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‘Bates Motel’s Carlton Cuse: Remakes Open Doors at Networks

Scribes and producers parse the redo market at 'Direct to Series' confab

Remakes have been a staple of American TV for decades. “All in the Family,” “Sanford and Son” and “Three’s Company” were all adaptations of British TV shows.

But in recent years showrunners and producers have hunted well beyond the U.K.’s borders in Israel, Sweden, Denmark, and most recently, France for inspiration. Or they’re remaking films as series.

Screenwriters, producers and execs discussed the keys to a successful remake during Friday’s “Direct to Series: Original French Content for the Global Market” conference in West Hollywood.

Carlton Cuse, writer and exec producer of A&E Network’s “Bates Motel” (pictured) — a modern prequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” — said the brand value of adapted content often provides showrunners a foot in the door, allowing them to create a show that otherwise would not have been picked up.

“Putting the title of ‘Bates Motel’ and the moniker of ‘Psycho’ allowed me and my partner Kerry Ehrin to tell a great tragedy — a story of a mother and a son,” he said. “But if you got to a network with an original tragedy and walk in and say, ‘Hey I’m going to pitch you a fantastic tragedy,’ you’re not going to get very far. Having the marketability of the ‘Psycho’ brand was a good asset.”

Similarly, Shine America exec Carolyn Bernstein, an exec producer of FX’s “The Bridge,” which is a remake of a Scandinavian drama, said showrunner Elwood Reid “didn’t think that he would be able to sell a sprawling atmospheric character piece about the denizens of the dark underbelly of the border if he just went and pitched it.”

Once Bernstein sent him the format to “The Bridge,” she said Reid realized he could use the pilot that opens with two dead bodies being found on the bridge between Sweden and Demark as the hook for the border tale he wanted to spin.

“It’s kind of the Trojan horse,” she said. “That big idea of the dead body at the beginning of the show is kind of the trick. They trick the audience into coming to the show. They think it’s a serial killer show, but it really isn’t.”

And season two will step even further away from the serial killer arc.

While TV show remakes often stay true to the original format, that’s harder to execute with small screen adaptations of films as there’s only a few hours of content to work with. John Wirth, writer and exec producer of 2008’s “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” said that Fox series deviated from its movie namesake.

“Taking elements from the truth story we felt was not really going to work for a television series so we sort of went back to the mythology that was into that and fleshed out mythology really with, I don’t want to say no regard to what was in the movie, but with maybe less regard than we could have had,” Wirth said.

Bernstein, on the other hand, said “The Bridge” is “faithful to the essence of the original show.” She met with the Danish/Swedish series “Broen”/“Bron”s exec producer Lars Blomgren and creator Hans Rosenfeld several times for guidance. They not only gave her their blessing, but Blomgren visited the set during the pilot’s first few days of shooting. One of the show’s original helmers, Charlotte Sieling, also directed an episode of “The Bridge.”

“The U.S./Mexican border is very distinctive and specific obviously, not very much like Malmo, Sweden and Copenhagen in terms of the culture, the politics, the problems along the border,” Bernstein said. “We knew once we got into the stories that we wanted to tell, we had permission to do it the way we wanted it to be done.”

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