It was on January 7th of this year that news broke that ITV would not be renewing their licensing deal with Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution for The Americans, which had aired its first two seasons on the main channel between 2013 and 2014.
At the time, TVWise revealed that, despite the fact that the show had strong support from senior ITV executives, the ratings performance of The Americans was such that the broadcaster could not justify licensing any further seasons of the show. Fast-forward seven months and ITV, in a surprise move, announces that they’ve reached a new deal with the studio for the FX series starring Matthew Rhys & Keri Russell, which will now air on pay channel ITV Encore.
But just what led to this reversal and how exactly did it all come about? TVWise recently spoke to ITV’s Head of Acquired Series Sasha Breslau, who brokered both the original and the new deal with Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution, to get an answer to both questions.
As it turns out the path was a winding one which began when the second season was coming to a close on ITV. Executives, noting the poor ratings performance, made the initial decision not to pick up the third season. “As much as we really like this show, you can’t really justify renewing a show [for the main channel] when it’s achieving less than a million viewers in the overnights”, Breslau said.
“When you’ve got all of our home-grown dramas rating so extraordinarily well, anything that comes in, whether it’s American or otherwise, has got its work cut out. And I think with The Americans… it’s a really smart, quite subtle drama and in some ways it’s quite challenging, but I’m a huge fan of it”, she added. “[The Americans] is something that appeals to fans of cable drama and although those viewers were there on the main channel, it just didn’t cut through enough”.
But it was that previously noted strong internal support (both Sasha Breslau and Angela Jain are said to be fans) that proved to be a key factor in the show’s return to the ITV family. “Quite a few of us here are ardent fans and viewers of the show and we started to think ‘do we have another home for it?’ So we looked across our portfolio and thought ultimately we could potentially make this work.”
That thought process took quite some time, with Breslau noting that it was not as seamless as simply deciding The Americans wasn’t working for ITV so let’s put it on ITV Encore. “It wasn’t too long after” the decision not to renew for ITV, but the process certainly wasn’t instantaneous. That is down to the fact that said decision would require a shift in strategy at ITV Encore.
Up until this point the pay channel’s USP had been that it was a place for repeats of original dramas from the main ITV channel, while there were also plans afoot for a push into commissioning which has now gotten underway with such efforts as The Frankenstein Chronicles and Midwinter Of The Spirit. For The Americans to come to ITV Encore that strategy would need to be tweaked, ever so slightly.
“We’d acquired Gracepoint, but we weren’t looking for American dramas for ITV Encore”, she said, before noting that there were “very specific” reasons for acquiring Fox’s Broadchurch remake, namely that “it’s a remake of one of our most successful ever dramas and we wouldn’t have wanted that going on a competitor channel”.
But as more consideration was given to bringing The Americans to ITV Encore the more it seemed to make sense, especially as the channel’s drive into exclusive content was looking to “serve more discerning viewers who are looking for something that’s more thought provoking and a bit more niche in its appeal”.
What Encore aims to deliver are programmes more “cult” in appeal, rather than being massively broad, which lends itself to a U.S cable drama. “Eventually, we made the decision that we are happy to go down the American drama route on ITV Encore”, Breslau notes. Shortly thereafter, talks began with Fox to secure the exclusive UK broadcast rights to the next two seasons of the show.
Despite the poor ratings performance on the main channel there are high hopes that The Americans will thrive in its new UK home when season three launches in late-August, with Sasha Breslau telling TVWise that after that long period of consideration she felt the show was actually a better fit for ITV Encore than it was for the main channel.
The Americans “feels like it appeals to viewers who seek out a certain kind of drama which is more serialised, less episodic and actually requires time and commitment and a certain level of consumption,” Breslau said. “All of those are things that we would hope that [ITV] Encore does deliver for its audience, so it felt like it was a good time to try it out there and a better fit actually in a lot of ways”.