Starz has partnered with the BBC on the British broadcaster’s eight-episode limited drama series The Missing. Starz will co-produce the project, starring James Nesbitt (The Hobbit trilogy), which has begun filming in Brussels. Written by Harry and Jack Williams and directed by Tom Shankland, the thriller will air on BBC One in the UK and Starz in the U.S. in fall 2014. It is produced by New Pictures and Company Pictures in association with Two Brothers Pictures and Colin Callender’s Playground. All3media International has funded development of The Missing and retains all U.S. rights not obtained by Starz. Missing reunites the auspices behind The White Queen limited series, which was a success for Starz; it also hailed from BBC One, Company Pictures, Playground and all3media.
Like any change to a well-established model, the networks’ efforts to break away from the traditional development cycle is undergoing growing pains. There have been issues for studios who don’t have a pilot to show to international buyers at the May screenings because production has been shifted to off-season or because projects have received what Fox refers to “an off-cycle commitment for further investment towards series production,” meaning an order for backup scripts and a bible but no tape. Then there is the issue for writers hired on the projects that have no formal green light.
This is not a new phenomenon — Starz, for example, assembles a writers room and gets scripts ready as part of its development process because it only orders projects straight to series. But more and more broadcast networks are now embracing the off-cycle and straight to series models and, hedging their bets, invest in small writers rooms (an average of 3 people) working for 4-10 weeks to produce multiple scripts and a bible that network brass evaluate before making an episodic commitment. Fox and NBC have been the most active in the field, with the others also exploring the idea. The model has raised concerns for writers as it allows the studio to hire scribes at scale (minimum pay) per WGA article 14 (“writers in additional capacity”) and not adhere to writers’ “quotes,” which is the per-episode fee to which they are entitled based on experience. It also allows studios to ask for lengthy holds of up to 6-8 months on the writers after they finish work while the network makes a decision on the series.
Starz has given an official series pickup to Survivor’s Remorse, a half-hour scripted comedy series executive produced by NBA star LeBron James, Mike O’Malley, Tom Werner, James’ manager Maverick Carter and Paul Wachter. I hear the order is for 6 episodes. The project, written by O’Malley, had been on fast-track development and considered a front-runner for the Q4 slot that became open in December when Starz pulled out of its commitment to Sky Atlantic’s upcoming drama series Fortitude. Survivor’s Remorse, which had assembled a small writers room and had started preliminary casting for the two leads in anticipation of a series pickup, will debut next fall. Its green light comes on the heels of Starz ordering ballet drama Flesh And Bone for 2015.
Starz has picked its next original series, giving a series order to drama Flesh and Bone, created/executive produced by Moira Walley-Beckett (Breaking Bad) and executive produced by Lawrence Bender, Kevin Brown and John Melfi. The green light comes after an extensive nationwide search involving thousands of hopefuls resulted in the casting of dancer Sarah Hay (Black Swan) in the lead role. Flesh And Bone follows a young ballet dancer, Claire (Hay), who has a distinctly troubled past, as she joins a prestigious ballet company in New York. The dark and gritty series will unflinchingly explore the dysfunction and glamour of the ballet world. “From the beginning, we all agreed this project could not go forward unless we found a world class dancer who had the ability to convey the widest range of emotions that Moira has written,” sais Starz CEO Chris Albrecht. “This is one of the most challenging and dynamic characters I have even seen and am thrilled to say we found our Claire in Ms. Hay.” Added Moira Walley-Beckett, “Sarah Hay embodies the role of Claire just as I dreamt her.”
Flesh and Bone had been on the fast track, picking up speed in November when the project locked in four accomplished dancers for supporting roles,
Global Showbiz Briefs: ‘Ellen’ Is First U.S. Daytime Talk Show In China; Starz’s ‘Power’ To Premiere At MIP-TV; More
China’s First Daily U.S. Talker? ‘The Ellen DeGeneres Show’
The Ellen DeGeneres Show has become the first U.S. daily talk show to be carried in China with the current 11th season now available on-demand via online video service provider Sohu Video. Episodes of the Warner Bros International Television Distribution property will be subtitled in Chinese and delivered within 48 hours of the original U.S. broadcast. Ellen is the top-rated daytime talk show in the U.S. with women 25-54. The talker seems well-suited to the Chinese audience with its brand of family-friendly humor and big stars. Here’s a clip of DeGeneres welcoming her new audience:
Starz’s ‘Power’ To Premiere At MIP-TV
Power, the Starz original series exec produced by Curtis Jackson (aka 50 Cent) will have its world premiere at this April’s MIP-TV market in Cannes. MIP-TV and sister market Mipcom have been increasingly drawing big-ticket premieres and talent to the Riviera in recent editions. In October, Mipcom hosted the world premiere of The Tunnel, the Franco-British adaptation of The Bridge. The eight-episode first season of Power was created by showrunner Courtney Kemp Agboh. Jackson also stars in the story of a wealthy New York City nightclub owner (Omari Hardwick) who caters to the city’s elite. He’s also living a double life as the kingpin of the most lucrative drug network in New York. His marriage, family and business all become unknowingly threatened as he is tempted to leave his criminal life behind and become the rags-to-riches businessman he has always dreamed. Mark Canton, Randall Emmett and David Knoller also serve as executive producers. The screening will be held April 7.
It has already been a great day for the legions of (predominantly female) fans of Diana Gabaldon‘s wildly popular Outlander time-travel romantic novels as Starz released a new image from its series adaptation of the first book depicting hero Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) shirtless. Here is more good news for them: Sony TV-produced Outlander, currently in production on its 16-episode freshman season, will do at least one more. “I would be shocked if we didn’t do the second book,” Starz CEO Chris Albrecht told me after the Scotland-set show’s session at TCA that featured writer and showrunner Ron Moore in a kilt. It is not only the enormous and enormously passionate fan base of the books, though that is not lost on Starz brass. Albrecht said he is very high on the early footage he has seen and didn’t spare praise for Battlestar Galactica developer/executive producer Moore’s skills as a top-notch writer and producer.
Even without the big vote of confidence from Albrecht, Outlander has the odds in its favor as all original dramas ordered by Albrecht have gone to second season with one exception, Camelot. I asked Albrecht about Starz’s “two-season curse” as no series since Spartacus has been able to go to a third season.
“You want a show that really makes a difference,” he said. The exec believes that good serialized dramas need time to reach their potential, which explains his willingness to hand freshman series a second season, but if he feels a show won’t go to the next level, he doesn’t have much trepidation about pulling the plug. (Albrecht did, however, regret the Kelsey Grammer drama Boss not getting a satisfying closure at the end of its two-season run the way Magic City did.) “TV shows are assets, not shrines,” he said. “You put them on; if they do the job, you keep them, if they don’t, you don’t.”
Obsessive fans of the wildly popular time travel romance Outlander may notice/object to Starz‘s adaptation’s different opening in the thick of World War II, but author Diana Gabaldon approved of the change, she told TV critics at Winter TV Press Tour 2014.
Exec producer Ron Moore won her over with his argument that the show should open with heroine Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) serving as a nurse in a field hospital. “It shows her being the competent and resilient person that she is.” Gabaldon said.
The Outlander series spans the genres of romance, science fiction, history and adventure in one epic tale. It follows the story of Claire Randall, a married combat nurse from 1945 who is mysteriously swept back in time to 1743 where she is immediately thrown into an unknown world where her life is threatened. She is forced to marry Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) a young Scottish warrior, and a passionate affair is ignited that tears Claire’s heart between two vastly different men.
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.”
At the top of Starz‘s TCA session, CEO Chris Albrecht did his semi-annual State Of The Network overview, laying out his programming plans for the next year. Starz will continue to push into original programming, which accounts for almost half of Starz’s top telecasts despite representing only 5% of the pay cable’s network schedule and has fueled Starz’s streak of eight consecutive quarters of subscriber growth. First off this year is the January 25 premiere of pirate drama Black Sails, which already has been renewed for a second season — a move Albrecht called “a good and economically responsible” decision following the enthusiastic response at Comic-Con. It will be followed by the second season of Da Vinci’s Demons, which Albrecht announced will premiere on March 22; the contemporary crime underworld drama Power in late spring; and Ron Moore’s adaptation of the blockbuster Outlander books in Q3. Starz had originally slotted Sky Atlantic’s upcoming drama series Fortitude for the fourth quarter. Last month, Starz pulled out of the project because of its changed filming schedule. The network put several internal projects on fast track — including ballet drama Flesh And Bone, which already has been casting and has hired a choreographer; Survivor’s Remorse, exec produced by LeBron James; and WonderWorld, set in Ronald Reagan’s America — and Albrecht today said he plans to make a decision on which one would fill the Q3 series slot within the next couple of weeks.
Back in April, Starz committed to Sky Atlantic’s upcoming drama series Fortitude to air on the U.S. pay cable network in Q4 next year. That is no longer the plan. “Due to changes in the Sky Atlantic production of Fortitude, Starz …
EXCLUSIVE: Starz is fast-tracking its ballet drama project, now titled Flesh And Bone. No formal green light yet, but the show, from executive producers Lawrence Bender, Kevin Brown and John Melfi and creator/exec producer Moira Walley-Beckett (Breaking Bad), has been actively casting, locking in four accomplished dancers for supporting roles. Additionally, Ethan Stiefel, star of the movies Center Stage and Center Stage: Turn It Up, has joined the project as consultant and choreographer. He is the artistic director of the Royal New Zealand Ballet and was a principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre from 1997-2012. Nationwide search for the lead role, Claire Robbins, continues, with more than 1,000 dancers already auditioned. Described as a dark and gritty exploration of the dysfunction and glamour of the ballet world, Flesh And Bone follows a young ballet dancer, Claire, who has a distinctly troubled past, as she joins a prestigious ballet company in New York. Cast in key supporting roles are former American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Irina Dvorovenko, current American Ballet Theatre soloist Sascha Radetsky (Center Stage), Ballet Arizona company dancer Raychel Diane Weiner, and Emily Tyra (Boardwalk Empire).
Investors who want to know whether Starz is a good bet will hear CEO Chris Albrecht’s sales pitch at a meeting later today. But based on his comments to CNBC’s David Faber this morning, they can expect to hear him vigorously defend his strategy to replace some of his Hollywood …