While serialized dramas have been around for awhile, the relatively recent phenomenon of binging on digital platforms has shaken up the format.
During a Magical Science of Storytelling panel at INTV, Katie O’Connell Marsh, CEO Platform ONE Media, recalled how, while she ran Gaumont International Television, the company landed the second series greenlight at Netflix for horror drama Hemlock Grove.
They produced and delivered the episodes, with the Netflix executives, led by head of original content Cindy Holland, binging the season in their offices.
“Now it’s matured, so you don’t do this anymore, but there were things we had never thought of,” O’Connell said. “You do music cues, the music cues were becoming repetitive, Cindy at one time said we could end someone in mid-sentence. We had been turning in episodes, but after watching these over the weekend, there were glaring things.”
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The new way of consuming serialized dramas “really changed what we thought fundamentally,” O’Connell said “We made a lot of changes in production and storytelling.”
Former UnReal showrunner Stacey Rukeyser, who is currently writing pilot scripts for Netflix and Showtime, said that she initially planned a packed pilot episode of the Netflix project that sets up the series before the streamer’s executives told her that viewers usually binge three episodes at a time.
“You don’t have to cram everything into the pilot episode as you used to,” Rukeyser said. “Their viewers look at the first three to sample a series, you can take a more relaxed approach to setting up the whole concept for the series.”
During the discussion, O’Connell, Rukeyser and producer Orly Adelson, CEO Adelson Productions, also talked about unusual ways series have come together.
While Adelson acknowledged that books are a leading traditional source material, she noted that the last two projects she has worked on have been based on country songs. That includes the 2018 Hallmark Channel movie Time for Me to Come Home for Christmas, based on a Blake Shelton tune.
“Country music songs have a story to tell,” she said. “Take the kernel of what they want to say, and you have a series. That’s been a great success for us, and we’re continuing to develop them.”
Adelson had an even more unusual story. “The most unique thing is that a writer from the Midwest sent a script, and this never happens – an assistant looked at the script and said, hmmm interesting. A plumber from the Midwest wrote it. Eleven years later, it’s on the air, he never wrote another script but he’s still getting royalties.”
That plumber was Rod Spence, and the script he had written became the basis for the slew of successful Good Witch movies and a TV series on the Hallmark Channel.
“When we first launched Gaumont, the first thing I optioned was Hannibal. (Martha De Laurentiis helped the rights),” O’Connell said. “I was so excited to get this tremendous IP, and then I became really depressed because Dexter was still on the air, and I thought, ‘what the hell am I going to do with this character?’ Then I ran into Bryan Fuller at the airport, and I looked to him and said, ‘I just optioned Hannibal, and said ‘I didn’t know what to do with it’. We got on our flight — were were flying to NY — and when we got off the plane and walked to the baggage claim, he pitched me the entire first season; he had figured it out on the way. As It went, Bryan was an enormous fan of Thomas Harris. That was a real lesson: marrying IP with the right writer, and an exercise in patience to find that. Bryan Fuller was born to write that series.”
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