Tag Archives: You

Top of their game

Serial showrunners Greg Berlanti and Jed Mercurio talk about the creative processes behind some of their biggest hit series, including You and Bodyguard.

Greg Berlanti is the undisputed king of television producers. With 18 series on air or commissioned in the US in 2019, he is dominating the schedules – and streaming platforms – with shows such as DC Comics adaptations The Flash, Supergirl and Doom Patrol, crime drama Blindspot, stalker hit You (pictured above) and Netflix series Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

Berlanti recently spoke at Israeli television festival INTV, where he shared the stage with British showrunner Jed Mercurio, whose credits include BBC thrillers Bodyguard and Line of Duty, which concluded its fifth season last month.

Here, DQ recaps some of their conversation, which covers topics such as making a hit series, where projects come from, production challenges and surviving in the era of ‘Peak TV.’

Jed Mercurio

You can never tell if a show is going to be a hit
Jed Mercurio: In the first instance when you’re working on a show, all you can do is work on the show. You can’t think about how it’s going to perform because there are so many variables. The best thing you can do is not guess how it’s going to perform. I was obviously thrilled by how the show [Bodyguard] performed, but there are so many variables – what night it goes out, how well it’s been promoted, whether the premise captures the audience’s imagination, and we were incredibly fortunate that a lot of stuff aligned for us. After that, as the show got bigger week on week, it became surreal.
I’m used to that situation sometimes when the ratings come out and the phone doesn’t ring because the ratings are bad and no-one wants to tell me, so when they are good, people want to tell me, so my phone was ringing earlier and earlier in the morning.

Known for his superhero dramas, You marked a different direction for Berlanti
Greg Berlanti: I read the book You three or four years ago and sent it to [showrunner] Sara Gimble. I’d never done a thriller before, but given that this was a romantic story with the point of view of a stalker, I want to do it responsibly, with a female perspective. I couldn’t believe that I was so in this person’s head that I was actually kind of rooting for this relationship, the book was kind of a Rorschach test for our society and how invested we are in the relationships.

Greg Berlanti

We sold the show to Showtime, of all places. They wanted to make something that was slightly different from the book, and once they read the book they were really cool about saying you can take it somewhere else. Lifetime loved the book and the script and then we shot it and because of their launch cycle it sat in the can for a while, so it was two-and-a-half years old when they finally started to release it and it didn’t do very well. Very often in this business, the best thing you can be is an advocate, I just kept saying I really think people will enjoy the story as much as we enjoyed the book.
We were getting some [hype] but not as much as you would hope. You’ve got to be realistic and pragmatic, but at the same time it had been bought by Netflix for international distribution. By the time it had premiered in full on Lifetime, they knew they weren’t going to take it to season two, and Netflix swooped in and assured us they would do a second season. And then I started getting a flood of emails from people who knew the show had been on, and then I felt like people were really discovering the show.
I loved making the show, I love the team we put together. You want all your things to succeed. So many things I’ve done didn’t work, and it was nice that this one made the cut and survived long enough to get another chance at life; it makes me happy. Mostly you want to feel validated because you’ve been saying for so long that you really think this story should connect.

Mercurio viewed the BBC’s Bodyguard as a variation on a cop show

Bodyguard came from Mercurio’s desire to write a political series
Mercurio: Originally the idea was to do something within the political arena. The first conversations I had with the BBC was the fact they hadn’t had a political thriller for a good deal of time. I started to think about a way into that. And because of how much I like dynamic storytelling – I like real jeopardy – I didn’t want to do something about politicians rivalling for power. Once I’d worked on it a little more, I went back with the way into the story, which involved a protection officer. In the UK it’s a division of the Metropolitan Police in London who protect high-ranking politicians and diplomats, so I felt like it was a variant on a cop show, and beyond that it was about constructing the relationships, creating the tension between the bodyguard and the person he’s meant to protect and giving him a back story that potentially makes him unstable enough and vengeful enough to possibly be a threat to her.

But at the start of production, things weren’t quite going to plan
Mercurio: A couple of things happened to us that were actually quite damaging. We were all set to shoot the opening train sequence but at the end of business on the day before the shoot, they revoked the licence. [It was initially intended to be shot on a train leaving London’s Waterloo Station but permission was withrawn, leading the sequence to be shot on the Mid Norfolk Railway.] We ended up having a couple of days shutting down production. We had nothing to shoot, we had to reconceive that sequence. During shooting of the rest of the show I worked with the director on various concepts for how we would approach that when we got a suitable location. The only way we thought we could do it was not using a moving train so the whole sequence had to be rewritten, but the advantage was that we shot it at the end of the shoot. Richard Madden [who plays lead character Richard Budd] had spent months in character and felt great in character, so he wasn’t shooting it cold. We, as a unit, knew the series well, we could make decisions that were confident and well informed, which is essential when you’re up against the clock, and we were very fortunate that that particular bit of misfortune went in our favour.

Berlanti worked on DC Comics adaptations including Supergirl

Their motivation to work in multiple genres comes from the people they work with and the nature of what they want to watch on television themselves
Mercurio: For me, it’s making something that I would want to watch on TV. It’s that simple. If there’s an idea that I think, ‘I wouldn’t watch that show,’ I wouldn’t do it. Whatever it is that somehow sparks my interest is essential for two reasons. I need to be really excited by the idea, in order to spend the amount of time that I have to on it, and each season is up to two years of my life so you’ve really got to be very committed to the work. The other thing is making the assumption that if you like something, there have got to be people out there who will like it as well, and beyond that it’s trying to get an idea that has critical mass. When you start thinking about what happens at the beginning of the story is there enough of a chain reaction to take in all kinds of directions?
For the audience to connect with the premise in that first episode, they’ve got to sense that mass building, they’ve got to sense that can explode and carry them in any direction. They have to sense that something big is coming.

Berlanti: What’s allowed me to work in different genres is the people I’ve worked with. Most are experienced in different areas, but at the end of the day most of it comes down to character. What are you trying to say about that character? It can be an emotional fight two characters are having, or an action sequence. If that sequence isn’t revealing of character, it’s the first thing you can cut.

Mercurio’s Line of Duty season five came to an end in May

Despite the amount of competition television shows now face, if it’s good enough, people will see it
Berlanti: Having seen so much change since I started in the business in terms of what people think might be popular or sell, it might be naïve of me to think this, but I really believe it is just more and more about execution and how well that story is told. You want to make sure as much as possible that it’s as good as it can be, so that it can survive as the climate gets more competitive.

Mercurio: One of the things that has changed that maybe isn’t talked about so much is the relationship between viewers and the shows. As a nerdy kid who watched every episode of his favourite shows, and knew all the characters and all the actors, that was rare back then. Today, people can re-watch old seasons and it’s now justifying more intensive detail in writing, more layers in writing plots and, more importantly, it’s convinced executives [to be more ambitious]. In the past, they said it would be very episodic and simple, that people have one chance to grab it and if you don’t make it very clear to them you have a problem. Now there are opportunities where people are encouraging you to be ambitious and complex and respect the devotion of the audience.

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Globo novela explores a different avenue

Avenida Brasil creator Joao Emanuel Carneiro has come up with A Regar do Jogo
Avenida Brasil creator Joao Emanuel Carneiro has come up with A Regar do Jogo

There’s a lot of excitement in the world of telenovela right now following the news that Brazilian TV giant Globo has started production on A Regar do Jogo (The Rule of the Game).

Due to air in August, the show is from Joao Emanuel Carneiro, the creator of global hit Avenida Brasil (Brazil Avenue). It tells the story of a much-loved politician whose life is more complex than it appears on the surface. The cast is led by Alexandre Nero (Empire) and also features Giovanna Antonelli (The Clone) and Caua Reymond (Brazil Avenue), among others.

Expectations for The Rule of the Game are high after the success of Avenida Brasil. Not only did Carneiro’s previous show secure massive ratings in its domestic market (the final episode secured an 84% share), it was sold into 130 territories worldwide. Business magazine Forbes called the show the most successful telenovela ever, estimating that it generated more than US$1bn in ad revenue (against a US$45m production budget). Let’s hope Carneiro has secured himself a favourable contract for the new project.

As discussed in a recent column, San Diego’s Comic-Con has become a key event in the calendar for US broadcasters. At this year’s edition, for example, there were numerous trailers, sneak previews and exclusive premieres on show for upcoming series. There was even some renewal news, notably MTV’s announcement that it has greenlit a sixth season of Teen Wolf and WGN America’s revelation that Salem will have a third run.

Fear The Walking Dead will debut on AMC Global channels worldwide
Fear The Walking Dead will debut on AMC Global channels worldwide

One other major topic was the upcoming array of zombie shows set to hit the market. AMC, for example, announced that The Walking Dead season six will premiere on Sunday October 11 at 21.00 with an extended 90-minute episode (preceded by a Zombie Apocalypse week, running from October 5-11). As in previous seasons, the show’s sixth run of 16 episodes will air in two parts, with the second eight hitting screens in February 2016.

AMC also revealed that its brand new companion series Fear The Walking Dead will premiere on Sunday August 23 at 21.00. Significantly, the show will also debut on AMC Global channels around the world simultaneously with the US premiere. “Anticipation for Fear the Walking Dead is reaching a crescendo and we are ecstatic about delivering the series to worldwide fans at the exact same time as the US,” says Bruce Tuchman, president of AMC and Sundance Channel Global. “Whether you’re in Hong Kong, Madrid or São Paulo, AMC viewers will be able to experience the start of the zombie apocalypse together.”

If all of that doesn’t satiate your thirst for dead flesh, then this autumn also sees the launch of Ash vs Evil Dead, a series from Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert and Bruce Campbell. Greenlit by Starz, this particular zombiefest will launch on Saturday, October 31 at 21.00, wisely avoiding a confrontation with AMC’s megahit.

Currently in production in New Zealand, the 10-part Starz series is a follow-up to classic horror film franchise The Evil Dead. The cast is led by Bruce Campbell, who reprises his role as Ash, and Lucy Lawless (Salem, Spartacus). The first episode was directed by Raimi, creator of the original Evil Dead series as well as director of Darkman, Drag Me To Hell and the Spider-Man trilogy. Raimi’s involvement should ensure that this is more than just an attempt to cash in on the current fascination with the undead genre.

Ashley Jensen stars in Agatha Raisin, which returns for eight more mysteries
Ashley Jensen stars in Agatha Raisin, which returns for eight more mysteries

In Europe, pay TV broadcaster Sky has been flexing its muscles in recent years by investing in original programming. This week, its UK-based entertainment channel Sky 1 announced an autumn schedule that it says is underpinned by “a 20% increase in spend on new programmes.” In addition, it said that, for the first time, there will be brand new UK drama and comedy all year round, with drama on Wednesdays.

“I’m so excited we can offer absolutely top-quality drama all year round and I love how brilliantly unique our comedies feel,” said Adam MacDonald, director of Sky 1. “The range of original programming we have reflects what Sky 1 stands for: the very best of modern Britain and Ireland, and all the eclecticism, diversity and joy that implies. We know that some of the best family moments come from sitting around the TV and enjoying that time together, and we hope with this new line-up to create more of those moments.”

From September, Sky 1 will ramp up its commitment to drama with You, Me & The Apocalypse, starring Rob Lowe, Pauline Quirke, Mathew Baynton, Paterson Joseph and Joel Fry in an “adrenaline-fuelled, continent-spanning tale about the final days before a comet collides with the earth.” For the festive season there will be four-part drama Fungus the Bogeyman, based on the book by Raymond Briggs. This stars Victoria Wood, Keeley Hawes, Joanna Scanlan and, as Fungus, Timothy Spall.

Following a 2014 one-off, Ashley Jensen will return as Agatha Raisin, with eight mysteries based on the bestselling novels of MC Beaton. Acclaimed thriller writer Harlan Coben has also created his first original story for TV with The Five. A taut mystery about the consequences of a terrible childhood incident for a group of friends, the cast includes Tom Cullen, O-T Fagbenle, Lee Ingleby and Sarah Solemani.

Separately, comic-book legend Stan Lee has co-created his first UK TV drama, alongside writer Neil Biswas. Called Lucky Man, it stars James Nesbitt as a down-on-his-luck police officer whose fortunes mysteriously change.

Ballers attracted 8.9 million viewers across HBO’s branded platforms
Ballers attracted 8.9 million viewers across HBO’s branded platforms

Back in the US, HBO has renewed its series Ballers for a second season. From creator Stephen Levinson (Entourage, Boardwalk Empire), the show looks at the lives of former and current football players, focusing on former superstar Spencer Strasmore (Dwayne Johnson), who is trying to reinvent himself as a financial manager for current players in Miami. “We are thrilled with the overwhelming response the series has received,” says Michael Lombardo, president of HBO Programming. “The charismatic and hugely talented Dwayne Johnson, along with the rest of the Ballers cast, has struck a chord with the HBO audience.”

The first episode of Ballers season one aired on June 21 and has so far gathered 8.9 million viewers across HBO’s branded platforms, making it HBO’s most watched first episode of a half-hour series since 2009. Furthermore, the episode has also tallied a staggering 5.6 million views on Dwayne Johnson’s Facebook page. Aside from all the fan love, the show has also received critical acclaim, with Entertainment Weekly describing it as “funny” and “fast-moving,” and the Hollywood Reporter calling Dwayne Johnson “magnetic,” hailing his “star performance.”

Elsewhere, Broadcast reports that discussions are underway between Channel 4 and Kudos over a second season of Humans, which is currently in the middle of its first run. Broadcast quotes C4’s head of international drama Simon Maxwell as saying a second run is “very much under consideration. We’ve got a story that is told over a great many episodes and is designed to return.”

The Heroes Reborn App aims to be a portal to the Heroes universe
The Heroes Reborn App aims to be a portal to the Heroes universe

Finally, this week also sees the launch of the Heroes Reborn App, described by NBC as “a portal to the past, present and future of the Heroes universe.” According to NBC, the app provides fans with a simple, intuitive way to quickly catch up on the saga, with curated clips from all four seasons of the original Heroes series. The Heroes Reborn App also offers access to a six-episode prequel Dark Matters and special content from Heroes Reborn, which will be rolled out ahead of the series launch on September 24.

The App is an interesting insight into the way digital can be used to build a supporting mythology for scripted franchises. “We want fans to have a place where they can speed binge – either by season or by character – and experience all the excitement of Heroes and, at the same time, look into the future to see how Heroes Reborn continues this compelling franchise,” says Robert Hayes, executive VP for digital at NBC Entertainment. “This one-of-a-kind app is a one-stop shop for any Heroes aficionado.”

According to NBC and Tim Kring (creator of Heroes/Heroes Reborn), digital prequel Dark Matters will bridge the gap between the original series and Heroes Reborn, reintroducing viewers to the Heroes universe and unveiling a new generation of characters. “Anyone who watches Dark Matters will find the ton of clues, backstory and Easter eggs that we’ve layered in,” says Kring, who is executive producing Heroes Reborn. “Watching it before seeing Heroes Reborn completes the entire saga, and guarantees a deeper, more rewarding experience for the fans.”

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