‘Road’ back on the map at ABC

Touchstone, GroupM aboard 'October'

It’s been a twisted path for “October Road,” but the relationship drama finally secured a six-episode order on Friday from ABC.

As part of the pickup, GroupM — which consists of media-buying firms including MindShare, MediaCom, Maxus and Mediaedge:cia — has driven aboard “October Road” as a co-producer alongside Touchstone TV.

“October Road,” which comes from exec producers Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec, Scott Rosenberg and Gary Fleder, will start production on Oct. 30. Show shoots in Atlanta.

Drama, which revolves around a young novelist who returns home to a New England town to teach at a university, was developed last year and shot as a pilot last spring.

ABC decided not to pick up “October Road” for fall but immediately set out to keep the project alive. Net extended the options on the show’s cast — which includes Tom Berenger, Bryan Greenberg and Laura Prepon — and approached GroupM about a new deal.

“They told us at the upfronts that (ABC Entertainment prexy) Steve McPherson wants this show on the air,” Appelbaum said. “Four months later, we were keeping hope alive but wondering if this would ever happen. … It’s been an incredible journey to get to this point.”

McPherson and Touchstone TV prexy-ABC Entertainment TV Group exec VP Mark Pedowitz spent the summer hammering out the deal with GroupM Entertainment, headed by Peter Tortorici.

Pedowitz lauded GroupM for “organically connecting creativity with viewers and advertisers. We were deliberate in choosing ‘October Road.’ ”

The three sides already have a relationship in place thanks to summer 2004 series “The Days.”

In that case, a pilot was never shot, but Tortorici fell in love with the script and agreed to foot a large part of the show’s deficit. ABC picked up six episodes of “The Days,” and Touchstone immediately went into production on the show; in exchange, MindShare split the show’s commercial time with ABC — which allowed the media buyer to sell units directly to its clients.

In that case, charter advertiser Unilever hopped onboard and took an ownership stake in “The Days.”

With “October Road,” the arrangement is similar — GroupM will foot a chunk of the deficit and split ad time with ABC. But this time out, no advertiser has signed on and taken a stake in the show.

“The Days” wasn’t a ratings success, but ABC and Touchstone were pleased with the precedent set by the business template. The network, studio and GroupM had been searching for another project to work on together when “October Road” sped along.

Appelbaum said the idea was to come up with a relationship skein that would appeal to men as much as women but wasn’t burdened by a major plot-driven hook.

“Ultimately, when the upfronts came around, they all loved the show but were concerned about the ‘hook factor,’ ” Appelbaum said. “They all believed in the material, but the current trend is to do shows with big hooks.”

As a result, Appelbaum said he always saw “October Road” as more of a midseason entry — and he was pleased with the ultimate turn of events.

“The hoopla from the fall is brutal,” he said. “We’re ending up exactly where and when it belongs. People will be more settled in by the midseason and ready for something new.”

Rosenberg, Appelbaum and Nemec wrote the pilot, while Fleder directed. Geoff Stults, Brad William Henke, Evan Jones, Jay Paulson, Warren Christie, Odette Yustman and Slade Pearce also star.

Appelbaum said the show also plans to add a few characters to open up its universe.

As for the addition of GroupM, Appelbaum said any fears that the involvement of a media-buying firm might impact the show’s integrity (such as littering it with product placement) were unfounded.

“At first, it’s such unfamiliar territory, we weren’t sure what a partnership with a company like MindShare might feel like,” he said. “But Peter Tortorici has given us smart notes, and everyone has assured us that what’s important to them is doing the best show possible. They haven’t asked us to do any of that (product integration) … so far, the partnership has been smooth and supportive.”

And despite the addition of a new production entity, very little will change on the show, Appelbaum said, other than a few scenes that will be reshot.

(Josef Adalian contributed to this report.)

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