One of the bigger trends in recent years (and an on-going one) has been a shift to international co-productions for high-end drama.
Recent moves in this area have include Sky pacting with various US broadcasters including Showtime, NBC and Pivot to co-produce such series as Penny Dreadful, Apocalypse Slough (AKA You, Me And The End Of The World), an as-yet Untitled Plague Drama (FKA Patient Zero) and Arctic series Fortitude. Another prime example is Houdini & Doyle, the recently announced three-way co-production between ITV, Fox in the US and Shaw Media in Canada.
Arguably UKTV has been at the forefront of this for years, after all they have been co-producing Canadian period drama Murdoch Mysteries with Shaftesbury Films and ITV Studios Global Entertainment for much of the past decade. With a growing commissioning budget and ambitions for exclusive content, further such co-productions could be on the horizon, with Director of Programme Acquisitions Catherine Mackin telling TVWise that UKTV “would always be open” to such possibilities.
“I think it’s an area that has always been part of our content proposition”, adds UKTV’s Head of Acquisitions & Co-Productions Alexandra Finlay. “With reference to Murdoch Mysteries in particular that is a really important show to us on Alibi. It’s a show which is due to go into a new season shortly and it’s absolutely been fundamental to the programming mix on that channel, sitting alongside the more, contemporary, sophisticated US content there.”
Finlay is quick to note that, to a certain degree, this is an area they are already actively exploring with Legion, Watch’s first major drama commission which comes from the pen of Tony Jordan and is set up at his indie Red Planet Pictures. That project has been in the works since 2013 and UKTV is looking to find international co-production partners for the supernatural drama, although UKTV would be the majority funder.
UKTV is also keen to pursue co-productions for their other entertainment channels, with the commercial network being a minority partner, just as they are on Murdoch Mysteries. “We would absolutely love to extend that out across the Watch and the Dave channels as well”. But as with any commission, a drama co-production would be about finding the right project which is “a really good editorial fit”. Any such project would also need scale, ambition and “an additional element”, such as a particularly British context or an amazing lead character, in order for UKTV to consider boarding it.
“At the moment it would probably be more about finding out about projects which are with an existing broadcaster, because then we would know, for example, what the editorial spec will be”, said Alexandra Finlay, before noting that when talking about any potential co-production it is also about timing as much as an editorial fit.
“One of the things that it’s fair to say, particularly at this point in the year when the LA Screenings are upon us, is that we know there is going to be such a huge amount of content coming through, so it’s hard to think ‘there’s going to be a script coming up that we may need to invest in now’. Especially when actually we could be investing in content that will come to the channel sooner. But I think the will and the ambition to find a project is fundamentally there.”