Tag Archives: Alibi

Dynamic duo

A modern take on a crime procedural that happens to be set in 1880s London? Welcome to the world of Miss Scarlet & The Duke.

Inside Cabinteely House, a grand country manor set in parkland south-east of Dublin, all the hallmarks and finishes of an exquisite period property can be found. In one room, an ornate chandelier hangs from the ceiling above a china tea set that adorns a wooden table. Gold curtains and a marble fireplace complement the painted blue walls.

Another room is decorated with patterned wallpaper and elaborate gold furniture. A portrait sits above the fireplace while the windows are framed by lace curtains and gold drapes.

Nearby, a film crew has crammed itself into the kitchen, setting up cameras to capture both sides of a conversation about to take place around a wooden table in the middle of the small room. A deep metal sink has been built beneath the window, while copper pots dangle above the stove.

At first glance around the set, Miss Scarlet & The Duke looks to have everything we’ve come to expect from a standard costume drama. But as creator and showrunner Rachael New attests, this isn’t your usual period show.

Described as a full-throttle series about the first ever female detective, operating in 19th century London, the show sees Eliza Scarlet take on her father’s private detective agency following his death, teaming up with drinking, gambling and womanising Detective Inspector William ‘The Duke’ Wellington to solve crimes in the murkiest depths of the city.

Kate Phillips and Stuart Martin play the show’s titular characters

To create the series, New has blended her passions for watching costume dramas, writing crime shows and reading historical fiction to create a character she compares to Sherlock Holmes.

“But where Holmes is a superhero, I wanted to write a character that was a bit flawed, human and relatable,” she says. “Where Holmes would be celebrated for his brilliance, Eliza will have to prove herself a hell of a lot more to gain any kind of acceptance or respect, because our story is set at a time where women had little or no rights at all.

“This is the Victorian era, when women were meant to be submissive at home, not running around London solving crimes. As such, she would be seen as an oddity, an outcast or an embarrassment. But she is determined, she’s smart and she has a forensic mind.”

It’s her emotional intelligence and observational skills that make Eliza a great detective, New continues. But to operate beyond her limits in 1880s London, she leans on three male characters for support. First there’s the titular Duke, who as a young boy was mentored by Eliza’s father. As such, he and Eliza share a sibling bond with a bubbling attraction.

“They have this lovely, sparky, fun relationship – it’s like 19th century banter,” New says. “And they’ve got the measure of each other. They cut through the bullshit and have this very real relationship that sometimes feels very much like they’re siblings. Sometimes they are true friends, sometimes they’re potential lovers. Sometimes they’re even foes.

“So she has to manage him carefully. She does outwit him quite a lot and outmanoeuvre him but, equally, she does respect him. He doesn’t like the fact that she’s stepping on his toes. This is his world. As the season progresses, he does start to respect her more.”

Also supporting Eliza are Moses and Rupert Parker. Moses (Ansu Kabia) has come to London from Jamaica for a new beginning, but falls into a life of petty crime. After an inauspicious start, he forms an unlikely alliance with Eliza. “He essentially becomes her muscle, her minder,” says

New. “They bond because they’re both outsiders. They are both facing prejudice in very different ways.”

Meanwhile, Rupert Parker is a rich, privileged man who proposes to Eliza. To his relief, however, she turns him down because he doesn’t want to be married, only proposing under the pressure of his domineering mother Mrs Parker. “The reason why he doesn’t want to get married – as he reveals to Eliza – is he is secretly gay, something that in this period of time would destroy your life and your reputation. They bond over this and he invests in her agency,” New says.

A “mad Jane Austen fan” who also loves Charles Dickens, New was keen to create a diverse ensemble of characters, all of whom would be considered outsiders in 19th century London – whether that relates to class, gender, race or sexuality – making the series relatable to modern-day society.

“I had these characters in my head for a long time; it was like an itch I just had to scratch,” she says. “The first mission was to get it down on paper, which was the most fun I’ve ever had in my writing career, and then the second mission was to get it on screen.” She partnered with Patty Ishimoto (Rogue) at LA-based Element 8 Productions, who in turn brought in Bandidos Yanquis, 87 Films and A+E Networks International, which is also distributing.

Broadcasters airing the series include Masterpiece on PBS in the US, CBC in Canada, Seven Network in Australia, RTL Germany, OTE Cosmote TV in Greece and UKTV’s Alibi channel, which debuts the drama today, following deals with A+E International.

“It’s been a huge team effort to get this off the ground. We were a very happy, tight group, which has made it even more fun and even more special.”

Behind the camera for all six episodes is Declan O’Dwyer (Atlantis), who first met New via Skype and bought into her vision of a period drama that bucks the genre’s traditional tropes. “It’s just a great, rip-roaring adventure, but it’s grounded. Eliza is not a superhero,” O’Dwyer explains. “You invest in this character, and her adventures are a byproduct of her finding out who she is, surviving this world she’s in. That was one of the things that attracted me to the project.

“I see her as this Indiana Jones character,” he adds of Eliza. “A lot of scrapes, she only gets out of by chance or by fluke. She’s finding her way through and it’s often the mistakes that show the path forward.”

The case-of-the-week series contains lots of twists and turns, though each investigation ultimately leaves its mark on both Eliza and Duke. Storylines include a woman who claims her husband is innocent of murder, despite being found holding a bloody knife and standing over a corpse. Another sees Eliza go undercover with the suffragists women’s rights movement.

“Lots of crime shows leave me a bit cold when you could forensically take those guests stories out [and the characters wouldn’t change],” she notes. “I just wasn’t interested in that. I wanted something where the characters are invested in it. Because of that, we have lots of serial stories running through it. We have a lovely, overarching investigation over the season, which is whether her father died of natural causes or he was murdered. Then we have the lovely will-they-won’t-they story between Duke and Eliza.”

New has updated the language to avoid the series feeling “stuffy,” while the period element is further removed by a modern soundtrack that adds a new dimension to the era in the way Baz Luhrmann transformed Romeo & Juliet in 1996 or, more recently, Peaky Blinders has become the show every musician wants to lend their songs to.

Eliza’s late father, Henry Scarlet, appears in the series through flashbacks recalling his relationship with his young daughter. He is also viewed as a figment of older Eliza’s imagination, talking to her as she tries to solve cases.

“But because they’re emotionally driven, the flashbacks are not an issue,” says O’Dwyer about jumping between timelines. “They’re not just a device. There’s a reason for it and it comes from either what’s happened or what’s about to happen, so there’s a trigger. Then it becomes just a part of the story.

“Visually, it will look slightly different, but it’s quite a seamless transition. They’re not those nightmare flashbacks that are meant to jar you out of your sleep. It does move the story on. They always serve character – and if it does that, it’s a valid story device.”

A woman ahead of her time, Eliza is a mix of some of New’s favourite characters – Pride & Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennet and Gone With the Wind’s Scarlett O’Hara – brought to life by Kate Phillips. “Eliza is the character I’ve always wanted to write,” she says.

Phillips says the script for episode one “was like nothing I’d ever really seen or experienced before when reading a script,” adding: “I’d never really met a character like her before. She’s so dynamic and she’s so different with every person she’s with. Excavating her and what makes her tick has been really, really fun.

“She does present as this somewhat refined Victorian lady, and I think that’s part of her. But she’s this really scrappy, feisty thing underneath, so she has to let loose. You want to see that.”

Phillips is no stranger to period dramas, having starred in Peaky Blinders, The Crown, Wolf Hall, War & Peace and the Downton Abbey movie. But one of the biggest appeals of Miss Scarlet & The Duke, was its central bunch of mismatched outcasts, with the fizzing chemistry between Eliza and Duke at its core. “There’s so much fondness there. She respects him as a detective and she’s just so eager to join in and be part of the club.”

Similarly to Phillips, Stuart Martin, who plays Duke, also has a history of starring in costume dramas, most notably Medici: Masters of Florence and Jamestown.

Playing a character from the wrong side of the tracks, Martin says Duke goes on a progressive journey during the series, accepting Eliza’s top-class detective skills and building their partnership beyond their childhood relationship.

“Eliza’s the brains and I’m the brawn,” he says, sporting a full beard that took more than a month to grow for the part. “He needs her and she needs him, that’s what’s lovely about it. They’re a crime-fighting duo. With his brawn, he’s useful in certain situations and, in the same way, with her brain and way of getting into things, they match up.”

Martin believes the first two Miss Scarlet scripts are among the best he’s ever read. “They’re so fantastically good,” he enthuses. “They’re really electric and different. The minute you start reading and think you know where it is, it just goes in a different direction. It’s very exciting.”

It the roundedness and complexity of the show’s main ensemble that makes Miss Scarlet & The Duke stand out from so many other crime procedurals, while its period setting provides a backdrop to the very modern themes and issues the characters confront across the six episodes, with New brimming with ideas for what might wait in store should it land a second season.

“These characters are all fish out of water, struggling to break barriers and survive in a world that treats them as less than they are,” she says. “Ultimately, this is a crime drama with lots of lovely comic moments. It just happens to be period.”

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Nashville gets encore on CMT

Nashville stars Hayden Panettiere (left) and Connie Britton
Nashville, which stars Hayden Panettiere (left) and Connie Britton, is moving to CMT

These days, when a network cancels a scripted show, there is often a call from the creators, the acting talent and the hardcore fanbase for someone else to step in and save it.

Usually, this plea falls on deaf ears, but there have been a few instances of shows saved from extinction by third-party channels and platforms. Among the best examples are Ripper Street, The Mindy Project and Longmire, all of which were saved by the intervention of SVoD platforms (Amazon, Hulu and Netflix respectively).

To this list of last-minute rescues we must now add country-and-western scripted series Nashville, produced by Lionsgate TV, ABC Studios and Opry Entertainment. The show aired for four seasons on ABC before being cancelled last month.

However, weeks of frenetic wheeler-dealing by Lionsgate TV group president Sandra Stern has resulted in the greenlight for a fifth season, which will air on Viacom-owned country-and-western channel CMT and Hulu (which will stream episodes of Nashville the day after they appear on CMT).

“CMT heard the fans,” said CMT president Brian Philips. “The wave of love and appreciation they have unleashed for Nashville has been overwhelming. Nashville is a perfect addition to our line-up. We see our fans and ourselves in this show and we will treasure it like no other network. Nashville belongs on CMT.”

The Last Kingdom
Netflix is coproducing the second season of The Last Kingdom, replacing BBC America

Equally effusive was Craig Erwich, senior VP and head of content at Hulu. “Nashville has long been a fan favourite show on Hulu and we are so proud to continue to make new episodes available for fans to stream the day after they air. We look forward to bringing more episodes of this series to its passionate and devoted audience.”

“CMT and Hulu are the perfect combination for Nashville and we want to thank the incredible fans for their unwavering support – #Nashies, you helped make this possible,” added Kevin Beggs, chairman of the Lionsgate Television Group. “We also want to extend our appreciation to the state of Tennessee, city of Nashville, and Ryman Hospitality for their unending support.”

While the resurrection of the show has very much been presented as a victory for fan power, there’s also a strong business case for all involved.

CMT, for example, will be drooling at the show’s audience. In a press statement, the partners on season five said: “The recently wrapped fourth season of Nashville attracted more than eight million weekly viewers across all platforms and ranks as one of television’s most DVR’d series. The series is particularly strong with women 18-34. Out of more than 180 broadcast dramas since fall 2012, Nashville ranks in the top 20.”

While it’s highly unlikely that all of the ABC fanbase will follow the show to CMT, Nashville is almost certain to deliver CMT an audience that is at the upper end of its usual anticipated viewing range.

The Bureau
The Bureau is heading to Amazon

For Hulu, the risk of getting involved is minimal because it already shows Nashville and will have a good idea of the kind of audience it can expect to attract. As for Lionsgate, the deal is about much more than just the US TV market. The series airs in 82 international territories, making it a significant asset in the distribution arena.

There is also the small matter of music spin-offs. Since its launch, the show has inspired 10 soundtracks, which have collectively sold more than one million album units and more than five million single-track downloads. As an added bonus, it has been nominated for Emmy, Golden Globe and Critics Choice awards.

The question is, will we see more deals like this? Well, it seems pretty likely. With more and more cable and SVoD channels in the market for scripted content, it stands to reason that they will be attracted to franchises that have built up brand awareness.

Another story that kind of underlines this point is the news that Netflix has replaced BBC America as the US coproducer of season two of The Last Kingdom, a historical drama that also involves BBC2. For Netflix, the beauty of this deal is that it has some tangible evidence of the show’s appeal in the US (the first season aired on BBC America). Armed with that knowledge, it has secured rights to the show in the US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Germany, Japan, Spain and Portugal. It will also add season one of the Carnival Films-produced show to its US portfolio later this year.

Aside from these deals, this week has more of an acquisition than a production feel to it. In the UK, for example, Amazon Prime Video has acquired two French dramas – spy thriller The Bureau and political drama Baron Noir from StudioCanal. The Bureau follows agents who assume false identities as they seek out and identify targets and sources, while Baron Noir centres on a French politician seeking revenge against his political enemies.

Rosewood
Alibi has picked up Rosewood

StudioCanal has also sold a package of shows to SBS Australia, including The Five, Section Zéro and Baron Noir. Previously, SBS acquired Spotless and The Last Panthers from StudioCanal. Commenting, Marshall Heald, director of TV and online content at SBS Australia, said: “Gritty crime thrillers like The Five, political dramas like Baron Noir and dark sci-fi series like Section Zéro bring something fresh and exciting to our world drama slate.”

Back in the UK, UKTV-owned channel Alibi has acquired crime series Crossing Lines from StudioCanal. It has also picked up US medical crime drama Rosewood from 20th Century Fox Television.

In Canada, meanwhile, Bell Media streaming service CraveTV has acquired exclusive SVoD rights to a slate of new US broadcast dramas. Among these are the Kiefer Sutherland political thriller Designated Survivor, legal drama Notorious, film adaptation Training Day and romantic drama Time After Time. Also in Canada, specialty channel Vision TV has acquired the first season of comedy drama Agatha Raisin, which just aired on Sky1 UK.

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