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Saturday 28 March 2009

Eleventh Hour back in the UK

According to The Guardian, Virgin Media's Living TV has picked up the first US season of Eleventh Hour for screening from April 8th.
The show, from CSI producer Jerry Bruckheimer, has been one of the biggest hits of the US TV season, averaging around 12 million viewers on CBS.

The drama stars British actor Rufus Sewell as biophysicist Dr Jacob Hood who investigates scientific crises and oddities. It is based on the British series by Stephen Gallagher.

The drama will air on Living, owned by Virgin Media Television, later this year after the cable and satellite channel completed a deal with Warner Bros International Television Distribution.

The Virgin Media Television head of acquisitions, Amy Barham, said: "Strong, compelling with hard-hitting storylines and a great cast, including an amazing performance from Rufus Sewell, Eleventh Hour is a great addition to Living's drama line up."

Living TV already has a number of US series in rerun, including the CSIs, Without A Trace, and Cold Case. But I'm told that they aggressively pursued exclusive rights in Eleventh Hour in order to get the first run of a Bruckheimer show. David Allen on the Techwatch industry news site explains the move thus:
Living TV is part of the Virgin Media Group, which has stated that it intends to sell off the content division UKTV. Bringing in a top show like this should make the figures look attractive to any potential new owner.
I'll try to get confirmation on that April 8th date. If it's correct then the UK run of the show will pick up as the season ends in the US. I've now seen a pre-air of Medea, my second script for the show and the season finale, and I'm absurdly happy with what I saw.

The white-hot speed of creation and production really pays off. Taking a year or more to develop something pretty much guarantees that it'll have drifted away from you by the end of the process. The actual writing hours are about the same; the damage lies in the weeks and months it can take others to read and respond. On this story I don't think I had to wait more than 48 hours for any notes call, and the average notes conference lasted 20 minutes. And then - I don't know if this is universal practice, or specific to the Bruckheimer method - within the hour I'd get an email with my outline or script attached, footnoted with all the comments from the discussion.

I ran the pre-air on my computer but I'm saving the family screening until I get hold of a copy of the broadcast version. Pre-airs and screeners aren't the show yet. They're working drafts with temp music, missing effects, and low-res watermarked library shots; if you see one and then see the real thing you notice a significant difference.

Which makes it very hard for me to understand those people who'll sit through a camcorder-pirated movie, all the while gloating over how they're sticking it to The Man.

Sunday 22 March 2009

Young Sherlock

Happy to see that my old friend Andy Lane is the writer chosen to helm a series of Young Sherlock Holmes adventures approved by the Estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

According to the announcement on the United Agents site, "The Colossal Schemes of Baron Maupertuis (is) due to be published in Spring 2010. The books will begin in the 1860s and will detail the life of a 14-year-old Sherlock Holmes."

The books will be published by Macmillan and the initial deal is for three novels.

Friday 20 March 2009

David Stockton

Congratulations to David Stockton on winning the American Society of Cinematographers Outstanding Achievement Award for his work on the Eleventh Hour pilot.

From the ASC's website:
“Cinematographers are people with unique abilities who accomplish extraordinary things under challenging circumstances,” said Christina Hendricks who presented the award to Stockton.

The other nominees in the television movie/miniseries/pilot category were Oliver Bokelberg, BVK for “Breakdown,” the pilot of MY OWN WORST ENEMY (NBC); Michael Bonvillain, ASC for the FRINGE pilot (FOX); Jon Joffin for “Night One” of THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN (A&E); and Kramer Morgenthau, ASC for the pilot of LIFE ON MARS (ABC).
Nominee Jon Joffin was also responsible for the photography of Rum and Gunpowder, the feature-length Crusoe pilot (listed, charmingly, as two separate episodes on the IMDB - episode 1, Rum, and episode 2, Gunpowder!)

The feature film award went to Anthony Dod Mantle for Slumdog Millionaire, while Nelson Cragg took the episodic TV award for his work on CSI: For Gedda.


The Guardian today quotes Tony Cohen, CEO of Fremantle Media, in a call for a micropayment system to cover the downloading of new and catch-up TV programming.
"Cohen, revealing details of Fremantle Media's submission to the Digital Britain report, said there was a case to look beyond the current charging mechanisms for TV shows on-demand – which start from about 99p per show – and look "afresh" at the potential of micropayments."
I'd go for this. 99p is too much to pay for something the other guy got for free. But if the cost is negligible then you don't hesitate, and the idea of paying pennies instead of watching an ad makes total sense. I hate ads and I wouldn't miss the 5p - I think nothing of burning a 30p DVD to watch a downloaded show.

As to the practicalities of it, pirates have already tested the model for a foot-dragging industry whose first response to the idea of micropayments was "but that's far too complicated," before coming up with their latest unworkable piece of Digital Rights Management software.

Until it emerged that the site wasn't as legal as it claimed to be, I was signed up with a Russian music download service that operated a beautifully simple micropayment system. I paid them 20 quid and then every time I downloaded a track they deducted a few pennies from my account, until the pot was nearly empty. Prices were set so low that I bought freely and never stopped to think about the cost. Every now and again, I topped up my account. I have a London Transport Oyster card that works on the same principle.

Of course, I now know that prices were set so low because they were stealing the music. But it was an easy, elegant way to buy content, and the industry can achieve the same pricing levels through sheer volume. I grew up with TV that was paid for one of two ways; through ads you couldn't skip, or a license fee you couldn't dodge. Both were forms of micropayment, in their way, though there was no direct link between the levy you paid and the show that you watched.

It's different now. I don't watch anything 'live' - the timing's never convenient and you're stuffed if interrupted. All my viewing is downloads and boxed sets and DVR, and stuff I swap with friends in the same way we pass around recommended books. While I'm happy to go on paying the license fee - those clamouring for its abolition would be the bitterest voices raised after the irretrievable loss of a UK production base - ad-funded programming gets nothing out of me at all. I've a red button on my DVR that skips forward 3 minutes. Bang, the ads are gone.

Sorry, guys. But here's 5p. Carry on.

Saturday 14 March 2009

Hey, Look Who We Got

Helen Slater has joined the cast of Medea, my Eleventh Hour season closer that broadcasts on April 2nd. Yes, she was Supergirl, but she's done loads of other stuff too.

I was curious to see how our numbers would look after Thursday night, given that we were up against George Clooney's return to ER. Which was supposed to be a "secret", apparently, though even I saw the memo about a month ago. The episode was Olfactus, by Angel Dean Lopez and Ildy Moldrovich. According to TVbytheNumbers.com, "ELEVENTH HOUR was first in households (7.4/12), viewers (11.78m), while averaging a 3.7/09 in adults 25-54 and 2.8/07 in adults 18-49."

No, I don't know what most of it means either. I do know that CBS shows get big numbers but tend to pull in older viewers, which is a yin-yang kinda thing. I think a network's dream would be for every 20-year-old in the country to watch a given show while everyone else dies and leaves them their money. Which they then blow on the stuff they see in the ads.

In sheer numbers, the show does pretty well. Nothing to do with me, I hasten to say. I'm praising the work of others, here. It gained viewers in the weeks after its debut, which doesn't usually happen, and it's sustained a season average just shy of 12 million - the peak was January 15th's H20 by Kim Newton and Heather Mitchell, which reached 15.5 million (and was directed by the UK's Terry McDonough, from the original series).

How will my season finale do? I don't know. We're up against the last-ever episode of ER, and we've got NCAA basketball pushing us out of the timeslot for the two weeks between now and then.

But hey. It's got Helen Slater in it.

Gallic Noir (2)

Back in June of last year I blogged about the excellent French cops'n'justice show Engrenages. Slick, stylish, seedy, complex, and wonderful to look at, it had been screened in eight subtitled parts on BBC4 and did much to convince me that in the midst of UKTV's creative meltdown there's still one channel where you don't have to park your self-respect on the way in.

(The show was retitled Spiral for English-language audiences. Strictly speaking, Engrenages translates as gearwheels or machinations or any one of a number of terms that make lousy titles)

The impulse to enthuse came from the discovery that the second season was right then being screened in France by Canal Plus. In its BBC4 September press pack, the BBC's Press Office included season 2 in the Autumn/Winter schedule. Alas, it's now March and there's still no sign. The DVD boxed set is available from Amazon France but appears to carry no subtitles - although if anyone knows otherwise, I'll be happy to hear about it.

Here's the Season Two summary from the international sales brochure of Group Telefrance:
A torched body found in the trunk of a car: a "BBQ" in police slang. A settling of scores between drug dealers, the point of entry into organized crime.

Aziz is a gang leader. The only thing to rival his violence is his volatility. His word is law to a team of lowlife dealers who ply their trade in working-class areas and the chicest districts of town. At the head of the team are the Larbi brothers who take care of larger-scale operations.

Roban, Berthaud and Clément investigate the "BBQ" and soon find themselves up against the huge machine that lies behind this sordid crime. Out of greed, Ms Karlsson makes a pact with the Larbi gang and sets out to bring down Captain Berthaud.

From urban social violence, we plunge into the heart of organized crime: international trafficking, snitches, double lives, arms dealing… As each new piece of evidence is unearthed, the case grows in complexity and danger. Only one way to break up the network: explode it from the inside.

Undercover specialist Samir joins Berthaud's team. He manages to infiltrate the gang as the Larbi brothers' new driver. His mission: to witness the delivery of illegal substances from big-shot Moroccan drug smugglers to the Larbi brothers. A wild journey that takes Samir into deepest Spain, where maintaining contact with him is crucial. Every second counts. The slightest slip-up means certain death…

A fascinating trip into the drug-dealing world at every level of its organization. Nail-biting suspense, constant tension, a furiously-paced season with characters that become increasingly dark, disillusioned and distorted.

Sunday 8 March 2009

Eleventh Hour: Subway

Here's an image from the last act of my episode, screened Thursday March 12.

That's Marley Shelton as Rachel Young in the Philadelphia subway system.

Here's Rufus Sewell with episode guest star Mariel Hemingway:

And that's yer basic screaming mob of fleeing citizens in the background.

Crusoe on DVD

Amazon.com have announced that Crusoe: The Complete Series is available for Region 1 pre-order ahead of its release date on May 5th, 2009.

I haven't been involved with the DVD in any way, so I can't tell you anything about it other than what you'll find there.

I don't know how accurate some of the advance information is, but 3 discs sounds technically stingy for 13 hours of material. It certainly doesn't allow for any extras, and NBC crews shot a wealth of footage around the production. I know because I had to keep getting out of their way during the UK part of the shoot.

Some of this made its way onto the NBC website in the form of streamed snippets about the locations, the production design, the stunts, the special effects... although the early trailers seemed to play worldwide, the later material was access-restricted.

It'll be a pity if it's a bare-bones release. I'd have loved to have seen all the flashback material cut together - it makes a one-hour standalone episode telling the story of Crusoe's life before the island, and includes scenes and extended material that were dropped when the segments were shaped to fit into their relevant episodes. They include a key appearance by Daniel Defoe that ties together the 'universes' of the miniseries and the novel.

All of which is made a little more poignant by the news that, according to TVshowsonDVD.com, the set will include a copy of the novel itself!