Probably the best job I’ve ever had was working on the Showtime series “Dexter.” In the space between seasons seven and eight, my step-brother was shot and killed. It was head- and heart-spinning to suddenly be plunged into a police investigation after having written them for 20-odd years. The beats were the same — the notification, the autopsy, the funeral — but nothing about real life felt familiar.
The investigation stalled and my family and I became amateur detectives, determined to solve his case on our own. I am hopeful that we will someday have closure, but no matter what the outcome of that case, I will never stop yearning for justice.
And so a pilot was born, with a central character very much like myself — an amateur sleuth, a little loud and a little messy, who, while on a search for justice reaches out to other ordinary folk to solve crimes that the police either can’t or won’t.
I had a fateful meeting with Barry Josephson, who had optioned Deborah Halber’s nonfiction book, “The Skeleton Crew.” It wonderfully follows amateur detectives on their quests to solve cold cases, but Barry and I saw a way that we could tell the story with current high-stakes cases. We dove in on the characters, fleshing out our lead — a rideshare driver fresh off a split from her husband and living with her mother — who lands back in her hometown where her brother was murdered and the police botched (or so she feels) the investigation.
When a body plunges onto her car from an overpass after dropping off a ride, and the police rule it a suicide, she can’t let it go. She reaches out to an existing online community of oddball sleuths and they all work to solve the case with a mashup of hi-tech and low-tech methods. It’s a kind of DIY CSI where ordinary people are transformed into powerful voices for the dead.
It sold quickly to Fox. And then the regime changed and it fell into turnaround. Sony, ever the advocate for the greatest storytelling, passed the script onto their television networks group which focuses on creating originals for global audiences. Their development team made magic happen. Suddenly the show was getting made — but in Poland, in Polish.
Executives from Sony’s AXN gave our team a few notes to freshen up the script, and Opus Film jumped aboard to produce. There was a keen desire to also import the American writers’ room model to Poland, where usually writers assemble for a day or two and then go off on their own. We had five writers get together — with a translator — in February. Chris Barbour, a veteran of “CSI,” fearlessly consulted with them for a month, during which they broke all 10 episodes. The writers went off and wrote then we gave notes. Our translators became invaluable, as we wanted to keep the show funny; Poland is not necessarily known for its humor.
We hired two directors who would each direct five episodes — Jan Komasa and Slawomir Fabicki. Jan hadn’t done TV before and brought a sexy stylish look to the show. We shot it all on location, and block shot the episodes.
Our cast was stellar. Our lead, Marta Nieradkiewicz, brought a fantastic energy to the role. We had a sexy star, Sebastian Fabijanski, who couldn’t walk through a restaurant without getting shyly approached for selfies. We also had the Polish Meryl Streep, Agata Kulesza, who starred in Opus’ Academy Award winning movie, “Ida.” Casting was interesting; not knowing the language, you really do focus on actions and feelings and good acting was easy to translate.
Finally the name had to change. “The Skeleton Crew” didn’t translate to Eastern Europe. They came up with “Ultraviolet” — a riff on what UV light reveals, and also a play on the slang for cops. While it often made me think of the U2 song by the same name, it sounds young and sexy, and ultimately, who doesn’t want that?
The show debuted in October on AXN with impressive reviews and great ratings. We had a number of female journalists observe what I am especially proud of: none of our plots feature sex crimes against women. We have an episode about a smart house that may have killed its owner, a Syrian refugee and a wickedly twisted cold case.
So what’s next? We take advantage of our win in Poland and work to sell this amazing franchise to the US of A as well as other regions of the world and make “Ultraviolet” a global phenomenon.