Tag Archives: Unforgotten

Music man

Composer Michael Price reveals how he created the scores for British detective series Sherlock and Unforgotten and shares his views on the role music plays in television drama.

They may both be detective dramas, but Sherlock and Unforgotten occupy opposite ends of the crime genre spectrum. The former features Benedict Cumberbatch as the eponymous arrogant genius who uses his brilliant mind to solve seemingly impossible crimes in a dynamic series full of energy and action.

Unforgettable, meanwhile, sees Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar as a pair of investigators examining historical murders. Patient and methodical in their deductions, they must rule out several possible suspects before the killer is finally revealed.

Two different shows, two different styles – but there is one person in common. Step forward composer Michael Price, who has scored both seasons of Unforgotten and, with David Arnold, created the themes and incidental music for all four seasons (and one special) of Sherlock.

From his beginnings playing piano for contemporary dance classes, Price has established himself as a leading composer of film and television. In his mid-20s he became an assistant to fellow composer Michael Kamer (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Lethal Weapon, Die Hard), a role in which he discovered the joys of composing to film, and then spent five years as a music editor on features including the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Love Actually and Children of Men.

Michael Price has worked on music for every episode of Sherlock

As well as building his classical recording career, he subsequently scored episodes of TV series including Jekyll & Hyde (again with Arnold), but it is his work on Unforgotten and Sherlock, for which the duo won an Emmy, that stands above the rest.

The arrival of 2017 capped a hectic few months for the composer as he simultaneously scored the fourth season of Sherlock and the second season of Unforgotten, with both launching in January on BBC1 and ITV respectively, while he and his girlfriend welcomed the arrival of a daughter, Emily.

“We talk about Sherlock in seasons but, looking back at it, it’s really 13 films,” Price says. “If there was a Mission: Impossible 1 to 13, you’d think that was a lot of work, and it is! It’s quite a phenomenon really. When Emily was born, we’d recorded the second episode and I had a week without writing before getting back into the chair.

“We get a pretty free hand these days [on Sherlock] but it’s always a collaboration. Ultimately, [co-creators] Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss would have the final say but also the individual directors are very hands-on in terms of what they want for each episode. When it works well, particularly now we’ve done lots of previous episodes, you’re instinctively and honestly responding to the story.”

Comparing the two series, Price describes Sherlock as “often but not always external,” while Unforgotten is quite “internal,” by which he means there’s much more action in the BBC crime drama than the ITV series. “Incredible things do happen in Unforgotten, but at an emotional and internal level as things unfold and you discover things about people’s lives,” he explains, adding that the composer’s job is to engage viewers in what they’re seeing on screen.

Price surrounded by musical gear in his north London office

“It starts at the script stage, because then you can start to absorb the story, what you might imagine the characters to look like and the world of the show,” he continues. “Then the work starts properly when you can see a rough cut and see the energy the actors have brought to it, the pace and the grammar of the edit. Editing in film and TV has an enormous influence on the rhythm of what is actually going on, and you respond instinctively to that. So something like Sherlock, which has evolved a very distinctive visual style, almost like an externalisation of what’s inside Sherlock’s mind when he’s developing things, is fascinatingly the opposite to Unforgotten, when you never see an externalisation of what people are thinking. You have to read that on their faces and piece it together yourself.”

Price’s work on Unforgotten is complicated by the three ad breaks that make up part of the ITV drama’s hour-long running time, tasking him with bringing viewers back to the series after watching three minutes of commercials and trailers.

The waters are muddied further for composers when you begin to consider how series are now watched, on catch-up and in binges consisting of multiple episodes. “If you’re hoping people will attach to certain themes, that’s a really different prospect if it’s a week away than if they just heard it 40 minutes ago,” Price explains. “There are no hard and fast rules but as viewing figures start to change, you have to be aware of how irritating it is to hear the same music over and over again when you binge-watch versus how comforting it is when you watch it weekly – those are the scenarios we’re working with.”

Price compares the process of composing for film and TV to throwing ideas onto the screen and seeing what sticks, but there are different ways he chooses to experiment, depending on the desired outcome.

The composer is also behind the music for ITV detective drama Unforgotten

Sitting down at his piano with a pencil and paper is a method that tends to produce music that is quite dense and intricate, he explains, whereas a session improvising while watching some of the footage, particularly if it is a dialogue scene, will produce something much more sparse.

“If it’s an action scene, the pacing is absolutely crucial so I’ll start mapping it out rhythmically before I do anything else,” Price says. “I’ll get a click track going on the computer and work out a template that will play the whole scene because I know if I try to improvise it, I’ll miss the detail. It’s horses for courses, really. Sometimes it’s sonic – I’ve got a bunch of crazy old synths – so sometimes I’ll put aside a few hours to make a few weird noises and sometimes one of those weird noises will have enough character to drive a scene.”

Discussing his partnership with Arnold, Price describes the pair as songwriters in the same band, rather than two separate composers. “It feels very much like it does in a band where the first person who hears an idea from either one of us is the other one, rather than a producer or director. So we’ll bat ideas between the two of us, or take something the other person has done, change it, add to it and over the 13 episodes now for Sherlock, we genuinely have forgotten who did what.

“But it’s definitely a different experience working on Unforgotten, which is a more singularly composed personal voice. It’s interesting because Unforgotten is probably the most similar to the music I write away from film and TV as a recording artist.”

Inside Price’s north London office, more than a dozen keyboards fill the recording studio where he does most of his work. In the adjacent room, trophies and certificates are dotted around, next to a stack of DVDs bearing the names of projects he has worked on.

According to the composer, when a soundtrack does its job, it gives the audience various ’emotional permissions’ – to laugh or be scared, for example. “You’re trying to find a balance where you’re opening up areas of emotion or excitement,” he says. “If the music you’ve written for a scene is reflective of your own emotional response to it, some members of the audience can attach to that. Nobody needs to verbalise it because that’s the joyful thing about music, it’s non-verbal. We just experience it. Consequently, it opens up a whole range of expressions, and every audience member will experience that differently.”

If technological advances are placing pressure on producers and directors to create something that will look just as good on a television screen as it does in a cinema or on a mobile phone, those same challenges also exist for composers, who must navigate the various types of speakers used by viewers across different devices.

“You can watch Sherlock in the cinema or on your phone and, at every very point in between, you’re trying to make sure first and foremost that the story works, but also that all the other dramatic and emotional elements register as well,” Price explains. “David and I, particularly with Sherlock, have spent a lot of time trying to work technically and musically on how to create a really rich sound but one that still translates on your TV – and technically that is different to how it works in the cinema. With the huge speakers and sub-woofers in a cinema, you can hold low rumbling tones that disappear on your TV. People literally can’t hear anything at all. We genuinely do consider what will work well for most people.”

Price is now taking part in a new classical project, recording music in unusual places such as an Industrial Revolution-era cotton mill, with an album to follow next spring. But he promises some new TV projects are in the pipeline, as he believes soundtracks are now in a place where they can be enjoyed simply as music, rather than existing only as a television tie-in.

“More and more composers are being chosen or approached for the work they do outside film and TV. That’s one of the reasons why there’s this crossing over of credibility,” he adds. “Now some music from a TV or film score doesn’t have that sense of being lower value because hopefully there’s some genuinely beautiful music being made for films and TV. It’s a wonderful time to be making music for film and TV.”

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Making his Mark

From Line of Duty and Home Fires to Apple Tree Yard and Unforgotten, actor Mark Bonnar is never far from television screens. He discusses his career, new projects including Porridge and working on Catastrophe.

Under the skills section of his CV, Scottish actor Mark Bonnar lists an unusual talent. “I can juggle,” the 48-year-old says while making coffee and checking the baby monitor to see if his son is settling down for his nap. Bonnar is married to fellow actor Lucy Gaskell (Cutting It, Casualty) and the couple have two children.

Multi-tasking is clearly not a problem for Bonnar. He’s been quite busy lately, appearing in Channel 4’s Bafta-winning sitcom Catastrophe, psychological thriller Apple Tree Yard (pictured top) and cop show New Blood on BBC1, and ITV crime drama Unforgotten. He’s also starred in Line of Duty and Psychoville (both BBC2), plus Grantchester and Home Fires (ITV).

Mark Bonnar (left) alongside Rob Delaney in Catastrophe

Bonnar also began shooting the new season of Shetland last month and has just spent seven weeks on a new six-part season of Porridge for BBC1, written by the show’s original creators Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. The actor reprises the role of Officer Meekie from the pilot, which was screened last year, alongside Kevin Bishop as Nigel ‘Fletch’ Fletcher, grandson of Ronnie Barker’s iconic character Norman Stanley Fletcher.

“It’s a lot like the old rep routine where you make it up as you go along,” says Bonnar of filming Porridge. “Tuesday night and Wednesday we’d be rehearsing through, then doing tech for the cameras because it’s multi-camera, like the old live studio audience thing. Then we’d pre-record all the bits you can’t do in front of the audience, and then Thursday there’d usually be another light run.”

The Porridge pilot was a “terrifying experience,” he admits. “I haven’t been on stage for five years. The Old Vic was the last time. This was completely new to me and I wasn’t sure how to pitch it but I watched Kevin [Bishop] very closely and he’s a past master at this sort of thing. He started mucking around quite early on in front of the audience and they loved that.”

Coronation Street and Phoenix Nights star Ted Robbins was the warm up.

The actor portraying Officer Meekie in the new version of Porridge

“He really takes the audience through the story, because there are big gaps between the setups so they’ve got a lot to remember,” says Bonnar. “Ted’s got a gazillion jokes but also, before we start on the next scene, he’ll say, ‘Now, remember what’s just happened in the scene before?’ so they’re with us, and that’s invaluable.”

Porridge is up there with Dad’s Army as one of British TV’s national treasures and, in portraying Officer Meekie, Bonnar follows in the footsteps of the great Fulton Mackay.

The actor says the script and certain mannerisms of his character are done in tribute to Mackay. “It would be churlish to try to completely reinvent the character. The physical aspect of Meekie is the thing that probably informs the character. It’s not great naturalism. It’s heightened comedy.

“The first thing I did when I was in Fletcher’s cell was move like a flamingo or a bird of prey. The physicality informs me a lot. You kind of rely on that and work from the outside in. I haven’t gone away and thought about where he’s from or what his favourite colour is; that would be pointless. When you’re doing your lines, you stand up tall, because he is a tall character, and you move your head – it’s quite birdlike.”

When it comes to learning lines for TV drama, Bonnar has a distinctive approach. “I record the scene with gaps for my bits, that’s how I’ve always done it. If I haven’t got the time to record, I will learn the lines, but I like hearing everybody else’s words and my cues. It’s like having a rehearsal in your head every time.”

Bonnar in Jed Mercurio’s police drama Line of Duty

He recalls making his first ‘live’ recording at the age of 10. “My granddad had an old tape recorder and I went off to a room somewhere and recorded a radio show. It’s me doing all the ‘Hey, this is Mark Bonnar and welcome to my show’ rubbish, but I sang all the songs as well. There’s me singing Blondie and Ian Dury, and I thought, ‘Yes, I even had cool music taste back then.’”

Bonnar won a school prize for drama aged 12 in a show called Hooray for Hollywood. “It was a kind of a mishmash of songs and sketches. I remember donning a massive moustache for a scene from Murder in the Red Barn.”

He left school at 17 and worked for the library service and in the planning department at Edinburgh City Council, where colleagues persuaded him to pursue a career in drama. He completed a year’s National Certificate in drama at Telford College, followed by three years at Glasgow’s Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. In his final year, he won the Carlton Hobbs BBC Radio Award, which gave him a six-month stint with BBC Radio in London.

“I did 50 plays – everything from playing the orangutan killer in Murders in the Rue Morgue to the mouse in Alice in Wonderland.

“I love radio. As a listener it’s the most imaginative form because it’s all in your head. As an actor you can just really concentrate on delivering the story right into someone’s ear.”

The Scottish actor also appeared in ITV crime drama Unforgotten

Bonnar has a long list of credits including everything from Rebus, Silent Witness and Taggart to Casualty, Midsomer Murders and The Bill. He says he rarely turned down a job in the first 10 years of his career.

“You do whatever comes really. I occasionally turned stuff down because I wanted to feel like I was progressing in each job. The only power you have as an actor is to say no and yes. I think I said no a lot less in the early days because I was hungry for work; now I’m still hungry for work but there has to be something that really makes me want to do it.

“I’ve played quite a few psychotics, people who are deranged or twisted, and I enjoyed that –they were the most fun to play. But if something comes my way, there has to be a new take or slant or something about the character that appeals, that hasn’t been done before or is shown in a new way or the story is amazing.

“Apple Tree Yard was another brilliant step in a new direction because I hadn’t played somebody like him before. [Protagonist Emily’s husband] Gary is a slow-build character. He’s undemonstrative, he’s kind of in here,” Bonnar says, pointing to his chest. “There’s no ‘tits and teeth.’ People usually give me tits-and-teeth parts but it was great to play someone I haven’t done before who isn’t vindictive, who hasn’t a nasty streak. He’s just a flawed human being, as we all are.”

Catastrophe stars and writers Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan deal a lot with flawed humanity in their hit comedy, which recently aired its third series with a fourth planned.

Bonnar, who plays Chris, says it’s always “a joyous experience,” working on the show. “What [Horgan and Delaney] do is push everything to the degree where you go, ‘Oh Christ, I remember feeling like that.’ It’s so beautifully crafted, structurally but also dramatically. They’ve got an amazing talent and ability to make you cry and snort wine back into your glass at exactly the same time. The comedy and the familiarity of it, it’s perfectly human.

“There’s an atmosphere with Catastrophe of generous concentration because it’s a serious business getting it right. Rob and Sharon have said this and on set they’re quite prescriptive about what they write because what they write is brilliant and so they very rarely allow any improvisation. Now and again you can slip something in but you wouldn’t want to, it’s like gilding a lily.”

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A memorable performance

Critically acclaimed crime drama Unforgotten is back for a second season on ITV. Sanjeev Bhaskar tells DQ why starring in the series is a “pure joy.”

Sanjeev Bhaskar might be best known for comedy turns in series such as Goodness Gracious Me and The Kumars. But with the launch of the second season of crime drama Unforgotten, he’s quickly strengthening his reputation as a ‘serious’ actor.

“It’s nice to have done a returning series that’s also a primetime drama,” he tells DQ. “That’s been a pleasant surprise. I remember saying to Meera [Syal, his wife and fellow actor] before the first season went out that there will be one or two reactions about me. People will either be saying, ‘I told you he couldn’t act!’ or they’ll be saying, ‘I didn’t know he could act.’ I think, by and large, it was the second one!

“You’re always chasing work and hoping you can do the best job you can, but in a project that’s as good as it can be. So to be in something that’s really good and has been as warmly received [as Unforgotten] is the real joy. The fact it’s a drama is incredibly satisfying, but mainly because it’s good drama.”

Bhaskar alongside Unforgotten co-star Nicola Walker

Unforgotten, which returns to UK commercial network ITV tonight, reunites DCI Cassie Stuart (Nicola Walker) and DS Sunil ‘Sunny’ Khan (Bhaskar) as they must investigate another historical murder case.

The story begins with the discovery of a man’s body, perfectly preserved in a suitcase at the bottom of the River Lea in north-east London. Then as Cassie and Sunny begin the complicated task of identifying the victim, viewers are introduced to four unconnected people – a lawyer, nurse, teacher and another police officer – who are suspected to be linked to the victim in some way.

New cast members include Mark Bonnar, Rosie Cavaliero, Lorraine Ashbourne, Badria Timimi, Charlie Condou, Holly Aird, Nigel Lindsay, Peter Egan and Wendy Craig.

Written once again by Chris Lang, Unforgotten is directed by Andy Wilson and produced by Tim Bradley. Lang also executive produces with Mainstreet Pictures’ Sally Haynes and Laura Mackie.

Season two follows firmly in the footsteps of the hit first outing, which averaged around 6.5 million viewers across its six-episode run and was sold into 126 territories around the world by distributor BBC Worldwide. The plot saw Cassie and Sunny team up to uncover the truth about the murder of a boy in 1976, slowly revealing how four potential suspects – played by Trevor Eve, Ruth Sheen, Bernard Hill and Tom Courtenay – were linked to the crime.

“The reaction to the first season was just lovely,” says Bhaskar. “It’s rare to have as much of a consensus as that across both critics and social media – people really do let you know what they think of your programme in very clear terms.

“It was great, and it was lovely to have that chance to come back. Much of the team was the same as well. A lot of the reasons why that first season worked, outside of the great script and director, is the behind-the-camera team, because it’s shot really well, so to get as many of those people back who wanted to work on it is hugely flattering.”

Bhaskar describes the multiple strands of Unforgotten as four mini-dramas that all come together as part of a ‘whodunnit’ mystery – and says that structure was key to its popularity.

“Any one of those stories could have been a drama in and of itself. Particularly for me, the story Ruth Sheen and Ben Bovil have about a mixed-race relationship with a lost child and then to discover she had been a racist member of the National Front – that was like a [This is England creator] Shane Meadows-esque story waiting to happen. You could have easily done six episodes on that. So it was incredibly rich in terms of the dramas within it, and the detectives weren’t the focus of the drama.

Bhaskar rose to prominence in sketch show Goodness Gracious Me

“We were there to enable those other stories to happen and to move between them – and, in effect, to be the audience. Traditionally, the Americans have always been really strong on plot, particularly in detective shows where the plots are intricate and fast-moving. The British have always been really good at character, and that combination of Unforgotten being a whodunnit but actually a character study I thought was an interesting new take on the genre.”

Bhaskar goes on to say that the most remarkable aspect of the show for him wasn’t the gruesome details of the murder or the shocking revelations at the season’s end, but rather the ordinariness of the two detectives leading the investigation.

The actor continues: “We were empathetic and sympathetic, as opposed to us being Sherlock Holmes or being geniuses in some way. That wasn’t the point of the story. There was a point at which I was reading the first script when I forgot I was auditioning. I just thought it was really interesting – I was reading it like you would do a novel. That’s testimony to Chris’s writing.”

A major theme of season two is society’s relationship with evil, with Lang’s script questioning when a good person becomes defined as a bad person, and at what point a child stops being excused for their crimes and is labelled as evil. Bhaskar explains that the new story is likely to fuel debate and disagreement as the new plots unravel towards the season’s end.

“When I was reading the script, every 20 pages or so there would be an opinion I either agreed with or disagreed with – I’ll be really interested to see what the public think of that because I don’t think that was as pronounced in the first season,” he says. “It was interesting to read it because, like with any good piece of writing, you think, ‘Do I agree with that?’

“That notion of the relationship with evil is, does an evil or heinous act define an evil or heinous person? For some people it does. If you do something that’s really horrible and evil, then you are a horrible and evil person. But other people would say it depends on the conditions. There’s neither right or wrong really. They’re both opinions and in that way, there are moments across the series where the opinion of what you would do or think in their shoes shifts and that’s really interesting.”

The first series of Unforgotten has sold into territories around the world

It’s those moral questions that provide added tension to Cassie and Sunny’s relationship as they often reveal differences of opinion, making their partnership more challenging than in season one.

The same can’t be said for Bhaskar and Walker’s relationship off-screen, however, as the actor admits he “absolutely adores” his co-star, whose other credits include River, Last Tango in Halifax and Scott & Bailey.

He reveals: “When we did the first season, there was a point when she said to me, ‘We’re surrounded by Tom Courtenay, Gemma Jones, Bernard Hill, Trevor Eve, Ruth Sheen – this is incredible.’ And to me, she was part of them! So I’m surrounded by them and her.

“There’s a wonderful feeling when you admire somebody and you meet them and you just adore them as well for who they are as a person, so I don’t think I could love her any more than I do. The weird thing about chemistry is I can’t tell if it’s there or not. I can’t be objective about it, but a lot of people seem to think it was there and all I do know is she’s great, I adore her and we really get on. So working with her is incredibly easy.

“She is one of the most instinctive actresses I have ever seen and it’s great to be in scenes with because she absolutely owns the words in a way that doesn’t seem like she’s just remembered them off a page, and that’s because with her sense of timing, her instincts about how to play it, nuance and everything else.”

Bhaskar is now relishing the time he will be spending on the set of feature-film sequel Paddington 2, and is also working on “various writing things and ideas.”

He adds: “I would love to direct a drama, I really would love to do that. I’ve done a little bit of directing that I really enjoyed. The writing thing I would love to do as well but it’s just harder because you’re on your own. But watch this space.”

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British writers display their dark side

Today is the last day of BBC Showcase, an annual event that sees around 700 programme buyers from around the world descend on Liverpool in the UK to view and potentially acquire BBC Worldwide (BBCWW)-distributed content.

At this year’s event, BBCWW has had a lot of its success with crime drama, selling around 900 hours of programming to markets including Europe, the Middle East and Japan. It’s a reminder that the Nordic nations aren’t the only ones capable of producing compelling noir.

Paul Dempsey, president of global markets at BBCWW, commented: “British crime drama is hugely popular around the world and accounts for over 40% of our drama revenue.”

The fact that the UK does so well is a testament to the quality of TV crime writing in the country, so this week we’ll take a look at some of the talent driving the international hit machine.

luther-5Luther, which stars Idris Elba as DCI John Luther, was acquired by German public broadcaster ZDF, Star India and also by platforms in South Korea and Africa. The fourth series, which aired in the UK during December 2015, consisted of two feature-length episodes. What it lacked in volume, it made up for in ratings, with the two episodes attracting around 7.5 to eight million viewers. All 16 episodes of Luther have been written by New Zealand-based Neil Cross, who has also written episodes of Doctor Who for the BBC. Cross has also been commissioned by the BBC to write Hard Sun, a six-part apocalyptic crime drama set in contemporary London.

lynleyThe Inspector Lynley Mysteries was also picked up by ZDF for its ZDFneo channel. Originally broadcast from 2001 to 2008, the series (based on the novels by Elizabeth George) has proved a decent performer on the international market. In the US, for example, all 23 episodes have aired on PBS. Several scribes have written episodes, including Pete Jukes, Simon Block, Lizzie Mickery, Valerie Windsor, Kate Wood, Francesca Brill, Valerie Windsor, Ann-marie di Mambro, Kevin Clarke, Simon Booker, Julian Simpson, Mark Grieg and Ed Whitmore. Whitmore also wrote a large number of episodes for fellow long-running BBC crime drama Waking the Dead. His other credits include Silent Witness (which was also picked up by TV4 Sweden at Showcase), Arthur & George and Identity, an ITV production that was subsequently sold as a format to ABC in the US. Whitmore also has a couple of episodes of CSI to his name.

happy-valley-dvdHappy Valley season two, was picked up by French PayTV broadcaster Canal+ (which also acquired the fourth season of Luther). The show’s first run was a strong seller overseas and there’s no reason to suppose the new outing will fare any less well. The show is produced by Red Production Company and written by Sally Wainwright. Wainwright also created Scott & Bailey, another popular female-led crime series that has been airing since 2011 on ITV.

prey-series-2Prey is broadcast by ITV in the UK but is distributed internationally by BBCWW. The first batch of three episodes aired in 2014 and starred John Simm, while a second run of three aired in late 2015 and starred Philip Glenister. The latter has just been sold to broadcasters including NRK Norway, YLE Finland and Canal+. Prey was created by Chris Lunt, who wrote all six episodes. Lunt’s success is a reminder that it’s never too late to break into the TV writing business. After 10 years of knocking on doors and pitching more than 80 projects, Lunt finally got his break at age 43. Media reports suggest he is also working on a modern-day adaptation of The Saint with the aforementioned Ed Whitmore.

sherlockSherlock, created by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, has sold very well around the world since it debuted in 2010. At the start of this year, Gatiss and Moffat created one-off special The Abominable Bride, in which much of the action took place in the Victorian era (though a scriptwriting sleight of hand meant the story was actually linked back to the contemporary setting of the series). Broadcasters that picked up the special at Showcase include Degeto (Germany), SVT Sweden, Czech Television and Channel One in Russia. A fourth series of Sherlock is on the way in 2017, with stories for a fifth season also sketched out by Gatiss and Moffat. The show is very slow to come to market because of the busy schedules of Gatiss, Moffat and the lead cast members.

maigret_itvMaigret, based on the books by Georges Simenon, is a new ITV series starring Rowan Atkinson (Blackadder, Mr Bean). At Showcase it was picked up by Germany’s Degeto, which also acquired Sherlock: The Abominable Bride. The writer on this one is the experienced Stewart Harcourt, whose other credits include Agatha Raisin: The Quiche of Death, Love & Marriage, Treasure Island, Inspector George Gently, Poirot and Marple. So if anyone can handle a book-based period detective story, it’s Harcourt.

unforgottenUnforgotten, like Prey, is an ITV series distributed worldwide by BBCWW. Aired in October 2015, the first six-part series focuses on four people whose lives are rocked when the bones belonging to a young man who died 39 years ago are discovered below a demolished house. At Showcase, the drama was picked up by France 3 and YES DBS Satellite in Israel. The show was produced by Mainstreet Pictures and written and created by Chris Lang. Lang started his career on The Bill and has had a successful writing career since, with credits including Amnesia, Torn, A Mother’s Son and Undeniable. The ratings success of Unforgotten convinced ITV to commission a second series. There’s no information yet on the plot but it looks like it will be another cold-case drama, with Lang saying there will be “a new story, where long-buried secrets will once again be slowly brought to light.”

deathinparadiseDeath In Paradise was part of a package of 232 hours of crime drama sold to SVT in Sweden. Produced by Red Planet Pictures, the show has also been given the greenlight for a sixth series this week by Charlotte Moore, controller of BBC1, and Polly Hill, controller of BBC drama commissioning. All told, that will mean there are 48 episodes, which is a good number for the international market. Maybe that explains why it has sold to 237 territories worldwide including China, South Africa, the US and the Caribbean countries close to where the show is set and filmed. Echoing some of the other BBC dramas, Death In Paradise is written by a number of people. But the best-known name is series creator Robert Thorogood, who came to Red Planet’s attention via its scriptwriting competition.

fatherBrownFather Brown is based on the books by GK Chesterton and perfectly fits into the British tradition of eccentric or unusual amateur sleuths. The central character, played by Mark Williams, is a Roman Catholic priest. Unusually for a British drama, the 1950s-set show is already up to 45 episodes after just four series. At Showcase it was picked up by PBC (PTV) in South Korea and ABC Australia. Given the high number of episodes, it’s no surprise Father Brown is an ensemble-written afffair, with credited writers including Tahsin Guner, Rachel Flowerday, Nicola Wilson, Rebecca Wojciechowski, Jude Tindall Dan Muirden, Lol Fletcher, Paul Matthew Thompson, Dominique Moloney, David Semple, Rob Kinsman, Stephen McAteer, Jonathan Neil, Kit Lambert and Al Smith. Particularly prominent has been Guner, who wrote the very first episode and the last one in series four (among others). Repped by David Higham Associates, Guner was selected for the 2009/10 BBC Writers Academy and has written scripts for dramas including Holby, Casualty and New Tricks. He is currently developing original drama series Borders.

ripperstreetRipper Street was licensed this week to Multichoice VoD service Showmax. The show, which was famously saved by a financial injection from Amazon, is a period crime drama set in Victorian England. With four series of Ripper Street already produced and released, Amazon has already committed itself to a fifth season – taking the total number of episodes above 30. Another team effort, the key writer name attached to this is creator Richard Warlow, who tends to deliver about half of the episodes in each series. Warlow’s previous writing credits include Waking the Dead and Mistresses. Other writers on the show have included Toby Finlay (Peaky Blinders) and Rachel Bennette (Lark Rise to Candleford, Lewis and Liberty).

coronerThe Coroner is a daytime drama series about a solicitor who takes over as a coroner in the South Devon coastal town she left as a teenager. At Showcase it sold to AXN Mystery in Japan and Prime in New Zealand. The show was created by Sally Abbott, who also wrote three episodes of the first series. There’s a good blog from Abbott about how she got her break in the business here.

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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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Under the influence: Unforgotten writer Chris Lang

With his new ITV show Unforgotten focusing on the investigation into a 39-year-old murder case, writer Chris Lang tells Michael Pickard how police documentaries have changed the way he looks at crime dramas.

Could you live with yourself for 40 years after committing a heinous crime? That’s the question at the heart of Unforgotten, a new six-part drama now airing on ITV.

Created and written by Chris Lang (Undeniable, A Mother’s Son), it opens as the bones of a young man are found beneath the foundations of a demolished house, launching an investigation into a 39-year-old murder that will unravel the lives of four people who discover the past won’t stay buried forever.

Chris Lang
Chris Lang

Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar pair up as DCI Cassie Stuart and DS Sunil ‘Sunny’ Khan, who gradually unravel the secrets hidden by four potential suspects – played by Bernard Hill, Trevor Eve, Ruth Sheen and Tom Courtenay.

“It’s been an incredibly enjoyable experience,” says Lang of the show’s production. “I would relish the opportunity to do it all again. It’s such a difficult process making shows and you never quite know if the alchemy is going to come together to make something good and if it’s going to be an enjoyable experience. It is just a kind of magic when it works, and I believe it has on this occasion.”

Lang’s initial inspiration for the story came from a news report concerning a historical police investigation that led to the conviction of an 80-year-old man: “I was struck by how that person’s life, in a space of a few hours, had collapsed. I just thought that was a really interesting starting point – what’s it like to live with a crime for 30 or 40 years and have a family and career, only to see them dismantled in an instant? What’s that like for the person and all those people around you? That crystallised a few ideas and then other ideas were added to that to create a story.”

The series, which is distributed internationally by BBC Worldwide, is the first commission for Mainstreet Pictures, the fledgling production company formed by former ITV drama heads and Unforgotten executive producers Laura Mackie and Sally Haynes.

Unforgotten stars Sanjeev Bhaskar and Nicola Walker as a pair of detectives
Unforgotten stars Sanjeev Bhaskar and Nicola Walker as a pair of detectives

“It was quite an easy commission,” Lang recalls. “I took it to Laura and Sally who I knew very well and who had just left ITV (in June 2013). We met and had a chat; I wasn’t expecting to pitch to them but they seemed very excited by the idea.

“I was working on something else and they did what good producers do – they kept hassling me to give it to them. So they did their job well and I’m glad they did. Then we pitched it to ITV and they got it immediately. It seemed a natural fit and they’ve been extremely supportive all the way through.”

In less than two years, Unforgotten has grown from an idea to a fully realised drama, which is partly attributed to Lang penning the script in just six months.

“People often say I’m a fast writer. I don’t think I’m particularly fast but I work long days,” he explains. “I start at 08.30 and often don’t finish until 19.00, and I don’t really take a lunch break. I put the hours in. People often ask me how one becomes a writer – well, you sit down at a desk and write. Quite often what you write is rubbish, but you go back the next day and rewrite it. I probably wrote the whole series in six months. Each episode probably took four or five weeks to write.”

The show was greenlit by ITV in March 2014 and went into pre-production last December with the unusual advantage of having all six scripts completed.

Bernard Hill (Lord of the Rings) also has a leading role
Bernard Hill (Lord of the Rings) also has a lead role

“For production purposes that’s a godsend because you can tie down so much,” Lang adds. “You know where everything’s set and what characters you have to cast. When I’ve worked on other people’s shows and written for existing series, you’re frequently working in a state of total chaos. The scripts might not come in until three or four days before shooting – it’s terrible for everyone. I hate doing that, so I always endeavour to have all the scripts ready before we go into pre-production.”

Explaining Unforgotten’s tone, Lang says there’s no blood or gore – “It’s not that sort of show.” Instead, he has firmly rooted it in reality in order to demonstrate changes in society over the past 50 years.

“I wanted to reflect something of the movement in society and our various attitudes,” he says. “I never wanted the storyline to feel forced or fantastical in any way. I’ve written many thrillers over the years and I hope the more I do it, the more I learn that telling stories that are completely rooted in believability are much more appealing to an audience. I hope I’ve achieved that. That was the ambition.”

The premise of the story does bring with it one particular test for any writer: how do you introduce so many characters at the beginning of a series and ensure viewers stick with it until they learn how they might all be connected? Lang says it was a “real structural challenge” but that it was a deliberate strategy, aided by a strong cast.

Unforgotten is the first commission for Mainstreet Pictures
Airing on ITV, Unforgotten is the first commission for Mainstreet Pictures

“A lot of dramas employ a structural device that’s quite linear, that presents one suspect and discounts them and moves on to the next again and again over the course of six or 10 parts,” he says. “I began to find that quite unsatisfying because you would invest your time and emotion in one character and then they’d be gone, so I really wanted to present a cast of characters that viewers stay with for the whole show.

“It helps when you’ve managed to attract the cast we did. Within the first 14 minutes of the show, we have introduced to the audience not just Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Baskar but Tom Courtney, Trevor Eve, Bernard Hill and Ruth Sheen and all their families, featuring Hannah Gordon, Gemma Jones and Claire Goose. If we can’t hold them with that cast, we’re sunk, but I think we can.”

With additional credits including ITV’s The Bill and Sky Atlantic/Canal+ coproduction The Tunnel, based on Scandinavian mega-hit The Bridge (Bron/Broen), Lang has plenty of experience writing police dramas.

But he credits documentary series such as 24 Hours in Police Custody, The Met and The Detectives with influencing the realistic tone and style of Unforgotten.

“The genre has evolved massively in my time as a writer,” he says. “The Bill was incredibly procedural and all about the minutiae of on-the-job coppers, but shows like 24 Hours in Police Custody are rewriting the rules about how we see the police. Our design team and director Andy Wilson used them as really helpful templates for how policing looks and feels.

“There’s a definite and deliberate move away from the highly stylised police shows where you’ve got beautiful offices and moodily lit basements where it’s arty and gorgeous. Ours are just incredibly ordinary but I hope incredibly real. Hopefully it reflects the reality more than the stylised shows do.”

For now, Lang is thankful he is working in “the best time to be a writer that there’s ever been.” In particular, he points to the “paradigm shift” demonstrated by the movement of creative talent from film to television, rather than the other way.

“Drama is riding high everywhere,” he says. “I’m constantly going to meet producers who are moving from film to television because it’s where a lot of the real creativity is now taking place in a way it wasn’t 10 or 20 years ago. In television, writers have always had more respect than in film – even more so now. So it’s a great time. Television just feels incredibly creative and it’s the place where talent wants to be. Making a film was always the holy grail of being a writer or director but I don’t think that’s the case anymore.”

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