TriStar Television was relaunched by Sony Pictures TV two and a half years ago with Suzanne Patmore Gibbs at the helm and a focus on “prestige-oriented, character-driven serialized projects,” largely based on source material. The company announced its arrival with its first pilot, period newsroom drama Good Girls Revolt at Amazon, which highlighted an emphasis on female-driven projects, in front and behind the camera. And while Good Girls Revolt, created by Dana Calvo, was followed by two streaming drama series with male leads, the Jeffrey Donovan starrer Shut Eye, renewed for a second season by Hulu, and The Last Tycoon, toplined by Matt Bomer, which ran for one season on Amazon, Good Girls Revolt became a calling card for the company, paving the way for a female-driven slate.
Good Girls Revolt‘s surprise cancellation by Amazon’s Roy Price a year ago made it an instant cult favorite. The series, which tackles gender equality sexual discrimination in the workplace, emerged as an unlikely poster child in the current crackdown on sexual harassment in Hollywood, fueled by the Harvey Weinstein scandal, which was followed by the dismissal of Amazon’s Price over sexual harassment claims. The inspired-by-real-events Good Girls Revolt started trending on social media, and a grassroots movement was launched to revive the show, leading to TriStar TV’s move to pursue a second season.
In an interview with Deadline, Patmore Gibbs talks about Good Girls Revolt‘s resurrection and gives an update on Season 2. She discusses how the current environment may influence the series, set in 1969, and how it could sharpen TriStar TV’s female focus. She previews the unit’s female-driven development slate, unveiling its newest additions — marriage thriller The Marriage Plot: A Reliable Wife, based on the book, which is set at Amazon; Chemistry, an adaptation of the British miniseries, The Politician’s Husband, set in the biotech industry; and The Untitled Schuyler Sisters soap, which examines the role of the founding mothers. She also talks about TriStar TV’s efforts to groom the next generation great female showrunners and directors and addresses Amazon’s decision to cancel The Last Tycoon.
DEADLINE: It’s symbolic that the very first pilot TriStar Television did was Good Girls Revolt. How satisfying was it for you to see the show get back in the headlines so long after it was canceled?
PATMORE GIBBS: It’s funny that you said that because we used to say when we were first talking about TriStar that Good Girls Revolt was our first pilot, but it also should be the tagline of our company. It was a complete heartbreaker the first time. I don’t think I’ve ever been as devastated, and I think it had a lot to do with what was happening politically at the time. It just felt like another kick in the stomach. We had a rabid fan base, and we did try to save it once.
It was so gratifying to have it come up very naturally through a grassroots movement, nothing that we were doing, which says so much about the fans, and frankly says so much about the climate and the audience’s desire for something like that, that feels super relevant. I think people were super aware of the irony, the fact that it was mentioned in every article, in terms of what was happening at the time at Amazon. It was very nice to see it recognized and not just remembered fondly, but sort of being advocated for actively.
DEADLINE: What is the current status of Good Girls Revolt? Have you already shopped it around? Is there interest?
PATMORE GIBBS: We have heard a great season two pitch and are taking it out this week and next week to several interested buyers, all of whom were incoming calls. Again, this is sort of back by popular demand. The showrunners have been in touch with the actresses, as well as our whole cast, and everybody’s very eager for a reunion.
Our second season pitch is shifting now. It’s a lot different than the pitch that we walked into Roy with, because we’re unchained, which is liberating. And also, frankly, there’s so much to say about what’s going on right now through the lens of yesterday that happened then and happened now, that it just feels like there’s so many relatable situations that we can cover through these characters we’ve already come to love.
DEADLINE: So it’s fair to say that the current events would be influencing the storylines in Good Girls Revolt‘s potential second season?
PATMORE GIBBS: Yes. I mean, certainly past events, but things that are sadly, I think we’ve discovered, evergreen. But as we’ve all been talking about how people have been handling what is in the news, a lot of that same confusion, indecision, how do we best handle it, happened after the (sexual discrimination) lawsuit (depicted in Good Girls Revolt), actually. The lawsuit doesn’t solve everything, as we all know, but it was a step in the right direction.
DEADLINE: TriStar TV is a rare production division run by a woman with a focus on female themes and female creators. In the new environment, will you take this to the forefront?
PATMORE GIBBS: It’s not like we don’t do shows with male protagonists or with male showrunners, but I think since Good Girls Revolt and the desire with everything that’s been talked about behind the scenes in Hollywood, the need for more representation, in terms of female showrunners and directors, it has naturally fueled us going forward, and certainly, it is in the forefront of our minds right now.
Looking at everything that’s happened from last November to now, it has made us all I think more vehement feminists, but also just made us aware of the need for more strong female voices, more strong female roles, and giving people a way to voice their rage or their frustration. We have always been huge champions of diversity of all kinds – be it gender, ethnicity or sexuality and tend to cater to underserved audiences in general. We also continue to focus on projects designed to further the cultural conversation, projects that ideally provoke audiences to openly discuss hot topic issues.
DEADLINE: Are there examples you can give of shows like with a female creator or female protagonists that you’re working on?
PATMORE GIBBS: Yes. In the last year, we’ve set up many things that I think are very emblematic of what we want to do. One is the Eve Babitz story. We’re calling it LA Woman, and that’s with Liz Tigelaar writing, Lynn Shelton directing, Amy Pascal, and Elizabeth Cantillon executive producing. So it’s an entirely female team, and it’s a coming-of-age half hour set up on Hulu that’s inspired by the memoirs of Eve Babitz, who was the it girl in the ‘60s and ‘70s in Los Angeles.
She was an incredibly audacious, original character who was very in touch with her sexuality. She was very ahead of her time, so seeing her not just grow, but also not bend to the will of other people in an era that wasn’t necessarily prepared for her, it’s really fun, and again, feels like pertinent subject matter right now.Hulu’s Beatrice Springborn has been a huge champion of it.
Another project that we’re very excited about is called The Marriage Plot. It’s designed as a book-based marital thriller anthology, and the first book we are tackling is A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick. It’s penned by Semi Chellas and Esta Spalding, two amazing female showrunners and best friends who have been longing to work together forever. So it’s a dream team, and it’s being produced also by Elizabeth Cantillon, Josh Bratman, and Michael De Luca. It is set up at Amazon, and each season is supposed to be based on a new novel set in a different era, telling a new story of passion and destruction.
The common theme is, how well do you know or trust your mate, or in this case, your husband? So it’s in the vein of Gone Girl or Liane Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret.
The Marriage Plot was initially set up at Tristar Pictures run by Hannah Minghella. She and I luckily have very similar taste and I find myself constantly hovering over a lot of her projects, saying “there’s more than two hours of material there, if the movie version doesn’t pan out, please let me know!” She very graciously let me run with this for television.
We also have Rage for Fame, a limited series setup at Amazon, also with Elizabeth Cantillon, based on two biographies of Clare Boothe Luce. It’s being written by Olivia Milch, who is David Milch’s Daughter, and Ariel Doctoroff. It tells the remarkable story of Clare Boothe Luce, who’s one of the most famous women you’ve never heard of or have only heard of in passing, whose life has been described as a cross between Sex in the City and Game of Thrones. You see Clare evolving from a depression era Carrie Bradshaw-type into a very entitled, power-hungry, morally questionable sort of Cersei Lannister-type. She was an incredible woman — an editor of a magazine, playwright, war correspondent, congresswoman, and ambassador.
We also have a project called On Becoming a God in Central Florida at AMC, which is written by Robert Funke and Matt Lutsky and supervised by Melanie Marnich, with George Clooney and Grant Heslov’s Smokehouse producing. (Smokehouse’s) Sarah Shepard has been a huge proponent of this darkly comedic one-hour, starring Kirsten Dunst, about one very fierce young woman’s relentless pursuit of the American dream inside of an Amway-like company.
David Manson’s Chemistry, which has interest from premium cable outlets, is based on the successful British miniseries, The Politician’s Husband by Paula Milne, who’s an amazing female writer. She and David know each other, so they’re going to hopefully collaborate in some way on this version, which is produced by Nicole Clemens and Jeff Okin at Anonymous Content and Daybreak Pictures.
It is a psycho-sexual marital thriller. It was originally set in politics; we’re setting it in biotech because there’s a surplus of political shows out there. What really attracted us to it was, it is really focused on these alpha spouses that are both in positions of power at this company and what happens in the bedroom and the boardroom when this power shift takes place and the wife’s career begins to vastly eclipse that of the husband, and how that changes their relationship in a really integral way. So it’s really zeitgeist-y or just pertinent right now in that it’s exploring gender politics.
We’re working with Deb Schoeneman, who has been working on Sweetbitter most recently, but also comes from Girls and The Newsroom, and she came in with an idea about doing the founding of the country from the Schuyler Sisters’ POV. The Untitled Schuyler Sisters project is a big, fun swing because it’s a huge soap in the vein of The Crown, The Tudors and Dangerous Liaisons, but looking at Alexander Hamilton, et cetera — the founding of the country through the eyes of Eliza, Angelica, Peggy, and humanizing characters like Martha Washington and Betsy Ross; seeing how these women not just bore witness to what happened, but really were involved with what happened during the revolution and after the revolution.
DEADLINE: It seems like TriStar TV’s projects continue to be mostly based on existing material.
PATMORE GIBBS: We’ve always been very book-focused, and article focused, and true story focused, but I’d say that more than 80 percent of our projects are female focused in some way, because it really does feel like someone needs to be out there, not only trying to work with the best female showrunners out there, but grooming the next set of creators, finding the next Shonda Rhimes, finding the Jill Soloways, finding the really unique new voices, and also grooming great female directors into pilot directors, and also ushering in female screenwriters from film into TV.
DEADLINE: You did one broadcast pilot for ABC. Are you planning to do more in the broadcast space?
PATMORE GIBBS: Yeah, we did Model Woman with Helen Childress, and that was based on the book about Eileen Ford. Honestly, that started out as a cable piece that ABC wooed us into, and we are working on one more project with Helen Childress at ABC called The Inseparables, which is about three generations of women that is sort of an offshoot. So sometimes there’s things that could go either direction, but we’re nearly solely focused on cable now, period.
DEADLINE: What about comedy? It was something you were looking to go into, and LA Woman is a comedy. Is your slate more balanced now, or it’s still focused mostly on drama?
PATMORE GIBBS: We certainly began with a drama focus, but we also have several limited series, like the Clare Boothe Luce one, and then LA Woman was our first half-hour that we set up. We’re actually sort of in the process of wooing a couple people for more cable/streaming oriented half hours, as well, that are female focused, but we haven’t locked them down yet.
DEADLINE: What would you say about the one ongoing TriStar TV series right now, Shut Eye? How does it fit into the company’s new female-focused focus. Also, what are your thoughts about Amazon’s decision not to renew with your period drama The Last Tycoon?
PATMORE GIBBS: Well, Shut Eye and The Last Tycoon were things that I developed at Sony proper (as head of drama) and I brought over. Last Tycoon was based on a book, and so, in that way, was something that fell under our purview. We thought it was a beautiful show, and we were very disappointed; it was sort of the last gift we were given by the former (Amazon) regime. We were very sad to see it go, and we did try to find it another home.
For us, it came out at the wrong time of the year for that kind of audience. It felt like a television version of a fall movie, but released in the summer without much fanfare, and the decision was made on it very quickly, they didn’t even give it nine weeks, with a show that isn’t the kind of show that you binge, like Stranger Things, in two days. Every episode was more of an enjoyable meal where you would probably want to see one or two (episodes) a week. They gave it a month, but it was still judged by who showed up, and so we had to sadly respect their decision.
Shut Eye is something that I feel like was, in some ways, Hulu 1.0 and also I think TriStar 1.0. It was an exception as a spec that we fell in love with. We initially responded to the KaDee Strickland character, because she was a strong and provocative Lady Macbeth type. But Jeffrey Donovan’s character became more and more important in development and production and it has since become more of partnership between the two characters. This series is something we are very proud of and the collaboration with Hulu has been amazing.
DEADLINE: What is TriStar TV’s relationship with Sony TV?
PATMORE GIBBS:: I think we’re incredibly lucky to have a boutique label that gets to focus more specifically on this audience and this talent, not to the exclusion of everything else; I think that it’s a testament to Sony that they are letting us run with this. Sony drama has to be all things to all people, and they’re doing an incredibly good job at it. We are trying to concentrate on projects that are hand crafted bit by bit, not a pitch that walks in the door, but things that we put together piece by piece very lovingly, and then hopefully create something special and different with breakout potential. So we’re so lucky to have the opportunity to do that.