Tag Archives: Entertainment One

Six of the Best: Noel Hedges

The executive VP of acquisitions at producer/distributor Entertainment One selects a mixture of historical dramas, US series and a classic workplace comedy.

This Life
A game-changer for TV for a young audience. I remember watching this religiously in my last year of university and, as a crystal ball of the working life to come, it couldn’t have made me more excited: ‘Oh my god! We’re all going to be hanging around London with tough but important jobs, and following dreams of being artists or chefs, drinking and discovering ourselves in Clerkenwell!’ In reality, I went back to live with my parents upon graduating and worked in Manchester. But the dream’s still alive.

The Jewel in the Crown
In the era of high-end TV, many people forget it’s not a new thing. Granada was doing it back in the 1980s. I still watch this series now for its fascinating historical detail, the locations and the depth and richness of the script and characters – it really transports you into this world. While to modern tastes it might be the epitome of posho British drama, it’s a brilliant series on a scale that we think is only done today. In so many ways, this was a real ballsy adaptation of a heavy set of novels that paid off in spades.

Lost
What exactly was this about again? Were they dead or not? I just loved the turns this series took. That it could go anywhere, and mostly did, really appealed to me and created a fantasy that felt grounded but really, really wasn’t. The polar bear, the underground bunker, the timer, the smoke monster – it became all so crazy but happened at a pace that drew you in and then you’d have these lovely emotional moments with characters you really cared about. It was a series that took the viewer on an adventure, all over the world. Maybe they were just making it up day by day but, by the end, it worked for me.

Succession
I loved the way this series crept up on you and ended up a dark, cynical, abusive and addictive joy (like the people in the show). I haven’t revelled in a series this much in a long time. We binge on so much, we tell people what we’ve watched in the hope of keeping relevant, but it’s seldom we actually stop and discuss details on character, motivation, dramatic tension or dialogue. But we were rushing to talk about what/how/why happened in Succession (also pictured top). It wasn’t even action that shocked, but a sly look or a death-sentence line. There is so much to devour in this series.

The Lost Prince
I’m a sucker for anything about this period of British history, the beginning of the end of the age of deference before and after the First World War. Through a seldom-told story of the royal family, Stephen Poliakoff gave us a lesson on the end of empires and a truly heartbreaking depiction of an emotionally repressed family. Poliakoff runs hot and cold for me, but this story perfectly fitted his almost impressionist, stylised storytelling. It’s hugely inspiring for me in terms how to approach period drama and I defy anyone not to be crying at the end.

The IT Crowd
I didn’t even watch this when it was first on, but it’s now my go-to comedy whenever I’m travelling, permanently downloaded and forever re-watched. What I love is the absolute conviction of the performances versus the total surreal ridiculousness of events (Street Countdown? A fire… at a sea park?). I’ve never really thought about why I like it, so even writing this feels a bit wrong; it just makes me laugh out loud, over and over. And if a comedy can do that, it’s clearly found it’s groove. Comedy is like your own secret pleasure. You like it, so stuff anyone who doesn’t!

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Summer lovin’

Easy A writer Bert V Royal and The Sinner producer Michelle Purple tell DQ about teaming up on US cablenet Freeform’s high school drama Last Summer, from producer Entertainment One.

“It’s this exploration of apathy – and teen angst, obviously, because it’s my favourite thing to write about, because I’m a teen girl!” jokes Bert V Royal about his upcoming television drama Last Summer. Its high school setting is familiar territory for the writer, who broke out with 2010 feature Easy A, the story of a clean-cut student played by future Oscar-winner Emma Stone (La La Land) who becomes infamous when a lie about losing her virginity spreads across the school.

Royal went on to write episodes of Gigantic, Recovery Road and Council of Dads. But Last Summer takes him back to the 1990s, where he is putting a new twist on the ‘girl behaving badly’ genre in a story that villainises not the villain but the victim.

The plot of Last Summer is intended to offer views a puzzle to solve

Described as an unconventional thriller that takes place over three summers – ’93, ’94 and ’95 – in a small Texas town, it explores the repercussions when beautiful and popular teen Kate goes missing and, seemingly unrelated, Jeanette goes from being a sweet and awkward loner to the most popular girl in town. But by 1995, Jeanette is the most despised person in America.

Each episode switches between the perspective of the main characters, testing viewers’ loyalties as more information is revealed.

Thinking of real-life people such as US figure skater Tonya Harding or former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, who inspired the series, “these people are thrust into the national spotlight, and that’s what happens with our character,” Royal explains. “Jeanette gets thrust into a national spotlight for what might have been a horrible error of judgement or might have been a complete fabrication.

“The fun part of the show is the way that we tell it as a big puzzle and it requires the viewer to pay attention. If something doesn’t make sense, it probably will in 45 seconds. But we like to keep them on their toes in this show. We do want this to be a puzzle in the sense of having Easter eggs and hints and clues, and we want everyone to play armchair detective with this game.

“We’re constantly switching allegiances. If somebody remains on one characters’ team for the entire series, we haven’t done our job. That’s how I like to say it in the writers’ room. We want it to constantly be shifting. Every time you think you’ve got it figured out, every time you think you’re betting on the right horse, you get thrown off.”

Executive producer Michelle Purple compares the thriller element to watching an episode of US true crime series Dateline. “You’re watching it and you’re like, ‘It’s the husband.’ And the all of a sudden, ‘It’s the mother.’ So it’s like that but between these two girls,” she says.

Royal has been plotting the series “for a while,” which has given him the chance to think long and hard about how the pieces of the puzzle might fit together. The project then took off when Iron Oceans Productions, the company founded by Purple and actor Jessica Biel, joined.

“They came on literally last summer and they had read the scripts. I was a huge fan of the stuff that they’ve been working – The Sinner is brilliant, and Limetown – and I’m just a massive fan of how they make really bold choices. It was exactly what I needed in a partnership. I jumped into bed with them really quickly,” Royal says.

Bert V Royal, Michelle Purple and Jessica Biel during production of the Last Summer pilot

Iron Ocean, which in January signed a first-look deal with Paramount Television Studios, counts USA network drama The Sinner and Facebook Watch’s Limetown among its small-screen credits. Disney-owned Freeform also took Last Summer to series in January.

“For Jessica and I, we’re always looking for something we’ve never seen before, and we wanted something that appealed to a wider audience and something that we can watch with our families,” Purple explains. “We read this and it immediately spoke to our sensibility. I, of course, was in high school in the ’90s, so I had the nostalgia of that. It spoke to our brand but it appealed to a broader audience than the things we had done before.

“We had also been fans of Bert and wanted to work with him. And [studio and distributor] Entertainment One has been super supportive. It’s just been a good journey to this point. We’ve done the pilot. They picked it up immediately to series. Every week you’re going to want more.”

Purple and Royal are both particularly keen to create the type of water-cooler television that has been stymied by the rise of streaming platforms, meaning viewers rarely watch the same things at the same time unless a particular series hits the zeitgeist.

“There’s never going to be a boring episode,” Royal claims. “Usually when you write a show, there’s one episode if you’re lucky, sometimes two, where you’re like, ‘This is a throwaway episode.’ There’s no throwaways in this. It rewards viewers. Pay attention!”

“With so much bingeing going on, only shows like Game of Thrones create a conversation between weeks,” Purple continues, “but this can do that too. Just the way he has structured it and the way you change sides, we want to create the water-cooler moment.”

While Biel has appeared in The Sinner, she is not currently slated to appear in Last Summer. “We have had to break the news that Jessica can no longer play a high school student,” Purple jokes. “But we’ve been partners for over 10 years, she’s very hands-on. She works with the writers, in casting, in the editing room.”

Emma Stone in 2010 feature film Easy A

“Even from producers who are not famous actors, I’ve not had that kind of treatment,” Royal says of working with Biel. “It’s really wonderful. It’s such a testament to her and she actually gives amazing notes, which is an even better thing. She’s always willing to discuss things and between the three of us – I consider myself a partner of their company now! – we have great discussions. We have great conversations. They’re pushing me to go further and I love that. How often do you get that? Usually, people are telling you, ‘Oh, that’s too much. Don’t go there.’ But they’re actually helping me and so is Entertainment One and Freeform. It’s really cool.”

For someone who has written a lot about the high school experience and has become known for coming-of-age stories in that arena, it’s notable when Royal admits he never went to high school.

“It’s weird. I was home schooled for the last three years of schooling, so a lot of it is me trying to fill in the pieces. It’s very Never Been Kissed,” he says, referencing the Drew Barrymore film about an undercover journalist who goes back to high school. “There’s also this other weird aspect of it – I got to see high school from a different angle without being a part of it. I was a voyeur to it. All my friends were still going so I sat on the sidelines and watched it all happen. That gave me a unique perspective that I can’t seem to break away from. One of these days I’m going to write something with grown-ups in it, I swear.”

With the pilot in the can, writing the series continues as filming is on hiatus owing to the industry-wide production shutdown as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Royal says the writers’ room is filled with an eclectic mix of people who are bringing a range of ideas to the table. “The way that I like to work is I like to hear all the ideas. There’s no bad idea. So bring it on,” he says. “Personally, I like producing even more than writing. I love the puzzle of figuring out schedules and how to make days and budgeting. That’s again why I’m so excited about working with Michelle and Jessica, because at the end of the day, we’re all kind of running the ship.”

Filming will take place in Dallas, Texas, which will double for the fictional town of Skyland in the series. The cast includes Chiara Aurelia (Tell Me Your Secrets) as Jeanette, Mika Abdalla (Project Mc2) as Kate, Michael Landes (The Liberator) as Jeanette’s father Greg, Froy Gutierrez (Teen Wolf), Harley Quinn Smith (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood), Allius Barnes (Unbelievable), Blake Lee (Fam), Nathaniel Ashton (Mr Mercedes) and Brooklyn Sudano (Taken).

“We want people gasping all the way through. I’m so excited about the last five minutes of the season,” Royal teases, adding that season one also serves as a prologue for what could come in later seasons. “It’s going to be exciting, it’s fun.”

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Piano man

Eight-part comedy drama Upright stars Tim Minchin and Milly Alcock as two misfits thrown together by chance in the middle of the Australian desert, as they bond on a quest to transport a precious piano from one side of the country to the other.

Lucky Flynn (Minchin) hasn’t spoken to his family in years. The gifted pianist’s talent for music is matched only by his talent for self-destruction. When he learns his mother has just days left to live, he sets off in a hire car to drive the 4,000km from Sydney to Perth to say goodbye, taking with him his only cherished possession in the world: a battered and scarred upright piano.

This seemingly straightforward drive across the outback soon becomes a test of Lucky’s emotional fitness when he literally runs into Meg (Alcock), a funny, tough-as-nails teenager who has plenty of scars and secrets of her own.

In this DQTV interview, acclaimed musician, actor, comedian and writer Minchin recalls how he joined the project and developed the idea with co-writers Chris Taylor, Kate Mulvany and Leon Ford.

The Australian talks about the themes that drew him to the story, as well as his own circumstances that led him to explore this story of homecoming, and offers his views on how music is used in film and television.

Upright is produced by Lingo Pictures for Sky Atlantic and Now TV in the UK and Foxtel in Australia, and distributed by Entertainment One.

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On patrol

In US network drama The Rookie, Nathan Fillion plays John Nolan, who takes a fresh start in life by pursuing his dream of becoming a LAPD officer.

As the force’s oldest rookie, he’s considered a walking mid-life crisis. But if he can use his life experience, determination and sense of humour to give him an edge, he might just make a success of it.

The series also stars Alyssa Diaz, Richard T Jones, Titus Makin, Mercedes Mason, Melissa O’Neil, Afton Williamson and Eric Winter.

In this DQTV video, former Castle actor Fillion and showrunner Alexi Hawley reveal the origins of the series, which is based on the real-life story of the oldest rookie in the LAPD.

They talk about how Nolan fits in with the ensemble of supporting characters, the central theme of starting over and why they believe the drama will appeal to viewers of all ages.

The pair also detail how they pitched the series to ABC, which handed the show a straight-to-series order.

The Rookie is coproduced by Entertainment One (eOne) and ABC Studios for ABC, and distributed by eOne.

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Mr Ice guy

Under new showrunner Ed Bernero (Criminal Minds), US drama Ice is back for a second season.

In this DQTV interview, star Jeremy Sisto previews the show’s return and talks about its feuding families, who will fight tooth and nail for control of LA’s underground diamond business.

He reveals Ice’s expansive locations for season two, which debuts in the US on March 28, with the cast and crew spending time in Venezuela and South Africa, as well as on location in LA.

Sisto also discusses his approach to acting and past characters he has played, including roles in HBO’s Six Feet Under and Law & Order.

Ice is produced by Entertainment One (eOne) for AT&T’s Audience Network and distributed by eOne.

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All in The Detail

Angela Griffin and Shenae Grimes-Beech team up to star in Canadian detective drama The Detail. They tell DQ about playing cops and the chance to join a female-led production.

The Detail could not be more timely. As the fallout from Hollywood’s sexual harassment scandal continues, alongside the #MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns and the row over gender pay inequality, this Canadian crime series stands apart as a female-led production.

Starring Angela Griffin, Shenae Grimes-Beech and Wendy Crewson, the story details the messy realities of cop life – both on and off the job – for detectives who work tirelessly to solve cases while navigating the complicated demands of their personal lives.

Behind the camera, female writers, directors, producers and consultants drive the series, which is described as depicting topical stories through a distinctly and unapologetically female lens. Key personnel include executive producer and co-showrunner Ley Lukins, who also developed the series; executive producers Ilana Frank, Linda Pope, Sally Wainwright, Nicola Shindler and Jocelyn Hamilton; co-executive producer Sonia Hosko; consulting producer Kathy Avrich Johnson; and writers Naledi Jackson, Sandra Chwialkowska, Katrina Saville and Sarah Goodman. Directors on the series, produced by ICF Films and distributed by Entertainment One, include Jordan Canning and Sara St Onge.

Other creative talent includes co-showrunner Adam Pettle and co-executive producer director Gregory Smith, writers Graeme Stewart, Joe Bernice and Matt Doyle, and directors Kelly Makin, Grant Harvey, John Fawcett and James Genn.

Shenae Grimes-Beech (left) and Angela Griffin in The Detail, which is led by women in front of and behind the camera

When DQ sits down with Griffin and Grimes-Beech, it is seven months since filming wrapped on the eight-part series, which launches on Canada’s CTV on March 25 and will air on ION TV in the US. But Griffin explicitly remembers her excitement at the first read-through for the show.

“It felt like the start of something really special,” she says. “There was such a good vibe about the whole job, which stayed for the entire job. There was such a good energy about it. It’s exciting being in a room full of women, I’ve got to say. Being sat around a table where I’m not the girlfriend or the wife was super cool. And then you’ve got all these great female directors and producers.

“I think it’s amazing but I also think, ‘Yes, it should be.’ I almost don’t want to big it up too much because that should just be the norm, but I’m really proud to be part of the show and part of something that is getting it right.”

Grimes-Beech picks up: “That’s one of the things I think we all loved about the show so much. It’s never, like, the female boss. It’s never something that is punctuated. It just ‘is,’ because why the fuck wouldn’t it be? Why shouldn’t women be treated as complete equals? It’s a laughable concept to think that’s not a reality for a lot of people.”

Griffin, best known for her long-running role on UK soap Coronation Street, plays Detective Stevie Hall, an experienced interrogator dealing with a thorny family life. Grimes-Beech, meanwhile, is Detective Jacqueline ‘Jack’ Cooper, a street-smart rookie with a personal life that threatens to eclipse her day job.

The Detail will debut on Canada’s CTV later this month

That work-life balance is a key element of the series, which sees procedural crime-of-the-week storylines play out against the backdrop of the detectives’ individual family lives and examines how the cases they face impact their home life.

It’s what makes The Detail stand out for Griffin, who says she wants to see characters on screen juggle the daily demands she faces in her own life. “And I actually really like it when people don’t handle it, because it is impossible,” she admits. “I thoroughly enjoy watching imperfect lives because it makes me feel better about my own. It makes me feel like I’m not a complete failure. Certainly for Stevie, she doesn’t get it right all the time when it comes to that balance. Going forward, I’d like to see her struggle more with it, because sometimes she does manage to pull it out of the bag. I’d like to up that ante a bit more.”

Grimes-Beech, meanwhile, prefers the crime element of the series, which she says she finds fascinating. “I don’t often watch dramas that are strictly about people’s personal lives but when I watched our preview back, I enjoyed the personal stuff because it really gives you something to fall in love with your character for. People are going to fall in love with the characters as well and that will keep them hooked.”

That’s not to say that the police element wasn’t important too. “I loved it,” Grimes-Beech says about the opportunity to play a cop. “One of my favourite moments was where we were busting into a trailer and we had our army dude on set with us and he was walking us through how to do it properly. It was so cool, it makes you feel so official.”

For Griffin, the opportunity was amped up by the chance to have a gun, something British crime dramas notably lack in comparison to their North American counterparts.

UK viewers will recognise British actor Griffin from such shows as Coronation Street and Lewis

“I have wanted to be a cop with a gun for ever,” the actor says, noting that the only props she was allowed as DS Lizzy Mannox in ITV drama Lewis were a notepad and pencil. “As an actor, it doesn’t get much better for me. I’ve got personal stuff, I get to cry in a corner, I get to shoot people, I get to shout at people, I get to be a mum. Some people don’t want to do that; for me as an actor, it’s everything I have ever wanted.”

That wasn’t the only difference on set for Griffin, who is used to a vastly different production schedule on British shows such as Brief Encounters and Ordinary Lies. “It’s bizarre that two countries that speak the same language, that have similar-sized industries, could work in such different ways,” she muses. “The unionisation of the industry in North America as a whole makes it massively different. So certain people can’t do other jobs or double up on things – even the drivers have to be from the drivers’ union. You can’t just nip in a car with an AD [assistant director]. And they have hair and make-up – two people. In the UK, the make-up does the hair and that’s just really normal. It differs on so many different levels but I like both ways of working.”

In contrast, it was a much shorter shoot than usual for Grimes-Beech, who is more used to the year-long effort needed to produce a 22-episode season of a US network drama, such as The CW’s 90210. After five years on that show, and a five-year stint before that on DeGrassi, she’s since mixed things up with a range of feature and TV films. But with the small screen stronger than ever, the actor is happy to return to a potentially long-running series that affords her some security and the chance to pick up other projects on the side.

“While there’s no stability for an actor, I feel like a TV show is as close as it gets and I have so much appreciation and gratitude for a job like this that I didn’t have when I was young,” she says. “When you fall in love with a character and a show as much as I have with this one, you wish it will run forever. That’s not often the case.

Shenae Grimes-Beech starred in The CW’s 90210 for five years

“Back in the day, like five years ago, we all wanted to break out and do movies so badly that an Oscar was the ultimate dream. Now you’ve got Oscar winners on TV shows all the time – look at the cast of Big Little Lies. Are you kidding me! It’s mind-boggling and that’s not something anybody in the industry would have said would happen five years ago. With film, unless it’s a Marvel movie or whatever, no one’s making any money. Those are passion projects and TV allows you to fulfil those passions on the side without having to worry. It’s a different climate in the industry.”

For Griffin, it’s not lost on her that she has had to cross the Atlantic to find a leading role, following in the footsteps of other black British talent such as Damson Idris, Idris Elba and Oscar nominee Daniel Kaluuya. “There’s some great stuff being made [in North America] and a lot of our British, particularly black British, talent is scoring really well out there,” she says, adding that there’s a simple way to ensure more black and ethnic minority talent can pick up leading roles. “Just see people for the parts,” the actor concludes. “It doesn’t have to have the word ‘black’ before it to have someone audition for it. You just open up your casting for everybody and you let everybody come.

“I love the fact I’m doing this show, I absolutely love it and it’s so exciting to be in Canada and I feel really lucky to have it. It would be quite nice to do a series in the UK where I can be one of the leads and see my children every single night and have the same depth, and I’m slightly sad I’ve had to go across the pond to do it.”

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Kreuk in court

Burden of Truth stars Kristin Kreuk as Joanna Hanley, a hot-shot lawyer who returns to her home town and gets pulled into a case involving a group of sick high school girls, while also facing some unresolved family business in town.

In this DQTV video, Kreuk reveals why this legal drama stood out for the actor, who was keen to step away from genre series such as Smallville and Beauty & the Beast, which brought her fame. She also tells of the appeal of playing a flawed character in a series with a social conscience at its core.

Kreuk also discusses her approach to acting and how she is now stepping up her role behind the camera.

Burden of Truth is a 10-part serialised drama produced by ICF Films, Eagle Vision and Entertainment One (eOne) for Canada’s CBC. eOne also distributes the series internationally.

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By hook or Kreuk

A year after Beauty & the Beast came to an end, star Kristin Kreuk is heading back to the small screen in Canadian drama Burden of Truth. The actor tells DQ about the attraction of this small-town legal drama with social justice at its core – and her role in bringing the series to air.

It’s been 17 years since Julia Roberts’ Erin Brockovich valiantly fought for a small community in the face of big business, earning the actor an Oscar for her portrayal of the real-life heroine. And now a legal drama in production in Canada is drawing parallels with that story with its own young woman fighting for justice.

Burden of Truth stars Kristin Kreuk as Joanna Hanley, a big-city lawyer who returns to her home town to take on what she thinks is a simple case, only to find herself in a battle to protect a group of sick girls. Running alongside the legal story is a mystery involving Hanley, who left the town in unexplained circumstances as a teenager and begins searching for the truth upon her return.

“The dailies look gorgeous and I feel like we’re doing something different, taking a few risks,” says Kreuk, who is best known for long-running roles in Smallville and Beauty & the Beast. “I’m excited about that. For me, it’s new and also, for a Canadian show, it goes at a slower pace. It’s a serialised drama that looks at things that are pretty topical, from environmental issues through to abuses of power and abuse within families and communities, and also through female empowerment and success. So we’re really looking at topical issues in a slow, emotional way that I feel isn’t common in
legal dramas.”

The Vancouver native, who is also an executive producer on the 10-part show, first became involved in Burden of Truth when she was pitched several ideas for series by producer and distributor Entertainment One (eOne). Burden of Truth stood out, she says, because of the complexity of the lead character, whose seemingly idyllic life begins to unravel when she returns to her home town.

Burden of Truth stars Kristin Kreuk as lawyer Joanna Hanley

After finishing on The CW’s Beauty, which ran for four seasons until 2016, Kreuk sought a project where she could be involved as much in the storytelling process as she is on screen. So when eOne came to her with Burden of Truth, she was keen to be in the development room and to speak to the writers.

“While we were in the build up to the show, I was involved very creatively, more than anything else,” she says, speaking to DQ midway through production on location in Winnipeg. “A lot of my notes would focus on Joanna herself, so I’ve built this character. [Creator] Brad Simpson and I met very early on and just talked about who she was. We created her together instead of there being someone on the page already.”

Simpson, who is a lawyer, has based Burden of Truth on his own courtroom experiences, says Kreuk, while the actor looked to her friends in the legal business and high-profile Canadian criminal lawyer Marie Henein as the inspiration for Joanna.

“She’s interesting; she’s very much a legal person,” she says of her character. “She doesn’t see herself as a people person. So when confronted with emotional interaction, she really does struggle. It’s not like she has a facade, but I find her human. She’s struggling and you can see that struggle very clearly, even through her hiding in the job, the law and
her work.”

When it comes to choosing her roles, Kreuk says her decision is often based on her reaction to a script, while Burden of Truth represents the first time she has proactively shaped her character from the very beginning of the creative process. It also marks a departure from the supernatural and superhero series for which she has become known.

The series launches on CBC in Canada next month

“I realise I play a lot of characters who have really complicated family histories and who really struggle with the relationship dynamics with their parents in some way, which offers a lot of juice for a character and for a series,” she admits. “But this show is by far the best opportunity I’ve had to explore that. This is not a sci-fi show, we’re not dealing with supernatural beings or creatures. The stakes are more present, pressing and realistic, which I think allows for a different exploration of character.”

That character is now set to join the swathe of strong females leading drama series in 2017, following in the footsteps of The Handmaid’s Tale, Big Little Lies, Doctor Foster and Feud.

“It’s the time of the woman; it’s been a long time coming,” the actor notes. “A lot of people want something other than the shows they’re being presented with. And as women, we want to see female stories and we just haven’t seen them. Simultaneously, opening up positions for women in producing, directing and writing allows for these stories to be told. The fact they’ve done so well and they’re dynamic and interesting has encouraged the creation of more.”

Joining Kreuk among the executive ranks is Ilana Frank, a prolific producer known for series such as Saving Hope and Rookie Blue. Burden of Truth is one of two new shows she is backing for Canadian broadcaster CBC, with pacey detective series The Detail also in production.

“I wasn’t all that interested in doing a legal procedural show but I liked the idea of a show that had the law as the basis for the premise,” Frank says. “I do very character-driven things mostly, or I try to, even if it has a procedural element. So that’s how I looked at this too. It’s about characters and place – the town and the countryside really play an important part.”

Once Kreuk and eOne began developing the series, Frank’s IFC Films came on board before CBC placed a series order based on Simpson’s pilot script and series outline. Eagle Vision also coproduces the show, which premieres on January 10.

“What appealed to me was the idea of it being an Erin Brockovich show, a woman with a mission,” Frank says. “I liked that juxtaposition of what she was and what she’s going to become. It was an interesting journey. I worked with Bradley and brought in Adam [Pettle, showrunner], who I’ve worked with for about 15 years. He and Bradley worked together on Rookie Blue so they knew each other quite well. Kristin was great and she was very much involved in the evolution of it.”

Burden of Truth is shot entirely on location, another first for Frank, who says she is delighted with the results despite admitting to being anxious over the location shoot. “I just love the look of the show and the feel of it,” she adds. “The first season of production [on any show] is always challenging. It’s a bit on the fly. You’re always trying to make adjustments to something because it’s not 100% in place, but the show is going along pretty well. I’m pretty happy with the production of it.”

It is Frank’s theatre background that fuels her attraction to character-building, with the aforementioned medical drama Saving Hope and cop series Rookie Blue more serialised in their approach than traditional procedurals.

“So for me, it’s about actors, character and development. That’s what I love,” she says, noting the importance of casting in any successful series. “Once you give that part to somebody, it takes on a life of its own. That’s really important and my work in the theatre has helped me a tremendous amount in terms of casting, because scripts and casting, that’s all there is. If you have good scripts and good casting, you can make a good show. There’s the formula.”

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Trial of the century

Set immediately after the Second World War, Tokyo Trial follows the 11 judges from allied nations who were called to Tokyo to preside over landmark legal proceedings that would determine the fates of 28 Pacific military and political leaders charged as war criminals.

The four-part miniseries, set over two-and-a-half years, follows the judges’ struggle to reach verdicts for each of the accused while finding a balance between political, professional and personal conflicts.

Here, executive producer David Cormican reveals how the series – which mixes authentic footage with scripted scenes based on extensive research – was developed for Japanese broadcaster NHK, with Netflix picking up international rights.

He also describes the challenge of recreating post-war Japan on set in Lithuania and finding costumes for a cast of thousands.

Tokyo Trial is produced by NHK, Don Carmody Productions and FATT Productions in association with Netflix, and is distributed by Entertainment One.

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Reality check

Matt Okine swaps stand-up for television as the creator of The Other Guy, the latest series to blur the boundaries between comedy and drama. Alongside co-star Valene Kane, he tells DQ about creating television with a dose of reality.

From Fleabag and Catastrophe to Girls, Transparent and Master of None, the boundary between comedy-drama and dramatic comedy has never been more blurred. These shows have perfected the art of making us laugh while grounding their stories in reality and throwing in plenty of deep and meaningful life lessons.

A new entry into this expanding genre is The Other Guy, created by stand-up comic and radio presenter Matt Okine and commissioned by Australian SVoD platform Stan. Described as a funny, raw and poignant look at breaking up in the digital age, it follows radio host AJ as he finds himself single after discovering his girlfriend has been having an affair with his best friend.

Okine (pictured above in The Other Guy) has co-written the series with Becky Lucas and also stars as AJ, opposite Valene Kane as ex-girlfriend Liv and Harriet Dyer as best friend Stevie. It is produced by Aquarius Films alongside distributor Entertainment One.

“It definitely rides that line between comedy and drama,” Okine tells DQ during a trip to London to perform on stage. “I never set out to make a gag-fest and I would say overall it has a very restrained kind of humour. I really didn’t want to try too hard and didn’t want to be making jokes for the sake of it, which I find is a real issue with a lot of things that I watch because it detracts from the believability of the characters. It frustrates me that people go for gags over substance a lot of the time. I really wanted to make a show that felt honest and knew when to hit back and throw the punches at the right time.”

The Other Guy stars Matt Okine
alongside Valene Kane

The comic star says the show is far from a Matt Okine documentary, but admits there are elements that have happened in his own life. In particular, he drew on some of his own experiences for the premise of the series – AJ’s break-up with Liv. Perhaps unusually, however, he chose not to show the event that led to the split, instead setting the series several months later when the couple are still living together but dealing with the fallout of the betrayal.

“It’s a weird one – there’s an underlying frustration while you’re watching it because you want the characters to talk about the affair more, and you want them to fight and be frustrated and all these things, but that’s just not real,” Okine explains. “That’s just not how real life works. Everyone thinks they know how they’re going to react to an event like that where you find out your partner’s been cheating on you with your best friend. It would have been really easy to have a scene where my character walks in and finds them in bed and it’s this comic play out of the whole thing. But we find them in a completely different time, way past that event, way past the point of saying sorry. And those are the things I liked about it, that I wanted to feel the tension in those sorts of places instead of more of the tension around them actually fighting. You’ve got to choose your points of conflict for them to mean anything.”

The Other Guy was a lesson in writing for television for Okine, who is more used to the bright lights of a comedy club or the intimate setting of a radio studio. Working with Lucas and script producer Greg Walters, he says he learned a lot about how to craft a drama by building interesting characters and always second-guessing the direction of the script.

“We plotted it out for a couple of days in the writing room and then Becky and I would sit on my couch in my house and type away,” Okine recalls, adding that the toughest part of the process was writing the series while he was still presenting a breakfast radio show. “That almost killed me. It was really difficult getting up at 04.30 every morning, doing my radio show, leaving work at 12.00 and then writing until 19.00. There were certain times where I just didn’t think I would be able to do it.”

Starring opposite Okine, Kane is best known in Britain for emotionally demanding roles in crime drama The Fall and psychological thriller Thirteen, so a comedy was something of a new challenge for the Irish actor.

Harriet Dyer (right) plays Stevie

“I’m not that funny, either on screen or in real life, and Liv isn’t funny. She’s the honest heart of the story,” Kane says of her character. “I loved the writing. Matt and Becky wrote a truthful and honest depiction of break-ups and modern life for people in their 30s, which I hadn’t read. It just struck me like the kind of TV I’ve been enjoying, like Girls – a fucked-up but realistic portrayal of people in their 30s, which we don’t see really.”

That realism meant Kane had to play a character closer to her own personality than any she has portrayed on screen before. She describes that process as “weird and definitely difficult” in the beginning, so much so that she doubted her own acting ability.

“I remember calling my girlfriend and being like, ‘I can’t act, I don’t know what I’m doing,’” she says. “It was a really different muscle to do as little as possible while maintaining as being as real as I could. It was difficult.”

Okine’s biggest challenge could be found in the editing suite, however, as any dreams he might have had about sitting back sipping a margarita once filming was finished swiftly evaporated. Instead, he found himself in meetings discussing whether international audiences might understand the word ‘pokies’ (an Australian term for slot machines), or if a shot of one character looking at another that might infer romantic intentions, with no alternative selections available.

“I had no idea how much crafting still happens in the editing process and how important my input would be at that stage,” he admits. “So for the first few days after we shot, I had a meltdown. I felt like I had been running an 800-metre race and I’d sprinted the first lap and forgotten there was another lap to go and I was exhausted. That was something that really threw me for that first week. I don’t think I was as on top of my game as I should have been.”

Kane (left) alongside Gillian Anderson in The Fall

One thing that was particularly important to Okine was casting, as he sought to piece together a diverse group of actors he wishes he had seen on screen when he was growing up. “I am really proud to have a show I could have watched 10 or 20 years ago and felt represented on screen,” he adds. “But I don’t want to think this show is this purely because I’m half-African. That would be underselling what we’ve created.

“We cast who was best at the time but definitely in the writing process I wrote a lot of those ethnicities into the show, right down from the first scene where there’s an Indigenous Uber driver. We’re not trying to make huge political statements by having brown people on screen or having more women involved as characters who aren’t sexually driven. We just wanted to make a different show, something that was pure.”

That The Other Guy was made for Stan also played on Okine’s mind, as the six episodes in season one run to three hours in total, less than some feature films. The Australian says he’s satisfied that some people have chosen to watch the entire series in one sitting: “I’m really excited by that because it’s a show that does build. It doesn’t start off with a bang and drip away as the ideas fall off. It reaches a high point later on in the series. It was good to know people could immediately watch that next episode and get some momentum going.

“Also, the fact it’s on a streaming service and wasn’t relying on advertisements meant what we lacked in budget, we made up for with freedom. Stan was so supportive. You can tell everyone is really excited about how quickly the company is building and it’s awesome to be a part of that process. I’m going to look back in 10 or 20 years and be like, I was part of the beginning of that movement within Australia.”

Okine says his heart is now in television and admits he would be disappointed if The Other Guy only ran for one season. “It’s weird, the whole time you go through it thinking, ‘I can’t do this ever again, it’s too difficult,’” he concludes. “I will never give birth to a child – or I don’t foresee myself being able to in my lifetime – but it’s the closest I’ll ever get. The whole process I was thinking it was so painful but, now it’s finished, I feel like another one.”

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Game of stones

Former Criminal Minds showrunner Ed Bernero takes charge of diamond-focused drama Ice as it heads into its second season. He tells DQ why he is stepping out of his comfort zone and leading a series set in a world rarely seen on television.

When US drama Ice ended its first season, the story teetered on the edge of a classic cliffhanger – the main characters all together and the sound of single gunshot.

In fact, fans of the show – set in the world of the LA diamond business – were also left on a knife-edge, as they didn’t know if the show would be returning for a second season. Confirmation finally came in mid-June, four months after the credits last rolled, as telecoms giant AT&T announced Ed Bernero as the new showrunner for the series, which airs on its Audience Network.

Bernero

The first season of Ice, produced and distributed by Entertainment One (eOne), launched in November 2016 with director Antoine Fuqua and writer Robert Munic as exec producers. Nine different directors helmed the 10-episode run.

A television industry veteran, Bernero comes on board having led shows including Criminal Minds, Third Watch and European crime drama Crossing Lines.

He says the appeal of joining Ice heading into its second season, which is due to air in 2018, lay in its tackling of unchartered territory:“I get sent a lot of things to do and it’s not often where I see something where the cast interests me and it’s a world I don’t think has been explored that much on television.

“I watched the first season and started talking to eOne about some things I thought I would do with it and they responded. I’m just excited to be doing it –  it’s a lot of fun. It’s a completely different muscle than I’m used to exercising, which is more in the procedural vein. This is very much a serialised family show.”

As a former cop, it’s no surprise Bernero’s credits haven’t strayed far from the crime genre, and he admits the structure associated with procedural story-of-the-week series “is just the way I’ve always thought.” He doesn’t mind being known as “the cop guy,” but says it’s refreshing that he can now try something new.

“It’s just a little hard to get Hollywood to try something else – it’s kind of like being typecast as an actor,” he says. “Not that I’m complaining about it. Believe me, there are worse things to be than the cop guy in Hollywood.

“I write this show the same way I write any other. It always comes from character for me anyway, just in a different format. eOne has been very supportive of me doing it. I’ve been very excited to be with people who say, ‘Go do your thing.’”

Ice focuses on the diamond trade in LA

Season one introduced the family-owned Green & Green Diamonds firm, operating in the underbelly of the LA diamond trade. This season sees new wars waged between half-brothers Jake (Cam Gigandet) and Freddy (Jeremy Sisto), Cam (Ray Winstone) and Lady Rah (Judith Shekoni) in a bid to claim control of the glittering world of diamond trading.

“They ended season one with everyone together and a gunshot and we’ve picked it up from there,” Bernero tells DQ during shooting on episode three and four. “The thing we’re trying to do a little bit more this year is make it more about diamonds. We’re calling the season ‘Game of Stones.’ There’s four groups we’re going to follow in different journeys within the diamond world. We’re having a lot of fun just sort of taking the characters that were set and taking them in new directions and to new places.”

The show will continue to be a serialised drama, the showrunner says, but if the audience notices anything different from season one, it might be there is less time spent with the family as a whole as the group splinters to deal with their own storylines. “There are a few more individual stories and worlds than there were, but they still all intersect and come together in different ways,” he explains. “To the audience, it should very much feel like the same show with a little more emphasis on diamonds.”

The downtime between the end of season one and the confirmation of season two meant a lot of the crew had moved on to other projects, such is the demand for workers in Vancouver, where Ice is filmed. That meant Bernero had to rebuild the production team, though the cast remains largely intact from season one.

The show stars Cam Gigandet

It also presented the new showrunner with the unique challenge of making a “first-season show in its second season.” He explains: “The storylines are new and it’s a completely new creative team behind the camera. The cast has actually been really helpful – we sat down and talked about their characters and they’re welcome in the writing room as much as they want to be. We just talked about what they established as their characters.

“Because we have no one who was in the [writers] room at the conception of it, it’s been freeing to not have to worry about offending anyone or hurting anyone’s feelings. At the same time, it’s a bit of a learning process. We have to figure out who Lady Ra is and who Freddy is.”

Bernero and his team also spent time learning about the world of diamond trading, with diamond experts hired as consultants on the series. Meanwhile, Vancouver doubled for LA, London and Venezuela for the first episodes in the globetrotting second season, while production moves to South Africa for the final five episodes as several characters head to a diamond conference.

“One of the things we wanted to pay attention to is that it’s a global business,” the showrunner says. “The diamond trade touches almost every country, so we wanted to do that. For the last five episodes, eOne is letting us go to South Africa and shoot in Cape Town. We’re pretty excited about that.”

Beyond Ice, AT&T’s Audience Network has been building up a slate of original series including MMA drama Kingdom and polyamorous romcom You Me Her. This summer it drew particular acclaim for its Stephen King adaptation Mr Mercedes, while political thriller Condor is on the way.

“AT&T is no different to a lot of new outlets, in that they want something that makes noise,” Bernero says of the DirectTV-owned platform. “They just want something different. They don’t want it to be a show that could be on CBS or on ABC.

“A family of people involved in the diamond business is something I personally have never seen. When I looked at it, I couldn’t believe no one had ever done this, because it’s such a rich world and it’s so interesting. But that is something any of these outlets are looking for that are kind of new to programming. They’re trying to get something that looks a little different to everyone else. Ice is that in spades.”

Despite its glamorous setting, Ice is a family drama at its heart, notes Bernero, who believes audiences respond most to a family dynamic  whatever form that may take. “For me, every TV show has to have a family at its centre,” he says, whether it’s an actual family or a group that can be identified as one, such as the cops who work together on Criminal Minds.

Production will move to South Africa for the second half of season two

“House of Cards is about a guy who got screwed over at work. Everybody gets that. So you try to find the elements in the show that everyone can relate to in their world. People instinctively go towards family, especially when they’re watching it at home. They’re inviting you into their home, so it’s important that at the centre of every show is a family – and this show has that.”

Bernero’s move to a serialised drama may be further proof that procedurals have had their day in the US, despite continuing demand from overseas broadcasters and a slight uptick in the number of new story-of-the-week series launching across the big five broadcast networks this fall.

But the showrunner believes the trend for serialised stories, promoted by SVoD platforms, will eventually subside as networks revert to the types of shows that will bring in the most profit.

“People still need something to do on Tuesday night,” he says. “My family all live in the Midwest and they don’t stream everything or binge-watch. There are still a lot of people who watch TV the traditional way and I don’t think that will ever go away.

“Some of the networks are open to procedurals. It’s a bit cyclical, but they’ll realise these short orders don’t make the kind of money that something like Criminal Minds does.”

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Angel of death

Canadian black comedy-drama Mary Kills People stars Caroline Dhavernas as Dr Mary Harris, an overworked single mother and ER doctor who lives a double life helping terminally ill patients to end their lives. Assisted by her business partner Des (Richard Short), they strive to stay under the radar and keep one step ahead of the police, who are determined to stop their operation.

In this video interview, Dhavernas and Short tell DQ what drew them to the series and talk about the on-screen relationship between Mary and Des.

They also debate the controversial topic at the heart of the show and how it walks the line between its dark subject matter and its many lighter moments.

In ever-changing television business, the co-stars also discuss how actors fit into the evolving landscape.

Now in production for season two, Mary Kills People is produced by Entertainment One (which also distributes) and Cameron Pictures in association with Corus Entertainment. It airs on Global in Canada and Lifetime in the US.

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Back in the room

DQ visits Big Light Productions to see a writers room in practice as executive producer Frank Spotnitz works on a second season of Ransom.

Imagine a writers room and you may well picture several people sitting around a big table, pens in hand and plenty of coffee within arm’s reach.

And on a visit to the offices of London-based Big Light Productions, DQ finds that isn’t far from the truth. In a fifth-floor room with a view across the city, three large desks have been pushed together and are covered with notepads and sheets of paper, laptops, pens, bottles of water and bowls filled with grapes, nuts and other treats.

Around the desks sit eight people – six writers and two script editors – who are in early development mapping out episodes for a potential second season of hostage drama Ransom. Created by David Vainola and Big Light CEO Frank Spotnitz, the series follows crisis and hostage negotiator Eric Beaumont (played by Luke Roberts), whose team is brought in to save lives when no one else can.

Frank Spotnitz

Season one debuted on CBS in the US and Canada’s Global TV on January 1 and will also air on Germany’s RTL and TF1 in France. All four networks coproduced the series, which is produced by Big Light, distributor Entertainment One, Sienna Films and Wildcat Productions.

Inside the writers room where work has been underway on season two since the beginning of the year, four cork boards are covered with notecards, each marked out with a different plot point or scene. Around the walls, there is memorabilia relating to previous Big Light series as well as shows Spotnitz has worked on himself. Posters from The X-Files, Hunted and The Man in the High Castle can be seen alongside a clapperboard from the set of Medici: Masters of Florence. Pictures of the Ransom cast are stuck to another wall.

As DQ pulls up a chair to sit in on the ongoing discussion, executive producer Spotnitz takes his place at the head of the table to listen to the latest episode outline. Whether leaning back with his arms folded or sitting forward to emphasise a point, the former X-Files showrunner wastes no time in offering notes as the episode is dissected, or leading discussions on character motivations and movements.

On several occasions he refers to movies to illustrate a point he is trying to make, and continually takes the writing team back to the beginning of the episode to iron out any wrinkles in the plotting.

Spotnitz has long championed writers rooms outside the US and describes the room at Big Light as a hybrid of UK and US production systems, using script editors to help guide the writing process in a way a showrunner might across the Atlantic. “I do think writers rooms are getting more traction outside the US,” he tells DQ later. “It won’t work for all shows. Really, you need eight or 10 episodes to even make it worthwhile. But with a certain number of shows, if they’re needed in a certain period of time, it’s just faster and I do think it’s better. The quality’s higher when you have all these people interrogating every beat of the story. They argue but it’s good because if you can survive that process, you have your whole story worked out and you go to the script process feeling really confident.”

Spotnitz jumps in and out of the room as his schedule permits – he’s also overseeing production of Canadian series The Indian Detective in South Africa and season two of aforementioned Italian historical drama Medici – leaving the other writers to get on with the task at hand in his absence.

Big Light’s hostage drama Ransom airs on CBS in the US and Global TV in Canada

“They’ve worked out a lot of it and then they tell me the story, and in a perfect world I’d say, ‘Great, go write it’ – but that rarely happens,” he admits. “Usually I go, ‘What about this and what about that?’ We talk about it, I’ll have read the story outlines that have been sent to broadcasters. There’s a lot of formal steps you have to go through because we have to please our studio and the broadcasters.

“But after season one, we know our show better and what worked well; we know our actors better and their strengths and chemistry. That’s one of the joys of doing television – you keep doing it, you don’t just do a movie and it’s over. We can learn and refine and do things we didn’t do before.”

In the room, it’s also clear that Spotnitz isn’t just thinking about the story. He might be imagining the budget total rocketing up when different settings are discussed for a particular scene, before suggesting the action be kept in a previous location.

“When I first started doing this, I remember thinking, ‘this sucks’ because we had to go back to an old location. But we’ve only got 10 days to shoot an episode and we can’t have 15 locations,” he says. “We’ve got to be practical. It forces you to simplify your storytelling and that’s actually really good. It’s hard to be simple but it’s better to be simple. So I’ve come to not resent it at all and to actually like it. The few times I’ve done episodes when I didn’t simplify things and I insisted we did all this production stuff, it hasn’t been better. There’s an economy to it that the audience responds to.”

The Ransom writers room is also notable for two of the scribes taking part – Bo Poraj and Susie Farrell – who were invited to join the team as the winners of a shadow writing scheme launched by Big Light and Creative Skillset, which works with the UK’s screen-based creative media industries to develop new talent.

Actor-turned-writer Poraj has worked on British soaps including EastEnders and Doctors, and the writers room experience offered a big step towards high-end drama that isn’t often available. “Getting your own stuff on screen is such a lottery,” he says. “Unless you get that break, it’s very hard. So hopefully a scheme like this is win-win because it gives us that development opportunity and also gives Big Light a potential talent pool to draw from in the future.”

Ransom stars Luke Roberts as negotiator Eric Beaumont

Poraj admits the process isn’t perfect, with hours of discussion often leading to dead ends that serve no use to the final script. “There have been days where it felt like we didn’t make any progress at all,” he says, “but sometimes you feel like that and then at the end of the day, you touch on something that fixes the whole problem and you realise it was worth spending five hours meandering around the subject.”

And despite the downsides to using a writers room, including the increased cost of keeping several writers in place across many weeks, Poraj suggests its something the UK drama industry should do more often.

“I know it’s more expensive but when you think of production budgets, as a percentage of that budget, without a decent script, you’ve got nothing,” he says. “Even the best director and the best actors aren’t going to make it compelling viewing. It seems to be a fairly expedient policy to not invest more time in script development. I hope we will move more towards that model in the UK. Collaborating can be much more fun as well. You get an idea for a script and you get to run it past seven smart people – it can only make it better, can’t it?”

Over the last seven years, Big Light has brought around 60 writers through its doors, having established writers rooms on every show it produces. Spotnitz believes it’s a natural opportunity to train new writers.

“In the UK it’s very challenging. Broadcasters tend to buy drama from established writers – and if you’re not one of those established writers, it’s very hard to get your show commissioned,” he explains. “But drama is growing because of things like Netflix, Amazon and international coproductions. We need people who are trained to work collaboratively, who are comfortable sitting in that room batting around ideas and talking with other writers. Younger writers are really eager. They have watched American television and they’re not intimidated by it. They don’t feel like a writer must sit by themselves in a shed and write, they’re open to coming in and it’s fun. You laugh and make friends and go for drinks. It’s more fun than sitting by yourself with your computer.”

Kaye Elliott, programme lead for Creative Skillset’s High End TV (HETV) Council, adds: “The scheme provides a fantastic and unique opportunity for writers to learn about the process of working in a writing team for HETV. Creative Skillset is proud to support such an excellent initiative and encourages the development of more UK writers rooms to give writers more opportunities to further progress their skills and build their networks.”

Spotnitz concludes that ultimately, whatever the writing process used, there is no perfect story. “You get to the point where people say, ‘I enjoyed that,’ and that’s success,” he says. “There’s no true success, and perfection is not achievable. You’ll never get there. But that’s why this is an interesting job. You’ll never master this, you’ll never get bored because it’s impossible to say, ‘I’ve got this.’ Every story is so unique and different with different variables, it’s like a new puzzle to put together.”

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Mind the Gap

Five go travelling in E4’s globetrotting comedy-drama Gap Year. DQ chats to stars Anders Hayward and Tim Key, creator Tom Basden and Carrie Stein of producer Entertainment One.

When Andrew Davies spoke about writing BBC drama War & Peace, he would always joke that he’d read Leo Tolstoy’s epic saga so that the audience wouldn’t have to.

Tom Basden

The same sentiment could now apply to Gap Year, the E4 comedy-drama that gives viewers who missed out on backpacking around the world the chance to see the sights and sounds of Asia from the comfort of their own home.

The eight-part series – which will be shown in Cannes on April 2 as part of the MipDrama Screenings – follows five people as they first meet in Chinese capital Beijing and decide to team up on a tour that takes in ancient rainforests, full-moon beach parties, mega-cities and remote monasteries in Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Nepal.

Dylan (Anders Hayward) and Sean (Ade Oyefeso) head to Beijing with plans to backpack across China. But once they cross paths with relentlessly upbeat Greg (Tim Key), Chinese-American May (Alice Lee), who wants to reconnect with her long-lost family, and party animal Ashley (Brittney Wilson), together they end up taking on the whole continent.

Co-stars include Janeane Garofolo as a jaded American travel writer, Aisling Bea and Trystan Gravelle as a pair of bickering honeymooners, Scott Adsit as the American owner of a Vietnamese orphanage and Rachel Redford as Dylan’s ex-girlfriend.

Gap Year, currently airing in the UK, marks the first acting job for model Hayward, who trained as a dancer and was subsequently spotted by two acting agents, leading to an audition for the role of Dylan and a four-and-a-half month shoot across Asia.

Gap year stars Anders Hayward (left) and Ade Oyefeso as best friends Dylan and Sean

“I was only signed in November 2015 and managed to get this last April. It was a very quick turnaround and I did not expect this,” he admits. “I thought I’d be auditioning for a while before I got anything but it just sort of happened out of the blue. It’s just mindblowing! It’s the most phenomenal experience I’ve ever had.”

When Dylan and Sean first arrive in Beijing, a ‘chance’ encounter with Dylan’s ex-girlfriend Lauren (Redford) reveals that he may not have been entirely truthful about his motives for the trip – a revelation that infuriates his best friend.

“He’s in his own world – he’s a romantic and he thinks he’s this Casanova, that he knows more of what’s happening in the world because he studies philosophy,” Hayward says of his character. “And then when he gets out there and actually experiences it, he quickly realises he actually is quite ignorant and a bit arrogant. But he’s a total hopeless romantic. He’s torn and lost, and there’s something quite endearing about this kid. That’s what keeps the audience on his side. That naivety is quite endearing and keeps him engaging.”

In contrast to Dylan is Greg, the oldest member of the gang who in one episode describes himself as the Fonzie of the group, comparing himself to Henry Winkler’s legendary Happy Days character considered to be a big brother to those around him.

“He feels genuinely young and anything where he’d be called out for being the old guy hanging with the young people would leave him feeling completely confused!” explains Key, who is best known for starring as Alan Partridge’s radio sidekick in Mid Morning Matters and the Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa movie. “He sees the group as five young people travelling around Asia and they see it as a guy who’s travelling with them.”

Comedy writer Key originally started out in the writers room as the show was pieced together, and was assigned to write episode six alongside Jonny Sweet. It was then that he was cast as Greg, meaning he wasn’t able to continue writing duties.

“In the writers room, the character was growing and was constantly called Greg, constantly 37 years old and there was a looming impression that he was being written with me in mind.” the actor says. “He starts off and maintains this status quo of being a guy who is loveable and hopelessly optimistic but has more problems lurking behind it all.”

Both Hayward and Key recall a strong bond between the five leading actors, which was boosted by the supportive crew as they made their way around multiple locations throughout Asia.

“There was a great support network between everyone and a really good rapport between us,” Hayward says. “We also had great chemistry off camera, which helped us massively in terms of getting through the process of seeing each other every day and travelling to all these different places and doing these new things. It could have spiralled out of control if we didn’t have this chemistry. It would have been a totally different show.

Comedian Tim Key started out in the writers room before taking on the role of Greg

“It was really exhilarating to go to these exotic locations. I found it quite weird at times pretending to be just among normal people going about their day. One moment I particularly remember was when we were in Ho Chi Minh City [in Vietnam] and we were just plugging away, walking and talking, and getting heckles and people wanting to be in the show – but none of them were locals. They were the people we were playing, it was hilarious! But it was really exciting and we were discovering new things every day. The biggest surprise for me was Beijing. It was so fascinating and I didn’t expect it to be what it was and how really bonkers it was.”

Key adds: “Most places had something about them but Beijing was really good. It was so Chinese! It was really good, really friendly. That’s when we were at our most cultural, we did a lot of sight-seeing. But Ho Chi Minh City was good. It came at a good time because we hadn’t been anywhere wild. Up until that point, we’d done an episode in Langkawi, an island in Malaysia, and then in Kuala Lumpur set in an orphanage and an episode in a jungle so I think we were ready to go somewhere mad, and Ho Chi Minh City delivered.”

Series creator Tom Basden (Fresh Meat) had been developing the series alongside producer Eleven’s Jamie Campbell and Joel Wilson since 2013, but reveals he had written a similar script 10 years ago, though then it was more sitcom than comedy-drama.

“It’s one of those ideas where you think, ‘I can’t believe this hasn’t been done as a TV show,’” he says. “It really lends itself to different episodes in different places and the gang making their way through a continent over a season. It’s been brewing for a long time.

“The dramatic side we wanted to hone in on comes from making sure it’s a story about coming of age and people changing and characters getting themselves into funny and amusing situations but also learning about themselves and each other. There’s not as much need to make the sitcom version of this – you know what that is. It would be a bit of a cliché. The comedy-drama version is one where you care about the characters a bit more and it feels a bit more truthful and it makes you really feel like you’re there.”

A Vietnamese orphanage features in the show

Key to the success of the series are the five central characters and the relationships they share on their travels, something on which Basden was particularly focused to ensure they each had a reason for travelling and something they wanted to get out of it.

“It’s really about a group of people who are going out of their way to get something. They’re searching for something and want some kind of breakthrough for themselves, and we’re giving it to them in ways they don’t expect at all,” he explains. “So from that point of view, we had to do a huge amount of work on the characters and make sure at every stage they have places to go and have things they hadn’t realised about themselves.”

It was also a deliberate move to open episode one with a focus on best friends Dylan and Sean, before introducing Greg, and then May and Ashley.

“It mimics what happens when you travel and the way friendships form,” Basden adds. “Although Dylan and Sean are our way into it, that was a decision we made to let the audience follow them and find the other characters.”

The series was produced in partnership with global studio Entertainment One (eOne), which also distributes it internationally. Carrie Stein, eOne Television’s exec VP of global productions, admits she loved the concept of Gap Year from the start and was instantly convinced it would have worldwide appeal.

“The thing about travelling is that it’s this great opportunity to just let down your guard and contemplate your life. What we love about the show is each character has a clear emotional journey,” Stein says. “They each have a story – why they’re there and what they left behind, where they think they’re headed, how they change over the course of travelling and how this group they hang out with impacts where they might be headed. Tom’s done an amazing job of really enriching each of these characters with a strong dramatic story.”

The series was filmed on location across Asia

Once on location, one of the many challenges the creative team faced was deciding when they would exert a level of control over their surroundings and when they would simply let the camera capture the actors naturally in the setting, as if making a documentary.

“That was the push and pull,” Basden says. “There were times when we had to say this location, like the orphanage in Vietnam, we’re just going to make ourselves and control every element of it. But when Greg goes to the full-moon party or Sean makes his way through Beijing, we decided just to shoot and see what happened.

“That was the thing that was the most exciting and the most difficult to judge because you’ve got to allow for the freedom to just be there and see what happens. But you can’t do that too much or you have no idea what you’re going to get.”

Stein picks up: “Certainly the production was ambitious but we had tremendous faith in Jamie, Joel and Tom. There were some scary moments, like receiving a phone call telling us we didn’t have permission to shoot in China. That was crazy.

“It was also a juggling act for Tom because he had certainly written a lot and had a writers room but, once you start location scouting, you find out about different things in particular places that you want to make part of the story. So then there’s rejigging. It’s one of those pieces that evolves as you’re in pre-production and then you’re playing catch-up on the script side.”

Basden continues: “That kind of makes it really fun as well. Although it didn’t feel like it at the time, one of the benefits of being on set and doing rewrites and changing things is you really can adapt to what you’re learning about the cast and the locations. That gives it a slightly organic chemistry when you’re doing it, even though I was shut up in a hotel room for most of it. I was hardly on the set at all, but I can’t complain. I got to hang out in some lovely cafes!”

While now enjoying a well-earned break, Basden says there’s definitely scope for a second season, which he imagines would see many of the same cast return for another trip along with a broader range of international characters.

“It’s so fucking hard – that’s what we’ve all learned from it,” he concludes. “It’s really difficult dramatically to make an exciting story about people travelling. That, from the script point of view, was the hardest thing – and then the logistics of it without faking it and doing some kind of backlot shoot, that is really tricky.

“Because you’re not using the same locations, it’s harder to build because every episode is a mini film. So it’s not like a sitcom where you reuse locations and characters. There’s not really a formula for this show but, for the viewer, that’s great because you don’t know where you’re going to be every episode. From a writing point of view, it means you start the next episode where anything could happen.”

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Top execs line up for Drama Summit West

Visit Drama Summit West online by CLICKING HERE.

Content chiefs at AMC, Netflix, Showtime, Starz and Bad Robot will speak at C21 Media’s Drama Summit West, which takes place in LA on Friday May 19, bringing together the global scripted business to facilitate new productions and partnerships.

The one-day summit, which occurs between the Upfronts and LA Screenings at The Ebell Theatre in Hollywood, will focus on ‘new drama, new models,’ bringing partners together around a creative conference, festival and networking agenda with a view to helping facilitate next-generation relationships.

AMC and Showtime president of original programming and development Joel Stillerman, Showtime president of programming Gary Levine and Starz president of programming Carmi Zlotnik are among a raft of top-tier US programming execs speaking at the event.

They will discuss the state of the US market and their respective 2017 slates, which include Loaded and The Son (AMC); Twin Peaks, Billions and Homeland (Showtime); and American Gods, The Girlfriend Experience and The Missing (Starz).

Netflix VP of content Elizabeth Bradley and VP of international originals Erik Barmack will host a joint session at the event, outlining their global coproduction and international originals strategies respectively. This in-depth session will provide unique insight into how the international business can work with the platform.

Entertainment One Television CEO John Morayniss joins a panel of industry leaders discussing the big questions ahead in US scripted television and creating premium scripted series, which include the forthcoming Sharp Objects starring Amy Adams for HBO; Ransom, from executive producer Frank Spotnitz for CBS/Corus/TF1/RTL; Foreign Bodies for E4; and Havana, starring Antonio Banderas for Starz, among many others.

Bad Robot head of television Ben Stephenson and HBO Latin America VP of original production Roberto Rios will also join panels at the event.

Marti Noxon, showrunner of Sharp Objects, and execs from from Lionsgate, The Ink Factory, Color Force and TV Globo will also speak at the event.

Noxon, whose other credits include UnREAL, Glee, Mad Men and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, will join a panel of writer-producers discussing the evolving entrepreneurial role of showrunner in the changing TV landscape. Sharp Objects, an adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel of the same name, is being directed by Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club, Big Little Lies) and produced by eOne.

Stephen Cornwell, co-CEO of The Night Manager producer Ink Factory, and Nellie Reed, senior VP of Television at American Crime Story producer Color Force, also join a panel looking at how the industry’s hottest independent studios and seasoned producers are developing, producing and packaging next-generation drama.

DSW17 Speakers

Further speakers will be announced in the coming weeks.

This year will see the addition of a Drama Summit West Networking Lounge where delegates can reserve meeting tables to use throughout the day.

The 2016 event sold out, attracting more than 500 top-level executives.

Visit Drama Summit West online by CLICKING HERE.

Register today by CLICKING HERE.

Drama Summit West is the sister event to the International Drama Summit, part of C21’s Content London, which takes place in London in December. Recent speakers and contributors have included actor Tom Hardy, director Ridley Scott and writer Steve Knight (Taboo); showrunners Bryan Fuller (American Gods), Peter Morgan (The Crown), Tony Grisoni (Southcliffe, Red Riding) Jed Mercurio (Line of Duty) and Simon Mirren (Versailles); executives Joel Stillerman (AMC), Channing Dungey (ABC), Eric Schrier (FX), Sharon Tal Yuguado (Fox) and Morgan Wandell (Amazon); and leading global producers Jane Tranter, Jane Featherstone, Liza Marshall, Greg Brenman, Richard Brown, Gub Neal and Andrew Marcus.

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Hello Mr President

US star Kiefer Sutherland reveals why he elected to play the president in US drama Designated Survivor and what he learned from working on 24.

Best known for saving the day – and quite often the US president – in action drama 24, Kiefer Sutherland still finds himself spending plenty of time in the Oval Office.

Only now he plays the president as the star of ABC drama Designated Survivor. The political series sees Sutherland’s Tom Kirkman, the US secretary of housing and urban development, rapidly promoted to become the leader of the free world after an explosion during the State of the Union address claims the lives of the incumbent and all other members of the US cabinet.

Kiefer Sutherland in Cannes for Mipcom 2016

The drama, from creator David Guggenheim and producer Mark Gordon, debuted last September to more than 10 million viewers and a week later, it was handed a full season order of 22 episodes for the 2016/17 season.

It also airs on CTV in Canada and around the world on Netflix following deals with distributor Entertainment One (eOne).

Sutherland has built his career across television and film, with big-screen credits including Stand By Me, The Lost Boys, A Few Good Men and A Time to Kill. So when he gave a keynote address at television industry event Mipcom, DQ was in the audience to hear more from the London-born Canadian actor.

Sutherland hadn’t planned on joining another network drama…
My experience on 24 was the greatest experience I’ve had as an actor. Having done a lot of smaller movies that no one ever saw, I remembered it was nice to have people watch what you do and enjoy it. So I was so grateful for that. Having said that, it was nine years, anywhere between 12 and 15 hours a day, five days a week, 10 months a year – it’s a lot of work, so when I did 24 I wasn’t aware of any of that.
When I agreed to do Designated Survivor, I was completely aware of that. So it was a big decision and when I first got the script, it was sent to me by Mark Gordon. We’ve been friends for 20 years and I was doing a film with Michelle Pfeiffer, a very small picture. I was getting into some music things, and taking on the responsibility of a television show was not in the forefront of my mind.

But his attitude changed when he read the pilot script…
I was going to give it what I call a cursory read – I was going to read it really quickly to gain enough information about the script to explain to Mark why I couldn’t do it. And I got to about page 25 and I went, “Fuck.” I knew I was potentially holding what I was going to be doing for 10 years if I was lucky, and I went back and re-read it. But the opposite thing happened – I got to the end almost praying it stayed as good as it was and David Guggenheim really wrote a script that spoke to me.

Sutherland as Jack Bauer in long-running drama 24

The actor could see similarities between Jack Bauer and Tom Kirkman…
It wasn’t until I actually started performing the character that I realised there was a real similarity to Jack Bauer I had not anticipated. Their skill set is very different. President Tom Kirkman probably doesn’t know how to load a gun, let alone shoot it. But the fact is both characters have a desire to serve and both characters are willing to take on a fight they know they can’t possibly win. That through line in both characters is something I obviously really relate to. I would like to aspire to be one of those people. It ended up being something that I knew if I chose not to do it for a lot of very reasonable reasons, I would really regret it. I do not regret the decision [to sign up] for a second.

Tom Kirkman was inspired by Franklin D Roosevelt, because Abraham Lincoln “would have been too obvious…”
One of the nice things about the character is he’s not even elected, he’s not even an elected member of the cabinet. He’s an architect who had very specific ideas about urban planning and affordable housing across the country and that’s how he became part of the cabinet. So he had no political aspirations. What is nice about this character is he can approach the country’s issues, domestic and abroad, with common sense and a sense of fairness and what he thinks is right or wrong, as opposed to a political agenda that’s been dictated by three years of campaigning. That is a really fresh point of view. Common sense is the foundation of the character, and when he becomes more political, that’s when he starts to make mistakes and that will be a constant thread in the character throughout the whole show.

As an exec producer of Designated Survivor, he sees himself as the show’s ambassador…
I was an exec producer on 24 as well and Joel Surnow [the creator of 24] taught me something: the writers had all the offices on the second floor of the stage where we shot, we never went up there and they never came down. As I’m experiencing on this show, that was very unique. I once asked Joel, “Why don’t you ever come down?” He said it was because he hired the people he wanted to do what they’re doing and he didn’t have to oversee everything because he hired the people that he really wanted to do it. It’s a really valuable lesson. Mark is the producer of this show; I work as an ambassador because of the amount of actors we do have coming in and out of the show. I try to make sure they’re comfortable if they’re having a problem with part of the script, I’ll try to work it out with them or direct them to who else to talk to. That’s really my role. I’m certainly not sitting in budget meetings or things like that.

The actor alongside Designated Survivor co-star Natascha McElhone

The biggest problem on 24 was also the ‘star’ of the show…
When I first read this script [for Designated Survivor], as much as I was moved by the characters, I had learned a lot from 24 about what would potentially make the show great and what would not. 24’s real -ime aspect, which was in my opinion the real star of the show, was also a problem. We would paint ourselves into a corner in the storyline and it was almost every year, right around episode 14 or 15 and we’d have to do something wonky to get around it, but we’d make up for it in the last eight episodes. It was something we really had difficulty every year navigating and I think Howard Gordon would be the first to acknowledge that.

But Designated Survivor was designed to avoid those same challenges…
It was designed to never get caught in that position. This show works on three different prongs. So you have a terrorist attack and an FBI investigation into who did this attack and what would be the appropriate response – that’s the thriller aspect of the show. Then you have a family drama, of what happens to a family that is split up, or is moved into the White House overnight. What does that do to the dynamic of his marriage, how does it affect how he interacts and behaves with his children? That’s its own storyline. And there’s the political aspect – how do you stabilise the country after having its entire government wiped out? How do you rebuild the government and shore up the country on an international level?
Those are all things we’ll be dealing with throughout this first season. If at one point the political storyline is having difficulty, then all of a sudden the show can shift back to being a family drama for two episodes and giving a reason for the political thing to take over. It’s the same with the investigation. So the fact that three storylines are living within the show, all at the same time, gives the writers incredible flexibility to also react to what the audience is enjoying about the show. For those reasons, the show has a flexibility that I think is stronger than anything I’ve been a part of so far.

Sutherland wasn’t sure he wanted to do television before 24 changed his mind…
When I took 24, I wasn’t very clear on how it all worked. I remember thinking I didn’t really want to do a television show – and of course it ended up becoming the greatest experience I’ve had as an actor. I seem to land in certain situations. If I manage to get out of my own way, things can work out and 24 was the great lesson for that for me.

He now believes the small screen is the most exciting medium in entertainment…
When I started working, there were five studios in the US and all five studios were making 50 to 60 movies a year. Now there are barely three studios in the US and they’re making about 15 movies a year. And if you’re going to do one of those movies, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to be wearing tights and a cape! So all of the movies I loved watching when I was a kid – whether it was The Godfather, Lawrence of Arabia, Serpico, The French Connection, Ordinary People, Terms of Endearment – those movies aren’t really getting made the way they were and that drama, that kind of storytelling has been absorbed by television, whether it’s 24, The Sopranos, The Wire, Sex and the City or Game of Thrones. The list is endless and the fact we’ve moved from three channels to four channels to 500 channels, content is king – and for the writers who want to tell real drama, television is where it is at right now.

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On the case with Cardinal

From the books by Giles Blunt, Cardinal tells the story of the eponymous detective tasked with investigating the death of a young girl whose body is discovered in an abandoned mine. But as the case grows, a dark secret from his past threatens to derail the investigation.

Stars Billy Campbell and Karine Vanasse reveal why they were so impressed by the scripts and how the series will challenge viewers, and discuss the challenges of filming in treacherous conditions.

Cardinal is produced by Sienna Films and Entertainment One for CTV in Canada and is distributed internationally by eOne.

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Delivering Ransom

Executive producer Frank Spotnitz discusses the real-life origins of hostage thriller Ransom – commissioned by CBS in the US, Canada’s Global, German broadcaster RTL and French network TF1 – while star Luke Roberts describes the life-and-death stakes in play for his character, negotiator Eric Roberts.

Ransom is produced by Entertainment One (eOne), Sienna Films and Wildcat Productions, and distributed by eOne.

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Sky Deutschland bets big on original drama

Stefan Ruzowitzky

European pay TV broadcaster Sky has been investing in original scripted content for a few years now, but the last 12 months have undoubtedly seen the company increase its ambition in German-speaking territories. This week, for example, it announced an order for eight-episode drama Eight Days.

Directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky (The Counterfeiters), the limited series focuses on the reaction to the news that an asteroid is hurtling toward Earth and is predicted to crash somewhere in Europe in eight days’ time. It follows a German family as they live through what they expect will be the last eight days of humanity.

Asteroids are a well-worn theme in the movies but Frank Jastfelder, director of drama production at Sky Deutschland, said this project was different: “We were excited about Eight Days because everyone asked themselves the same question: How would I react in such a situation? In response to this question, Eight Days delivers emotional, always surprising and highly dramatic answers – and steers clear of all the Hollywood clichés.”

Eight Days will begin production midway through next year, by which time Sky Deutschland will have aired another of its big drama investments, Babylon Berlin. Directed by Tom Tykwer, Hendrik Handloegten and Achim von Borries, this US$45m show is a coproduction between Sky Deutschland, ARD Degeto, X Filme and Beta Film. It follows Gereon Rath, a police inspector in 1929 Berlin, a hotbed of politics, art, extremism and drugs.

Babylon Berlin stars Volker Bruch and Liv Lisa Frise

Two seasons (16 episodes in total) of Babylon Berlin have been set up so far, though there is potential for the franchise to run and run because it is based on a popular book series by Volker Kutscher. So far, Kutscher has written six Gereon Rath books but only the first forms the basis of the first two seasons of Babylon Berlin.

Another ambitious project in the works is Das Boot, a €25m (US$26m) coproduction between Sky Deutschland and German producer Bavaria Film adapted from Lothar-Günther Buchheim’s classic 1973 novel of the same name. Based on the wartime experiences of a German U-boat crew, this series will air in 2018 across all the Sky territories: Germany, Austria, the UK, Ireland and Italy.

Sky Deutschland’s investment in new drama is also being backed by the acquisition of international titles. Earlier in December, the company acquired all five seasons of FremantleMedia International’s hit prison drama Wentworth. The deal marks the first time Wentworth will be available to German-speaking viewers. Season one premiered on Sky Deutschland’s recently launched flagship channel Sky1 on December 7.

Trapped represented a breakthrough in terms of French backing for Nordic drama

Elsewhere in the world of European TV drama, YLE Finland and Mediapro of Spain are joining forces to make a Nordic noir drama called The Paradise. The project is the first time that a Spanish production company has collaborated with a Finnish channel.

The Paradise is a thriller set among the Finnish community living on the Costa del Sol. Their peaceful existence is interrupted by a series of crimes that can only be solved by a joint collaboration between the Finnish and Spanish police forces.

The show is being developed by YLE head of drama Jarmo Lampela and Bordertown writer Matti Laine alongside Mediapro’s Ran Tellem and David Troncoso. Although it is the first Finnish/Spanish collaboration, it is part of a much broader trend towards Nordic partnerships with other European countries. The trend was really kicked off by German broadcasters, the first to spot the international appeal of Nordic drama. The Brits then got interested, first in Wallander and more recently Marcella.

A key breakthrough came last year when France TV came on board Icelandic thriller Trapped. Further French backing for Nordic drama has been evident in the cases of Midnight Sun and Bordertown, a YLE crime series coproduced with Federation Entertainment. That show was a hit on YLE1, with a record 1.1 million viewers and a renewal. That bodes well for The Paradise.

Turkey’s Elif has now been sold into 16 territories

Also this week, The Mark Gordon Company and its parent company Entertainment One (eOne) have joined forces with Xavier Marchand’s newly established UK-based production outfit Moonriver Content.

Under the Moonriver banner, Marchand will acquire, develop and produce film and TV projects with a focus on UK and European stories and talent. The move is expected to increase the volume of UK and European projects coming to Mark Gordon and eOne for financing, coproducing and distributing.

Marchand said: “In partnership with Mark Gordon and his superb team, and with the backing of eOne, I look forward to building on existing relationships and fostering new ones in film and TV.”

On the distribution front, Eccho Rights has revealed that two new broadcasters have picked up hit Turkish drama Elif, which airs on Kanal 7 in its home market. Bangladeshi network Deepto TV and Georgian broadcaster Imedi TV take total sales for the show 16 territories including Chile, where it recently debuted on TVN. Produced by Green Yapim, the show’s third season aired in September – with a total run of 250 45-minute episodes.

A spin-off from How I Met Your Mother is likely

Also this week, SVoD service Hulu picked up the US rights to UK drama National Treasure from All3Media International. Written by Jack Thorne, National Treasure follows a popular comedian, played by Robbie Coltrane, whose life is turned upside down when he is charged with sexual assaults alleged to have taken place 20 years ago. The four-parter first aired on Channel 4 in the UK and will debut as a Hulu original series on March 1 next year.

Finally, there are exciting reports for fans of cult CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother. According to Deadline, a spin-off entitled How I Met Your Father is now in the works with This Is Us co-executive producers Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger in charge. HIMYM ran for nine seasons between 2005 and 2014 racking up 208 episodes. The final episode included a controversial twist ending that didn’t go down well with a lot of fans. But it still attracted an audience of more than 13 million.

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Speaking with Conviction

Conviction star Hayley Atwell tells Michael Pickard why she was drawn to the US drama after saying goodbye to Marvel’s Agent Carter.

With a career spanning stage and screen, it is within the Marvel universe that Hayley Atwell has made her name.

Starring as wartime spy Peggy Carter, she first appeared on the big screen in Captain America: The First Avenger and had roles in subsequent films Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man and Captain America: Civil War.

More prominently, she made several appearances in Marvel’s Agents of Shield and then took the lead in fellow ABC drama Agent Carter. Running for two seasons between 2015 and this year, it followed Carter as she balanced her life as a secret agent with being a single woman in 1940s America.

But following Agent Carter’s cancellation earlier this year, Atwell can now be found on the small screen in ABC’s new legal drama Conviction (pictured above).

Conviction is halfway through its debut season on ABC
Conviction is halfway through its debut season on ABC

The London-born actor stars as Hayes Morrison, a lawyer and former First Daughter who is blackmailed into heading up a new Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) in exchange for avoiding prison. At the CIU, she and her team investigate suspected wrongful convictions as she attempts to regain the trust of her high-powered family.

The cast also includes Eddie Cahill, Shawn Ashmore, Merrin Dungey, Emily Kinney, Manny Montana and Daniel di Tomasso. Produced by The Mark Gordon Company and ABC Studios, the show’s co-creator/writer Liz Friedman and co-creator/director Liz Friedlander executive produce with Mark Gordon and Nick Pepper.

“You have this backdrop of great tension and drama as any legal procedural would be, but then you put in a character like Hayes – she’s a bit of a Tasmanian devil,” Atwell says of her character.

“She’s a former First Daughter and a brilliant lawyer but it’s almost like she has her finger on a self-destruct button. And I think a life in public scrutiny as the First Daughter, the way that’s manifested itself is quite rebellious. She’s decided to live her life on her own terms and be allowed to make all the mistakes 20-year-olds make but unfortunately we’re a decade on and she’s just stayed at the party a little too long.”

Morrison’s life takes a turn for the worse as she’s arrested for cocaine possession and, facing a spell behind bars, agrees to run the CIU – based on real-life units in operation across the US.

“They’re either going to bury her with this or she comes and works for the CIU,” continues Atwell, whose other TV credits include The Pillars of the Earth, Restless and Black Mirror. “So she’s very resistant at first and we discover throughout the pilot that she’s going to find a way of navigating this new job on her terms. She’s going to fight the system from within. So she has a lot of fun doing that.”

Atwell played the lead in Marvel's Agent Carter for two seasons
Atwell played the lead in Marvel’s Agent Carter for two seasons

Currently halfway through its 13-episode freshman season – episode seven aired in the US on Monday this week – Conviction marks a change of direction for Atwell after Agent Carter and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but one she has happily embraced.

“It was such a fresh and exciting challenge and opportunity [after Agent Carter] and, having spoken to Mark Gordon and Liz Friedlander, specifically about their vision of the show and their vision of who Hayes was, it was just this dream character – someone who is complex and multi-layered and yet you’re still rooting for her,” she reveals.

“The audience has still got to warm to her and want her to succeed and want to be concerned for her and the choices she makes and the mistakes she seems to be repeating and the difficult situation she’s in with her family. There’s a lot of empathy for her, and all of that meant that, for me as an actor, to explore little ways of expressing those different sides of her so it doesn’t just become she’s in this corporate world, this legal world, and she’s doing good. It’s not as straightforward as that because it’s much more relatable and much more human to see someone struggling with a lot of pressures from every aspect of her life.”

Distributor Entertainment One has already sold Conviction to broadcasters around the world, including Sky Living in the UK, TF1 in France and Fox Networks Group Latin America.

And Gordon, best known for producing series including Grey’s Anatomy and Criminal Minds, says it is the conflicted Morrison that gives the drama a particularly interesting premise.

“Procedurals have this stigma and what we were trying very hard to accomplish – and I think we’ve done so with Hayley – was something of a hybrid where we’re interested in her life and the other characters’ lives and, at the same time, we’re solving a case of the week,” he says. “I think the balance is working really nicely.”

Restless
Atwell in miniseries Restless, which aired on BBC1 in 2012

As Atwell recalls, Agent Carter was her first experience working on a show where scripts were still being written as filming began, which gave her little time to analyse scenes in the way she would when treading the boards in London’s West End or on Broadway.

“I found that quite thrilling because it means you just have to instinctively make choices and just commit to them,” she says. “So I feel it’s given me insight into the stamina it takes to keep that going. It means I get to have fun in the moment and that’s quite exciting because it keep you very present as an actor and wanting to play with your co-workers and finding little comic moments or moments that are not necessarily obvious in the script. It keeps you going but it does take a kind of stamina and you’ve got to keep physically fit for it.”

Gordon admits it’s “very, very hard” for Atwell and every lead actor in a network drama as they face long, gruelling hours on set.

“It’s 12- to 14-hour days, every day, five days a week for nine months,” he says. “It’s really tough. And we as producers have to protect the actors, because fast is not necessarily good. We try to do these shows as quickly as we can but, at the same time, to allow Hayley and the cast the time to do their best work.

“A show like this is deceptively tough because although we’re not blowing things up on a regular basis and there are no car chases, what we do have is a large cast and that cast is together a lot. So it takes time to photograph and film multiple angles of all these people. It’s not just shooting here, here and here, it’s across this one to talk to this actor and across Hayley to look at the other actor.

“I’ve been doing this for quite some time and once when I asked why it was taking so long, it was because we had six or seven actors and you’ve got to cover them all when they’re in the room. That just takes time.”

Atwell adds: “It just means you have to be really prepared before you go in, do the homework but also have excellent time management of just knowing how much you have to get through and creating an atmosphere where you can do your best work and not panicking or rushing through something.

“That’s something we’re always playing with really, and half the work is making it efficient but making sure those time limits aren’t compromising the quality of your work.”

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