As scripted series began their proliferation on cable and digital several years ago, so did the number of new independent production companies dedicated to producing and financing scripted series (largely drama) for the growing demand in the U.S. marketplace. A number of feature and international companies launched U.S.-based scripted divisions, including Reliance (Georgeville TV), Gaumont, Cineflix, Alcon, Skydance, Legendary and New Regency. There were some early successes: Gaumont International Television launched two series right off the bat, Hemlock Grove and Hannibal, as did Cineflix, Copper.
But it has been rough going for some outlets, most of them pursuing variations of the straight-to-series model, in an environment where they have to compete for big packages and rely on strong international distribution as U.S. networks demand stacking and other exclusive rights, making it harder for smaller studios to get on-air commitments, monetize their product and support overhead expenses.
Canadian company Cineflix, which launched Cineflix Studios in 2010 with former AMC executive Christina Wayne at the helm, closed its U.S.-based scripted operation in 2013.
Alcon Entertainment, which started a TV division in 2012 headed by Sharon Hall, saw Hall depart last month. The company’s first TV series, The Expanse, debuts on Syfy in December, with international distribution handled by Legendary TV.
Now I’ve learned that Georgeville CEO Marc Rosen, who launched the TV studio with Reliance’s Motion Picture Capital in 2012, is leaving. The company was originally attached as a producer-financier to a number of series, including NBC’s Crossbones and Relativity TV’s Limitless series, but subsequently pulled out of all of them, instead focusing on its own projects. Georgeville TV’s only series to date is the Wachowski siblings’ drama Sense8 on Netflix. It is unclear whether Reliance will continue in the U.S. series business beyond its existing projects, which Rosen will continue to produce.
New Regency had been looking to restart a television division years after the shutdown of Malcolm In the Middle producer Regency TV, a co-venture with Fox TV Studios. After testing the waters for a couple of years, the company made a move in 2012 with the hire of Andrew Plotkin as head of TV. The company collaborated with 20th Century Fox TV on a few projects but it has been largely quiet, and I hear Plotkin’s deal expired several months ago. Word is that New Regency may be exploring new ways of getting into TV.
McG, who re-launched his Wonderland Sound and Vision in 2013 as an indie with funding from private equity-backed LD Entertainment, has done well on the feature side, but TV has been a challenge, with head of television Gina Girolamo leaving last fall to join Working Title.
An indie production company can rebound after hitting a rough patch. After a rocky start with the ill-fated Sunday primetime block on the CW, MRC switched to a lean TV operation that takes very few calculated shots with big packages. It has hit Netflix drama House of Cards and three upcoming series, Blunt Talk, The One Percent and Counterpart.
Former FremantleMedia International CEO David Ellender entered the scripted indie field in early 2014 with the launch of Slingshot Global Media, formed in partnership with equity investment firm TPG Growth. The company has been staffing up, hiring Quan Phung as head of scripted TV, and last fall it partnered with Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp TV. There have been a number of projects put in development with big auspices based on well known properties. That has included series with Keanu Reeves and Roland Emmerich and a Route 66 remake. The company is still seeking its first green light, and there had been rumblings about a possible restructuring. Meanwhile, Slingshot continues pushing through with another high-profile development announcement this week, of a Cleopatra series from Shekhar Kapur.
David Ellison’s five-year-old production/financing company Skydance Productions, which is behind tentpole movie franchises like Mission Impossible, Star Trek and Terminator, launched a TV division in 2013 run by Marcy Ross. The company, which has solid financial backing, has two series on the air, Manhattan on WGN America and Grace and Frankie on Netflix.
Speaking of deep pockets, Legendary TV, which tried and abandoned the pod model at Warner Bros. TV before going indie, has been spending a lot on building a mini major with well funded development and distribution operations. The company’s first two series are set to launch over the next few months, Colony on USA, and Love on Netflix, and it also distributes The Expanse internationally.
Following a management overhaul of Sonar Entertainment in May 2014, with Gene Stein as new CEO, the company shifted focus on series, with two in production for U.S. networks, The Shanara Chronicles on MTV and South of Hell for We TV. The company also has a developed distribution operation, with the FX/BBC period drama Taboo starring Tom Hardy among the shows in its catalogue. Sonar has first-look deals with Scott Free London and Killer Content.
Established indie player Entertainment One has a robust distribution operation though it has found it challenging to launch successful new U.S. series in the past couple of years to follow Hell On Wheels and Rookie Blue. The company, known for lower-budget dramas shot in Canada, is looking to shake things up with veteran producer Mark Gordon steering its scripted production. The new independent studio with Gordon just announced its first project, The Ambassador’s Wife limited series starring Anne Hathaway.
Gaumont International Television, which was in the forefront of the scripted indie upstart wave saw its flagship series, Hannibal and Hemlock Grove, end their runs. The company, run by Katie O’Connell, has two upcoming series on Netflix, drama Narcos and animated comedy F Is for Family.
Meanwhile, the recently launched TV divisions of two movie studios, Paramount and MGM, have been growing fast with multiple series orders, including Minority Report, School of Rock and The Alienist (Paramount), and Vikings, Teen Wolf and Fargo (MGM). While MGM’s series all are established hits, Paramount TV, as well as Legendary TV and Sonar have yet to prove their mettle as none of their series have premiered.
There also have been unexpected indie players, like small European companies Wildside and Ink Factory, none of them with formal presence in the US, landing series on HBO and AMC with dramas The Young Pope, starring Jude Law, and Night Manager, toplined by Hugh Laurie. And Red Arrow-owned Fabrik Entertainment, which has a deal at Fox 21 TV Studios, went indie to serve as studio for the successful Amazon series Bosch, distributed internationally by Red Arrow.
And then there is veteran Dean Devlin‘s Electric Entertainment, one of the first feature film production companies to venture into cable television production more than a decade ago. Electric, which fully finances all of their shows, is behind the successful TNT dramas Leverage and Librarians and owns a library of over 100 hours of television that they sell worldwide.
While there has been a learning curve and rough sledding for some indie upstarts — a number of them funded by EMC, the investment arm of CAA — new ones are joining the field every day. We have IM Global, Jeff Robinov’s Studio 8, Imperative Entertainment and Mark Gordon’s venture with Entertainment One among those who recently threw their hats into the ring. Meanwhile, several established indie reality players that have gone through ups and downs in the scripted US space, Endemol Shine North America, ITV Studios and FremantleMedia North America, have undergone leadership changes, with their future scripted strategy yet to be seen.