Fox consolidates Empire
The undisputed scripted success of 2014 was Empire, a music industry-focused series that gave Fox the US’s highest-rated broadcast drama in seven years.
Starring Terrence Howard and Taraji P Henson, the final episode of season one secured a massive 16.7 million viewers. Among the many landmarks achieved by the series, it delivered the best first-season result of any new series on the ‘big four’ networks since Grey’s Anatomy ended its first season on ABC way back in 2005.
Not surprisingly, Fox was quick to order a second run, which will begin in September. But it is also doing its utmost to tie down the talent that built Empire. In May, it signed an overall deal with Ilene Chaiken, executive producer/showrunner of the series. And this week it set up a similar structure with the show’s co-creator Lee Daniels, which will allow him to develop, write, direct and supervise new television projects under his Lee Daniels Entertainment banner.
Like Chaiken, he will also remain an executive producer on the popular Fox drama.
Commenting on the Daniels deal, Fox Television Group chairmen and CEOs Gary Newman and Dana Walden said: “Lee Daniels has a gift for telling authentic, provocative stories that are both truthful and wildly entertaining. His casting instincts are incredible, whether he is discovering tomorrow’s stars or attracting the most accomplished performers to his projects. As a director, he elevates world-class material to even greater heights, balancing heart-wrenching poignancy with surprising moments of levity. We love working with this inspired storyteller, and this deal is about deepening our relationship.”
Daniels co-created Empire with Danny Strong, with whom he had previously worked on the Oprah Winfrey/Forest Whitaker movie The Butler. Echoing that project, Daniels’ primary responsibility on Empire has been as the show’s director, while Strong has shouldered more of the writing responsibility.
Strong and Chaiken were both credited with four episodes in season one, including the record-breaking finale. They are also down to co-write the first episode of the second season.
Like Chaiken and Daniels, Strong is in demand at the moment. Since winning a Primetime Emmy in 2012 for the HBO TV movie Game Change, he has written The Butler, Empire, and the final two movies in The Hunger Games franchise (Mockingjay parts 1 and 2).
And despite his commitments to Empire season two, he has also found time to write the script for a new movie adaptation of Guys and Dolls. It’s also worth noting that Strong has a pretty impressive list of acting credits, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Seinfeld, How I Met Your Mother and Mad Men.
While Strong is likely to be busy with Empire for the foreseeable future, it will be interesting to see if the Daniels deal with Fox sees the two of them team up on a new project.
Elsewhere, Tuesday night saw CBS launch Zoo, a 13-part series that imagines a world in which animals start attacking humans. The show, based on a sci-fi thriller by novelists James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge, was also picked up this week by Sky1 in the UK.
Other broadcasters to acquire the series include Germany’s ProSiebenSat.1 Group, TF1 in France, CTV in Canada, Italy’s RAI, Mediaset España, Network Ten in Australia, M-Net across Africa, Yes in Israel, AXN India, FX Turkey, DR3 in Denmark, TV2 Norway, nc+ Poland and MTV in Finland.
Patterson’s novels have been adapted for the screen before, most recently in the shape of the Alex Cross movies. However, the last time his books formed the basis of a full-blown series was when ABC adapted Women’s Murder Club in 2007. The show only ran for one season before it was cancelled.
Conscious, perhaps, that the US is a cutthroat market, Patterson has been exploring whether his works might be suited to adaptations in other territories. For example, he co-wrote a book called The Postcard Killers with Swedish writer Liza Marklund. With Marklund’s Annika Bengtzon already a TV hit in Sweden, that might open the door for Postcard Killers to crack the Nordics.
The last few months have seen a number of other book-based projects bubble to the surface of the TV pile, including works by Philip K Dick, Len Deighton, Neil Gaiman, Gerald Durrell and Winston Graham.
Also in the headlines this week is Kelley Armstrong, whose Women of the Otherworld novels gave birth to hit TV series Bitten, which airs on Space in Canada and Syfy in the US. This week it was revealed that Syfy has picked up the series for a third season.
Chris Regina, senior VP of programme strategy at Syfy and Chiller, said: “Bitten’s emotional and engrossing storyline, combined with some truly creepy horror moments, really resonates with fans.”
The main writer on the show is Daegan Fryklind, who also serves as showrunner. Fryklind’s efforts are supported by Wil Zmak, Larry Bambrick, Jenn Engels and Garfield Lindsay Miller. Fryklind recently gave a very insightful interview in which she outlined some of the challenges of adapting a popular book to TV. These include everything from casting choices and production restraints through to decisions about diverging from source material.
“We killed a character who does not die in the books in order to create more story and growth for (another character),” she says of Bitten. “That was a bold choice, and Kelley took the heat for that.”
Another interesting piece of writer insight can be found this week at deadline.com, where Steven Knight, creator of hugely impressive gangland drama Peaky Blinders, gave an update on progress of season three – which is expected in early 2016.
Speaking last week, Knight said he was “sitting in front of it right this second, the scripts. I’m finishing the last episode. We start shooting September 10 in Birmingham and in the North (of England), but as much as possible in Birmingham.”