They were once just a name on the credits roll, but showrunners have gained celebrity status over the past decade and are now considered the major creative force behind every television drama.
This DQ show examines the showrunner’s rise to power and why it can be one of the most satisfying jobs in Hollywood.
In the first of a two-part programme, DQ hears from leading showrunners about the challenges of this all-consuming position.
Contributors include Shawn Ryan (The Shield), Terence Winter (Boardwalk Empire), Ilene Chaiken (Empire), Glen Mazzara (The Walking Dead), Clyde Phillips (Dexter), Eric Newman (Narcos), Terri Miller and Andrew Marlowe (Castle), Maggie Friedman and Corinne Brinkerhoff (No Tomorrow), Jon Bokenkamp (The Blacklist), Les Bohem (Shut Eye), Michelle Ashford (Masters of Sex), Graham Yost (Sneaky Pete), Howard Gordon (Homeland), Matt Miller (Lethal Weapon), Peter Lenkov (MacGyver), Oliver Goldstick (The Collection) and Carol Flint (Designated Survivor).
Part two will be available from Wednesday March 29.
A large proportion of the international TV industry is attending the MipTV market in Cannes this week, buying and selling shows or doing scripted format deals. So it seems appropriate that the week’s top story should concern Fox US drama House, which has proved popular with broadcasters around the world over the years.
Usually sold in its completed form, this week has seen Fox license the Sherlock-esque medical drama to Non-Stop Production, which is remaking it for in Russia.
Anton Zlatopolskiy, first deputy director of the channel’s parent, Russia TV and Radio, said: “We considered the pros and cons before obtaining the format of such a famous series. It is quite a challenge to create our own version. Neither well-known producers or actors nor a big budget can guarantee success when it comes to a local version. But there are a couple of secret ingredients that make a series outstanding and we know how to make them work.”
Sticking with scripted formats, the drama department of Italian public broadcaster Rai, Rai Fiction, has ordered a second season of its remake of NBCUniversal International’s Parenthood. The 26×60’ second run, produced by Cattleya, will air on Rai Uno later in 2016. The US original ran for six seasons on NBC between 2010 to 2015, so there is scope for Rai’s version to run and run.
Another high-profile scripted format deal this week involves Dutch public broadcaster KRO-NCRV, which has greenlit an adaptation of acclaimed Turkish drama The End. The Dutch version of the show is being produced by Netherlands-based Column Film. Column producer Chantal van der Horst said: “The End has a solid base for adaptation. The cleverness of the scripts and the universal appeal of the storyline makes the series suitable for audiences across the world, including in Western Europe.”
The show was sold into the Netherlands by Scandinavia-based distributor Eccho Rights, which has previously licensed the format to several markets including the US, Russia and France. Commenting on the deal, Nicola Söderlund, managing partner at Eccho Rights, said: “Turkish drama continues to break boundaries and it’s great that a West European version will be hitting screens later on this year. (The show’s producer) Ay Yapim has created a gripping plot that translates well across cultures, which is reflected in the number and range of licences on The End.”
Other interesting greenlights this week include news that Amazon has ordered a third season of Red Arrow’s crime series Bosch. Based on the novels by Michael Connelly, Bosch stars Titus Welliver as streetwise LAPD detective Harry Bosch. Commenting on the renewal, Morgan Wandell, head of drama series at Amazon Studios, said: “Our customers can’t get enough of Harry Bosch. The entire cast and crew have done a fantastic job with season two and we can’t wait to see what they have in store for next season.”
Another big story out of the US is HBO’s decision to order a TV adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling debut novel Sharp Objects. The eight-episode series will star Amy Adams as a newspaper journalist trying to sort out her life following years of self-harm that landed her in a psychiatric hospital. However, her plan for a new life is derailed when she returns to her hometown and gets caught up in investigating the mysterious murder of two young girls.
The pilot for the TV adaptation is being written by Marti Noxon, who will also be showrunner. Noxon, the co-creator of Lifetime’s critically acclaimed drama UnREAL, will then share writing responsibilities on the series with Flynn, who previously adapted her own novel Gone Girl as a feature film. Jean-Marc Vallée (Wild) will direct.
Meanwhile, the SVoD giants are continuing their aggressive expansion around the world, part of which involves commissioning original local-language series. This week, it’s Netflix’s turn to grab the headlines – with its first original series from Spain.
Set in the 1920s, the show will look at the lives of four women who work as switchboard operators for the state-owned phone company’s central headquarters in Madrid. The series comes from the same stable that created international Spanish-language hits Velvet and Gran Hotel. This includes Roman Campos and Teresa Fernandez-Valdes from Bambú Producciones, director Carlos Sedes and writer Gema Neira, who often works with Campos.
Commenting on the commission, Erik Barmack, VP of international original series at Netflix, said: “We’re delighted to be working with Bambú Producciones, director Carlos Sedes and co-creator Gema Neira on our first original series filmed in Spain. We’re huge fans of their work on Gran Hotel and Velvet – epic romances that have been embraced by our members around the world. We’re certain our members will love this unique and engaging drama from some of the best storytellers in Spain.”
We’ve talked a lot in previous columns about the trend towards movie adaptations, book adaptations and reboots in US drama – all of which are about providing in-built awareness in new projects. But there’s another trend that is creeping into the business – namely the spin-off. We’ve seen examples in cable with Better Call Saul (from Breaking Bad) and Fear The Walking Dead (from The Walking Dead). And Disney-ABC has created numerous movies and TV series rooted in its Marvel universe. NBC is the latest to get in on the act. First came Chicago Justice, a spin-off from Chicago PD, and now NBC has announced plans for a spin-off from The Blacklist. There aren’t many details as yet but it’s an interesting new development that promises to further narrow the number of slots available to original ideas.
Finally, Turkey was country of honour at Mipcom 2015, an event that focused heavily the country’s prolific drama output, and the country doesn’t seem to have lost any momentum coming into MipTV 2016.
Aside from The End deal referred to above, The Fox Turkey drama That Is My Life has also been selling well – with ANTV (Hong Kong), Kanal 5 (Bulgaria), Telemundo (Hispanic US), Moby Group (Middle East), Puls TV (Poland), Kanal D (Romania) and MTG (Russia) all acquiring the Pastel Film-produced show.
Another Fox show, The Intersection, also has a high profile at the market as part of the Endemol Shine International catalogue. Coinciding with ESI’s marketing activity in Cannes, Fox also announced a second season for the series.
This summer, critics couldn’t decide whether M Night Shyamalan and Chad Hodge’s 10-part mystery-thriller Wayward Pines qualified as a hit. But the show’s host network Fox has now answered that question by giving the production a second season.
Fox Broadcasting Company’s entertainment president David Madden said: “Wayward Pines was a huge hit for us. We were absolutely blown away by the mysterious and surprising world that Night and his team created, and the twisting-and-turning storytelling that drew viewers in from day one. Season two is going to take the suspense, the vision of the future and the haunting character drama to whole new levels.”
A same-day audience of three to four million wasn’t especially impressive. But Fox has crunched the numbers and come up with the following analysis: “Season one of Wayward Pines ranked as summer 2015’s number-one broadcast scripted series among adults 18-49, averaging a 2.2/8 in the key demo. The series – about a Secret Service agent on a mission to find two missing federal agents in a sleepy town, and the shocking results of his investigation – ranked among summer 2015’s top 10 broadcast programmes overall among adults 18-49. It earned a multiplatform average audience of 9.4 million, which represents a +145% increase versus its Live+Same Day audience – the largest multiplatform lift versus Live+Same Day ever for a Fox drama.”
According to Fox, the second season will pick up in the wake of season one, when a new arrival in Wayward Pines finds himself in the middle of a serious rebellion, as the residents battle over how to preserve the endangered human race. Season one stars Matt Dillon and Toby Jones will not return, so there will be a lot of interest in who gets cast as the new lead.
This week has also seen renewals for Showtime’s Homeland and The Affair. This confirms our hunch that Homeland had done enough in season five to warrant a renewal, though the announcement has come later than expected.
Season five is finishing strongly, which appears to vindicate the decision to move central character Carrie (played by Claire Danes) to Berlin. Co-creator Alex Gansa has suggested that this could be the model going forward, with each season placing Carrie in a new geographic location.
There was also a renewal this week for NBC’s The Blacklist, which stars James Spader as a criminal mastermind working with the FBI. The drama, which will go into season four, averages a same-day of audience of around seven million. It’s also popular internationally, featuring on networks such as Sky Living and TF1 in France.
The timing of the announcement makes this an early renewal for the show, and creator Jon Bokencamp says he has known about The Blacklist’s return for a while. Speaking in a podcast interview this week, he commented: “We knew about that a while ago. It’s one of those things that’s hard to keep quiet. But yes, we’re renewed through to the fourth season. Hopefully we don’t tank that out – we’ve got a lot of story to tell.”
Back at Fox, one show that is certain to get a renewal is breakout hit Empire, which is now in the middle of its second run. However, the new season has been bumpy ride, akin to the ‘difficult second album’ syndrome. After opening to 16 million viewers (22.5 million when you add in the multiplatform/time-shifted figures), the music industry-based show dropped as low as 9.2 million (same-day rating) for episode nine. Episode 10 saw a bounceback (11.8 million) but the underlying critical narrative suggests the show has lost its way slightly.
The biggest complaint seems to be that this year’s plots and characters lack authenticity, with USA Today summing it up like this: “On social media, fans are griping about ever-more-outrageous storylines (‘cartoon garbage,’ sniffed one Twitter user), such as frantic efforts in (one) episode to find and dig up the body of Vernon, who was accidentally killed in last season’s finale, and park his decomposed corpse in a car to intimidate an attack-dog prosecutor. There’s pushback on the show’s heavy dose of celebrity cameos, from Chris Rock to Ludacris.”
Having said all this, Empire is still the strongest US network show by far. To put it in perspective, its rating among the all-important 18-49 demo far exceeds that of new shows such as Blindspot, Limitless and Quantico. So a renewal is as certain as anything can be in this life.
A likely beneficiary of its success is Rosewood, which airs straight after Empire. Having seen its ratings boosted as a result of Empire’s strong lead-in, it’s another show that is pretty much guaranteed a return.
Continuing on this topic, this week provided a superb example of the impact that a strong lead-in can have on a title’s ratings. Until recently, AMC’s Into the Badlands had been benefiting from airing directly after The Walking Dead. But with the latter now on a winter break, Badlands has seen its audience plummet. Same-day ratings for the first four episodes of the show go like this: 6.4 million, 4.8 million, 5.2 million, 2.4 million – the latter figure being the first week in which it didn’t have a boost from The Walking Dead.
This isn’t necessarily a problem for Badlands. It’s possible that, without TWD in the schedule, fans of the futuristic martial arts show have decided to record it and watch it another time (maybe earlier the next day). The real test of whether the show has managed to build a loyal audience will come with Live + 3 Day or Live + 7 Day ratings. That said, even at its new lower level, it’s still a strong shout for a renewal.
Moving away from renewals, this week saw the launch of a show that may soon be talked about as the latest Scandinavian hit.
Gasmamman (Mother Goose) is being described as Sweden’s answer to Breaking Bad. The story follows a mother-of-three who takes over the family’s illegal marijuana business after her husband is shot in a drug deal gone wrong.
The Endemol Shine-produced show is currently airing on pay TV platform C-More and will shift to Kanal 5 in spring 2016.
In an interview with Reuters, lead actress Alexandra Rapaport said: “When we pitched this we talked about it being a kind of Erin Brockovich meets Breaking Bad. The Bridge and The Killing were big inspirations for us. But I think we also add some humour to it, which is why we compare it to Breaking Bad.”
The Reuters report says the show’s producers plan to make four seasons in total.