Under the radar
Sometimes the search for hot new dramas can distract you from shows that have been quietly going about their business for years.
There’s a good case in point in the UK right now, where the 12th season of BBC1’s comedy-drama New Tricks is currently out-rating more sophisticated BBC fare such as Ripper Street and Partners in Crime, the lavish new Agatha Christie adaptation.
Now up to the 100-episode mark, Wall to Wall-produced New Tricks is centred on a team of retired police officers who are recruited to reinvestigate unsolved crimes. The new season kicked off in the week commencing August 3 with ratings of 6.5 million (live+7 days) and pretty much held its ratings the following week.
Ripper Street, by comparison, attracted just under five million for its season three debut but had fallen away quite dramatically by episode three. Partners in Crime has held up a bit better, but is still lagging about 1.5 million viewers behind New Tricks.
In fact, the only thing that beats New Tricks are the UK’s soaps and factual entertainment juggernaut The Great British Bake Off.
Critics generally regard New Tricks as middle of the road. But its popularity with audiences is largely down to the fact that its cast is made up of actors who are national treasures. Although some of them have come and gone over the show’s 12 seasons, there is a warmth and familiarity to the series that recalls other favourites like Last of the Summer Wine, Minder and Birds of a Feather.
Interestingly the BBC decided earlier this year that the current run will be the last season of New Tricks. Possibly it did this because the audience is older than it would like. Or maybe it decided that, as a public broadcaster, it is duty-bound to try something new. Either way, it will soon kill off one of its best-performing shows – something that would never happen in the US TV market.
Ironically, the new season has actually had some good reviews, with The Times calling it “lean and pacy” and The Daily Telegraph admiring its humour, pace and suspense.
There have even been suggestions that the BBC may regret its decision. “New Tricks is formulaic, but it’s a stable formula that never goes stale,” says the Daily Mail’s Christopher Stevens. “Midsomer Murders is faced with the constant challenge of devising more outlandish killings, and Silent Witness must always seek out darker crimes, but New Tricks is timeless. All the components are endlessly recyclable.”
Meanwhile, AMC’s ad agency epic Mad Men has inspired a number of other series set again recent period backdrops, with notable examples including Aquarius, The Americans and Pan Am. One that is coming to a close this week is The Astronaut Wives Club, an ABC series based on the book by Lily Koppel. Set in the 1960s, the story focuses on a group of women whose lives are transformed once their spouses start launching off into outer space.
It’s not clear if The Astronauts Wives Club was ever conceived as a returning series, but the official line over the last few months has been that it is a self-enclosed limited series. This is probably the right decision given the lukewarm response from critics and its recent decline in ratings. Having set off on its journey with 5.5 million viewers, the penultimate episode dipped to a season low of 3.2 million. The final episode aired last night but is unlikely to have done anything to change the show’s fortunes.
Having said this, creator Stephanie Savage hasn’t ruled out the idea of other series that focus on female characters against the backdrop of a key historical event or era. So possibly we are seeing the genesis of another anthology series.
Speaking to Variety, Savage said: “There are so many incredible stories of women in history that haven’t been told. I’d be very happy to do one every summer for the rest of my life. It’s the twenties and the Second World War and Wall Street and the eighties – there’s so many worlds that can be explored and women have amazing stories that haven’t been told the way they should be.”
Turkey is Country of Honour at Mipcom 2015. So you’re likely to see a lot of stories about Turkish drama over the next few months as part of the PR activity around that event. One show you’ll hear a lot about is Ezel, a crime drama that was a ratings hit at home and has since been sold to various territories around the world by distributor Eccho Rights.
This week Eccho has further enhanced Ezel’s reputation with a raft of sales to broadcasters in Latin America. Unitel in Bolivia, TV Accion in Paraguay, Latina in Peru and Caracol in Colombia will all air the series, which is produced by leading Turkish production company Ay Yapim. Eccho, which worked with worked Miami’s Somos Distribution on the deals, claims Ezel has now been sold to every country in Latin America.
Fear the Walking Dead (FTWD), the companion series to AMC megahit The Walking Dead, debuts this Sunday, August 23. Where possible, AMC wants FTWD to air on its own international channel AMC Global (in order to link the show brand with the channel brand). But where that isn’t possible it is doing licensing deals with third parties, via distributor Entertainment One.
This week, it was announced that FTWD will debut in Germany and Austria exclusively on Amazon Prime Instant Video – a day after the US broadcast. Amazon also picked up second-window rights for the show in the UK, where the show will debut on AMC Global. This time next week, we’ll be able to explore whether the spin-off has managed to benefit from the buzz around its parent show.
In TV, execs mostly talk about the relative merits of miniseries, limited series and returning series. But there are also times when one-off dramas can do a good job for networks. UK public channel BBC2, for example, has been airing a run of 90-minute dramas with reasonable levels of success. After The Eichmann Show and Marvellous, the most recent example was The Scandalous Lady W, a racy period drama set in the late 18th Century. With Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones) attracting plenty of positive critical reviews in the lead role, the drama attracted ratings of 2.5 million viewers at 21.00, almost double the slot average of 1.3 million.
Interestingly, the show, like New Tricks, was produced by Wall to Wall, which will be celebrating the fact that it has delivered ratings success at both the populist and niche ends of the BBC drama spectrum.