Studio Lambert is one of the world’s leading unscripted producers, best known for shows like Emmy-winner “Undercover Boss” and “The People’s Couch.” Two years ago the London- and L.A.-based company moved into drama series. Chief executive Stephen Lambert and drama chief Susan Hogg talk to Variety about their plans.
Next month sees the launch on the BBC of Studio Lambert’s first drama, “Three Girls,” a three-parter based on a true story about the sexual grooming and abuse of teenage girls in Northern England, and at Series Mania in the Co-Production Forum the company will pitch psychological thriller “Girl on a Wire.” These shows are part of a slate of more than 20 projects at Studio Lambert that run the gamut of drama, but with a focus on returning series.
“Girl on a Wire,” which is set in Berlin in the offices of a social-media firm, centers on a woman who is charged with tackling the dark side of the web, and comes under attack, but fights back. The series will be English language but with a multi-European cast.
The show is written by up-and-coming writer Thomas Martin, whose credits include individual episodes of TV series like BBC crime thriller “Ripper Street” and feature films “The Absence Sonata” and “Night of the Lotus.” “He’s a big talent that is going to break, so it’s really exciting to have that,” Hogg says. “We’ve been tracking him for 18 months, ever since I got here.”
Another Studio Lambert project that looks at the downside of technology is apocalyptic thriller “The Feed,” based on the novel by Nick Clark Windo: it’s set in a near-future world where people can download a social-media feed directly into their brains. The project is at script stage with a “top American writer,” and Studio Lambert hopes to put it into production later this year or early next year.
Studio Lambert’s ambitions in drama match that of the leading players in the market – and Lambert could envisage the company producing a series on a scale comparable to Netflix and Left Bank Pictures’ “The Crown,” which reportedly cost around $7 million an episode.
“Lots of producers are developing projects on that scale, and certainly that is an ambition for us, and we hope to be able to make something of that quality and scale in the near future, but it is a highly competitive market,” he says.
While “The Crown” focuses on Britain’s second Queen Elizabeth, Studio Lambert has a project centering on the first Queen Elizabeth, which could conceivably have a potential similar to “The Crown.” “The Virgin’s Lover” is based on a historical novel written by British author Philippa Gregory, whose work also inspired Starz’s “The White Queen” and “The White Princess.” Lambert says: “It is certainly something we have high ambitions for in terms of the scale of the project and the quality of the writing, direction and acting that we see for it.”
As well as big-scale individual projects, the company also aims to have a broad slate of series, with 20 to 30 projects in development at any one time. Hogg, who was previously a senior drama executive at the BBC, says: “The important thing is to have a big enough slate so that when even your most brilliant project goes down, you have got other things to move forward with really quickly. So we’ve got a varied slate with things in different stages of development – some we’ve got at script stage, which we are going out with; we’ve got lots at treatment stage; and we are working with a lot of new writers as well as established writers. You never know what [the buyers] you are talking to are going to be interested in, so the more ideas and the more writers you are working with the better.”
As with unscripted, the company’s scripted division will “straddle the American and British markets,” Lambert says. “We want to feel that we are comfortably operating in both those markets and seizing opportunities that now exist to develop in [Britain] for both America and the U.K.”
Lambert, who recently returned from the States where he’d been pitching a show to U.S. buyers, adds: “We see ourselves as operating in a U.S., British and even European markets. We love doing stuff for British broadcasters, and we’ve got several shows that are in funded development with the BBC, but we don’t see ourselves as being primarily focused on the British scripted buying community.
“We see that as a very important aspect of what we are developing for, but we are just as much concentrating on the opportunities in the States, and also working with European buyers.”
In order to meet the needs of the U.S. market, Studio Lambert will either establish a scripted production operation in the States or partner with an American production company – it has a couple of projects in development in the U.S. in partnership with Lionsgate, and will also work with All3Media America, the U.S. arm of Studio Lambert’s parent company.
Co-production will be at the heart of Studio Lambert’s drama operations as is the case with most leading drama producers. “The vast majority of shows – the most exciting shows – involve multiple sources of funding,” Lambert says. The company works a lot with distributor All3Media International, which can cover the deficit, but “generally we need to go and find an American and/or European buyer to come in as well.”
He adds: “The exciting thing is that whereas in the past co-production led to some sort of blandness, because you had to please different markets, I think the most exciting work is now being funded by multiple sources because — whether it is Americans, British or Europeans — they are all interested in the most exciting projects by the best writers and they are not looking anymore for something that is tailored specifically to their market; they are just looking for great stuff.”