As TV showrunners adjust to their celebrity status in Hollywood, what are the biggest they face in the business?
This DQ show hears from some of the top executives in the industry on topics such as the shortage of showrunners in the era of ‘peak TV,’ the use of technology, the impact of social media and the new opportunities available for writer-producers to get their stories on screen.
Contributors include Michelle Ashford (Masters of Sex), Glen Mazzara (The Walking Dead), Howard Gordon (Homeland), Terri Miller and Andrew Marlowe (Castle), Clyde Phillips (Dexter), Graham Yost (Sneaky Pete), Amblin Television’s Justin Falvey and Darryl Frank (Bull), Ben Silverman (Ugly Betty, Jane the Virgin), Shawn Ryan (The Shield, Timeless), Eric Kriple (Timeless), Jeff Melvoin (Army Wives, Alias, Northern Exposure), Marta Kauffman (Friends, Grace & Frankie), Matt Miller (Lethal Weapon), Eric Newman (Narcos), Nic Pizzolatto (True Detective), Carlton Cuse (Bates Motel) and Ilene Chaiken (Empire).
Watch part one, Rise of the celebrity showrunner, here.
They were once just a name on the credits roll, but showrunners have gained celebrity status over the past decade and are now considered the major creative force behind every television drama.
This DQ show examines the showrunner’s rise to power and why it can be one of the most satisfying jobs in Hollywood.
In the first of a two-part programme, DQ hears from leading showrunners about the challenges of this all-consuming position.
Contributors include Shawn Ryan (The Shield), Terence Winter (Boardwalk Empire), Ilene Chaiken (Empire), Glen Mazzara (The Walking Dead), Clyde Phillips (Dexter), Eric Newman (Narcos), Terri Miller and Andrew Marlowe (Castle), Maggie Friedman and Corinne Brinkerhoff (No Tomorrow), Jon Bokenkamp (The Blacklist), Les Bohem (Shut Eye), Michelle Ashford (Masters of Sex), Graham Yost (Sneaky Pete), Howard Gordon (Homeland), Matt Miller (Lethal Weapon), Peter Lenkov (MacGyver), Oliver Goldstick (The Collection) and Carol Flint (Designated Survivor).
Part two will be available from Wednesday March 29.
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.
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.”
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.
BBC2 in the UK is having a great year in terms of its drama output. The first part of 2016 saw a solid performance for US acquisition American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson, while tomorrow sees the much-anticipated return of Peaky Blinders for season three.
Sandwiched between the two was the third season of Line of Duty, which has proven to be a huge hit for the channel. So successful, in fact, there are reports that season four, which is scheduled to air in 2017, will move to flagship channel BBC1.
As the dust settles on Line of Duty’s ratings, various claims are being made, but probably the most eye-catching is that the series is BBC2’s most successful drama in 15 years. With an average audience of just under five million per episode (live+7 day ratings), it even managed to outperform Wolf Hall, which was a strong performer in 2015 with an average audience of 4.4 million.
Line of Duty focuses on the activities of an anti-corruption unit led by superintendent Ted Hastings (played by Adrian Dunbar). It is the latest masterpiece from Jed Mercurio, widely acknowledged as one of the top talents working in British TV.
Mercurio actually started out as a doctor before breaking into the business with acclaimed medical drama Cardiac Arrest in the mid-1990s. Since then he has had pretty consistent success as a TV writer while also carving out a decent career as a novelist. Indeed, his second TV series was an adaptation of his first novel, Bodies.
He has proven particularly adept at creating procedurals with a twist. Aside from Cardiac Arrest, Bodies and Line of Duty, for example, he also created Critical, a medical drama for Sky1 set in a fictional trauma centre.
He has also tried his hand at a number of other sub-genres of the scripted TV business. The Grimleys (1999-2001), for example, was a comedy drama, while Frankenstein (2007) was a modern-day re-imagination of Mary Shelley’s iconic gothic novel. He also set up Left Bank’s long-running action-adventure series Strike Back (2010) and adapted DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover for BBC1 last year.
Within the UK system, Mercurio is unusual in that he is more akin to a US showrunner than a European writer/auteur. Typically, he will write and produce his shows – sometimes directing as well. As a consequence of this level of control, Mercurio is well placed to ensure his creative vision hits the screen.
Mercurio recently gave a very insightful interview to Den of Geek in which he distinguished his work from procedurals that delve into the private lives of their protagonists. “Part of me isn’t that interested as a person and a viewer in people’s personal lives. I’m more interested in what people do in the workplace and what goals they set themselves. I guess that’s why I write a lot of precinct drama. (There’s often) an expectation, or pressure sometimes even, to feel that the way to succeed with drama is to see all sides of a character by going into their personal lives, even if you’ve got nothing to say.”
It’s interesting to note that Line of Duty’s ratings have been building across the first three seasons, giving it the feel of a show that slipped under the radar but is now attracting new swathes of fans. All of which augurs well for season four, regardless of the channel it airs on.
In the US, this is a critical time of year for the scripted business as the major networks decide which pilots to take forward to series. Most announcements will trickle through in the next few weeks, though a few new shows have already been given the go-ahead.
One of these is ABC’s Designated Survivor, which will star Kiefer Sutherland (24) and is being written by David Guggenheim (Safe House, Bad Boys 3). Another is Taken, a spin-off from the hit movie franchise. The TV version, for NBC, will be penned by Alex Cary (credits include Homeland, Lie To Me).
Not yet greenlit but looking good is Fox’s Lethal Weapon, another reboot of a movie franchise. This one is being scripted by Matt Miller, whose writing credits include ABC’s short-lived Forever.
Also, this week, DQ’s sister site C21 Media reports that long-running CBS drama The Good Wife is being adapted for the South Korean market by broadcaster TVN. The show, created by Robert and Michelle King, comes to the end of its seventh and final season in the US this week. All told, that means TVN will have 155 episodes to work with.
The Korean version of the show will be produced by Jung-Hyo Lee (I Need Romance, Heartless City) and written by Han Sang-Woon. Like the CBS original, it will centre on the complicated relationships of people in the legal system working against a backdrop of scandal and corruption.
Interestingly, this is not the first adaptation Han Sang-Woon has worked on. Last year, he wrote Spy for KBS2, based on Israeli drama The Gordin Cell. Previously, he wrote the movie My Ordinary Love Story. Commenting on the production, TVN parent company CJ E&M told C21: “For the Korean version of The Good Wife, we focused on the casting and were successful in casting Korea’s biggest actress, Jeon Do-Yeon – who has won many awards in her career, including best actress at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival – in the lead role, marking her return to television after 11 years.”
Finally, continuing the writers-as-brands theme we discussed in last week’s column, Amazon is about to air ITV period drama Doctor Thorne in the US (May 20). When it does, it will call the series Julian Fellowes Presents Doctor Thorne, another indicator of the marketing leverage that leading writers increasingly possess.