ITV, the UK’s leading — and highly acquisitive — commercial broadcaster said this morning that it’s on track to deliver another year of growth despite a 3% drop in viewing figures for the flagship channel over the first six months of 2014. In releasing its half-year results, the company says external revenues are up 7% to £1,225M ($2,074M). That includes increases in non-advertising, online, pay, interactive, and ITV Studios revenues. The latter, which is one of the key areas the company has been focusing on, is up 2% to £402M ($681M). ITV has acquired a slew of independent production companies over the past nearly two years, most recently taking 80% of Pawn Stars maker Leftfield Entertainment. The broadcaster has also been on a transformation plan to reduce debt and says its total cost savings for the full year is ahead of target at about £15M ($25.4M). The acquisitions, it says, will “ensure continued good growth in ITV Studios this year and into next year” while a return to organic growth will be seen in 2015 helped by investment in scripted programming. The evolving strategy will include an increasing emphasis on international content creation and distribution. However, ITV is not expecting to be acquired itself. Liberty Global recently bought BSkyB’s 6.4% holding in ITV, but boss Adam Crozier said today that the broadcaster doesn’t plan to sell parts of its business. “We are certainly not considering selling off any parts of this business; …
Downton Abbey’s fifth season will debut on January 4, PBS chief Paula Kerger said this morning. She boasted the fourth season was up 16% year over year — among the reasons PBS will not consider an airdate that more closely coincides with the British play-pattern — and that the Masterpiece franchise within which Downton Abbey airs is up 24%. “We’re extremely proud of this growth and continue to focus on Sunday night drama,” she told TV critics at TCA Summer TV Press Tour 2014.
As for Sherlock, Kerger said PBS did not yet have word as to when it would be ready for air. “Because it’s coming from our partners in the UK, we have to wait to know when it will be finished,” Kerger said. “But, whenever it comes we’ll put it in a wonderful place and we know the next season is going to be terrific,” she added.
Likewise, Kerger said she had no airdate for the return of Mr. Selfridge, starring Jeremy Piven. That franchise’s renewal for a third season was announced by its British producer in February, saying only that it would air in 2015.
Cor blimey, the British aren’t coming — they’re here to stay. Including Ricky Gervais’ surprise Emmy nomination as Lead Actor in a Comedy series for Derek this morning, there are 15 nods for Brits in the acting races this year. If we add voice-overs, Jeremy Irons and Daniel Craig would make it 17 performance nods. Last year, there were 14 total.
British actors have been plying their trade in U.S. series for ages, but this crop boasts a lot of British-based (or instigated) productions and co-productions rather than U.S. shows à la Homeland. The UK TV tax credit has encouraged British broadcasters to strive for increasingly ambitious productions.
Along with Gervais, whose Derek was originally commissioned for Channel 4 before being picked up by Netflix, there’s a big group from perennial Downton Abbey, a co-pro of Carnival Films and Masterpiece; a first Emmy nod for Golden Globe nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor in BBC miniseries Dancing On The Edge, which Starz airs Stateside; Idris Elba in Luther, another BBC show that goes out on BBC America; and Helena Bonham Carter playing the British-American Elizabeth Taylor in BBC and BBC America co-pro Burton & Taylor. And, of course, Sherlock is back this year. Benedict Cumberbatch scored a Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie spot …
The period surrounding World War I, Prohibition and the Great Depression has been skillfully and realistically reflected in such shows as PBS’ Downton Abbey, HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and Lifetime’s Bonnie & Clyde. While each program’s storyline illustrates how world events shaped the lives of their characters, the physical surroundings—rendered in minute detail—really drive the narrative home. Such is the work of a production designer. The old Hindu saying, “The world is like the impression left by the telling of a story,” is analogous to the role of his craft, says production designer Bill Groom, who has won two Emmys for his work on HBO’s Prohibition-era drama Boardwalk Empire. “As designers, we leave the evidence behind of a person’s life, and we do it in advance—it’s captured in film and then told back to the audience. We create rooms where a person sometimes has lived for 40 years,” he says.
Global Showbiz Briefs: Sue Johnston Joins ‘Downton Abbey’; ‘Gone Girl’ Author Gillian Flynn To Pen ‘Hamlet’ Retelling
Downton Abbey has added Sue Johnston to the cast for season five. The actress, known largely in the UK for Waking The Dead, The Royle Family and soap Coronation Street, will have the formidable task of playing Denker, Lady’s Maid to Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess. Johnston joins other previously annonced guest actors, Richard E. Grant, Anna Chancellor and Rade Sherbedgia. The Carnival Films produced ITV saga returns in the fall to the UK.
Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn is the latest novelist to join the Hogarth Shakespeare project which provides new takes on the works of the Bard. Flynn, who also scripted David Fincher’s upcoming adaptation of Gone Girl for the screen, will tackle Hamlet. The Hogarth Shakespeare program is an international publishing initiative from the Penguin Random House imprint. Per the BBC, Flynn said, “Hamlet has long been a fascination of mine: murder, betrayal, revenge, deceit, madness ‒ all my favorite things.” Flynn joins a coterie of authors who are contributing to the project including Jo Nesbo, Tracy Chevalier, Margaret Atwood, Howard Jacobson, Anne Tyle and Jeanette Winterson. The novels will be released simultaneously in 2016 to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.
Global Showbiz Briefs: ‘Downton Abbey’ & ‘Doctor Who’ Among BAFTA Craft Award Winners; ‘Rising Star’ Hot In Portugal; More
‘Strictly Come Dancing’ Takes Top Prize At BAFTA Craft Awards
Strictly Come Dancing took the Special Award at the BAFTA Craft Awards on Sunday night in London. The trophy show that honors behind-the-scenes talent in UK TV also gave a pair of awards to gangster drama Peaky Blinders and nods to such popular shows as Downton Abbey (costume design), Doctor Who: The Day Of The Doctor (special, visual and graphic effects) and Broadchurch (original music). The full list of winners is here.
‘Rising Star’ Test Show Is Big In Portugal
Portuguese broadcaster TVI drew an audience of more than 1.5 million for its live audience test of the local version of Rising Star (A Proxima Estrella) ahead of its May 4 premiere. Sunday’s test pulled an average audience share of 31% and a 16 rating. The show, hosted by popular Portuguese reality presenter Leonor Poeiras, is based on Keshet’s interactive format that has been sold around the world. Its U.S. version bows June 22 on ABC.
Scott Gregg Upped to EVP At Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution
Scott Gregg has been promoted to EVP Sales Operations at Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution. In his expanded position, the 18-year company veteran will continue to manage all …
An average of 8.5 million viewers tuned in for Downton Abbey‘s fourth season finale last night. That’s a personal finale best for the period drama on PBS. The Season 3 finale drew 8.2 million viewers on February 17 last year, a 50% surge from the Season 2 ender in 2012.
This season opened on January 5 with 10.2 million tuned in – up 22% compared to the Season 3 debut of 7.9 million which, in turn had been a leap from the series Season 2 launch crowd of 4.2 mil. Even before this latest cycle started, Downton Abbey has been the highest-rated drama in PBS history.
Carnival Films and ITV have set a handful of new names to join the cast of Downton Abbey as it heads into its 5th season. Richard E. Grant will play Simon Bricker who visits the estate as a guest of the Granthams. Anna Chancellor (The Hour), fresh off a West End production of Private Lives, is also coming aboard in the guest role of Lady Anstruther. Rade Sherbedgia (Snatch, Taken 2) will play Russian refugee, Kuragin, who has fled the Russian revolution after World War I. Downton executive producer Gareth Neame said, “We are delighted to welcome these talented actors to the world of Downton. The characters they play are set to bring yet more excitement and intrigue to the show.” Returning guest cast member Dame Harriet Walter will also reprise her role as Lady Shackleton, and Peter Egan will return as Lord Flintshire. Last season, the series added a host of actors in key roles, including bringing Paul Giamatti on for the Christmas movie.
Season 4 of Downton saw the period drama’s strongest ever launch in the UK, with 12M viewers and a 40% share. It averaged 11.8M viewers across the run. In the U.S., its January bow hit a record high of 15M viewers. Season 5 will run for the usual eight episodes and a two-hour Christmas special. Returning …
While an estimated 111.5 million viewers watched the Seattle Seahawks pulverize the Denver Broncos on Fox on Sunday (up from last year’s 109 million Super Bowl viewers) , 6.8 million viewers opted instead to watch some actual drama over on PBS’s Downton Abbey – celebrating its third consecutive year as The Show That Did Best Against The Super Bowl.
According to Nielsen early stats, Downton’s 6.8 million viewers is a 3% climb compared to last year’s 6.6 million opposite the Super Bowl. This is no surprise, given the washout-ed-ness of yesterday’s football game, and the been-there-done-that-ed-ness of the Super Bowl ads — versus the high drama of the Downton episode — SPOILER ALERT — in which a big surprise birthday party was thrown for Robert, Edith found out she’s pregnant, Lady Mary caught Rose kissing Jack Ross, and the downstairs staff said good-bye to Alfred!
To put Downton’s 6.8 million viewers in some perspective, this season — Downton’s fourth — ,opened on January 5 with 10.2 million tuned in – up 22% compared to the Season 3 debut of 7.9 million.
PBS and MASTERPIECE kicked off the #DramaBowlPBS rivalry with the Big Game on Wednesday, January 29, with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and posts on other social media platforms asking fans “which team are you on?” The campaign posts and images saw tens of thousands of user interactions, generating 31.5 million potential impressions on Twitter and nearly 1.2 million post views, …
TCA: PBS Chief Paula Kerger Announces ‘Vicious’ Premiere Date, Teases Ken Burns Country Music Docu, Talks ‘Downton Abbey’
PBS has announced the premiere date of the Britcom Vicious, starring Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi as a gay couple who have been together nearly half a century. The six-part series, which PBS acquired from Shine International in October, will air on Sundays and premiere July 6 at 10:30 PM. Meanwhile, Jacobi’s drama Last Tango In Halifax has been ordered for a second season, returning June 29, PBS chief Paula Kerger announced this morning at TCA. Also unveiled: Ken Burns is working on a a documentary series about country music — though it won’t air until 2018, Kerger said this morning. Country Music will follow its evolution of over the course of the 20th century as it “eventually emerged to become America’s music,” PBS claimed in its announcement.
And, PBS will never, ever air Downton Abbey seasons closer to its UK run, Kerger indicated — hopefully putting a stake in that debate for press tours ever after. Kerger cited this month’s Season 4 debut audience – 10.2 million viewers, which was a 22% jump compared to the Season 3 opener (7.9 million), which itself had been a leap from the series Season 2 launch crowd of 4.2 mil. Downton is PBS’ highest rated drama ever. ”It’s become a bit of tradition after the holidays to come together to watch Downton,” Kerger said happily. “The audience build over the years…argues to keep the January time frame,” she said. And, of course, a fall launch coinciding with the UK’s Downton season would put it in the teeth of the commercial broadcast network’s fall-season rollout, which, she noted, TV critics in the room had criticized PBS for doing in the past. Not to mention that the series’ UK broadcaster determines its debut date not terribly long before it actually happens — no weeks and weeks of promotions, as is the norm in the U.S. PBS cannot upstage the show in the UK.
Starz‘s new swashbuckling pirate adventure series/Treasure Island prequel from Michael Bay goes 24 full minutes without nudity, which is a record for the pay cable network, a TV critic announced during the Black Sails Q&A session at TCA where Starz also released a new trailer for the new series. (watch below) The critic then asked Starz if being the “boobs and blood” network is something it embraces. To their credit, everyone from Starz who was in the room resisted the urge to hit the critic over the head with a blunt instrument. Instead, they explained that it’s “part of the possibility of pay TV” that Starz can tell stories without ad breaks, and without broadcast or even basic cable TV content restrictions. And, of course, Not Gratuitous.
Show creator/exec producer Jonathan Steinberg told the TV critics he’d never felt pressure to make this show sexier, or more violent. The show is violent, and the violence is sudden “the way violence feels in real life,” he explained. And, in re sex, he noted the pirates “almost certainly had sex in a world where none of them had job and they can kind of do what they will. I don’t think it ever gets gratuitous.”
Star Toby Stephens, Maggie Smith’s son, who has done his share of drawing-room period dramas, was asked if he watched his mom on Downton Abbey and if he prefers drawing room dramas or Black Sails. “I would any day of the week prefer to do the show I’m doing now,” he said. “I appreciate Downton for what it is. I have to say I don’t regularly tune in. It’s not the kind of show that I enjoy. I appreciate what my mom does in it, and she’s great in it. It’s not what I enjoy watching. This kind of thing is like going on an exotic vacation,” he said of Black Sails. In the UK, he said, “we do a lot of that the kind of stuff like Downton, and a lot of detective stuff. For me, that’s kind of like ‘Seen that, done it’. I don’t want to do it for the rest of my life.”
Global Showbiz Briefs: Mongrel Media Picks Up ‘100-Year-Old Man’ For Canada; Gareth Neame Reacts To Julian Fellowes’ ‘Downton Abbey’ Comments; More
Mongrel Has Date With ’100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out A Window’
Canada’s Mongrel Media has acquired the Swedish hit The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out A Window And Disappeared. Felix Herngren’s film is an adaption of Jonas Jonasson’s best-selling novel. It’s scored big in Scandinavia so far, earning $11.4M in 12 days of release in Sweden, and has been the top movie from the region at the box office in Norway and Denmark. The film is the lighthearted story of a healthy centenarian who decides it’s not too late to start over. When Allan (Robert Gustafsson) lands in a nursing home, he refuses to celebrate his 100th birthday and instead escapes out a window to embark on a journey that involves a suitcase of cash and a gang of criminals. Flashbacks reveal that Allan also played a key role in 20th century history when he was pals with U.S. presidents and Russian tyrants. Mongrel, which acquired all Canadian rights from StudioCanal, will release it in summer this year.
‘Downton Abbey’ Creator Responds To Julian Fellowes Remarks
Earlier this week, I noted there had been some breathless reporting about comments made by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes in a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal. Queried by the paper on Downton, Fellowes said he didn’t “know yet if there is a season 6, but it’s not going to go on forever. It won’t be Perry Mason.” This led to rampant headlines about the possible demise of the hit Brit period drama that just debuted its 4th season in the U.S. The response prompted Downton executive producer Gareth Neame to release a statement today to calm things down. “I can confirm that there are no plans to end the show after the fifth series,” he said. “ITV commission each series on a year-by-year basis. In an interview given to The Wall Street Journal, Julian Fellowes stated that the show would not go on forever (inevitable of course and something both he and I have been on the record for previously). For now ITV have commissioned series five, and that is what we are busy preparing,” Neame said. It’s long been known that Fellowes is signed on for NBC drama The Gilded Age with a script commitment and significant penalty attached. He’s previously said that if NBC picks up the show, he’ll be writing it when Downton “finishes.” Neame will be collaborating with Fellowes on The Gilded Age.
Global Showbiz Briefs: China Lifts Video Game Console Ban; Fox Turkey Appointment; News Corp Commits To London; Sports Rights; ‘Downton’
China’s State Council has temporarily repealed a ban on selling foreign video game consoles, Reuters reports this morning. The move had been expected and will open up a path for the likes of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo to sell their wares after a 14-year block. Now, “foreign-invested enterprises” will be allowed to make game consoles within Shanghai’s free trade zone and sell them in China after inspection by cultural departments. Consoles were initially banned in 2000 over concern that gaming would harm young people. Reuters says the growing market is worth a potential $14B.
Fox Turkey has appointed Shebnem Askin as EVP of programming. She was previously SVP of international acquisitions and sales at Fox International Productions and will take up her new role immediately. Her mandate will cover building on Fox Turkey’s entertainment offering and commissioning, acquiring and scheduling film, drama, factual, kids and event entertainment programming in addition to working with Fox Turkey’s channel partners in the increasingly hot TV territory. At FIP, Askin was a key player on co-productions and acquisitions including Mexico’s Academy Award entry Miss.BALA; Gaumont’s upcoming Mea Culpa directed by Fred Cavaye; and Sundance prize winner Metro Manila.
While the phone-hacking trials involving a number of its former staff continue in Britain, News Corp Monday signaled its “long term …
The BBC‘s Doctor Who Christmas special, The Time Of The Doctor, was the most-watched drama, and the second most-watched program, in Britain yesterday. The show, which saw Matt Smith’s departure as the 11th Doctor, and Peter Capaldi’s entrance as the new Time Lord, was seen by 8.29M people for a 30.7% share according to the overnights. It also had the highest peak audience with 10.2M viewers at 8:25 PM, the last few minutes of the broadcast. Despite battering storms that left thousands without power on Wednesday, the figures are higher than last year’s festive ep which was seen by 7.59M people. After the show, the exiting Smith tweeted: “To the Whoniverse, thanks a million. You’re the best. I’ll miss you. And I’ll miss the madness.” On ITV, the Downton Abbey Christmas special, which aired in the 8:30-10:30 PM slot, picked up a 27% share with an average 7.01M viewers tuning in to see the Crawleys on a trip to London. The episode brought back Shirley MacLaine as Cora’s mother Martha Levinson, and introduced Paul Giamatti as her brother Harold. It was off last year’s Christmas special, which included the shocking death of Matthew Crawley, and was seen by 7.32M. Season Four is now officially over in the UK, but it starts Stateside on January 5th on Masterpiece …
Mild Spoiler Alert…
Although Downton Abbey‘s fourth season doesn’t begin airing in the U.S. for another few weeks, the regular UK season wrapped last month and the Christmas special is now nearly here. As is custom, the episode will air over two hours on Britain’s ITV on December 25th. It will air Stateside at the end of S4′s Masterpiece run which begins January 5th. The teaser below offers a glimpse of Shirley MacLaine in her return as Cora’s mother Martha Levinson, and of Paul Giamatti as Cora’s brother Harold. While not terribly spoilerish, those who’ve seen nothing of the fourth season may want to think twice before clicking play.