Veteran Brit drama producer Tony Garnett is no longer a one-man band.
Over the past three years, he has transformed World Prods., the company he runs for globe-trotting dealmaker John Heyman, into an orchestra of many producing talents, most of them half his age.
The 68-year-old Garnett is training a new generation of program makers, guided by his principles but free to follow their own passions.
As a result, World is making shows for every U.K. web, developing four Stateside series and prepping two movies for Sony.
And for once, Garnett, whose seminal credits stretch from “Cathy Come Home” and “Kes” in the 1960s to “Between the Lines” and “This Life” in the ’90s, isn’t producing any of them.
“Things are being developed here now that I wouldn’t ever think of developing,” Garnett says. “There’s a whole new energy in the place.”
Kath Mattock won a BAFTA last year for the Channel 4 prison series “Buried.” Helen Gregory is steering the C4 nursing drama “No Angels” into its second series. Eleanor Greene is producing “Murder Prevention” for Channel 5.
As well as supervising these shows, head of TV drama Simon Heath is overseeing “Brief Lives,” a pitch-black BBC2 comedy about Britain’s ailing criminal justice system. He’s also co-producing ITV telepic “Ahead of the Class” with Artists Rights Group, based on a true story about a crisis-ridden London school.
On the film side, Garnett describes himself as an executive finding British projects for Sony.
After spending the ’80s making movies in Hollywood (when he gave Sony’s Amy Pascal her first job), he returned to England and British TV for family reasons. A year ago, he and Heyman (himself something of a film financing legend) decided to take another shot at features and struck a deal to act as Sony’s U.K. production arm.
Garnett and his development topper, Britt Harrison, have trawled through more than 600 projects and come up with two to shoot next year. Natalie Portman is attached to play the young Jane Austen in “Becoming Jane.” Kirk Jones will direct “Eddie the Eagle,” about the hapless British ski-jumper who became a folk hero at the 1988 Olympics.
Not that Garnett, who has a series of his own in development at the BBC, has given up producing. But now, he says, he’s just primus inter pares at World.
Nonetheless, his young disciples work to his rules: “Never, ever go over schedule or over budget. That’s a federal offense. Always respond courteously and quickly to agents and writers. A collegiate way of working with broadcasters. Otherwise we give them what they want most — which is freedom to produce their shows.”
His creative philosophy pervades the company. “We hardly ever start with a star or a director. What we do here is develop material, and our relationship is primarily with the writer.”
For Garnett, a committed socialist, drama has always been a way of grappling with the real world, with a heavy emphasis on research and doc-style techniques. This unflinching realism makes it a challenge to translate World’s shows to the more sanitized American market.
Heyman, who lives in New York and handles the Stateside business, believes that’s what killed “First Years,” the NBC version of “This Life.” The British original was a pungent depiction of the sex ‘n’ drugs lifestyle of trainee lawyers; in the U.S. it became just another bland courtroom drama and lasted only eight episodes.
“That was the first time we licensed someone to do one of our shows without any feedback from us,” Heyman says. “We won’t make that mistake again.”
He’s currently working with Ben Silverman to develop “No Angels” for NBC Universal. “Murder Prevention” is being rewritten by John Shiban for USA Network. Vampire series “Ultraviolet” is being developed with Steven Haft. Paul Haggis is writing a version of police corruption drama “Between the Lines” for U.
After half a century apiece in showbiz, it looks like Garnett and Heyman are just getting started.