Tag Archives: The Rook

Ready to Rook

The supernatural and spy genres fuse together in The Rook, an adaptation of Daniel O’Malley’s novel about a shadowy London agency and a woman suffering total amnesia, set in a world where people have peculiar abilities. Executive producer Stephen Garrett reveals all.

With series such as Stranger Things, A Discovery of Witches and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on screen, supernatural television dramas are a hot topic. But according to executive producer Stephen Garrett, nothing in the genre is quite like forthcoming Starz show The Rook.

Pairing the paranormal with the hallmarks of the spy genre, the eight-part series tells the story of a woman who wakes up in London with no memory of who she is and no way to explain the circle of dead bodies around her. When she discovers she’s a high-ranking official in the Checquy, Britain’s secret service for people with paranormal abilities, she’ll have to navigate the dangerous and complex world of the agency to uncover who wiped her memory and why she’s a target.

Produced by Lionsgate and Liberty Global, the series will air on Starz in the US in 2019, with Liberty Global subsequently rolling it out on its channels in Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, including Virgin Media in the UK. Lionsgate is distributing worldwide.

Based on the book by Daniel O’Malley, the series has been three years in the making. US production giant Lionsgate had snared the rights to the novel and then approached Garrett (The Night Manager, Hunted) about overseeing the series, believing it made sense for a “very British story” to be led by a British producer. The story fuses one genre Garrett knows very well and another he was keen to dabble with. “Since Spooks, spy shows have been an important part of my life,” he notes. “This was a very compelling combination.”

Stephen Garrett

British playwrights Sam Holcroft and Al Muriel were brought in to adapt O’Malley’s 2012 book. At that point, they had no screen credits, but they did possess a passion for spies and the supernatural, and had both already read the novel. “We don’t really have a strong tradition of supernatural in mainstream British TV and there are not that many writers who have a track record in it or much interest, so that was an omen,” Garrett says. “I brought them to Lionsgate and thought they would be put into touch, but Lionsgate loved them too.”

Since then, The Rook has become akin to a supernatural shapeshifter, changing form and structure several times – once when the drama was initially picked up by US streamer Hulu, and then again when Lionsgate subsequently placed the show at Starz, following its buyout of the premium cable channel. Two showrunners, Lisa Zwerling (Betrayal) and Karyn Usher (Bones) were then brought in to steer the series through production, a move that coincided with the departure of original executive producer Stephanie Meyer (Twilight).

Zwerling (Betrayal, FlashForward) and Usher (Bones, Prison Break) executive producer via their Carpool Entertainment production company, alongside Garrett under his Character 7 banner.

“The series was developed for Lionsgate and Hulu, but once Starz came on board, we came through a course correction that made the show more interesting,” Garrett explains. “You can go very high concept with supernatural and the danger with that is there’s less of an emotional connection with the central characters. With Starz, that sensibility was realigned to make this feel real.”

To that end, the superpowers featured in the series do not include flying, invisibility or anything that would usually be contained in the pages of a comic book or in a Marvel movie.

“The idea is that all superpowers we see have that origin in nature and the biological world,” Garrett continues, teasing that some may be able to run extremely fast or adopt the shocking qualities of an electric eel. “When you do that, they look like you and me. They’re ordinary and vulnerable and feel like human beings; you care about them. When the central character wakes up with her memory wiped, you imagine what it’s like to be that person. It’s moving and intense.”

Olivia Munn (pictured in X-Men: Apocalypse) plays intelligence officer Monica Reed

The series stars Emma Greenwell (pictured top) as lead character Myfanwy Thomas, with the ensemble cast also including Adrian Lester (Trauma), Olivia Munn (The Newsroom) and Joely Richardson (Nip/Tuck). Munn plays Monica Reed, a bold American intelligence officer with subtle supernatural powers who becomes embroiled in the Checquy investigation into her lover’s death, while Richardson is Lady Farrier, the Checquy leader who is also Myfanwy’s mentor.

Lester is Conrad Grantchester, Farrier’s deputy, while Ronan Rafferty (Fantastic Beasts), Catherine Steadman (Downton Abbey) and Jon Fletcher (Genius) play the Gestalt siblings Robert, Eliza and twins Teddy and Alex, respectively.

With the production based at 3 Mills Studios in east London, the English capital city has also become one of the main characters in the series. Kari Skogland (The Handmaid’s Tale) directs the premiere.

“It’s recognisably London but what I like about this show and others I have done is that it’s an international eye on London,” Garrett says. “Kari knows London but she looks at it differently from the way we Londoners do. She’s reimagined London. You genuinely see it through a different lens.”

Garrett is no stranger to bringing books to the screen, having partnered with The Ink Factory on John le Carré adaptations The Night Manager and The Little Drummer Girl, which is coming to the BBC later this year. And while he concedes that the things that make a book popular are not always transferrable to the screen – meaning TV versions often have to be reimaginings rather than dedicated remakes – he says “we have kept much of” The Rook. “Some of my favourite characters are the four Gestalt siblings, who share a hive mind – four distinct individuals but they share one brain. If you make love to one of them, you make love to all of them. It’s possible you might see that acted out on screen,” he jokes.

Adrian Lester, pictured here in Trauma, also stars

“As often happens with beloved novels have been transplanted to the screen, [fans of the book will] recognise the world completely. I think they will love what we have done.”

For a supernatural series, however, it’s notable that Garrett admits to leaving a lot of his CGI budget unspent. This was a deliberate move, he says, as using in-camera effects or avoiding the need for them in the first place makes the drama “more interesting and distinctive.”

“It’s subtle,” he continues. “There’s stuff in-camera but a lot of it is to do with psychology and emotion. Hopefully it’s intelligent drama and allows viewers to join the dots. We’re not dependent on flashes and bangs. It’s a world viewers won’t have seen before.”

That’s just one of the reasons Garrett believes The Rook will stand out among the hundreds of other series that will air in the US next year, not to mention hundreds more around the world.

“If this were just a supernatural show or just a spy show, it would perhaps be fighting for a place in the world, but this fusion of very distinct genres in genuinely unusual,” the exec says. “We absolutely stand out from the crowd. In a world where we have more than 500 distinct dramas on US screens, we have got to be different. This makes it an extraordinary, exciting and challenging time to be a producer, writer or broadcaster.”

The need to stand out also means “ideas that could get you arrested five or seven years ago have suddenly become ideas that will define networks,” he adds. “I grew up with an era of TV that was essentially cop, doc and lawyer shows. If you try and make one of those now, you fall by the wayside because that’s not interesting enough on its own. Ideas that broadcasters feel will help position themselves against their rivals have got a chance of being heard.”

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Strengthening the content pipeline

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Joel SIlver is working on two drama pilots

Hollywood producer Joel Silver has been given the go-ahead to develop scripted pilots for both CBS and Fox in the US. These will be developed via a division called Silver Pictures Television, within the framework of Silver’s new first-look deal with Lionsgate TV.

The Lionsgate deal is described as a multi-year partnership, which means it will continue beyond the first two announced projects.

For CBS, Silver is developing Bathory. Set in 17th century Budapest, the show is a new take on vampire mythology following Elizabeth Bathory, a Hungarian aristocrat who was also one of history’s most notorious female serial killers. Meanwhile, the Fox project, Soar, centres on a former NBA prodigy turned criminal who becomes the basketball coach at an upmarket high school after his release from prison.

Silver is one of the best-known names in the Hollywood film business, responsible for franchises such as Lethal Weapon, The Matrix and Die Hard. But he also has a track record in TV, with credits including Veronica Mars, Moonlight and Tales From the Crypt.

Commenting on the partnership with Lionsgate TV, he said: “Lionsgate has established a reputation for creating some of the most ground-breaking and memorable television brands in the world, and I look forward to contributing a roster of big, audience-pleasing event properties to their incredible pipeline.”

Explaining the appeal of the partnership from Lionsgate TV’s perspective, chairman Kevin Beggs said: “Joel has created some of the biggest franchises of all time and established an incredible network of relationships with top writers and creative talent.”

The Silver deal isn’t the only big news coming out of Lionsgate at the moment. The TV division has also announced that it is developing a one-hour drama series called The Rook with Twilight author Stephenie Meyer.

According to Lionsgate, the series, which is being produced out of the UK, will centre on a female protagonist with extraordinary powers who is employed by a mysterious British government agency responsible for defending Britain from supernatural threats.

Elizabeth Bathory is thought to be history's most prolific female murderer
Elizabeth Bathory is thought to be history’s most prolific female murderer

The series is being developed by Lionsgate for a major British broadcaster and Hulu in the US. It’s the latest in a line of shows that US content creators are producing in Europe, presumably to access tax breaks.

In addition, Liberty Global and Discovery Communications each intend to pay US$195m to acquire 3.4% stakes in Lionsgate. As a result, Discovery CEO David Zaslav and Liberty Global president and CEO Michael Fries will join the Lionsgate board. A key consequence of this is likely to be greater collaboration between the partners in content development and production.

Zaslav said: “As with all our creative partners, we look forward to telling world-class stories with the team at Lionsgate, and strengthening Discovery’s content pipeline across our platforms around the world.”

A big scripted TV distribution story this week saw BBC Worldwide strike a deal with NBC Universal International Networks that means sci-fi series Doctor Who will appear on the Syfy channel across Latin America next year.

Until now, the show has aired on the BBC-owned networks in the region. But from 2016, Syfy will show a re-run of season eight, followed by the exclusive regional premiere of season nine. Seasons five to seven have also been confirmed to be part of the offer of the network later in the year.

“More than 50 years and eight seasons on BBC’s own networks in Latin America helped Doctor Who develop a loyal following within the region, where the series has an exceptional number of fervent fans,” said Anna Gordon, executive VP and MD of BBC Worldwide Latin America/US Hispanic. “Our partnership with Syfy reintroduces one of our company’s most acclaimed shows to Latin America and brings it closer to dedicated science-fiction and fantasy fans.”

Doctor Who is on its way to Syfy
Doctor Who is on its way to Syfy in Latin America

Klaudia Bermudez-Key, senior VP and general manager of NBCU Networks International for Latin America, added: “Syfy is known for pushing the limits of imagination, and it is undoubtedly the perfect home for the iconic Doctor Who. The series is a perfect addition to the content found on Syfy, which appeals to audiences across the region. Our viewers continuously expect a high-quality standard for all programming content, and we are delivering accordingly.”

Still in the world of distribution, European pay TV broadcaster Sky has extended its content deal with US premium cable channel HBO to cover all five of its European territories (UK, Ireland, Germany, Austria and Italy). Under the terms of the deal, which runs until 2020, Sky will have exclusive first-run rights to HBO shows such as Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger’s music industry drama Vinyl and JJ Abrams’ reboot of sci-fi classic Westworld.

Significantly, given the growing competition from subscription VoD platforms such as Netflix and Amazon, the deal will also extend Sky’s VoD rights. More box sets of hit HBO shows such as Boardwalk Empire will be available on Sky’s digital platforms for longer periods, while episodes of current series will be available on catch-up as they air on linear TV.

Commenting on the deal, HBO president of programming sales Charles Schreger said Sky has “shined a spotlight on our original programming and treated the shows as preciously as if they were their own. This ongoing relationship has been rewarding and successful to both of us and this expansion is representative of the trust and admiration we have for them as well as a belief that we can elevate each other even further.”

Seen in totality, the above stories all demonstrate how the world’s leading pay TV providers (Liberty Global, Discovery, NBCU and Sky) are seeking tighter control over premium content.

In the UK, meanwhile, commercial broadcaster ITV (which also, incidentally, is 9.9% owned by Liberty Global) has ordered a second season of critically acclaimed crime drama Unforgotten.

Unforgotten will return to ITV for a second season
Unforgotten will return to ITV for a second season

Produced by Mainstreet Pictures, the six-parter focuses on a cold-case murder enquiry after the bones of a man are discovered beneath a demolished house. Recently finished, the show attracted a respectable audience of around four to five million.

The series was created and written by Chris Lang, who said: “I am immensely excited to be writing a second season of Unforgotten and relish the challenge of introducing a brand new story, where long-buried secrets will once again be slowly brought to light.”

ITV director of drama Steve November and controller of drama Victoria Fea commissioned the new series. The executive producers are Sally Haynes, Chris Lang and Laura Mackie.

Finally, Deadline is reporting another score for Scandinavian drama. According to a report last week, Anonymous Content and Paramount are developing an English-language version of TV4 Sweden’s hit series Torpederna, to be adapted by Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting).

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