Adi Hasak has the rare distinction of going from a writer with no TV credits and no agency representation to back-to-back straight-to-series orders for dramas Shades Of Blue at NBC and Eyewitness, which is set to debut on USA this Sunday, October 16. The latter, a crime thriller adapted from the Norwegian drama Øyevitne, follows two small-town teenage boys who, while hooking up in a cabin, witness a murder that is being investigated by the local sheriff, played by Julianne Nicholson, and an FBI agent. Catherine Hardwicke directed the first two hours of the modestly budgeted 10-episode series, produced by Universal Cable Prods.
Deadline spoke with Hasak, the Netherlands-born son of Russian Jews from New York who served in the Israeli Army and worked as a journalist before segueing to screenwriting. In the interview, Hasak reveals how he landed the straight-to-series order for Eyewitness in just two weeks without a rights deal thanks to a chance encounter. The writer-producer, who will be a keynote speaker at the MIPCOM TV confab next week, also shares his vision for the future where he believes there will be one global TV market, with European companies producing U.S. primetime series, and explains how a one-man operation like his could serve as a studio.
DEADLINE: How did you find the format for Eyewitness?
HASAK: I’ve been traveling extensively in Europe, I’ve been attending MIPCOM for several years, seeking out relationships with distributors. I really wasn’t that eager to get into the content business, it was more me trying to get them to come on board as partners for my original material. There’s a company called DRG, a distributor out of the UK that is owned by MTG, which is a huge conglomerate based out of Sweden. I became friendly with the CEO over there, Jeremy Fox, and he asked if I was interested in this format. I said “not really,” and he said “you really should check out this one format called Eyewitness.” I took a look at it and it was absolutely riveting. I was very, very surprised that the format had been out there for a year. A pilot episode had been screened a year earlier in the UK. No one had taken a liking to it, and I said that I’d be really interested in the show. At this point NRK, which was the network in Norway, asked me what I could do with it, and I pretty much said “let’s see what happens.” We shook hands, and I said, “Give me two weeks, and I promise you that in two weeks I will sell this format.”
DEADLINE: So you didn’t have a deal? How did you get the project to USA?
HASAK: There was no deal, there was no paperwork. It was really a handshake, and they promised to give me two weeks. At the time I had sold a spec pilot, Shades Of Blue — this was my big break in television. It was in production as an NBC series, and our offices were in the Comcast building. I went from writing it on spec alone in a room to all of a sudden being with 12 writers. A professional showrunner was brought on board, and it really was an amazing experience.
It became clear to me early on that I probably was built more to work on a small, intimate show, something more personal, something I could be the sole lead creative voice on and offer an uncompromising vision. When I ran into Eyewitness, I figured this would be the show. I was heading towards a meeting in the Comcast building when I ran into (Universal Cable Productions EVP) Dawn Olmstead. I had known Dawn as a producer, I’d had wonderful experience developing with her 10 years earlier. I asked her what she was doing there, she said she was running UCP, and I asked her, “What is UCP?” She told me it’s a studio that develops for NBCUniversal’s cable networks and asked me what was going on. I told her about Shades Of Blue, and I started talking about Eyewitness. She hadn’t seen it yet but said it sounded riveting and asked “why don’t we do something with it?” I said, ‘Well I’m on this huge NBC show and the only way I would do it is if we went straight to series.” Dawn being Dawn said, ‘Well, we have a specific model, could you do it for this certain budget?” I said yes, and she said let’s go straight to series and let me call you tomorrow after I see the episode. She saw Episode 1 and within a week, literally within a week, much faster than I’ve ever thought possible, we agreed to start the series with UCP being the studio and USA being the network.
DEADLINE: What has been your involvement on Shades Of Blue after Eyewitness was picked up?
HASAK: I pretty much phased my way out of Shades Of Blue and started working full-time on Eyewitness. I was in the room when we broke down the 13 episodes (of Shades). Three episodes already were written; there were outlines for about six or seven episodes. At that time I left to become the showrunner on Eyewitness, and I took it upon myself to write all 10 episodes for Eyewitness.
DEADLINE: So Eyewitness was produced very similar to the European series with no writers’ room? Just you writing all 10 episodes?
HASAK: Yeah. There was a very small writers’ room, it was me really and two other writers. I wrote the first two episodes and just got so emotionally involved in the project that it seemed the simplest way to do it was for me to write all the episodes. The writers’ room worked on the outline, and I ended up writing all the episodes.
DEADLINE: What is the plan for a possible second season?
HASAK: The show was sold as an anthology. I’m really enamored with shows like American Horror Story and American Crime. I told USA that this would be an anthology called Eyewitness where every season would be told from the point of view of someone who witnesses a crime. That meant that the show would be resolved at the end of Season 1.
The remarkable thing, though, about the show was that we know it’s a not a whodunit. By the end of the first eight minutes we know who the killer is, and in that sense what this really is — it is a character study trapped inside a thriller. So it’s not one of these shows, a murder in a small town. What that allows is to put almost all the genre components on the side and then delve in the characters and in the relationships, the marriage of the sheriff, the two gay boys, and the FBI agent and her sister.
DEADLINE: You have a very lean company, you and two assistants. What is it that drives you to do business that way and will that continue?
HASAK: At the end of the day I’m a writer. I’ve been a writer for a while but I’m also very entrepreneurial. I realized that when I sat across from the studio I pretty much was duplicating what they were doing. The studio develops IP and I develop IP. The studio needs a broadcaster and I need a broadcaster. The studio has money and I can now find money through my relationships in Europe. So I’ve just become extremely entrepreneurial. I have two young people who are working with me but our company’s definitely growing. Jennifer Cote, who was my assistant on Shades Of Blue, ended up being the on-set writer-producer on Eyewitness.
We have a very small company. I cover all my overhead. I have no deal with anybody and when I’m not writing I’m traveling and pitching my original content. Now because of the success of Eyewitness, there’s certainly an influx of formats that we’re going through very carefully to find out what’s the next format that we can adapt. Literally out of my attic office we can run a production company that in essence is a one-stop-shop studio.
DEADLINE: Have you identified your next project or you will stay on Eyewitness?
HASAK: Well, we don’t know if there will be a Season 2 of Eyewitness. It’s been amazing to have two shows greenlit straight to series within the same year. We want to keep it slow. We don’t want to grow too quickly. We’re negotiating with an actor on a finished format and we’re also putting together a French format, and I just finished writing a spec script, that we’re also doing. Our idea pretty much is the package. Big shows with stars or in business models like Eyewitness that would go straight to series. If you look at what we’re doing, Shades Of Blue was a spec script, with a big international star, Jennifer Lopez, but it is still produced by an American studio (Universal TV) for an American network, NBC. In Eyewitness, it was a Norwegian format sold to me by a British distribution company owned by Swedish conglomerate. I still went with UCP and USA.
For the next show, we have financial backing out of Europe so it will either be a format from Europe or my original content. The financial backer will probably be a European distributor and we would then shop to American networks. That really is the new model that we’re working on, this global environment that I think is the next step. You’ll see a French broadcaster and a German broadcaster, a distributor producing for an American broadcaster, and not necessarily because there’s a licensing deal for the 10 o’clock slot on Saturday. I feel that in the future, there will be no foreign market or U.S. market, there will be one market.