Tag Archives: The Cul De Sac

The kids (writers) are alright

MTV's Degrassi has been airing for 15 years
Degrassi has been airing for 15 years

It’s easy to dismiss kids’ and teen drama as being somehow inferior to adult drama, but the English-speaking market has produced a steady stream of shows that hit the highest standards of creativity in terms of writing, direction and production.

At the younger end of the spectrum, we’ve seen series like Nickelodeon’s iCarly, a sparkling piece of drama from the Dan Schneider stable. For older teens, there have been shows like Skins and Misfits, which beautifully encapsulate adolescent rebellion. In between there have been dozens of great shows ranging from H2O: Just Add Water to Degrassi, still going after 15 years.

The value of such shows depends on where they fall in the demographic spectrum. But basically there are two potential benefits. First, they can reach an audience that is supposedly disenchanted with longform television. This means they can then be nurtured through to adult shows. Second, the best examples encourage co-viewing between parents and kids, something broadcasters love because it’s a characteristic they can sell to advertisers.

The continued appeal of such shows is underlined by the fact that SVoD platform Netflix has just commissioned indie producer Lime Pictures (Hollyoaks) to make a 10-part series aimed at tweens. As yet untitled, the “Horse Mystery project” is a coming-of-age story about an American teenager, Zoe, and her summer of intrigue in the British countryside. It is in production in Cheshire, England, and will then move to Anglesey, Wales, later this year.

E4's Misfits
E4’s Misfits

Set on a beautiful island off the coast of Britain, the show sees 15-year-old Zoe’s life change during her stay at Bright Field Stables when she meets a horse called Raven. The show, which will be available on Netflix globally in 2017, is based on an original idea created and written by Anna McCleery and Vicki Lutas.

The big break for both McCleery and Lutas was another teen drama called The Cut, which launched in 2009. An unusual experiment, it was aired daily on the internet in five-minute chunks and then in consolidated 25-minute episodes on TV. McCleery then worked on Hollyoaks before the two were reunited for the new series.

Commenting on the show, Lime head of scripted drama Rebecca Hodgson said: “Anna and Vicki have a uniquely quirky and warm voice which lights up the characters and world of the show. We have assembled a fabulous cast and crew and our locations are gorgeous. I couldn’t be prouder.”

Below we highlight the best of the current kids/tween shows and their writers:

mad-fat-diaryMy Mad Fat Diary: Based on the book My Mad Fat Teenage Diary (non-fiction) by Rae Earl, My Mad Fat Diary is an E4 TV series that tells the bittersweet story of a troubled young girl who is trying to get her life back together after spending four months in a psychiatric hospital following her attempted suicide. Earl was also heavily involved in the writing of the series alongside Tom Bidwell (other writers included George Kay and Laura Neal). Earl was born in England but lives in Hobart, Australia, and continues to have success as an author (now of fiction). Bidwell started out on soaps and his next writing project is a new TV remake of Richard Adams’ classic novel Watership Down.

cul-de-sacThe Cul De Sac: Produced by Greenstone TV Productions, The Cul De Sac centres on a group of teens who wake to a world where the adults have disappeared and all technology has ceased to function. While most focus on their survival, others see it as an opportunity to create a new order. The New Zealand show was created by Stephen J Campbell, whose 20 years in the industry have seen him create teen dramas like Secret Agent Men and The Amazing Extraordinary Friends. Campbell has spoken of why he likes this area of programming: “Making content for young people is fantastic fun. They’re very open to new ideas and concepts – they’re always looking for the next cool thing, but they are also brutally honest. If you miss the mark, they will not hesitate to tell you. However, if you do manage to engage them, they’ll stay with you for the entire journey – or until the next cool thing comes along.”

Anne-of-Green-GablesAnne of Green Gables: Based on the classic novel by LM Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables is a two-hour Canadian production from Breakthrough Entertainment. Over the summer a deal was done that will see the production appear on PBS in the US. The new version, which stars Martin Sheen, has been directed by John Kent Harrison and based on the original script by Susan Coyne. The author’s granddaughter, Kate Macdonald Butler, served as executive producer. Coyne is a respected Canadian writer and actress, who is known as one of the co-creators and co-stars of Slings and Arrows, a TV series about a Canadian Shakespearean theatre company. She has been nominated for four Writers Guild of Canada awards, winning three. She is also a veteran of the Toronto theatre scene. Michael Kelley, senior VP of programming and business affairs at PBS, said: “The story and Anne character have become a staple of childhood innocence and inspiration. Breakthrough’s revival of this globally recognised literary story has delighted so many viewers in Canada and around the world and we are glad to secure this film for broadcast on PBS.”

noweher-boysThe Nowhere Boys: This acclaimed series (winner of an International Emmy) follows four boys who get lost in a forest and discover, when they return home, that they are in an alternate world identical to theirs except for one startling difference – they don’t exist. The show launched on ABC3 in 2013 and so far is up to season three. The original idea came from Tony Ayres, though he hasn’t written any episodes. He is, however, credited as co-writer on a feature film spin-off entitled Nowhere Boys: The Book of Shadows. All told, 11 writers have contributed to the series, though the three most prolific are Roger Monk, Craig Irvin and David Hannam. Monks’ previous credits include Dance Academy and East of Everything, while Hannam has worked on Dance Academy and cult soap Neighbours. Irvin is a new recruit to the TV business, having only written shorts like Gusto and Tethered before Nowhere Boys. Giula Sandler, credited with four episodes, has written episodes of Glitch and McLeod’s Daughters.

girlmeetworldGirl Meets World: You could pick out any US teen/tween drama from The Thundermans to The Vampire Diaries and find something positive to say about it. Disney’s Girl Meets World, which airs on ABC, is interesting because it’s a sequel to Boys Meets World, which aired from 1993 to 2000. The original series centred on Cory Matthews, including his relationship with Topanga Lawrence and their eventual marriage. Ben Savage and Danielle Fishel, who portrayed Cory and Topanga, reprise their roles in Girl Meets World, which centres on the life of the couple’s daughter, Riley Matthews. Both series were created by Michael Jacobs and April Kelly. Jacobs has written several TV series including Dinosaurs, Charles In Charge, My Two Dads and The Torkelsons. Kelly’s output is also prolific and includes iconic series such as Happy Days and Mork & Mindy. Among other credits, she wrote TV series The Pursuit of Happiness and is the author of Murder in One Take (with Marsha Lyons).

eipicEipic: This is an irreverent Irish-language drama series that is very contemporary but has echoes of past events. It centres on five rural teenagers who take over their abandoned local post office to start a musical revolution in 2016. The story is about escape, empowerment and what it means to be a teenage “hero” in contemporary rural Ireland set against the backdrop of the 1916 centenary celebrations. The series was penned by Mike O’Leary, whose credits include Ghosthunters On Icy Trails, Misfits, Doubt On Loan and Not Safe For Work.


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NZ public funding supports Kiwi voices

New Zealand isn’t the most prolific TV drama-producing nation in the world. But it does have a good skills base and some fantastic locations (Jane Campion’s exquisite Top of the Lake miniseries was shot on the island, as were high-profile movies like the Lord of the Rings trilogy).

The country also has a decent level of funding support from the government. Media funding agency NZ On Air invests around NZ$80m (US$56m) a year in local TV shows, of which NZ$36m is allocated to drama and comedy. This money is accessed by applications from broadcasters.

Under the Broadcasting Act that guides NZ On Air’s investment decisions, priority is given to drama as a way to reflect and develop New Zealand culture and identity. The goal is to produce “high-quality local drama that competes with the best international programmes” says NZ On Air, with “most funds invested in programmes to be broadcast during prime time on the mainstream channels that reach the largest audiences.”

Recent high-profile examples of shows to have secured investment are outlined below. Some have already aired, some are coming soon:

filthyrichFilthy Rich, which aired earlier this year on TVNZ’s TV2, follows three illegitimate children who each discover they have a claim to the fortune of one of New Zealand’s wealthiest men, John Truebridge. It received more than NZ$8m of funding from NZ On Air, making it one of the most expensive dramas to come out of NZ. But it didn’t get a good response from critics and saw its ratings decline steadily from a 400,000 debut to around half that total. Nevertheless, the show has just been granted a second season, with NZ On Air stumping up another NZ$6.9m. TVNZ says it is not uncommon for domestically-produced shows to take time to build and is keen to give Filthy Rich another chance. To give a flavour of the opposing viewpoints over the show, NZ Herald critic Duncan Grieve called it “a caricature of New Zealand, with heartless wealth and plucky poverty and a cynical pimp and a conniving businesswoman,” while NZ On Air said: “The brilliantly made first series had an average five-plus audience of 250,000 and a total of more than 700,000 on-demand streams across the series, meeting NZ On Air’s objective of a bold local drama engaging its audience.”

Outrageous Fortune is a comedy drama that ran on TV3 from 2005 to 2010. The popular show followed the fortunes of a criminal family that decides to go straight. In 2014, TV3 greenlit a prequel called Westside, which also proved popular. Last year NZ On Air contributed NZ$7.5m towards a second season of the show. Both series are from South Pacific Pictures, which is one of the key players in the New Zealand business. It is owned by All3Media and also makes NZ’s iconic soap Shortland Street.

brokenwoodThe Brokenwood Mysteries is now into its third season on Prime. Comprised of two-hour murder mysteries set in small town New Zealand, the latest batch of four films received NZ$4m from NZ On Air. The franchise, produced by South Pacific Pictures, debuted in 2014 on Sunday nights and attracted 200,000 viewers, a strong performance for Prime. Dubbed as New Zealand’s answer to Midsomer Murders, it continues to do good business for Prime. Brokenwood has also been sold extensively on the international market by All3Media, rating well for public broadcaster France 3.

dirty-laundryDirty Laundry secured NZ$6.8m in July 2015. The 13-hour drama for TVNZ’s TV1 is produced by Filthy Productions, the same company that made Filthy Rich. The show centres on a middle-class family whose mother is jailed for money laundering. It is written and produced by Rachel Lang, Gavin Strawhan and Steven Zanoski. A trailer was released in April 2016, but Dirty Laundry is not due to launch until later this year. The show is sure to receive the same close scrutiny as Filthy Rich.

Hillary is the story of famous mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary, based on the biography by Tom Scott. Produced by Great South Television for TV1, the six-part series received NZ$6.4m in 2014. Given the subject matter, it stands a good chance of being picked up by broadcasters around the world. The show has already been acquired by Network Ten in Australia.

Dear Murderer was given the go-ahead by NZ On Air in May 2016, when it handed a NZ$4m award to TV1. The show is a five-part series based on the life and career of the late criminal lawyer Mike Bungay. Bungay died in 1993 and his wife wrote a book about him in 1997, from which the series takes its name. The show will be produced by Screentime NZ. NZOA boss Jane Wrightson said: “Audiences will delight in the Dear Murderer story about one of the most flamboyant and outrageous men in New Zealand legal history.”

Bombshell – The Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior is a two-hour TV movie about the infamous sinking of a Greenpeace boat. It is from Screentime for TV1 and received NZ$2.8m in July 2015. TV movies based on true stories are an important part of the funding programme, with NZ On Air also backing Jean, about the NZ aviatrix Jean Batten. “Each of these is unique to New Zealand. Seeing our own stories on screen, whether they are fictional or bring our history to life, is crucial to our culture. Amid a sea of foreign content, this is New Zealand on air,” said Wrightson. Produced by Lippy Pictures, Jean secured NZ$3.2m.

The Cul De Sac is a dystopian teen drama about a world in which adults disappear. Produced by Greenstone TV for TV2, season one secured just over NZ$1m and season two was granted a further NZ$1.4m in May this year. The sci-fi themed show is a relatively new genre for NZ. Aired on Sunday nights at 18.00 from April 2016, it seems to have had a good first outing.

step_daveStep Dave is another South Pacific show. Season one received NZ$6.6m and season two got a further NZ$6.8m in 2015. It sees central character Dave, a 24-year-old Kiwi slacker, face major life changes when he falls in love with Cara, an older woman with three kids and “baggage.” In an interview with NZ On Air, series creator Kate McDermott said this about writing for Kiwis: “NZ audiences are made up of a lot of different types of people, all with diverse preferences and likes. (But) what I’ve noticed is that viewers seem to quite like spending time with down-to-earth Kiwi characters they can recognise or identify with. Humour also seems to be important. I don’t think we like to take ourselves too seriously, so even in moments of high drama, suspense, romance, danger, we always try to find room for a saccharine-cutter.” The TV2 show attracted 189,000 viewers to its finale in November and there is no decision yet on whether it will return.

Step Dave’s Kate McDermott also had this to say about the importance of local drama: “When I was little we all used to play make-believe using American accents, because that was what we heard on television. My daughters have grown up with their own accents on television five nights a week, on Shortland Street. They’ve watched Being Eve, graduated to Go Girls and are now quickly making their way through the box set of Outrageous Fortune. For this generation of young Kiwis, it is a given that they can turn on the television and hear their own voices, see their own cities and scenery and get to know characters that they can identify with. Pride in our own stories, characters, our talent, our music – that matters. And we should be proud because we are not the only ones watching – we get a lot of feedback from other countries where audiences are discovering New Zealand drama.”

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