The 100 club

Andy Fry
By Andy Fry
May 26, 2015

Greenlight

The last few years have seen a steady stream of dramas linked to centenaries, such as those of the Titanic sinking, the start of Word War One and the Gallipoli Campaign. Irish public broadcaster RTÉ has now decided to get in on the act by greenlighting Rebellion, a 5×60 miniseries that will mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the campaign for Irish independence, commonly known as the 1916 Easter Uprising.

Produced by Zodiak Media-owned independent producer Touchpaper Television and commissioned by RTÉ head of drama Jane Gogan, Rebellion will be shot in Dublin. Commenting on the project, RTÉ Television MD Glen Killane said: “Rebellion will form an important part of what is a significant investment by RTÉ in engaging the Irish public around 1916.”

RTÉ’s focus on this fascinating period is an interesting reminder of how countries prioritise landmarks in different ways. While the Easter Uprising was a seminal point in Irish history, 1916 for the UK is remembered primarily for the Battle of the Somme, which began in July. Over in Italy, meanwhile, WW1 didn’t actually start until May 1915. That explains why Italian coverage of the conflict is operating at a slight time lag. This month, for example, Carlo Carlei has just entered production on Il Confine (The Border), an epic miniseries set during the early years of the Great War.

In TV terms, the key takeout from this historic relativism is that a project with resonance in one market may not have resonance in another. And this may affect its ability to attract coproduction partners or secure international sales. Key to overcoming this is creating a story that quickly alerts audiences to universal themes. This is why RTÉ has said Rebellion will not be “a history lesson,” but will tell personal stories featuring characters in Belfast, Dublin and London. With Zodiak Rights handling international sales, there are hopes it will develop into a returning franchise.

The big question, of course, is what other events may get a TV makeover. My money is on Bolshevik! – ETA 2017 (probably).

The X-Files' return is expected to spark a bidding war
The X-Files’ return is expected to spark a bidding war

For about a month now, the US scripted market has seen wave after wave of greenlights, renewals and cancellations – all part of the Upfronts season. But the last few days have seen focus shift to the LA Screenings. Put simply, the screenings, held every year in May, are when international channel buyers see which US shows are coming through first-hand during a series of visits to the major US West Coast production studios.

As the name implies, most of the shows on offer are screened. But the screenings are also an opportunity to discuss titles that are coming up soon but have yet to enter production. One example this year is Fox’s reboot of The X-Files, which will see David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson reprise their roles as FBI Special Agents Mulder and Scully over the course of six episodes.

The news coming out of LA is that the new X-Files is stirring up a lot of interest among international buyers and is expected to be the subject of a bidding war. Competition for the show is likely to be intensified by the fact Fox is planning to bundle the new show with nine previous seasons and two X-Files feature films.

Not many deals actually get done at the screenings, which are typically the starting point for weeks of negotiations. But one company that has already announced eight scripted show acquisitions is CTV, Canada’s largest commercial broadcaster.

The Catch is the latest series from Shonda Rhimes
The Catch is the latest series from Shonda Rhimes

CTV’s pick-ups give us an early clue as to the shows that are likely to generate widespread interest on the international market. One title of interest is The Catch, a new ABC show about a successful fraud investigator who is the victim of a fraud perpetrated by her fiancé. The show is exec produced by Shonda Rhimes, who is behind two other very bankable scripted shows (Grey’s Anatomy and How to Get Away With Murder). Another ABC show picked up by CTV is Quantico, a thriller based around a group of young FBI recruits who are training at the Quantico base in Virginia.

CTV has also picked up Blindspot, an NBC show from Greg Berlanti. Blindspot is a Warner Bros drama that centres on a young woman who is discovered naked in a bag, covered in mysterious tattoos and suffering amnesia. It’s one of the new US shows currently creating a big buzz among international buyers.

A lot of the buoyancy in the international drama market is to do with increased demand from US cable channels, many of which do not have a long history in original scripted production. The latest addition to this trend is Epix, a Viacom, Lionsgate, MGM joint-venture channel that has previously focused on movies.

Blindspot: Creating a 'big buzz' among international buyers
Blindspot: Creating a ‘big buzz’ among international buyers

Reports from the US suggest Epix has just ordered a comedy from Lionsgate and a spy thriller from Paramount (i.e. companies that are part of the same corporate family). The latter is called Berlin Station and centres on a CIA agent’s attempts to discover the source of a leak at the agency’s German office. Berlin has become something of a hot topic recently, with Steven Spielberg soon to launch Bridge of Spies, a Berlin-based Cold War movie starring Tom Hanks. Also in the offing are Deutschland 83 (which has the Sundance Channel on board as a coproduction partner) and Babylon Berlin, an X-Filme, ARD, Sky Germany, Beta Film crime thriller copro that is set in 1920s Berlin.

While this column is primarily about shows in development and production, we also like to flag up stories about channels that are increasing their budget for scripted shows. This week, for example, there are reports that UK-based pay TV broadcaster UKTV is upping the budget on its channel Dave by 70%, partly to fund a drive into drama. An male-skewing entertainment/comedy channel, Dave is looking for high-concept, risk-taking scripted series that match the channel’s irreverent profile. Its business model is to come on board as a coproduction partner, willing to participate to the same level as other project partners.

Dave’s sister channel Watch has also signalled its intention to move into drama. In 2013, it announced plans to develop 10-part series Legion with Tony Jordan’s Red Planet Pictures. However, that show is still waiting to attract full project funding.