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Harlan Coben’s ‘Safe’ Builds on Red’s Reputation for Delivering Fine Drama

Michael C. Hall stars in Netflix's psychological thriller

“Safe,” which world premiered on Wednesday at Canneseries, is the latest drama series from Studiocanal’s Red, a British production company set up by Nicola Shindler 20 years ago, best known for Russell T. Davies’ “Queer as Folk,” Paul Abbott’s “Clocking Off,” and Sally Wainwright’s “Happy Valley” and “Last Tango In Halifax.” Shindler spoke to Variety about “Safe,” her company’s slate and its relationship with writers.

“Safe” is a show that was built to compete on a world stage: It was created by best-selling novelist Harlan Coben, written by award-winner scribe Danny Brocklehurst, and toplining Hollywood star Michael C. Hall. The series is with Netflix worldwide, apart from France where it’s on C8.

Shindler says the “big names” help the show stand out in a crowded drama landscape. Coben has a huge following from his books, and Hall has chosen his TV roles smartly with two commercial and critical hits, “Dexter” and “Six Feet Under,” under his belt. “[Hall] has quite high taste and I think the audience will trust him in that respect,” she says.

Red is not known for its star names but for its brilliantly crafted scripts, grounded in the messy lives of ordinary British folk. Its shows have picked up multiple awards, including BAFTAs for “Clocking Off,” “Happy Valley” and “Last Tango in Halifax.” The complicated characters are sharply observed and nuanced, and have spawned award-winning performances from the shows’ casts.

How does “Safe,” a psychological thriller set in a gated community where a girl goes missing, fit into Red’s body of work? “It is very much a Red production because there is a big concentration on storytelling, on pace, and on making sure the characters feel very real and grounded, while being in a slightly heightened world because it is more of a Netflix show,” she says.

This is the second time Coben and Brocklehurst have teamed up, having previously worked on Red’s “The Five.” A third outing by the three parties is planned, it was announced at Canneseries. Regarding Coben and Brocklehurst’s work on “The Five,” Shindler says: “It worked very well then and we found that their voices fit really well together. Harlan is all about the stories, the plot twists, keeping that feeling of forward momentum, and Danny is brilliant at that as well, but very much concentrates on dialogue and character and making it feel very real.”

The two writers were “100%” involved in every aspect of the production, from casting through to production design. “Both Harlan and Danny were sent every audition [tape], approved every head of department, watched the rushes every day, and attended every edit. They were both all over it. They were showrunners,” she says.

Regarding the deal with Netflix, she comments: “It is great to have another outlet, and they are very clear about what they want, which is big stories that will grab attention, will hook an audience, and bring them back every week. They are creatively involved and they are over each stage of production as a British broadcaster would be, but they are slightly removed because I guess they have so much more that they are working on. It feels like a really good relationship.”

It is five years since Red was acquired by Studiocanal. What does the French company offer Red? “They are international facing, and constantly looking for co-production opportunities with Europe and America. They have such good relationships with European broadcasters that they have opened all those doors to us. So suddenly we are talking to [international broadcasters] in advance [of production] rather than just producing something for a U.K. broadcaster.”

Expanding its output is not a given for Red, although the company is ready to do so. “It is all so dependent on broadcasters’ decisions and tastes,” Shindler says. “What you have to do is really make sure you have a healthy development slate that covers every kind of production and every kind of requirement, and when you hear what different broadcasters want you go to them. It isn’t that we are developing more now, it’s just that we are developing more specifically for a wider variety of broadcasters.”

In its home territory, Red is helped by the fact that “what the [main] broadcasters – BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky – want is different, which is always really healthy,” she says. “They are all commissioning all the time which, again, is really good for writers and producers, but it doesn’t appear to me there are lots more from just the U.K. market, but it does feel like it’s a really healthy market at the moment.”

Red has a reputation for building long-lasting relationships over multiple series with writers, such as Davies, Wainwright and Brocklehurst, but it is also keen to add to the fold. “There’s nothing like shorthand and knowing someone for years, and understanding what they want for a show,” Shindler says. “However, we are totally open to new writers. Writers with experience and without experience. All we look for is a good idea and a strong authored voice. It doesn’t matter who that person is.” Among additions to the Red writing team in recent years have been Dan Sefton with “Trust Me,” and Lee Warburton, who started with “Banana” and moved onto “Scott & Bailey.”

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