Acquisitions Roundup: Universal Channel Picks Up UK Rights To ‘HTGAWM’ Season 2, ‘Sleepy Hollow’ Season 3 & More

How To Get Away Wth Murder - Gallery (FT)

The LA Screenings are now behind us and the acquisitions teams at the various UK broadcasters are currently in the process of evaluating the new crop of shows and entering the deal-making process with the Hollywood studios (and a few independent distributors). While all eyes are inevitably on the new shows headed to the UK, TVWise will be taking a look at the current roster of U.S. scripted series, confirming which shows will in fact be returning to their UK broadcasters.

Following our extensive coverage of UKTV (from the returning series on Alibi, Dave & Watch; to an in-depth interview with Director of Programme Acquisitions Catherine Mackin and Head of Acquisitions & Co-Productions Alexandra Finlay; and follow up pieces on more international drama co-productions & UKTV’s journey from ‘bit player’ to becoming a major force with the studios) and Syfy UK we turn our attention to Universal Channel.

NBCUniversal’s flagship drama channel, Universal Channel has benefited greatly from the company’s increased investment in their UK channels business in recent years. Said investment has allowed the channel to pursue and secure high profile series, many of which were widely expected to go to bigger UK buyers such as Sky and Channel 4. Those series have included Sleepy Hollow, Major Crimes, Bates Motel and more recently How To Get Away With Murder.

Universal Channel was not hit with any cancellations this year, with their series being more-or-less hits on both sides of the Atlantic. As such, most of their first run series are confirming as I’ve confirmed that Universal Channel has secured the UK rights to How To Get Away With Murder season 2, Sleepy Hollow season 3 and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit season 17. Full details follow below…

How To Get Away With Murder

How To Get Away Wth Murder - S1 FinaleCreated by Peter Nowalk, How To Get Away With Murder is described as a sexy, suspense-driven legal thriller about a group of ambitious law students and their brilliant, mysterious criminal defense professor who become entangled in a murder plot that will rock the entire university and change the course of their lives. The drama series is produced by Shonda Rhimes’ banner Shondaland & ABC Studios and stars Viola Davis, Matt McGorry, Aja Naomi King, Jack Falahee, Alfred Enoch Billy Brown, Katie Findlay, Karla Souza, Charlie Weber and Liza Weil.

How To Get Away With Murder is arguably the highest profile series that Universal has picked up since their re-brand, which has seen them bidding more competitively for first window on high-end US drama. Despite some concerns due to the heavy serialised nature of How To Get Away With Murder (or ANY Shonda Rhimes show), the series proved to be a hit right out of the gate. HTGAWM launched to a BIG 323K viewers last October and across the course of its first season drew a consolidated average audience of just over 200K viewers, more than double the channel’s 12 month slot-average. As part of the deal they inked with Disney Media Distribution to acquire the show, Universal holds the rights to the second season. A premiere date for season two has yet to be set.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

SVU - BensonCreated by Dick Wolf, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit revolves around the activities of the Manhattan Special Victims Unit of the NYPD, which investigates sexually based offences. The drama series is produced by Wolf Films in association with Universal Television and stars Mariska Hargitay, Ice T, Kelli Giddish, Dominick Carisi, Jr. and Raul Esparza. The show’s seventeenth season will the first not to feature Danny Pino as Detective Nick Amaro, after the character retired from the NYPD in the sixteenth season’s finale.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, now entering its seventeenth season, is something of a legacy title for Universal, with the Law & Order franchise being a key selling point for the channel when they first assumed the Universal brand in 2010. While ratings have slipped slightly in recent years, SVU is still a top rated series, with the sixteenth season averaging a consolidated audience of just under 200K viewers. The channel holds the rights to SVU’s seventeenth season thanks to a life-of-series deal with NBCUniversal International Television Distribution. While not set in stone, the new season is presently being eyed for an October premiere, shortly behind the US airing on NBC.

Major Crimes

Major Crimes S3 (Alt)Created by James Duff, Major Crimes follows the major crimes unit of the LAPD under the command of Captain Sharon Raydor. The drama series is produced by Warner Horizon Television and stars Mary McDonnell, G.W. Bailey, Tony Denison, Michael Paul Chan, Raymond Cruz, Phillip P. Keene, Kearran Giovanni, Graham Patrick Martin, Nadine Velazquez, Robert Gossett and Jonathan Del Arco. The series, which is closing on a fifth season renewal on TNT in the United States, is a spin-off of the network’s long-running crime drama The Closer, which starred Kyra Sedgwick and J.K. Simmons.

As TVWise previously reported, Universal Channel picked up the UK rights to the 18 episode fourth season of Major Crimes in March, shortly after the show’s third season wrapped its run. Owing to a multi-year agreement with Warner Bros. International Television Distribution, they also hold the rights to future seasons of the show (should they be green-lit by TNT in the US). Major Crimes, which has been a key title for the channel as part of its recent “brand evolution”, is Universal’s second highest rated series (behind only Sleepy Hollow) and has been steadily growing its audience since its debut in 2013. Last season, Major Crimes averaged close to 230K viewers, up some 13% on the average audience for season two. The show’s fourth season is expected to premiere on Universal Channel this Autumn.

Sleepy Hollow

Sleepy HollowCreated by Alex Kurtzman and Bob Orci, Sleepy Hollow is based on The Legend of the Sleepy Hollow and follows Ichabod Crane as he partners with Sleepy Hollow’s local female sheriff to solve the mysteries of a town ravaged by the battle between good and evil. The drama series is produced by 20th Century Fox Television & K/O Paper Products and stars Tom Mison, Orlando Jones, Katia Winter, Nicole Beharie, Lyndie Greenwood and John Noble. The show’s third season is poised to be one of change with The Glades creator Clifton Campbell taking over as showrunner, while original cast member Orlando Jones is no longer part of the main cast.

Universal’s ratings juggernaut, Sleepy Hollow was viewed by many in the industry as a “surprise” acquisition, if not a warning shot, when they picked it up from Fox in 2013, especially as Universal beat off competition from several major broadcasters to land the show. That bold (and expensive) move paid off, however, as Sleepy Hollow brought a lot of attention to Universal Channel, with the series premiere attracting 395K viewers (consolidating to 674K), breaking records to become the channel’s highest overnight audience in 8 years. Ever since then Sleepy Hollow has been a huge performer and is currently Universal’s highest rated show. The 18 episode second season drew an average consolidated audience of just over 300K viewers, smashing the slot-average. Given that, Universal has extended their deal with Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution and picked up further seasons of the show. Sleepy Hollow’s third season is expected to premiere on Universal later this year.