Fresh from the success of drama hits such as Patrick Melrose and A Discovery of Witches, Sky drama chief Cameron Roach is looking to take advantage of a confidence at the Comcast-owned pay-TV giant as it looks to expand its scripted pipeline.
This comes after Roach was promoted to the top drama job, as revealed by Deadline this morning, following the departure of Anne Mensah to Netflix.
Roach, who worked under Mensah for over five years, admits that the next few years at Sky will be more of an “evolution” and a “continuation” of the strategy that the pair built together.
“I don’t think me stepping up means there’s going to be any kind of sea-change. Genuinely, we’re in a very confident place having built this over the last five years and I think now we have a good ecology of returning series and standalone event pieces. It feels like quite a good moment to be bold with our commissioning on Sky One and Sky Atlantic,” he tells Deadline.
Roach, however, will be in a position to spend more money on drama after the company revealed in July that it increased its budget for original dramas by 25%.
“What we are keen to do is to ensure that we have a strong pipeline coming through for the foreseeable future and the budget [rise] is more about ensuring that we have the right ecology of valued returning series and new properties coming through on the channels. We know that Sky originals are really valued by the customer and [this helps] retain existing customers and speak to new customers. It’s about recognizing that the business is investing in content for the long term,” he adds.
This morning, Roach also unveiled two new commissions, Juno Temple-fronted drama Little Birds, an adaptation of Anais Nin’s infamous collection of erotic short stories, and action-packed sci-fi drama Intergalactic written by The Girl Who Fell to Earth author Sophia Al-Maria and directed by Billions director Stacie Passon.
There’s plenty more in the development pipeline; Roach revealed that Sky was speaking to partners about Viva La Madness, a Jason Statham-fronted adaptation of the book sequel to Layer Cake, which is in “active development”, and admitted that its take on H.G. Wells’ classic novella The Time Machine with Tessa Ross and Juliette Howell’s House Productions, and Rothschild banking dynasty drama Five Arrows from Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, Jemima Khan’s Instinct Productions and 42, were still in contention.
Roach is very positive about the state of drama in the UK. “The British drama business is in a very healthy state and feels that we are in a very privileged position at the moment in terms of the types of shows and ambitions of shows coming through and that’s exciting,” he said.
However, he admits that more needs to be done to ensure that there’s a healthy pipeline of talent being developed, particularly behind the scenes. “One of the challenges that we’re all aware of is how can we promote and prompt newer talent coming through. I mean ensuring that we have a pipeline of talent being developed on the writing and directing side as well as all levels on behind the scenes roles. That’s a continuing challenge for the industry.”
One of the way’s that Sky can help this is through its own dedicated drama hub Sky Studios, which Roach runs. He says that the unit has been created to take advantage of new ways to find stories such as working with film production companies that have previously not made television. This is how a number of its recent hits including Julia Stiles-fronted Riviera, Amazon epic co-pro Britannia and buddy cop drama Bulletproof came through. “Sky Studios isn’t trying to replicate the indie model but to stimulate innovation in development. I think a lot of producers are set up and funded to develop in similar ways and we recognize that some of our best shows have come from unexpected sources. If we can be working with less known producers or writers or directors to innovate how development might work, we should be doing that and we have the financial capability to do that, that the indie sector doesn’t always have. We’re not under the pressure of time; we can work with the creative community over a longer period to explore development routes because we’re not only funded for a two-year period,” he adds.
What he would like the British production community to do, however, is to ‘surprise’ it with fresh ideas. “As soon as people assume that we make a certain type of show, we want to continually surprise. For instance, when we made The Tunnel we got a lot of Tunnel-esque pitches in and what I want to ensure is that when we make a show, yes, there’s the linear TX but we have a long tail on our set top boxes. If we’ve got a certain type of show on our box set offering, we don’t need something else that treads closely to it. We want shows that prompt conversations with our customer base.”
Sky’s dramas fit into main territories; landmark event dramas such as Patrick Melrose and Helen Mirren-fronted Catherine The Great for Sky Atlantic and “blockbuster” titles for Sky One such as Bulletproof, which has been sold to The CW and forthcoming Fast and Furious-style Curfew.
He said Sky One’s output has become more mature over the last twelve months. “We want these shows to be as valued as the Sky Atlantic shows but perhaps in a slightly different way; they are more blockbuster leaning. It’s also about the tone of the show; they are often infused with humor and an audacious sensibility that you wouldn’t necessarily have on Sky Atlantic,” he says.
Sky One is set to be the home for Temple, the British adaptation of Norwegian drama Valkyrien starring Kingsman’s Mark Strong and Game of Thrones’ Carice Van Houten. Roach sats that the eight-part drama is still shooting but that “it’s looking strong and I’m excited by its potential but I haven’t had the latest in terms of air date”.
On Sky Atlantic, Riviera star Stiles last week revealed to Deadline that conversations had already taken place. Roach confirmed that a writers’ room has been funded for a third season ahead of the second season’s TX.
Its first co-production with HBO, Chernobyl, Sister Pictures-produced drama about the 1986 nuclear tragedy in the Soviet Union, is set to air in May. Roach believes that it will genuinely be a landmark piece of television that does prompt a conversation”.
Finally, viewers may not have seen the last of Benedict Cumberbatch on Sky. Showtime co-pro Patrick Melrose, which was produced by Michael Jackson’s Two Cities Television, was a genuinely limited series (unlike Big Little Lies or The Night Manager), given that all of Edward St Aubyn’s books were used in the five episodes. However, Roach admits that Sky is “actively engaging” with the creative team behind the Emmy nominated-show, which could lead to interesting results.
Roach praised his wider drama team and revealed that the pay-TV broadcaster has hired Humans and Press producer Paul Gilbert to exec producer across his commissioning team and has promoted Kara Manley, who has worked on shows such as Above Suspicion and Suspects. Manley will likely exec producer Riviera if it is handed a third season. Elsewhere, Lindsay Salt heads up development, while Liz Lewin and Gabriel Silver make up Roach’s commissioning unit. “We’ve got a great team behind us,” he says.