Florent Morellet Alan Cummings Sundance TV

SundanceTV is embracing television’s auteur moment with an ambitious development slate that aims to capitalize on the new flexibility offered by limited-run series.

The cabler is building on the foundation of its first two original series, “Rectify” and this year’s “The Red Road,” as it looks to greenlight its next wave of original series. The glowing reviews for the second season of “Rectify,” which bowed earlier this month, have gone a long way to convincing creative talent that a six-episode order on SundanceTV can make a big splash, if the material has the goods.

Sarah Barnett, SundanceTV prexy, said the combination of new revenue sources from SVOD and international players and the openness of creative talent to taking non-traditional approaches to scripted production has greatly expanded the horizons for niche cablers.

“We are at a fantastic moment in the business where we no longer just have to monetize our shows through advertising on-air. We have Netflix revenue streams, we have nice robust international deals in place,” Barnett told Variety. “It’s allowed us to think a bit differently not just about the kind of stories we tell but the shape in which we tell them. … We do not have to be formulaic in the number of episodes we do. We can really fit (the order) to whatever is best for the material and the maker.”

Barnett and Sundance TV programming chief Nena Rodrigue have honed the cabler’s focus on miniseries and limited-run series that can make noise for the AMC Networks channel without becoming too lengthy of a commitment for creative talent or viewers.

“We want people to watch our shows they way you’d watch a (traditional) miniseries. You know you’re going to get something at the end that you didn’t expect,” Rodrigue said. “And then the next season you’ll still live with these characters at another moment in their lives. Our purpose is to shock and surprise you by the end of six episodes.”

SundanceTV is still in its infancy when it comes to fielding scripted series. The goal is to deliver at least one “tentpole” scripted project per quarter that generates buzz and a promotional platform for the entire channel, Barnett said.

The strong response to “Rectify” and “Red Road,” as well last year’s Jane Campion miniseries “Top of the Lake” and the acquired French zombie series “Les Revenants,” has proven to her that SundanceTV, which became a fully ad-supported channel last September, has the ability to “punch above our weight,” she said.

As expected from a cabler with roots in Robert Redford’s Sundance filmmaking movement, SundanceTV is chasing after offbeat subjects and emerging creative talent with its next round of development prospects. And Barnett and Rodrigue assure that not everything on SundanceTV’s air will be dark and moody.

Among the projects in various stages of development:

  • A romantic drama set in the world of college baseball, based on the Chad Harbach novel “The Art of Fielding.” Producer Todd Field is shepherding the project that is imbued with what Rodrigue calls “unapologetic optimism.”
  • Alan Cumming (pictured right) is on board to produce a project inspired by the life of colorful New York City restauranteur and AIDS activist Florent Morellet (pictured left). Morellet is credited with revitalizing Manhattan’s meatpacking district with his restaurant that became a hotbed of activity for the gay rights movement.
  • Cami Delavigne, co-writer of the 2010 feature “Blue Valentine,” is working on a drama series about nuns. Rodrigue had long wanted to tackle the world of the sisterhood, and Delavigne happened to offer a compelling pitch during a meet-and-greet session with the SundanceTV team.
  • “Hap and Leonard” is a 1960s-set buddy detective vehicle with comedic elements that turns on the unlikely friendship between a white Southerner and a gay African-American Vietnam veteran. Filmmakers Jim Mickle and Nick Damici are on board to direct the project derived from novels by Joe Lansdale.
  • “The Limit” is set in the late 1950s in the early days of the Formula One racing league. Project is a co-production with Germany’s Red Arrow, with “Grey’s Anatomy” star Patrick Dempsey also producing.
  • “Visit from the Goon Squad” is an adaptation of the Jennifer Egan novel revolving around a group of friends living in 1980s San Francisco, with a story told over the course of several decades. Producer Michael London is shepherding the project, which was previously developed at HBO.
  • Haut et Court, the Gallic shingle behind “Les Revenants” is working with ITV Global and Warp Film on a project set in the 1980s European fashion scene, focusing on the clash between art and commerce in the world of haute couture.

Given that SundanceTV has to be selective in the number of projects it can pursue at any given time, Rodrigue emphasized that the most important aspect of development process is becoming invested in the creator’s vision. That’s been the case with Ray McKinnon of “Rectify” and Aaron Guzikowski of “Red Road.”

“We’re looking for people who have great vision and great clarity on what it is they want to say,” Rodrigue said. “If we as executives are invested in it and have clarity on what the project is going to be, then we support it and we don’t try to develop it into something else.”

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