Tag Archives: Wynonna Earp

Wonder women

A host of female characters are rewriting the rules for women on television. DQ explores how they are being brought to the small screen to front series ranging from contemporary crime dramas and thrillers to period and historical series.

There have been some great female characters in scripted TV down the years – the likes of Cagney & Lacey, DI Jane Tennison and Buffy ‘the Vampire Slayer’ Summers all spring to mind. But there’s no question that the last few years have seen the range and quality of roles for women expand dramatically. Orange is the New Black, Big Little Lies, The Handmaid’s Tale, Marvel’s Jessica Jones, Borgen, Orphan Black, GLOW and UnReal are just a few shows that have rewritten the rules when it comes to gender on TV.

For FremantleMedia director of global drama Sarah Doole, this is a sign the TV industry is finally catching up with audience tastes. “Research shows women are in charge of the remote control until 21.30, but most of the iconic dramas you can think of focus on middle-aged white men,” she says. “So what we are seeing is a new world order that reflects audience demands.”

Doole says FremantleMedia’s production slate is addressing this in various ways: “You can see it in Hard Sun, where Agyness Deyn [playing DI Elaine Renko] is not your normal heroine. She is capable of motherly tenderness but also incredible violence. She’s an androgynous, modern character that reaches a new, younger audience. And in Picnic at Hanging Rock and My Brilliant Friend, we focus on the intricacies of female friendship – issues that women don’t usually see on television.”

Red Production Company founder Nicola Shindler says the improved gender balance is also linked to greater representation of women behind the camera. While there have always been a few female role models like Lynda La Plante, “a lot of women of my generation who started out as script editors have now reached positions where they are running companies or making commissioning decisions,” Shindler says. “The result has been more shows with complex and interesting women.”

Sarah Lancashire in Sally Wainwright’s Happy Valley

Red shows with memorable female leads include Happy Valley (starring Sarah Lancashire), Trust Me (starring new Doctor Who lead Jodie Whittaker, pictured above) and Scott & Bailey (Suranne Jones and Lesley Sharp). The idea for the latter came from Jones and Sally Lindsay, with Jones keen for more female roles “that weren’t wife-of, sidekick-to, mother-of, mistress-to et cetera.” The series was then scripted by Sally Wainwright, with a directorial team skewed towards women. “It was a ground-breaking show,” says Shindler, “because so much of it was based around the camera pointing at women characters and them talking to each other.”

Inevitably, a lot of recent female-centric shows revolve around cops (Happy Valley, The Fall, Vera). But there are a growing number of shows that explore women in atypical social roles and contexts. After The Night Manager, for example, The Ink Factory is working on another John le Carré adaptation, The Little Drummer Girl. In this thriller, says The Ink Factory’s Simon Cornwell, Florence Pugh portrays female spy Charlie, “an engaging, nuanced and rewarding character, with strong agency and purpose.” Cornwell, who is le Carré’s son, adds: “For me, creating roles for women that do not conform to male-defined stereotypes is more interesting.”

The mythology of the spy genre has historically been male-dominated, but Cornwell believes The Little Drummer Girl highlights the fact that women have always played a key role in espionage: “Charlie is, I hope, completely authentic as a character. She’s also not ‘atypical’ because there have been and continue to be real women involved in espionage. I think the show highlights the presence of women who were involved but possibly overlooked or not acknowledged.”

Of course, there are some shows where women play roles not at all intended to be grounded in realism. But the prevailing view is this is fine as long as the characters behave authentically within their version of reality world. A compelling example of this is Wynnona Earp, Syfy’s popular series about the granddaughter of legendary gunslinger Wyatt Earp, whose mission in life is to dispatch demonic cowboys who have returned from the dead.

Melanie Scrofano in Wynonna Earp, a show led by ’empowered female characters’

Wynonna started life as a comic book character in 1993, at which point she was a textbook example of comic-geek male erotic fantasy. But for the TV series, says IDW Entertainment CEO David Ozer, “we’ve pivoted completely, as we have also done in the modern versions of the comic books. This is a show led by empowered female characters that also has a strong LGBT component, centred around Wynonna’s sister Waverley.”

The success of this pivot is largely down to the show’s female showrunner Emily Andras and star Melanie Scrofano, says Ozer. “Between them, they’ve created a really relatable character who is more than just a female gunslinger. You can see the female voice of the show running through all the storylines – including the relationship between Wynonna and her sister. In fact, when Melanie got pregnant just before the start of shooting season two, Emily managed to take that and weave it into the existing storylines without missing a beat.”

This isn’t to suggest men can’t write empowered female characters. Neil Cross has done it in Hard Sun and Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley likewise in Channel 4 sci-fi series Humans, whose female characters include a working mother (a lawyer), a rebellious teenager, an AI expert and a bunch of highly advanced androids, known as synths. Mia and Niska, synths played by Gemma Chan and Emily Berrington respectively, go on journeys that deal starkly with issues around female sexual exploitation, empowerment and awakening.

Interestingly, season three of the show also has a strong female contingent behind the camera, in terms of writers, directors, producer (Vicki Delow) and exec producer (Emma Kingsman-Lloyd). Delow calls it “good female representation, which maybe you wouldn’t have seen five years ago. And that certainly leads to some interesting debates about the female characters and the way they might be expected to behave.”

Hard Sun marked a first TV role for model-turned-actor Agyness Deyn

Kingsman-Lloyd says “there is probably a bit more of a female voice in this season.” Particularly influential, she adds, has been the input of director Jill Robertson, whose recent credits include Harlots. “There’s still a real shortage of female directors in action-based series,” she says, “but Jill is an extraordinary talent who directed the first two episodes of the new season.”

The idea of authenticity within a heightened reality scenario also underpins the Nordic success story Black Widows, made in Finland but sold around the world. In this show, three women in abusive relationships decide to take change of their lives by murdering their husbands. A big challenge with the show, says producer Roope Lehtinen, was “making it so that people rooted for the women even after they’d killed their husbands. I think we achieved that by not dwelling too long on the murder scene, making the guys really disgusting and also giving the show a tone that didn’t take itself too seriously.”

The ensemble nature of the show (something that is still more typical of female-led than male-led drama) meant it was possible to explore the shifting dynamics of the relationships between the women, but also how they reacted individually to what they had done. “They each have their own distinct voice,” says Lehtinen, “including one of them who is not quite as moral as her two friends. It’s important that female characters can have the same anti-hero flavour as we are used to with men.”

Most producers and showrunners agree that female characters need to be messy and complicated, not sanitised or sanctified. “Complicated, messed-up women are the only kind of women I know,” says Stacy Rukeyser, showrunner of Lifetime’s hit series UnReal, which tells the story of two manipulative ratings-seeking female producers running a salacious dating show. “Real, relatable women have a strong appeal to TV audiences.”

Britannia features a host of powerful women

Rukeyser says the show also stands out “because it’s still rare to see women at work outside of detective series. And I think it’s taken on a new significance during the last year. There may have been a sense that some of the issues around gender equality weren’t that relevant anymore, but now the whole debate about equal pay for men and women has exploded.”

Ellie Beaumont, co-creator (with Drew Proffitt) of Australian crime drama Dead Lucky, also favours shows that depict flawed women: “Our central character in Dead Lucky [a detective played by Rachel Griffiths] has a strong sense of social justice but she also has a temper and speaks before thinking. The best characters – of either gender – are always flawed.”

One interesting way of addressing the gender imbalance in TV drama has been to portray early-to-mid-20th century female characters challenging social stereotypes, such as in Bomb Girls, Ku’damm 56 and Call the Midwife. Susann Billberg, a producer at Sweden’s Jarowskij, identifies similar themes in Vår tid är nu (The Restaurant), a period family saga that her company produces in collaboration with SVT, Viaplay and Film i Väst.

“The series explores the Swedish class system from the late 1940s and how these barriers began to break down,” she says. “It shines a light on the different female perspectives and their involvement in helping society progress. Nina is headstrong and determined to break class norms by building a nightclub. Then there is waitress and single mother Maggan who champions women’s rights in the workplace.” Another female powerhouse, adds Billberg, is Helga, the family matriarch played by Suzanne Reuter.

From Canada, Frankie Drake Mysteries is another period show, set in the 1920s, that depicts a woman defying stereotypes, this time as a private eye. Christina Jennings, chairman and CEO of Shaftesbury and executive producer of the show, says: “At its heart, Frankie Drake Mysteries is about female empowerment. Frankie is a woman living life on her own terms, building a career of her own design and empowering other women along the way. We wanted to explore this era and its challenges through the lives of a group of women working together to solve crimes.”

Lauren Lee Smith (left) and Chantel Riley in 1920s-set Frankie Drake Mysteries

Canada “is in a good place right now in terms of producing series with women in lead roles,” says Jennings, whose company also produced vampire web series Carmilla. “There is a focused effort to ensure women are taking their place behind the camera, and this helps inform the stories.”

But how do producers approach gender in earlier period drama, where the assumption might be that women were treated as second-class citizens? Take a show like Versailles, for example. “It is true that Versailles was an arena created by Louis XIV to impose his absolute power,” says Aude Albano, an executive producer from Versailles prodco CAPA Drama, “and 17th century France was generally ruled by men. But women also used to play an essential role in that environment and it was important to us to depict and highlight it in the show. It was not our intention to make a feminist show, but it was our intention to use what we found fascinating in history and bring a modern look.”

One way into this subject was the fact that Louis was raised by a very strong woman, Anne of Austria. “The relationship Louis had with his mother had a clear impact on his attraction to strong and smart women, such as Madame de Montespan or Madame de Maintenon,” says Albano. “This gave us the scope to create strong, complex and singular female characters, each one of them coming with their drives, their flaws, their ambitions.”

Another option with period drama is to go so far back in history that there is little guidance on the gender roles. In Sky series Britannia, the creative team constructed a vision of a gender-balanced Britain fighting against a tyrannical Rome. “The little we know of those times was mostly written by the Romans,” says James Richardson, co-founder of producer Vertigo Films, “and they were a patriarchal, quasi-fascistic state. But there is evidence that ancient Britain was a more egalitarian society with female queens and warriors. That gave us something to play with.”

This opened up powerful roles for the likes of Zoe Wanamaker, who plays the ferocious Queen of the Regnis tribe Antedia, and Kelly Reilly, the rebellious daughter of the King of the Cantii tribe. There’s also a key role for Eleanor Worthington-Cox, who plays Cait, a teenage girl whose family are murdered by the Romans just as she is coming of age. “I don’t like the notion of ‘strong’ female characters, but what [writers] Jez and Tom Butterworth gave Britannia was interesting women – funny, fierce, complicated, messed up – front and centre of the story,” Richardson adds.

The Girlfriend Experience centres on a call girl

Worthington Cox’s role is a reminder that teenagers and young women are rarely portrayed in a meaningful way in mainstream TV drama. Shows that tackle this gap include Clique, The Girlfriend Experience and upcoming series Hanna, written by David Farr and based on the movie of the same name.

Hanna is an NBCUniversal International Studios (NBCUIS) and Working Title Television production for Amazon. A high-concept thriller that differs in tone from the Joe Wright-directed movie of the same name, it follows the journey of an extraordinary young girl, accompanied by her battle-hardened father, as she evades the relentless pursuit of a female CIA agent. “What makes it especially interesting,” says NBCUIS executive VP of scripted programming JoAnn Alfano, “is that it is a coming-of-age story about a teenage girl who, for the past 15 years, has been raised in isolation in the remote forests of northern Poland. She’s extraordinary, but what she wants most of all is to be normal. Pitching the character at this age is important to the show because she’s finding out what it is to be a woman. And, at the same time, she’s learning how to have a mind of her own.”

Of course, the debate about gender has intensified in the last year as a result of the numerous sexual abuse and harassment scandals that have gripped the media sector. The Ink Factory’s Cornwell says: “Initiatives like #MeToo, and the questions raised by our sudden recognition of behaviours in our industry that have been endemic and profoundly inappropriate, are forcing us to examine not just our actions but the social norms that have led to those behaviours or created an environment in which they could flourish. We need to address the way we have been perpetuating or internalising problematic gender constructs and behaviours through the worlds we create.”

Shindler raises a salient point, which is that the new gender balance on TV isn’t just about what women do on screen, but what they don’t do: “In Red shows, rape is never a story – and we don’t depict dead female bodies. We made a decision in our TV dramas not to portray women in our dramas as victims.”

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Measuring success

As technology continues its assault on traditional television models, success is no longer just about overnight viewing figures. So in today’s crowded drama marketplace, what defines a hit – and how are our views of success changing?

When the BBC and FX announced there would be a second season of Tom Hardy’s extraordinary period drama Taboo (pictured above), the UK pubcaster took the unusual step of spelling out exactly why the series would return.

Taboo was a solid, if not spectacular, performer on BBC1, drawing three million viewers to its Saturday night debut and staying above 2.5 million for subsequent episodes.

Yet it earned its recommission by becoming one of the most successful dramas ever in terms of views on iPlayer, the broadcaster’s digital catch-up service, a result credited to word of mouth and social network mentions that led new viewers to seek out the series.

Within seven days, episode one’s audience rose to 5.8 million and episodes averaged seven million at the 28-day cut-off. The first episode achieved iPlayer’s third highest audience ever, following Sherlock and docudrama Murdered By My Boyfriend.

Wynona Earp gained ‘momentum’ via social media

Announcing the recommission in March this year, Charlotte Moore, director of BBC Content, said: “Taboo has been a phenomenal success and proves overnight ratings are not the only measure of success, as the series continues to grow beyond live viewing. Launching in a new Saturday night slot on BBC1 provided us with an opportunity to take risks and showcase distinctive drama, and the growing talkability of Taboo has engaged younger audiences, seeing record numbers coming to BBC iPlayer, with the availability of the box set maximising audiences even further.”

The BBC went further, suggesting BARB audience data underestimated the final audience for Taboo as it only recognised iPlayer viewers using the service via a connected television and not through laptops, mobiles and tablets.

Sue Gray, the pubcaster’s head of audiences, added: “The live broadcast audience remains important and we know audiences highly value collective viewing experiences. However, an emerging younger audience group is increasingly influenced by social recommendation and will come when the ‘noise’ around a series becomes compelling. The broadcast moment can fan this flame, with BBC1 and iPlayer providing a virtuous circle which maximises audience opportunity to engage. Broadcasters and commentators increasingly need to play the long game in their quest to understand audience behaviour.”

Christophe Riandee

In truth, the emphasis on viewing figures has been waning for several years as box set binges have become a worldwide phenomenon. Ratings for a single episode no longer provide a clear picture of how many people have watched – and will watch – a programme over the days and weeks after it airs, while digital platforms ensure programmes can be watched and rewatched long after their initial debuts. So how do those in the industry now define a successful series?

Despite putting less focus on overnights, writers, producers and commissioners will admit to still keeping an eye on the ratings just to see whether they have an instant hit on their hands – unless you happen to ask people at Fox, the US broadcaster that decided overnights were “no longer relevant” in November 2015.

In a letter to staff, co-CEOs Dana Walden and Gary Newman explained why the network would no longer be publishing Live + Same Day ratings. “The connections between viewers and our shows today are more complex and, in many ways, deeper than ever – but they no longer only happen overnight,” they wrote. “So why do we, as an industry, wake up every morning and talk about those Live + Same Day numbers?

“This has to stop. It’s time for us to ‘walk the walk’ and change the conversation. The Live + Same Day rating does not reflect the way people are watching our series. It leaves out the vast majority of fans who choose to watch on DVRs, and virtually ignores those who stream our shows or watch on-demand.”

CBS’s Doubt was was cancelled after just two episodes

Though they might not admit it quite as openly, other US broadcast networks are clearly taking less notice of overnights, if the decline of early cancellations of freshmen scripted series is anything to go by. Once upon a time, it would only have been a matter of weeks, or a handful of episodes, before the first series would be cancelled each fall as a result of low ratings. But for the past two seasons, shows that have received a lukewarm reception have been allowed to play out their first-season orders to try to generate the catch-up numbers that are now such an important part of the business.

Only those dramas seemingly without any hope – see 2016/17 examples Doubt (CBS) and Time After Time (ABC) – are unceremoniously pulled from the schedules.

The Walking Dead aside, most cable shows would be happy to have the ratings scored by cancelled network series, as pay TV provides a supportive model for dramas tackling niche genres – particularly science fiction.

That’s why IDW Entertainment, producer of Wynonna Earp and Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, defines a ‘hit’ on a case-by-case basis. “It’s looking beyond the ratings, as the audience varies widely from network to network and digital,” says president David Ozer.

David Ozer

“IDW plays in the genre space, so the fandom plays such a huge role in determining a ‘hit’ for us. What’s happening on social media? What’s the audience saying? Are they trending? Who’s showing up to cast promotional events? We obviously need to deliver as large an audience as possible for the network and/or streaming platform, but there are other factors definitely involved now beyond traditional ratings.”

These days, actors can often be found live-tweeting along to their show as it airs, speaking directly to fans, while events like Comic-Con can propel a drama’s popularity, often before it has begun airing.

“Wynonna Earp is fascinating to watch,” Ozer says. “Week after week, we saw ratings growth [on Syfy], but also social media growth where we were trending weekly. The series gained a large LGBTQ audience because of one of the storylines, and you felt momentum. When it came to time for a renewal, Syfy was inundated with fan responses, and not just the usual letters but genuine notes about how important the series was to them.

“With Dirk Gently, BBC America saw immediate time-period growth and, again, a lot of activity across social media, and a second season was ordered. There was a buzz about the show that continued to grow, and reviews were very positive. While we don’t see actual results with Netflix [where both shows are available in certain territories], we were able to see success based on the social media conversations internationally.”

At Irish broadcaster RTÉ, acting MD of television Dermot Horan describes a hit show as one that “delivers more than its timeslot’s average consolidated audience, but which also delivers well on the RTÉ Player and gets positive social media and press coverage.”

That definition has emerged because much drama is now consumed via DVRs or VoD services, due to “the increase in linear channel competition, the rise of SVoD players in Ireland, the numbers of homes with PVRs and the increase in homes without TVs,” Horan adds.

Netflix’s Pablo Escobar series Narcos is a social media sensation

For Piv Bernth, head of drama at Danish pubcaster DR, a successful drama is one that both attracts a strong audience and stands out from the crowd. “Of course, the enormous competition makes you look more over your shoulder, but I think the conclusion so far is not to get confused by the oceans of TV series and instead to keep the focus on what kind of content you think will make a difference,” she says.

“From a public service point of view, the choice of story and the way it is told is as important as the obligation to tell stories that reflect the lives of the audience and create a debate. At DR, we try to do original stories, like Avingerne (The Legacy), Bedrag (Follow the Money) and, coming soon, Herrens Veje (Ride Upon the Storm) – all series with complex stories told through relatable characters and, therefore, entertaining and understandable. That is still the way to measure a success – get good viewing figures on series that makes a difference.”

Jakob Mejlhede Andersen, broadcast group MTG’s exec VP of programming and content development for the Nordic region, found success this year with comedy-drama Swedish Dicks, which set viewing records on MTG’s Nordic streaming service Viaplay. “We believe a hit happens every time a viewer is engaged by our content,” he says. “That’s why we’re doing everything we can to create an inclusive portfolio that speaks to everybody while raising important questions. We’re on a journey to become the Nordic region’s leading producer of original content, and today we have more than 50 projects in the pipeline.”

MTG is reaching viewers across streaming, free TV and pay TV services, and Mejlhede Andersen says the multi-platform approach allows the broadcaster to differentiate its content depending on where it is being made available. For example, Viaplay’s latest original series, Veni Vidi Vici, explores the descent of a struggling Danish movie director into the adult film business – a story the exec says “works much better on-demand through a streaming service than on primetime linear TV.”

Swedish Dicks broke viewing records on MTG’s Nordic streaming service Viaplay

Beyond ratings, MTG is now also using international distribution deals to measure success, with Swedish Dicks being picked up for global sales by Lionsgate. “Of course, we’ll keep listening to our audiences to ensure our stories always entertain and engage,” Mejlhede Andersen adds.

Christophe Riandee, vice-CEO of Gaumont, which produces Pablo Escobar drama Narcos for Netflix, says that while the way people watch TV today means it is harder than ever to define a hit, “one way that speaks the loudest is when you have volumes of fans engaged with your shows.”

He continues: “From social media engagement to consumer products, fans across the world let you know that you have a hit. Netflix does a great job activating fans, developing extensive campaigns that are unique to different platforms, creating hundreds of original assets for social media channels and engaging directly with fans.

“Within the first three months of the launch of Narcos, Netflix had amassed a social following of two million fans [of the show] across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and, over the course of the campaign, afforded Narcos the title of the most mentioned Netflix original series on social in 2015.”

Avingerne – an example of a DR drama with ‘a complex story told through relatable characters’

Gaumont was also behind another Netflix drama, horror series Hemlock Grove – and while the streamer famously keeps even its own suppliers in the dark about viewing figures, Riandee highlights one surefire way you can judge ‘success’ online: “I would say by the number of seasons a media partner is ordering. Netflix ordered two additional seasons of Narcos at the same time; we are currently in production on season three.”

Despite their reluctance to release ratings, SVoD services are now key to building audiences, often long after a drama has debuted, and later seasons can see a bump in live ratings after viewers have caught up online. AMC’s Breaking Bad was one of the first to enjoy that kind of success in a world where TV shows are finding it harder and harder to break through.

“First and foremost, a show has to be good.It needs compelling storytelling and quality production with a best-in-class team and talent,” IDW’s Ozer says when asked what it takes for a show to be deemed a success in today’s crowded market. “We are spending quite a bit of time ensuring we’re bringing unique properties to the market, with major elements attached. Our recently announced Locke & Key deal with Hulu is a great example, where we have bestselling author Joe Hill, Carlton Cuse as our showrunner and Scott Derrickson as our director.

“With so much programming in the market now, it has to stand out. There are shows that are perceived as hits now based on outside influences, series that have catapulted through word of mouth. There is also the ‘hang around theory,’ meaning if a show is around for multiple seasons, because of content distribution platforms like EST [electronic sell-through] and SVoD, more people can find it later in its run, creating value for the networks.”

In an ideal world, RTÉ’s Horan would like to see a single rating – combining live and non-live views – used to judge the success of series, but that may be several years away.

“The other point to make is that less can be more these days,” he notes. “For free-to-air channels, it is all about cutting through and having programmes in your schedule that make an immediate impact. Thus short-run series like Doctor Foster, Happy Valley and The People vs OJ Simpson: American Crime Story can work better than the longer-running US network dramas.”

For now, though, Riandee believes success will continue to be measured through a combination of ratings and social media. “But to have that success, now more than ever we have to provide the market with shows that are compelling,” he says, “with novelistic and addictive storylines, AAA showrunners to deliver highly visual cinematic programming and, of course, relatable actors.”

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Acorn TV is US growth opportunity

And Then There Were None
And Then There Were None is among the overseas shows that have been added to Acorn

Opportunities for international content to be aired in the US have always been limited – outside of scripted formats, Spanish-language drama for the Hispanic audience and commercially driven Canadian series produced with the US in mind.

However, the emergence of SVoD platform Acorn TV has helped open up the market. Over the last few months, the platform has acquired rights to shows like The Secret Agent (UK), Jericho (UK), Jack Irish (Australia), The Brokenwood Mysteries (New Zealand), Dominion Creek (Republic of Ireland) and The Disappearance (France).

This week, RLJ Entertainment-owned Acorn has continued its acquisition spree by picking up exclusive SVoD rights to UK dramas And Then There Were None and Capital from Agatha Christie Limited and FremantleMedia respectively.

Both are miniseries, underlining the fact that Acorn is a way for producers of short-run content to reach a market that favours longer series.

Acorn’s role in the market is reinforced in a couple of other ways. The first is that it is also an established player in DVD and blu-ray, which means it is able to offer content owners broad-based home entertainment deals. The second is that it is also exploring the potential for coproductions with European partners. Its goal is to make original Agatha Christie dramas for the US market.

Wolf Creek stars John Jarratt
Wolf Creek stars John Jarratt

Acorn isn’t the only emerging opportunity for non-US content to crack the Americas. This week, Zodiak Rights licensed all North and Latin American rights for Australia thriller Wolf Creek to Lionsgate. Within the US, Wolf Creek will air in 80 million homes via Pop TV, a joint-venture channel that Lionsgate runs with CBS.

Based on the feature film of the same name, Wolf Creek tells the story of a murdering psychopath who wreaks havoc in the Australian Outback.

Lionsgate president of worldwide television and digital distribution Jim Packer said: “This is the kind of terrifying, in-your-face thriller that has become a Lionsgate trademark, and we expect it to resonate with audiences. We believe Wolf Creek will add an exciting new dimension to Pop’s growing roster of programming.”

Still on acquisitions, Viacom International Media Networks has picked Syfy’s Wynnona Earp series for its Spike channel in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Belgium, the Middle East and Africa. The series is based on the IDW Publishing graphic novel from Beau Smith, which follows a descendent of Wyatt Earp as she battles demons and other supernatural beings. VIMN’s pick up follows Syfy’s decision to renew the series for season two last week.

Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson in HBO's Ballers
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson in HBO’s Ballers

Main production headlines include the news that A+E-owned channel Lifetime has greenlit a TV version of 1988 movie Beaches, with Frozen star Idina Menzel in the lead role. The movie-to-TV series trend has been very prevalent in the US over the last couple of years, with cable channels tending to fare a bit better than the big four networks.

Lifetime, for example, adapted Steel Magnolias in 2012 and was rewarded with record ratings. Beaches was a big hit in 1988. It starred Bette Midler and introduced the world to the Grammy award-winning song Wind Beneath My Wings.

HBO, meanwhile, has renewed Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s sports-themed comedy-drama Ballers for a third season. Created by Stephen Levinson, the show features Johnson as a retired NFL superstar mentoring younger players. The season three renewal comes despite the fact the second season has just kicked off with low ratings compared with season one. The latest episodes scored 1.3 million viewers compared with season one’s 1.7 million average.

HBO is also having to field constant questions about the future for its hit series Games of Thrones, season six of which finished in late June. The network has said the show will end after season eight, but rumours abound that HBO is looking at spin-offs. Such is the strength of the franchise that it would be very surprising if HBO gives up on this ratings juggernaut without a serious fight.

The Last Ship
The Last Ship has been given a fourth run on TNT

Also renewed this week was TNT’s The Last Ship, which has been given a fourth season of 13 episodes. That decision is no surprise given that the show is reaching an average of 7.6 million viewers per episode across all platforms.

Based on William Brinkley’s novel, the series chronicles a global catastrophe that nearly wipes out the world’s population. Because of its positioning, the Navy destroyer USS Nathan James avoids falling victim to the devastating tragedy. But now, the captain and crew must confront a new existence where they may be among the few survivors.

In a slightly unusual story, US pay TV network Epix has created a 360-degree interactive video experience to support its upcoming original drama Berlin Station. The interactive video, which is available online and via mobile, includes extended storylines developed with the show’s writers. According to Epix, the interactive content will “provide additional information about the characters and extend plot lines with an immersive experience that expands with each new episode of the series. (It will) build fan engagement and facilitate deeper exploration of the plot.”

Mark Greenberg, president and CEO of Epix, added: “Epix was designed for cross-platform viewing. Now, we’re tapping the latest technology to create new approaches to storytelling.”

The Last Tycoon has been adapted from the F Scott Fitzgerald novel of the same name
The Last Tycoon has been adapted from the F Scott Fitzgerald novel of the same name

Ayzenberg designed the digital experience and led the project development. “The best stories have many layers and seemingly endless possibilities,” said Rebecca Markarian, its senior VP of digital and social media. “We aimed to deliver that with BerlinStation.com and I’m confident we delivered through authentic storytelling and innovative technology.”

In other news, Amazon has greenlit a full miniseries version of F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon after the pilot received a positive response from subscribers.

News from Canada, meanwhile, is that production company True Gravity has joined a sci-fi drama series from filmmaker Robert Watts. Called Election Day, the show is set in the year 2055 with the world heading towards economic collapse. It follows the first election to select a world president whose mission is to contain a global revolution from humans with enhanced capabilities.

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The will to Wyn

The supernatural meets the American Wild West in US comic book adaptation Wynonna Earp. DQ catches up with showrunner Emily Andras as she begins work on season two.

Wyatt Earp will forever have a place in US history as the gunslinger who took part in one of the most famous shootouts in the American Wild West – the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

Now Earp’s name and the classic western genre have been given a supernatural twist in Wynonna Earp, a 13-part drama described as mixture between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Jessica Jones.

Based on the graphic novel by Beau Smith, it follows Earp’s descendant Wynonna as she battles demons and other beings that her famous relative killed years earlier and have now returned to seek revenge. A witty and wild modern-day shooter, Wynonna uses her unique abilities and the help of a dysfunctional posse of allies to bring paranormal foes to justice.

Emily Andras
Emily Andras

The series debuted on Syfy in the US and CHCH in Canada in April this year, drawing a band of cult followers who call themselves ‘Earpers’ and winning a second season, which was announced at San Diego Comic-Con earlier this month. It makes its UK premiere on Spike tonight.

“I was completely blown away by the response,” says showrunner Emily Andras. “It’s such a funny little concept of a show. I feel like it’s hard to buy into it because it’s so high-concept, weird and kinda wacky. So just the fact that people gave it a chance just blew my mind. I just hope we can do it all again in season two and make people happy.”

Andras has form in genre series, having previously written for and produced shows such as Killjoys and Lost Girl. And while she was a showrunner on the latter, Wynonna Earp is the first time she has created her own show.

Growing up in Alberta – “Canada’s Montana” – Andras has always been interested in reviving the western for television and says she got goosebumps when she first picked up the Wynonna Earp comic.

“If I could have cooked up something in the lab that spoke to everything I love to write about, Wynonna Earp would be it,” she admits. “It’s set in the west, it has a supernatural bent, is very witty and very funny, and most of all it has this really messed up, strong, insane female lead. She’s such a great character.

“It’s so crazy and I thought it would be fun to write something this unconventional. It just felt like a really good challenge. Now I feel like the comic and the series are working in tandem. I’m very close with Beau Smith and we feed off each other, which is great.”

Those familiar with the comic, however, will not see many of Smith’s original storylines adapted for the small screen. Andras says she enjoyed plenty of licence to bring fresh plotlines to the existing characters and setting, while also introducing some new faces.

“There’s such a huge different between those two mediums, between a 22-page comic where you can do anything and a 13-hour series,” she explains. “The stories are different but are certainly a nod to one another. That was fine. Beau and I know that’s how it works. They exist in the same world but they’re different stories. They’re complementary but they’re not exactly the same.”

Wynonna Earp
Wynonna Earp stars Melanie Scrofano as the gun-slinging titular character

The challenge of creating a show from scratch is “definitely the hardest thing I have ever done,” the writer admits. But she says that whether you’re running Game of Thrones or a lower-budget series such as Wynonna Earp, the secret to a successful genre series comes down to good storytelling and strong characters, rather than the special effects, monsters or creatures who provide the supernatural spark.

“The key is the audience has to fall in love with the people they’re spending time with,” she reveals. “Then that will help you if you have limited resources in other areas. It really comes down to good storytelling, like most things. And casting was super important. You have to find that special group of people that, when you put them together, it’s like lightning in a bottle. That’s really hard. I feel those are the two things I learned the most from previous gigs and I’m very happy with the results of Wynonna Earp.”

Heading the cast – and playing the eponymous heroine – is Canadian actress Melanie Scrofano, whose credits include The Listener and short-lived The Omen sequel Damien. Andras describes Scrofano as the perfect fit for the role, particularly in the way she balances the grittiness of the character with the witty dialogue that makes the show stand out from other genre fare.

“If you really like serious genre shows that take place on a very cold, blue-shaded spaceship with lots of serious stakes and no comedy, there’s lots of that out there. But lots of people work hard all day and come home and just want to have fun,” she says. “I’m really interested in shifts in tone. I love making you laugh and then I’m confident by the end of the episode I can have you in tears. I really like those challenges. I want you to feel like you’ve got your money’s worth by the end of the hour. It’s just a rocketing ride, we throw everything at you.”

Away from the writing process, other challenges on the show included the huge number of guns on set and dealing with the amount of gunfire a western typically demands, as well as some special-effects set pieces.

The show sees Wyatt Earp's descendant Wynonna taking on paranormal forces
The show sees Wyatt Earp’s descendant Wynonna taking on paranormal forces

“We have a big supernatural creature at the end of the season and it’s always that delicious thing on set where the actors are just participating with green screen and are screaming and writhing and running from nothing,” Andras notes. “So you get into the edit suite and you think, ‘What is this actually going to look like?’ I was very impressed in particular with the special effects and what we were able to do on our budget, and creatively how we were able to solve problems. That was one of the things I’m most proud of.”

With Wynonna’s foundations in the pages of a comic book, style was also important when the show was first conceived. Director of photography Gavin Smith helped to recreate the visual tone of the graphic novel, making a deliberate attempt to make the series feel warmer than traditional westerns.

“We also really wanted to play with the idea of a modern western,” says Andras, adding: “This isn’t horses, this is motorbikes. But I had an absolutely incredible team of directors. I give some direction but, if you hire the best people, you need to let them do their best work. I really trust them and I’m not a director, so I’ve hired them to make me look good!”

Wynonna Earp is produced by IDW Entertainment and Seven24, and distributed internationally by Dynamic Television. Seven24’s Jordy Randall and Tom Cox, IDW’s Ted Adams and David Ozer, Banditos Yanquis’s Todd Berger, and Circle of Confusion’s Rick Jacobs all executive produce with Andras.

And as a showrunner, Andrs says the most important part of her role is mapping out the storylines for the season and bringing them together in a way that will keep viewers enthralled.

“For me, it’s all about what the characters’ journey is going to be this year [and how to depict that] in the most fun way possible,” she says. “How can we show them changing and growing in a way that also involves flamethrowers and exploding heads if possible? It’s a combination of emotion and awesomeness. I really try to balance those things out.

“The show is an odd combination of episodic and serialised storytelling, but I like that. There’s the opportunity to do a ‘monster of the week’ but at the same time the relationships and the characters are changing over the course of the whole season. I just want people to come on board and know they’re going to have an awesome 42 minutes of television each week and, at the end of it, they’re going to feel something. And they can find me on social media if they have opinions about it!”

The appetite among fans on social media has played an important role in Wynonna Earp’s success and, Andras believes, in winning a second season: “I have never seen fan engagement like this on any show I’ve been a part of. The enthusiasm and passion of this particular fanbase – they call themselves The Earpers – is a huge part of why the show is such a success and definitely part of the reason why we are going for a second season. They made themselves heard on social media and it became too difficult to ignore them.”

Andras will begin prepping season two within the next few weeks, with production on the next 10 episodes likely to start towards the end of autumn for a 2017 release.

“I still can’t believe we got this on the air – don’t tell them!” she jokes. “Somehow we’ve got this crazy, demon-hunting cowgirl show on the air and it’s become a hit. It’s the little show that could. That’s one of the benefits of the audience being so open-minded. It’s peak TV right now – there’s something for everybody and I feel like there’s a place for you to take chances and try something new. Wynonna Earp definitely fits that bill.”

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Le Carré and Les Misérables in le news

John Le Carré's works have proved popular among TV producers
John Le Carré’s works have proved popular among TV producers

UK producers have carved out a strong reputation for sophisticated high-end dramas that travel well internationally – and a number of new scripted projects announced this week should further enhance the industry’s reputation.

Pick of the bunch is The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, a new John Le Carré adaptation from The Ink Factory, the company behind acclaimed BBC1/AMC coproduction The Night Manager – also a Le Carré adaptation.

The new production will be penned by Oscar-winning screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) but has yet to be placed with a broadcaster. Stephen Garrett’s new indie Character 7 will assist with financing and production, while Paramount Worldwide Television Licensing and Distribution has already been lined up to handle distribution of the series outside of the UK.

Regarded as one of the greatest English-language novels of the 20th century, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold follows a British intelligence operative who seeks revenge on the East German intelligence service deputy director responsible for the death of one of his agents. It was written in 1963 and adapted into an acclaimed film in 1965.

Meanwhile, the BBC, The Weinstein Company and Lookout Point are moving forward with a new TV series based on Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, which until now has been best known to most people as a musical/musical film. Andrew Davies, who worked with the BBC, TWC and Lookout Point on an epic adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, will write what is expected to be a six-part miniseries.

The 2012 film version of Les Misérables
The 2012 film version of Les Misérables

Commenting on the project, he said: “Les Misérables is a huge, iconic title. Most of us are familiar with the musical version, which only offers a fragmentary outline of its story. I am thrilled to have the opportunity of doing real justice to Victor Hugo by adapting his masterpiece in a six-hour version for the BBC, with the same team who made War and Peace.”

Also coming out of the UK this week is news of a planned adaptation of Wilkie Collins’ classic mystery story The Moonstone by the BBC. Described by TS Eliot as “the first and greatest of English Detective novels,” The Moonstone sees adventurer Franklin Blake attempting to solve the disappearance of the priceless Moonstone and win back Rachel Verinder, his true love.

The Moonstone will broadcast over five consecutive afternoons on BBC1, and is made in association with BBC Learning as part of the BBC’s #LoveToRead campaign.

It is being adapted for the screen by Rachel Flowerday (Father Brown, EastEnders) and Sasha Hails (Versailles, Casualty) and made by King Bert Productions.

Dan McGolpin, controller of BBC daytime and early peak, said: “The Moonstone spawned a new genre: the detective novel. Its influence endures to the present day, in books and on television. With the help of BBC Learning, we are offering BBC1 viewers the chance to see this gripping story play out across five afternoons. Our viewers are in for a treat.”

The Five writer Harlan Coben is now working on The Four
The Five writer Harlan Coben is now working on The Four

Still in the UK, pay TV channel Sky1 has ordered a second crime drama from author Harlan Coben and Red Production Company.

The new show, The Four, will be an eight-part thriller that tells the story of an idyllic family community irrevocably shattered by secrets, lies, suspicions and misguided trust. It follows on from Coben’s first original story for TV, The Five, which debuted in April on Sky1. As with The Five, the idea for The Four will be provided by Coben but the script will be written by Danny Brocklehurst.

Red CEO and founder Nicola Shindler said: “When Harlan told me about the premise for his latest story, I knew it would be just as addictive viewing as The Five. As with all his work, it is utterly intriguing, totally immersive and completely character-driven.”

Coben added: “I never wanted to make a sequel to The Five – that story has now been told – but rather to start afresh and bring a whole new crime drama to the screen. Working with Nicola and Sky again was essential to ensure that, creatively, The Four is brought to life in the way that we have imagined.”

Meanwhile, in the US, NBC has commissioned a true crime scripted series that will form part of its hugely successful Law & Order franchise. Law & Order: True Crime – The Menendez Murders will follow the real-life case of Lyle and Erik Menendez, the brothers convicted of murdering their parents in 1996.

The Mendendez brothers were convicted of murdering their parents
The Mendendez brothers were convicted of murdering their parents

The show is the first in a planned anthology series that will follow real-life criminal cases in a similar style to FX’s American Crime Story. Rene Balcer, who has played a central role in the development of Law & Order, will write and show the new spin-off, which is expected to consist of eight parts.

As we noted in our last column, the entertainment industry has been busy with San Diego Comic-Con for the last few days. Increasingly the event is viewed by studios an important platform for news about the future for TV shows.

Pay TV channel Syfy, for example, announced that it is bringing back Wynonna Earp for a second season, while Netflix revealed there will be a third season of its Marvel series Daredevil. There were also reports at Comic-Con that Netflix will provide a home for a reboot of Mystery Science Theater 3000, a 1980s/1990s comedy series that has been brought back to life thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Comic-Con also threw up rumours that Doctor Who spin-off series Torchwood may return. The show’s star John Barrowman said: “I have a phone conversation on Monday to see how we can get it back on television. The fans know me well enough, I’m only going to say it if I mean it and believe it.”

John Barrowman in Torchwood, which he says could return
John Barrowman in Torchwood, which he says could return

Away from Comic-Con, USA Network is reported to be developing a drama series set centred on a bodybuilding gym with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. The show, which has a working title of Muscle Beach, will be based in LA’s Venice Beach during the 1980s. CBS is also reported to be working on a Venice Beach-set bodybuilding drama called Pump with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Konyves.

Finally, in Asia, HBO has started production on a Chinese original series called The Psychic. The show, which has been developed by HBO Asia in partnership with Taiwanese broadcaster Public Television Service (PTS) and Singaporean production company InFocus Asia centres on a teenage girls who can see spirits.

Jonathan Spink, CEO of HBO Asia, said: “Asia’s rich diversity offers inspiration for countless of stories waiting to be told and local talents to be discovered. Through collaborating with PTS and remarkable talents in Taiwan to increase our production of local-language content, HBO Asia is perfectly placed to bring our creative spin to The Psychic for regional audiences.” The series will be shot in Taiwan and aired by HBO Asia in 23 territories.

Jessie Shih, director of international at PTS, added: “I am very happy to announce PTS’s first collaboration with HBO Asia on their first Chinese original series, also their first Taiwan series, working with a young and upcoming local team, bridging the gap between television and film with the talented mix of crew and actors. Cultivating local young talents and helping them to connect with the international industry is PTS’s top priority. I believe this HBO/PTS collaboration, in partnership with IFA, will lead the local Taiwanese industry to greater heights.”

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Keeping busy in the off-season

The Brink has been given a second season on HBO
The Brink has been given a second season on HBO

The end of July is not an especially busy time in terms of greenlighting scripted shows. Any TV executive with a shred of sense is on holiday right now, recharging their batteries before the all-important autumn season slams into action.

Having said that, HBO has made a couple of interesting announcements in the last week. First, it ordered a second season of The Brink, a comedy that takes a satirical look at geopolitical crises (season one focused on Pakistan). Soon after, it announced that it had greenlit a miniseries about the racist murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955.

The latter project is significant both because of its personnel and its subject matter. In terms of the former, it is being produced by Will Smith and Jay-Z – a nice shot in the arm for the TV industry’s credentials. As for subject matter, it is a sobering time to retell the story of Till’s murder, with so much racial strife in the US right now. The Till tragedy became symbolic of racial prejudice in the southern US, having a big impact on the civil rights movement.

The Smith/Jay-Z project is being developed in partnership with Overbrook Entertainment’s James Lassiter, Roc Nation’s Jay Brown and director Aaron Kaplan. No writer has been attached yet but it is expected to run to around six hours of television.

Robert and Michelle King, creators of The Good Wife (pictured), are working on BrainDead for CBS
Robert and Michelle King, creators of The Good Wife (pictured), are working on BrainDead for CBS

Another greenlight this week is BrainDead, which US network CBS has given a straight-to-series order. BrainDead is from Robert and Michelle King, the married team who are also the creators and exec producers of long-running CBS show The Good Wife.

Due to air in summer 2016, BrainDead centres on a young woman as she gets her first job in Washington DC. It will be executive produced by Ridley Scott, David Zucker and Liz Glotzer for CBS Television Studios, Scott Free Productions and King Size Productions, all of which were also involved with The Good Wife.

While summer isn’t a great time for production announcements, there are usually a few acquisitions stories of note, as broadcasters look to make last-minute additions to their schedules. European pay TV broadcaster Sky, for example, has picked up the rights to NBC thriller Aquarius for broadcast in the UK, Ireland, Germany and Austria.

This is in addition to a deal earlier this year between Sky Italia and the show’s distributor ITV Studios Global Entertainment.

Starring David Duchovny (The X-Files), the 13×60’ series is set in 1967 at the height of the Summer of Love. Duchovny plays LA homicide detective Sam Hodiak, whose investigation into a missing girl leads him into the dark activities of a strange cult run by notorious killer Charles Manson.

David Duchovny in Aquarius
David Duchovny in Aquarius

The show will debut on Sky in the UK and Ireland on August 11, before rolling out in the other territories later. All told, the Sky deals will take the show into 21 million European households. Other dramas to have been shown across the entire Sky network include HBO’s Game of Thrones and Sky original production Fortitude.

In other acquisition news, US cable channel Syfy has picked up the US rights to Wynonna Earp, a live-action television series based on the IDW Publishing comic created by Beau Smith. With an initial order of 13 one-hour episodes, Wynonna Earp is a fast-paced, contemporary thriller that follows Wyatt Earp’s great-granddaughter as she battles demons and other supernatural beings.

Emily Andras (Lost Girl, Killjoys) developed the series for television and will serve as executive producer and showrunner. Wynonna Earp will be produced in Calgary by Seven24 Films, and distributed by IDW Entertainment. Production is slated to begin in August.

Comic Wynnona Earp is being adapted for television
Comic Wynnona Earp is being adapted for television

“Wynonna Earp is a unique contemporary western that will bring high-octane, full-throttle, supernatural action to Syfy,” says Chris Regina, the channel’s senior VP of programming. “It is wildly imaginative and we are excited to work with Seven24 Films, IDW Entertainment and Emily on this truly original concept that will showcase fun, stylised visuals and pure escapism.”

In the absence of new shows to announce, one way networks keep up interest is by drip-feeding casting announcements linked to upcoming shows. This week, for example, it was revealed that supermodel Naomi Campbell will join the cast of FX’s American Horror Story: Hotel.

Already booked into Hotel is Lady Gaga, whose participation was announced earlier this year. American Horror Story is an anthology show, which makes this kind of bold casting decision easier than in the case of long-running episodic or procedural dramas – a trend that will feature in the upcoming summer magazine issue of Drama Quarterly.

Among the week’s most noteworthy strategic developments is a report that Amazon is going to increase its presence in India with the launch of its Prime service. According to India’s Economic Times, Amazon is planning to invest up to US$5bn in the country, some of which will be dedicated to creating local content.

Matt Dillon in Wayward Pines. Will the show come back for a second run?
Matt Dillon in Wayward Pines. Will the show come back for a second run?

The online giant has already hired Nitesh Kripalani to oversee its content strategy. Kripalani’s career to date has seen him spend five years at Sony, overseeing a number of initiatives including the premium video-on-demand brand Sony LIV.

Finally, for anyone who has been following the progress of M Night Shyamalan’s Wayward Pines, the show finished its first run of 10 episodes strongly on Fox in the US last week. Overall, the show has been a success, picking up a lot of viewers on a time-shifted basis.

Fox has not yet said whether it will renew Wayward Pines, but Shyamalan says he is open to the prospect of producing a new season.

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