Netflix Orders ‘Painkiller’ Limited Series About Opioid Crisis From Eric Newman, Peter Berg To Direct


Eric Newman, who has been examining the drug trade in Colombia and Mexico as showrunner of Netflix’s Narcos and Narcos: Mexico, is turning his attention to the opioid crisis in America with Painkiller, a limited drama series for the streamer where he is under an overall deal.

Peter Berg Joel Ryan/Invision/AP

Peter Berg (The Leftovers, Friday Night Lights) will direct all eight episodes of the limited series, written by A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood scribes Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster.

Oscar and Emmy winner Alex Gibney (Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief) will executive produce the series, which traces the origins of the opioid crisis.

Micah Fitzerman-Blue & Noah Harpster
Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster. Courtesy

Newman (Children of Men) will executive produce as part of his overall deal with Netflix. Fitzerman-Blue and Harpster, Emmy nominees for their work on Amazon’s Transparent, will serve as executive producers and showrunners.

The New Yorker article ‘The Family That Built an Empire of Pain’ by Patrick Radden Keefe and the book Pain Killer: An Empire of Deceit and the Origin of America’s Opioid Epidemic by Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and author Barry Meier serve as underlying material for the series, with Keefe and Meier on board as consultants.

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“Eric Newman has masterfully chronicled the drug trade for years, and now I’m excited to see him join forces with the incredible Alex Gibney, Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster to take a more expansive view of the opioid epidemic,” said Cindy Holland, VP Content at Netflix: “Combined with the directing of Peter Berg, Painkiller promises to be a powerful look behind the headlines of a tragedy happening in real time.”

Newman’s first project at Netflix was Hemlock Grove, the second original series that the Internet network commissioned. That was followed by the global hit Narcos, on which Newman has been executive producer since the start and showrunner since Season 2, transitioning in the same role to Narcos: Mexico. On the feature side, he is behind Netflix’s hit Bright.

“A tragedy decades in the making, the opioid crisis has become one of the most devastating public health crises of our time,” Newman said. “Unlike other drug epidemics, born from underground manufacturing and covert smuggling, this epidemic began by prescription — dispensed by doctors, approved by government regulators and promoted by a family-owned pharmaceutical giant that made billions while betraying the trust of patients and the public. I’m grateful to Micah & Noah and Alex for bringing this story to me. Noah and Micah’s narrative of how it happened, based on the spectacular reporting of Patrick Radden Keefe and Barry Meier, is heartbreaking and terrifying. I’m honored to be working with the great Alex Gibney, and I’m thrilled that Peter Berg is coming on to direct it.”

Berg won a Sports Emmy for Outstanding Short Sports Documentary for State of Play.

“I am really charged to be a part of such an in-depth exploration of the genesis of the opioid travesty,” he said. “Companies that profit off of death and addiction are fair game to me when it comes to illuminating the realities of how they go about their business.”

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