Tag Archives: Witnesses

France’s finest

From a pair of mystery dramas and the introduction of the ‘female Columbo’ to the story of a film director forced to make a new version of King Kong for a power-mad dictator, French drama is set to enjoy a breakout year. DQ casts its eye over some of the new series coming to the small screen.

Baron Noir season two
The ‘French House of Cards’ returns. Produced by Kwai for Canal+ and distributed by StudioCanal.

Why was Baron Noir season one so successful around the world?
Producer Thomas Bourguignon
: Politics is back – and even if Baron Noir is about French politicians, it deals with the same problems every politician has to face. That’s the reason the show reaches a global audience. The style of the series also had a great impact. Baron Noir is a thriller, a very tense drama with a cinematographic style, a dramaturgy you can’t escape, and editing that makes it as addictive as possible. The performance of the actors is also astonishing. It’s a universal story of revenge, which is one of the most powerful motivations in a drama.

How does season two move the story forward?
We shot season two during the French presidential and legislative elections. No one is capable of predicting what is going to happen, so we have decided to follow our own story. What’s important is that the preoccupations and the big picture of the politicians’ lives are accurate and realistic, whoever is running the country in real life. So in season two, Amélie Dorendeu (Anna Mouglalis) is elected president and Philippe Rickwaert (Kad Merad, pictured) is her special advisor. But democracy is threatened by two evil forces: jihadism and the far right. Our two lead characters become ever more divided and separate from each other and fight to save the republic.

What are the biggest challenges in producing the series?
We started shooting with four scripts out of eight, because of the availability of the cast. It was a challenging race to have the final scripts ready to shoot and keep the quality.

Zone Blanche (Black Spot)
A local sheriff seeks the truth about a mysterious town. Produced by Ego Productions and Be-Films for France 2 and distributed by AB International Distribution.

Where did the idea for Black Spot come from?
Series creator Mathieu Missoffe
: Based on initial conversations with producer Vincent Mouluquet, I originally set out to build a strong mystery set in an isolated place that would feel familiar and strange at the same time. We knew this had to be a very visual show to stand out, so we moved away from traditional urban crime shows, instead focusing on a small, colourful community surrounded by hostile and untamed nature. This is how our fictitious town of Villefranche came to life, a place that has its own rules and atmosphere, with a blend of influences ranging from Twin Peaks to Nordic noir.

What is the style or tone of the series?
The show borrows from different genres to create its own unique identity. It doesn’t shy away from gritty crime scenes, but we twisted familiar crime show elements by adding a western movie look and occasionally flirting with fantasy as far as the surrounding nature is concerned. A slight touch of comedy is also part of the mix – a necessary addition to create the kind of entertainment we feel is relevant for today’s general audience.

How is French drama evolving?
The good news is that most of the old taboos that used to drag down French fiction have now collapsed. Politics and religion are back on the map, while darker and edgier stories are gaining traction. It’s definitely an exciting time, with our traditional realistic auteur shows now able to coexist with series that are trying to open new doors in entertainment with exotic locations, big-budget coproductions or new genres. At the same time, talents in front of and behind the camera are finally crossing over between film and television, resulting in even more opportunities.

Capitaine Marleau (Chief Inspector Marleau)
A ‘female Columbo’ tackles crime with her own offbeat methods. Produced by Passion Films for France 3 and distributed by France TV Distribution.

What are the origins of the show?
Producer Gaspard de Chavagnac
: Our lead actor Corinne Masiero (far left) first portrayed Capitaine Marleau in French miniseries Entre Vents et Marées (Between Winds and Tides), directed by Josée Dayan. She played the part with such wit and originality that we immediately decided to pitch France 3 the character as the heroine of a new cop series. The network did not hesitate long before ordering a 90-minute pilot.

How was the series developed with France 3?
After the success of the pilot, written by Elsa Marpeau and again directed by Josée Dayan, France 3 agreed to develop two more episodes and then three others. We are currently producing the second season.

How did you cast the series?
As Masiero was not very well known, we sought famous guest stars for each episode. Gérard Depardieu agreed to appear in the first episode, followed by other actors familiar to French viewers – including Victoria Abril, Muriel Robin, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Sandrine Bonnaire and Pierre Arditi. The result was an average of 4.3 million viewers for our first four episodes.

La Forêt (The Forest)
A small town is gripped by fear when people begin to disappear in a mysterious forest. Produced by Carma Films for France 3 and distributed by About Premium Content (APC).

Tell us about the show.
APC founder and joint CEO Emmanuelle Guilbart
: The Forest is a modern crime series with a gripping story set against a mysterious background. An audience-friendly thriller at heart, it does not, however, shy away from social themes, setting out to provide a realistic portrayal of issues surrounding today’s youth.

How would you describe the writing process?
Contrary to the current writers room trend, The Forest was written by a single screenwriter, Delinda Jacobs. She came to us with a very precise idea of what the show would look like and the commissioning channel, which wanted to modernise its line-up, was very supportive from the start.

What was the biggest challenge during production?
The biggest challenge for us was finding the right actors. We wanted the story to feel real, with life-like characters and true emotions, so we spent a lot of time looking for people who were able to convey this feeling to the audience. We think we found the right team with Alexia Barlier (pictured left, 13 Hours), Suzanne Clément (Mommy, Laurence Anyways) and Samuel Labarthe (The Little Murders of Agatha Christie) for the main roles.

What new stories are being told in French drama?
French drama has always had a social focus and a taste for realistic and intimate stories. What’s changing is that there is now a new appeal for modern narrative forms, new genres and writing techniques. The Forest is definitely part of that movement, keeping in line with parts of the French cinematic tradition but opening up to new and highly effective ways of telling stories.

Les Témoins (Witnesses) season two
The return of the atmospheric crime thriller. Produced by Cinétévé for France 2 and distributed by Newen Distribution.

Why was Witnesses season one so successful around the world?
Director Hervé Hadmar
: The plot, the atmosphere and detective Sandra Winckler (Marie Dompnier, below right). The audience just wants to know who this woman is.

How does season two move the story forward?Witnesses is, of course, the story of Sandra. In season one, she has learned that the ‘ideal family’ does not exist. Her husband is not Prince Charming – and Sandra herself is not so perfect. At the beginning of season two, she’s living alone with her two daughters. She still believes in love, of course, but has to ask herself, ‘Is love the greatest danger?’ As for the main plot, it centres on unravelling what happened to 15 men who are found dead, totally frozen, on a bus. It emerges that they all loved the same woman, Catherine Keemer (Audrey Fleurot, below left). Who is Catherine Keemer? Is she responsible for their deaths? Season two explores the relationship between Sandra and Catherine.

How would you describe your directing process?
I do not fight against the ‘principe de réalité’ – pressures of time or accidental events. I’m trying to use those little incidents, bad weather, for example, to create something new. I have learned to be excited by asking myself, ‘What the hell is going to happen today?’

What is the style or tone of the show?
A Nordic noir with a delicate, strange and almost hypnotic atmosphere.

How is French drama evolving?
With more mature themes and artistic values. Challenging ourselves and challenging the audience is very important. We have learned to take risks but there is still a lot of progress to make. For that, let’s hope success will continue to knock on our doors.

Transferts (Transfer)
Five years after a man drowns, his mind is transferred into someone else’s body. But at a time when ‘transfers’ are outlawed, he must live undercover to avoid detection. Produced by Filmagine, Be-Films and Panama Productions for Arte, and distributed by Lagardère Studios Distribution.

What are the origins of the show?
Producer/co-writer Patrick Benedek
: The series grew out of my friendship with Claude Scasso. For a while we’d been wanting to make a thrilling sci-fi series, aware that in France, at the time, no network wanted to go down that road. It was very liberating for me – I could give free rein to all my beginner’s mistakes! I didn’t imagine for a minute that the project would see the light of day.

How would you describe the writing process?
Claude and I worked on the conception and construction of episodes together, in meetings and with notes. We spent entire days projecting ourselves into our characters and our universe – with a creative purpose but also with a keen critical eye on each other’s proposals – until we got that exhilarating feeling that we had something. That’s the advantage of knowing each other well, of not having an oversized ego and of being a team. After that, Claude would write a first draft of the treatments, which I would then rework. Finally, he would go over what I wrote, and I would go over what he did, until we were both satisfied.

What were the biggest challenges during production?
In France, it’s always the same problem – do as much as possible as well as possible with the little financial resources we have. This means always knowing how to get the most out of your resources; knowing how to distribute them while maintaining your artistic vision.

Kim Kong
While filming in Asia, a director is kidnapped by a neighbouring dictatorship and ordered to make a new version of King Kong. Produced by Kwai and Armance for Arte and distributed by FremantleMedia International.

What are the origins of the series?
Producer Thomas Bourguignon
: The idea came from Simon Jablonka, the screenwriter. He told me the story of a South Korean director, Shin Sang-ok, who was kidnapped by North Korea in the late 1970s and told to direct movies, notably a remake of Godzilla, which was called Pulgasari. We wanted to make a show about this situation, with a guy who is kidnapped by a dictator who wants him to make a movie. The other inspiration was Misery, Stephen King’s novel with a similar theme, being about an author who’s kidnapped by an deranged fan and forced rewrite his last book because she’s not happy with it. But our story is not about a specific regime or specific country; it’s really about creativity and constraints.

How do you balance the drama with elements of comedy?The situation is very dramatic from the beginning to the end, but in a similar style to movies like Gold Rush, M.A.S.H. or The Ladykillers. The subject is very serious and dramatic but we build in several contradictions that create comedy. It’s a question of life and death but the director has to deal with an inept crew, equipment that dates from the Cold War and the crazy demands of the leader, so there are lots of elements where you can do nothing but laugh.

What was the biggest challenge?
Mostly the casting and the language (with the show being filmed in French and Chinese). But also working out where we were going to shoot. As our dictatorship doesn’t exist in real life, we looked for a location for months before deciding to film 90% of the series in a studio in Paris.

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Women re-energise crime drama

Marcella
Anna Friel in ITV’s Marcella, which looks set to get a second season

In honour of ITV’s Brit noir series Marcella, DQ looks at some of the women detectives who have helped reinvigorate a genre that used to be the preserve of cantankerous middle-aged men.

When ITV launched the excellent Prime Suspect in 1991, female coppers were still a novelty on UK television. But these days it seems as though the entire police system is in the hands of no-nonsense women taking on a world of desensitised or deranged male bastards.

When they aren’t dealing with criminals, they generally have to contend with the fact that their husbands and colleagues are also a) psychotic, b) philanderers or c) perversely obstructive.

 Sergeant Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley
Sergeant Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley

For the most part, the female cop formula seems to be working, with little indication as yet that the UK audience is getting bored by it.

Despite its various structural flaws, ITV’s Marcella, starring Anna Friel, has just finished its eight-part run with a solid audience of around five million and looks like a decent bet for a season two renewal.

Other female cops who have secured a strong fanbase include DS Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) in Broadchurch, Sergeant Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley, DI Lindsay Denton (Keeley Hawes) in Line of Duty and Superintendent Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) in The Fall, which returns for a third season this year.

And it doesn’t end there. Other female crimefighters include the cast of Channel 4’s No Offence and Detectives Janet Scott and Rachel Bailey in ITV’s Scott & Bailey. The latter, which starred Lesley Sharp and Suranne Jones, finished this April.

Saga Noren (Sofia Helin) in Danish/Swedish drama The Bridge
Saga Noren (Sofia Helin) in Danish/Swedish drama The Bridge

Without exception, all of these shows have achieved good to great ratings. Sometimes this is down to the writing, but more often than not it feels as though the real secret of their success is the quality of the female leads. All of the above shows have been graced with exceptional acting performances that make you stay loyal even if the wider production starts to lose its direction.

Based on IMDb scores, Marcella doesn’t actually fare that well, scoring 7.1. This is probably a reflection of the gaps in the plot, which caused a lot of angst on social media platforms like Twitter. Much stronger are shows like Happy Valley, Broadchurch, The Fall and Line of Duty, which achieved scores in the 8.3 to 8.5 range.

Sandra Winckler (Marie Dompnier) in Witnesses
Sandra Winckler (Marie Dompnier) in France Télévisions’ Witnesses

With the general success of female cops, it’s no surprise that ITV is going back to its Prime Suspect franchise with Tennison. This show, from Lynda La Plante, imagines the central character, Jane Tennison, as a young woman starting out on her career. Set in Hackney in the 1970s, it recreates a world where women police constables are treated with suspicion by their male colleagues.

The female cop theme is not, of course, restricted to the UK. It has played a big part in the emergence of Nordic noir as a global force. Writer Hans Rosenfeldt, who gaves us Marcella, previously introduced us to Saga Noren (Sofia Helin) in his acclaimed Danish/Swedish copro The Bridge. And this then gave rise to UK/France copro The Tunnel, where viewers have been beguiled by feisty French cop Elise Wassermann (Clemence Poesy).

Equally important has been Danish broadcaster DR’s The Killing, which saw Sofie Grabol playing DI Sarah Lund. This was adapted for the US, where Grabol’s role was played by Mireille Enos as Sarah Linden.

Charlotte Lindholm in ARD’s long-running crime franchise Tatort, set in Hanover
Charlotte Lindholm in ARD’s long-running crime franchise Tatort, set in Hanover

In France, meanwhile, audiences on public broadcaster France Télévisions have recently been introduced to Sandra Winckler (Marie Dompnier) in Witnesses (Les Temoins). More mainstream is Candice Renoir, about a French police commandant, played by Cecile Bois, who solves crimes in the South of France. The show has also secured a number of sales around Europe.

The US, of course, has never been afraid to place female cops on the frontline – think back to Cagney & Lacey or Angie Dickinson as Sergeant ‘Pepper’ Anderson in Police Woman. More recently the mantle of number one tough female cop has been taken up by Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) in NBC’s long-running procedural Law & Order: SVU. The character of Benson has appeared in 385 episodes of the show and risen to become commanding officer of the SVU division.

Jennifer Lopez in Shades of Blue
Jennifer Lopez plays an single-mother NYPD cop in Shades of Blue

Angie Harmon, as Jane Rizzoli in TNT’s Rizzoli & Isles, is another who deserves to be given a medal for services to the TV industry. Among the new female cops is Harlee Santos, a single-mother NYPD detective played by Jennifer Lopez in Shades of Blue.

Countries where female cops are not so prominent include Germany and Italy, where the chaps still get to solve most crimes. But even here there are a few exceptions.

One is Charlotte Lindholm, a detective in the Hanover-set production of ARD’s long-running crime franchise Tatort. She has been played by Maria Furtwangler since 2002, making her something of a German TV icon. Italy, meanwhile, gave us Donna Detective, in which Detective Lisa Milani (played by Lucrezia Lante Della Rovere) requests a desk job in a small town outside of Rome in order to spend more time with her family. As luck would have it, she gets called back to assist with a major case and is placed in charge of an entire investigative squad in the capital.

The Fall Stella-Gibson
Gillian Anderson returns for a third season of The Fall this year

The clear message from all of the above is that female cops have reinvigorated the detective genre, creating a new kind of character-based complexity around ideas like work-family balance, competing in what is perceived to be a man’s world, tackling problems from a female perspective and demonstrating skill sets that run counter to traditional assumptions.

What’s missing, perhaps, is a black or Asian female lead. There have been fleeting sightings (in US shows like Southland, The Wire, Rogue and Deception). But as yet there is nothing comparable to the breakthrough made by Idris Elba in BBC hit series Luther.

Given the recent strength of British broadcasters in the female cop genre, this is an area where they should really bite the bullet.

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The world of drama in 2015

The US still dominates drama exports, but in the last Hit & Miss column of the year we take a look at some of the new shows from other countries that have punched above their weight in 2015.

gallipoli
Gallipoli

Australia
The Sydney Morning Herald has just named Gallipoli as the best Aussie drama of the year – and they’ve probably got it just about right. Although the lavish WW1 epic rated badly on Nine Network, it was a strongly scripted and well-acted show that has had some profile internationally thanks to Endemol Shine International. Gallipoli’s Aussie rivals this year included biopic Peter Allen: Not the Boy Next Door, multicultural drama The Principal and undead series Glitch. But probably the best of the bunch outside Gallipoli was The Secret River, Ruby Entertainment’s adaptation of Kate Grenville’s novel.

bookofnegroes
The Book of Negroes

Canada
2015 was a decent year for Canadian-backed drama. The high point was epic miniseries The Book of Negroes, which was back by public broadcaster CBC and BET in the US. The story of escaped slaves returning to Africa via Nova Scotia pulled in 1.7 million viewers for the first episode, making it the highest-rated original drama for CBC since 1990. Another strong debutante in 2015 was sitcom Schitt’s Creek, which also aired on CBC. This show was sold internationally by ITV Studios Global Entertainment to countries including New Zealand.

journeyofflower
The Journey of Flower

China
Top of the pile in China this year has been The Journey of Flower, a love story based on the fantasy novel by Fresh Guo Guo. Broadcast from June to August, it told the story of Hu Qian Gu, a girl born with magical powers. At age 16, she becomes the disciple of Bai Zihua, an immortal in charge of a magical realm – and promptly falls in love with him. The series has aired internationally in markets such as Vietnam.

1864_jens-saetter-lassen_foto_arnesen
1864

Denmark
At the forefront of the Nordic drama explosion, Denmark public broadcaster DR gave us series like The Killing and Borgen. In 2014/2015, it added the period drama 1864, which has sold to broadcasters including RTÉ Ireland, TV4 Sweden and Arte (France/Germany). Next up is Follow the Money, a thriller set in the world of economic crime. The show has been heavily trailed in 2015 but finally airs in early 2016. It has been picked up by BBC4 in the UK – a big fan of Scandinavian TV drama.

witnesses
Witnesses

France
After the success of Spiral and The Returned, it was the turn of Witnesses to catch the international market’s attention. A noir thriller set in Northern France, the France 2 show was picked up by Channel 4 in the UK, NRK in Norway, RTBF in Belgium and RTL Crime in Germany. The series was produced by Paris-based Cinétévé and written and directed by Hervé Hadmar and Marc Hernoux, who were behind Les Oubliées (Forgotten Girls) for France 3 and Pigalle La Nuit for Canal+.

Deutschland83FEAT
Deutschland 83

Germany
In terms of German drama, it’s impossible to look beyond UFA’s Cold War coming-of-age story Deutschland 83. The show aired on RTL in its domestic market and has been sold internationally to more than 20 territories by Fremantle Media International. Buyers have included Sundance in the US, Channel One Russia, TV4 in Scandinavia and Stan in Australia. UK VoD platform Walter Presents has also picked up the title.

FalseFlag
False Flag

Israel
Israeli spy series False Flag is continuing the good work done by previous drama titles such as Prisoners of War and In Treatment. In June 2015, the show was picked up by Fox International Channels for use in 127 countries worldwide. Fox is also adapting the series into English.

1992
1992

Italy
After Gomorrah forced the world to reappraise Italian drama, Wildside’s 1992 proved it was no fluke. The 10×60’ story of Italian corruption in the 1990s aired on Sky Italia before being picked up by the likes of Orange France, Canal Spain and Superchannel in Canada. In September, the show was also sold to Netflix by distributor Beta Film.

producers
The Producers

Korea
We looked at Korean drama a few months ago here. With the year over, the top show still looks like KBS’s The Producers, which aired in May and June. The story focuses on a group of young producers working in the variety department at KBS. It has sold to China, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Kazakhstan, while digital streaming rights have been licensed to parts of Europe, the Middle East and North America. China’s online network Sohu paid US$2.4m for the show’s rights.

duenos-del-paraisoLatin America/Hispanic US
One of the hottest telenovelas of the year was Dueños Del Paraiso, starring Kate del Castillo, Adriana Barraza and Jorge Zabaleta. Created by Telemundo and TVN Chile, it tells the story of a woman who lives in poverty and whose ambition leads her to use drug trafficking as a means to become one of the most powerful women of her time.

de_fractie_2_carousel_missed-1420808754
De Fractie

Netherlands
The Netherlands is better known for its entertainment format exports than its drama. But it has given birth to series like Penoza, which was remade in the US as Red Widow. One of this year’s more interesting dramas was public broadcaster VPRO’s De Fractie, a politics-based series that combined fiction and current events. It did this by working as a fast turnaround production so that it could include new developments from the real world. A success at home, it’s the kind of project that could lend itself to international formatting.

acquitted
Acquitted

Norway
Norway is starting to rival Sweden and Denmark when it comes to Nordic Noir series. This year’s big hit was Miso Films’ Acquitted, which tells the story of a man returning to his home town after a long absence – having been acquitted of murdering his girlfriend. A big hit for TV2, the show is distributed internationally by FremantleMedia International.

ourguysFEAT
Los Nuestros

Spain
Spanish drama is going through its own golden age at the moment, with titles such as Grand Hotel, Velvet and The Time In Between. All of the above are period dramas, but this year the Spanish have shown that they are also pretty adept at making contemporary thrillers. A good example is Mediaset Espana’s miniseries Los Nuestros (Our Guys), which follows a mission to save two Spanish children kidnapped by a terrorist group while on holiday in Mali. Attracting 3.7 million viewers, it was one of the year’s strong performers and there is talk of a follow-up series. Another strong performer was Atresmedia’s Under Suspicion, in which a seven-year-old girl disappears from a small community, while Hierro won the copro series pitching competition at Berlinale. The latter will air in early 2016.

jordskott
Jordskott

Sweden
If we were talking about returning series, then pick of the bunch would undoubtedly be the third season of The Bridge. But among new titles, ITV Studios Global Entertainment-distributed Jordskott is the year’s standout. A supernatural thriller from Sweden’s state broadcaster SVT, the show has been sold to ITV Encore in the UK and to broadcasters across Scandinavia. TV4’s Modus, distributed by FMI, is another new title that looks set to do well abroad.

resurrection
Dirilis Ertugrul

Turkey
Turkey is such a prolific producer of drama that it’s hard to single out a particular title. But one show that merits a mention is Dirilis Ertugrul, better known as Resurrection. A period drama set in the 13th century, this was public broadcaster TRT’s response to fellow huge period hit Magnificent Century (aired on Show TV and Star TV). Resurrection (which debuted on December 10, 2014 and ran through 2015) did extremely well for TRT1, delivering ratings well ahead of the channel’s average. It has also been sold internationally to more than 20 territories. Also of note in 2015 was the launch of Magnificent Century sequel Kosem Sultan, which rated particularly well with the AB demographic.

wolfhall
Wolf Hall

UK
The Brits produced a lot of good drama this year but it’s hard to look beyond Golden Globe nominee Wolf Hall for the country’s outstanding scripted show of the year. Based on Hilary Mantel’s acclaimed novel, the show was a success for BBC2 in the UK and also aired on PBS in the US and Arte France, among others. Wolf Hall also sold in Scandinavia and features on BBC Worldwide channels in markets such as Australia.

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AMC’s Dead cert

Fear the Walking Dead - the most successful series premier in US cable history
Fear the Walking Dead provided AMC with the most successful series premiere in US cable history

With all the hype and heritage, it’s no surprise that The Walking Dead spin-off Fear the Walking Dead (FTWD) started so strongly last week.

Debuting on August 23 on AMC, it delivered 10.1 million live/same-day viewers “becoming the number-one series premiere in US cable television history for total viewers and all key demos.”

That’s according to AMC, which added that the cable network is now home to “three of the top five cable series premieres of all time in live/same-day viewing – Fear the Walking Dead, Better Call Saul and The Walking Dead – a remarkable accomplishment so far into the post-DVR era.” It’s interesting to note that two of these series are spin-offs.

AMC and SundanceTV president Charlie Collier said: “It is increasingly difficult to evaluate a show’s success on night one. However, we are releasing these live/same-day ratings because Fear the Walking Dead delivered record-breaking numbers that are all the more special in this era of time-shifted viewing and audience fragmentation.

“To have a companion series to the number-one show on television driving communal, urgent viewing, social activity and pop-cultural relevance of this magnitude is truly differentiating. Of course, none of it is possible without the fans, whose passion leads to these results.”

AMC is airing six episodes of FTWD this autumn, before taking a break until 2016. The key figures to watch out for now are how many time-shifted viewers it picks up in the run-up to episode two, how well it sustains audience for episode two, and what kind of response it gets internationally.

The series premiered simultaneously on AMC Global in more than 125 countries so some figures might start trickling in over the next few weeks.

Omari Hardwick in Starz' Power
Omari Hardwick in Starz’ Power

Meanwhile, our only clues regarding FTWD’s prospects are reviews and ratings. IMDb gives the show a rating of 8 at the moment, which is something of an amber alert, suggesting that the audience was not especially gripped by episode one.

Variety was also disparaging, calling the 90-minute debut “too much like a snore, narrowly following a single, not-terribly-interesting family, and leaning heavily on musical cues to stoke a sense of suspense. A second episode begins to propel the story forward, thankfully, but for starters, anyway, it’s more a snack than a feast.”

Forbes’ assessment was that episode one was “not bad” but it did have a gripe with what it called “disposable black men syndrome. Not one, but two, fairly important black male characters die off in the first episode. This after tons of criticism of The Walking Dead for doing the exact same thing. I struggle to find what AMC and showrunners David Erickson and Robert Kirkman can possibly be thinking here. No major white character dies in this episode.”

One show that doesn’t have this problem is Starz’ Power, which is also a strong performer in the US cable market. On August 15, the second-season finale set a Starz series record in Live+3 ratings with 2.39 million viewers, outperforming the previous week’s record of 2.29 million and up 51% compared with the first run’s finale, which pulled in 1.59 million.

With such strong ratings, Starz will feel vindicated in having ordered a third season of Power just as it was launching season two. For those not familiar with the show, Power tells the story of a wealthy New York nightclub owner living a double life as a drug kingpin. It was created by Courtney Kemp Agboh and counts Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson among its executive producers.

Witnesses has achieved disappointing figures on Channel 4
Witnesses has achieved disappointing figures on Channel 4

Also of interest to number-crunchers is that Power is consistently one of the most requested shows on Comcast’s Xfinity On Demand, which delivers three billion hours of time-shifted TV a year.

In the UK, French-language drama Witnesses limped to the end of its run with an audience of just 290,000 on Channel 4 (C4). Over six episodes, it averaged 359,000 viewers at 22.00. This is a disappointing figure when you consider that another French drama, The Returned, achieved an audience of 1.2 million on C4 last year at 21.00.

Witnesses is a good show that rated well in France and was reviewed positively in the UK. So the only real conclusion that can be drawn is that the audience for foreign-language drama doesn’t want to watch at 21.00. Perhaps this is borne out by the fact that BBC4 is currently picking up an audience of 600,000 an episode for Italian drama Young Montelbano, which it airs in a 21.00 slot. C4 may have felt that Witnesses was too gruesome to air at 21.00, but it’s a point to keep in mind next time it acquires foreign-language fare.

On the drama distribution front, All3media International has secured a number of sales for Eleventh Hour Films’ “returnable miniseries” Safe House, including France 3 and Germany’s ZDF Neo.

Safe House has secured international sales
Safe House has secured international sales

The four-hour thriller debuted on the UK’s ITV in April this year, securing a decent 25% share in primetime. Peter Grant, the senior VP of sales who concluded the deals for France and Germany, said: “Safe House sees Christopher Eccleston lead a cast of internationally renowned talent in this fresh and contemporary take on the investigative crime genre. We knew this sophisticated ‘event’ thriller would play out well with our international broadcasters and are delighted to announce such a strong line-up of deals. The drama made its UK debut to great reviews and 5.6 million primetime viewers, which has only fuelled global demand.”

Returning to the US, a mid-season check suggests USA Networks’ decision to renew Suits for a sixth season was the right one. After nine episodes, the show’s ratings are actually ahead of where they were at the start of the season (circa 2.3 million viewers).

Meanwhile, the channel has postponed the finale of season one of Mr Robot until September 2, following the on-air murder of two journalists in Virginia this week. The network said: “The previously filmed season finale of Mr Robot contains a graphic scene similar in nature to today’s tragic events in Virginia. Out of respect to the victims, their families and colleagues, and our viewers, we are postponing tonight’s episode. Our thoughts go out to all those affected during this difficult time.”

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Right place, right time

The Americans is coming to ITV Encore, having previously aired two seasons on ITV
The Americans is coming to ITV Encore, having previously aired for two seasons on ITV

The success or failure of a show can often hinge on finding the right slot or the right channel for it to air on. For example, it would have been fascinating to see how critically acclaimed shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad or The Walking Dead performed if they had been placed in free-to-air primetime as opposed to cable TV.

It’s possible they would have been axed after a few episodes instead of developing into the pop culture phenomena we know today.

With this in mind, it’s interesting to note that UK broadcaster ITV has just acquired seasons three and four of US spy drama The Americans from Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution for its digital channel ITV Encore.

This deal comes despite the fact that the pubcaster’s main free-to-air channel ITV, which originally aired the show in the UK, dropped it after two seasons. These first two runs will now play out on ITV Encore ahead of the newly acquired seasons.

The message, then, is that The Americans is better suited to a pay environment. Perhaps this is no surprise when you consider that the show, which tells the story of two KGB spies posing as an American husband and wife in Washington during the Cold War, airs on cable channel FX in the US.

Swedish drama Jordskott is outperforming ITV Encore's British shows
Swedish drama Jordskott is outperforming ITV Encore’s British shows

But it reinforces the broader notion that we are currently operating in an era when there is a clear distinction between the kind of scripted shows that work on free as opposed to pay/SVoD television.

The decision to air the show on ITV Encore also suggests there has been a reappraisal of what the channel is going to be. Launched in 2014, a lot of its content to date has been re-runs of classic British dramas such as Poirot, Vera, Downton Abbey, Upstairs Downstairs and DCI Banks – giving the channel a crime/period profile.

However, these shows are all currently being outperformed by another acquisition, the Swedish series Jordskott. With the Nordic crime drama drawing an audience of between 100,000 and 200,000 viewers per episode (seven-day ratings figures), it suggests the ITV Encore audience would rather see original foreign series than homegrown re-runs (even if the latter are very good). Aside from Jordskott and The Americans, the channel has also aired the US version of Broadchurch (Gracepoint) and is gearing up for the launch of its first original commission, Midwinter of the Spirit.

In the US, Telemundo is celebrating the fact that on July 21 it ranked as the number-one Spanish-language network among adults 18-49 in primetime, beating Univision by 3%. According to the channel, “this marks the first time in history that Telemundo topped Univision in weekday prime with its regular line-up.”

A key part of the channel’s success has been season three of scripted series El Señor de los Cielos (aka Lord of the Skies). The show was ranked number one among all broadcast and cable networks, regardless of language, at 22.00 in adults 18-49.

El Señor de los Cielos has given US broadcaster Telemundo a big lift
El Señor de los Cielos has given US broadcaster Telemundo a big lift

A US-produced series from Argos Comunicacion and Telemundo, El Señor de los Cielos tells the story of drug dealer Aurelio Casillas and his ruthless rise to power. It is based loosely on the life of real Mexican druglord Amado Carillo Fuentes.

The show first aired in 2013 with a debut season of 74 episodes. This was followed by 84 episodes in season two and an as-yet-unquantified number in season three. So successful is the show that Telemundo confirmed plans for a fourth season at its Upfronts presentation in May this year.

Although the series is produced in the US, its high episode count makes it more like a telenovela than a US drama – an advantage when taking shows out to international distribution. By the end of season four, Telemundo will already be able to offer buyers 300 episodes (equivalent to around 12 years’ worth of a US returning series).

Still in the US, Variety conducted an interesting survey this week, asking three leading media-buying agencies which shows they think will attract the most viewers in the upcoming autumn season (and thus be most appealing to advertisers).

Among dramas, the top pick is season two of Empire (on Fox), which is no real surprise given the success of the first run. And there are high expectations for the return of the Shonda Rhimes hits Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder (both ABC).

More interesting, perhaps, are the new shows that are expected to do well. Here, the top three picks are Fox’s reboot of The X-Files, followed by NBC’s Blindspot and ABC’s The Catch. The Catch is another show for ABC from the Shonda Rhimes hit factory and is expected to be given a lead-in by one of her other shows.

Da Vinci's Demons' third season will be its last
Da Vinci’s Demons’ third season will be its last

Cable channel Spike is investing heavily in scripted shows at the moment. Its first project, Tut, debuted on July 19 and got off to a good start. With 1.7 million viewers tuning in for the first episode, Spike achieved its biggest Sunday night primetime audience since May 25, 2008.

More saliently, the figure was 123% ahead of last week’s primetime average. “We are thrilled that Tut resonated with viewers and delivered a big audience for Spike’s first scripted event series in almost a decade,” said Sharon Levy, Spike’s exec VP of original series.

Elsewhere, another piece of reimagined history is coming to a close, with Starz announcing this week that the third season of David Goyer’s Da Vinci’s Demons will be its last.

Starz MD Carmi Zlotnik said: “David Goyer brought us a plan to portray the unknown early years of a genius and we think the fans will enjoy this final chapter, which segues into the da Vinci history knows.”

A few weeks ago, we talked up the performance of a grisly French thriller called Witnesses, which was rating well in its home market. This week, the show debuted on Channel 4 in the UK, which was clearly hoping to repeat the success of its previous French drama acquisition Les Revenants (The Returned). Things didn’t quite work out as planned, however, with Witnesses only managing to attract around 550,000 viewers in its 22.00 slot. This is about a third of The Returned’s audience when it launched back in 2013.

Witnesses opened to disappointing figures on Channel 4
Witnesses opened to disappointing figures on Channel 4
In defence of Witnesses, The Returned aired an hour earlier at 2100, which would have given it access to a bigger audience. However, Witnesses was also well down on the 22.00 slot average, which will be a source of disappointment for C4. It was also bested by Channel 5’s Aussie prison drama import Wentworth.

Despite this, UK newspaper critics were mostly positive about the show. The Guardian called it “rather promising,” adding that it “bodes well for Channel 4’s imminent on-demand service, 4World Drama.”

The Independent, meanwhile, said referring to the show as ‘The French Broadchurch’ doesn’t do it justice: “This classy, creepy thriller should be judged on its own merits, rather than compared to our Dorset-filmed whodunit and its Scandi-noir forebears”.

So it’s just possible that Witnesses could be a bit of a sleeper hit. What it needs now is the 550,000 people who tuned in to the first episode to get onto social media and tell their friends to watch it.

The Sharknado franchise has proved a massive hit for Syfy
The Sharknado franchise has proved a massive hit for Syfy
On the subject of social media, a round of applause please for Syfy’s global pop culture phenomenon, Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!, which has generated a staggering two billion Twitter impressions – doubling the impressions for 2014’s Sharknado 2: The Second One.

Video clips from Sharknado 3 have generated nearly six million views to date, including 4.1 million on Syfy’s YouTube channel. The film itself debuted on Wednesday, July 22, so we’re just waiting for the TV ratings at time of writing.

Unsurprisingly given the noise created by the third edition, Syfy has greenlit Sharknado 4. Chris Regina, senior VP of programme strategy at Syfy, said: “Sharknado 3 may have devoured half of America’s celebrities, but there are still hungry fans and sharks to feed, so the adventure continues – not in a galaxy far, far away, but on your television sets next July.”

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Must-see TV

Witnesses
Witnesses has averaged 4.3 million viewers across its run

Those of you who attended Channel 21’s International Drama Summit in London last autumn may have seen the trailer for a new French crime drama called Witnesses (Les Témoins). Created by Hervé Hadmar and Marc Herpoux, the eerie six-part series begins with a series of corpses being placed in various homes.

Roll forward a few months and Witnesses has emerged as a huge hit for French public channel France 2. Having debuted on March 18 to an excellent 5.3 million viewers (Mediametrie), it went on to average 4.3 million (17.4% share) across its run. This makes it the natural successor to other breakout French hits such as Spiral, Braquo and much-discussed supernatural thriller The Returned.

Witnesses’ strong ratings (and the reward of a second series) will be welcome news to all those international broadcasters that acquired the series from Newen Distribution ahead of its launch on France 2. Presumably inspired by the international success of The Returned, Channel 4 (UK), RTL Crime (Germany), NRK2 (Norway) and SBS (Australia) were among the first to act. With Norway due to show the series in primetime, it looks as though the French are doing a good job of reclaiming the word ‘noir.’

The next obvious question is whether the Witnesses format will appeal to US broadcasters. There is undoubtedly strong demand in the US for good scripted ideas, but a poor showing for Gracepoint (based on UK series Broadchurch but regarded as similar in tone to Witnesses) and a modest outing for A&E Network’s version of The Returned may lead to caution. One factor that may influence a decision on Witnesses is how the original fares on Netflix, which began streaming it on May 1.

WolfHall
Risks taken with Wolf Hall are paying off

One of the surprise hits of recent months is Wolf Hall, the BBC2 drama based on Hilary Mantel’s novel about the life of British King Henry VIII’s advisor Thomas Cromwell. Starring the formidable Mark Rylance and superbly scripted by Peter Straughan, Wolf Hall opted against resorting to the sugar-rush scripted devices that are often used to hook in and hold on to TV viewers. Indeed, with its sombre lighting, stately pace and intricate plotting, it was exactly the kind of series that could have erred on the side of being worthy but dull.

Instead, it has proved the point that audiences often have more intellectual stamina than broadcasters give them credit for. After a strong showing on BBC2, Wolf Hall’s premiere episode on PBS Masterpiece secured 4.4 million viewers (Live+7). Masterpiece executive producer and drama industry veteran Rebecca Eaton called it “yet another high-water mark in Masterpiece’s history”.

Anyone familiar with TV ratings will know that most dramas tend to shed viewers after their first episode as a percentage of the audience decides a show is not for them. So the acid test is really whether it can then sustain its performance from then on. Judged in this way, ITV four-part thriller Safe House is a solid hit. Starring Christopher Eccleston (The Leftovers, Fortitude, Doctor Who), the series started with 5.3 million viewers and then dropped to 4.8 million in week two. However, it has just concluded with 4.75 million (live+1), making it the top-performing drama in the UK outside soaps. The show’s distributor is All3Media International, which has not provided any news yet on international sales. But with strong UK ratings and Eccleston attached, it should do brisk business abroad.

janethevirgin
Jane the Virgin was adapted from a Venezuelan telenovela

At MipTV last month, Electus CEO Ben Silverman spent a lot of time talking up the prospects of Jane the Virgin, the US adaptation of a Venezuelan telenovela that has been airing for the past eight months on CW Network. Silverman, who has an uncanny knack of delivering international hits, believes Jane the Virgin can have the same kind of success as Ugly Betty (which he brought to ABC in 2006). With the current show, Silverman’s role is to sell the international format rights to the US version, while the completed series is being sold by CBS Studios International. It’s also worth noting that the original telenovela is being sold on the international by RCTV.

It’s too early to tell if Silverman is right to put Jane in a similar category to Betty, but there are positive signs for the show. For a start, the ratings across the first run of 22 episodes (1-1.3 million) were pretty good (especially among the 18-49 demo). There’s also the fact that CW has recommissioned the show, which means it is getting up to the kind of volume international broadcasters like. E4 in the UK has already started airing the series and an unnamed German broadcaster is close to picking up the format.

On top of all this, the show – created for the US by Jennie Snyder Urman – has received a healthy level of critical praise, both from the US and UK. To top it all, lead actress Gina Rodriguez recently won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Jane, something that won’t do the show’s sales prospects any harm.

stalker
Stalker has been canned after only one season

Still in the US, the spring shakeout at US networks is now virtually complete, with shows renewed, cancelled or picked up from pilot. One casualty is Fox’s The Following (starring Kevin Bacon), which is being shut down at the end of its current run (May 18). The Kevin Williamson-created series started strongly in series one with ratings in the 6-10 million range. But by the middle of season three the show was muddling along with 3-3.5 million viewers.

Williamson’s direct involvement in the series diminished some time ago, presumably so he could devote his energy to Stalker, a 20-part programme he created for CBS. Unfortunately, that show has also been cancelled after just one season, with ratings dipping to around the six million mark at the end. Williamson (whose earlier credits include Dawson’s Creek, the Scream movies and I Know What You Did Last Summer) still has a success in the shape of The Vampire Diaries on CW, but it will be interesting to see what he will now turn his hand to if he decides he has spare capacity.

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