Tag Archives: The Crown

Crowning glory

Ahead of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s impending nuptials, royal marriages will be pushed further into the spotlight in season two of Netflix’s The Crown. DQ visits the set to hear how the Queen’s union with Prince Philip is pushed to the limit in the second run.

In what looks like a car park at Elstree Film Studios, situated next to a large branch of Tesco, sits Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street.

The doors and gates of Buckingham Palace are surrounded by green screens that allow The Crown’s crew to work their magic so that it really looks like a palace rather than a particularly ornate bit of plywood. Meanwhile, the door of the somewhat grubby-looking prime ministerial home is taller than normal; it was raised by nine inches to make John Lithgow look more like the rather smaller Winston Churchill in the first season and now it is stuck at that size.

These two buildings, weighted with history, are at the heart of British life and the interweaving stories of what goes on behind their doors are the spine of the award-winning show, one of the most ambitious pieces of television ever made.

The first two seasons cost a rumoured £100m (US$133m) but almost every penny can be seen on screen. This season also spans Antarctica, the South Seas, the Suez Canal, Scotland, Lisbon, Washington, Nazi Germany, Paris and Ghana, while much of the action of the first three episodes takes place on the Royal Yacht Britannia. No effort has been spared to make this sumptuous world believable.

The second season of The Crown sharpens the focus on the relationship between the Queen and Prince Philip, played by Claire Foy and Matt Smith respectively

The characters, too, are larger than life, encompassing everyone from the Kennedys and preacher Billy Graham to cuckolded prime minister Harold Macmillan and Christine Keeler, the showgirl who helped bring down a government. But, at the heart of it, is a special but often dysfunctional family.

The Crown showed the world a very different side of the royals in its 10-part first season. Starring Claire Foy as a naïve but eager-to-please princess who found the crown thrust upon her two decades before she expected it and Matt Smith as her alpha male husband who was forced to give up his own aspirations to stand behind his wife, the show humanised them and made them more understandable.

“I am not a Queen nutter or anything,” insists Peter Morgan, the show’s creator and writer. He first wrote about Elizabeth II in The Queen, the Oscar-winning film about how the Palace and prime minister Tony Blair reacted to the death of Princess Diana. That led to The Audience, the award-winning play where he looked at the secret weekly meetings between the monarch and prime ministers over the decades. The Crown, the entire second season of which landed on Netflix today, was the obvious next step.

As a younger man, Morgan was a republican, but he admits he has since changed his mind. “Most sensible people in the early 1990s probably thought this lot should be kicked out,” he says. “But if we had a referendum on the royal family tomorrow, I think 80% of the country would vote to keep them. I certainly would. I really would. Look at the heads of state everywhere else – there has been a catastrophic failure of the political class in the last couple of years, but [the Queen] represents stability.”

Dexter star Michael C Hall as JFK alongside Jodi Balfour as Jackie Kennedy

The second season of the Netflix show, which is made by Left Bank Pictures and distributor Sony Pictures Television, starts in 1956 with prime minister Anthony Eden’s disastrous Suez Crisis and ends in 1964 with his successor, Harold Macmillan, resigning amid the Profumo scandal. In every crisis, the Queen is left to pick up the broken pieces, as she has so many times since.

In this season we also see how, despite her home life being turbulent, the Queen always puts duty first. Her marriage to Philip is particularly under the spotlight at the start of the 10-episode run.

“Doesn’t everybody in Britain know Philip’s had an affair?” teases Morgan. The answer is no; no one knows for sure whether he had an affair or two, but there have been plenty of rumours. The season plays on them, and how they and Philip’s playboy behaviour impact the Queen. The rumours arc across the season, starting with Philip’s five-month tour on the HMS Britannia that took him away from his family to open the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and visit some of the Commonwealth’s far-flung islands. It ends with his name being mixed up in the Profumo affair.

History has proved the Queen and the Duke of Cambridge’s marriage to be spectacularly successful and last month they celebrated 70 years together. It meant the programme-makers had to think hard about how to treat these rumours, and they tread the line carefully.

The Crown creator Peter Morgan sandwiched between stars Smith and Foy

“There has never been any confirmation of an affair and it would be prurient, really horrible and irresponsible to make hefty suggestions,” says Left Bank’s Suzanne Mackie. “We know for a fact that this has been a very long and successful marriage. So many people we have talked to, historians and people who have worked in the palace, say they have witnessed a lot of love and affection in this marriage. We have nothing but respect for that. It would be ghastly of us to say anything else.

“And yet, like any marriage, it has to go through periods of change and periods of uncertainty and instability. It is something most of us have experienced; this is a real marriage and we would be whitewashing it to say it was happy all the way through. So we go on a complicated twisting, winding road and we hope that we come out with something truthful.”

While the programme-makers have always been keen to stress they are making drama, not a documentary, they try not to steer too far from facts. A group of historians dubbed The Brains Trust both suggest storylines to Morgan and also ensure the spirit, if not the letter, of the drama is correct.

One story sees the Queen fall out with Jackie Kennedy (Jodi Balfour) over nasty comments the First Lady made about the monarch. This plot element was based on rumours in Cecil Beaton’s diaries but is heavily fictionalised. A separate story about the Duke of Windsor (Alex Jennings), the Queen’s uncle who abdicated the throne, and his Nazi past is more based on fact. It hinges around the discovery of the Marburg Files, which indicated just how sympathetic the Duke was to Germany’s ambitions.

Matthew Goode and Vanessa Kirby, who play Tony Armstrong-Jones and Princess Margaret

“You can access the files at the British library and they are amazing,” says Philippa Lowthorpe, the Bafta-winning director who helmed the episode. “When we were filming, I carried them around in my bag so when the crew asked – and they frequently did – how much of it really was true, I could fish them out and show them.

“They are telegrams and letters from people who were around the Duke. Everybody was talking about him. They were manipulating him but he didn’t seem to mind. He had sympathies with Hitler and his philosophy.

“We used copies of the real files throughout the show and there’s a scene where the Queen is given them. It was the first time Claire got to read them – there are about 60 documents in the file – and when she finished the scene she just said, ‘Oh my God.’” Just to emphasis how true this story is, real pictures of the Duke are used at the end of this particular episode.

Meanwhile, the turbulence we see in the love life of Princess Margaret, played by Vanessa Kirby, who in this season meets and marries the philanderer Tony Armstrong-Jones (Matthew Goode), is also based on fact.

“Tony represents the shock of the new, which is a real theme of the series,” says director Ben Caron, who directed three episodes of season two. “This is the end of the age of deference and the royals are being thrust into the modern era. Tony is from an artistic world and he challenges all the conventions people have got used to.”

The plan is to have six seasons altogether and filming for the third starts in July but with an entirely new cast who will take the royals into the 70s and 80s, the era of Margaret Thatcher and Princess Diana. Olivia Colman, the Bafta- and Golden Globe-winning star of Broadchurch and The Night Manager, will replace Claire Foy as an older version of the Queen, while the producers are close to choosing the rest of their royal family.

Caron, who directed the final scene to feature Foy, Kirby and Goode (ironically one that has not made the final cut), says wrapping the shoot was a bittersweet moment. “The gaffers put on an amazing light display and turned the whole room into a big disco,” he says. “Everyone had slowly started appearing on set from all the departments you don’t always see and you suddenly realise the magnitude of the thing.

“There were a few speeches and some champagne. We’ve all been on this amazing two-year journey together – we’ve seen more of each other than we’ve seen of our own families and it was tough having to say goodbye to the cast. But, for the rest of us, the work continues.”

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Drama’s new belle époque

French producers Odile McDonald and Valérie Pechels, from Wildcat Productions, discuss their country’s creative liberation in TV drama’s new ‘golden age.’

Valérie Pechels (left) and Odile McDonald of Wildcat Productions

We’ve heard a lot about how we are in the second ‘golden age’ of television. Drama production, specifically, has experienced a glorious resurgence and arguably some of the best-quality TV drama ever produced has emerged in the last five years. And when you think of the source of all this great television, the US and the UK immediately come to mind – but that is changing.

More and more, we’re seeing great dramas that have global appeal coming from Israel, Sweden, Australia and, of course, France.

We have been working in France for our entire careers and we’ve never experienced the degree of acceptance and enthusiasm to work with French producers that we see now. This is largely attributable to some of the incredible international coproduction success stories that have originated in France.

Hit series like Borgia (and The Borgias in the US) and Versailles (pictured top) were made possible by copro partners across Europe, and Canada. Companies in France that have shown a willingness to invest in ambitious projects like these have certainly helped promote French firms as serious production partners.

Another contributing factor to France’s TV drama renaissance is the evolution of the talent pool. We are increasingly seeing great screenwriters writing in English. Or, if their English isn’t strong, French-speaking writers are paired with English writers who excel in writing dialogue.

Borgia was a copro between firms from France, Italy, the Czech Republic and Germany

Lately we’ve come across some very talented writers who speak English but have never written in English, so they don’t know if they can do it. We tell them, ‘Go ahead. Run! Do it! Just try. We’ll just see how it comes.’ The worst-case scenario is that we’ll need to pair them up with someone who can help with English. We don’t want to put up any barriers to creativity.

This freedom is allowing writers to pursue some amazing stories. Whether for an international copro or a French national production, a feature or a TV series, it’s all the same: you need a great story. For us, the story drives everything. We find stories through writers and directors, and sometimes an actor tells us how they want to create a specific character. Wherever it comes from, a great story is the impetus for bringing the right talent and partners to the project.

France is fertile ground for storytellers because we have some fantastic historical novels and events that remain untapped by television producers. There is some very strong IP out there just waiting to be developed. What we love about historical drama is that it allows us to explore a moment of history. Looking back through the spectacles of today, it gives you the opportunity to understand who we are, what we are and where we are going now. We are exploring a couple of projects set in the 1930s and we think it’s interesting how such shows can shine a light on where society stands today, and the great challenges it faces when we compare it to the world as it was in that decade.

John Lithgow as Winston Churchill in The Crown

The incredible success of historical dramas like Downton Abbey, The Tudors, Vikings, The Crown, Versailles and The Borgias has created a great opportunity to raise significant budgets for ambitious storytelling. We also see historical drama as a vehicle to address bigger social issues, which is especially true in our quest to develop strong female characters. These dramas are a great way to address women’s issues through the years, examine where we are now compared to the past, appreciate the progress we’ve made and consider how we can ensure those advances don’t slip away. As two businesswomen, that’s something that has become a central focus of our development slate. The coproduction model allows us to explore ambitious subject matter.

Whether we are developing a historical or a contemporary drama, we always look for a strong story that will attract an incredible cast, but we are also always looking for strong brands. A certain level of recognition is important if you want to get financing for your project, and that also helps shows stand out in the sea of entertainment options viewers have today.

Talent is a big part of that, but if you have a strong brand and a great story to begin with, securing a great cast is not difficult. Recent examples include FX’s Feud: Bette & Joan, about the infamous bad blood between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis (starring Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon), and National Geographic’s Genius, which studies the life of Albert Einstein (played Geoffrey Rush).

History’s Vikings is going into a fifth season

Furthermore, the French production community, like others all around Europe, is thriving thanks to the proliferation of distribution channels. Having many places where you believe your project can exist and will exist gives you much more latitude as a producer.

The high level of platforms for content unleashes our confidence to develop more. Producers tend to second-guess themselves about whether the network will like a show or the audience will watch it. But, especially at the beginning of a project, you should never do that. If you think, ‘I’m not going to do that because it’s never been done,’ you are destined to do the same thing over and over again. We have to do things that have never been done before, both creatively and in terms of financial structure.

We are currently developing a sci-fi project set in the near future, which is a first for us. The fact there are more partners around the table liberates us from that pressure [of working in a new genre] and is a huge contributor to this drama renaissance we are now experiencing.

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Brits conquer the Globes

Matt Smith and Claire Foy in The Crown

A quartet of British stars have another trophy for the cabinet this morning after triumphing at the 74th Golden Globes in Hollywood last night.

Claire Foy, Tom Hiddleston, Olivia Colman and Hugh Laurie each came out victorious on a night when UK dramas The Crown and The Night Manager went head-to-head with some of the best US dramas of recent years.

With a reputation as the wild and eccentric sibling of the more straight-laced Emmys, the Globes has a reputation for bucking the trend with its winners – look no further than recent prizes for Lady Gaga (for American Horror Story: Hotel), Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Jane the Virgin.

Nevertheless, all eyes this year were on Game of Thrones – arguably coming off the back of its strongest ever season – and The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story scooping prizes across the board, as they had done at the Emmys last September.

FX’s The People vs OJ Simpson: American Crime Story

But perhaps it should come as no surprise that a ceremony presided over by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) once again took a different path and instead showered awards on international series and their stars.

Netflix’s royal epic The Crown – the SVoD firm’s first UK original – took home the biggest prize of the evening, winning Best Drama against competition from Netflix stablemate Stranger Things, HBO duo Game of Thrones and Westworld and the fall’s standout network series, This Is Us (NBC).

Claire Foy, who plays Queen Elizabeth in the Peter Morgan-penned drama, was also named Best Actress ahead of Winona Ryder (Stranger Things), Evan Rachel Wood (Westworld), Catriona Balfe (Outlander) and Keri Russell (The Americans).

In the Limited Series/TV Movie category, The People v OJ Simpson came in ahead of The Night Of, The Night Manager, American Crime and The Dresser.

The Night Manager was adapted by David Farr from John Le Carré’s novel

Sarah Paulson was also named Best Actress in a Limited Series for her portrayal of prosecutor Marcia Clark in the same show, beating competition from Felicity Huffman (American Crime), Riley Keough (The Girlfriend Experience), Charlotte Rampling (London Spy) and Kerry Washington (Confirmation).

But there was to be no repeat of The People v OJ’s dominance at the Emmys, when it also picked up trophies for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor in a Limited Series.

Instead it was UK drama The Night Manager – coproduced by the BBC and US cable channel AMC – that picked up the highest number of prizes of any TV show at the Globes. Tom Hiddleston was named Best Actor in a Limited Series/TV movie, ahead of Riz Ahmed (The Night Of), Bryan Cranston (All the Way), John Turturro (The Night Of) and Emmy winner Courtney B Vance (The People vs OJ Simpson).

Olivia Colman and Hugh Laurie completed an acting treble for The Night Manager, picking up best supporting actress and actor awards respectively for a limited series/TV movie.

The Night Of picked up several nominations but did not win any awards at the event

Goliath star Billy Bob Thornton won the other acting prize for a drama, picking up Best Actor in a Drama TV Series ahead of Mr Robot’s Rami Malek, Matthew Rhys for The Americans, Better Call Saul leading man Bob Odenkirk and Liv Schrieber (Ray Donovan).

It’s not unusual for the Golden Globes to step out of the shadow of the Emmys with some different winners. In fact, The Crown wasn’t even in contention in 2016, only debuting in November several months after the Emmys were handed out, so it could be the series to watch when those statuettes are handed out again later this year.

Yet the Globes could also be a precursor for another awards ceremony, the Bafta TV Awards, which will take place in London in May. Back on home soil, The Crown and The Night Manager are dead certs to be in the running for every major category, both on screen and behind the camera, and their success stateside is unlikely to go unnoticed.

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A global tour of 2016’s best new dramas

It would be easy to fill a 2016 review with the huge volume of excellent US scripted shows that have been pumped out this year. But for the final column of the year, we’re looking back on some of the new shows from around the world that have made their mark, be it in terms of audience, sales or critical acclaim.

Baron Noir: There were some heavyweight French TV productions this year, including Section Zero, Marseille and France/Sweden copro Midnight Sun. But the one that has secured the highest rating on IMDb is StudioCanal’s Baron Noir. A Canal+ Création Originale, Baron Noir follows French politician Philippe Rickwaert’s thirst for revenge against his political enemies. Launched to critical acclaim in France, with a second season now in development, this “French House of Cards” has been picked up internationally by SBS Australia, Amazon Prime Video in the UK and Ireland and Sony Channel in Germany. “Baron Noir is a gripping political thriller and a masterpiece of French storytelling,” said Carsten Fink, VP of German-speaking Europe at Sony Pictures Television Networks.

Cleverman: This New Zealand/Australia/US coproduction was a clever fusion of aboriginal mythology and dystopian sci-fi. Backed by funding from Screen NSW, the six-part show debuted in June 2016 on ABC Australia, achieving an audience average of around 300,000. It also aired on Sundance in the US, which joined the production during development. While Cleverman wasn’t a huge ratings hit, it did get a positive response from critics. The Boston Herald said it was “unlike any other TV miniseries you’ve seen before. The gritty Australian production uses a sci-fi backdrop to test notions of racial identity and integration with a twist of supernatural terror.” Red Arrow International has sold the show to broadcasters including BBC3 in the UK. It has also been greenlit for a second season, with Sundance again on board.

The Crown: Some would argue that Netflix’s best new series this year was Stranger Things. But the show that has undoubtedly attracted the most attention is The Crown, a US$100m dramatic exploration of Queen Elizabeth II’s early life. Written by Peter Morgan and directed by Stephen Daldry, the show has received pretty much universal acclaim and is currently sitting pretty with an IMDb score of 9. The success of The Crown has even encouraged some analysts to raise their share price targets for the SVoD platform. A second season has already been commissioned and the ambition is that the series will run for five or six seasons. For more about The Crown, see this DQ feature.

Descendants of the Sun: The most-hyped Korean drama of the year was Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo. But the series that seems to have really done the business is this love story between a special forces soldier and a female doctor. Descendants of the Sun was a major hit for KBS in Korea and then sold to more than 30 countries around the world. It was especially popular across Asia. In China, it aired simultaneously with the South Korean broadcast, achieving 2.3 billion streams on iQiyi. Its popularity in China caused concern with the country’s Ministry of Public Security, which warned viewers that “watching Korean dramas could be dangerous, and even lead to legal troubles.”

Insider (Icerde): It’s been another prolific year for Turkish drama. One of the standout shows of the year was Ay Yapim’s Insider, about two estranged brothers who end up on opposite sides of the law. The show debuted on Show TV on September 19 and proved a big ratings hit. Gaining an audience share of almost 12%, Insider beat everything except for Orphan Flowers (Kirgin Cicekler), a popular ATV series that was launched in 2015 to great acclaim. The show is distributed by Eccho Rights. For more on Turkey, read this DQ piece.

Ku’Damm 56: This UFA drama centres on a group of young women seeking to break free from stuffy social conventions in 1950s Germany. The show, which aired on ZDF, was a major hit, attracting 6.3 million viewers for its season finale (an impressive 19.6% share of the audience). The show was developed and written by Annette Hess, whose previous successes include Weissensee. It was one of the 12 new dramas featured at the Mipdrama Screenings.

Medici: Masters of Florence: This show provided an illustration of how Italian broadcasters are now flexing their muscles on the international stage. Although produced in English and distributed by a French company (Wild Bunch TV), Medici was originally commissioned by Italian public broadcaster Rai. The show, which features Dustin Hoffman, debuted well on Rai Uno, securing an audience of 7.6 million. It has now been renewed for a second season and licensed to the likes of Sky Deutschland and Netflix (US, UK, India).

The Night Manager: A huge hit for the BBC in the UK, this was a six-part adaptation of John le Carre’s novel of the same name. The limited series also aired on AMC in the US and has been sold to around 180 countries worldwide by IMG. With a cast headed by Tom Hiddlestone, Hugh Laurie and Olivia Colman, the show was indicative of a couple of key trends – first, a shift towards Anglo-American drama coproductions; and, second, a realisation that some stories are better told through the medium of TV than film. At time of writing the show is in the running for a Golden Globe, having previously picked up a couple of Primetime Emmy Awards. One of these went to talent Danish director Susanne Bier. For more on The Night Manager, see this DQ feature.

Pasión y Poder (Passion & Power): This Mexican telenovela comes from the Televisa stable. A remake of a successful 1988 telenovela, it centres on the rivalry between two families. The show aired on Televisa from Autumn 2015 through to Spring 2016, comprising 80 episodes. It also aired on Univision in the US and became the channel’s number one telenovela of 2016. The finale was especially strong, attracting 5.2 million viewers – more than rival shows on CBS, NBC and Fox. Also airing on Hulu, Passion & Power was a big winner at the 2016 TVyNovelas Awards.

Public Enemy: Nobody knew much about Belgian drama Public Enemy until this year’s MipTV. All that changed after the Zodiak Rights-distributed show won the market’s first-ever Coup De Coeur. Sarah Wright, director of acquisitions at Sky and one of the executives that selected the show, said: “We chose Public Enemy because we felt it was brave, it was strong, it was fresh, it had twists and turns. It feels like something that will travel.” After its MipTV boost, that’s exactly what happened, with the show being picked up by Sky Atlantic in the UK and Germany and TF1 in France among others. Producer François Touwaide, Entre Chien et Loup, said: “Public Enemy is the result of a great initiative launched jointly by Wallonia Brussels Federation and RTBF in 2013 to develop Belgian talent across TV series. After a significant success in Belgium we are very happy with the international response to the show and the great job done by Zodiak Rights.”

This Is Us: On the US network front, Dan Fogelman’s family drama for NBC has been one of the most talked-about new shows of 2016. The show, which is currently on a winter break, averaged 9-10 million viewers per showing across its first 10 episodes and is expected to keep up that momentum when it returns for eight more instalments on January 10. Another Golden Globe nominee, it would be a major surprise if This Is Us doesn’t get a second season. Indeed, Fogelman recently said he has four seasons’ worth of stories sketched out. A marathon of the first 10 episodes will air on USA Network on January 7 ahead of NBC’s next episode. The show has been licensed overseas to broadcasters including Channel 4 UK. Click here for the Guardian’s assessment of the first season.

Trapped: This Icelandic drama actually aired on RÚV on 27 December 2015, but it seems churlish to exclude it from the class of 2016 on that basis. Created and directed by Baltasar Kormakur, the show has subsequently aired across Scandinavia and on BBC4, France 2 and ZDF in Western Europe. Other markets to acquire the show included Australia, Poland and the US, where The Weinstein Company purchased the rights. The tense thriller is part of a second wave of Nordic noir series that has seen Iceland, Norway and Finland all become significant international players. In September 2016, RÚV Iceland announced that a second 10-episode season had been commissioned for release in late 2018.

Westworld: There’s such a lot of great US drama in the market that it’s difficult to single out just one or two shows. But HBO’s movie reboot Westworld certainly deserves a mention. With a budget of around US$100m, the show is shaping up as a potential successor to the channel’s monster hit Game of Thrones. Nominated for a Golden Globe, Westworld recently finished its first season with an average audience 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 at 2.2 million. All of which bodes well for the second season, which is likely to air in 2018.

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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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Reign ends but royalty remains

Reign dramatises the life of Mary, Queen of ScotsOn Wednesday, The CW announced that the fourth season of Reign, which debuts on February 10, will be the last. The news is no real surprise given that the show’s ratings have been pretty modest since launch. Season three averaged 970,000 per episode, which puts it at the lower end of the channel’s typical ratings. An IMDB score of 7.6 also suggests it won’t be massively missed.

For those unfamiliar with the show, Reign is a period drama that chronicles the rise of Mary, Queen of Scots in 16th century Europe. It is not overly concerned with historical accuracy and is generally viewed as a guilty pleasure. It is significant, however, in that it is part of a broad array of TV shows that have placed royalty at the heart of their stories. So this week, to mark the end of Reign, we’re looking at this sub-genre.

thecrownThe Crown Netflix is reckoned to have ploughed US$100m into this exploration of Queen Elizabeth II’s early life. Written by Peter Morgan and directed by Stephen Daldry, the show has received pretty much universal acclaim and is currently sitting pretty with an IMDb score of 9.
A second season has been commissioned and the intention is that the series will run for five or six seasons (though Morgan has not yet committed to such a lengthy run).

victoriaVictoria Vying with The Crown as the best royal series of the year is ITV’s Victoria. Written by Daisy Goodwin, the show has a similar blueprint to The Crown. Starting with the early life of the famous 19th British monarch, the show is intended to follow her through her life, with season two already commissioned.
The show did well in the UK ratings, with an average audience of seven to eight million on Sunday evenings. It has also sold well internationally, although it’s too early to tell how the global market is responding to the show. It will premiere on PBS in the US on January 15. Its IMDb score is 8.3.

tudorsThe Tudors Michael Hirst’s epic series for Showtime helped kick-start the global trade in lavish, semi-fictionalised TV series about monarchy, power, aristocracy and the like. Aired for four seasons between 2007 and 2010, episodes of the show typically attracted an audience of around 700,000-900,000 for the US cable network.
The series starts during Henry VIII’s reign but doesn’t always stick to the facts. Explaining why, Hirst said: “Showtime commissioned me to write an entertainment, a soap opera, and not history. And we wanted people to watch it.” On balance, he argued: “Any confusion created by the changes is outweighed by the interest the series may inspire in the period and its figures.”
US cable channel Ovation recently acquired all four seasons of The Tudors to accompany its investment in Versailles (below). Note: other series to have explored the Tudor period include the BBC’s excellent Wolf Hall and ITV’s 2003 miniseries Henry VIII. The Tudors achieved an IMDb score of 8.1, Wolf Hall 8.2.

versaillesVersailles Set during the reign of Louis XIV of France, this Canal+ drama rated well at home and has sold widely around the world. A second season is on its way and a third has already been commissioned, with production due to start in April 2017.
The first season rated pretty well on BBC2 in the UK and has been renewed. In the US, it aired on arts channel Ovation – which scored its highest ever ratings when it aired the first two episodes back to back (a combined total audience of 557,000).
Dubbed by one critic as the music video version of French history, the show hasn’t achieved the same critical acclaim as The Crown or Victoria, but it is praised for its high production values.

magnificent-century-kosem-10Magnificent Century Timur Savci’s sumptuous period drama was a big hit at home and also been sold into more than 40 territories. It did, however, receive some criticism from conservative elements within Turkey, who called it “disrespectful and hedonistic.”
The show, which ran for 139 episodes between 2011 and 2014, is based on the life of Ottoman Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent. It was followed by Magnificent Century: Kosem, which jumps forward four decades to tell the story of a female ruler who began her life as a slave girl. This show, also produced by Savci, has sold well internationally. Season one of Kosem aired on Star and season two on Fox.

theroyalsThe Royals E! Entertainment’s The Royals is currently into its third season with an audience in the 600,000 range. This after the show averaged one million-plus for season one and around 750,000 for season two.
The show is a novel take on the notion of royalty, since it is based around a fictional British royal family. Elizabeth Hurley plays Queen Helena, a matriarchal figure attempting to maintain the family’s public image while dealing with a range of domestic problems. One of the key plot lines sees her son, Prince Liam, unexpectedly become first in line to the throne after his older brother dies. IMDb gives the show a 7.4 rating.

mary-princessMary: The Making of a Princess The Brits aren’t the only ones with a royal family, of course. In 2015, Network Ten in Australia ran a TV movie about Mary Donaldson, a young Australian woman who married into the Danish royal family after a chance meeting at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. The show, produced by FremantleMedia, got a meagre 6.1 rating on IMDb and mixed reviews, but actually rated well with around a million viewers.
Maximilian and Marie de Bourgogne: Historical royal dramas are popular for a few reasons. One is that they are less politically sensitive than stories about current royals. Another is that it is easier to fictionalise a dead royal’s life than a living one’s. And not to be overlooked is the fact that there are more royal families to work with, since a few of them have ceased to exist.
In this lavish production, for example, the focus is on the love story between the son of Frederick III and the daughter of the Duke Of Burgundy in the 1400s. Budgeted at around €16m (US$17m), it is a coproduction between MR Film, Beta Film, ORF and ZDF.

the-queens-sisterThe Queen’s Sister As Mark Lawson observed in an article in UK newspaper The Guardian last year, TV producers tend to take a slightly deferential look at recent royals, saving the controversy for long-dead monarchs (notably Henry VIII). One slight exception to this rule is the Queen’s late sister Margaret, who is generally portrayed in the media as something of a hedonist.
In 2006, Channel 4 told her story in a biopic entitled The Queen’s Sister, with Lucy Cohu as Margaret. Critics were divided over the show, some calling it satirical, others tawdry. It secured a number of Bafta nomination and aired on BBC America. See Lawson’s article here.

powerandpassionCharles II: The Power and The Passion A good example of how historic royals are fair game, this BBC production looks at the feckless and lazy side of this 17th century British monarch, restored to the throne after the death of his father’s nemesis Oliver Cromwell.
Written by Adrian Hodges and starring Rufus Sewell, the show does make an attempt to be historically accurate, relying to some extent on Antonia Fraser’s book Charles II. The show aired in the US and was nominated for a Primetime Emmy. IMDb gives it a rating of 7.6.

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Scripted series battle to get noticed

Humans' season two debut results were disappointing compared with its first outing
Humans’ season two debut results were disappointing compared with its first outing

The producers of Humans and The Young Pope are probably a bit down in the dumps right now. The second season of the former show has just launched on Channel 4 in the UK with an estimated audience of around two million. That’s well down on season one’s average of five million-plus, despite a pretty heavyweight marketing campaign. As for The Young Pope, the much-anticipated Jude Law scripted series is reckoned to have attracted just 141,000 viewers for its debut screening on UK pay TV channel Sky Atlantic.

The most likely explanation is that there is just so much drama on TV right now that it’s impossible for viewers to keep up. In my household, Humans is on our hit list but didn’t stand a chance of being watched ahead of the penultimate episode of BBC1’s Poldark. As for The Young Pope, it’s in a queue that consists of Westworld, Victoria and The Night Of. Oh, and Humans of course…

The Night Of, an HBO crime drama starring Riz Ahmed, is another show that hasn’t been rating particularly well in the UK. Having launched on Sky Atlantic with an audience around 240,000, the latest numbers (mid-October) put it at around 160,000.

The Young Pope also achieved underwhelming ratings on Sky Atlantic
The Young Pope also achieved underwhelming ratings on Sky Atlantic

This is surprising for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because it’s a really good series – as evidenced by a strong IMDb score and a positive response from the UK’s TV critics. Secondly, because its ratings curve did the opposite in the US. After the first episode managed a mediocre 0.77 million viewers, word obviously got out that the show was good – because by episode two it was up at 1.28 million. It then continued to build throughout its run, peaking at 2.16 million for the finale. Presumably, the show is continuing to do well now that it has moved into the realm of on-demand.

This should be a cause for encouragement for the teams behind Humans and The Young Pope. Even if you don’t get good ratings on launch night, genuine quality will eventually get you noticed, even if it does take a year or two sitting in box-set land.

Riz Ahmed in The Night Of
Riz Ahmed in The Night Of

Sticking with HBO, the network will be pretty pleased with the resilience of its own robot-themed drama Westworld. In the US, the show debuted with 1.96 million and is currently at 1.49 million after five episodes. That suggests it isn’t going to turn into a Game Of Thrones-style monster hit but it’s not bad – especially when you also consider it has a 9.2 rating on the IMDb scale.

The show is also doing very well for Sky Atlantic in the UK. The opening episode attracted 1.7 million for the channel and the following two have come in around 1.2 to 1.4 million. As we’ve seen from the ratings for The Night Of and The Young Pope, that’s an excellent showing for a network that rarely gets above 500,000 viewers (Game of Thrones being the big exception). Maybe there’s a positive point here about movie reboots, at least in the context of pay TV, where they seem to do pretty well.

Westworld is doing well on HBO and Sky Atlantic
Westworld is doing well on HBO and Sky Atlantic

Another show that seems to be bedding in well is Amazon’s Goliath, a David E Kelley legal drama starring Billy Bob Thornton. Although Amazon doesn’t do audience ratings, it is reported this week as being “the top-binged first season of a US-produced Amazon original series ever over its first 10 days.” That’s a bit of a mouthful but it does suggest the show is proving popular and is a strong candidate to secure renewal.

Of course, shows like Goliath are fortunate in that they don’t get put under the microscope in the same way as Humans and The Young Pope. Likewise with Netflix’s new royal drama The Crown. At timing of writing the show has a perfect 10/10 score on IMDb and is attracting five-star ratings from media critics. Clearly it’s a good show – but for all we know, it could be getting an audience in the UK that is half the size of Sky Atlantic’s The Young Pope.

Goliath looks likely to secure a second season
Goliath looks likely to secure a second season

Back in the US, another show that is in pretty good shape is Lucifer, created by Warner Bros TV for Fox. Currently in its second season, the show has just been granted an extended second season, taking its total run from 13 to 22 episodes. Fox says the show is attracting around eight million viewers an episode when all multiplatform viewing is factored in. “Lucifer continues to deliver, with great blasts of dark humour and ambitious storytelling,” said Fox entertainment president David Madden. “The show has turned out to be a true wicked pleasure, the perfect companion to [Batman prequel series] Gotham. We couldn’t be more pleased.”

In Australia, meanwhile, there is a general sense that domestic drama is beginning to fight back against foreign imports. In the year to June 30, Screen Australia estimates that the number of hours of local TV drama rose from 518 to 561 – representing a total spend of A$376m (US$288.91m), up from A$300m.

offspring
Offspring will get a seventh season next year

One title that continues to do well is Network Ten’s Offspring, season six of which aired this summer. Although the show’s numbers dropped from 950,000 at launch to around 600,000 later in the season, that was still good enough for the network to announce that there will be a seventh season in 2017.

Finally, a plug for the C21 International Drama Awards, which take place on November 30 as part of C21’s Content London event. This week, the finalists were announced.

In the Best English-language Drama Series category, finalists are London Spy, Marcella, The A Word, The Night Manager, The Night Of, Unforgotten and War & Peace. Up for Best Non-English-Language Drama Series are Black Widows, CASE, Follow the Money, Highway Of Love, Public Enemy, Section Zero, The Writer and Trapped. And the Best Miniseries contenders are And Then There Were None, Beyond The Walls, Ku’damm 56 – Rebel with a Cause, Sotto Copertura, Roots and The Secret of Elise.

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Netflix makes solid start with ‘world drama’

Netflix is best known for its US-originated scripted series. But new funding will allow it to ramp up its investment in dramas from other parts of the world. Here we look at its efforts so far.

On Monday, Netflix announced plans to raise US$800m of debt to help finance original content. Its rationale for this is to reach a point where it has 50% original content on the platform, thus reducing its reliance on increasingly expensive rights acquisitions.

So far the streamer has made its name with US scripted originals like House of Cards, Orange is the New Black and Stranger Things. But as it builds up its subscriber base around the world, it is also investing in non-US scripted content. It’s not clear how well Netflix’s international investments have done so far – because the company doesn’t release any ratings data. But what we do know is that its international subscriber base is growing rapidly, with an additional 3.2 million non-US customers added in the third quarter of this year. So presumably some of this tranche of funding will be earmarked for more international projects.

While it’s not possible to get an accurate picture of how individual Netflix shows perform, there are a few ways of getting a rough idea of a show’s appeal – such as IMDb scores, awards, critical notices and whether it gets recommissioned. So this week we’re taking a look at Netflix’s non-US scripted commissions and trying to formulate a view on whether the company is spending wisely.

the-crown-netflixThe Crown: Produced by Left Bank Pictures for Netflix, this epic 10-part account of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II is reckoned to have cost US$100m to make. The UK-originated show doesn’t launch until November 4 so there is no IMDb score to refer to as yet – but the quality of the creative team suggests it will start strongly. Written by Peter Morgan and directed by Stephen Daldry, the story commences when the monarch is just 25, so there is scope for it to run and run if it proves popular. The success of Victoria on ITV UK, coupled with extensive sales at Mipcom last week, suggests there is an appetite for royal drama globally.

marseillesMarseille: For the French, Netflix decided to back a gritty crime drama set in the evocative south coast city. Created by Dan Franck, its appeal to the international market is bolstered by the presence of actor Gerard Depardieu. However, the first season of eight episodes, which premiered in May 2016, received a negative reaction from critics. Le Monde called it an “industrial accident,” while Canada’s Globe and Mail and the USA’s New York Times were also pretty disparaging, the latter writing it off as a clichéd copy of US cable drama. An IMDb score of 6.9 is also pretty poor – though it didn’t stop Netflix from commissioning a second season.

Between: Netflix’s first Canadian original is a six-hour survival thriller starring Jennette McCurdy (iCarly). Created by writer-director Michael McGowan, it focuses on a town afflicted by a deadly disease that kills anyone over the age of 21, leaving local teens to fend for themselves. When the government quarantines the town, a deadly power struggle ensues. The show got mixed reviews and an IMDb score of 5.9 – but was still strong enough to secure a second season, which launched in July 2016.

suburra-movieSuburra: Netflix greenlit this 10-episode organised crime series, set on the Roman coast, for Italy. The streamer describes Suburra as “a captivating story that involves politics, the Vatican, the Mafia, corruption, money laundering, drugs and prostitution.” The show, which will premiere in 2017, is from Cattleya, the producer behind hit series such as Gomorrah (IMDb score: 8.7) and Romanzo Criminale (8.6). Cattleya’s track record suggests Suburra will attract a decent Italian audience at launch. Also in the show’s favour is that it is a spin-off from a critically acclaimed movie of the same name (pictured), released last year. While Netflix’s international drama investments are primarily designed to attract subscribers in their respective domestic markets, the popularity of Gomorrah outside of Italy suggests Suburra could also generate a good audience globally.

The Rain: This week, Netflix ordered its first original series from Scandinavia, an apocalyptic thriller from FremantleMedia-owned Miso Film. Set 10 years after a virus has wiped out most of the Scandinavian population, The Rain follows two young siblings as they embark on a search for safety guided by their father’s notebook about the hazards of the new world. It will premiere in 2018. “Miso Film is extremely proud to produce the first Netflix original series in Scandinavia. We have been focusing on high-end drama series since we established the company in 2004 and collaborating with Netflix on The Rain will be a new milestone for our company,” said Peter Bose, producer and CEO at Denmark-based Miso Film. It’s obviously too early to say how well the show will do, but Miso has a good track record with shows like Acquitted, and Nordic drama invariably does well internationally.

hibanaHibana: Launched in June on Netflix Japan, Hibana is a 10-part drama that tells the story of two male stand-up comedians. Based on a best-selling novel by Naoki Matayoshi, it sees an aspiring comedian and an established talent who agrees to mentor the younger man. The show has generated a lot of acclaim outside Japan from critics who think it represents a new way forward for the country’s scripted sector. Typically, Japanese dramas don’t sell very widely overseas but the new style and tone represented by Hibana could change that, and an 8.2 rating on IMDb is encouraging. “The mentor-apprentice relationship, as well as a passion in pursuing something, is very Japanese,” Netflix Japan president Greg Peters told The Japan Times. “So it’s a great opportunity to present a story that is authentically Japanese, but relatable to a broader audience.”

Dark: Ordered earlier this year, Dark is Netflix’s first German original series. The 10-part show, to be directed by Baran bo Odar and written by Jantje Friese, is described as a family saga with a supernatural twist. It’s set in a German town where the disappearance of two children exposes the double lives and fractured relationships among four families. “Dark is an incredible German story that will appeal to a global audience,” said Erik Barmack, VP of original series at Netflix. “Bo and Jantje are creative talents that have developed great projects in both Berlin and Hollywood, and we are thrilled to be working with them on our first original series entirely authored, shot and produced in Germany.” There are no details yet on Dark’s launch, but the success of Odar/Friese’s 2014 hacker film Who Am I – No System Is Safe is likely to create a lot of buzz around the series at launch.

As yet, Netflix hasn’t announced any Korean dramas, but it won’t be long before it does. At a recent press conference in Seoul, CEO Reed Hastings said: “Korea is an optimal market for Netflix as the nation has a high level of consumption, high-speed internet and a well-established mobile infrastructure. Netflix will produce various original content with Korean creative partners.”

In Australia, Netflix faces competition from Stan, which has already had an origination hit with Wolf Creek. As yet, Netflix hasn’t greenlit an original Australian show, presumably because it can rely on US dramas to build its business there. Asked about originations by The Sydney Morning Herald in June, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos said he would like to commission an Australian show but didn’t make any specific commitments. “Australia has such a rich production infrastructure and great talent, both in front of and behind the camera. There’s no reason we would not [commission] original shows for Australia,” he said.

Over the summer, Netflix announced that it was fully localising in Turkey. As yet there have been no Turkish commissions, but the company did do a major deal with Eccho Rights for the global distribution of 450 hours of mostly Turkish drama content – including titles such as The End and Kurt Seyit & Sura. This suggests it sees Turkish drama as a growth opportunity.

Around the same time, Netflix also expanded its Poland service to include more content subtitled or dubbed in Polish. Quizzed on his plans for Poland-based production, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said there were definitely plans to back local shows. In terms of time frame, he said it is usually three years before Netflix gets to a point of producing local shows – which would mean the first Polish commission is probably due in around 2019 or 2020. Subjects would need to appeal to the global audience, with Hastings suggesting Polish history might be a good starting point.

One country that isn’t on the Netflix radar at the moment is mainland China. Hastings recently said the chance of the SVoD service entering the country “doesn’t look good,” adding: “Disney, which is very good in China, had their movie service shut down. Apple, which is very good in China, had their movie service closed down.”

Note: One factor that may speed up Netflix’s local production plans in Europe is a proposed change in European Union law that would require on-demand players like Netflix and Amazon to invest more in local original production. If approved, the rules would require them to spend around 20% of revenues on Europe-produced original content, compared to the current 1-2%.

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Royal rumble: Left Bank puts on The Crown for Netflix

Andy Harries, CEO of UK prodco Left Bank Pictures, reveals how Netflix’s forthcoming UK original The Crown has shaken up the industry.

In order to secure Left Bank Pictures’ ambitious royal family period piece The Crown, Netflix’s Ted Sarandos appears to have channelled his inner Don Corleone.

“Netflix made us an offer we couldn’t refuse,” says the production company’s CEO Andy Harries, recalling the moment he pitched the show to Sarandos in the streaming giant’s US offices.

Harries: ' The BBC and ITV shouldn't look at The Crown as part of an overall trend that will destroy their business. I don't think that's the case – it's a bit of a one-off.'
Harries: ‘ The BBC and ITV shouldn’t look at The Crown as part of an overall trend that will destroy their business. I don’t think that’s the case – it’s a bit of a one-off.’

The enormity of the offer blew the likes of the BBC and ITV out of the water, ensuring that Harries wouldn’t, as he was expecting, have to set up a US-UK coproduction to make the show, which has a budget of around £5m (US$7m) per hour.

Whether any of the UK broadcasters’ drama buyers woke up with a horse’s head on their pillow, we’ll never know. But the fact is that the money Netflix put down ensured it will be the exclusive home to The Crown in the 190-plus territories in which the service is now available.

The drama was inspired by Peter Morgan’s hit play The Audience, which Harries produced, and has been directed by Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot), so comes with some of the biggest names in UK drama attached.

Season one begins with a 25-year-old Princess Elizabeth (played by Claire Foy) in 1952 as she builds a relationship with the UK’s wartime leader Winston Churchill (Third Rock from the Sun’s John Lithgow), with each subsequent season looking at the politics, events and personal stories across a different decade of Elizabeth’s reign.

Clearly, Netflix has high hopes that the series will become the jewel that cements its position as the number-one SVoD service, spearheaded by exclusive series with huge international appeal.

“The Crown is storytelling that lives somewhere between television and cinema from Britain’s foremost chroniclers of modern politics, class and society,” says Cindy Holland, VP of original content at Netflix.

Given the global interest in the British royal family, Netflix’s interest in a series written by Morgan – the scribe behind the smash hit The Queen – was perhaps understandable.

“We were lucky because our ambitions tied in with their global ambitions. Little did we know, but they were looking for a global show to roll out around the world,” says Harries of the serendipitous nature of his company’s meeting with Netflix.

Harries describes The Crown as “the right project at the right time” and praises Netflix’s “no notes” philosophy: “They don’t directly interfere, so working with them has been a huge pleasure.”

The Crown
The Crown is Netflix’s first UK original

With the show set to become Netflix’s first UK original, the deal marked a watershed moment for the country’s TV business. But Harries can’t say it came completely out of the blue, given that he has seen a gradual shift in Left Bank’s main broadcasters since the company was founded in 2007.

Netflix, Amazon and HBO have usurped the BBC, ITV and Sky as Left Bank’s biggest customers, something that Harries says “reflects the huge growth in scripted programming and the differing systems by which scripted programming is being bought and distributed.”

The company has always produced with one eye on the States and Harries is a big advocate of having the power of a major US distributor (Sony Pictures Television took a majority stake in Left Bank in 2012) behind it during deal making.

The firm has produced Strike Back for HBO sibling network Cinemax and Sky, alongside shows such as Wallander for the BBC and feature films including The Damned United.

Deals will increasingly be done with broadcasters on the basis of windowing, believes Harries, suggesting that buying and selling in the scripted marketplace is going to become a whole lot more complicated down the line.

“You’ll do three months here, another six months there and nine months there. Although that hasn’t really started happening in the UK yet, it will,” says the former controller of drama/comedy at Granada Television.

When The Crown is finally unveiled on November 4, it’s very likely there’ll be an outcry in the UK that the series is not available on the public broadcaster, or at least a terrestrial channel, given the subject matter.

So how threatened should the BBC and ITV feel by Netflix so dramatically moving in on their patch? A bit, but not massively, answers Harries.

Left Bank was also behind Wallander, starring Kenneth Branagh
Left Bank has also been behind Wallander, starring Kenneth Branagh

“In the UK, the culture of broadcast television still has meaning. It might not in 10 years’ time, but it still does at the moment. There’s no doubt that both the BBC and ITV were extremely disappointed [not to land The Crown]. Ultimately the BBC and ITV shouldn’t look at The Crown as part of an overall trend that will destroy their business. I don’t think that’s the case – it’s a bit of a one-off.”

Nevertheless, it certainly “challenges” the two most famous British networks, who Harries admits are “still making great shows and I’ll still take great shows to them.”

ITV, at least, doesn’t appear to have held a grudge for too long, commissioning eight-part drama The Halcyon, set in a London hotel in wartime 1940, from Left Bank towards the end of last year.

Described as “Downton-esque,” The Halcyon follows the scandalous goings-on in the “most glamorous air-raid shelter in the world,” a home from home for politicians, overthrown monarchs and shady dealmakers.

“1940 was one of the most dramatic years in our island’s history. Who could have imagined that London would survive the Blitz? What was it like to be in a five-star hotel in the West End through this extraordinary period?” asks Harries.

“It’s such a compelling idea for a drama. The world of the Halcyon hotel has to carry on, through thick and thin and against all odds. The bedrooms have to be made safe, the bars have to stay open and the band has to play on. People have to sleep, eat and survive.”

The Halcyon began filming in London and surrounding areas in April this year. It is being sold internationally by Sony, and foreign buyers such as PBS in the US will likely be crossing their fingers that it could fill the Downton Abbey-shaped hole in their schedules.

However, as Harries says, there’s no such thing as a guaranteed hit when it comes to television production, particularly in such a crowded market.

“There’s a been huge boom in scripted and in people pouring money into these companies producing drama, so the expectations are high. But I’m not sure all the expectations are going to be met,” he warns. “I worry slightly that we might be on the edge of a boom-and-bust situation. I hope not. The appetite for drama is very large – but you still have to make it great.

“If you look at the figures at the moment for some of the dramas on TV, some of them aren’t doing terribly well. ITV might have Downton one week, but it could be followed by another show that simply doesn’t perform.”

Talent is key when it comes to improving your chances of survival, adds the exec, who believes the strength of the UK’s drama production industry – which consists of well over 100 different producers – shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Despite the tax breaks that have kept the industry so buoyant over the past few years, there are a number of recent developments that are restricting the ability of producers to “wheel and deal,” as Harries puts it.

“There are problems. The BBC is contracting, ITV is moving towards its own production base, which is understandable, and Sky now has its own distribution company,” Harries says.

Supporting the BBC and Channel 4 while not messing with the terms of trade is among the steps Harries says are necessary to protect the industry, which he describes as “strong and successful, but quite fragile.”

Harries says the money currently “flooding in” to the UK from the States is helping to support local producers and, historically, the UK-US coproduction model has ensured local broadcasters get bigger and sometimes better shows.

But should Netflix’s land grab for global rights become the norm then the dollars coming in could ultimately undermine the local broadcasters that have helped to establish producers such as Left Bank.

Indeed, The Crown was most likely the project the BBC’s former director of television Danny Cohen was referencing when he warned in December 2014 that the pubcaster was increasingly struggling to compete with Netflix for programme rights.

Harries may assure the likes of the BBC and ITV that the deal for The Crown was a “one-off.” But one would suspect that, deep down, they know that’s unlikely to be the case.

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Morgan and Thorne doing it write

Peter Morgan
Peter Morgan

The UK’s Royal Television Society (RTS) held its annual Programme Awards last week. Winning scripted shows included The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies (which took Best Drama Serial), No Offence (drama series), Catastrophe (scripted comedy), Coalition (single drama) and Emmerdale (soap/continuing drama).

There were also writer awards for Peter Morgan (The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies) and Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan, who write and star in Catastrophe.

Morgan overcame competition from Russell T Davies (Cucumber) and Shane Meadows and Jack Thorne (This is England ’90), with judges describing his writing as “skilful and poignant… absolutely first rate.” They called the drama “compelling and tender… it took the viewer on a deeply moving emotional journey.”

Morgan, 53 next month, is not new to TV. But until now he has been best known for a series of idiosyncratic feature films.

Having written the romcom Meet Frank, Daniel and Laurence in 1998 and TV series The Jury in 2002, his career took a decisive step forward in 2003 with a TV movie called The Deal, which told the story of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s power-sharing deal. In 2006, he wrote a superb film-length follow-up called The Queen, which explored the reaction of the political and royal establishment to the death of Princess Diana. This earned him an Academy Award nomination and a deserved Golden Globe.

The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies centres on the true story on a man wrongly implicated in a murder case
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies centres on the true story of a man wrongly implicated in a murder case

More acclaim followed with productions including The Last King of Scotland (adapted for the screen with Jeremy Brock); Frost/Nixon (play and screenplay); The Other Boleyn Girl, The Damned United, Rush and The Aftermath (the third in Morgan’s so-called Blair trilogy). And then came the RTS Award-winning Christopher Jefferies miniseries, written for UK broadcaster ITV.

Morgan, who has a brilliant knack of making the political seem personal, isn’t finished with TV. He’s currently working with Left Bank Pictures on The Crown, an epic US$100m drama for Netflix.

Based on a play by Morgan called The Audience, it tells the story of Queen Elizabeth II’s early reign. Anyone familiar with Morgan’s previous writing on the themes of power, establishment and intrigue will appreciate that he is perfectly suited to such a project – though it will be interesting to see how he copes with the much larger creative canvas offered by a 10-part TV series.

When the project was announced, he said: “The Crown is not only about the royal family but about an empire in decline, a world in disarray and the dawn of a new era. I am beyond thrilled to be reunited with partners from film, theatre and TV (director Stephen Daldry and producer Andy Harries) for this epic project and delighted to be working for the first time with Netflix.”

This Is England '90 is the final part of Jack Thorne's franchise
This Is England ’90 is likely the final part of Jack Thorne and Shane Meadows’ franchise

To date, Netflix has only ordered a first season. But it’s highly likely there will be future series of the show covering more recent stages in the Queen’s reign. So it might be a while before we see another movie or miniseries from Morgan.

As an interesting side note, Bafta has just announced its own TV awards nominations and there is no place there for Morgan’s Jefferies drama. Titles shortlisted for this event include Humans, The Last Panthers, No Offence and Wolf Hall (for Best Drama Series); Doctor Foster, The Enfield Haunting, London Spy, This Is England ’90 (miniseries); The Good Wife, Narcos, Spiral and Transparent (International Series); and The C-Word, Cyberbully, Don’t Take My Baby and The Go-Between (single drama).

In the context of the Baftas, the big winner is Thorne, who is attached to The Last Panthers, This Is England ’90 and Don’t Take My Baby.

In other news this week, Sky1 has commissioned a second season of Stan Lee’s Lucky Man, which is produced by Carnival Films in collaboration with Lee’s POW! Entertainment. As the name suggests, Lucky Man is based on an idea by superhero icon Stan Lee. But it’s another example of the trend towards greenlighting dramas with high-profile names and then getting other people to do the actual writing job.

The third season of Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror will debut on Netflix
The third season of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror will debut on Netflix

In this case, for example, the show was written by Neil Biswas, Ben Schiffer, Rachel Anthony, James Allen, Stephen Gallagher and Alan Westaway. Biswas, who is credited on all 10 episodes of Lucky Man season one, was already known to Sky, having written an episode of Sinbad a few years ago. His other credits include The Take, Bradford Riots and In a Land of Plenty.

Elsewhere, there was further evidence this week of the superstar status now afforded to leading TV writers, with Channel 4 losing out to Netflix on the UK first-window rights to season three of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror.

Channel 4 was the first company to back Brooker’s project but a huge financial deal saw Netflix take control of an expanded version of the project for season three. Channel 4 thought it would still be given the opportunity to premiere the show in the UK, but Black Mirror producer Endemol Shine has licensed first-run rights to Netflix. This isn’t hugely surprising but C4 is not happy.

11.22.63 stars James Franco (left)
11.22.63 stars James Franco (left)

In a statement, Channel 4 chief creative officer Jay Hunt said: “Black Mirror couldn’t be a more Channel 4 show. We grew it from a dangerous idea to a brand that resonated globally. Of course, it’s disappointing that the first broadcast window in the UK is then sold to the highest bidder, ignoring the risk a publicly owned channel like 4 took backing it.”

Other projects in the news this week include Hulu series 11.22.63. Based on a book of the same name by Stephen King, the series centres on Jake Epping, a recently divorced teacher from Maine (played by James Franco) who travels back in time and has an opportunity to prevent the assassination of US president John F Kennedy (though things don’t quite go as planned). The show is executive produced by JJ Abrams, Stephen King and Bridget Carpenter, who has also taken a lead role in its writing.

This week, 11.22.63 was picked up by Canal+ in France, having previously been licensed for use by Fox Networks Europe. The show currently has an 8.8 rating on IMDb, which marks it out as a strong performer.

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