×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Shadow,’ ‘The Girl From St. Agnes’ Take South African TV Worldwide

South African producers have struck a string of international co-production deals in recent months that are poised to push scripted drama series from the Rainbow Nation onto the global stage.

“We’re very excited about the opportunity to take African stories to the world,” says Yolisa Phahle, CEO for general entertainment at the MultiChoice Group, which includes pay-TV heavyweight DStv and the M-Net group of channels. “It’s all about finding the biggest, best and leading producers of drama in the world to help us distribute our stories.”

MultiChoice is planning to develop three to four scripted drama series with international partners per year. In development are “Trackers,” a six-part TV adaptation of the novel by bestselling South African author Deon Meyer, which is being produced with German broadcaster ZDF; and “Reyka,” a crime series it’s producing with the U.K.’s Serena Cullen Prods. and Emmy-nominated South African production company Quizzical Pictures, which will be distributed by Fremantle Intl.

In a show of confidence in the local TV biz, Netflix has commissioned its first two South African series: “Queen Sono,” starring veteran actress Pearl Thusi (“Quantico”) as a secret agent, and the teen drama “Blood & Water.” It also swooped up global rights for “Shadow,” a locally produced series about an ex-cop with super powers searching for redemption while fighting crime in the underworld of Johannesburg.

Gareth Crocker, “Shadow’s” writer and co-director, says that the raft of new buyers entering the South African market “is providing some welcome and long-overdue competition for content.” In the case of his show, that meant executive producers could bypass local broadcasters — the most surefire way to finance a series in South Africa — in order to retain rights for a show they believed had global potential.

“Producers have more of an option and can be slightly more discerning as to where they place their shows,” he says. “Now that we have established our own credentials … we’re certainly looking to expand our own horizons.”

With the spate of recent deals, Quizzical’s Harriet Gavshon says there’s been a noticeable shift away from South Africa’s established locations biz, which has serviced the likes of Starz’s “Black Sails” and Netflix’s “Black Mirror,” toward homegrown stories.

“South Africa has always been a good playground for service provision … because we’ve got very good skills here. But people have had to compromise the product to cater for a global audience,” she says. “Whereas now, we’re talking about work that’s generated by … South African writers, which I think is a very important development.”

One prime example is “The Girl From St. Agnes,” a murder mystery series set at an elite South African boarding school, which was produced by Quizzical with MultiChoice’s Showmax SVOD service and is being repped by Red Arrow at MipTV.

Another highly anticipated project is “Resolution 418,” an apartheid-era miniseries based on the true story of the sabotage of a nuclear power plant. Developed by South Africa’s Known Associates Entertainment in partnership with Gaumont and L.A.-based Ideas for Film, it will be directed by acclaimed South African helmer Oliver Schmitz.

The surge in outward-looking series comes at a natural time in the era of global drama. But it also comes as local networks struggle to spread their own wings. Public broadcaster SABC has been mired in scandals and budget woes for nearly a decade, while cash shortfalls at private networks have diminished the ambitions of an industry that once served up powerful dramas in the early years after apartheid.

“I don’t think [local broadcasters] have ever seen themselves as people that could finance content that not only sits on their platforms but [also] can travel — that they can monetize across the planet,” says Kagiso Lediga, creator and director of “Queen Sono.” “The content has become quite narrow in its scope.”

For an industry that’s known for making the most of the limited resources at its disposal, the arrival of Netflix and other global players will offer a much-needed boost, both financially and creatively. But it might also offer an opportunity for local broadcasters to reboot and rethink their own content strategies.

“These global deals take so long to get off the ground,” says Gavshon, who’s also developing a series with an American cable network. “We’re still obviously very interested in our own audiences, too. More and more, those audiences are going to merge.”

More TV

  • Game of Thrones finale

    Six Things We Learned From 'Game of Thrones: The Last Watch' Documentary

    HBO gave fans a long parting look at the making of “Game of Thrones” on Sunday night in a two-hour documentary that focused on the Herculean efforts by the small army craft and technical experts who worked on the mammoth fantasy drama. “Game of Thrones: The Last Watch” introduced viewers to the leaders of the [...]

  • 'Killing Eve' Season 2 Failed Where

    'Killing Eve' Season 2 Stumbled Where 'Barry' Soared (Column)

    SPOILER ALERT: This article contains spoilers for the entire second seasons of “Killing Eve” and “Barry.”  I was dead certain that “Killing Eve” and “Barry” — two of my favorite television debuts of 2018 — should have ended after a single season. Both coincidentally starring unstable assassins, the shows were smart, propulsive, and extremely weird [...]

  • A.P. BIO -- "Melvin" Episode 208

    'AP Bio' Canceled After Two Seasons at NBC

    “AP Bio” has been canceled at NBC. Series creator Mike O’Brien shared the news with fans on Twitter, writing that “This has been my favorite project of my life.” In the single-camera comedy, Glenn Howerton portrayed a disgraced Harvard philosophy scholar who lost out on his dream job and was forced to return to Toledo, [...]

  • James Holzhauer $2 million

    'Jeopardy!' Champion James Holzhauer Hits $2 Million Winnings Milestone

    This current “Jeopardy!” player has just won over $2 million on the popular game show. Who is James Holzhauer? The 34 year old professional sports gambler from Las Vegas has hit a “Jeopardy!” milestone by becoming only the second person in the show’s history to win over $2 million in regular season play. Holzhauer won [...]

  • Kanye West Shares a Memory of

    Kanye West Shares a Touching Memory of His Mother in Letterman Interview

    In a preview of David Letterman’s interview with Kanye West, which begins streaming next Friday, May 31, the musician’s wife Kim Kardashian West, tweeted a clip of him sharing a touching memory of his mother, Donda, who died in 2007 after a surgical procedure. While his wife looks on smiling, West answers Letterman’s question about [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content