Tag Archives: Kevin Lygo

Networks seek feel-good dramas

Call the Midwife
Call the Midwife has been given three more eight-episode seasons

One of the UK’s most popular dramas, Call the Midwife, has been renewed for three more seasons. The feel-good show, created by Neal Street Productions for BBC1, launched in 2012 and has so far run for five seasons. The new commission means three more lots of eight episodes as well as the bonus of three Christmas specials.

Commenting on the BBC’s  heavyweight backing for the show, which reflects a trend in TV towards multi-series commissions, Charlotte Moore, director of BBC Content, said: “I’m privileged to have Britain’s most popular drama series on BBC1, and this new three-series commission underlines our commitment. Call the Midwife continues to raise the bar with each series and is really valued by audiences. The quality and ambition of the storytelling is credit to the excellence of writer Heidi Thomas, who has brought the show into the 1960s with a diverse range of subjects.”

To date, the show has attracted an average of around 10 million viewers per episode each season. So far it has been rooted in the 1950s but will now tackle the social upheaval of the 1960s.

Heidi Thomas, creator, writer and executive producer of the show, said: “In the 1960s Britain was a country fizzing with change and challenge, and there is so much rich material – medical, social and emotional – to be explored. We have now delivered well over 100 babies on screen and, like those babies, the stories keep on coming!”

Interestingly, the recommission comes at a time when more and more executives in the industry are calling for entertaining, feel-good dramas. ITV director of TV Kevin Lygo recently told the audience at a Bafta event in the UK that he wanted to see more “happy, life-affirming dramas,” adding: “I’m a bit tired of endless murders where in the first five minutes someone, always a woman or a child, is abducted, raped, knifed, killed or bludgeoned.”

The Durrells
The Durrells – a ‘positive, happy’ show

Networks that have invested in feel-good shows have generally secured strong ratings. ITV, for example, enjoyed success with The Durrells, which Lygo said “was a positive thing, a happy, well-made, brilliantly performed show – perfect for Sunday evening.”

His network has recommissioned The Durrells and is also about to launch another feel-good show called The Good Karma Hospital. Produced by Tiger Aspect, the programme is set in a coastal town in tropical South India. It follows the story of a British-Asian junior doctor who arrives at the run-down Good Karma Hospital to join a dedicated team of over-worked medics.

The feel-good factor is also producing some positive results in the US this season. The best example of this is NBC’s comedy drama This Is Us, which launched this year. Eight episodes in, the show is attracting a rock-solid 9-9.5 million viewers and is generally regarded as one of the best new dramas of the year.

Younger was recently given a fourth run on TV Land

It’s too soon to call this a trend but there are a few other shows that suggest the US audience is receptive to shows that put a positive spin on life’s challenges. In the comedy arena, we’ve seen breakout hits like Modern Family, The Goldbergs (both ABC) and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix), while in drama there have been successes like The CW’s Jane the Virgin and TV Land’s Younger. The latter show, which was recently renewed for a fourth season, is the channel’s top performer with an audience in the 500,000 to 600,000 range.

Around the world, the emphasis still tends to be on crime series, with France and Italy in particular making their mark with hard-boiled series such as Spiral and Gomorrah respectively, to name a couple.

Indeed, The Economist went as far as calling Italian political drama “the new Nordic Noir.” But there is a decent array of international shows that can be categorised as feel-good, inspirational or life-affirming.

Ku'Damm 56
Ku’Damm 56 airs on ZDF in Germany

Keshet’s Yellow Peppers was a big hit in Israel before being adapted successfully as The A Word for the BBC in the UK, while UFA’s Ku’Damm 56 has been one of the breakout shows of the last year for ZDF in Germany.

Even the gloomy Nordics have series like Rita and The Legacy in among their crime noir shows. One of the region’s recent hits is Next Summer, a comedy drama that satirises the idea of the idyllic, cosy family summer holiday at a getaway. A hit for TV Norge/Discovery in Norway, Next Summer is now up to three seasons and is being remade for Kanal5/Discovery is Sweden. (There has also been talk of a Fox remake coming to the US market).

Australia’s contribution to the feel-good revolution is Seven Network’s The Secret Daughter, a musical show that stars former Australian Idol contestant Jessica Mauboy as a part-time indigenous pub singer whose life changes forever when she meets a wealthy city hotelier. Produced by Screentime, the 10-episode first season started in October and received some positive notices from the press at launch. Now six episodes in, it’s posting a respectable one million viewers per episode (with consolidated viewing included) and has been renewed for 2017.

Next Summer
Norwegian feel-good series Next Summer

The Koreans also manage to make space for some upbeat shows – the best recent example being KBS2’s Oh My Venus. In this series, a Korean personal trainer working in Hollywood returns home after a scandal involving an American actress. Back on Korean soil, he becomes emotionally involved with a former teen star who is now an out of shape 33-year-old lawyer – cue romance.

There’s a similar ‘coming home’ vibe to Fox Turkey’s In Love Again (Ask Yeniden). In this case, two young people go to the US (separately) to start new lives, but the American Dream turns sour for both of them. They meet on the plane home and, embarrassed to admit the truth to their families, pretend to be married. Fox has also enjoyed success with Cherry Season, which focuses on the tangled lives and loves of a fashion designer and her friend.

Oh My Venus
Oh My Venus centres on a personal trainer

In the world of telenovelas, there has always been a steady flow of upbeat or uplifting shows such as Ugly Betty, The Successful Pells, Rebelde Way and the original Jane the Virgin. One title about to hit the market is Telemundo’s La Fan, which tells the story of a happy-go-lucky woman from a poor background who is a passionate fan of a famous telenovela actor. One day, a twist of fate brings the two of them together. At first, he hardly notices her, but before long he can’t imagine his life without her.

The big challenge with feel-good drama is making sure it doesn’t skew too heavily towards the female audience, with most of the shows in this area relying on strong female leads. However, many of the above examples have proved it is possible to create a cross-gender, cross-generational hit with the right story.

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Victoria’s reign extended by ITV

Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria
Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria

In one of the least surprising renewal stories of the year, UK broadcaster ITV has commissioned a second series of ratings hit Victoria from Mammoth Screen. Scripted by Daisy Goodwin, the show has had an excellent first season – even managing to hold off strong competition from the BBC’s returning hit Poldark.

Series one launched in late August and is currently averaging around 7.7 million viewers, which makes it ITV’s top-performing drama of the year so far. ITV director of television, Kevin Lygo said: “Mammoth Screen and Daisy Goodwin have brought the characters so vividly to life in this series and we’re thrilled with the reception for Victoria. We’re pleased to be able to confirm Jenna Coleman and Tom Hughes will return to continue the story on ITV.” Just as significantly, Goodwin will again be writing and executive producing the series.

Season one starts with the young Victoria’s coronation and explores how she becomes increasingly sure-footed in the fields of politics and diplomacy. It also looks at her close relationship with Lord Melbourne and burgeoning romance with Prince Albert, her eventual husband. As with series one, the new season will be a coproduction with PBS Masterpiece.

Goodwin added: “Even though she reigned in the 19th century, Victoria is a heroine for our times. In the next series she faces the very modern dilemma of how to juggle children with her husband and her job. As Victoria will discover, it’s hard to be a wife, a mother and ruler of the most powerful nation on earth.”

Tom Selleck in Magnum PI
Tom Selleck in Magnum PI

Mammoth Screen’s Damien Timmer, another executive producer on the show, said: “Following the audience response to Victoria, we are delighted that Jenna Coleman will be returning to her throne for a second series. The next few years of Victoria’s reign are packed full of extraordinary real-life events, with constitutional crises, scandals at court and personal challenges aplenty for the Queen and Prince Albert. God Save the Queen!”

Meanwhile, in the US, the trend towards TV drama series revivals seems to be picking up pace. After CBS launched MacGyver this week with a decent 10.9 million audience, there are now reports that ABC is lining up a spin-off series based on the 1980s classic Magnum PI, which starred Tom Selleck. Echoing another recent trend in US TV, the plan is for the show to have a female lead – with Magnum’s daughter moving to Hawaii to take over the business.

The reboot business is in full swing now with The X-Files, Gilmore Girls, 24 and Prison Break all having been revived, or coming up. The new Magnum will be written by John Rogers, whose TNT series Leverage ran for five seasons from 2008 to 2012. Rogers also created TNT’s hit scripted series The Librarians.

Still in the US, there’s good news for fans of Atlanta, the new comedy from Donald Glover that airs on FX. The network has just announced a second season. It has also revealed that it is returning Better Things, another comedy that has been performing well. “It’s really gratifying to launch two new comedies that have received overwhelming critical acclaim right out of the gate and that are emblematic of FX’s award-winning brand,” said Nick Grad and Eric Schrier, heads of original programming for FX Networks and FX Productions. “It is clear to us Atlanta and Better Things have struck a nerve with viewers.”

Donald Glover's Atlanta will return to FX
Donald Glover’s Atlanta will return to FX

Atlanta follows two young, black cousins as they try to make it rich out of rap. International buyers will get to see what the fuss is about when Fox brings the show to the Mipcom market in Cannes next month as part of its slate. Better Things is co-created by Pamela Adlon and Louis C.K. Adlon plays Sam, a woman trying to raise her three daughters, while also attempting to hold down a career in Hollywood. Still with Fox’s international ambition, the distribution arm of Fox Networks Group is also heading to Mipcom with Ron Howard’s forthcoming space epic Mars. The six-part series, about a fictitious mission to colonise the red planet in 2033, will receive its world premiere in Cannes ahead of its debut on National Geographic later this year.

Also in the US, The CW is developing a new supernatural series called Stick Man with Cameron Prosandeh (Helix) and Tim Kring (Heroes). Stick Man is about an amateur documentarian who returns to her hometown to chronicle the events of her brother’s murder and the ensuing trial. While there, she discovers evidence linking her brother’s death to supernatural events.

Designated Survivor stars Kiefer Sutherland
Designated Survivor stars Kiefer Sutherland

There was also more evidence this week of Netflix’s considerable clout in the international rights market following news that it has secured international streaming rights (excluding North America) to ABC drama Designated Survivor, starring Kiefer Sutherland. The deal was done with rights holder Entertainment One (eOne). Last month, Netflix also secured the rights to CBS’s highly anticipated new iteration of Star Trek, which is coming some time in 2017.

In one of the week’s more intriguing commissions, Verizon has greenlit a political comedy for its streaming service Go90. Executive produced by Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, the 6×30′ show is called Embeds. It explores five reporters covering the US presidential election and has been created by Scott Conroy and Peter Hamby. Go90also also recently commissioned a live-action series inspired by the Battlefield video game franchise.

Back in the UK, Scottish producer Synchronicity Films is developing a crime thriller based on Graeme Macrae Burnet novel His Bloody Project. The book, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, explores the sanity of a teenager convicted of a brutal triple murder in 1869 in a remote Scottish crofting community. Early discussions are underway with a major UK broadcaster, with screenwriters currently being considered.”

Claire Mundell, creative director at Synchronicity, said: “We are delighted to have discovered this wonderful novel on our own doorstep. It’s also great to work with an indie publisher [Saraband Imprint Contraband] that believes in backing undiscovered talent as much as we do.”

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Fox targets sure-fire hit with Lethal Weapon series

As Fox reloads classic movie franchise Lethal Weapon for the small screen, DQ finds out why the show is already being described as one of the best new series of the year.

Movie-to-TV adaptations have had an uneasy ride in recent years. While they are seen as a way to create an immediate fanbase for a show and bring big ratings to a network, these spin-offs can flounder if the format isn’t built for television or is simply seen as a lesser version of the big-screen original.

Limitless, Damien, Rush Hour and Minority Report have all been cancelled after a single season in the past 12 months, while Ash vs Evil Dead, Bates Motel and Fargo have enjoyed more success.

This year, the trend continues as NBC takes on The Wizard of Oz with Emerald City, while Fox hopes to take small-screen horror to terrifying new levels with its own version of The Exorcist, among others.

Matt Miller
Matt Miller

However, another Fox movie remake is already being talked up as one of the best new shows coming out of the US in 2016/17.

Based on the film franchise starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover that began in 1987, action drama Lethal Weapon promises to reinvent cop duo Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh for a new generation.

In the series, Clayne Crawford and Damon Wayans play odd couple duo Riggs and Murtaugh respectively as they work a crime-ridden beat in modern-day LA.

Family man and by-the-book LAPD detective Murtaugh is back to work after a near fatal heart attack and is paired with ex-Navy Seal-turned-detective Riggs, who has moved to California for a new start with the LAPD.

During the pilot episode, hot-headed Riggs drags reluctant Murtaugh on a high-speed chase and into a shootout with drug dealers, though Riggs later discovers why Murtaugh is so determined to get home safely at the end of each day – he has a family and a newborn baby. Murtaugh also finds out that his new partner lost his young wife and unborn child, resulting in a devil-may-care-attitude that hides his grief.

The cast also includes Kevin Rahm, Jordana Brewster, Keesha Sharp, Dante Brown, Chandler Kinney and Johnathan Fernandez.

The series is from Lin Pictures and Good Session Productions in association with Warner Bros Television, and is distributed around the world by Warner Bros International Television Distribution.

Matt Miller – who is an executive producer withJoseph McGinty Nichol (better known as McG), Dan Lin and Jennifer Gwartz – says the creative team wanted to take the spirit and tone of the original movies and bring them into the present day in a way that avoids comparisons with the source material.

He explains: “We’ve started off Murtaugh in a slightly different place compared with the movies, where he was turning 50 and was staring into the abyss because of that. Our Murtaugh is coming back to work having been off for six months because he suffered a triple bypass – he’d actually flatlined on the table and had been dead for a minute.

“The story starts on his first day back. He’s married, with two teenage kids and a six-month-old. He actually had his heart attack in the delivery room when the kid came out. So when our pilot begins, it’s Murtaugh’s first day back after having been gone for six months. So it’s not just about a guy that’s 50 and getting a little older, it’s about a guy who actually died. His wife in our version of the show is very successful, so the financial responsibilities of being a cop are taken away from him – so he doesn’t actually have to be there and he’s actually a little bit scared. It’s about a guy who needs to re-examine his life and decide whether this where he wants to be. And he’s frankly terrified of dying because he has died and he’s seen that there’s no white light.”

Straight-laced Murtaugh is juxtaposed with Riggs, a potential loose cannon who is still mourning his wife and child.

“That puts him in a headspace of actively wanting to die,” Miller notes. “So although he isn’t necessarily – for various reasons that we talk about in the pilot – going to sit at home and do it himself, he’s fine if he gets killed in the line of duty.

“We set these two characters up on a collision course where one guy’s actively looking to die and another is terrified of it – and that’s where they are in the pilot.”

Lethal Weapon stars Clayne Crawford (left) and Damon Wayans
Lethal Weapon stars Clayne Crawford (left) and Damon Wayans

Ultimately, the show is about “two broken guys” who, through the course of the first season, discover they actually need each other.

“Then something happens that rips the rug out from under them and puts them back on opposite tracks,” Miller reveals, “where once again Murtagh couldn’t be any further apart from where Riggs is emotionally, and we want to keep watching that relationship evolve so it doesn’t just feel like it’s static throughout the course of the season.”

At a time when new drama series are jostling for attention, a classic film franchise is the perfect springboard from which to launch a new show. But weeks ahead of its US debut on September 21, Lethal Weapon has already been described as the pick of the new US dramas airing this autumn after it was snapped up by UK broadcaster ITV following the annual LA Screenings event.

Kevin Lygo, ITV’s director of television, said: “It’s rare that we find an acquisition with that sweet-spot potential – the best production values and hugely entertaining drama – that we think can appeal to the biggest and broadest audiences and take up a place in ITV primetime. We saw Lethal Weapon and were immediately excited by what it could add to the ITV schedule, and we’re really looking forward to bringing the series to UK viewers.”

Sasha Breslau, ITV head of acquired series, added: “Lethal Weapon was a standout drama from this year’s Screenings, superbly rebooting a beloved franchise with the perfect mix of action, heart, humour and terrific chemistry between Wayans and Crawford as the iconic cop duo.”

If the series can capture the big-screen franchise’s blend of action and comedy, then like the beloved movies, this is a show that could reload for many seasons to come.

To see the full interview with Matt Miller, click here.

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Caroline Aherne: A class act

Caroline Aherne presented a mock chatshow in the guise of Mrs Merton
Caroline Aherne presented a mock chatshow in the guise of Mrs Merton

This week the UK is mourning the death of Caroline Aherne, the comic genius behind memorable shows and characters such as The Royle Family, The Mrs Merton Show and ‘Checkout Girl,’ who appeared on iconic sketch comedy series The Fast Show.

Many of Aherne’s colleagues and collaborators, expressing their grief at her untimely death, have held her up as a comedy pioneer, which she undoubtedly was. However, she was also part of a great Northern tradition that includes the likes of George Formby, Stan Laurel, Les Dawson, Eric Morecambe, Alan Bennett, Shelagh Delaney, Morrissey, Julie Walters and Victoria Wood, another gifted female comedian who died this year.

Aherne’s humour was built around immaculate comic timing and close observation of the human condition. While rooted in her experience of growing up in the North, her insights were universal and, for the most part, benign. It would have been easy for her work to mock the working-class people it portrayed – but instead it celebrated them for their stoicism, loyalty and optimism. Her characters were people you could turn to with a problem.

This resonates with an interesting study conducted in 2009 by comedy expert Rosemarie Jarski, who set out to explore why the North of England has been such a rich source of relatable comedy. Her conclusion was that the North has developed a unique brand of wit that relies on self-deprecation, the desire to prick pomposity and the ability to find humour in the sadness of everyday life. “Northern humour is above all the humour of recognition,” she said in an interview with the Daily Telegraph. “Northern comedians don’t try to be cleverer than us. There are no airs and graces, no upmanship. They are one of us.” It’s notable that, in her interview, Jarski cited both Aherne and Wood for their ability to spin “comic gold out of pain and misery.”

Aherne (left) starred in The Royle Family, which she wrote and created alongside co-star Craig Cash
Aherne (left) starred in The Royle Family, which she wrote and created alongside co-star Craig Cash

In the wake of Aherne’s death, there has also been a rekindling of the debate about whether the UK television industry does enough to encourage distinctive working-class voices like hers.

At one level, this has never been a better time for working-class voices – if by that we mean on-screen representation. In comedy, we have the colossus that is Peter Kay – whose observations carry the same wit and wisdom as those of Aherne. And Aherne’s collaborator on The Royle Family, Craig Cash, is currently out in the market with his new Sky1 football-themed sitcom Rovers.

But the genre of comedy only scratches the surface in terms of the working-class characters we’re seeing on the small screen. In drama, Sally Wainwright’s Happy Valley and Paul Abbott’s Shameless are both brilliant interpretations of working-class life, combining the comedy and struggle Jarski refers to above.

Similarly, a big change since Aherne first came onto the scene is the rise of reality TV. While this form of programme-making often polarises opinion, there’s no question that series like Benefits Street, Educating Essex, The Dealership and 24 Hours In A&E all tackle truths about what it’s like to be working class in 21st century Britain (both north and south of Watford). And then, of course, there is Gogglebox, narrated by Aherne. While not exclusively focused on working-class families, it is a natural successor to Aherne’s work (with Craig Cash) on The Royle Family.

Another element that must be factored into this debate is the rise of celebrity- and talent-show culture. Even a woman of Aherne’s undisputed abilities would have struggled to find a way to comment meaningfully on the circus that surrounds Big Brother, Geordie Shore, Got Talent, Take Me Out, I’m a Celebrity and the like. How do you create character comedy when TV and social media are filled with people you couldn’t begin to make up? This, after all, is the era of Ronnie Pickering, the road-raging cult hero.

Aherne as 'Checkout Girl' in hit sketch comedy The Fast Show
Aherne as ‘Checkout Girl’ in hit sketch comedy The Fast Show, which first aired in 1994

On top of all this – and most importantly – is the centrality of soaps on British TV. Just this week, for example, ITV announced that the UK’s most successful and popular soap drama, Coronation Street, will add a sixth weekly episode from late 2017. Commenting on that decision, ITV director of television Kevin Lygo said: “I am a life-long fan of Coronation Street and one of the first things I wanted to explore when I became director of television was taking the production to six episodes a week. The soaps are the cornerstone of the ITV schedule, and Coronation Street continues to produce some of the finest drama and comedy on television. It is a hugely important part of what has defined ITV throughout its history and I want it to continue to be right at the heart of what ITV defines in years to come. As a viewer, I have watched the soap as it has continued to evolve, entertain and grip the nation with fantastic storylines and this move will be the next exciting chapter in Corrie’s story.”

Rooted in the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ city of Manchester, Coronation Street has brilliantly encapsulated the changing face of working-class culture in Britain since the 1950s. It is unquestionably cut from the same cloth as Aherne’s comedy. And it is complemented by the BBC’s London-based EastEnders and ITV’s Emmerdale, which has charted the UK’s rural experience.

The late writer and actor also played a weather presenter in The Fast Show's 'Channel 9' sketch
The late writer and actor also played a weather presenter in The Fast Show’s ‘Channel 9’ sketch

So, in fairness, the issue in the UK is not about the depiction of the working class on TV, which is there – warts and all – for everyone to see. There is, however, more of an argument about whether working-class people get an opportunity to tell their stories from the privileged position behind the camera.

Tim Hincks, former president of Endemol Shine Group, raised this issue in July 2015 when he called the UK industry “hideously middle class” during a lecture delivered to Bafta members.

Here, the question is whether the business makes enough of an effort to create entry points for working-class people. Breaking into the business is much easier if you know someone who already works in it. Or if you have enough family financial support to spend a couple of years establishing yourself in the business (training courses, low-paid work placements in big cities and so on – the kind of things that working-class people generally don’t know exist, and if they do, they can’t afford to take advantage of).

This isn’t an easy issue to address, especially when it sits alongside the debate about BAME, LGBT and disabled access to the industry – and not forgetting the issue of gender equality. However, it’s important for a couple of reasons. The first is that the industry is in a risky position when it relies on middle-class people to tell working-class stories. The danger is that, without the benefit of working-class insight, it strays into the mocking and judgemental territory that Aherne’s work astutely avoided. The second is that there is a possibility it will miss the next Caroline Aherne, an oversight that would leave the world a much drearier place.

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November reign: How did the now ex-ITV drama boss do?

Following Steve November’s exit from ITV, Stephen Arnell assesses his tenure as the commercial broadcaster’s head of drama.

The news of ITV drama director Steve November’s departure brought to a close the first stage of new ITV director of television Kevin Lygo’s shake-up of senior commissioning roles at the network.

For the commercial broadcaster, drama is the most important genre in terms of cost, peaktime value and ratings.

Although Lygo’s background is chiefly in entertainment (his skills will be crucial in reinvigorating that critical part of the schedule), one shouldn’t forget that he was, under pseudonym Ruby Solomon, the writer of the one-off comedy-drama Walter, commissioned and broadcast by BBC1 in 2014.

And when Lygo was Channel 4’s director of television and content, drama successes under his regime included Shameless, The Devil’s Whore, Skins, Elizabeth I, Dead Set and Any Human Heart.

With characteristic speed, Lygo poached BBC drama chief Polly Hill to replace November – no doubt fulfilling a dual purpose in both attracting proven talent and inconveniencing the BBC during a period when drama is its strongest genre.

So how should we assess November’s tenure at the helm of ITV drama?

November oversaw some expensive flops, including Jekyll & Hyde - but the show has been picked up abroad
November oversaw some expensive flops, including Jekyll & Hyde – but the show has been picked up overseas

He was very fortunate in inheriting a department in rude health thanks to the previous team of Laura Mackie (director) and Sally Haynes (controller), who were responsible for a slate of hits including Downton Abbey, Broadchurch, Whitechapel, Appropriate Adult, Mr Selfridge, Scott & Bailey and Vera – all contributing to ITV’s Channel of the Year win at the Edinburgh Television Festival in 2013.

The pair rescued ITV’s reputation for quality drama, which had taken a major hit under then ITV director of television Simon Shaps, when new series such as Rock Rivals, Harley Street, Demons, Brittania High, Moving Wallpaper, Echo Beach, The Royal Today and The Palace proved major disappointments for both viewers and critics.

At the same time, Shaps axed ratings bankers Foyle’s War and Rosemary & Thyme in an attempt to change perceptions of the then-beleaguered network.

Once Shaps left ITV in 2008, his successor Peter Fincham swiftly recommissioned Foyle’s War, which continued to enjoy healthy ratings until the series eventually ended last year.

November’s tenure hasn’t had the same level of critical or ratings success as the Mackie/Haynes era, but neither has it plumbed the depths of the Shaps years; so it’s more of a qualified success.

November (pictured top at last year’s C21 International Drama Summit) was dealt a good hand in inheriting shows that still had a lot of mileage left in them; the reception given to his commissions, however, was mixed.

November's tenure ended on a strong note with the launch of Marcella
November’s tenure ended on a strong note with the launch of Marcella

He enjoyed critical success with the likes of Peter Morgan’s The Lost Honour of Christopher Jeffries and Jeff Pope’s Lucan, while new commissions including the single film Cilla and the series Grantchester, Home Fires, Safe House, Prey, Unforgotten and Black Work all attracted strong ratings and broadly favourable notices.

All these achieved audiences high enough to warrant sophomore seasons.

The strong 6.4 million (29% share) debut enjoyed by The Durrells on Sunday, April 3 will give ITV hope for a long-running pre-watershed hit in the vein of the Darling Buds of May and Wild At Heart.

With a very healthy 6.1 million viewers (27.6% share) for it’s opening episode, Nordic Noir-style crime drama Marcella also gave November a high note on which to bid farewell to the network.

But balanced against these achievements were a run of high-profile misfires. The strategy of commissioning early-evening drama for a move into territory previously solely occupied by the BBC (Doctor Who, Atlantis, Merlin and Robin Hood) proved a costly misjudgement.

Both Jekyll & Hyde and Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands returned low ratings accompanied by poor reviews, with many feeling the dramas fell between the two stalls of early-evening and post-watershed drama; too adult in tone for younger viewers and too juvenile for more mature audiences.

One wonders if doubts were expressed during development over whether commissioning apparently family-friendly ‘light’ takes on Penny Dreadful (Jekyll & Hyde) and Game of Thrones (Beowulf) would work for the Sunday early-evening ITV audience, but other considerations no doubt came into play.

With US cable-style orders of 10 and 12 episodes respectively, the underperformance of Jekyll & Hyde and Beowulf left sizeable holes in ITV’s peaktime share.

Both shows found a home in North America, with Jekyll & Hyde on Canada’s CBC and Beowulf on The Esquire Network – both transmitted post-21.00.

Doctor Thorne was well received but struggled to compete against the BBC in the schedules
Doctor Thorne was well received but struggled to compete against the BBC in its slot

It appears unlikely that ITV will venture this far from its comfort zone in the near future, as the last attempt to crack the pre-watershed weekend drama market was also a bust – the aforementioned Britannia High (2008) and Demons (2009).

Some of November’s dramas also failed to connect with audiences over the most recent Christmas holidays, avalanched by the traditional dominance of BBC1 over the period, which appeared to be the case with both Harry Price: Ghost Hunter and Peter & Wendy, which were otherwise critically well received.

Period miniseries The Great Fire, which aired in 2014, was seen as an attempt by ITV to explore an area not usually associated with the channel, but unfortunately for the network, reviews and audiences were largely indifferent.

Scheduling has been a problem for ITV when launching new dramas, with BBC1 able to overwhelm the opposition with an unusually strong slate of shows. Midwinter of the Spirit was crushed by Doctor Foster, Jericho was taken out by established hit Death in Paradise and Doctor Thorne was similarly dealt with by the huge success of The Night Manager.

In some cases, such as Doctor Thorne, ITV introduced shows after BBC1 had already established its new dramas in the slot with a number of episodes, making the task of winning viewers more difficult than if they had simply clashed head-to-head on their debuts.

With pay channel ITV Encore, it’s difficult to quantify what counts as a success in the limited universe of Sky subscribers – 2015’s Sean Bean starrer The Frankenstein Chronicles returned respectable consolidated figures and was picked up by A+E in the US.

Reviews were generally favourable but there’s no word yet on season two.

In recent weeks, Encore’s Edwardian detective mash-up Houdini & Doyle’s opening episode was given a preview on ITV to kickstart the show. It’s probably too early to see if this has paid off in terms of the ratings for the series on Sky, but reviews have been fairly poor, although production values were praised.

The casting of comedian Stephen Mangan as Arthur Conan Doyle in particular came in for criticism; it was also noted that this was the second ITV drama in to feature Doyle as a character in a year (Arthur & George being the first).

Now with Hill in the top drama job at ITV, Lygo will be hoping she can continue her run of hits, which include The Night Manager, Poldark and Doctor Foster.

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