As we reported back in February, Epix, the premium TV network/VOD service, backed by Viacom, Lionsgate, and MGM, would be entering the original scripted series field with a 10-episode straight-to-series order to Graves, a half-hour comedy starring Nick Nolte as a former President of the United States. Epix has made that official, along with a second 10-episode series order, to espionage drama Berlin Station from Paramount TV and Michaël Roskam. The network said that it was beginning to add original scripted series to its programming slate, beginning with series from its joint-venture studio partners Paramount, Lionsgate and MGM. Graves and Berlin Station will soon be joined by a third original series from MGM. The shows will appear on Epix across its channels, Epix On Demand, Epix.com and TV Everywhere platforms.
Berlin Station, executive produced by Michaël Roskam who is set to direct the first two episodes, spy novelist Olen Steinhauer, who is writing, as well as Oscar winner Eric Roth and Anonymous Content, follows Daniel Meyer, a newly anointed case officer who has arrived at the CIA foreign station in Berlin, Germany. It with a clandestine mission: to uncover the source of a leak who has supplied information to a now-famous whistleblower named “Thomas Shaw.” The project originally was taken to market with four episodes and a bible written on spec by Steinhauer, who created the project based on his original idea. Roskam was subsequently brought on board to direct.
In Graves, twenty years after his presidency, former President Richard Graves (Nolte) has the epiphany that his policies have damaged the country for decades and so, with his young assistant, he goes on a Don Quixote-like journey to right his administration’s wrongs just as his wife, the former First Lady, decides to follow her own political ambitions. The series was created by Joshua Michael Stern (Swing Vote) who will write, direct and executive produce the series. Oscar winner Greg Shapiro will also be an executive producer.
This is not the first time Epix has ventured into original scripted programming under president and CEO Mark Greenberg. In February 2009, months before the network’s launch, Epix greenlighted a pilot for what was supposed to be the service’s first original series, Nashville drama Tough Trade, also from Lionsgate TV. Shortly after Epix’s launch in October 2009, it hired another veteran network development executive, Laverne McKinnon, as EVP original programming and development. Epix announced high profile projects with Oliver Stone and Larry Charles and put several miniseries in development, including Atlas Shrugged, while laying out an ambitions scripted plan. It included the launch of the channel’s first original scripted offering, likely a miniseries, in third-quarter 2010, followed by a rollout of a scripted program each quarter, alternating between minis and 13-episode series.
But by August 2011, Epix had pull the plug on its original scripted efforts, with Tough Trade not going beyond the pilot and McKinnon exiting. (Tough Trade lived on at Lionsgate TV, eventually spawning the studio’s ABC drama Nashville.)
However, reality was different back then. Epix was still a fledgeling service struggling to secure carriage on some of the biggest cable and satellite platforms.
Now Epix is an established, very profitable brand with wide distribution. Earlier this year, Lionsgate, which owns 31.2% of Epix, reported net profits increase of 56% to $33.6 million for the service on revenues of $101.1 million, +12.7%. The solid financial footing allows Epix to be more aggressive in the expensive area of premium scripted series.
“Our focus was on business success and profitability first and having established that firm business foundation, we are now in a position to launch our original series with these two great shows from Lionsgate and Paramount and a third on the way from MGM,” said Greenberg.
Added Jocelyn Diaz, EVP for Original Programming, “Original series provide a platform to build our brand and distinguish our offering. ”
Lionsgate TV has a history of helping upstart outlets get on the map with scripted series, including AMC with Mad Men, Showtime with Weeds, Netflix with Orange Is The New Black and WGN America with Manhattan.
This has been a strong month for up-and-coming Paramount TV, which has scored 3 series orders, for Minority Report at Fox, The Alienist at TNT and now Berlin Station.
Steinhauer recently adapted his newest novel, All the Old Knives, for Nick Wechsler and Chockstone Productions, with Neil Burger attached to direct.