Tag Archives: Wolf Hall

Reign ends but royalty remains

Reign dramatises the life of Mary, Queen of ScotsOn Wednesday, The CW announced that the fourth season of Reign, which debuts on February 10, will be the last. The news is no real surprise given that the show’s ratings have been pretty modest since launch. Season three averaged 970,000 per episode, which puts it at the lower end of the channel’s typical ratings. An IMDB score of 7.6 also suggests it won’t be massively missed.

For those unfamiliar with the show, Reign is a period drama that chronicles the rise of Mary, Queen of Scots in 16th century Europe. It is not overly concerned with historical accuracy and is generally viewed as a guilty pleasure. It is significant, however, in that it is part of a broad array of TV shows that have placed royalty at the heart of their stories. So this week, to mark the end of Reign, we’re looking at this sub-genre.

thecrownThe Crown Netflix is reckoned to have ploughed US$100m into this exploration of Queen Elizabeth II’s early life. Written by Peter Morgan and directed by Stephen Daldry, the show has received pretty much universal acclaim and is currently sitting pretty with an IMDb score of 9.
A second season has been commissioned and the intention is that the series will run for five or six seasons (though Morgan has not yet committed to such a lengthy run).

victoriaVictoria Vying with The Crown as the best royal series of the year is ITV’s Victoria. Written by Daisy Goodwin, the show has a similar blueprint to The Crown. Starting with the early life of the famous 19th British monarch, the show is intended to follow her through her life, with season two already commissioned.
The show did well in the UK ratings, with an average audience of seven to eight million on Sunday evenings. It has also sold well internationally, although it’s too early to tell how the global market is responding to the show. It will premiere on PBS in the US on January 15. Its IMDb score is 8.3.

tudorsThe Tudors Michael Hirst’s epic series for Showtime helped kick-start the global trade in lavish, semi-fictionalised TV series about monarchy, power, aristocracy and the like. Aired for four seasons between 2007 and 2010, episodes of the show typically attracted an audience of around 700,000-900,000 for the US cable network.
The series starts during Henry VIII’s reign but doesn’t always stick to the facts. Explaining why, Hirst said: “Showtime commissioned me to write an entertainment, a soap opera, and not history. And we wanted people to watch it.” On balance, he argued: “Any confusion created by the changes is outweighed by the interest the series may inspire in the period and its figures.”
US cable channel Ovation recently acquired all four seasons of The Tudors to accompany its investment in Versailles (below). Note: other series to have explored the Tudor period include the BBC’s excellent Wolf Hall and ITV’s 2003 miniseries Henry VIII. The Tudors achieved an IMDb score of 8.1, Wolf Hall 8.2.

versaillesVersailles Set during the reign of Louis XIV of France, this Canal+ drama rated well at home and has sold widely around the world. A second season is on its way and a third has already been commissioned, with production due to start in April 2017.
The first season rated pretty well on BBC2 in the UK and has been renewed. In the US, it aired on arts channel Ovation – which scored its highest ever ratings when it aired the first two episodes back to back (a combined total audience of 557,000).
Dubbed by one critic as the music video version of French history, the show hasn’t achieved the same critical acclaim as The Crown or Victoria, but it is praised for its high production values.

magnificent-century-kosem-10Magnificent Century Timur Savci’s sumptuous period drama was a big hit at home and also been sold into more than 40 territories. It did, however, receive some criticism from conservative elements within Turkey, who called it “disrespectful and hedonistic.”
The show, which ran for 139 episodes between 2011 and 2014, is based on the life of Ottoman Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent. It was followed by Magnificent Century: Kosem, which jumps forward four decades to tell the story of a female ruler who began her life as a slave girl. This show, also produced by Savci, has sold well internationally. Season one of Kosem aired on Star and season two on Fox.

theroyalsThe Royals E! Entertainment’s The Royals is currently into its third season with an audience in the 600,000 range. This after the show averaged one million-plus for season one and around 750,000 for season two.
The show is a novel take on the notion of royalty, since it is based around a fictional British royal family. Elizabeth Hurley plays Queen Helena, a matriarchal figure attempting to maintain the family’s public image while dealing with a range of domestic problems. One of the key plot lines sees her son, Prince Liam, unexpectedly become first in line to the throne after his older brother dies. IMDb gives the show a 7.4 rating.

mary-princessMary: The Making of a Princess The Brits aren’t the only ones with a royal family, of course. In 2015, Network Ten in Australia ran a TV movie about Mary Donaldson, a young Australian woman who married into the Danish royal family after a chance meeting at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. The show, produced by FremantleMedia, got a meagre 6.1 rating on IMDb and mixed reviews, but actually rated well with around a million viewers.
Maximilian and Marie de Bourgogne: Historical royal dramas are popular for a few reasons. One is that they are less politically sensitive than stories about current royals. Another is that it is easier to fictionalise a dead royal’s life than a living one’s. And not to be overlooked is the fact that there are more royal families to work with, since a few of them have ceased to exist.
In this lavish production, for example, the focus is on the love story between the son of Frederick III and the daughter of the Duke Of Burgundy in the 1400s. Budgeted at around €16m (US$17m), it is a coproduction between MR Film, Beta Film, ORF and ZDF.

the-queens-sisterThe Queen’s Sister As Mark Lawson observed in an article in UK newspaper The Guardian last year, TV producers tend to take a slightly deferential look at recent royals, saving the controversy for long-dead monarchs (notably Henry VIII). One slight exception to this rule is the Queen’s late sister Margaret, who is generally portrayed in the media as something of a hedonist.
In 2006, Channel 4 told her story in a biopic entitled The Queen’s Sister, with Lucy Cohu as Margaret. Critics were divided over the show, some calling it satirical, others tawdry. It secured a number of Bafta nomination and aired on BBC America. See Lawson’s article here.

powerandpassionCharles II: The Power and The Passion A good example of how historic royals are fair game, this BBC production looks at the feckless and lazy side of this 17th century British monarch, restored to the throne after the death of his father’s nemesis Oliver Cromwell.
Written by Adrian Hodges and starring Rufus Sewell, the show does make an attempt to be historically accurate, relying to some extent on Antonia Fraser’s book Charles II. The show aired in the US and was nominated for a Primetime Emmy. IMDb gives it a rating of 7.6.

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Fiction favourites

Contemporary novelists have featured prominently in our last couple of columns. So in this week’s Writers Room, we take a look at some of the TV industry’s favourite authors when it comes to adapting novels for the small screen.

The only criterion for this list is that the writer is still alive, so that rules out anything involving popular sources such as Henning Mankell, Michael Crichton or Philip K Dick.

George RR Martin
George RR Martin

George RR Martin is the genius who gave us Game of Thrones, a phenomenal work of fantasy that spawned the hit HBO series of the same name. This week it was announced that he is now working with Universal Cable Productions on Wild Cards, a series that is based on another of his mythological worlds. On his personal blog, Martin described the project as “a series of interlocking books, graphic novels, games… but most of all it is a universe, as large and diverse and exciting as the comic book universes of Marvel and DC (though somewhat grittier, and considerably more realistic and more consistent), with an enormous cast of characters.”

Finding You
Finding You

Marc Levy battles it out with Guillaume Musso for the title of best-selling French author (though Levy is currently number one in terms of international sales). Both have had their novels adapted into films but so far only Levy has seen one of his novels adapted for the small screen. The title in question was Finding You, a 2001 work that was adapted for M6 in 2007. The French market’s recent renaissance in TV drama might lead to more book-to-TV adaptations for French authors.

Wolf Hall
Wolf Hall

Hilary Mantel published her first novel in 1985 but it was 2009’s Wolf Hall that really established her in the front rank of contemporary novelists. This book, and its sequel Bring Up the Bodies, was then transformed into an award-winning BBC miniseries. Mantel is currently working on the third book in the Wolf Hall trilogy, which is called The Mirror and the Light. Both her and the BBC are keen for this to be turned into a sequel to the Wolf Hall miniseries. In the meantime, the BBC is developing another Mantel novel called A Place of Greater Safety, which is set during the French Revolution.

The Last Kingdom
The Last Kingdom

Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series of novels was adapted for TV in the 1990s and was briefly revived in 2006/2008. All told, it led to 16 TV movie length productions –  all starring Sean Bean. That might have been the last we saw of Cornwell’s work on TV, but in 2015 the BBC and Carnival Films created The Last Kingdom, based on his Saxon Stories. The show has been recommissioned for a second season and has the potential to run for a while, given that Cornwell is just about to publish the 10th book in the series. Cornwell has also written novels about Arthurian Britain, the American Civil War and The Hundred Years War, so don’t rule out another epic TV adaptation from this prolific writer.

Beck
Beck

Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, from Sweden, are part of the rich tradition of Nordic crime writers that also includes Jo Nesbø, Stieg Larsson (who died in 2004) and Henning Mankell (who passed away in 2015). Their great creation is detective Martin Beck, the star of 10 novels written between 1965 and 1975 (the year Wahloo died, aged 48). The 10 Beck novels have been adapted numerous times for film and TV and have also spawned TV productions based on the central character. The most recent example was a series of eight TV films that aired on C More across 2015 and 2016. These were picked up by the BBC in the UK and rated pretty well. Sjowall is now 80.

zoo-cbs
Zoo

James Patterson, the world’s best-selling novelist, is working on a true-crime limited series with US cable network Investigation Discovery. However, his novels are also a regular source of inspiration for TV series. CBS’s Zoo, for example, is based on a 2012 novel by Patterson. His books have been used as the basis for TV and film productions since 1991 and include Women’s Murder Club, a series for ABC. In 2015, there was talk this show might be revived by USA Networks. Also on the cards is a CBS legal drama based on his novel Now You See Her. In 2015, another Patterson adaptation, For Justice, was piloted by CBS.

Mukul Deva has been described as India’s answer to Tom Clancy. A former army officer, he has written highly authentic military thrillers such as Lashkar, Salim Must Die, Blowback and Tanzeem. Given the strength of the Bollywood business in India, movie adaptations are most likely to be the first port of call for Deva’s books. Currently, there are plans for Lashkar to be turned into a film by Planman Motion Pictures. “Lashkar started getting offers from Bollywood within days of its release,” said HarperCollins India in a statement. “Deva is a very visual writer and his military background brings a lot of realism to his books. We had been waiting for a filmmaker with the right vision and drive and have full confidence that Planman will make a blockbuster movie.”

Elena Ferrante is a fascinating novelist who has written a number of acclaimed books. Despite being named one of the 100 most influential people on the planet by Time in 2016, no one knows who she is – since Ferrante is a pseudonym. There has been speculation that the author is Italian professor Marcella Marmo, though this has been denied. Two of Ferrante’s novels have been turned into films. However, the big news is that FremantleMedia-owned Wildside and Fandango Productions are turning Ferrante’s Neopolitan Novels into a 32-part TV series.

Flügel der Liebe
Pilcher’s Flügel der Liebe

Rosamunde Pilcher, born in Cornwall in 1924, is a romance writer whose novels are very popular in Germany. Public broadcaster ZDF has responded to this with a huge number of TV adaptations of her work. Starting with Day of the Storm, ZDF has adapted more than 100 of her stories, usually as TV movies. Pilcher, whose works are mainly set in Devon and Cornwall, retired from writing in 2000, but she continues to be popular with German audiences. In fact, a German film crew was in St Ives last spring to film a new story – one of many regular trips German crews make to the UK. Some Pilcher productions are also available via Acorn Media.

Does The Night Manager prove that international coproductions are the way forward for UK drama?
The Night Manager

John Le Carré is not only a giant of contemporary fiction, he is also one of the most adapted novelists ever – possibly only outdone by horror maestro Stephen King. His novels have been made into films pretty consistently for the last 50 years. In TV, he had a purple patch from 1979 to 1991 but then went quiet. This year, however, he came back with a bang as The Night Manager became one of the year’s most talked-about dramas. Now, The Night Manager producer The Ink Factory is planning a TV version of The Spy Who Came In From the Cold. To date, Le Carre’s film count is 10 and his TV series count is five. He has written 23 books, so there is plenty of potential for new stories (or updates of some of the older screen adaptations).

Nermin Bezman wrote bestselling novel Kurt Seyit ve Sura in 1992. A lavish period piece, it was transformed into a TV series for Star TV by Ay Yapim in 2014 and ran for two seasons. Turkey has a rich tradition of novelists, but the best-known living authors (Orhan Pamuk, Selcuk Altun, Elif Safak) are rarely adapted for TV. A key reason for this is that their work is often too politically sensitive for the tastes of Turkey’s TV censors. In general, Turkish broadcasters tend to turn to historical writers like Halit Ziya Usakligil for inspiration. Bezman has written a number of novels, including The Wings of my Mind and The Devil’s Failure.

Cloudstreet
Cloudstreet

Tim Winton burst onto the Australian writing scene in 1981 and has never looked back. Outside Australia, his reputation received a major boost when Dirt Music was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2001. However, he was already a major success at home thanks to his 1991 novel Cloudstreet, the story of two working-class families rebuilding their lives. Cloudstreet was turned into a TV miniseries in 2011, with Winton writing the script alongside Ellen Fontana. Winton’s children’s books, the Lockie Leonard series, was also adapted by Nine Network. More generally, Winton’s work is adapted for film (Shallows, Breath), though some of his works have also been made as operas.

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Sky enters realms of fantasy

Jasper Fforde novel The Last Dragonslayer
Jasper Fforde novel The Last Dragonslayer

Sky1’s adaptation of The Last Dragonslayer suggests the scripted market is swinging back towards TV movies and miniseries, as Crackle announces a follow-up to The Art of More.

There are reports this week that UK pay TV channel Sky1 has greenlit a TV adaptation of Jasper Fforde’s fantasy novel The Last Dragonslayer.

Set in a world where the power of magic is being eroded by technology, it centres on a teenage girl who finds herself mixed up in a prophecy about the death of the last dragon.

The project is interesting for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because it underlines the continued interest in fantasy projects – The Magicians, Shannara, Game of Thrones and American Gods being a few others – and secondly, because it is reported to be a two-hour single as opposed to an event or returning series.

A few executives in the drama business are starting to support the idea of shorter-run productions because of the sheer volume of scripted content now on the market. Although the received wisdom is that singles are harder to promote than series and offer fewer long-term return, there’s no real point spending tens of millions of dollars on a series that is going to fail because viewers can’t be bothered investing eight or 10 hours of their lives in it. It will be interesting to see if there is now a renaissance in the TV movie format.

The Hobbit's Martin Freeman stars in Start Up
The Hobbit’s Martin Freeman stars in Start Up

Another of this week’s major scripted TV stories is that Sony-owned on-demand service Crackle has commissioned its second original drama series. Following up on The Art of More, starring Dennis Quaid, Crackle has now greenlit a project called Start Up.

Set in Miami and starring Martin Freeman (Fargo, Sherlock, The Hobbit), Start Up explores what happens when a brilliant but controversial tech idea gets incubated with dirty money. The message seems to be that Crackle is mainly interested in backing high-concept thrillers with proven theatrical talent attached.

There are a couple of stories with a Canadian flavour this week. In the first, Canadian broadcaster Global TV has ordered an original drama after partnering with producer/distributor Entertainment One. Called Mary Kills People, the six-parter has been created and written by Tara Armstrong and is set in the world of assisted suicide. It tells the story of a nurse who helps people with terminal illnesses.

Isaac Bashevis Singer novel Shadows on the Hudson
Isaac Bashevis Singer novel Shadows on the Hudson

The other project is a production partnership between Macmillan Publishers’ in-house film and TV unit and Toronto-based Wildhorse Studios. This one will see the two partners collaborate on a TV adaptation of Isaac Bashevis Singer novel Shadows on the Hudson. Written in 1957, the book tells the story of Jewish exiles in New York City just after the Second World War and just before the creation of the state of Israel. It was first published in serial form by a Yiddish newspaper called The Forward.

As previous DQ columns have demonstrated, the US TV market offers an almost constant pipeline of new scripted shows. However, this time of year is especially prolific because it is when the major networks greenlight shows from paper to pilot. Like baby turtles heading for the ocean, there will be lots of casualties before we finally see full series being commissioned. But pilot season is a useful indication of the way networks are thinking.

This week, for example, ABC ordered two new legal-themed drama pilot (no real surprise given that one of its biggest hits at present is legally themed show How To Get Away With Murder – congratulations, by the way, to Viola Davis for her latest SAG Awards success). The first of the two pilots is Notorious. Created by Josh Berman and Allie Hagan, the story follows the relationship between “a charismatic attorney and a powerhouse television producer as they attempt to control the media, the justice system, and ultimately, each other.”

ABC's SAG Awards success How To Get Away With Murder
ABC’s legal drama How To Get Away With Murder brought Viola Davis a SAG Award

The second is the aptly named Conviction, which comes from The Mark Gordon Co, the firm behind ABC political thriller Quantico. This one focuses on the prodigal daughter of a former president who is blackmailed into taking a job at LA’s ‘Conviction Integrity Unit.’ Here, her job is to investigate cases where there’s reasonable suspicion the wrong person may have been convicted of a crime.

The CW, which is the US market’s fifth broadcast network, has also announced a bunch of new pilots including comic-based project Riverdale, Transylvania and an untitled Mars project. These new projects join a previously announced paranormal drama called Frequency from Kevin Williamson, which is a reboot of the 2000 time travel movie of the same name but with a female lead.

Transylvania continues the trend towards fantasy Victoriana (with examples including Penny Dreadful, The Frankenstein Chronicles, Ripper Street, Dickensian and Jekyll & Hyde). Set in the 1880s, it tells the story of a young woman looking for her missing father who goes to Transylvania and she teams up with a wrongfully disgraced Detective. Once there, the duo encounter the usual suspects.

A second season of Wolf Hall could be two years away as it waits on novelist Hilary Mantel
A second season of Wolf Hall could be two years away as it waits on novelist Hilary Mantel

The Mars project is not actually new, having first been talked about in 2013 when it was called Colony. A reimagining of the 400-year-old Roanoke ‘Lost Colony’ mystery, it follows a team of explorers who arrive on Mars to join the first human colony, only to discover that it has vanished. The show is not the only Mars project in the market, with Syfy currently making Red Mars, based on Kim Stanley Robinson’s award-winning science fiction series.

In the UK, meanwhile, the Radio Times quotes director Peter Kosminsky saying there will be a second season of Wolf Hall – but it’s not possible yet to say when. According to Kosminsky, nothing can happen until author Hilary Mantel finishes the novel upon which the sequel will be based. Then it needs to be adapted for the screen and slotted into the busy schedules of actors Mark Rylance and Damian Lewis. “She [Mantel] has still got at least a year of writing on the novel,” says Kosminsky, “and we have to get it adapted, which will take quite a while because it’s probably going to be quite a thick book. It’s not going to be any time soon I’m afraid. Two years down the road I would think, probably.”

Louis CK's web comedy Horace and Pete
Louis CK’s web comedy Horace and Pete

Usually when we talk about greenlights, it’s six to 12 months before a show actually appears. But US comedian Louis CK surprised us all this week by releasing a new series on his website without any advanced warning. Entitled Horace and Pete, it stars Louis CK, Steve Buscemi and Alan Alda in what is being described as a black comedy version of Cheers. The 67-minutes show revolves around an Irish bar and the people who work there and frequent it.

Given the quality of the talent involved it will be interesting to see how it is received and whether it encourages other creatives to drop surprise series via the internet. (Actually, there is something vaguely similar here to the recent story about JJ Abrams making a Cloverfield sequel without telling anyone.)

Finally, on the distribution front, Australian streaming service Stan has become the exclusive home of Showtime’s brand and programming, echoing a similar deal with Sky in Europe.

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Golden Globes makes bold TV selections

Mozart in the Jungle's writing team features a range of scribes from very different backgrounds
Mozart in the Jungle’s writing team features a range of scribes from very different backgrounds

I’m not sure if bookmakers take bets on the Golden Globes. But if they do, they would have offered a long price on Mr Robot, Mozart in the Jungle and Wolf Hall winning the three TV drama categories.

That a cable series about hackers, an obscure Amazon original about classical musicians and a British series about Thomas Cromwell could come out on top is testament to the significant changes that are currently taking place in scripted television.

Mozart in the Jungle, which won Best Series – Music or Comedy, is perhaps the most surprising choice, particularly as it came out ahead of its much-praised Amazon stablemate Transparent. A quirky story of professional musicians working the New York concert circuit, Mozart is based on the memoir of an oboist called Blair Tindall.

It was brought to the screen by a company called Picrow, with the pilot episode written by Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Alex Timbers. Once the show was commissioned as a 10-part series, a further eight people were credited with either writing scripts or providing stories. The most prominent names among these were John Strauss and Paul Weitz, the latter also directing a number of first season episodes.

Season two, which was released on December 30, 2015, involved some of the same writers but there were also five new additions – giving the show an ensemble feel both on and off the screen.

Jason Schwartzman has a writing credit on three episodes of Mozart in the Jungle
Jason Schwartzman has a writing credit on three episodes of Mozart in the Jungle
Among the key names, one of the best known is Roman Coppola – partly because of his famous father Francis Ford Coppola. However, Roman, like sister Sofia, has proved himself a genuine talent in his own right. In 2007, he co-wrote The Darjeeling Limited with Wes Anderson and Schwartzman and then, in 2012, he co-wrote Moonrise Kingdom with Anderson (securing an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay).

Mozart in the Jungle collaborator Schwartzman, still only 35, is better known as an actor than a writer, having appeared in a string of excellent, usually quirky, films dating back to Rushmore in 1998. He has since featured in the likes of Scott Pilgrim vs the World and The Grand Budapest Hotel, and is now a member of the Mozart cast. Aside from his involvement with The Darjeeling Limited, his only writing credits to date are the three episodes of Mozart that he has so far co-written with Coppola and/or Alex Timbers.

Timbers, who has written or co-written four episodes of Mozart, is a Yale graduate whose career to date has mostly involved writing and directing for Broadway. Twice Tony-nominated, his directing credits include Rocky The Musical and Peter & The Starcatcher.

The appropriately named John Strauss wrote three episodes of Mozart season one and is much more of a jobbing writer than the three who produced the pilot. Major credits go all the way back to TV series Boy Meets World in 1994, followed by movies such as There’s Something About Mary and The Santa Clause 2 and 3.

Weitz, writer and director on Mozart, is arguably the most feted of all the creatives behind the show. An experienced producer, director and writer, his many credits include American Pie (director), About a Boy (writer/director), Little Fockers (director), and Off Centre – a 2001 sitcom for The WB network about a couple of young guys having a crazy time in New York.

Sam Esmail's Mr Robot has been given a second season
Sam Esmail’s Mr Robot has been given a second season on USA Network
Once you see the array of different talents involved in Mozart in the Jungle, you begin to get some sense of why it has been so successful. The above five bring film and TV experience, an array of skillsets and a deep love of New York to the table. That the series was ordered by Amazon just goes to show how much viewers are benefiting from the current SVoD revolution.

Mr Robot, a Universal Cable Productions show for USA Network, beat Narcos, Game of Thrones, Empire and Outlander to win the Best Television Series – Drama category, which is an extraordinary achievement.

There were six credited writers on the 10-part first season. But unlike Mozart in the Jungle, it’s clear who Mr Robot’s driving force is, with Sam Esmail writing five episodes including the story setup and the conclusion. He also directed three. Esmail, 38, had limited success before Mr Robot, which he originally conceived as a movie – but that has now changed.

Aside from his Golden Globe success, he was a winner at the 2015 American Film Institute Awards and is also nominated for the 2016 Writers Guild Awards.

USA Network has ordered a second season of Mr Robot, which Esmail will direct in its entirety, while Universal Cable Productions has given the writer a seven-figure TV deal under which he will write other series for NBCUniversal’s family of networks.

Wolf Hall
Wolf Hall won Best TV Limited Series
“Sam is a visionary and, although he might not use the term himself, a real mensch,” said Jeff Wachtel, CCO of NBCUniversal cable entertainment and president of Universal Cable Productions when announcing the deal. “Everything about Mr Robot has been a dream. We look forward to creating other shows with him.”

And then there is Wolf Hall, adapted from Hilary Mantel’s novel by Peter Straughan, which took home Best TV Limited Series at the Globes.

Before Wolf Hall, Straughan was best known as a movie writer, with credits including the superb Tinker Tailor Solider Spy (written with his late wife Bridget O’ Connor). Wolf Hall is his first major TV work but it’s unlikely to be his last if he can fit it in around his movie work. The latest reports suggest he is working on an adaptation of Donna Tartt’s award-winning novel The Goldfinch for Warner Bros.

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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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C21 Awards highlight cream of the crop

Narcos
Netflix Pablo Escobar drama Narcos won major accolades at this week’s C21 Drama Awards

It’s increasingly difficult these days to judge the success of a drama series. While ratings are still an important benchmark, a growing number of industry executives say you need to take into account a broader range of measures in order to judge the value of a particular show to a network or platform.

The most obvious form of alternative measurement is audience appreciation, which can be assessed through surveys and social media sweeps. But there is also a role for industry awards, which generally provide an insight into what commissioners, critics and creative peers think about a show’s performance.

There are a number of reasons why success at industry awards matters. The first is that it can help create buzz around a show, which is especially important in this era of on-demand viewing. Shows that win awards get noticed by the media and often see audience uplift as a result. Assuming the award was well deserved, this can help word of mouth build. In other words, award wins are like an unbiased marketing push or a review that feeds into the positive conversation around a show.

Book of Negroes
Book of Negroes was named Best Miniseries

Award wins also have an impact on other stakeholders in the business. Once a show starts having success of this kind, it stands a chance of being picked up in distribution by foreign broadcasters. Actors, writers, directors and producers also take notice – and may decide to stay with a show if they are already in it, or join it if they are invited to do so. For a career advancement point of view, being attached to a critically acclaimed show can be as valuable as being attached to a ratings hit, which is one reason many top movie actors will find time in their schedule to do a feature film that is geared towards the Oscars. As more and more top talent is attracted to a show, it can then build momentum in ratings too.

Then there is the impact on the primary commissioning broadcaster. If they are looking just at their ratings charts, they may be inclined to cancel a show. But if they start to see positive reviews and awards success, this may give them the confidence to wait a little longer – and perhaps to commission season two, which may give the show the time it needs to break out.

Wolf Hall
Wolf Hall took home Best English-Language Drama

All of which brings us to the C21 International Drama Awards, held this week at the C21 Drama Summit as part of Content London. Based on input from around 70 drama commissioners, the awards recognise the shows that are having a major impact on the global drama business – even if ratings aren’t the primary measure.

A big winner, for example, was Netflix’s Narcos, which looks at the rise and fall of Colombian drug baron Pablo Escobar. While there is very little information about how scripted series perform on SVoD platforms like Netflix and Amazon, the show’s success at the C21 Drama Awards chimes with the feedback from critics and review platforms like IMDb. The series, from director Jose Padilha and US-based Gaumont International Television, won both the Editor’s Choice award and Best Male Performance, for Wagner Moura’s portrayal of Escobar.

Another star performer at the awards was Deutschland 83, which is distributed across the world by FremantleMedia International. This show secured gongs for Best Non-English-Language Drama and Best Casting. It was matched by The Bridge, from Filmlance International for Denmark’s DR and Sweden’s SVT. This much-loved show won both Best Returning Drama Series and Best Female Performance (Sofia Helin).

How to Kill wife
New Zealand comedy How to Murder Your Wife was awarded Best TV Movie

Other winners included Book of Negroes (Best Miniseries), Wolf Hall (Best English-Language Drama), Limitless (Best Fall Season Network Show) and How to Murder Your Wife (Best TV Movie). There was also recognition for Dixi Unchained (Best Digital Original) and Humans (Best Consumer Marketing Campaign). It will be interesting to see how this latest wave of recognition plays into the future of all these shows.

Away from the awards, Sony’s digital streaming service Crackle has ordered a second run of its original drama The Art of More, which stars Dennis Quaid. The 10-episode renewal comes just two weeks after its series debut on November 19. According to Crackle, the series has already achieved two million views, more than half of which have come from viewers new to Crackle.

Crackle is one of the few companies in the streaming space that provides any information on the performance of its shows – a commitment to transparency it says it will maintain going forward. In terms of what the two million figure means, it refers to anyone who starts viewing an episode of the show. It’s not a figure for how many people have watched the entire series, but for how many have started to watch an individual episode.

Limitless
Limitless, based on the 2011 movie of the same name, was given Best Fall Season Network Show

The renewal comes despite the fact that critics have not been that complimentary and the show is not rating very well on IMDb. Here’s a flavour of what some critics think. That said, Sony Pictures Television has already sold The Art of More to 25 territories, so is presumably feeling pretty upbeat about its long-term potential.

Next, an update on AMC’s new adventure show Into the Badlands. After a stellar start, the show saw an inevitable dip in episode two but recovered ground for episode three. With its overnight audience currently at around five million, it has to be classified as another hit for the US cablenet. There was further good news this week when Chinese online platform LeTV acquired Into the Badlands from distributor eOne. The show is due to air on AMC Global in 125 countries next year, while eOne has also sold it to Foxtel in Australia and Amazon in the UK.

The opening series of the show comprises six one-hour episodes, and star Daniel Wu believes it could run for a number of seasons. Speaking to Digital Spy, he predicted that, if the show is a success, it could run for five or six series. He also suggested a renewal (which now seems very likely) might see it expand to 10 episodes.

Finally, Amazon has secured exclusive streaming rights to the first season of Channel 4/AMC’s hit sci-fi drama Humans. The show will be available to Amazon Prime members in the UK, Germany, US and Japan from next spring – presumably just in time to spark interest in the second series. “Humans was one of this summer’s top new series and is exactly the type of smart, thought-provoking show that Prime members love,” said Brad Beale, VP of digital video content acquisition for Amazon.

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Playing to win: What next for Playground Entertainment?

Playground Entertainment UK’s Louise Pedersen and Sophie Gardiner reveal what’s next for the prodco following the runaway success of Wolf Hall.

How do you follow one of the biggest critical hits of the past 12 months?

That’s the challenge facing Louise Pedersen and Sophie Gardiner, who are leading Playground Entertainment’s new London office, as they attempt to replicate the success of Wolf Hall, the BBC2/PBS drama based on Hilary Mantel’s historical novels.

Pedersen:
Pedersen: ‘The challenge is building the business and getting commissions and making sure we keep the quality threshold up there. It feels like an exciting time’

Playground was founded by former HBO Films president Colin Callender in 2012 and its early credits also include The White Queen and The Missing, which both aired on BBC1 and Starz. Playground has a first-look deal with the US premium cable channel.

The company expanded across the Atlantic earlier this year when Gardiner, a former commissioning editor for drama at Channel 4, and Pedersen, previously MD of All3Media International, joined as creative director and MD respectively.

And with their team now in place, they’re firmly focused on developing a slate of indigenous British drama.

“The focus so far has been on development. The New York team had an existing slate and out of that came Wolf Hall and The Dresser (pictured top, an adaptation of Ronald Harwood’s play for Starz and BBC2 starring Anthony Hopkins and Ian McKellen),” says Pedersen. “The challenge for us is to get the UK slate up and running.”

Gardiner adds: “We’re mindful of a privileged relationship in the US. Some of our projects will work well in America with our relationship with Starz. But we’re also aware some of the biggest hits in the US historically have been British ideas for British broadcasters for British audiences.”

Playground UK has been busy buying up rights to novels and speaking to writers, with 10 projects currently in active development, including four adaptations. Gardiner explains: “We are developing some more historical pieces, some classic pieces, but we’re putting them with some exciting and unusual ideas to get something quite modern.

Wolf Hall
Can Playground replicate the success achieved by its critically acclaimed period drama Wolf Hall?

“The other thing that feels exciting is that we have Colin with his track record of established, quality contacts in front of and behind the camera, Louise’s strong commercial acumen and my experience at Channel 4, which was in working with newer, edgier and riskier ideas. In time I hope that exciting combination is visible on screen. You can see the DNA of the company in our slate – those three strong, different backgrounds united by a sense of quality and purpose in what we do.”

In particular, Pedersen says her background working for a distributor means the creative aspect of a potential series comes first and the commercial elements now come second. “When you’re sitting at a distributor, it’s all about what shows you’re going to invest in and whether they are going to travel,” she says. “At a production company, it’s about the creative integrity of the show and if the commercial follows, that’s great. We’re market-aware but not market-led. It’s been a bit of a journey.”

As for Gardiner, she’s relishing the prospect of being involved in the day-to-day production of a show following her stint as a commissioner. “I’m absolutely loving stepping back and seeing the breadth and discovering new writers and commissioners. But I also cannot wait to be on the frontline of production again. What’s wonderful about my position here is to be across all the development and eventually the production.”

The Missing
The Missing aired on BBC1 and Starz

But what kind of industry are they setting up in? The increasing number of channels and platforms now commissioning original drama is “good for everybody,” says Gardiner, who points to the number of film and theatre writers now looking at television as a place to tell their stories. “I know the phrase ‘golden age’ is overused but I’m really noticing that these young people are desperately passionate to write in longer form,” she says. “Maybe they used to think they’d make a movie one day. People from theatre and film all want to work in television and that’s where we’re well positioned because of Colin’s history at HBO Films and in theatre.

“People want things they’ve never seen before and that inevitably means we have to find new voices and new approaches. British broadcasters are all articulating that desire for fresh things, and that inevitably means a bit of risk-taking. But it’s all risk-taking – even with a top-name talent, a big idea is a risk. That’s where having a reputation as producers of quality matters to broadcasters so you can steer those ships.”

Playground UK hopes to be in production on at least two series in 2016, with shows already in development with the BBC and Channel 4.

Pedersen adds: “For us the challenge is building the business and getting commissions and making sure we keep the quality threshold up there. It feels like an exciting time and we both feel really lucky to be here.”

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Leader of the pack

BBC2’s adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall delivered the channel its best ratings for a drama series in more than a decade and won fawning praise across the board. DQ caught up with the creative talent behind the camera.

Distilling more than a thousand pages of Booker Prize-winning prose into six hours of television is no mean feat. Trying to condense the reasons behind the success of the BBC’s version of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies is rather easier: outstanding source material; an Oscar-nominated screenwriter; a multitudinously decorated director; a world-class cast; and an executive producer who ran HBO Films for almost a decade – a role for which he received recognition in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list.

There are other factors: its “sumptuous settings and jaw-dropping attention to detail,” to quote The Daily Mail, a normally staunch anti-BBC tabloid whose review wondered if the series, which combines both books, might be “the greatest period drama ever.”

Homeland star Damian Lewis plays Henry VIII
Homeland star Damian Lewis plays Henry VIII

For the uninitiated, Wolf Hall (2009) and Bring Up the Bodies (2012) are the first two novels in Mantel’s intended trilogy (the third, The Mirror and the Light, has yet to publish) telling the story of Thomas Cromwell’s rise to power as the right hand to Henry VIII through the first half of the 16th century.

Wolf Hall was the first book to which Colin Callender optioned rights when he set up Playground Entertainment after leaving HBO in 2008. Inevitably, there was plenty of competition but Callender was able to win the author over.

“I spent a lot of time with Hilary talking about how it could be adapted for the screen,” he recalls. “She had taken the form of the historical novel and really shaken it up and I thought there was an opportunity to do the same in television – to create a historical drama for the post-Sopranos, post-Breaking Bad audience.”

Peter Straughan, best known for movie adaptations including How to Lose Friends & Alienate People, The Men Who Stare at Goats and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, came on board as scribe but only after he was told the project was set for television.

“When I first got sent the book, I thought it was being suggested as a film and I was going to say no,” he reveals. “It does sometimes happen that you get a book which is simply too large a canvas to fit into a film-sized pot. But when they told me it was for TV, I said I definitely wanted to do it.”

Straughan had never worked in the medium before. “I’d never been given six hours to write a drama, and for a writer it’s a great place to be,” he says. He broke the novels down into half a dozen “mini films” – each with their own beginning, middle and end that needed to be slotted together to form the overarching canvas – and worked closely with Mantel, whom Straughan says was “helpful, constructive and generous all the way through… never intrusive or dictatorial.”

Colin Callender saw the show as an opportunity  to 'create a historical drama for the post-Sopranos, post-Breaking Bad audience'
Colin Callender saw the show as an opportunity to ‘create a historical drama for the post-Sopranos, post-Breaking Bad audience’

“The good novelists understand the process and know a slavish adaptation usually won’t make a good film or TV series,” he adds. “Hilary was certainly one of those. She was completely open to any change and I would usually run things by her and always send the episode as soon as I’d finished for her notes.”

The resulting series, starring Mark Rylance (main image) as Cromwell, Damien Lewis as Henry and Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn, is an intense, brooding piece of television, which lingers on the characters’ expressions and is as much about the silences and shadows between them as it is the whispered politicking and slow-burning menace of a king who is disarming in his vulnerability but primed to ignite at any time.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve had a drama that’s challenged the perceived notions of what tempo needs to be in television,” says Straughan. “There’s a kind of fear behind that, which I think is about ‘we’re going to lose the audience any second if we don’t do something quickly.’ So it was interesting to say we’re not going to do that, we’re going to go at a different pace, a different metabolic rate, and see whether a large audience would go with that. Luckily it seems they have.”

Indeed, Wolf Hall became BBC2’s highest-rating drama series in more than 13 years when it concluded in March this year, while coproducer Masterpiece began airing it in the US in April.

Straughan refers to a “post-HBO, post-Breaking Bad confidence” in TV drama, and the experience of working in the medium has encouraged him to explore other projects, potentially penning a pilot for HBO with Tom Hanks’s Playtone to bring Philip Kerr’s Berlin Noir novels to the small screen.

“The adult, interesting, complex stories that you used to be able to expect from cinema, you now find in television,” he says. He believes TV is “the writer’s medium,” whereas film remains firm directors’ turf.

Peter Kosminsky has worked in both and won countless awards in each, but he was slightly surprised to be asked to direct Wolf Hall – his first period drama.

Kosminsky is celebrated for contemporary political dramas such as The Government Inspector (2005), which also starred Rylance, and The Promise (2011), starring Foy, but his career as a filmmaker spans three decades.

Wolf Hall is all about the politics of the Henrician court, he points out, and while he had read the books when they were first published, it was Straughan’s adaptation that convinced Kosminsky to sign up. “I read a lot of scripts – dozens every year – and I think they were just about the best I’ve ever read,” he says.

They were only first drafts, too, Kosminsky notes, making them all the more extraordinary. He talks about Straughan’s “apparently effortless distillation” of Mantel’s “densely typed prose.”

Peter Straughan broke the novels down into half a dozen 'mini films'
Peter Straughan broke the novels down into half a dozen ‘mini films’

“Peter had rendered this into six hours of television without any sense of hurry or confusion. It seemed to go at a very measured pace and yet I wasn’t particularly aware of any major strands that had been excluded. Once I read those scripts, there was really no doubt in my mind this was something I wanted to do.”

If one of the hallmarks of Wolf Hall is its meditative, cerebral tempo then the decisions Kosminsky took behind the camera and in the edit suite are as much responsible as Straughan’s writing. “In filmmaking terms this is not an adventurous piece,” says the director. “Most of the scenes are two or three people sitting in a room talking to each other, so we had to think about how to give it some kind of style, how to make it feel unusual and fresh. We wanted to get a strong sense of atmosphere and, if possible, of silence. We wanted the silence of the rooms, the silence of the pauses between words to be a character as much as the words themselves.”

Kosminsky says this was something that naturally developed, rather than being imposed. “We rehearsed and then I let the actors play in front of the camera and I tended not to give them notes. I liked the pace at which they played the drama. It seemed to me it showed the complexity. You could see the wheels turning as Cromwell, who’s faced with death on a number of occasions, tries to decide on the safest course of action.”

Wolf Hall is very much about watching those wheels turn and the precision with which Rylance engineers them. The actor is in every scene, points out producer Mark Pybus, praising the former Globe Theatre artistic director for his stamina.

“In the novels you’re very much inside Thomas Cromwell’s mind and even though it’s not written in the first person, it somehow feels as if it is, and that’s one of the magic tricks Hilary pulled off,” Pybus adds.

“We wanted to give you Cromwell’s viewpoint. In order to convey that to the audience, you have to enter a room with him to establish we don’t know information before our lead character does. We experience events in that room with him and we leave with him. As a result, you have travelling shots in and out of rooms to get that sense of being on his shoulder.”

Mark Pybus is full of praise for Mark Rylance's performance
Mark Pybus is full of praise for Mark Rylance’s performance

Part of the character’s allure, says Pybus, is that he was famously a man who gave little away. Therefore a voiceover would have been inappropriate. “With an actor like Mark Rylance, the subtlest hints are given but you have to have the right pace for those to come across. If you quickly cut between scenes, you lose those magical moments where suddenly it becomes clear what Cromwell was thinking.”

Just about the only point for which Wolf Hall faced criticism from British reviewers was its occasionally dim lighting, due to a reliance on real candles – something only made possible by the latest Arri Alexa cameras. But the reception was otherwise almost universally favourable. Kosminsky admits all involved were “slightly taken aback by the reaction” – even himself, after such a long career.

“It’s a difficult book and we didn’t set out to dumb it down, we set out to confront its difficulty. We expected this to be appreciated by a small group of devotees, quickly dumped by the rest of the viewing population and largely ignored by the popular press. Nothing in 35 years in television programme-making has prepared me for the scale of the response, so I’m slightly unnerved by it and still trying to come to terms.”

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Peaks and troughs

Kyle MacLachlan as Twin Peaks' Dale Cooper
Kyle MacLachlan as Twin Peaks’ Dale Cooper

After months of Fox Network’s new drama Wayward Pines being described as ‘the new Twin Peaks,’ there was surely a degree of devilry in Showtime’s decision to confirm Twin Peaks’ return on the day that Wayward Pines launched. Now, presumably, we can look forward to a couple of years of Pines vs Peaks comparisons from fanboy websites.

Twin Peaks, for those of you too young to remember it first time around, was a surreal crime drama from warped genius David Lynch and his collaborator Mark Frost. Starring Kyle MacLachlan as FBI agent Dale Cooper, it focused on the death of homecoming queen Laura Palmer and the subsequent investigation. The revived show “will continue the lore of the original series, providing long-awaited answers for the series’ passionate fan base,” said Showtime. Lynch and Frost will write the new series (which will comprise at least nine episodes), with Lynch directing.

The greenlight comes more than seven months after the original announcement of Twin Peaks’ return, following the resolution of a budget dispute that had previously seen Lynch walk away from the project.

There’s no question that the announcement will generate a lot of excitement among Lynch fans. But it will be intriguing to see whether Lynch and Frost are able to instil the reboot with the same level of ingenuity and originality that brought huge swathes of viewers to the show in the first place. There’s no question that series one (1990) was unmissable TV. But series two didn’t hold audience attention in the same way, leading to an inevitable fall-off in ratings.

The BBC is adapting A Place of Greater Safety following the success of Wolf Hall, which was also based on a Hilary Mantel novel
The BBC is adapting A Place of Greater Safety following the success of Wolf Hall, which was also based on a Hilary Mantel novel

The first season, which consisted of eight episodes, launched to 34 million viewers on ABC in the US and regularly attracted 16-19 million. Season two (1991), which had a rather ambitious run of 22 episodes, started at around 19 million but was sub-10 million by episode 13 – dropping as low as 7.4 million on episode 20. Expect the first episode of Showtime’s run to premiere strongly, then watch to see whether it can sustain that audience across the entire run.

The return of Twin Peaks has overshadowed a number of other interesting announcements this week. Chief among these is the news that Turner-owned networks TNT and TBS plan to double the volume of original series they offer during the next three years and head in a more “daring” and “in your face” direction.

This is no surprise given the fact that other US channels like AMC, FX and A&E have stolen a march on the scripted front. Projects being lined up for TBS include a 10-part comedy called Wrecked, about a group of strangers forced to adapt when they’re stranded on a remote island (cast includes Zach Cregger, Ally Maki and Asif Ali), and a pilot called The Group, about alien abductions. TNT, meanwhile, has ordered two pilots. These are Animal Kingdom, a crime drama set in a surf community; and Will, a light-hearted look at William Shakespeare’s wild early years.

Over in the UK, the success of Wolf Hall has encouraged the BBC to develop another Hilary Mantel novel – A Place of Greater Safety. Set during the French Revolution, the drama is being written by Ripper Street’s Richard Warlow and produced by DNA TV. The 1992 book focuses on the lives of famed revolutionaries Danton, Desmoulins and Robespierre. Already in the works at the BBC is an adaptation of Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, which picks up where Wolf Hall left off.

Stanley Tucci will play Captain Hook in ITV's Peter Pan adaptation
Stanley Tucci will play Captain Hook in ITV’s Peter Pan adaptation

Stanley Tucci, best known for a series of superb comic roles in Hollywood movies, is now living in the UK – which is great news for the European TV business. After a recent outing in Fortitude, he has now been cast as Captain Hook in an ITV adaptation of Peter Pan. Produced by Headline Pictures, the new version of JM Barrie’s classic tale is called Peter & Wendy, and is being billed as “a contemporary two-hour special.” Adrian Hodges (The Musketeers) is writing the script and singer Paloma Faith will play Tinker Bell.

Also new from ITV is Jericho. Created by Sherlock and Doctor Who writer Steve Thompson, it focuses on an 1870s Yorkshire shanty town called Jericho, which is populated by “pioneers, settlers and outcasts.” On paper, it sounds like a cross between The Village and Peaky Blinders.

Jericho will be distributed internationally by ITV Studios Global Entertainment. The series will be shot in North Yorkshire, which presumably means it will have access to financial support from Screen Yorkshire’s Yorkshire Content Fund.

As we’ve noted in previous weeks, the US scripted market has received a lot of scrutiny in recent weeks because of the upfronts season. Interestingly, social media platform Twitter decided to monitor chatter about the new shows coming through and draw up a list of the ones that have been generating the most buzz. The ones that came out on top from the big five US networks were Scream Queens (Fox), DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (CW), Supergirl (CBS), The Muppets (ABC) and Heroes Reborn (NBC). There’s no guarantee these shows will go on to be big hits, but strong Twitter traffic suggests they can look forward to a healthy launch.

Fourth and fifth seasons of Ripper Street have been greenlit
Fourth and fifth seasons of Ripper Street have been greenlit

Finally, there is good news for Lookout Point and Tiger Aspect Productions, the companies behind period crime drama Ripper Street. Having been axed by the BBC in 2013 after two series, the show was rescued by SVoD platform Amazon Prime, which is supporting the production of its third series. Now, after generating strong results, Amazon has greenlit a further two series of Ripper Street.

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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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