Carolyn Bernstein is the executive in charge of threading the needle very, very carefully.
Bernstein, head of scripted programming at Shine America, spearheaded the drive to produce a U.S. rendition of “Broadchurch,” the murder-mystery series that garnered such acclaim in the U.K. and in its Stateside airing on BBC America.
A big part of Bernstein’s job at Shine America is to scout around at other Shine Group affiliated companies for formats that lend themselves to U.S. adaptations. She helped build “The Bridge” at FX from a Scandinavian drama format, and she is working with David Fincher and Gillian Flynn, fresh off their teaming on “Gone Girl,” to bring another Kudos property, Channel 4 thriller “Utopia,” to life at HBO. Projects based on Dutch and Spanish formats are in the local hopper, with high-profile creative talent, she promises.
But “Gracepoint’” is a crucial test of Shine America’s strategy because “Broadchurch” became so celebrated. The reviews for the new show have been mixed (although leaning more positive than negative). “Broadchurch” didn’t draw a huge audience in the U.S., but its TV-critic demo numbers were off the charts — and the appreciation for the original has colored many reviews.
Bernstein, a respected TV drama vet, knew it would be an uphill climb to make “Gracepoint” a worthy endeavor. She started by bringing “Broadchurch” creator Chris Chibnall into the fold to work with showrunners Dan Futterman and Anya Epstein to set the tone and identify the DNA that made the original series so compelling. They also went after the kind of cast you’d expect to see in a pay-cable miniseries: Anna Gunn (hot off “Breaking Bad”), Nick Nolte, Jacki Weaver, Michael Pena and Josh Hamilton.
As much as “Gracepoint” needed to be Americanized to make sense for the audience, part of a successful adaptation is recognizing what doesn’t need to be changed. David Tennant in the lead role, as the haunted detective hunting a child killer, was one of those things. So was the famed opening sequence featuring a four-minute tracking shot that introduces the key players in the story and sets the scene of a bucolic seaside resort town, just before tragedy strikes.
“We kept having this internal debate about our own version,” Bernstein says. “We finally realized that we were contorting ourselves to come up with something more ingenious when here we had this brilliant opening that would showcase everyone in our ensemble. We couldn’t beat it.”
That said, Bernstein bristles at the mistaken assumption that “Gracepoint” is a shot-for-shot remake.
“No one wanted to do a tracing of ‘Broadchurch,’ ” Bernstein says. “Gracepoint” has a different ending and deviations from the original throughout its 10 episodes (compared with eight for “Broadchurch.”) “We tried to do a faithful adaptation that respects the original material, but becomes its own animal.”
And Bernstein is banking on that animal succeeding enough to garner a second season.
Like “Broadchurch,” which has already shot its second season for ITV, “Gracepoint” would continue with the same characters and setting as they deal with the repercussions from events that play out in the finale. And even those who have seen “Broadchurch” will have to wait to find out just what that is in “Gracepoint.”
“Our showrunners loved taking that original story and putting a new heart and soul into it,” Bernstein says.