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Brazil’s Gullane, Universal Channel Team on ‘Basic Health Center’

Collaboration on flagship Brazilian medical drama a sign of Universal’s now large involvement in Brazilian TV production

Gullane Brothers Filmes Brazil

Fresh off its Sundance actress prize and Berlin Panorama Audience Award for “The Second Mother,” Gullane Filmes, run by Fabiano and Caio Gullane and a Brazilian movie powerhouse, is partnering with Universal Channel in Brazil on a groundbreaking medical drama: eight-seg half-hour fiction series “Basic Health Center.”

Universal Channel, one of the three channels operated by Universal Networks in Brazil, a joint venture with Brazilian pay TV operator Globosat, has taken rights to the whole of Latin America. Coming in early on the series, Universal Channel is also working as a commissioning editor, helping Gullane with development, said Paulo Barata, CEO of Universal Networks in Brazil.

Gullane’s flagship TV series, which is also produced in partnership with Brazil’s biggest state incentive program, the Sectorial Audiovisual Fund, “Basic Health Center” shows Brazilian companies beginning to address Brazil’s liberal professions, moving away from the inter-class romance staple of telenovelas and indeed favela thrillers as the country’s middle classes have swelled over the last decade.

“Health/hospital issues have been rarely addressed in Brazilian television dramas. We are very pleased to be developing this unprecedented fiction series in association with Universal,” said producer Caio Gullane, who is pictured with brother Fabiano.

Middle-class B/C audiences make up about 60% of Brazil’s pay TV base, Barata pointed out.

Gullane Filmes’ other movie credits include the first two parts of franchise “Till Luck Do Us Part,” Brazil’s highest-grossing local films in 2012 and 2014; “Amazonia,” which closed the 2013 Venice Festival; and “A Wolf at the Door,” one of the bestselling titles for IM Global/Canana j.v. sales co Mundial.

Based on true-life events, the fiction series unspools at a Basic Health Center – a kind of basic attention doctor’s office — on the outskirts of Sao Paulo. It centers on the clash between Dr. Paulo, who’s been working at the center for 15 years, and newcomer Laura, and plumbs moral and ethical questions by contrasting their attitudes to medical treatment, as well as exploring patients’ family backgrounds, which can lead to an understanding of the cause of their illness.

Series creator and screenwriter is Newton Cannito, whose credits include episodes of 02 Filmes-produced “City of Men” and homicide squad drama “9mm: Sao Paulo,” plus a feature film, favela-set drama “Broder.”

“Basic Health Center’s” director is Carlos Cortez, whose orphan drama “Quero” scooped four prizes at the 2006 Brasilia Film Festival. It was co-written with Luis Bolognesi, who topped Annecy in 2014 with “Rio 2096,” and Braulio Mantovani, Oscar-nommed for the screenplay of “City of God.”

Scheduled to start shooting mid-April, the series, which rolls off research with health-care professionals, is currently casting, said Caio Gullane.

Currently Universal Networks is developjng five series in Brazil – a sign of just how actively involved Hollywood studios are in TV production in Latin America’s biggest territory. Beyond “Basic Health Center,” Universal Networks — which also operates in Brazil both Studio Universal, a film-only channel, and SyFy – is developing procedural “Jungle Pilot,” revolving around a group of pilots operating a small flight company in the Amazon; “171,” a comedy turning on a conman family father; “Friend for Rent,” about an actor suffering stage and camera panic; and “The Incredible Cinelab,” a non-scripted series about very inexpensive special effects.

“Series can connect to our brand, our differential,” Barata argued. Obliged by a 2011 quota to air 3.5 primetime hours of Brazilian content weekly, Hollywood majors’ pay TV channels challenge in Brazil is double-fold: How Brazilian series can sit on their grid besides their U.S. fare; and marketing the local shows when local audiences are sometimes very limited.

With “Basic Health Center” and the other Universal projects, Barata said he saw no problem on either count. “We have a tradition of medical series, having aired ‘House’ for many years. Also, our tagline is ‘100% Character,’ and ‘Basic Health Center’ has two strong characters: a more humane and sensitive doctor and a younger one who is more technical and cold, believing that is enough. These different approaches form a major source of conflict.”

Universal Channel is also one of the top 10 channels in Brazilian pay TV, targeting a broad male and female 18-49 audience. It can also leverage crucial cross-promotion across channels at Globosat, by far the biggest pay TV operator in Brazil. Another strong Universal launch platform is social networks. Universal has more than 1 million Facebook followers, Barata commented.