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Mipcom: BBC Commissions Development of ‘Locked Up’ Remake (EXCLUSIVE)

Tony Grounds attached to write script and storyline for Warner Bros.’s London-based affiliate Wall To Wall Media

CANNES — The BBC has commissioned a script and storyline for a possible  U.K. remake of “Vis a vis” (Locked Up), a Spanish women’s prison drama-thriller and an Atresmedia original series produced by Mediapro’s Globomedia.

Warner Bros.-owned Wall To Wall Media, which brokered the development deal with the BBC.  Tony Grounds (“Our Girl”) is attached to write both.

The BBC development deal comes after “Locked Up,” whose international sales are handled by Atresmedia Intl. and Imagina Intl. Sales (IIS), Mediapro’s sales arm, was acquired by Walter Presents, bowing on Channel 4’s All4 AVOD in May 2016 to an audience of two million. It also became Amazon Prime Video’s first Spanish series pick-up for the U.S.

Atresmedia, one of Spain’s two top free-to-air TV Networks, screened the series’ first two seasons. “Locked Up” also sold around the world, being acquired by Discovery in Italy and closing major territories such as Latin America, France, Australia, Portugal and the Middle East.

After it aired successfully on Atresmedia in Spain, where a first season punched an average 19.9% and 3.5 million viewers, nearly seven percentage points above channel average, ”Locked Up’s” robust international sales encouraged Mediapro to produce Season 3, teaming with Fox Networks Group España. Season 3 is now a flagship new series on IIS’s Mipcom sales slate. A further remake has been optioned for the Middle East by Arab Format Lab.

An early example of the cable edge of select Spanish free-to-air series, “Locked Up” struck inevitable comparisons in Spain with “Orange is the New Black” though it is very much its own series and has much more of an action edge. It turns on young Macarena Ferreiro (Maggie Civantos), who is framed by her lover and boss for corporate fraud. She ends up in the Cruz del Sur jail, surrounded by ruthless criminals. When her only friend and cell mate ends up brutally killed, Macarena becomes implicated in a multimillion hold-up that could turn her life around. Or land her a far-longer prison sentence.

“Locked Up” was received enthusiastically by Spanish critics: “A small step for man, a large step for Spanish television,” one review read.

“The series is disquieting, suggestive, surprising and stimulating, a drama of characters which talks about primal sentiment,” said Laura Fernández Espeso, Mediapro director of international contents.

She added: “In an age of the politically correct, the inmates show us how they really are, imperfect. This honesty has connected with viewers.”

Founded in 1987, and a prolific U.K. producer, Wall To Wall Media, now part of Warner Bros. Televisions Productions UK, has credits which include “An Edwardian Country House,” “Man on a Wire” and “The Voice UK.”

Atresmedia has driven forcefully into original series, co-producing, among many dramas, “The Cathedral of the Sea,” a big-scale Medieval drama and early Netflix acquisition, and “Morocco – In Times of War,” an exquisitely turned-out period romantic drama which, sold by Beta Film, will receive an International Premiere Screening at Mipcom.

BBC’s “Locked Up” remake development deal move is just one of many makeovers now moving forward for Mediapro. It is currently in negotiations with other potential TV network partners for reversions of multiple classics in its library, such as “Boarding School,” “Gominolas,” “Pepe’s Beach Bar,” “Olmos & Robles,” “Night & Day” and “Family Doctor” in territories such as France, the U.S, China, the Middle East, Bulgaria, Mexico and Colombia,” Fernández Espeso said.

Fiction remakes are relatively rare, repping just 2% of exported scripted drama in 2016, according to Eurodata TV. In 2015, But Spain was cited by The Wit in 2015, a Switzerland-based TV content analysis company, as the No. 1 country in  the world for scripted format reversions. That may be put down in part to the traditional length of Spanish series – 70 minutes – which somewhat discourages straight sales of the original in favor of format deals. It is also a mark of Spanish high-concept creativity.

“‘Locked Up’ is properly bold in challenging racist and homophobic attitudes. This prison drama has the feel of luxuriating in creative freedom,” ran a The Guardian review.

The BBC commission is part of multi-front expansion at Mediapro. Moving aggressively into high-profile international TV drama alliances, Mediapro co-produced Sky/HBO/Canal Plus hit mini-series “The Young Pope” and is now partnering on its sequel, “The New Pope.” It has acquired a large stake in Daniel Burman’s Burman Office and launched a bevy of international co-productions, with Finnish pubcaster YLE – on “The Paradise,” co-developed by Ran Telem -, Sweden’s Dramacorp – on the Pastor brothers-developed “The Head”- and with DirecTV Latin America – on “El fútbol no es así,” with “The Secret in Their Eyes”’ co-writer Eduardo Sacheri.

Mediapro has also integrated its sales operation into its international contents area, “bringing market intelligence to the division as its sales constantly open doors,” said Fernández Espeso.

But the U.K. market, and British broadcasters in particular, remain a crucial market for foreign-language fiction. It was after all a BBC buy on “The Killing” which brought down the flag on Nordic Noir as an international phenomenon, DR’s outgoing head of drama, Piv Bernth, has observed.

Last October, Mediapro announced it had tapped former Group M Entertainment exec Stephen Johnstone to head up its U.K. production business.

“Mediapro has clear production goals in the U.K. market and the adaptation of our original series would without doubt ease progress on other operations,” Fernández Espeso ventured.

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