Fox is known for producing big-budget drama series in the U.S. that travel the world. For the first time, Fox Networks Group Europe & Africa is deploying its own team of secret agents.
The group’s first original drama production, espionage thriller “Deep State,” is set to bow next spring. FNG runs 154 channels across 58 territories in Europe and Africa. Fox’s Global Content Distribution Group plans give the series a big sales push at Mipcom. The project marks a step-up in investment in regional content for the group that has the widest global reach of any of the U.S.-based majors.
Created by Simon Maxwell and Matthew Parkhill, who is also showrunner, the series stars Mark Strong as Max Easton, a retired Secret Service operative and member of elite British/America team called The Section, coaxed back into the field to try to shut down an Iranian missile program. The situation is complicated by Max’s estranged son, Harry, who has followed his father into the espionage world and as the series opens may have died in the line of duty.
In the series Morocco doubled for Bahrain, France and Tehran, while a London shoot covered the British scenes, as well as Washington. Harry — the young idealist to Max’s emotionally scarred veteran — is played by “Game of Thrones’” Joe Dempsie who says that production on “Deep State” moved several notches faster than the HBO epic, to good effect. “We need to keep a fairly high pace up. If we work at same pace as ‘Game of Thrones,’ it would lose something,” he says.
The show peels away more layers than a routine action series. “The world’s not screaming out for another spy drama. Unless you’re going to do something different with it there’s no point,” Dempsie adds.
In this case the difference is showing the agents’ vulnerabilities and in the case of Max, his complex home life, as well as the obligatory ass-kicking scenes. For Strong, the combination was irresistible. Breaking from filming, he says: “There’s lot of stunts, gunfights, car crashes and all you’d associate with action films, or TV, and then there’s an emotional family drama element. It’s almost two series melded into one and that’s what I find interesting.”
In keeping with modern scripted TV sensibilities, “Deep State” demands viewers’ full attention — the actors report meeting outside trailers to get across the twists and finer points of the script.
“You might have to rewind a couple of times,” says newcomer Karima McAdams, who plays intelligence officer Leyla Toumi. “But it’s truthful and gritty and it’s asking the viewer to question the reality of things.”
Parkhill worked hard to make Toumi and the other female characters in the series three-dimensional, to the degree that the hair and make-up department were under-employed.
“I try not to sexualize them,” he says. “You won’t find them in figure-hugging costumes and push-up bras with loads of make-up. If anything, I do the opposite. I love the imperfections and the rawness. If anything is too neat and perfect on a show like this I don’t believe it.”
For Parkhill, changing the title from its original “The Nine” widened the dramatic scope and allowed the show to ask some big questions. “The moment I called it ‘Deep State’ it opened up a plethora of possibilities,” he says. “The notion of whether the intelligence services, or defense contractors, or financial institutions are, irrespective of whatever government is in power, the bedrock of what goes on in the world is something the show explores.”
With the international launch in Cannes, “Deep State” comes full circle. Jeff Ford, a veteran of the international scene as a buyer and programmer, has gotten Fox’s Europe and Africa originals off the ground and was pressing the flesh with producers at the market two years ago.
A meeting the following January with Parkhill and Red Arrow, parent company of Endor Prods., which is producing the series, followed, and an initial deal for the series struck at MIPTV 2016.
“It was a piece that I knew our Fox viewers would like — it had that edginess, that intelligence to it — but also that quite visceral action,” he says. “When we talked to Matthew, we always talked about the same reference points: the first Jason Bourne film, ‘Homeland,’ ‘Syriana.’ That vision hasn’t altered and it sits perfectly with our brand.”
There’s more to come, Ford adds. “A ‘strategy’ is not one drama, that’s an ‘opportunity.’ We have other shows in development now, we’re talking to other people. This is not one-off.”
He retires at the end of the year and Sara Johnson will oversee Fox’s next originals for Europe and Africa. “I’m out talking to all indies, and we’re another place to come and talk, we’re based in London, but Europe-facing for producers writers and talent,” she says. “We want to delve into how the Fox brand presents itself from here for Europe and Africa, rather than from America, or for America.”