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Strictly Business Podcast: Colin Callender on ‘Cursed Child’ and Navigating Co-Productions

Producer Colin Callender is premium TV’s go-to guy for classy international co-productions.

This year Callender’s Playground LLC banner is fielding three high-profile projects: the Starz/BBC adaptation of “Howard’s End,” PBS/BBC’s “Little Women” and Amazon’s upcoming rendition of “King Lear” starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. He’s also a producer of the West End smash “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” which opened on Broadway last month.

In the latest episode of Strictly Business, Variety‘s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of entertainment, Callender talks about the nuts and bolts of assembling co-productions and the landmines producers need to navigate.

“The core of successful co-productions is everybody sharing the same vision from day one. If there is a slight gap in that consensus it’s like a rocket ship launched into space: the curvature may seem small in the beginning but by the time the rocket is well into outer space it’s really veered off course.”

Callender also weighs in on the health of the theater biz, and he makes a point of challenging the widely published figure of $68 million as the record-setting cost of “Cursed Child” on Broadway. Under $40 million is more like it, and he explains why in the interview.

Callender spent 22 years at HBO, primarily as head of HBO Films, before launching Playground in 2012. Since going solo, Playground has prospered by taking advantage of the company’s dual presence London and New York. Under British law, independent producers retain the copyrights to their shows.

Once “Downton Abbey” became a hit in part because of its presence on streaming platform, the market for upper-crust British drama exploded. Now Callender and others are riding the Peak TV wave to build libraries with long-term value. But he sees a change on the horizon to the business model that has worked for him since the early 1980s as Netflix, Amazon and others seek to buy out global rights to programs for long time frames.

“British producers will have to make a decision going forward,” he says. “There’s an opportunity to increase the amount of programming you’re able to make (but for buyers) who insist on owning all rights.”

Strictly Business is Variety‘s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of entertainment. Listen to the podcast below for the full interview, or check out previous “Strictly Business” episodes featuring comedian/actor/producer Kevin Hart, ICM Partners agent Esther Newberg, and HBO chairman/CEO Richard Plepler. A new episode debuts each Tuesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and SoundCloud.

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