Minis grow in stature
Broadcasters have traditionally been cautious about commissioning or acquiring miniseries (defined for our purposes as six hours or shorter). The main reason for this is that they represent a risky investment – they are expensive to produce and promote without any of the amortisation advantages associated with long-running dramas.
But with so many channels to choose from these days, miniseries have a key role to play in terms of making schedules stand out. One mini that seems to be on a roll right now is The Fixer, which is being distributed internationally by Sonar Entertainment. Starring Eric Dane (Grey’s Anatomy, The Last Ship) and Kathleen Robertson (Boss, Murder in the First), the story centres on a conspiracy of “fixers” who are behind a series of disasters, rigged to manipulate the stock market and reap billions for a select few.
Produced by Muse Entertainment in Canada, the drama has been picked up by Atresmedia in Spain, Fox International in the UK, TF1 in France, MTG in Sweden, Telenet NV in Belgium, IPA in Thailand, Sky Network Television in New Zealand and Zazie Films in Japan.
One way to try to extend the lifespan of a short-run drama (and thus give it the kind of brand equity loved by broadcasters) is to turn it into returning miniseries. This is done by telling a self-enclosed ‘event style’ story but leaving a loose end open so that the same set of characters can be brought back in a new production (assuming there is enough positive reaction to justify such a decision).
This is what ITV in the UK has done with Safe House, a thriller from Eleventh Hour Films about a couple who turn their remote bed and breakfast into a safe house. The first run, which debuted in April, focused mainly on a murderer trying to abduct a young boy. But there was an unresolved back-story involving a rogue policeman that came to the fore in the last episode. The show rated well for ITV and also sold to key markets such as France, Germany and Australia (via distributor All3Media International). So this week ITV has announced that Safe House will return in February 2016.
One of the week’s most interesting scripted stories is that Netflix is interested in funding a new series of Charlie Brooker’s dystopian drama series Black Mirror (produced and distributed around the world by Endemol Shine). The show is best described as an episodic anthology, which means each episode tells a stand-alone story. Rather like classic series such as The Twilight Zone, the connection between episodes is to do with tone rather than plot or character.
The two previous seasons (and a Christmas special) were both commissioned by Channel 4 in the UK. But the success of the show on Netflix US (as an acquisition) has encouraged the streaming giant to make advances.
C4 is reportedly also interested in commissioning more Black Mirror, so it’s not clear how this might resolve itself. Brooker could stick with C4 as commissioning broadcaster, but bring Netflix in as a coproduction partner, perhaps giving the series a more US feel – Mad Men’s Jon Hamm starred in the most recent instalment. Or he could do two versions – one for the UK and one for the US. This might make sense, given that Endemol has already discussed adapting the show for the US, and it is made possible by the stand-alone nature of the stories. Either way, Netflix’s interest is a welcome boost to writers looking to experiment with the structure and content of scripted TV.
In recent weeks, we’ve talked about a number of US projects that have benefited from putting black characters front and centre. There could be a new addition to this trend following the news that Fox is developing The Crusaders, an hour-long drama series from Legacy writer-director Thomas Ikimi, Idris Elba, Legendary TV and Di Bonaventura Television. Something of a departure from existing series, The Crusaders focuses on a US-based family of second-generation Africans who specialise in finding and returning objects stolen from Africa during the colonial period.
Legendary is a name that is worth remembering. Having established itself as a leading movie producer, the company is now targeting expansion into the TV sector. Aside from its involvement in The Crusaders, the firm has also secured a pilot order from ABC for the comedy series Downward Dog. Furthermore, it’s in production on USA Network’s action series Colony.
On the comedy front, UK pay TV channel Gold has announced that it is to air a new feature-length comedy-drama from The Comic Strip. Entitled The Comic Strip Presents…The Red Top! (working title), the 75-minute comic fantasy lampoons the recent newspaper phone-hacking scandal in the UK.
Written by Peter Richardson (alongside Pete Richens and Brigit Grant), it will feature the likes of Maxine Peake (in the lead role), Nigel Planer (as Rupert Murdoch), Russell Tovey, Johnny Vegas, Alexei Sayle, Harry Enfield and John Sessions.
Simon Lupton, commissioning editor for UKTV, said: “There’s nothing quite like The Comic Strip anywhere else in the world of comedy so it’s exciting to be part of this next chapter. The script is hilarious and playful, and the cast list is an embarrassment of riches. The Comic Strip history is littered with iconic moments, characters and performances, and I’m confident Peter and his team will create more with this latest instalment.”
Ahead of the all-important Emmy Awards on September 20, September 13 was the date of the Creative Arts Emmys, a related event that recognises behind-the-scenes personnel such as art directors, costume designers, cinematographers, casting directors and sound editors.
From a scripted perspective, the big winner at this year’s CAEs was Game of Thrones, which took home eight awards. But there was also a strong showing for Transparent, Amazon’s critically acclaimed comedy drama about the head of a family (played by Jeffrey Tambor) who reveals himself to his family as transgender. The show’s three award wins are significant both in terms of Amazon’s increasingly influence as a commissioner of content and in the way sexual identity is dealt with by TV. But the really big breakthrough will come next week if Transparent, created by Jill Soloway, can win at the main Emmy event.