Tag Archives: The Secret

Writing shows with mass audience appeal

Peter Lenkov
Peter Lenkov

In this golden age of TV, it’s easy to fixate on the high-end limited series that dominate cable and SVoD schedules. But spare a thought for the mainstream scripted series that deliver huge ratings and ad revenues week after week for networks.

A good example is CBS crime procedural Hawaii Five-0, which is currently dominating Friday nights at 21.00 in the US with an audience of approximately 10 million, compared with the meagre 1.7 million that Fox’s The Exorcist is currently attracting – and the 500,000 that prefer to watch The CW series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

A reboot of the classic 1960s/1970s series, the new Hawaii Five-0 has performed consistently well for CBS since it launched in 2010, usually averaging around 11-12 million viewers a season. At time of writing it is up to 150 episodes, which just goes to show the immense commercial value of the franchise. Keep in mind that it has also been licensed around the world to the likes of AXN Asia, Cuatro in Spain and Rai Due in Italy. It also performs a key role in handing over a big audience to 22.00 drama Blue Bloods.

The first episode of CBS's Macgyver reboot picked up almost 11 million viewers
The first episode of CBS’s Macgyver reboot picked up almost 11 million viewers

With around 25 episodes a year, the show sucks in a lot of writing talent. All told, more than 50 scribes have been involved in writing episodes since the start. One name, however, is ever-present – Peter Lenkov. Lenkov wrote the season one pilot and still writes the first and last episodes of every new season, usually in tandem with another writer such as Eric Guggenheim or Matt Wheeler.

Canadian Lenkov’s credits prior to Hawaii Five-0 included TV series 24 and CSI: NY, plus films RIPD and Demolition Man. He’s also played a central role in the reboot of MacGyver on CBS this year. Although the show hasn’t received a good response from critics, it has rated well enough to secure a full-season order of 22 episodes. If it can keep its ratings at the 7.5-8 million mark then it stands a good chance of getting a second season.

Another writer who has reason to feel pleased with himself this week is Stuart Urban, whose four-part drama The Secret for ITV has just been named best drama at the Royal Television Society NI Programme Awards. The show, which stars James Nesbitt, tells the story of a real-life murderous pact between a dentist and his mistress. Produced by Hat Trick, it is based on Deric Henderson’s non-fiction account of the story, Let This Be Our Secret.

James Nesbitt in The Secret
James Nesbitt in The Secret

Now 58, Urban’s career dates back to Bergerac in the 1980s. He subsequently won a Bafta for An Ungentlemanly Act, his dramatisation of the first 36 hours of The Falklands War. In 1993, Urban created his own production company, Cyclops Vision, under which he produced a range of feature films and documentaries including the black-comedy movie May I Kill U?.

Still on the awards front, it has also been a good week for Anna and Joerg Winger, whose German-language series Deutschland 83 has just been named best drama at the International Emmy Awards in New York. We featured the Wingers in our focus on German writers last week.

The winner of the TV movie/miniseries category was the Kudos/BBC1 production Capital. Based on John Lanchester’s novel Capital, this three-parter was written by Peter Bowker, who has since gone on to have a hit with The A Word, a BBC drama based on an Israeli show.

Walcyr Carrasco
Walcyr Carrasco

Best telenovela went to Globo’s Hidden Truths, written by Walcyr Carrasco and directed by Mauro Mendonça Filho. The show, which aired last year, explores the fashion underworld. Carrasco has been writing telenovelas since the late 1980s. Among his more recent titles was an adaptation of the Jorge Amado novel Gabriela and 2016’s popular Eta Mundo Bom!.

This week has also seen US pay TV channel BBC America greenlight a second season of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, a series based on the books by Douglas Adams. The show has been adapted for TV by Max Landis, an American multi-hyphenate who has written several movie screenplays including Chronicle, American Ultra and Victor Frankenstein. He is also an executive producer of SyFy’s horror anthology series Channel Zero.

Landis is currently writing Bright, a supernatural cop thriller starring Will Smith that has received US$90m backing from Netflix.

Elsewhere, cable network TNT is piloting Snowpiercer, a futuristic thriller based on the 2013 film about a huge train that travels around a post-apocalyptic frozen world with the remnants of humanity on board. The TV version will be written by Josh Friedman, whose credits include Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and War of the Worlds.

Frog Stone
Frog Stone

“Snowpiercer has one of the most original concepts to hit the screen in the last decade, and it’s one that offers numerous opportunities for deeper exploration in a series format,” explained Sarah Aubrey, exec VP of original programming at TNT.

At the other end of the budgetary scale, BBC4 in the UK has ordered a bittersweet comedy about a reserved schoolteacher who agrees to go on a road trip with her mother when she learns that the latter is dying. Entitled Bucket, the show is written by Frog Stone, who will also star alongside Miriam Margolyes. Stone began writing comedy with the Footlights at Cambridge University and has honed her craft writing comedy sketches for Radio 4.

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Hornby’s Love lost on BBC1

Love, Nina is performing below the slot average on BBC1
Nick Hornby’s Love, Nina is performing below the slot average on BBC1

There can’t be many countries in the world where the TV, theatre and literary/publishing sectors are as inextricably entwined as in the UK. Illustrating this point is new BBC1 comedy drama Love, Nina, which debuted last Friday at 21.30.

Based on a best-selling memoir by Nina Stibbe, the five-part miniseries has been adapted for the screen by Highbury-based author Nick Hornby (Fever Pitch, About a Boy).

It tells the story of a young live-in nanny (Nina) who moves to North London in the 1980s to work for a literary editor with two young boys, the mother of whom is played by Hampstead resident Helena Bonham Carter. In the book, the young Nina (Faye Marsay) is exposed to literary heavyweights like Jonathan Miller, Michael Frayn and Alan Bennett – all of whom live in the vicinity or pay the house a visit.

Explaining how the project came about, Hornby said: “Nina Stibbe and I share an editor, Mary, and she sent me a proof copy of the book. I’m bound to think this, but she has good taste, so when she said it was brilliant I took a look and couldn’t quite believe how good it was.

Nick Hornby
Nick Hornby

“The first thing that attracted me was that it was funny, and there are so few books that are properly funny from beginning to end. That was the first thing I wanted to dig into, but it’s about a charming and an eccentric world as well. They’re very real people and it’s a situation you don’t come across every day.”

In terms of the writing process, Hornby added: “Nina didn’t read the scripts until I had completed the whole set. We weren’t really in touch during the writing process, although sometimes I would ask her something and she would provide the answer – factual stuff. She was a dream and she trusted us to get on with it.”

As for the challenges, he said: “I didn’t feel that there were any challenges, just opportunities. Nina glosses over comic material quickly because she is writing letters to her sister and she talks about incidents in two or three lines. Of course, you’ve got to open it out, but the characters are in there and the situations are there. Nina’s letters quite often included snatches of dialogue so it was my privilege and pleasure to be able to get to run those on. What SJ (Clarkson, the director) has done with it is incredible. It looks like a quirky indie movie. It’s visually very rich and it certainly doesn’t look like a sitcom. I can’t recall anything quite like it.”

Toby Jones in BBC1's Capital
Toby Jones in BBC1’s Capital

It’s early days, but the response to the show seems mixed. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Guardian – which is as North London as the subject matter, Hornby and Bonham-Carter – was positive: “The most important thing is that Hornby and director SJ Clarkson have captured the spirit and hilariousness of the book. It’s a joy.”

Less positive are the audience figures, which came in at around 2.6 million (compared with the four million or so that usually view BBC1 at around this time). This could be explained by the fact that the show was up against ITV’s The Secret, starring James Nesbitt. But Love, Nina also has a pretty lacklustre IMDb rating of 6.9, which suggests that those who did tune in were not that enthusiastic.

As an Arsenal fan, and someone who holidayed in Hackney during the 1970s, I have a residual affection for Hornby. But my suspicion is that the preoccupations of the North London elite are not really right for BBC1’s audience – even when viewed through the lens of a young woman newly arrived from Leicester.

The Secret stars James Nesbitt
ITV’s The Secret stars James Nesbitt

Better in ratings terms was BBC1’s Capital, which looked at contemporary South London and the issues that have arisen from rising house prices. Although this show also scored pretty poorly on IMDb, its subject matter resonated sufficiently with the wider audience to achieve an audience in the 4.5-5 million range. Love, Nina would probably have been better suited to BBC4, where we would have delighted in its eccentricity rather than scrutinised its audience.

Also in the news this week is Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, an eight-part series for BBC America that will be distributed internationally by IMG. This show, which will debut in the autumn, is based on the books by the late Douglas Adams, author of the iconic Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series.

It follows the bizarre adventures of eccentric detective Dirk Gently and his assistant Todd. Interestingly, Dirk Gently was previously adapted by BBC4 in the UK in 2010 – with Howard Overman (Misfits) as the writer and Stephen Mangan heading the cast. However, it was not renewed.

The new version is being written by Max Landis, a 31-year-old LA native whose credits include Chronicle, Victor Frankenstein and American Ultra. So we can expect a very different variation on Adams’s unique humour.

Frank Spotnitz will no longer be showrunner on The Man in the High Castle
Frank Spotnitz will no longer be showrunner on The Man in the High Castle

Meanwhile, there was a major surprise this week with the news that Europe-based showrunner Frank Spotnitz has stepped back slightly from Amazon’s alternative-history drama The Man in the High Castle. The show is currently in production on season two after completing a successful run on the platform late last year.

Spotnitz has not said much on the subject but Amazon released this statement: “Given the ambition and scope of the series, the decision has been made to locate all creative efforts on The Man in the High Castle to the west coast; Frank Spotnitz will remain as an executive producer and step back from showrunner. His responsibilities will be managed by our deep and talented bench of producers. We are enormously grateful to him for bringing our customers on one of the most watched original shows on Amazon Video and we are excited about the team’s vision for season two.”

Spotnitz has been in heavy demand as a writer recently and is currently working on the Renaissance-set Medici: Masters of Florence. Starring Dustin Hoffman as Giovanni de Medici, this eight-episode series is being sold internationally by Wild Bunch TV and featured prominently at the recent MipTV market in Cannes.

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Hat Trick’s Mark Redhead reveals his Secret for ITV

Hat Trick Productions is adding to the current trend for true crime with forthcoming ITV drama The Secret. Head of drama Mark Redhead tells Michael Pickard why this real-life story will make compelling television.

While crime remains a staple genre of television, true crime is currently flavour of the month.

Following the success of podcast Serial and factual series such as HBO’s The Jinx and Making a Murderer on Netflix, scripted dramas such as American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson are satisfying audiences’ appetite for fact-based shows.

In the UK, ITV has a long history with true-crime dramas, with series such as Mrs Biggs, Appropriate Adult and The Lost Honour of Christopher Jeffries, to name but a few recent titles.

Next up is The Secret, which stars James Nesbitt (pictured top) and Genevieve O’Reilly as Colin Howell and Hazel Buchanan, who met at their local Baptist Church in Coleraine, Northern Ireland, and embarked on a passionate and destructive affair that climaxed in a plot to kill their partners.

Mark Redhead
Mark Redhead

Produced by Hat Trick Productions, it is distributed by Hat Trick International and is one of 12 dramas being presented to international buyers at the Mip Drama Screenings in Cannes this Sunday.

The project was first championed by Nesbitt himself, who was familiar with both the case and journalist Deric Henderson, who wrote the book on which the drama is based. The story was eventually picked up by screenwriter Stuart Urban, who brought it to Hat Trick head of drama Mark Redhead.

“As soon as I saw the story, I knew it was extraordinary and took it to ITV and they greenlit it really quickly,” explains Redhead, who executive produces the three-part series.

“It’s a fantastic story but what is extraordinary about it was these people committed these terrible crimes and they got away with it – but did they? You commit a crime and the police don’t get you but you can’t escape from it because it’s inside your head. So partly it’s about the crimes but it’s also about the relationship of the two protagonists and what happens if you commit a crime together and the effect that has on your relationship.

“That’s incredibly interesting and original. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it done. It’s a bit like Macbeth or Zola’s Thérèse Raquin. But this is a contemporary true story and we have an extraordinary amount of detail about their relationship.”

The series is currently in post-production, though Redhead – whose credits include other factual dramas Murder of Stephen Lawrence and Bloody Sunday – already says he is “enormously proud” of the drama.

“Jimmy (Nesbitt) says it’s his best work ever. He’s just breathtaking in it,” he continues. “He comes from the area and connects very much with the world. He’s such a brilliantly versatile actor that he delivers all the different moods and stages of this relationship and this extraordinary man in an incredibly convincing way. We partnered him with Genevieve – she gave the best audition I have ever seen. She’s just brilliant and they’re incredibly well matched so they go toe to toe. And 99.9% of the scenes feature one of them.”

Redhead says The Secret will chime with the current trend for true-crime stories, though this time viewers will see the effect murder has not only on the families of the victims but also the killers themselves.

The Secret stars and James Nesbitt
The Secret stars and James Nesbitt Genevieve O’Reilly as Colin Howell and Hazel Buchanan

“They pay a price and I think that’s really interesting and important,” he says, adding that director Nick Murphy (Occupation) has brought a naturalistic style to the drama. “We really wanted to make it feel very truthful so there’s minimal lighting, it’s handheld – it feels incredibly real.”

Part of filming a true story is a responsibility to ensure it is retold with as much accuracy as possible, and Redhead says creatives should resist an urge to tidy up real life if the facts don’t present a rounded story or fit in a traditional structure.

“It is a story that if it weren’t true, you wouldn’t believe,” he says of the plot at the heart of The Secret. “You can only tell this story because it’s true. If you presented it to the world as a piece of fiction, people wouldn’t accept it. It’s that extraordinary. And I believe that with true stories, you embrace the mess. You stay as faithful to the facts as possible, even if it causes you headaches in terms of scripting. Audiences accept there won’t be a neatness to a true story.

“Real life isn’t tidy and things happen that are slightly incomprehensible or there are loose ends that don’t get tied up. Our approach with Stephen Lawrence and subsequently Bloody Sunday was to accept it would be messy and trust an audience would understand that and buy that.”

The Secret marks the second time Hat Trick International has distributed one of its sister production company’s dramas. The first was Doctor Thorne, the Julian Fellowes adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s novel.

Rebecca Front and Tom Hollander in Doctor Thorne
Rebecca Front and Tom Hollander in Doctor Thorne

Another three-parter, which aired on ITV this month, it starred Tom Hollander (Rev, The Night Manager) as the eponymous medic who lives with his penniless young niece Mary. When Lady Arabella Gresham (Rebecca Front) discovers her son Frank has fallen in love with Mary, she conspires to find him a rich bride in order to save her own family from its own financial ruin. Her target is wealthy American heiress Martha Dunstable, played by Alison Brie.

The series was executive produced with US producer-distributor The Weinstein Company, which helped to finance the project and was also responsible for casting US star Brie, whose credits include Mad Men and Community.

Explaining the origins of the coproduction, Redhead says: “We had a deficit. You always have a deficit. But the options and places to go in the US are many and various. There are 57 or so places to sell drama in the US and, thanks to the Downton Abbey effect, there’s a much greater willingness on the part of US broadcasters and producers to get involved with the UK, even on a show like this.

“Five years ago, nobody would have touched a period drama of this sort but, thanks to the success of Downton breaking through, there’s now an acceptance that English period drama is something valuable. (The Weinstein Company) came in and it was a decent sum, and they took the rights for American and Canada. Of course, Julian himself is a factor – people want to be in business with him because he’s so brilliant and successful.”

Doctor Thorne is a project that had been in development for many years courtesy of producers Ted Childs (Inspector Morse) and Chris Kelly (Kavanagh QC). Fellowes had also written the script on spec, and Childs and Kelly brought it to Redhead. Downton broadcaster ITV jumped at the chance to pick up Fellowes’ next project.

When deciding who to cast in the lead role, the producers sought someone in the mould of James Stewart or Tom Hanks – a great actor with star appeal. They found their man in Hollander.

“It was great to get Tom,” Redhead says. “When we were talking about casting, Julian wanted what we described as charasmatic decency – the combination of being both good but having some star appeal – which is a very rare commodity and Tom’s definitely got it. I can’t think of many actors who have it.

The Weinstein Company's involvement in Doctor Thorne led to the casting of US star Alison Brie
The Weinstein Company’s involvement in Doctor Thorne led to the casting of US star Alison Brie

“He was keen to have the opportunity to play a straight lead role. There is some comedy in it but he’s the straight guy, the hero, and I think he really appreciated that chance and he carries it really well.”

Though Doctor Thorne could return for a second season, that decision has been put on hold while Fellowes continues work on his long-awaited period drama The Gilded Age, which is expected to begin production later this year for a 2017 debut on US network NBC.

That doesn’t mean Hat Trick, best known for its entertainment and comedy shows, isn’t continuing to build its drama slate, with Redhead confident he will be in production with two or three more series during 2016.

“Drama’s an important part of the mix and (Hat Trick MD) Jimmy Mulville’s very interested in drama,” Redhead reveals. “And the border between comedy and drama is quite moveable. It’s an important element of the company. Drama is going through a boom period so our energies as a company are focused on that.

“It’s cyclical – comedy is having a relatively quiet patch, whereas a few years ago it was the new rock ’n’ roll. Maybe in an era of international coproduction, comedy, which tends to be a local thing, is possibly slightly eclipsed because it’s hard to sell. People in different countries have difference senses of humour, so in a world dominated by international coproduction, humour is not going to be the prime selling point.”

But does Redhead think the drama boom is set to continue? “There’s a tremendous hunger for stories,” he says. “I’m sure there will be consolidation in terms of the number of hours – I can’t imagine the 57 US outlets will continue as they do. There will probably be shrinkage within that market, but the demand for drama will remain. And the UK is actually pretty good at selling itself internationally. Downton Abbey has made a huge difference to the credibility of UK drama internationally.”

But with The Secret and two BBC series – The Fall and Line of Duty (seasons two and three) – set and produced in Northern Ireland with support from Northern Ireland Screen, Redhead jokes that the industry might have swap Nordic noir for the next new drama trend – Ulster noir.

“There are some really talented people there,” he says. “It’s fantastic place to work and it would be great to do stuff set there. This is a place that’s had years of suffering and yet you couldn’t find a more welcoming and amiable part of Europe. It’s always a real pleasure to go there.”

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Mip’s miniseries and serials

With MipTV imminent, miniseries and serials continue to be a major focal point for many international buyers. This week we preview a dozen of the limited-run dramas that will attract attention at the Cannes market.

American Gods is an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s iconic fantasy adventure novel by FremantleMedia North America (FMNA) for US pay TV channel Starz. It is distributed by FremantleMedia International. On the eve of Mip, FMNA began to provide details on the key cast, something that will be of interest to buyers in Cannes. They key addition is Emily Browning (Legend), who has been cast as Laura Moon. Other announced cast members include Ian McShane, Ricky Whittle, Sean Harris, Yetide Badaki and Bruce Langley. The series begins shooting next month.

Bordertown1-620x314Bordertown is a coproduction between Federation Entertainment and Fisher King Productions for Finnish public broadcaster YLE. The 11-part show follows a police investigator who moves to a Finland-Russia border town with his family for a quiet life but instead gets caught up in a serial killer case. The show is one of 12 titles to feature in the new MipDrama Screenings.

intersectionIntersection is a 13-part drama distributed by Endemol Shine International that aired on free-to-air channel Fox in Turkey and has just been renewed for a second season. Set in Istanbul, the thriller follows a love triangle involving a playboy businessman, a car designer and a beautiful woman. The three main stars – Ibrahim Çelikkol, Belçim Bilgin and Alican Yücesoy – will be in Cannes.

Ku’damm 56 – Rebel With A Cause is a three-part family drama produced by UFA Fiction for ZDF/ZDF Enterprises and written by Dorothee Schon. Set in the 1950s, it tells the story of young women of the era and their struggle for equality. (Read more about Ku’damm 56 here.)

 

Marcella-s1-1Marcella is a new drama from Cineflix Rights. Produced by Buccaneer Media for ITV and written by Hans Rosenfeldt (The Bridge), it stars Anna Friel (Limitless) as a UK detective investigating a serial murder case where the modus operandi of the killer bears a striking resemblance to an unsolved spate of killings from a decade before. The series also stars Laura Carmichael (Downton Abbey), Sinead Cusack (Jekyll & Hyde) and Harry Lloyd (Game of Thrones), among others.

Medici: Masters of Florence is an eight-part English-language Italian series about the rise of the Medici family and the Italian Renaissance, with a €24m (US$26.91m) budget. Produced by Lux Vide SPA and Big Light Productions, it features Dustin Hoffman (Rain Man) and Richard Madden (Game of Thrones) and is directed by Sergio Mimica-Gezzan. The show will be broadcast in Italy by Rai and distributed internationally by Wild Bunch TV

public-enemyPublic Enemy is a 10-hour drama from Belgium, aired domestically by RTBF and distributed by Zodiak Rights. It centres on Guy Béranger, a dangerous child murderer whose eventual release leads to an outcry from the nearby small village and the rest of the country. When a young girl subsequently disappears, the entire village is in uproar. Chloé Muller, a young inspector based in Brussels, is assigned to the investigation to protect the despised Béranger, bringing her face-to-face with the fears and secrets of the seemingly peaceful community.

rootsRoots is a reboot of the classic 1970s series and is again based on the acclaimed book by Alex Haley. Distributed by A+E International, it’s a detailed portrait of American slavery, recounting the journey of one family and their will to survive and ultimately carry on their legacy despite great hardship. Roots boasts a stellar cast and will debut on May 30 across History, A&E and Lifetime channels in the US. The series starts with the capture of Kunta Kinte in his homeland of The Gambia and follows his transportation to America where he is enslaved.

sectionzSection Zéro is an eight-part French drama that was first introduced to the international market last year. Attending MipTV as part of the new MipDrama Screenings, it is produced by EuropaCorp Television, Bad Company and Umedia for Canal+ France with StudioCanal as distributor. The show is set in 2024 and sees an elite police squad battle it out with powerful corporations and their robots. StudioCanal has called the series a mix of Fargo, The Returned and Mad Max.

The Secret is a four-hour crime drama from Hat Trick Productions in association with Northern Ireland Screen. Starring James Nesbitt (The Missing) and based on a book by Deric Henderson, it focuses on a real-life double murder. Nesbitt plays Colin Howell, a respectable dentist and pillar of the community, while Genevieve O’Reilly (The Honourable Woman) is Sunday school teacher Hazel Buchanan. Howell and Buchanan met at their local Church in Coleraine, Northern Ireland and embarked upon a passionate and destructive affair, which climaxed in an elaborate plot to kill both their partners. The show is being distributed by Hat Trick International.

Pick up the latest DQ in Cannes
Pick up the latest DQ in Cannes

Victoria is an eight-part historical drama from ITV Studios Global Entertainment. Produced by Mammoth Screen, it follows the early life of the celebrated UK monarch, who ascended the throne aged just 18. The series has already been picked up by PBS in the US and will be screened to an audience of 350 at the first-ever MipDrama Screenings on Sunday April 3.

Wolf Creek is a new psychological thriller based on the international feature film of the same name. Produced by Screentime for Stan in Australia, it focuses on a 19-year-old girl seeking revenge against the murdering psychopath who killed her parents and little brother. The six-hour series is being distributed by Zodiak Rights.

If you’re in Cannes for MipTV and want to read more about Marcella, Victoria and much, much more, pick up the spring 2016 issue of Drama Quarterly.

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