Tag Archives: Televisa US

Writers’ rising stock

Bret Easton Ellis (photo by Mark Coggins)
Bret Easton Ellis (photo by Mark Coggins)

There is an inexorability about the way the TV drama business is heading. From the viewer’s perspective, the emergence of large-screen HD/4K TVs, combined with high subscription fees, creates an expectation that broadcasters and platforms will deliver great shows.

For those broadcasters and platforms, this puts a stronger emphasis than ever on the pursuit of high-profile and high-quality writing, acting and producing talent. But securing that kind of talent costs a lot of money, which means subscription fees need to rise.

And so the creative arms race escalates, with the companies in charge of content delivery forced to make bolder and bolder decisions. In a way, it’s similar to what has happened with sports rights.

While the big draw with any drama is its cast, it’s noticeable that the track record of writers is also becoming more important – not just in satisfying commissioning editors, but also as a way of appealing to audiences.

This is why novelists like Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly and Jo Nesbø have become such a focal point. While most TV writers don’t have a public profile (because of the collaborative nature of the TV process), novelists are often respected brands – with loyal fans who follow their every move.

The movie version of American Psycho, Ellis's best-known work
Christian Bale in the movie version of American Psycho, Ellis’s best-known work

Against that backdrop, this week saw AT&T-backed SVoD platform Fullscreen unveil a raft of new content including a show directed and written by Bret Easton Ellis – the enfant terrible of contemporary fiction, known for cult novels like Less Than Zero, Rules of Attraction and, most famously, American Psycho.

The new show, called The Deleted, focuses on the disappearance of three seemingly unconnected people from LA. The occurrence triggers a collective paranoia among a group of young people, all of whom escaped from a cult ‎several years previously.

The project is a new departure for Ellis. Although he has tried his hand at screenwriting movies, such as The Canyons and The Informers, this is his first gig as a director. “It’s going push some boundaries and it’s definitely going to be the darkest of our original shows,” said Fullscreen CEO George Strompolos.

“We created a new kind of entertainment experience which merges the things we love about premium content and social media. We’re building it for an audience we know and love – a social-first, mobile-first generation. The future of media is going to look more like what we’re doing than what we’ve seen over the past several decades.”

Russell T Davies (photo by Tony Hassall)
Russell T Davies (photo by Tony Hassall)

Writers celebrating this week include Russell T Davies, who has just won the Bafta TV Craft Drama Writer Award for his 2015 drama serial Cucumber. Davies edged out a formidable line-up of rivals to secure the award, including Mike Bartlett (Doctor Foster), Peter Straughan (Wolf Hall) and Neil Cross (Luther).

Cucumber was part of a trilogy of dramas for Channel 4 that also included Tofu and Banana. Loosely described as a sequel to Davies’ iconic 1999 series Queer as Folk, it focused on a middle-aged gay man (Henry) who has to adapt to sudden change after a disastrous date night with his boyfriend of nine years.

Although the emphasis of the story was on the social and emotional challenges faced by gay men, critic Mark Lawson, writing in the Guardian, said the show had a more universal theme: “The broader genre of respectability meltdown, as Henry (the central character) is accelerated from smug dullness to scenes featuring police intervention, furious colleagues and social humiliation.”

Other Bafta winners included Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan for their hit comedy Catastrophe (Channel 4). There was also a breakthrough award for actor/writer Michaela Coel, creator of fellow Channel 4 sitcom Chewing Gum. All in all, that made it a good night for Channel 4 in terms of its writing credentials.

Other writers in the news include Scott Shepherd, who has been signed up by Televisa US to pen a 10-part sci-fi thriller. The Seventh Day is the Mexican media group’s second foray into English-language content after Duality, starring Dougray Scott.

Davies' award-winning Channel 4 drama Cucumber
Davies’ award-winning Channel 4 drama Cucumber

The series is based on Shepherd’s serialised novel of the same name. Treading a well-worn furrow, it centres on one of the few people left unharmed when most of humanity is wiped out.

Shepherd, who is actually a writer/producer, has a shopping list of writing credits that date back to Murder She Wrote and Miami Vice in the 1980s and 1990s. More recently, he executive produced Haven and The Dead Zone – while also contributing to the writing efforts.

For The Seventh Day, he will share writing and showrunning duties with Cindy McCreery, who also wrote on Haven. Commenting on the new project, which will be shot in Mexico, Televisa USA head of production and distribution Chris Philip said: “Scott and Cindy are once again weaving gripping stories into compelling TV. Their masterful tales fit perfectly with the wide array of sets and terrain that Televisa has to offer in Mexico, where we plan to shoot all of the series we greenlight with our pioneering production and distribution venture.”

As the expansion of Televisa illustrates, one of the most exciting developments in the international drama business is the formation of new alliances. Another interesting example of this is the Russian drama Mata Hari, based on the life of the famous female spy/courtesan. The show has been produced by Star Media in Russia and will be distributed internationally by Red Arrow International, starting at Mipcom in October.

Mata Hari
Mata Hari will debut at Mipcom in October

Red Arrow International MD Henrik Pabst said: “The scale and quality of this ambitious new drama is truly impressive and marks a real step change in the international ambitions of the Russian production sector.”

Red Arrow will distribute an English-language version of the show, which stars the likes of Christopher Lambert (Highlander), John Corbett (My Big Fat Greek Wedding), Rade Serbedzija (X-Men: First Class) and Rutger Hauer (Batman Begins, Blade Runner), plus French actress Vahina Giocante (The Libertine) in the title role.

The series, which is directed by Dennis Berry (Highlander, Stargate SG-1) and Julius Berg, recently completed filming in Lisbon and St Petersburg, and will air on Russian state network Channel One and Ukraine’s Inter later this year.

It has been written by Igor Ter-Karapetov and Oleg Kirillov. Of the two, Ter-Karapetov appears to have the more established track record, having penned numerous series and miniseries over the last few years. Credits include spy thriller Smert shpionam, Udarnaya volna and Ubit Stalina, a Second World War drama about a plot by the Germans to kill Joseph Stalin. The latter also contains a spy component, which suggest Ter-Karapetov is the perfect writer to tackle another period espionage story.

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Familiar and fresh

Quantico has earned praise for its diverse cast
Quantico has earned praise for the diversity of its lead characters

A lot of scripted TV has a derivative feel about it – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When people sit down to watch something, they generally want to know roughly what they are going to get, in the same way they gravitate towards the same brands and restaurants.

That’s why, even in this ‘golden age’ age of risk-taking drama, so many shows are based on pre-existing properties or work within well-understood genres or situations (cop, hospital, romance, period and so on).

But the audience’s preference for the familiar only goes so far. Once viewers are within a story world, they expect to be surprised and delighted. If a drama turns out to be a poor copy of a previous show then they will desert in their droves. This explains why so many scripted series fall off a cliff between episodes one and two – because they have been rumbled.

One writer who seems pretty adept at balancing the familiar with the fresh is Josh Safran. After working on The CW’s hit series Gossip Girl and NBC’s short-lived Smash, he has now achieved a strong start with Quantico, a fast-paced thriller that debuted on September 27 on ABC in the US.

Airing in a 22.00 slot, the show attracted 7.1 million viewers and a 1.9 rating among adults aged 18-49. This audience was 36% up on its lead-in and well ahead of the CSI finale on CBS. In addition, it was much higher than Revenge’s performance in the same slot last year. In fact, ABC says the show is the strongest ‘regular programming’ performer in this slot since May 2012 (i.e. not a special event such as a live sports match).

Quantico writer Josh Safran
Quantico writer Josh Safran

Quantico is about a group of young trainees learning to become FBI agents. It turns out that one of them is a terrorist planning a major attack – but we don’t know who.

So far, so familiar. In the run up to the show’s launch, it was described as “a garden variety whodunnit” and a cross between Homeland and a Shonda Rhimes drama.

What helps Safran’s show stand out from the crowd, however, is a clear decision to avoid obvious character stereotypes. The trainees, for example, are ethnically diverse, with a central role handed to Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra, who plays Alex Parrish. There is also a leading position for black actress Aunjanue Ellis, who acts as mentor to the new recruits.

Forbes Magazine was especially impressed by the show’s start, pointing out numerous examples of how the female characters assert their independence and demonstrate their capabilities. “The best and most refreshing parts of this programme are the strong females leads,” it said. “Quantico highlights the fact that female leads can have more to their plotlines than love, pregnancy or rape. And it shows that when better roles are written for women, the programme benefits as well.”

It’s early days, of course, and some of Quantico’s reviewers were a bit more skeptical. But as long as the show can maintain momentum with its terrorist whodunnit plot, it will probably come out as one of this year’s top-performing new series – which would be good news for international broadcaster such as CTV Canada and UKTV that have already acquired it.

The Enfield Haunting is heading for A&E Network
The Enfield Haunting, starring Timothy Spall (centre), is set to air on A&E Network

As for Safran, he is also working on an updated version of the Fame, which first appeared as a 1980 movie before becoming a hit TV series and then being revived as a movie again in 2009. Destined for Lifetime in the US, the new Fame is being written and executive produced by Safran for MGM TV. Other exec producers include Nigel Lythgoe, Chad Gutstein and Charles Segars.

On paper, its looks like a dead cert hit (for the reasons stated at the start of this column). But it will actually be quite a challenge for Safran. Just how do you revive such a show in a world that has been exposed to Glee, wall-to-wall TV talent shows and YouTube? This is a situation where the ability to blend the familiar with the fresh will prove decisive.

Another writer entitled to feel pleased with himself this week is London-based Joshua St Johnston, whose three-part miniseries The Enfield Haunting is to air on A&E Network in the US from October 9, following its acquisition from eOne.

Adapted from Guy Lyon Playfair’s book This House is Haunted, The Enfield Haunting is a dramatisation of the terrifying real-life events that took place in a London home during 1977. Starring Timothy Spall, Matthew Macfadyen and Juliet Stevenson, it first aired to critical acclaim on Sky Living in the UK.

A&E will be hoping for a stronger performance from The Enfield Haunting than fellow supernatural show The Returned (pictured)
A&E will be hoping for a stronger performance from The Enfield Haunting than it achieved with fellow supernatural show The Returned (pictured)

St Johnston’s first TV writing credit came way back in 1996, when he penned an episode of UK doctor drama Peak Practice. After a period where he focused more on producing, St Johnston wrote a couple of TV movies in the middle of the last decade, including the Ray Winstone-starring Sweeney Todd. After writing a short film for the Cultural Olympiad in 2012, he scripted the poorly reviewed musical film Walking on Sunshine.

However, with Eleven Film-produced The Enfield Haunting he certainly seems to have found his métier.

Represented by Harriet Pennington Leigh at Troika Talent, St Johnston is now developing new TV series with Clerkenwell Films and Eleven Film and working on a movie with Christopher Sweeney entitled Good Boy, Hung. He is also reported to be working on a TV series with Artists Studio called Deviant. As a footnote, it’s interesting to see A&E going back into the paranormal realm so soon after its failure with The Returned – it’s obviously a genre in which it sees plenty of mileage.

Other writers who can look forward to a period of full employment include Graham Roland, who is attached to a new Paramount TV production based on author Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan character. The show, which has Carlton Cuse (Lost) attached as showrunner, is heading to Amazon, according to Deadline.

Stephen Kronish
Stephen Kronish

Roland’s major credits to date include Prison Break, Lost and the US version of The Returned, the latter two of which he worked on with Cuse. He was also involved in Fox’s sci-fi/crime drama Almost Human, which only lasted for one season in 2014 before cancellation.

Elsewhere, showrunner Stephen Kronish is working with Televisa US on its upcoming remake of Gran Hotel. An industry veteran whose credits stretch all the way back to Alfred Hitchcock Presents in 1985, Kronish has had some big hits in the last decade with 24 and The Kennedys. He has also recently finished writing the TV movie Manson’s Lost Girls and the moderately well-received Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe.

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