DirecTV’s ‘Rogue’: Making the Channel’s First Scripted Series

Satcaster hedges its bets by partnering with Momentum and eOne in the hopes of luring subs and generating buzz

Thandie Newton Rogue DirecTV

The creators behind “Rogue,” DirecTV’s first foray into the original scripted series realm that debuts April 3 on the satellite’s Audience Network, are confident they have a premium offering right up there with HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” and Netflix’s “House of Cards.”

“There are no more “Damages” and “Friday Night Lights” out there,” says Chris Long, senior VP of DirecTV, which has a 50% stake in the series. “You can’t live on that the rest of your life, waiting for someone else to stop enjoying a piece of content and then to sell it to you. So here’s an opportunity for us to put our foot in the water, but not too much financially, and share the cost to differentiate (our) content so customers feel like, ‘OK, here’s another reason why I should stay on DirecTV.’

Because Audience is not ad-supported, DirecTV partnered with Momentum Entertainment Group and eOne Television, hedging its bets against foreign, secondary window and DVD sales. “Rogue,” a U.K.-Canadian co-production, benefited from a 30% tax break by shooting in Vancouver, which doubles for Northern California’s Bay Area.Not unlike AMC’s “The Killing” or FX’s “Justified,” “Rogue” features a single story arc throughout the 10 episodes of its first season — in this case solving the mystery of who killed the son of an undercover agent named Grace (Thandie Newton). Grace’s single-minded quest causes her to become unlikely allies with the mob chief whose waterfront syndicate she was trying to crack, ensnaring her in a conflicting web of loyalties between the Oakland police, mobster kingpin Jimmy (Marton Csokas) and her family.

Rogue is not only a stretch for Newton, who’s never carried a series on her shoulders, but it also pushes the envelope in terms of adult content. Graphic violence and full-frontal nudity — both male and female — are not uncommon in the series’ first three hourlong episodes.

Sex, which seems to come in violent fits, is often transactional, cathartic or manipulative, especially as it applies to Cathy (Leah Gibson), a latter-day Lady Macbeth who has goaded her husband (Joshua Sasse) into standing up to Jimmy, his father.Series creator Matthew Parkhill, who describes the sex as “European,” says he “always wanted to explore the dark side of the American dream,” and views the U.S. pay-TV landscape as the last outpost for the kind of creative latitude that was once the hallmark of indie cinema.

Exec producer Nick Hamm, who originally developed the series with Parkhill for British TV, saw the collapse of the independent film market, where he cut his teeth, as an opportunity to reinvent himself in a new arena.

“We realized an enormous renaissance that was happening in American cable,” Hamm says. “With the fracturing of traditional distribution and the opening up of all these new channels, then we could suddenly go, ‘OK, let’s look at this show in a completely different way.’ ”