Speaking at U.K. pay-TV operator Sky’s programming showcase at London’s Tate Modern art museum, on the banks of the Thames River, Wednesday evening, its CEO, Jeremy Darroch, said: “In the 12 years I’ve been running Sky I’ve never seen a lineup on screen like we are going to have in the next year or so.”
The event, described by its host Chris Evans as “the biggest season launch any TV company in Britain has ever undertaken,” was staged in a theater dressed to look like a ritzy jazz lounge, with plush red-velvet seating and art-deco lamps, and chilled champagne and herb-infused olives at every table. The waiting staff were all dressed as bell boys straight out of “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”
In total, Evans held onstage interviews with 33 star guests, who included a paparazzo’s dreamscape of tabloid-ready celebrities, including cricketer and “Top Gear” frontman Freddie Flintoff, soccer player and TV pundit Jamie Redknapp, “Game of Thrones” star Maisie Williams, U.S. TV legend David Schwimmer, Emmy winner Brian Cox, and Oscar nominee Steve Coogan.
But the focus of the night was firmly on the shows… “a proper U.S.-style launch,” according to Evans. Comcast-owned Sky revealed it will offer 80 original series to its British subscribers this year, an increase of 25% year-on-year from last year, together with a 40% boost in the volume of programming from the U.S.
Talking about Sky’s Original productions, Darroch said: “This has become a really, really important part of what we do and what our customers expect from us.” He added: “It’s an area we are going to invest a lot more in in the next few years: we are going to double our investment in Sky Studios,” referring to its recently formed production arm.
He also spoke about Sky Studios Elstree, its planned 32-acre production facility near London, with 14 sound stages, creating 2,000 jobs, and attracting in the first few years around £3 billion ($3.89 billion) in production investments. “I hope it becomes a really major part of the creative ecosystem here in the U.K.,” he said.
Sky managing director of content, Zai Bennett, said there is “an amazing year ahead of us,” and this built on the achievements of last year, in which “we had a coming-of-age for our Sky Original programming.” He added: “We had the show of the year with ‘Chernobyl’,” winner of 10 Emmys.
Among returning shows is “Succession,” starring Cox, “Intelligence,” starring Schwimmer, and the latest iteration of “The Trip…” format, “The Trip to Greece,” with Coogan. New shows included “I Hate Suzie,” with Billie Piper, dark comedy “Two Weeks to Live,” starring Williams, and family comedy “Breeders,” starring Martin Freeman.
On stage, Cox said the response to “Succession,” for which he won a Golden Globe, had been “surprisingly incredible (…) it is kind of humbling,” although he added that it was also “weird.” Asked by Evans how he’d made his character, Logan Roy, “such a bastard,” Cox said: “That’s very easy. I just call on the bastard side of my personality.” He added: “You want to be able to stir the pot, and this show certainly does it.”
He said he preferred not to know what happens to his character in upcoming episodes to build his own anticipation. “The frisson you get from not knowing what you are doing is really exciting,” he said.
Among the debutants, Bennett shone a spotlight on “The Third Day,” starring Naomie Harris and Jude Law. The Sky-HBO show, produced by the experimental theater company Punchdrunk, is being touted as the world’s first immersive TV drama.
Also earning a special presentation was mob thriller “Gangs of London,” starring Sope Dirisu and Joe Cole, from writer/director Gareth Evans. “We feel it is something different. We feel it paints London in a different way,” said Cole, who plays the privately educated son of a gangster, who has to take over the empire after his father is murdered.
Another show trumpeted on the night was the film “Twist,” a modern interpretation of Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist,” starring Michael Caine as Fagin. Raff Law (Jude Law’s son) was on stage to pitch the show, and spoke of the excitement he felt when he heard he’d work with Caine. “Your body language says it all,” Evans commented, as Law clasped his hands together, with his head bowed. “Working with him, honestly, was a dream come true,” he said.
Co-star Sophie Simnett, said Caine “likes to call himself ‘Disco Mike’ because of his past as a great dancer.” “He’s got some moves,” said Law. “Oh yeah, great hips,” added Simnett, who described her character Red – a 2020 version of Nancy – as a “badass feminist… hardcore.”