Xbox is stepping up its efforts to become an original programming player in the digital space with its first development slate, which includes dramas, live-action and animated comedies, unscripted and event series. The company first signaled its entrance into original programming at the unveiling of Xbox One a year ago when Xbox Entertainment Studios president Nancy Tellem announced a drama series based on the popular video game Halo with Steven Spielberg executive producing. That project is still in a development/deal-making stage, but Xbox is moving forward with several other game titles which it plans to turn into series — both scripted and unscripted — Age Of Empires, State Of Decay, Fable, Forza Motorsport and Gears Of War. The announcement was made at a presentation Tellem and Xbox’s newly appointed EVP Jordan Levin held last week. The two also confirmed that a second Halo digital feature, a follow-up to Forward Unto Dawn, is going into production next month with Ridley Scott producing and Sergio Mimica-Gezzan directing.
Xbox Entertainment Studios’ development slate includes script orders to Deadlands, a genre-bending alternative history of the Weird West based on the successful pen-and-paper role-playing game created by Shane Lacy Hensley; and to Gun Machine, a hardboiled detective thriller based on the bestselling novel by Warren Ellis, with Brett Conrad (The Killing) set to write the script and exec produce alongside Ellis. On the comedy side, Xbox Entertainment Studios has ordered a pilot for a comedy/variety half-hour project with JASH, a comedy collective founded by Sarah Silverman, Michael Cera, Tim and Eric and Reggie Watts. In each episode, a different comedian will host a show featuring someone that makes them laugh, with the pilot, hosted by Silverman, set to begin filming in June. Xbox Entertainment Studios also has teamed with Seth Green and Matt Senreich, creators of stop-animation series Robot Chicken, for Extraordinary Believers, a hybrid stop-motion/live-action improv series, which is filming a pilot. On the unscripted side, the company has ordered a pilot for Fearless, starring Paul de Gelder, an Australian Navy bomb clearance diver and shark attack survivor who helps people that are risking their lives to make the world a better place. On the event series front, Xbox has Winterworld, a limited live-action series based on IDW Entertainment’s graphic novel series.
Those projects look to join Xbox’s first crop of greenlighted series, Every Street United, an eight-episode unscripted street soccer series, which will air twice weekly during the World Cup; sci-fi series Humans, a co-production with UK’s Channel 4; and six-film documentary series Signal To Noise, about the role of technology. The first installment, Atari: Game Over, directed by Zak Penn, is tracking the effort to prove the Atari mystery by excavating a landfill rumored to contain millions of unsold E.T. video games. It will debut in Q3. Xbox also is dabbling in live entertainment with its upcoming wall-to-wall coverage of the Bonnaroo festival. “Our goal is to develop original programming on a premium level and add interactivity that can support each piece of content,” Tellem said. She added that the programming service is exploring both ad-supported and subscription models. (Xbox Live currently lists 48 million members globally.) The company also is considering both straight-to-series and pilot development routes and is looking to make its pilots available to customers. No decision has been made whether the studio’s scripted series will be released staggered over time in a network pattern or a season at the same time the way Netflix does it. Here are details about XBox Entertainment Studios’ slate of projects in development and upcoming series:
The “Halo” television series is a groundbreaking original series based on the award-winning “Halo” franchise. Award-winning filmmaker, director and producer Steven Spielberg will executive produce the live-action TV series, created in partnership with 343 Industries and Amblin Television.
Every Street United
“Every Street United” is an unscripted series of eight, thirty-minute episodes and a one-hour finale, featuring legendary soccer players Thierry Henry and Edgar Davids, focused on the global search for soccer’s most gifted and undiscovered street stars scouted across eight countries (United States, England, Argentina, Spain, Brazil, the Netherlands, Ghana and South Korea). The series culminates this July in a 4v4 street game finale in the shadow of the World Cup in Rio de Janeiro.
Each episode will feature unique and incisive narratives about the grassroots street stars and the communities that shaped them. Industry veteran and eight-time Emmy-Award winning producer, director, writer and editor Jonathan Hock (“Streetball,” “30 for 30: The Best That Never Was”) is directing the series. Emmy-Award winning producer Mike Tollin and Mandalay Sports Media are executive producing. Professional soccer luminaries, Henry and Davids, will serve as coaches for the 4v4 street game in Rio. “Every Street United” will premiere in June 2014. All episodes will be available through Xbox Video for Xbox One, Xbox 360, Windows 8 (PC and Surface) and Windows Phone 8.
Xbox owners around the globe can experience the magic of the 13th annual Bonnaroo music and arts festival with a live concert destination on Xbox Live Friday, June 13 through Sunday, June 15, 2014, brought to viewers in partnership with Superfly Presents. With the Bonnaroo app, fans can enjoy live music like never before, with a virtual experience featuring the best performances, multiple stages, biggest artists and amazing SuperJams, and explore this year’s lineup to see the best of Bonnaroo’s past with exclusive performances. Fans can also join the conversation with fellow virtual-Bonnaroovians and get connected to their friends and the festival. Xbox is the exclusive broadcasting partner for Bonnaroo and the only location to get all of the interactive features.
Signal to Noise/Atari: Game Over
Xbox is creating a new six film documentary series, “Signal to Noise,” (working title) with two-time Academy Award winning producer Simon Chinn (“Searching for Sugar Man” and “Man on Wire”) and Emmy winning producer Jonathan Chinn (FX’s “30 Days” and PBS’s “American High”), through their multi-platform media company, Lightbox. The series will expose little known stories of how modern technology has radically altered the way we interact with our world.
The first installment, “Atari: Game Over” (working title), explores the fabled Atari mystery, dubbed “The Great Video Game Burial of 1983.” As the legend goes, the Atari Corporation, faced with overwhelmingly negative response to the E.T. video game, disposed of millions of unsold game cartridges by burying them in the small town of Alamogordo, New Mexico. Fuel Entertainment took an interest in the legend, and in December 2013, with help from local garbage contractor Joe Lewandowski, acquired the exclusive rights to excavate the Alamogordo landfill. Fuel Entertainment then brought the opportunity to Xbox Entertainment Studios. The team will head to the landfill in question to determine if the story is true, interviewing a cast of characters related to the game and its mystery along the way. “Atari: Game Over” is directed by writer/director Zak Penn (“X-Men 2,” “Avengers,” and “Incident at Loch Ness”). It will air exclusively on Xbox One and Xbox 360 in 2014.
“Humans” is a bold new drama co-produced with UK broadcaster Channel 4. Award-winning UK production company Kudos (“The Hour,” “Utopia,” “Broadchurch”) will produce the hour-long, eight-episode series, which will share a premiere broadcast window on the Xbox platform and Channel 4 in the UK in 2015.
Executive produced by Jane Featherstone (“Life on Mars,” “Broadchurch”) and Derek Wax (“The Hour,” “Sex Traffic”), and written by British writing team Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley (“Spooks,” “Spooks: The Greater Good”), “Humans” is an English-language adaptation of Sveriges Television and Matador Film’s acclaimed Swedish series, “Real Humans.” “Humans” is set in a parallel present where the latest must-have gadget for any busy family is a ‘Synth’ – a highly-developed robotic servant eerily similar to its live counterpart. In the hope of transforming the way they live, one strained suburban family purchases a refurbished synth only to discover that sharing life with a machine has far-reaching and chilling consequences. Casting for “Humans” will begin in May 2014, and production will commence later this summer.
Halo digital feature
343 Industries and Scott Free Productions are creating a “Halo” digital feature to be released later this year. The project will be executive produced by Ridley Scott and Scott Free TV President, David Zucker. Sergio Mimica-Gezzan (“Battlestar Galactica,” “Pillars of the Earth,” “Heroes”) will direct.
Projects in Development
Xbox Entertainment Studios has committed to a script based on the successful pen-and-paper role playing game created by Shane Lacy Hensley. “Deadlands” is a genre-bending alternative history of the Weird West, filled with undead gunfighters, card-slinging sorcerers, mad scientists, secret societies, and fearsome abominations.
Xbox Entertainment Studios is developing an innovative, hybrid stop-motion show dubbed “Extraordinary Believers” (working title) with Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, creators of the Emmy-Award winning “Robot Chicken,” the longest running stop-motion show on television. The executive producers on the project are Seth Green, Matt Senreich, and creators/writers/executive producers are Eric Towner and John Harvatine IV.
“Fearless,” (working title) is an unscripted series currently in pilot production starring Paul de Gelder, an Australian Navy bomb clearance diver and shark attack survivor who takes on an adrenaline-fueled quest to aid individuals who risk their lives to make the world a better place. “Fearless” will be produced by Australia’s International Emmy-Award winning production company, Cordell Jigsaw Zapruder (CJZ).
Xbox Entertainment Studios acquired the rights to “Gun Machine,” a hardboiled detective thriller based on the New York Times bestselling novel by Warren Ellis. Ellis will executive produce with Brett Conrad (“The Killing,” “Sons of Anarchy,” Netflix’s upcoming “Marco Polo”) who has signed on to write the pilot script about a detective tracking a serial killer who is tied to a mysterious collection of guns used in infamous New York murders.
Untitled JASH Comedy/Variety Half Hour
In this unique comedy format developed by Xbox Entertainment Studios with JASH (a comedy collective founded by Sarah Silverman, Michael Cera, Tim and Eric and Reggie Watts), the biggest names in comedy will showcase the people that make them laugh. Each week, a different comedian will host/curate a show featuring new and unsung talent, in various video formats. Sarah Silverman will host the pilot episode and Daniel Kellison (“Late Night/Late Show with David Letterman,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” “Crank Yankers”) will executive produce. The series has a pilot commitment and will begin shooting in June.
Xbox Entertainment Studios and IDW Entertainment are co-developing a limited event live-action series based on Chuck Dixon and artist Jorge Zaffino’s seminal graphic novel series “Winterworld,” in which our world has been encased in ice from pole-to-pole. The surviving humans have formed tribes that war, enslave and trade with one another in an effort to survive the infinite winter. Ted Adams and David Ozer from IDW Entertainment, and Rick Jacobs and Dave Alpert from Circle of Confusion (“Walking Dead”) will executive produce.