping that this lost audience will have recorded their drama, in which case we may see a bounce back for episode two.

Is ABC set to cancel Mistresses?
Is ABC set to cancel Mistresses?

Back in the US, Hallmark Channel claimed its original series Cedar Cove (starring Andie MacDowell) has made the network “the most watched and highest rated in the Saturday 20.00 time period over the course of its third season.”

The network added: “Since the launch of Cedar Cove’s third season, the series is averaging a 2.1 HH rating on a Live+3 basis and more than two million total viewers, making Hallmark Channel number one in the Saturday 20.00 time period.”

Finally, one show awaiting decision over renewal is ABC’s Mistresses. Based on a British drama, Mistresses came to the end of its third season on September 3. Historically its ratings have been quite low but it has been picking up in the last few weeks. The odds probably favour cancellation but, as always, the time-shifted numbers need to be crunched before we can be sure Mistresses is going the same way as Under the Dome.

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