After Season 7 consistently won its time slot this year on ITV, the network has ordered an eighth season of Law & Order: UK. Shooting starts next month on the British version of the franchise for broadcast in 2014. Bradley Walsh, Georgia Taylor, Paterson Joseph and Dominic Rowan are returning with newcomer Ben Bailey Smith (Derek) joining the force. The new season will be produced by Jane Dauncey. Alison Jackson and Jane Featherstone will executive produce for Kudos Film and Television. The scripts are written by Nick Hicks Beach, Tom Grieves, Richard Stokes, Matt Evans, Jamie Crichton, Louise Ironside and Noel Farragher. Mat King, Joss Agnew and Jill Robertson will direct. Averaging 5.4M viewers, Season 7 maintained a 21.3% share. Previous seasons have aired in the U.S. on BBC America.
Simon Cowell made a surprise appearance at a screening of the first two episodes of The X Factor UK today in London. Of a possible return to the show he departed in 2010, he told the BBC, “I wouldn’t rule it out.” Cowell has been expected to make special appearances on the upcoming season, but up until now word has been that he wouldn’t make a full-time return. Today’s BBC report suggests he didn’t jettison the idea entirely, but he also didn’t elaborate whether his input will be more than occasional guest spots, or potential sit-ins when other judges might sit out. It’s more likely he was speaking about the future, given that the show already has four judges locked for the season that kicks off on August 31: Gary Barlow, Nicole Scherzinger, Louis Walsh and Sharon Osbourne, who is coming back to the show after leaving in 2007. If he were to come back in a ramped-up capacity this year, he’d be shuttling back-and-forth between the British version and Fox’s X Factor in the U.S. The American shows air during the week and the UK episodes are at the weekend meaning he’d be logging quite a bit of fast-turnaround air travel.
Global Showbiz Briefs: Chinese Valentine’s Day A Boxoffice Smash; Zhang Yimou-Gong Li Reunion Rumored; More
Chinese Couples Turn Out In Droves For Valentine’s Day
Chinese Valentine’s Day was a big box office draw for couples, FilmBiz Asia reports. The Tuesday holiday set a record with $22.9M in takings. That was largely down to three films: Pacific Rim, which added $5.74M; sequel Tiny Times 2 with an extra $5.6M: and Fan Bing ringing up a further $4.7M in One Night Surprise. The films were up 81%, 105% and 156%, respectively, compared with Monday, FBA said.
Zhang Yimou Eyeing Screen Reunion With Gong Li?
Also in China, veteran director Zhang Yimou is tipped to be prepping a reteam with actress Gong Li. During a financial conference this week, Le Vision Pictures CEO Zhang Zhao reportedly said the director will shoot Return, “a Cultural Revolution story,” in the fourth quarter of the year. “He has made commercial films for 10 years, and has got fed up. Now he wants to come back to make art house film and collaborate with Gong Li,” the executive reportedly said. According to local media, Return is an adaption of Yan Geling’s novel, The Criminal Lu Yanshi. Geling wrote the source material for Zhang’s Flowers Of War and also collaborated on the script. The director and actress worked together on numerous films including Curse of the Golden Flower, Raise the Red Lantern, The Story of Qiu Ju, and Red Sorghum.
Downton Abbey executive producer Gareth Neame says Season 4 of the hit period drama will demonstrate that the show “never sits back on its laurels. It shakes up and moves on.” Neame spoke with me ahead of a press screening today of the first episode of the new season which brings the action into the Roaring Twenties. The series picks up in 1922, six months after the death of Dan Stevens’ character Matthew Crawley, whose fatal car crash came in the last minutes of the Season 3 Christmas episode. The “spine” of next season will be the fate of his widow, Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery), as she heads to the next stage of her life, Neame tells me. It’s a “heavy situation to kick off with,” but it won’t be all brooding at the Grantham estate. The majority of the goings-on throughout the season will variously be “dramatic, comedic and romantic.” The audience is “still left reeling with the death of Matthew” as it comes to the new season, but Neame says he and Downton creator Julian Fellowes, “have always said that while it was clear we didn’t want to lose Dan, we weren’t able to persuade him (to stay) and so we rethought the whole thing. It was positive for the story.”
Lucan focuses on the life of Lord Lucan, aka Richard John Bingham, the 7th Earl of Lucan, a suspected murderer who disappeared without trace in 1974. ITV has commissioned the two-part drama which examines the events …
The shopping spree by the production company of the UK’s leading private broadcaster continues with the acquisition of Big Talk, the producer of such award-winning comedy series as Rev for the BBC, Channel 4’s Friday Night Dinner and ITV’s recent sitcom The Job Lot, as well as films including Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, which Focus Features bows in the U.S. on August 23. ITV is buying 100% of the company, in which actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are shareholders. The initial payment is expected to be in the neighborhood of £12.5 million, depending on Big Talk’s 2012/13 financial performance, while additional payments will be made on the delivery of target profit growth over the next five years. In addition to ITV, News Corp. Shine also had been in discussions about acquiring Big Talk.
This is the latest buy for ITV, which has been beefing up its production portfolio over the past few months. In December 2012 it acquired a controlling interest in Gurney Productions (Duck Dynasty) followed by majority shares in Thinkfactory Media (Hatfields & McCoys) and High Noon Entertainment (Cake Boss). ITV also has controlling stakes in The Garden and So Television in the UK, Mediacircus in Norway and Tarinatalo in Finland. The company also has been mulling a £90M ($134M) takeover of Scandinavian Nice Entertainment.
The UK’s leading private broadcaster has been on a production company shopping spree over the last several months in both the U.S. and Europe. In December 2012, it acquired a controlling interest in Gurney Productions (Duck Dynasty) followed by majority shares in Thinkfactory Media (Hatfields & McCoys) and High Noon Entertainment (Cake Boss). ITV also has controlling stakes in The Garden and So Television in the UK, Mediacircus in Norway and Tarinatalo in Finland. In a bid to increase its presence in super-hot Scandinavia, the group is now mulling a £90M ($134M) takeover of Nice Entertainment, according to The Sunday Times. The Helsinki-based Nice also has branches in Norway, Denmark and Sweden. It produces over 100 drama and reality series per annum including Hidden Tracks, The Half Brother, Babes On The Bus and Celebrity Babysitter. The Times says that Finnish investment firm Capman has hired Stella Advisors to auction the business which is on course to increase profits by about 35% to $12.8M this year. Sources indicated that other interested parties could include Fremantle, Sony and Time Warner. ITV had £108M in cash at the end of March, but if boss Adam Crozier were to buy Nice, it would be the most expensive acquisition he’s made so far.
In yet another U.S. acquisition, Britain’s ITV is taking a controlling stake in reality, entertainment and drama producer Thinkfactory Media. Among the company’s credits are the award-winning miniseries Hatfields & McCoys. ITV will pay $30M for a 65% share of the company with a put and call option to buy the remaining 35%. The option could be exercised from between 3 years after the initial deal and at the end of year 5 with the total amount paid linked to the performance of the company over that period. Late last year, ITV acquired a controlling interest in Duck Dynasty producer Gurney Productions and in May it took a slice of Cake Boss maker High Noon Entertainment. Other recent acquisitions include UK production company The Garden. The takeovers are part of ITV’s five-year Transformation Plan.
LA-based Thinkfactory was founded in 1992 by Leslie Greif. Its portfolio includes R&B Divas, Preachers’ Daughters, Marriage Bootcamp and The Hook-Up as well as new drama series Texas Rangers for the History Channel.
From Downton Abbey to Mr. Selfridge to Broadchurch, the UK’s ITV has been enjoying a successful run of original drama series. Looking to continue the trend, the network has just ordered a second four-part outing for Inspector Morse …
Global Showbiz Briefs: Tom Hardy Hosts ‘Poaching Wars’; Big Bucks For Aussie Cricket; ITV Preps Singing Show; More
Tom Hardy To Host ITV’s ‘Poaching Wars’
Tom Hardy will host ITV documentary series Poaching Wars With Tom Hardy, a look at the wholesale wildlife poaching crisis in Africa. ITV says the actor conceived the proposition for …