Tag Archives: The Secret Daughter.

Networks seek feel-good dramas

Call the Midwife
Call the Midwife has been given three more eight-episode seasons

One of the UK’s most popular dramas, Call the Midwife, has been renewed for three more seasons. The feel-good show, created by Neal Street Productions for BBC1, launched in 2012 and has so far run for five seasons. The new commission means three more lots of eight episodes as well as the bonus of three Christmas specials.

Commenting on the BBC’s  heavyweight backing for the show, which reflects a trend in TV towards multi-series commissions, Charlotte Moore, director of BBC Content, said: “I’m privileged to have Britain’s most popular drama series on BBC1, and this new three-series commission underlines our commitment. Call the Midwife continues to raise the bar with each series and is really valued by audiences. The quality and ambition of the storytelling is credit to the excellence of writer Heidi Thomas, who has brought the show into the 1960s with a diverse range of subjects.”

To date, the show has attracted an average of around 10 million viewers per episode each season. So far it has been rooted in the 1950s but will now tackle the social upheaval of the 1960s.

Heidi Thomas, creator, writer and executive producer of the show, said: “In the 1960s Britain was a country fizzing with change and challenge, and there is so much rich material – medical, social and emotional – to be explored. We have now delivered well over 100 babies on screen and, like those babies, the stories keep on coming!”

Interestingly, the recommission comes at a time when more and more executives in the industry are calling for entertaining, feel-good dramas. ITV director of TV Kevin Lygo recently told the audience at a Bafta event in the UK that he wanted to see more “happy, life-affirming dramas,” adding: “I’m a bit tired of endless murders where in the first five minutes someone, always a woman or a child, is abducted, raped, knifed, killed or bludgeoned.”

The Durrells
The Durrells – a ‘positive, happy’ show

Networks that have invested in feel-good shows have generally secured strong ratings. ITV, for example, enjoyed success with The Durrells, which Lygo said “was a positive thing, a happy, well-made, brilliantly performed show – perfect for Sunday evening.”

His network has recommissioned The Durrells and is also about to launch another feel-good show called The Good Karma Hospital. Produced by Tiger Aspect, the programme is set in a coastal town in tropical South India. It follows the story of a British-Asian junior doctor who arrives at the run-down Good Karma Hospital to join a dedicated team of over-worked medics.

The feel-good factor is also producing some positive results in the US this season. The best example of this is NBC’s comedy drama This Is Us, which launched this year. Eight episodes in, the show is attracting a rock-solid 9-9.5 million viewers and is generally regarded as one of the best new dramas of the year.

Younger
Younger was recently given a fourth run on TV Land

It’s too soon to call this a trend but there are a few other shows that suggest the US audience is receptive to shows that put a positive spin on life’s challenges. In the comedy arena, we’ve seen breakout hits like Modern Family, The Goldbergs (both ABC) and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix), while in drama there have been successes like The CW’s Jane the Virgin and TV Land’s Younger. The latter show, which was recently renewed for a fourth season, is the channel’s top performer with an audience in the 500,000 to 600,000 range.

Around the world, the emphasis still tends to be on crime series, with France and Italy in particular making their mark with hard-boiled series such as Spiral and Gomorrah respectively, to name a couple.

Indeed, The Economist went as far as calling Italian political drama “the new Nordic Noir.” But there is a decent array of international shows that can be categorised as feel-good, inspirational or life-affirming.

Ku'Damm 56
Ku’Damm 56 airs on ZDF in Germany

Keshet’s Yellow Peppers was a big hit in Israel before being adapted successfully as The A Word for the BBC in the UK, while UFA’s Ku’Damm 56 has been one of the breakout shows of the last year for ZDF in Germany.

Even the gloomy Nordics have series like Rita and The Legacy in among their crime noir shows. One of the region’s recent hits is Next Summer, a comedy drama that satirises the idea of the idyllic, cosy family summer holiday at a getaway. A hit for TV Norge/Discovery in Norway, Next Summer is now up to three seasons and is being remade for Kanal5/Discovery is Sweden. (There has also been talk of a Fox remake coming to the US market).

Australia’s contribution to the feel-good revolution is Seven Network’s The Secret Daughter, a musical show that stars former Australian Idol contestant Jessica Mauboy as a part-time indigenous pub singer whose life changes forever when she meets a wealthy city hotelier. Produced by Screentime, the 10-episode first season started in October and received some positive notices from the press at launch. Now six episodes in, it’s posting a respectable one million viewers per episode (with consolidated viewing included) and has been renewed for 2017.

Next Summer
Norwegian feel-good series Next Summer

The Koreans also manage to make space for some upbeat shows – the best recent example being KBS2’s Oh My Venus. In this series, a Korean personal trainer working in Hollywood returns home after a scandal involving an American actress. Back on Korean soil, he becomes emotionally involved with a former teen star who is now an out of shape 33-year-old lawyer – cue romance.

There’s a similar ‘coming home’ vibe to Fox Turkey’s In Love Again (Ask Yeniden). In this case, two young people go to the US (separately) to start new lives, but the American Dream turns sour for both of them. They meet on the plane home and, embarrassed to admit the truth to their families, pretend to be married. Fox has also enjoyed success with Cherry Season, which focuses on the tangled lives and loves of a fashion designer and her friend.

Oh My Venus
Oh My Venus centres on a personal trainer

In the world of telenovelas, there has always been a steady flow of upbeat or uplifting shows such as Ugly Betty, The Successful Pells, Rebelde Way and the original Jane the Virgin. One title about to hit the market is Telemundo’s La Fan, which tells the story of a happy-go-lucky woman from a poor background who is a passionate fan of a famous telenovela actor. One day, a twist of fate brings the two of them together. At first, he hardly notices her, but before long he can’t imagine his life without her.

The big challenge with feel-good drama is making sure it doesn’t skew too heavily towards the female audience, with most of the shows in this area relying on strong female leads. However, many of the above examples have proved it is possible to create a cross-gender, cross-generational hit with the right story.

tagged in: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Songs and secrets: On location with The Secret Daughter

An Australian drama is breaking new ground with its cast and musical influences. DQ visits the set of The Secret Daughter.

Screentime CEO Rory Callaghan was watching House of Hancock, a miniseries about the troubled family dynasty of the late Australian mining magnate Lang Hancock, last year when he had an inspired idea for a TV drama.

Callaghan was impressed by scenes in the Nine Network drama that showed Hancock (Sam Neill) with Hilda Kickett (Leah Purcell), an Aboriginal woman who, in 2012, alleged DNA tests proved Hancock was her father, the result of an affair with a cook.

Wondering what might have happened to a woman like that, Callaghan came up with the idea of a series about an Aboriginal pub singer called Billie who claims to be the secret daughter of a wealthy publican. He had only one person in mind for the lead: Jessica Mauboy (pictured above), the singer-songwriter and actor who first came to fame as the runner-up in Australian Idol in 2006.

Darwin-born Mauboy had already proved her acting chops in Rachel Perkins’ 2009 feature Bran Nue Dae when she became part of the ensemble cast of The Sapphires, Wayne Blair’s 2012 movie based on Tony Briggs’ play about four young Indigenous singers who entertained the US troops in Vietnam.

Director Leah-Purcell-and-Jessica-Mauboy
Director Leah Purcell with star Jessica Mauboy

Callaghan met with Mauboy and her agent David Champion, she responded enthusiastically and, after months of script development, the Seven Network commissioned The Secret Daughter. The ground-breaking series is the first to feature an Indigenous actress in the lead and the first in Australia to weave the musical elements – a mix of original songs and covers – into the narrative.

“I loved the character, the riskiness, the danger, the mystery of it. That’s what attracted me. It was an exciting and bold script,” says Mauboy. “Billie is bold, she’s open-minded, has a kind heart and puts others before herself.”

It took Screentime executives some months to secure Seven’s support and to arrange financing from Screen Australia and state agency Screen NSW. Screentime parent Banijay put up a distribution advance for the international sales rights and the producers used the 20% producer tax offset.

Seven head of drama Julie McGauran says: “It all starts with story, and the original pitch felt fresh and different. Then you add Jessica Mauboy to the mix, so the big attraction was the combination of story and her incredible talent. Like every Seven drama, we had to ensure The Secret Daughter ticked all the boxes – broad appeal, good humour and a fantastic ensemble cast led by Jessica, David Field and Colin Friels. It’s a heartfelt and joyful drama full of warmth, humour and music.”

The timing was propitious because Mauboy was lined up to feature in the network’s coverage of the 2016 Rio Olympics, which in turn served as a launch pad for the series. It debuts on Wednesday, October 3.

Screentime head of drama Greg Haddrick, also the script producer and one of the show’s writers, says: “The network is committing millions of dollars and you have to prove your credentials before they are willing to commit those funds. This was stylistically new ground. On the one hand, it is bold and exciting; on the other, it was a little scary. We had to show enough evolution of the idea to prove that it would be fresh and new and exciting. The network came on board after reading the scripts of the first four episodes.”

From left: Matt Levett, Rachel Gordon, Jordan Hare, Jared Turner and Jessica Mauboy
From left: Matt Levett, Rachel Gordon, Jordan Hare, Jared Turner and Jessica Mauboy

According to a recent Screen Australia report, the average production budget across 16 Australian TV dramas produced in the past four years – including Cleverman, The Code, The Principal, Rake, Top of the Lake, Deadline Gallipoli, INXS: Never Tear Us Apart, The Slap, Secrets & Lies and seasons one and two of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries – was A$1.4m (US$1.05m) per hour. The federal agency contributes up to 40% of budgets, of which A$500,000 is a grant.

McGauran, drama consultant John Holmes and network script executive Louise Bowes worked closely with the producers on development, casting and scripts, and gave regular feedback on the rushes.

Mauboy plays Billie Carter, a part-time country pub singer who spends much of her time looking after her father Gus (David Field), who can’t stay out of trouble. Colin Friels plays Jack Norton, a self-made millionaire publican who is stricken with cancer and goes to Billie’s town to look for his long-lost daughter, born from an affair 26 years ago.

Billie and Jack spend one night talking under the stars, telling each other their dreams and regrets. The next morning Jack dies in a helicopter crash. His youngest son Jamie (Matt Levett) turns up, meets Billie and there is an instantaneous mutual attraction. That gets complicated when Jamie starts to believe Billie may be the daughter his dad was looking for.

To save Gus from town crook Bruno (Salvatore Coco), Billie poses as the secret daughter and drives to Sydney with Jamie. Rachel Gordon plays Susan, the ambitious, ruthless and younger wife of Jack Norton, and Bonnie Sveen is Billie’s best friend Layla.

At the outset, Callaghan and Haddrick spent several days brainstorming with multiple writers, including Justin Monjo, to flesh out the characters and main plot points. Subsequently Monjo wrote the first two episodes, Haddrick wrote two and Keith Thompson and Bowes each penned one.

“We chose writers who Rory or I had worked with and who we felt would suit the show,” explains Haddrick, speaking on the multi-level set in a converted north Sydney office building. “Yes, it’s a relationship show, but it’s operating in more traditional areas than standard, middle-class relationship shows. There is a lot of class imbalance, there is the music element and we weave the music into the drama in a fresh way. It took a few months to work through all that.

“We have the characters in Billie’s band to begin with, so you see the band playing some covers. You then see her in her normal life but, rather than break into a song like characters do in a musical, she often picks up on what is around her, phrases people say, sounds she hears in the street or from the pub. Before you know it, she is singing a few lines. Sometimes the emotional situation she finds herself in either sparks a memory of a song that was playing at a similar time earlier in her life, or it goes to a cover song, which actually informs the moment her character is thinking about. Her life is music, so that is the way she processes her emotions.”

The directors are Leah Purcell (lead director), Geoff Bennett and Paul Moloney. “The challenge for the directors is to keep an essentially dramatic storyline set up around loss and sorrow, but to maintain a sense of lightness and fun. It is a very delicate balancing act,” adds Haddrick.

The song-selection process entailed close collaboration between Mauboy, music producer Louis Schoorl – a Dutch-born songwriter, composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist – Mauboy’s record label Sony Music, Screentime and Seven. Schoorl first worked with Mauboy when he co-wrote the song Gotcha with her and Ilan Kidron from Irish/Australian group The Potbelleez for The Sapphires soundtrack.

Most of the initial ideas for the songs came from the show’s creators and writers, the production team at Screentime, Mauboy, Sony Music and Seven. These suggestions were then evaluated and chosen by the network, Mauboy, Schoorl and Sony Music. There were at least two options for each scene because the cover songs had to be approved by the original songwriters and their publishers.

Using songs to drive the narrative differentiates The Secret Daughter from recent Australian music-based dramas such as Shine Australia’s Peter Allen: Not the Boy Next Door and the same prodco’s INXS: Never Tear Us Apart, both for the Seven Network.

“Jess is such a joy to work with,” says Schoorl. “The second she walks in the door you get a smile on your face from her brilliant energy. She’s motivated, hardworking, generous, fun and super talented. These sessions are always different; sometimes we start jamming on some beats I made, or sit behind the piano. Other times we listen to music that inspires us. Sometimes she walks in with a melody idea or a lyrical concept. We’ve done sessions with just the two of us, and we’ve worked on many with other co-writers involved. Either way we will find our way through many changes and unused ideas to a coherent song.”

The three original songs featured are Risk It, co-written by songwriting/production duo DNA; Closer, a collaboration between Emma Birdsall and Schoorl; and Home to Me (Mauboy, Birdsall and Schoorl).

Among more than a dozen covers performed by Mauboy are Rihanna’s Diamonds, Ed Sheeran’s Photograph, The Clash’s Should I Stay or Should I Go and I Fought the Law, Soft Cell’s Tainted Love, Roxette’s It Must Have Been Love and Aussie artist Cold Chisel’s Flame Trees. Sony Music Enterprises Australia will release an album of music featured on the series.

While most of the music was pre-recorded, other songs were filmed live on set. “(Mauboy’s) voice and rhythm are so good that it works perfectly,” producer Karl Zwicky says. “Finding the time for her to write and record the music as well as being in nearly every scene is a stretch. Most actors would not dream of stretching themselves like this. It’s great working with Jess because she is so warm and giving.”

Asked about the importance of ensuring Australian dramas have international appeal, Zwicky says: “It is not the first thing we think about but it is going to look distinctive. Jess is a star. Having a lead actor who is Indigenous in a mainstream show on a commercial network is a new thing.”

Mauboy greatly enjoyed the experience of working in her first TV series, observing: “I learned so much from the directors, writers and the DOP. It excited me to do more television in the future.”

The network and producers are hopeful the show will resonate strongly enough to warrant a second season. McGauran says: “When we go into production on any show, it’s our job to do everything we can to ensure the audience will want another series.”

Piano
The show’s creators and writers were behind many of the initial song ideas

Haddrick concurs: “It’s designed to be a returning series. We hope that as the network sees completed episodes coming through, it will commit to script development for another series.”

Since Callaghan took the helm of Screentime last year after co-founder Bob Campbell was elevated to executive chairman, the former Shine Australia and Endemol Southern Star executive is increasing the focus on drama, hiring former Shine and Endemol colleague Kerrie Mainwaring as head of scripted production.

The firm coproduced the Wolf Creek TV series with Emu Creek Pictures, the production company from Greg McLean, who created the horror movies on which the show is based. Commissioned by Australian streaming service Stan, Wolf Creek stars John Jarratt (also the antagonist in the films) and Lucy Fry (11.22.63, Vampire Academy). It attracted a cumulative audience of more than 500,000, putting it among the most watched shows on the platform, which is co-owned by Nine Entertainment and Fairfax Media. The show has been acquired by Fox in the UK and Pop TV in the US. Meanwhile, the third season of Screentime’s Janet King, a legal drama starring Marta Dusseldorp, is in production for pubcaster ABC.

Callaghan says: “Dramas need to pass the truth test. If you have two or three unbelievable things happening, viewers just give up. That’s one of the reasons fantasy does not work here. We like our drama to be very real. Jessica liked the idea that it was going to be real and she had to play a character that had done some dodgy things in the past but was fundamentally honest and a good person. She went into it with gusto, spending hours and hours practicing, and the result is a really good, assured piece from a young, confident woman.”

Screentime parent Banijay merged with Zodiak Media earlier this year and the enlarged group has more expertise in producing and selling drama, which Callaghan sees as a plus for Screentime.

Zodiak Rights CEO Tim Mutimer and head of scripted Caroline Torrance are “extremely excited about the show; they have nothing like this,” Callaghan says. “The Secret Daughter has romance, humour, open skies and wide spaces. The day after this goes out in Australia, it will have a big (ratings) number beside it and the international buyers will have a look at it.”

tagged in: , , , , , ,

TV drama faces dilemma down under

ABC miniseries success The Secret River
ABC miniseries success The Secret River

Each year, Screen Australia releases a detailed report that analyses feature film and TV production levels in Australia. Entitled Drama Report, the 2014/15 edition came out last week.

When all elements are combined, the market is in pretty good shape. Total expenditure for the year in question was A$837m (US$597m), down just 1% on the previous year’s record high, and there is a positive trend in terms of inward investment.

All told, 16 foreign projects came to the country in 2014/15, generating a record expenditure of A$418m. These included the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie, underlining the fact that the country can be relied on to deliver superb quality.

But the situation in domestically produced TV drama isn’t looking so good. According to Screen Australia, total spend on TV drama in 2014/15 was down 13% year-on-year to A$299m. And the situation is worse if you strip out children’s drama, which actually saw an increase last year.

Nine Network's hit House of Hancock was also a miniseries
Nine’s hit House of Hancock was also a miniseries

Looking specifically at adult drama titles, the decline is 19% – from A$291m to A$235m. Onscreen, this translated into 34 adult titles and 401 hours of production, compared with 40 titles and 472 hours last year and a 2012/13 peak of 40 titles and 502 hours.

The figures are a reminder that the ‘golden age of drama’ doesn’t benefit everyone in the value chain equally.

Explaining the figures, Screen Australia chief executive Graeme Mason said domestic drama is “very expensive to produce, especially when weighed against the cost of cheap American imports. With competition in subscription VoD further fragmenting audiences, government incentives to produce local content will be more important than ever.”

An additional problem for Australian TV producers is that the “cheap American imports” referred to by Mason actually rate pretty well down under. One of the key consequences of this is that domestic broadcasters tend to look abroad for longer-running series and ask the local production community to focus more on miniseries and shorter runs.

Glitch has been renewed by ABC
Glitch has been renewed by ABC

There are exceptions, of course, such as long-running soaps Home & Away and Neighbours, but it’s notable that the most popular domestic dramas of the past year have been miniseries like Catching Milat, Peter Allen: Not the Boy Next Door, House of Hancock and The Secret River.

Even Glitch, recently renewed by ABC, comes in batches of only six. All of the above are excellent shows that may earn their producers awards and acclaim, but it’s not easy to run a drama production business on the back of miniseries and serials.

The extent of the problem for Aussie producers is further underlined when you look at how reliant domestic drama funding is on public sources. According to Screen Australia, a significant share of funding comes from public broadcaster ABC, Screen Australia itself, state agencies and a refundable tax rebate known as the Producer Offset.

Goalpost Pictures and Pukeko Pictures are coproducing Cleverman
Goalpost Pictures and Pukeko Pictures are coproducing Cleverman

Commercial free-to-air networks provided only A$93m (across 21 titles) during the year in question – “the group’s lowest contribution to the slate since 2005/06.”

In other words, the health of the domestic drama business going forward will require continued goodwill from politicians.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however. The fact that Australian writers and producers have the craft and creativity to make great drama is clearly a blessing. And there are new trends emerging that may support the sector.

While the ABC, Seven and Ten Networks have been the biggest supporters of scripted production, public network SBS recently aired its first home-grown drama in two years (four-parter The Principal). Nine Network also used its Upfront presentation last week to say that it will be increasing its spend on local content significantly in the next three years.

Pay TV hit The Kettering Incident
Pay TV hit The Kettering Incident

Having recently ended an output deal with Warner Bros, it has invested some of the freed-up money in titles like Hide & Seek, an espionage thriller from Matchbox Pictures, and House of Bond, a miniseries about the colourful entrepreneur Alan Bond. Produced by Paul Bennett (House of Hancock), House of Bond is exactly the kind of project that is likely to set Nine’s ratings alight (for a day or two).

Screen Australia also cites new areas of activity that might support Aussie drama producers into the future. “Subscription TV had a very strong year with The Kettering Incident, Open Slather and A Place To Call Home. This year’s slate also featured four series made for broadcaster catch-up or subscription VoD services: Fresh Blood Pilot Season, SBS Comedy Runway, No Activity and Plank.”

Not to be overlooked either is the contribution from foreign investors, which presumably includes international distributors looking to pick up global rights to shows. Although Screen Australia’s 2014/15 figure of A$54m was down on the previous year, it’s still a potent reminder that Aussie shows have the ability to work well in a number of foreign TV markets.

Similarly, the state-supported body also picked out a trend towards international coproduction, with activity up “on last year and the five-year average.” While a lot of this is down to kids’ drama coproduction, Screen Australia said this was “the fourth consecutive year with at least one adult TV drama coproduction in the slate,” in this case Cleverman, a partnership between Goalpost Pictures in Australia and Pukeko Pictures in New Zealand.

A new season of ABC thriller The Code is on its way
A new season of ABC thriller The Code is on its way

Cleverman, which will air on ABC in 2016, is an interesting project that was launched to the international market at Mipcom last month. A six-hour sci-fi genre series, it has been picked up in the US by Sundance TV and is being distributed worldwide by Red Arrow International. If it does well, it will provide the kind of creative and business model that may help Australian producers ease the financial pressures they currently face.

In the meantime, what have Aussie viewers got to look forward to? Aside from shows like Cleverman, Hide & Seek and the next run of Glitch, Seven has just unveiled plans for Molly, Wanted and The Secret Daughter. The first two are miniseries, but the latter is a 10-parter from Screentime that will be distributed by Banijay International.

Also coming up is a new series of ABC thriller The Code, which did well at home and overseas. Ten has struggled with drama recently, with titles like Wonderland and Party Tricks failing to hold on to viewers (it announced on October 26 that Wonderland has been cancelled after three seasons). Perhaps that is why it has announced a sixth season of Offspring, its most popular drama in recent years.

Offspring was rested for a year, with some fans fearing it might never come back. But with Ten anxious for a drama hit, reviving the show clearly makes sense. As yet it’s not clear what else Ten is planning in terms of drama.

tagged in: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,