Tag Archives: Tandem Productions

Two of a kind

Castle executives Andrew W Marlowe and Terri Edda Miller tell DQ how they plan to put some fun back into television with new series Take Two, which aims to replicate the light-hearted tone of the recently cancelled procedural.

US television viewers are used to seeing their favourite shows hauled off the schedules at a moment’s notice when a broadcaster wields its axe to halt poor ratings and critical maulings.

Yet for fans of Castle, ABC’s long-running crime procedural, the decision to bring the series to an end after its recent eighth season was still something of a shock.

Despite falling to its lowest ratings (averaging around six million) and suffering the departure of popular leading actress Stana Katic, reports suggested the cast had signed on for a ninth season in 2016/17 – Katic’s co-star Nathan Fillion among them.

The series followed Richard Castle (Fillion), a bestselling mystery novelist, and Kate Beckett (Katic), an NYPD homicide detective, as they worked together to solve unusual crimes in New York City.

But as ABC juggled its plans for the year head, the network decided it would not push ahead with a new season and instead dropped Castle. The series concluded on May 16 this year.

Fans of the show’s comedy-drama tone and its leading double act shouldn’t fret for too long, however, as creator Andrew W Marlowe is busy in development on a new series with the potential to eclipse Castle’s global popularity.

Alongside his Castle writer/producer wife Terri Edda Miller, Marlowe is setting up Take Two, a new procedural that sees a private investigator solving crimes with the help of the former star of a hit cop show.

Castle starred Stana Katic and Nathan Fillion
Castle starred Stana Katic and Nathan Fillion

“With Take Two, we thought that after working on a procedural show, what would we be able to bring to a crime scene and what would the actors bring to a crime scene having done so many?” explains Marlowe (pictured top alongside Miller). “We thought it would be an interesting pairing to have a PI, somebody who’s a former cop who’s serious about the job, and somebody who’s been living in this imaginary world but thinks they know everything and also has all these amazing plot lines to draw upon.

“We thought we had some really great elements for an amazing show because we could take a very familiar procedural format but populate it with these new and interesting characters and watch what happens when they’re forced to be together.”

While the premise might seem stranger than fiction, it may not be that far from the truth, according to Miller. “Living in LA and doing what we do, you actually run into that all the time,” she reveals. “What happens after coming off a show – where do you put all that energy after having been a star for eight or 10 years and then having all that go away? You have so much to give but then your energy becomes defused and it can go to a really bad place or, if directed more interestingly, can go to a really good place, which I think is what’s going to happen with our main character.”

Having created a hugely successful show that ran on US network television for eight years. Marlowe says the secret is having great characters – but with the understanding that they will have to be reinvented as the show progresses.

“You have to allow those characters to grow in ways that keep them in conflict and keep them moving towards each other and away from each other,” he says. “If you don’t have those ingredients, the show can peter out very quickly. It will just be a conceptual show. So the time and diligence really has to go into crafting a longer-term arc for all of your characters so that when people get to the end of a season, they can feel a satisfaction and a pay-off but also a desire to see the characters grow in new and interesting ways in the next season.

“Some of it is alchemy, some of it is just luck and some of it is the TV gods smiling down on you with a particular project. But you can stack the deck in your favour through smart casting, finding people who genuinely have chemistry that you can see on camera, and making the show aspirational for the audience.

Rola Bauer
Rola Bauer

“But we also know the audience has seen so many procedurals that you have to deliver great stories with great twists and turns. You always have to try to be out in front of your audience, given everything they’ve seen, to try to figure out how you can play fair and be surprising at the same time. Those are all the things you look at and then you cross your fingers.”

Though the pitch for Take Two might echo that of Castle – a cop teams up with an unlikely partner to solve crimes – that’s where the similarity ends, Miller says of the new LA-set series. In particular, while Castle’s homicide detective dealt only with murder, having a PI at the heart of Take Two opens up a wider range of crimes for its characters to investigate.

“You have new characters with a fresh and different point of view, so that changes the territory right away,” she continues. “You can have somebody like our main character Emma, who’s an actress and has been through 300 of these cases in her show – but what about the first time she actually sees a body? Her reaction is going to be really different from what Beckett’s reaction would have been or Castle’s reaction would have been. The audience is going to be living through her eyes and that will make it a completely different experience.”

The show’s creators believe procedurals are growing in importance as an alternative option for viewers in a market dominated by serious, hard-hitting drama. “There’s this desire in the US among the broadcast networks to compete with cable, but there is appetite for all sorts of different shows,” Marlowe observes. “When they compete with cable, they generally have a watered-down version of what you can do in a subscription or cable market. What we’re seeing is the result of that cycle, of that desire to compete. But it’s left the audience with a hole that we hope a show like this can fill.

“Audiences are still hungry to have some fun, to be able to be closed-ended, to not think, ‘Oh, I’ve got to watch all 12 episodes.’ So the ability to have closed-ended fun, to just drop in for the episode, have a really good time and have a fulfilling experience, still holds significant value for viewers. We totally get binge-viewing – we binge stuff ourselves – but sometimes you just want not to have that kind of commitment. Doing that, you can actually grow a fanbase over time.”

Marlowe says he and Miller share a love of classic screwball comedies and Hollywood power couples such as Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracey, which have influenced their own screen careers.

“One of the things we love about our creative process is sometimes it mirrors our characters, with sparks flying,” he explains. “We each come at things from a different point of view so we naturally gravitate towards those sorts of stories. Part of it is in our artistic DNA but part of it is also in our relationship DNA.”

The pair are executive producers of Take Two for their MilMar Pictures label, alongside Tandem Productions’ Rola Bauer. StudioCanal will distribute the series.

It was the strength of Castle’s international popularity that persuaded Marlowe and Miller to set the show up with Munich-based Tandem. Looking back at their first meeting, Bauer recalls: “I had followed Castle for many seasons and I loved the lightness of it. We have a little too much serialised, dystopian, negative drama. The biggest challenge was really not talking about story but getting our respective reps to move on making the deal. We did and it got made and it’s really wonderful.”

Miller continues: “We listened to Rola talk about Castle internationally and how it was received. Her thoughts about what the foreign market was like and all the things she was looking for fitted with something Andrew and I had in our back pocket and really wanted to do.”

Unusually – but representing an increasingly common practice in today’s global television market – Take Two was announced without a broadcaster. Tandem and StudioCanal are scouring the globe to see who’s interested in picking up the story, at a time when European broadcasters are crying out for the type of light procedurals US broadcasters no longer appear to be interested in making as they instead pursue high-concept dramas in their battles against the dominant cable and SVoD platforms.

Bauer adds: “We have maybe sidelined the entertainment aspect of television, and that’s a shame because there has been a desire to dig more into our weaknesses and our desire to find a certain type of redemption. I get that, and that’s important. But it’s also important to be entertained. That’s what we’re looking for – to have a good, entertaining show. But there aren’t going to be ‘popcorn crime’ cases. There are going to be some really interesting crimes that are fresh and that will resonate with viewers. Combine that with the entertainment of the double-act lead characters – the banter, the potential love – and it will be fun.”

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Oscar winner goes to war with Amazon

Charles Randolph
Charles Randolph

Oscar-wining writer Charles Randolph (The Big Short) has signed a development deal with Amazon Studios. His first project will be a 10×60’ drama series that will explore what it would take to create a present-day civil war in the US.

There are no further details on the project yet, but presumably Randolph will be able to draw inspiration from the current US presidential election process. Prior to The Big Short, the writer was best known for movies including Love & Other Drugs and The Life of David Gale. But he has written for TV before, with pilots for HBO and ABC.

Another writer in the news this week is Sam Catlin, who is getting rave reviews for his work on AMC’s forthcoming supernatural series Preacher. Deadline, for example, is predicting that the show has the potential to be the channel’s next The Walking Dead (though that accolade maybe should already have gone to Fear the Walking Dead or Into the Badlands).

The latest show in the ongoing comic-based series trend, Preacher revolves around a reformed criminal called Jesse Custer who is scratching out an existence as a preacher in a dusty Texas town. Jesse is visited by a higher spiritual power that gives him the power to make people obey him just by speaking to them.

Preacher is exec produced by Sam Catlin, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg

Caitlin’s main credit to date is AMC’s Breaking Bad, of which he wrote 10 episodes. However, he did also pen an episode of Fox’s Rake, the US adaptation of an Australian show of the same name. That series (created by Peter Duncan) followed a criminal defence lawyer whose personal problems and self-destructive behaviour have him owing money to everyone around him. Catlin is also an executive producer on Preacher alongside Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg.

Also in the news this week is WGN’s Outsiders, which has just been greenlit for a second season. Set in the Appalachian Mountains, Outsiders centres on a family called the Farrells who have turned their back on society and live by their own rules.

The show, which has been a hit for WGN, was created by Peter Mattei and is executive produced by Peter Tolan. While Tolan has extensive writing credits (including long-running drama Rescue Me), Outsiders is a breakthrough project for Mattei, whose only other writing credits are Love in the Time of Money (2002) and Clarissa Explains It All (1991). Other writers credited with working on season one of Outsiders include Ryan Farley and William Schmidt.

While the international TV market is still dominated by US shows, an increasing number of European-originated series are selling well around the world. An interesting case in point is Spotless, which was this week picked up by Globosat Brazil.

Peter Mattei’s Outsiders has been given a second season on WGN America

An unusual production, Spotless was made by StudioCanal-owned Tandem Productions for Canal+ in France. However, it was shot in English and filmed on location in London. Adding to the intrigue, it stars French actors Marc-André Grondin and Denis Ménochet as a pair of brothers – one a criminal, the other the owner of a crime scene cleaning business.

Prior to Globosat, the show was picked up by Esquire Network in the US and has also sold to DirecTV Latin America and M-Net South Africa. The goal behind the series was to give it European roots but enough of a sheen to resemble a fast-paced US drama. To achieve this, Tandem used a writer/creator team of UK-based Bafta winner Ed McCardie and Academy Award winner Corinne Marrinan.

This combination drew on two distinct schools of creativity. While McCardie’s writing credits before Spotless included London’s Burning, The Last Detective and Shameless, Marrinan’s background is as a US-based writer-producer on CSI. The Spotless setup resembles that of Red Production Company’s The Five, where the US talent (Harlan Coben) constructed the idea and was involved in story development while the UK talent (Danny Brocklehurst) did the actual writing. In the case of Spotless, McCardie was responsible for the writing while Marrinan is cited as the show’s creator.

Spotless follows a criminal and his brother who runs a crime scene cleaning business

Interestingly, Tandem took a slightly different route with its other key procedural-type thriller, Crossing Lines, now in its third season. In this case, the show was set up with Ed Bernero as a US-style showrunner – though it still centred on European locations. The show then employed a US writers-room model involving a number of different writers – including Marrinan. Overall showrunning responsibility for the show shifted in season three to Frank Spotnitz, but the writers-room model has been retained. Both seem to work, however, with Crossing Lines being aired on Sat1 in Germany, NBC in the US, Canada’s CBC and TF1 in France, among others.

In other stories this week, Australian broadcaster Network 10 has acquired a high-end drama about adventurer Sir Edmund Hillary that is billed as the most ambitious and expensive series to ever come out of New Zealand. Entitled Hillary, the TVNZ series has been written by Tom Scott. In NZ, Scott is quite a celebrity, having established himself as a leading satirical cartoonist before writing several films, books and TV screenplays.

The new series is based on a biography of Hillary that Scott wrote in 1996 and involved a lengthy shoot in Nepal. It’s a six-part series that will air this year.

Finally, Fox International Channels has set a date for the launch of Outcast, an exorcism drama from The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman and based on the Skybound/Image comic by Kirkman and artist Paul Azaceta. The 10-episode series will debut on June 3 on Fox channels in more than 125 countries as part of a day-and-date launch outside the US. Within the US it will air on HBO-owned channel Cinemax.

Outcast, which has already been greenlit for a second season, is exec produced by Kirkman, Chris Black, David Alpert, Sharon Tal Yguado and Sue Naegle. The showrunner is Chris Black, who has a string of high-profile writer/producer credits including Red Widow, Mad Men, Ugly Betty, Desperate Housewives and Star Trek: Enterprise.

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Copro queen

Though international coproductions now seem ubiquitous, this hasn’t always been the case. Rola Bauer explains how Tandem, an early adopter of copros, put them at the centre of its drama strategy to impressive effect.

In the past couple of years producers and broadcasters around the world have become increasingly reliant on international coproduction partnerships to secure the budgets necessary for high-end drama series. But one company that based its business on copros is Munich-based Tandem, the production powerhouse behind epic historical miniseries The Pillars of the Earth and its sequel World Without End.

Formed in 1999 by Rola Bauer (a Canadian), Tim Halkin (an American) and Jonas Bauer (a German), Tandem’s first major success was The Ring of the Nibelungs, a €20m (US$24m) fantasy miniseries commissioned by Channel 4 in the UK, Sat1 in Germany and SyFy in the US.

“We realised after Rings of the Nibelungs that we had satisfied a need in the market that the US was no longer providing,” Tandem president/partner Rola Bauer tells DQ. “That encouraged us to build on this success and continue to supply the international market with high-end long-form dramas that broadcasters could create an event around.”

Pillars Of TheEarth (web)
The Pillars of the Earth

A run of drama productions followed, but the real game-changer for Tandem was The Pillars of the Earth, an 8×50’ miniseries based on the classic novel by Ken Follett. “Along with several others, we chased after Ken for years to option this book,” says Bauer. “He had pushed back on all theatrical offers, finding the format too limited for the richness of the novel, and held out for a solid commitment of a longer limited series, which we offered.”

In hindsight, securing the rights was the easy part. The real challenge was coming up with a viable financial model. Explaining Tandem’s thinking, Bauer says: “Along with our coproducing partner, Scott Free, we were hoping to pioneer a new way of producing television on a global basis without depending on having the first key broadcaster out of the US market. We needed a US$40m production budget to create the kind of eight-hour event not only that the book deserved, but that would have a cinematic quality to it.”

Unfortunately from a financial perspective, the Nasdaq had recently crashed and the German stock exchange segment, Neue Markt, had virtually folded – putting pressure on the production from the outset. “With French, German, Spanish and Canadian partners on board, we went into production with an US$8m gap and the hope that our years of combined experience would enable us to create a programme that we could later sell into the US market and not only cover our deficit, but also make a profit,” Bauer explains. “Two years of development, production and sleepless nights later, the risk we took did pay off: Starz supported the programme and enabled it to become an Emmy-winning show.”

The show also proved to be a success for the European and Canadian partners, says Bauer, “and that paved the way for World Without End, with a US$46m production budget.”

While Tandem’s event miniseries had put it on the global map, it was clear the company needed to diversify its output and secure additional financial resources to stay competitive in the rapidly consolidating drama market.

The good news was that Tandem’s success had started to alert potential suitors: “Three years ago Tandem was approached by two studios, one in the US and one in Europe, interested in making a strategic acquisition of Tandem. We spoke intensely with both, but were ultimately convinced to enter into a relationship with StudioCanal, which became Tandem’s majority (51%) shareholder.”

StudioCanal appealed for a number of reasons: it had the same European-led creative sensibility as Tandem; its TV production ambitions aligned with Tandem’s; and it provided assets Tandem could tap into.

Bauer adds: “There are so many synergies, such as remake rights from the StudioCanal library, producing originals for Canal+ and coproductions with our ‘cousins’ in the TV production unit, RED Production Company and SAM. We are already in coproduction with RED in the development of a format idea for the US and Germany.”

With StudioCanal backing, Bauer says Tandem has “set a benchmark to increase the programme hours we produce and sell per year.” The emphasis is clearly on one-hour series with potential for renewal. “The international market was in need of procedural series. Hugely successful US shows were coming to an end and that market was not showing signs of gearing up for the next generation of procedural shows. With StudioCanal, we were able to enter the narrative of one-hour drama very quickly. The relationship enables us to move fast and go straight to series once we have put certain basic elements together.”

Crossing Lines
Crossing Lines

The first idea to gain traction after the StudioCanal takeover was Crossing Lines, a series centred on a special crime unit that functions as a kind of European-wide FBI. “We wanted to create a show that focused on the very real and dangerous situation in Europe of criminals being able to escape justice simply by crossing over borders,” explains Bauer. “Showrunner Ed Bernero saw the similarity to the historical situation in the US before the inception of the FBI. Europe still has no proactive law enforcement agency that can effectively handle cross-border crimes and bring criminals to justice. This includes everything from drug and human trafficking to smuggling and serial killing.”

The show, which was backed by broadcasters including TF1 France, Sat1 Germany, NBC in the US and AXN (multiple territories) in season one, sought to combine the best of US and European stylistic elements: “It has a familiarity to audiences worldwide who have enjoyed US procedural series. However, the locations are exotic.” The 12-episode second season has just wrapped, with TF1, Sat1 and AXN still on board and Amazon UK joining the line-up.

Following on from Crossing Lines, Tandem recently entered production on Spotless, its second one-hour drama series since joining StudioCanal. A 10×50’ series for Canal+ Creation Originale, it’s a dark comedy shot on location in London. It stars Marc-André Grondin as the owner of a crime scene cleaning business who gets dragged into a murky gangster underworld by his reckless brother.

“Co-creators Ed McCardie and Corinne Marrinan have dreamed up a storyline and characters that are so special and unique,” says Bauer, whose company is handling global distribution. “We are very excited at the potential of Spotless to engage audiences worldwide.”

Other one-hour format dramas in development include Sex, Lies and Handwriting, a coproduction with Lionsgate based on a book by Michelle Dresbold. “We are currently in development at ABC in the US, TF1 in France, Sat1 in Germany and Bell Media in Canada, with a targeted start of principal photography in early 2015,” says Bauer.

Then there is Rubber Ducks, a 10×60’ ecological/psychological thriller that Tandem is developing with Haut et Court TV (The Returned) and July-August Productions. “The story is based on an experiment by Nasa, exploring ideas of ecological change not only on the environment but also on human behaviour. The series writer is Yael Hedaya, known for her work on Israeli drama series In Treatment.”

Tandem is handling worldwide distribution on this series, and the company clearly sees this side of the business as fundamental to its growth strategy – whether it relates to its own productions or those of third parties. For example, Tandem is sharing distribution duties with Sky Vision on The Last Panthers, a six-part series commissioned by Canal+ and Sky Atlantic, which has been developed and coproduced by Haut et Court TV and Warp Films (This is England, Four Lions, Southcliffe).

“The series originated as an idea from celebrated French journalist Jerome Pierrat and the screenplay is from Jack Thorne (Skins, This is England, A Long Way Down, Glue, The Fades),” says Bauer. “It’s based on the world-famous Pink Panthers, a network of jewel thieves. Filming began late October 2014 in the four key shooting locations of London, Marseille, Belgrade and Montenegro.”

Other current third-party distribution projects, include ZeroZeroZero and Pirate’s Passage. The former, says Bauer, is based on Roberto Saviano’s recently released book of the same title and is the follow-up to his international best-seller Gomorrah. “The eight-hour series was commissioned by Canal+ Creation Originale and Cattleya, Italy’s leading independent film and TV producer. It is a compelling and revelatory dissection of the global traffic of cocaine and how it touches lives across an international social spectrum.”

Pirate’s Passage, meanwhile, is an unusual project for Tandem to be involved with: “It is an animated movie coproduced and co-written by, and starring the voice talent of, Donald Sutherland. The book, written by fellow Canadian George Gilkerson, resonated with Donald in a very personal manner – he is passionate about the story.”

Anyone who has been around the TV business long enough will realise there is always a risk attached to ramping up production and getting ahead of demand. But Bauer doesn’t see any imminent danger of that: “The amount of programming needed each year just continues to increase, with many of the US nets’ demands now 12 months a year. With the summer re-run season dying out, channels need fresh programming where they are not carrying the full load of financing. The most attractive option to close these gaps is via an international coproduction, which is what Tandem has been producing since 1999. And, incidentally, every one of our productions has been sold into the US market.”

It’s not just the US market that is driving Tandem’s growth, however. “Another factor that has propelled the current wave of drama is the burgeoning media landscape worldwide,” says Bauer. “There has been enormous growth in media channels, broadcasters and platforms, and everything has become so niche and specific when it comes to programming. This requires a constant flow of new series to accommodate the demand – and there are just so many good stories to tell.

“Also, the industry’s success in producing cinematic television drama has continued to blur the lines between film and TV. Audiences worldwide can now get on TV what they were formerly only accustomed to viewing in the cinema.”

Explaining Tandem’s success with copros, Bauer cites factors such as: “Working with top-level writers/showrunners who have proven themselves as having editorial lines that transcend borders and maintaining budgets in keeping with the successful US one-hour series that have ruled the international primetime slots for years.”

Above all, however, she says: “For us, it always starts with the writing – telling the best possible stories with interesting and well-developed characters. The creative aspect must always come first. When this is sacrificed for the business side, it doesn’t work.”

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