Mipcom will see the launch of the latest wave of high-end serialized drama series, many with stellar thesping talent attached. For the buyers seeking out the next “Breaking Bad” or “Downton Abbey,” however, the true stars are often producers and writers.
Johnson is an exec producer on “Breaking Bad,” a series whose recognition and plaudits among the international distribution community could not be higher.
“Rectify,” which follows a man freed from prison after 19 years, is the first original scripted series from AMC Networks’ Sundance Channel.
For Maria Kyriacou, managing director at ITV Studios Global Entertainment, it fits perfectly within the tradition of AMC Networks.
“They don’t really go for big name talent on screen,” she says. “The quality of the drama has to speak for itself.”
The entrance of several players as commissioners of high-end drama series, and the growing strength of premium pay TV outlets and SVOD platforms around the world, has put a spring in the step of the scripted biz.
Sundance Channel is backing crime drama “Top of the Lake,” which has a powerful talent package attached. Skein was created by Jane Campion, who also exec produces alongside Emile Sherman and Iain Canning, who produced “The King’s Speech.” Elisabeth Moss and Holly Hunter, whom Campion directed to an Oscar in “The Piano,” topline. Campion will be at Mipcom to deliver a master class.
“In some ways that’s an easy one because it lends itself so well to being promoted. We have so many hooks to hang it on,” says Caroline Torrance, director of drama for content and production at BBC Worldwide, which is selling the series.
BBC Worldwide will launch period crime drama “Ripper Street” at the market, with talent attending, including star Matthew Macfadyen.
Another entrant in the commissioning of high-end drama is Netflix, which has greenlit Gaumont Intl. Television’s “Hemlock Grove” and “House of Cards,” the American redo of the British political thriller.
Again, the writers and producers of these shows are key during the sales process. In the case of Gothic mystery series “Hemlock Grove,” the project arrived with the imprimatur of Eli Roth, while “House of Cards” is being exec produced and helmed by “The Social Network” director David Fincher.
These series feed a growing appetite in the international market.
“There is a hunger for richer storytelling and that requires richer characters who are more complex and less predictable in the way they respond to a situation,” says Keith Le Goy, president of international distribution at Sony Pictures Television, which reps “House of Cards” abroad.
In order for a series to become a worldwide hit, it needs to strike a chord across all cultures. So although “House of Cards” will be set within the U.S. political system, the themes will resonate in every country.
“We and the creators very much see it as more of a Shakespearean portrayal of what happens when somebody assumes ultimate ambition,” Le Goy says.
Another drama to launch at Mipcom is FX series “The Americans,” which is about two KGB agents — played by Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell — posing as an ordinary married couple in 1980s America. Although it is a spy thriller, at its heart it is the story of a relationship.
“There are great action elements and it’s entertaining, but at the center of the show is about a couple and their marriage,” says Eric Schrier, exec VP of FX Prods., who will be attending the Mipcom premiere alongside Rhys and Russell.
Despite changes in viewing habits — many viewers watch episodes back to back at a time of their own choosing, using DVRs or SVOD platforms — high-end serialized dramas still have a role as appointment television for the linear broadcasters.
“High-quality drama on television has a marquee value. It is akin to a theatrical film opening in cinemas,” says Greg Phillips, prexy at Content Television and Digital, which is repping “The Fall” alongside ZDF Enterprises.
The psychological thriller, which stars Gillian Anderson and is written and exec produced by Allan Cubitt, is one of several new high-budget dramas with dark themes.
NBC series “Hannibal,” which looks at the early relationship between Hannibal Lecter and FBI profiler Will Graham, is clearly a dark tale, but with “Pushing Daisies” Bryan Fuller writing and exec producing, it will also have its lighter moments.
“Yes, we are dealing with macabre subject matter, but you will find the tone of ‘Hannibal’ delights and surprises at the same time,” says Katie O’Connell, CEO at Gaumont Intl. Television, which is producing and selling the series.
Although dark themes and complicated characters make for compelling viewing, shows must entertain, says Marion Edwards, prexy of international television at Fox, which is selling “The Americans.”
“You can show people having a difficult time in difficult circumstances, but you had also better be entertaining while doing it,” she says.
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