A familiar TV brand is making a return as Sony Pictures TV is relaunching TriStar Television with Suzanne Patmore-Gibbs at the helm. She recently segued into the position after a three-year stint as EVP Drama Development at Sony Pictures Television, whose presidents of programming and production Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg oversee the new division. TriStar TV 2.0, which started as part of the Tom Rothman-led TriStar revival, already has some 20 projects in different stages of development, most of them based on source material. That includes the unit’s first pilot, 1970s magazine drama Good Girls Revolt at Amazon, which has cast comedy veteran Jim Belushi as a plain-spoken National Editor. TriStar TV’s slate includes The Custom Of The Country, a limited series with Chris Hampton writing and Scarlett Johansson starring, and projects from Reese Witherspoon, Todd Phillips, Sheldon Turner, Billy Ray, K.J. Steinberg and Liz Heldens based on such literary properties as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon, Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings and Christopher Buckley’s Supreme Courtship. In her first interview since taking over TriStar TV, Patmore-Gibbs, who is in the process of interviewing executives for her team, talks about the unit’s first slate, the type of projects (and how many) it will be developing and whom it is looking to sell to.
DEADLINE: How did the TriStar TV relaunch by Sony TV came about?
PATMORE-GIBBS: Tom Rothman had recognized the brand equity and very astutely had started to dust off the label 14 months ago. He had begun reinvigorating it both in the film and television space; we were working with them in TV and had set up a couple of things with him. We thought that he was smart to focus on that because we all realized that the brand has a rich heritage and a great pedigree, and I think it’s something we remember from growing up as something that always represented quality. When Tom segued into (SPE Motion Picture Group) chairman, we thought that it would be great to take what he had begun and expand on that foundation. We wanted to make projects with that sort of pedigree a priority for us.
DEADLINE: What will differentiate the projects developed by TriStar TV from those produced by Sony Pictures TV?
PATMORE-GIBBS: My specific focus is on prestige-oriented, character-driven serialized projects, be they comedy drama or limited, that are high-impact and ideally about something important. I’m also sort of specializing in projects that are based on underlining material, be it novels, nonfiction, short stories, historical events, life rights, library titles formats. I’d say 90% of what we’re doing happens to be source-material-based. But we’re also very voice-oriented, so I consider it our job to dig up gems material-wise that we can use as bait for the writers we love and marry the right material with the right writers. And because we are a new company, I feel we need to be very proactive in order to woo the talent that we are coveting.
Another thing we want to focus on more is international co-productions, something that I started over at Sony TV with Houdini And Doyle. I would like to continue to fortify the relationships with the likes of Big Talk, Left Bank, ITV and Channel 4 and hope that we can land some projects that are international co-productions.
We are not going to be in the volume business that Sony proper is. My focus is on a smaller slate which allows me to be much more hands-on and concentrate on projects that the writers I’m working with and myself are passionate about.
DEADLINE: How many shows a year are you planning to develop?
PATMORE-GIBBS: There is not really a number. I brought over a small slate of shows, so we have about 20 things in various stages. They are divided into group of things that are already set up, like Good Girls Revolt, written by Dana Calvo, supervised by Darlene Hunt and executive produced by Lynda Obst, which we are piloting for Amazon. I feel it is very emblematic of the brand because it was based on a nonfiction book, it is entertaining, character-driven but also about something important and timely, a landmark sexual discrimination case in 1970 that had a profound impact on working women.
We have projects that already are in active development at Amazon, FX, Hulu, NBC, TNT and WGN America. At Amazon, we have The Last Tycoon, which is an adaptation of the Fitzgerald novella with Billy Ray writing and directing and Chris Keyser executive producing; and The Interestings, an adaptation of the Meg Wolitzer bestseller with Lyn Greene and Richard Levine of Nip/Tuck writing.
We have one project that we took out and are in the process of selling, Blood Will Out, from Walter Kirn and Sheldon Turner based on Walter’s nonfiction book about his very odd relatiationship with the man who called himself Clark Rockefeller.
And then I have a set of projects on the horizon that we are taking out in the next month or two, few of which are network a lot of which are cable. One is called Big Ballet, a fiction adaptation of a British reality format (about plus-size ballerinas) that Liz Heldens and Sue Naegle are working on; a spec script adaptation of Robert Altman’s gambling film California Split with Bill Rotko (Graceland) writing, Todd Phillips directing and Management 360’s Daniel Rappaport executive producing alongside Leonard Goldberg; Model Woman based on the book about Eileen Ford, with K.J. Steinberg writing and Rosalie Swedlin producing; and The Custom Of The Country, a limited series with Chris Hampton writing and Scarlett Johansson producing and starring.
We still have projects in infancy — open writing assignments, a couple of blind script deals with writers for whom I’m searching for material. We have open writing assignments that are again emblematic of the brand, one of which is Supreme Courtship, the book by Christopher Buckley that Reese Witherspoon and producing partner Bruna Papandrea are producing that we’re looking for a big writer to adapt.
DEADLINE: Which of the projects on TriStar TV’s inaugural slate originated at TriStar and which at Sony TV?
PATMORE-GIBBS: The Interestings and Supreme Courtship were TriStar projects. The rest I brought from Sony.
DEADLINE: Are TriStar TV’s projects geared primarily to cable and digital?
PATMORE-GIBBS: There is an emphasis on cable but we definitely want to do some targeted network development. It’s not going to be high volume but hopefully big pieces that would make a dent. We are shooting for consistency of the brand. Sophisticated soap is in my blood on network or cable, having come from ABC where I worked on Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, Revenge, Scandal. It was one of the reasons Jamie and Zack first hired me and something I still want to conquer here.
DEADLINE: There had been talk that TriStar TV shows would have a female focus. Is that the case?
PATMORE-GIBBS: I’ve heard that out there. If you look on my body of work, I have a lot of things in my history that are female-lead focused. Certainly Girls Revolt is very female focused behind and in front of the camera. It is something that will always be a priority for me in terms of expanding the female presence on the deal roster, behind the camera and in creating more great roles for women. But it’s not my only focus.
DEADLINE: Do you have to consult with Sony TV before taking in a project?
PATMORE-GIBBS: We operate with a lot of autonomy. Jamie and Zack are fantastic in terms of being supportive.
DEADLINE: There was a budget cap on TriStar feature projects, believed to be $50 million. Are there any restrictions budget-wise on the TriStar TV projects?
PATMORE-GIBBS: Budgets vary for network and cable because the list of buyers is expanding by the day. But TriStar Television is not a budget label.