Crime drama Narcos burst onto Netflix in 2015 with huge popular and critical acclaim, with the first two seasons of the bilingual drama following the story of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar.
Last year’s season three picked up after Escobar’s death, tracking the DEA’s investigation into the infamous Cali Cartel.
Returning later this year, season four follows a brand new story under the title Narcos: Mexico, focusing on the illegal drug trade in the country. The first three seasons were largely set in Colombia.
In this DQTV interview, Narcos showrunner Eric Newman discusses the challenges of making the Netflix drama, the impact of binge-watching and the legacy Narcos has created for bilingual shows.
Narcos: Mexico is produced by Gaumont Television for Netflix. Newman, José Padilha, Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard are the executive producers.
As technology continues its assault on traditional television models, success is no longer just about overnight viewing figures. So in today’s crowded drama marketplace, what defines a hit – and how are our views of success changing?
When the BBC and FX announced there would be a second season of Tom Hardy’s extraordinary period drama Taboo (pictured above), the UK pubcaster took the unusual step of spelling out exactly why the series would return.
Taboo was a solid, if not spectacular, performer on BBC1, drawing three million viewers to its Saturday night debut and staying above 2.5 million for subsequent episodes.
Yet it earned its recommission by becoming one of the most successful dramas ever in terms of views on iPlayer, the broadcaster’s digital catch-up service, a result credited to word of mouth and social network mentions that led new viewers to seek out the series.
Within seven days, episode one’s audience rose to 5.8 million and episodes averaged seven million at the 28-day cut-off. The first episode achieved iPlayer’s third highest audience ever, following Sherlock and docudrama Murdered By My Boyfriend.
Announcing the recommission in March this year, Charlotte Moore, director of BBC Content, said: “Taboo has been a phenomenal success and proves overnight ratings are not the only measure of success, as the series continues to grow beyond live viewing. Launching in a new Saturday night slot on BBC1 provided us with an opportunity to take risks and showcase distinctive drama, and the growing talkability of Taboo has engaged younger audiences, seeing record numbers coming to BBC iPlayer, with the availability of the box set maximising audiences even further.”
The BBC went further, suggesting BARB audience data underestimated the final audience for Taboo as it only recognised iPlayer viewers using the service via a connected television and not through laptops, mobiles and tablets.
Sue Gray, the pubcaster’s head of audiences, added: “The live broadcast audience remains important and we know audiences highly value collective viewing experiences. However, an emerging younger audience group is increasingly influenced by social recommendation and will come when the ‘noise’ around a series becomes compelling. The broadcast moment can fan this flame, with BBC1 and iPlayer providing a virtuous circle which maximises audience opportunity to engage. Broadcasters and commentators increasingly need to play the long game in their quest to understand audience behaviour.”
In truth, the emphasis on viewing figures has been waning for several years as box set binges have become a worldwide phenomenon. Ratings for a single episode no longer provide a clear picture of how many people have watched – and will watch – a programme over the days and weeks after it airs, while digital platforms ensure programmes can be watched and rewatched long after their initial debuts. So how do those in the industry now define a successful series?
Despite putting less focus on overnights, writers, producers and commissioners will admit to still keeping an eye on the ratings just to see whether they have an instant hit on their hands – unless you happen to ask people at Fox, the US broadcaster that decided overnights were “no longer relevant” in November 2015.
In a letter to staff, co-CEOs Dana Walden and Gary Newman explained why the network would no longer be publishing Live + Same Day ratings. “The connections between viewers and our shows today are more complex and, in many ways, deeper than ever – but they no longer only happen overnight,” they wrote. “So why do we, as an industry, wake up every morning and talk about those Live + Same Day numbers?
“This has to stop. It’s time for us to ‘walk the walk’ and change the conversation. The Live + Same Day rating does not reflect the way people are watching our series. It leaves out the vast majority of fans who choose to watch on DVRs, and virtually ignores those who stream our shows or watch on-demand.”
Though they might not admit it quite as openly, other US broadcast networks are clearly taking less notice of overnights, if the decline of early cancellations of freshmen scripted series is anything to go by. Once upon a time, it would only have been a matter of weeks, or a handful of episodes, before the first series would be cancelled each fall as a result of low ratings. But for the past two seasons, shows that have received a lukewarm reception have been allowed to play out their first-season orders to try to generate the catch-up numbers that are now such an important part of the business.
Only those dramas seemingly without any hope – see 2016/17 examples Doubt (CBS) and Time After Time (ABC) – are unceremoniously pulled from the schedules.
The Walking Dead aside, most cable shows would be happy to have the ratings scored by cancelled network series, as pay TV provides a supportive model for dramas tackling niche genres – particularly science fiction.
That’s why IDW Entertainment, producer of Wynonna Earp and Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, defines a ‘hit’ on a case-by-case basis. “It’s looking beyond the ratings, as the audience varies widely from network to network and digital,” says president David Ozer.
“IDW plays in the genre space, so the fandom plays such a huge role in determining a ‘hit’ for us. What’s happening on social media? What’s the audience saying? Are they trending? Who’s showing up to cast promotional events? We obviously need to deliver as large an audience as possible for the network and/or streaming platform, but there are other factors definitely involved now beyond traditional ratings.”
These days, actors can often be found live-tweeting along to their show as it airs, speaking directly to fans, while events like Comic-Con can propel a drama’s popularity, often before it has begun airing.
“Wynonna Earp is fascinating to watch,” Ozer says. “Week after week, we saw ratings growth [on Syfy], but also social media growth where we were trending weekly. The series gained a large LGBTQ audience because of one of the storylines, and you felt momentum. When it came to time for a renewal, Syfy was inundated with fan responses, and not just the usual letters but genuine notes about how important the series was to them.
“With Dirk Gently, BBC America saw immediate time-period growth and, again, a lot of activity across social media, and a second season was ordered. There was a buzz about the show that continued to grow, and reviews were very positive. While we don’t see actual results with Netflix [where both shows are available in certain territories], we were able to see success based on the social media conversations internationally.”
At Irish broadcaster RTÉ, acting MD of television Dermot Horan describes a hit show as one that “delivers more than its timeslot’s average consolidated audience, but which also delivers well on the RTÉ Player and gets positive social media and press coverage.”
That definition has emerged because much drama is now consumed via DVRs or VoD services, due to “the increase in linear channel competition, the rise of SVoD players in Ireland, the numbers of homes with PVRs and the increase in homes without TVs,” Horan adds.
For Piv Bernth, head of drama at Danish pubcaster DR, a successful drama is one that both attracts a strong audience and stands out from the crowd. “Of course, the enormous competition makes you look more over your shoulder, but I think the conclusion so far is not to get confused by the oceans of TV series and instead to keep the focus on what kind of content you think will make a difference,” she says.
“From a public service point of view, the choice of story and the way it is told is as important as the obligation to tell stories that reflect the lives of the audience and create a debate. At DR, we try to do original stories, like Avingerne (The Legacy), Bedrag (Follow the Money) and, coming soon, Herrens Veje (Ride Upon the Storm) – all series with complex stories told through relatable characters and, therefore, entertaining and understandable. That is still the way to measure a success – get good viewing figures on series that makes a difference.”
Jakob Mejlhede Andersen, broadcast group MTG’s exec VP of programming and content development for the Nordic region, found success this year with comedy-drama Swedish Dicks, which set viewing records on MTG’s Nordic streaming service Viaplay. “We believe a hit happens every time a viewer is engaged by our content,” he says. “That’s why we’re doing everything we can to create an inclusive portfolio that speaks to everybody while raising important questions. We’re on a journey to become the Nordic region’s leading producer of original content, and today we have more than 50 projects in the pipeline.”
MTG is reaching viewers across streaming, free TV and pay TV services, and Mejlhede Andersen says the multi-platform approach allows the broadcaster to differentiate its content depending on where it is being made available. For example, Viaplay’s latest original series, Veni Vidi Vici, explores the descent of a struggling Danish movie director into the adult film business – a story the exec says “works much better on-demand through a streaming service than on primetime linear TV.”
Beyond ratings, MTG is now also using international distribution deals to measure success, with Swedish Dicks being picked up for global sales by Lionsgate. “Of course, we’ll keep listening to our audiences to ensure our stories always entertain and engage,” Mejlhede Andersen adds.
Christophe Riandee, vice-CEO of Gaumont, which produces Pablo Escobar drama Narcos for Netflix, says that while the way people watch TV today means it is harder than ever to define a hit, “one way that speaks the loudest is when you have volumes of fans engaged with your shows.”
He continues: “From social media engagement to consumer products, fans across the world let you know that you have a hit. Netflix does a great job activating fans, developing extensive campaigns that are unique to different platforms, creating hundreds of original assets for social media channels and engaging directly with fans.
“Within the first three months of the launch of Narcos, Netflix had amassed a social following of two million fans [of the show] across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and, over the course of the campaign, afforded Narcos the title of the most mentioned Netflix original series on social in 2015.”
Gaumont was also behind another Netflix drama, horror series Hemlock Grove – and while the streamer famously keeps even its own suppliers in the dark about viewing figures, Riandee highlights one surefire way you can judge ‘success’ online: “I would say by the number of seasons a media partner is ordering. Netflix ordered two additional seasons of Narcos at the same time; we are currently in production on season three.”
Despite their reluctance to release ratings, SVoD services are now key to building audiences, often long after a drama has debuted, and later seasons can see a bump in live ratings after viewers have caught up online. AMC’s Breaking Bad was one of the first to enjoy that kind of success in a world where TV shows are finding it harder and harder to break through.
“First and foremost, a show has to be good.It needs compelling storytelling and quality production with a best-in-class team and talent,” IDW’s Ozer says when asked what it takes for a show to be deemed a success in today’s crowded market. “We are spending quite a bit of time ensuring we’re bringing unique properties to the market, with major elements attached. Our recently announced Locke & Key deal with Hulu is a great example, where we have bestselling author Joe Hill, Carlton Cuse as our showrunner and Scott Derrickson as our director.
“With so much programming in the market now, it has to stand out. There are shows that are perceived as hits now based on outside influences, series that have catapulted through word of mouth. There is also the ‘hang around theory,’ meaning if a show is around for multiple seasons, because of content distribution platforms like EST [electronic sell-through] and SVoD, more people can find it later in its run, creating value for the networks.”
In an ideal world, RTÉ’s Horan would like to see a single rating – combining live and non-live views – used to judge the success of series, but that may be several years away.
“The other point to make is that less can be more these days,” he notes. “For free-to-air channels, it is all about cutting through and having programmes in your schedule that make an immediate impact. Thus short-run series like Doctor Foster, Happy Valley and The People vs OJ Simpson: American Crime Story can work better than the longer-running US network dramas.”
For now, though, Riandee believes success will continue to be measured through a combination of ratings and social media. “But to have that success, now more than ever we have to provide the market with shows that are compelling,” he says, “with novelistic and addictive storylines, AAA showrunners to deliver highly visual cinematic programming and, of course, relatable actors.”
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.
Narcos co-creator Chris Brancato (pictured above) has spent 20 years as a showrunner, overseeing season one of the Netflix series plus shows including NBC’s Hannibal and ABC’s Of Kings and Prophets. Here he discusses the role that has attained iconic status in television drama.
‘Showrunner’ is a word that’s come into vogue in the past 10 years, greatly helped by JJ Abrams – a phenomenally brilliant television writer-producer who became very successful with Lost before moving on to an enormous career as a feature film director. And that’s not a big surprise to me, because the job of a showrunner is nearly the exact equivalent of being a feature-film director.
The DNA of a showrunner begins with being a writer, but it is also about having the ability to do one of a bunch of different things, not necessarily all with equal skill.
The first is to write good, producible scripts – ‘shooting drafts.’ What separates the men from the boys and the women from the girls is the ability to deliver drafts that are actually shootable, meaning they are coherent and producible to the show’s budget. You would be amazed at how many writers in Hollywood deliver drafts that are not shooting drafts; that if produced would either be wildly over budget or, even worse, somewhat incoherent or flat.
So, you’re a writer, but there’s an additional aspect to being a showrunner that is desirable: you are also potentially a show creator. It’s one thing to mimic a show that’s already been created – producing good drafts using characters that have been brought to life by actors and being able to study footage of the show in order to replicate it – but it’s another skill set entirely to be able to pitch and sell a brand new show.
In my experience with outstanding scriptwriters, when it comes to coming up with a fresh idea that turns people’s heads, they can’t do it. There’s a common gripe at the agencies that their writers have no ideas – which has given birth to an entire class of non-writing producers who develop ideas or get story rights and then pair with a writer to sell a project.
So, you’re a writer, you’re a creator – and then you must be a re-writer. You need to be able to read scripts and, rather than just offer a general assessment, make a specific assessment – for example, ‘The dialogue is stilted, real people don’t talk this way,’ ‘I expected it; I knew that was going to happen,’ or ‘It’s trying to be funny but it isn’t.’
Not only do you need to make that assessment as a writer, you need to know how to fix it. There’s nothing more irritating than solely hearing what’s wrong with a script. I don’t want to hear what’s wrong with it, I want to hear what’s wrong with it and how to fix it.
So, you’re writing shooting drafts, one after another, you’re coming up with whole shows on your own and you’re an analyser, a re-writer. That’s a tall order for any human being. And it’s only one-third of the job.
The second third is your role as director. Out of any position in the entertainment business, I have the highest respect for television directors. Feature directors have 60 days to shoot two hours; TV directors have eight days to shoot one. The shows you see as a result of those relatively short schedules are remarkably coherent and you’ll often see incredible artistry from that very short period of time. Yet in the US system, TV directors get treated like writers, which is to say they get very little respect because they’re interchangeable.
What a director has in the feature system is a vision for the movie – they know what it should look like. Well, that’s part of the role of the showrunner too. The showrunner must have a vision for the show, a vision they communicate not only through their writing but also verbally to every single person who works on it.
Finally, a showrunner must also be a producer – and a therapist, a priest, a doctor, a lawyer… But the producer part has to do with management. You must manage a crew of up to 400 people. If you’re doing the job well, you are giving everybody on the show a sense of dignity and purpose in what they’re doing. You all want the same thing – a great show – and as far as I’m concerned, whether you’re delivering coffee on set or you’re the showrunner, there are two ways to do the job: well and badly. And I have respect for anybody who does the job well and irritation with anyone who does it badly.
Part of being a producer-showrunner is being able to communicate, to make the entire group of people who are engaged in this singular effort to make a great TV show understand your vision, to properly translate what you’ve written on the page onto the screen as best you can.
It involves not shutting yourself behind closed doors all day long, even though that’s often the refuge you seek. It’s being open to suggestion. It’s managing extremely different and often difficult personalities. It’s settling disputes. I’ve had fights between writers in my writers rooms, I’ve had actors who refuse to go on set for one reason or another, or haven’t shown up because they’re out partying and you need to go to those actors, most of whom are frightened individuals, and convey to them that you respect what they do, that you understand how hard it is and that this is what you meant when you wrote a scene in a particular way.
If an actor can smell any fear you may have over getting something done, they will rip you to shreds. So I do my best to never show fear. Never let anybody see you sweat.
I remember speaking to a network executive over the phone once and being asked how a job was going. I said: “Shit, man, it’s really hard. We had the hurricane that blew down the set, and that actor’s not getting along with that other actor and then the script…” and I realised as I was talking that they didn’t want to hear it. I was hired to solve every single one of the problems I had just whiningly listed. My job is not to complain about how hard the job is; my job is to say, ‘It’s all good. Everything’s going to be fine.’ That is what they want; they don’t want to be burdened with your problems.
So if you do not sweat or do not let them see you sweat, you will become known as a problem solver and as someone who can be parachuted into a US$50m-70m project to handle it, to wrangle it, to fix it.
Never get angry, either – anger is fear. I’ve been in this business for almost 30 years, as a showrunner for more than 20, and I’ve never failed to make a programme I was working on. It always gets made – never once was there just a blank spot on your TV set for an hour. So if you keep that in mind, you will be able to conquer the fear and not get angry.
The other thing to remember is that small decisions are the refuge of the terrified showrunner. ‘The curtain is supposed to be turquoise, this is navy. What’s going on?’ – I’ve heard that kind of thing from showrunners many times. Focusing on the most minute, unimportant detail means they’re afraid to tackle the important details, such as the quality of the scripts and the acting. With good scripts, you’ve got a chance for a good show; but if they’re bad, you’ve got no chance. The acting, meanwhile, has to be superior at all levels. You cannot afford a bad actor in your show – nothing ruins a programme more than a bad actor or a bad script. So don’t seek refuge in the unimportant decisions – prioritise.
The showrunner system evolved in the US because of those 22-episode orders that fitted the network system. If there hadn’t been such long seasons, writers never would have been able to assume that level of power. It was only because we had the networks by the balls with those 22 episodes that we were able to demand that power and grasp it – and it became institutionalised. Now the job of a showrunner has been popularised and even cultised by people like Abrams, Matthew Weiner (Mad Men) and Shawn Ryan (The Shield).
Ultimately, a show is four things – script development, pre-production, production and post-production – and they are all going on at exactly the same time when you’re making your show. Any one of those four separate categories could take every hour of your day, seven days a week, but they’re all going on at once, and that’s why you need to prioritise. That’s the task of the showrunner – manage those four different things at once, don’t get a cocaine problem and try to stay married!
Chris Brancato was speaking at the 2016 European TV Drama Series Lab, organised by the Erich Pommer Institut and MediaXchange.
For the past week, the British media has had a lot of fun hyping up the ratings war between ITV’s new drama Victoria and the BBC’s returning series Poldark (both of which, ironically, are produced by ITV-owned production company Mammoth Screen). But the truth is both sides can be pretty happy with their performances.
Victoria, produced by Mammoth for ITV and PBS in the US, debuted at 21.00 on Sunday August 28 with 5.7 million viewers. Keen to build on its momentum, ITV then scheduled the second episodes of the eight-parter on the following night, a bank holiday in the UK. This episode attracted 5.2 million, suggesting the show had done a good job of retaining the audience’s interest.
The direct clash between the two shows came the following week, when they were scheduled against each other at 21.00 on Sunday September 4. In this slot, Victoria secured 4.8 million viewers and then picked up a further 400,000 in a second showing an hour later on ITV+1. Poldark, meanwhile, attracted 5.1 million viewers to what was the first episode of its second series.
Different media outlets have interpreted these figures in different ways. For some, it has been an opportunity to attack Poldark by saying a) it was beaten by Victoria (with its amalgamated 5.2 million figure) and b) this year’s Poldark launch was weaker than last year’s, which attracted 6.9 million. However, neither of these interpretations should take away from the fact that it was a good opening for Poldark. The only meaningful comparison between the two will come after 14 to 28 days when we begin to get a sense of time-shifted viewing. By then, we’ll also have a clearer idea of whether Victoria can sustain its ratings.
Good news for both broadcasters is that the critics have praised the two shows. Both have scored 8.4 on IMDb, putting them at the upper end of audience approval ratings.
Looking to the long-term, the Victoria vs Poldark battle is likely to become a pretty permanent feature on the UK drama scene. Neither broadcaster wants to give up the 21.00 Sunday-night slot to the other but both have plans to run and run with their respective series. Poldark has already been commissioned for a third season and could easily run for five or six. ITV is also envisaging a similar life span for Victoria.
Congratulations are of course due to Mammoth Screen for pulling off a remarkable feat. And to ITV, which gets to distribute both shows to the international market (it has just licensed Victoria to ITV Choice in Asia and the Middle East). It’s also still something of a novelty for female screenwriters to run primetime dramas – so it’s a positive sign that these shows are penned by Daisy Goodwin (Victoria) and Debbie Horsfield (Poldark).
Another show in the news this week is The Young Pope – a Sky, HBO and Canal+ co-production that sees Jude Law play a feisty young American Pope. The ten-part series has been hyped up a lot in recent months by its distributor FremantleMedia International (FMI) –and it looks like it could turn out to be the hit the company has been hoping for. The first two episodes were screened at the Venice Film Festival and received glowing reviews from the media. The Telegraph was especially enthusiastic, reporting that: “The first, feature-length episode is like the skin-prickling opening to a game of chess played across a board of gold and marble – with each piece, from king to pawn, gliding enigmatically into place for the coming battle”. Law, says the Telegraph, is a “force of nature.”
FMI has also reported strong interest among buyers. Broadcasters that have already picked the show up include MNET (Pan-Africa), HBO (Pan-CEE), BETV in Belgium, OTE TV in Greece, 365 in Iceland, Sky in New Zealand and Hot in Israel. Nordic SVoD platform C More, which belongs to Sweden’s TV4 Group, has also acquired the series. As part of the latter deal, The Young Pope will also air on TV4’s free-to-air channel in Sweden. As for the partners in the show, Sky Atlantic will air it across its territories from October 27.
One of the most-talked about programmes of the last couple of years has been Netflix’s Pablo Escobar drama series Narcos – a double winner at the 2015 C21 International Drama Awards. This week, Netflix announced it had renewed the show for third and fourth seasons. It’s lucky that the creators called the show Narcos rather than Escobar – because the new series will follow the Medellin cartel after the death of the Colombian drug lord in 1993.
As we’ve noted on several occasions, Netflix doesn’t release audience figures – so it’s difficult to know how well the Spanish-language show does on the platform. However, a deal between Netflix and Univision means the show is also due to air on the US Hispanic network in the near future, so it should soon be possible to get a perspective on its appeal. Interestingly, Netflix and Univision are also partnering a series called El Chapo, which is based on the life of Mexican drug lord Joaquin Guzmán. In the US, this series will air on UniMás in 2017 before appearing on Netflix. Outside the US, the show will make its debut on the streamer.
It’s been evident in recent times that there is a strong audience in the US for scripted series that place black actors at the centre of the story (Empire and Power being a couple of the most recent successes). There’s more evidence of this from a couple of newly launched shows. The first is Queen Sugar, which has just debuted on OWN. Following the same pattern as fellow OWN drama Greenleaf, the Tuesday and Wednesday roll-out of Queen Sugar drew a healthy 2.42 million viewers. With The Haves and the Have Nots also doing well on OWN, the channel’s drama output is currently firing on all cylinders.
More good news for the black creative community has been the early response to Community star and rapper Donald Glover’s comedy Atlanta, which has just launched on FX. Set in the world of local hip hop, the show has been warmly received by critics and secured a promising 1.1 million viewers in its 22.00 slot. With an 8.9 rating on IMDB, Atlanta could shape up as one of the year’s surprise critical hits, though there was some grumbling among audiences that it was scheduled directly against the launch of Queen Sugar.
Games of Thrones and The People vs OJ Simpson picked up a lot of Emmy nominations this week – but can they convert them into awards?
The 2016 Emmy Award nominees were announced this week. All told, nearly 50 scripted series (excluding comedies) picked up at least one nomination, although only a handful are likely to convert those nominations into awards when the winners are announced on September 16 at the Microsoft Theater in LA.
A few years ago, winning an Emmy would have been seen as a nice endorsement of a show but little more. These days, however, it has taken on added significance for a couple of reasons.
The first is that the quality of TV drama has risen so rapidly. Winning an Emmy now really is an impressive achievement, and in some categories is not really that different to winning an Oscar. The second is that it is increasingly difficult to gauge the success of a show purely on the basis of its ratings (in the case of SVoD shows, there are no ratings).
So racking up Emmys is a way of alerting the industry to the quality of a show, something that probably converts into business at Mipcom, the first major programming market to follow the Emmy ceremony.
So which shows caught the eye in this year’s nominations? Well, it’s no real surprise to see HBO’s Game of Thrones is out in front with 23 nominations. Such is the quality and ambition of the show that the only thing likely to stop it winning awards this year is that it secured a record-breaking 12 Emmys last year, from 24 nominations.
Awards judges, sometimes deliberately, sometimes subconsciously, have a tendency to steer away from previous winners to make sure that everyone gets a fair share of acclaim.
At this stage, the biggest threat to HBO’s hit series comes from the FX camp, with The People vs OJ Simpson: American Crime Story securing 22 nominations and Fargo securing 18.
Netflix’s House of Cards secured 13 nominations but the biggest snub of the year went to the subscription VoD platform’s other flagship show Orange Is The New Black, with just one nomination.
The Night Manager was a huge hit on BBC1 in the UK but a modest performer on AMC in the US. However, the Emmys have rectified that situation slightly by granting the show 12 nominations.
After these shows, there is a huddle of titles securing multiple nominations, including Downton Abbey (10); All The Way and American Horror Story: Hotel (both eight); Better Call Saul and Roots (both seven); Mr Robot, Penny Dreadful and Sherlock: The Abominable Bride (all six); The Americans and Ray Donovan (both five); American Crime, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, The Good Wife, Homeland, The Knick and The Man in the High Castle (all four); and Empire, Gotham, Luther, Masters of Sex, Narcos and Vikings (all three).
Of course, some categories are more prestigious than others. So it’s interesting to note that USA Network’s Mr Robot made its way on to both the Outstanding Drama series category and the Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series category (Sam Esmail).
The same is true for The Americans, which has been nominated for Emmys before but not usually in the most prestigious categories. Perhaps this is a sign that 2016 is the show’s year to come out on top. Worth noting also is that it is another FX series – evidence of a cable channel firing on all cylinders creatively.
The Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series category throws up another couple of interesting points. One is that it has included Marti Noxon and Sarah Gertrude Shapiro’s UnREAL, which airs on Lifetime.
This is quite an achievement given that the show didn’t really feature anywhere else in the Emmys list. The other is that two of the nominations are for writers of shows that are ending: Julian Fellowes’ Downton Abbey and Robert and Michelle King’s The Good Wife. That might be enough to swing votes their way.
The Outstanding Limited Series category is a face-off between American Crime, Fargo, The Night Manager, The People vs OJ Simpson and Roots. Once again we can see a decent level of diversity here both in front of and behind the camera. American Crime’s inclusion is a welcome nod for an ABC series that has been welcomed by critics but not done too well in the ratings.
As is evident from the above listings, the only serious non-US competition for Emmys comes from the Brits. The Night Manager and Downton Abbey are the UK’s frontrunners to win Emmys, but there were also decent showings from Penny Dreadful, Luther and Sherlock: The Abominable Bride.
With War & Peace picking up a music nomination, the BBC secured a total of 22, which is more than most. It’s also worth noting that Showtime’s US adaptation of Shameless picked up two comedy nominations.
Looking more broadly at the scripted comedy categories, there were three top performers: HBO’s Veep with 17 noms, HBO’s Silicon Valley with 11 and Amazon’s Transparent with 10. Overall, the Emmys were pretty good for the major SVoD platforms, with established shows like House of Cards and Transparent the strongest performers.
Despite Man In The High Castle attracting four, it looks like Amazon came out just behind Netflix, which secured a smattering of nominations for its Marvel-based shows, Narcos, Bloodline and Sense8.
Cable channel AMC picked up a total of five nominations related to its Walking Dead universe and will take pleasure in the success of The Night Manager (which it aired) – but overall the network can expect a quiet year at the Emmys.
Other shows to score at least one flavour of Emmy nomination included 11.22.63, Bates Motel, Black Sails, Horace & Pete, Minority Report, Outlander and Vinyl.
The Oscars would do well to take note of the fact that the Lead Actor in a Limited Series category includes three black actors out of six, though on this occasion Idris Elba, Cuba Gooding Jr and the superb Courtney B Vance may find that Bryan Cranston’s impressive performance in HBO’s Lyndon B Johnson biopic All The Way proves hard for the Emmy judges to overlook. Black actress Kerry Washington also impressed in Confirmation and Viola Davis (How To Get Away With Murder) and Taraji P Henson (Empire) achieved nominations for Lead Actress in a Drama.
It’s increasingly difficult these days to judge the success of a drama series. While ratings are still an important benchmark, a growing number of industry executives say you need to take into account a broader range of measures in order to judge the value of a particular show to a network or platform.
The most obvious form of alternative measurement is audience appreciation, which can be assessed through surveys and social media sweeps. But there is also a role for industry awards, which generally provide an insight into what commissioners, critics and creative peers think about a show’s performance.
There are a number of reasons why success at industry awards matters. The first is that it can help create buzz around a show, which is especially important in this era of on-demand viewing. Shows that win awards get noticed by the media and often see audience uplift as a result. Assuming the award was well deserved, this can help word of mouth build. In other words, award wins are like an unbiased marketing push or a review that feeds into the positive conversation around a show.
Award wins also have an impact on other stakeholders in the business. Once a show starts having success of this kind, it stands a chance of being picked up in distribution by foreign broadcasters. Actors, writers, directors and producers also take notice – and may decide to stay with a show if they are already in it, or join it if they are invited to do so. For a career advancement point of view, being attached to a critically acclaimed show can be as valuable as being attached to a ratings hit, which is one reason many top movie actors will find time in their schedule to do a feature film that is geared towards the Oscars. As more and more top talent is attracted to a show, it can then build momentum in ratings too.
Then there is the impact on the primary commissioning broadcaster. If they are looking just at their ratings charts, they may be inclined to cancel a show. But if they start to see positive reviews and awards success, this may give them the confidence to wait a little longer – and perhaps to commission season two, which may give the show the time it needs to break out.
All of which brings us to the C21 International Drama Awards, held this week at the C21 Drama Summit as part of Content London. Based on input from around 70 drama commissioners, the awards recognise the shows that are having a major impact on the global drama business – even if ratings aren’t the primary measure.
A big winner, for example, was Netflix’s Narcos, which looks at the rise and fall of Colombian drug baron Pablo Escobar. While there is very little information about how scripted series perform on SVoD platforms like Netflix and Amazon, the show’s success at the C21 Drama Awards chimes with the feedback from critics and review platforms like IMDb. The series, from director Jose Padilha and US-based Gaumont International Television, won both the Editor’s Choice award and Best Male Performance, for Wagner Moura’s portrayal of Escobar.
Another star performer at the awards was Deutschland 83, which is distributed across the world by FremantleMedia International. This show secured gongs for Best Non-English-Language Drama and Best Casting. It was matched by The Bridge, from Filmlance International for Denmark’s DR and Sweden’s SVT. This much-loved show won both Best Returning Drama Series and Best Female Performance (Sofia Helin).
Other winners included Book of Negroes (Best Miniseries), Wolf Hall (Best English-Language Drama), Limitless (Best Fall Season Network Show) and How to Murder Your Wife (Best TV Movie). There was also recognition for Dixi Unchained (Best Digital Original) and Humans (Best Consumer Marketing Campaign). It will be interesting to see how this latest wave of recognition plays into the future of all these shows.
Away from the awards, Sony’s digital streaming service Crackle has ordered a second run of its original drama The Art of More, which stars Dennis Quaid. The 10-episode renewal comes just two weeks after its series debut on November 19. According to Crackle, the series has already achieved two million views, more than half of which have come from viewers new to Crackle.
Crackle is one of the few companies in the streaming space that provides any information on the performance of its shows – a commitment to transparency it says it will maintain going forward. In terms of what the two million figure means, it refers to anyone who starts viewing an episode of the show. It’s not a figure for how many people have watched the entire series, but for how many have started to watch an individual episode.
The renewal comes despite the fact that critics have not been that complimentary and the show is not rating very well on IMDb. Here’s a flavour of what some critics think. That said, Sony Pictures Television has already sold The Art of More to 25 territories, so is presumably feeling pretty upbeat about its long-term potential.
Next, an update on AMC’s new adventure show Into the Badlands. After a stellar start, the show saw an inevitable dip in episode two but recovered ground for episode three. With its overnight audience currently at around five million, it has to be classified as another hit for the US cablenet. There was further good news this week when Chinese online platform LeTV acquired Into the Badlands from distributor eOne. The show is due to air on AMC Global in 125 countries next year, while eOne has also sold it to Foxtel in Australia and Amazon in the UK.
The opening series of the show comprises six one-hour episodes, and star Daniel Wu believes it could run for a number of seasons. Speaking to Digital Spy, he predicted that, if the show is a success, it could run for five or six series. He also suggested a renewal (which now seems very likely) might see it expand to 10 episodes.
Finally, Amazon has secured exclusive streaming rights to the first season of Channel 4/AMC’s hit sci-fi drama Humans. The show will be available to Amazon Prime members in the UK, Germany, US and Japan from next spring – presumably just in time to spark interest in the second series. “Humans was one of this summer’s top new series and is exactly the type of smart, thought-provoking show that Prime members love,” said Brad Beale, VP of digital video content acquisition for Amazon.
Stephen King surely ranks as the most screen-adapted author of all time. With more than 50 movies and 20 TV productions based on King’s books, even Charles Dickens must be trailing in his wake.
One of the reasons King stories are adapted so often is that they invariably do a great job. Even when they aren’t mega hits, they tend to appear at the good end of the spectrum. A case in point is Under the Dome, which has just been cancelled by CBS after three seasons (the final episode airing on September 10).
Launched in June 2013, it picked up 17.8 million Live+7 viewers for its first episode. But although it has since faded, Under the Dome is generally viewed as a success for CBS, which also accrued streaming and international revenues.
CBS Entertainment chair Nina Tassler said: “Two years ago, Under the Dome broke new ground in the summer and became an instant hit on CBS, as well as with viewers around the world. Dome’s event storytelling and multi-platform business model paved the way for more original summer programming with the rollouts of Extant and Zoo.”
As for ‘the King,’ he probably isn’t losing too much sleep about Dome’s decline. Although another of his stories, Haven, has just been cancelled by Syfy after five seasons, there are new TV versions of his work coming through. Sonar Entertainment, for example, is working on an adaptation of Mr Mercedes, while Hulu is planning an adaptation of King’s 2011 time-travel novel 11/22/63 (a title they might have to change if it hits the international market).
And that’s not all. There are also reports of a highly ambitious plan to convert King’s classic novel The Stand into both a miniseries and a movie. The idea is that Showtime will air an eight-part miniseries based on the novel, which will then be followed by a film. Again, this highlights the way King’s work also seems especially good at driving schedule experiments.
Meanwhile, coming up in the next magazine issue of DQ will be a feature about Italian drama’s assault on the international stage – led initially by Gomorrah. So it’s interesting to note this week that another great Italian opus, 1992, has been picked up by Netflix for the US. Produced by Wildside (recently acquired by FremantleMedia), 1992 is a highly acclaimed series that looks at corruption in the Italian establishment in the 1990s. With Gomorrah and 1992 both spawning sequels, it looks like the Italian scripted community will now be vying for attention with the Scandinavians, French, Germans, Turks, Israelis and Spanish.
Netflix has also announced the renewal of Narcos, a series exploring the life and times of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar and his infamous Medellin Cartel. Created by Chris Brancato, Carlo Bernard and Doug Miro and directed by Jose Padilha, the series has attracted a very impressive 9.2 rating on IMDb, which puts it at the elite end of the rankings alongside shows like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, The Wire, Sherlock and The Sopranos.
Elsewhere, another show to be cancelled this week was USA Networks’ Complications. But there was better news for Starz’ acclaimed comedy series Survivor’s Remorse, which follows the life of Cam Calloway (played by Jessie T Usher), a hard-working young basketball star who is thrust into the limelight after signing a huge contract with a pro basketball team in Atlanta.
“We are thrilled to renew Survivor’s Remorse for a third season,” said Starz MD Carmi Zlotnik,. “Since it began, the critics instantly embraced the show, and now we’ve seen its fans grow season after season. The creative team tackles the most topical of issues with heart and humour as the Calloway family deals with ‘pro-money and pro-problems’ off the basketball court.” An interesting note regarding Survivor’s Remorse is that its showrunner is the multi-talented Mike O’Malley, who also starred in Glee.
In the UK, a new three-part drama called The Trials of Jimmy Rose (see DQ’s feature on the show here) debuted on ITV this week to 4.1 million viewers (Sunday 21.00). This is probably seen as a bit of disappointment given that it is below the slot average – despite starring industry icon Ray Winstone.
Winstone plays a convicted criminal who comes out of jail after 12 years to find his family life in a state of disintegration. Episode one was praised by the critics, with The Telegraph saying: “Winstone’s portrayal of a once proud man being broken down was skillfully done, particularly when showing us the emotional distance time had put between Jimmy and wife Jackie. Alan Whiting’s spare script and Adrian Shergold’s tight direction eked emotion from small details. A casual putdown from a bus driver, a zero-hours job in a DIY store, Jimmy’s inability to command respect from young bloods, all reeked of humiliation.”
The show’s prospects were possibly dented by the fact it was up against the final episode of BBC1’s Agatha Christie adaptation Partners in Crime. Although Partners in Crime has tailed off quite badly, it still secured 3.3 million viewers, some of whom might have tried out the Winstone drama had it not been Partners’ finale. ITV will be hoping that this lost audience will have recorded their drama, in which case we may see a bounce back for episode two.
Back in the US, Hallmark Channel claimed its original series Cedar Cove (starring Andie MacDowell) has made the network “the most watched and highest rated in the Saturday 20.00 time period over the course of its third season.”
The network added: “Since the launch of Cedar Cove’s third season, the series is averaging a 2.1 HH rating on a Live+3 basis and more than two million total viewers, making Hallmark Channel number one in the Saturday 20.00 time period.”
Finally, one show awaiting decision over renewal is ABC’s Mistresses. Based on a British drama, Mistresses came to the end of its third season on September 3. Historically its ratings have been quite low but it has been picking up in the last few weeks. The odds probably favour cancellation but, as always, the time-shifted numbers need to be crunched before we can be sure Mistresses is going the same way as Under the Dome.
Netflix has been in the news a lot this week. There has, for example, been furious speculation about the future of Sense8, a 12-part sci-fi drama that quickly established itself as a hit series for the subscription VoD platform.
Launched on June 5, it has attracted audiences and acclaim in key markets such as the US, France and Germany. With positive reviews on both Netflix itself and IMDb, it has also quickly become a target for the non-Netflix pirate audience.
The story of eight strangers from different parts of the world who suddenly become emotionally and mentally linked, Sense8 was created and written by Andy and Lana Wachowski and J Michael Straczynski. It attempts to deal with subjects that the writers believe sci-fi shows avoid or don’t do justice to, such as politics, identity, sexuality, gender and religion.
Straczynski had an opportunity to discuss the show at this week’s meeting of the Television Critics Association in California. Speaking on a panel, Straczynski made it clear the Sense8 team will continue the show if they get the greenlight from Netflix.
“We’re still awaiting word,” he said. “We’re cautiously optimistic, but it’s Netflix’s call. The way the Wachowskis and I tend to work, we are long-thinking people. We look down the road and say to ourselves, ‘Where is this going to go?’
“Season one is like an origin story, while season two has some particular arc and we figure it out from there. But to spoil that here would not be best for the surprise at the end.”
One thing that stands out in the show is its graphic content. Explaining its inclusion, Straczynski said: “We wanted to do a show for adults and grown-ups. There’s a tendency for science fiction to be seen as something other than for adults. It tends to be about the device, the gadget, the mission and not about the journey.”
Straczynski has a long and varied track record in TV writing, which goes all the way back to He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, of which he wrote nine episodes. After stints on The New Twilight Zone, Murder She Wrote and Walker Texas Ranger, his big breakthrough project was sci-fi series Babylon 5, which ran for five seasons. Straczynski wrote 92 episodes out of a total 110 for the 23rd century-set space opera, before going on to create a spin-off called Crusade and another series called Jeremiah.
The trajectory for the Wachowskis has been quite different. After the success of their Matrix movie franchise, the brother/sister team has had a couple of feature film disappointments in the shape of Jupiter Ascending and Cloud Atlas. So the success of Sense8 has led some observers to ask whether their offbeat approach might be better suited to longform TV series. The answer to that seems to be that they’ll work across both formats.
One interesting theme that emerges from Sense8 is the issue of transgender identity. Lana Wachowski is a transgender woman and there is also a central transgender character in the show, Nomi – played by trans actress Jamie Clayton.
Clayton, who was on the TCA panel, praised the way the Wachowskis and Straczynski devised her character. She said: “There has never been a trans character in a movie or on a show before that didn’t revolve around his or her transition. Nomi is the first… no one cares because, at the end of the day, we shouldn’t care that she’s trans.”
Alongside all the Sense8 speculation, the pre-launch publicity for Narcos, another Netflix series, also kicked off at the TCA event. Produced for Netflix by Gaumont International Television, Narcos is a 10-part series that explores the 1980s drug war between the US administration and Colombian cartel kingpin Pablo Escobar. It will begin streaming on Netflix on Friday August 28.
Narcos was created by Chris Brancato, Eric Newman, Carlo Bernard and Jose Padilha, who initially intended it to be a film but found that the wealth of material favoured a TV series.
Explaining the project, Padilha said: “The series follows how (Escobar) became powerful, his political ambitions and bigger-than-life stories. Cocaine was cheap to produce, highly addictive and had incredible profit margins. No one knew what they had until it hit America.”
Newman’s involvement in the project is another good indication of the huge film-to-TV swing the industry is witnessing. After making his name as a producer of films such as Children of Men, The Thing, In Time and Robocop, his last two projects have been the TV series Hemlock Grove and Narcos. Padilha, who is from Brazil originally, counts Elite Squad among his recent credits.
Also this week, Netflix confirmed that the third season of Norwegian-American series Lilyhammer will be its last. The show, which centres on a US gangster trying to start a new life in Norway, was a landmark moment in scripted business.
It was one of the first shows that really put Netflix on the map and also kick-started a trend towards shows that are comfortable hopping between different languages. The star and co-writer of the show is Steven Van Zandt, who seemed disappointed by the cancellation.
He wrote on Twitter: “#Lilyhammer RIP. Not my decision. Let’s just say for now the business got too complicated. Very proud of our 24 shows. New ideas on the way.”
While Lilyhammer (which was also a breakout hit for Norwegian broadcaster NRK) is often thought of as being Van Zandt’s creation, the original idea was actually conceived by the husband-and-wife team of Anne Bjørnstad and Eilif Skodvin, who pitched it to Van Zandt while he was in Bergen producing a rock band. After a further meeting in New York a deal was done.
Among other Netflix announcements this week was the news that the streamer has greenlit a Spanish-language series that will air in 2016.
“Netflix is committed to the creation of high-quality, Spanish-language original series for Mexico, US, Latin America and the world,” said chief content officer Ted Sarandos. “We are thrilled to be working with one of Latin America’s biggest and most talented stars Kate del Castillo on Ingobernable.”
In Ingobernable, del Castillo will play Irene Urzua, the wife of Mexico’s president. A woman with a strong personality, conviction and clear ideas, Urzua is capable of “creating a president, leaving a president and killing a president,” said Netflix in a press statement.
The 20-part series will be produced in Mexico by Argos and directed by Jose Luis Garcia Agraz and Pedro Pablo Ibarra. No details were provided on who is writing the show.
Netflix is also due to premiere Gaz Alazraki and Mike Lam’s Spanish-language series Club de Cuervos on August 7.
It was the service that changed the rules. But with subscriber numbers continuing to soar and questions being asked about higher prices, what comes next for Netflix?
You might not remember what you were doing on Sunday Feburary 5, 2012, but Netflix’s early adopters might remember sitting back and watching the first episode of a Norwegian comedy-drama called Lilyhammer.
Starring Steven Van Zandt, it follows a New York mobster who, after testifying in court against a mob boss, is placed in a witness protection programme and relocated to Lillehammer in Norway.
The fish-out-of-water premise might not sound particularly revolutionary in terms of TV storylines, but looking back at the words used by Ted Sarandos, chief content officer at Netflix, to announce the launch of the series, it’s amazing to consider how far the industry has come in little more than three years.
“Do you love the indulgence of watching episode after episode of your favourite shows on Netflix?” he asked. “Have you ever wished you could do the same with new shows when they premiere on TV? Well, starting today, you can enjoy as many episodes as you please of the brand new Netflix original series Lilyhammer, starring Steven Van Zandt.”
The phrase ‘binge-viewing’ had not yet become synonymous with Netflix and the way its viewers would use the service, but the foundations were being laid for a major shift in viewing habits.
After describing the series further, Sarandos ended: “Unlike any major TV premiere before it, we are debuting all eight episodes of the first season at the same time, today. Conventional TV strategy would be to stretch out the show to keep you coming back every week. We are trying to give our members what they want: choice and control. If you want to watch one episode a week, you can. If you want to watch the whole season this week, you can do that too.
“This will be the first of many brand new, original and exclusive series to debut on Netflix. We will have more news on those shows as they get ready to premiere. Enjoy the show and tell your friends – but no spoilers! They may not be on the same episode as you are on.”
With these few sentences, Sarandos outlined not only Netflix’s own strategy but one that the rest of the industry would soon follow, with an increasing number of online services commissioning original content and traditional broadcasters widening the opportunity to catch up online. NBC has already gone one step further than other US broadcasters to “push new boundaries” by releasing all 13 episodes of its David Duchovny-starring 1960s drama Aquarius at once. ZDF in Germany also blurred the lines of linear and digital TV with its pan-European crime drama The Team.
Fast forward from that Lilyhammer announcement to this week, when Netflix unveiled its results for the second quarter of 2015.
The service added 3.3 million new subscribers worldwide during that period, bringing the total to 65.6 million. It has 42 million members in the US alone.
Global numbers were boosted by the platform’s international expansion, with moves into Australia and New Zealand in March. It will land in Spain, Italy and Portugal in October this year, and aims to open in Japan in the fall. There are also plans to roll into India, China and South Korea.
These new international outlets will only help to swell subscriber numbers further, with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings under no illusion about what is drawing viewers both in the US and around the world to the service.
He told shareholders that subscriber growth was “fuelled by the growing strength of our original programming slate,” which in Q2 included the first seasons of Marvel’s Daredevil, Sense8 and season three of Orange is the New Black.
Daredevil is already in production for its second season, he notes, adding: “Our global expansion extends to our content strategy as well. Sense8, the mind-bending cinematic thriller from the Wachowski siblings and J Michael Straczynski that debuted June 5, is an ambitious, truly international show with talent behind and in front of the camera from multiple countries.”
Another international drama, Narcos – “a gripping account of the roots of the cocaine trade, shot in Colombia and starring the great Brazilian star Wagner Moura as Pablo Escobar” – launches on August 28.
“They are the perfect example of what we strive for in our original programming: an elevated version of popular genres that reach a large audience globally,” Hastings says.
“We closed the quarter with season three of Orange is the New Black, which went live on June 11 and set off a social media shockwave around the world. On the following Sunday, Netflix members globally watched a record number of hours in a single day, led by Orange, despite the season finale of HBO’s Game of Thrones and game five of the NBA finals also falling on that Sunday.
“Global enthusiasm for the third season of Orange underlines our ability to create franchise properties that bring new members to Netflix as well as delighting current ones. Nearly 90% of Netflix members have engaged with Netflix original content, another indicator that we are on the right path.”
To that end, Netflix said it would continue to invest in original series (and now movies) as its original content spending is predicted to hit US$5bn in 2016.
The downside, however, is that this spending, coupled with a marketing bill nearing US$1bn in 2016, has led to a 63% fall in net income, according to the results.
If viewers want great content, ultimately they will have to pay for it, and on a subscriber-funded service like Netflix, that means subscriptions will rise.
Hastings alluded to as much when he said subscribers should brace themselves for higher-priced plans in the future, though no details have yet been released.
At a time when the television drama space is becoming increasingly congested, particularly in the US, where cable networks continue to move into original scripted programming to build their brands alongside VoD platforms, viewers will be asked to pay more and more for the high-cost shows they love so much or see them book-ended by advertisements.
But as cord-cutting has shown, viewers’ loyalty to their favourite service provider can, and often does, have a limit. Will Netflix test that loyalty when it unveils its new pricing plan?
The service broke the mould in 2012 when it launched its first original series, Lilyhammer, for viewers to watch in one go. Its attempts to balance spending and subscriber numbers could also be another watershed moment for the industry.