Acquisitions Buzz: LGBT Mini ‘When We Rise’ Eyes UK Deal, Buyers Set Sights On ‘Looming Tower’ & ‘L&O: True Crime’

EXCLUSIVE: As we head into the home-stretch of the 2016-2017 broadcast season, UK buyers have more or less picked up everything they are going to from the current crop of shows. They may be a couple of late deals (after the season is over) for the likes of Powerless and Training Day, but by and large I’m hearing that the 20+ shows that have already crossed the Atlantic represent the cream of the crop and buyers are already turning their attention to next season.

Well with one exception. ABC’s LGBT miniseries When We Rise, which tells the story of the gay rights movement in the United States, may be the last show to land a UK deal this side of May. Beyond that, TVWise has identified two new shows from next season that are being eyed for UK pickups: The Looming Tower, a ten episode drama series about the road to 9/11 that was recently commissioned by streaming service Hulu; and Law & Order: True Crime, the latest entry in NBC’s long-running Law & Order franchise.

When We Rise

From Oscar winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, When We Rise chronicles the real-life personal and political struggles, set-backs and triumphs of a diverse family of LGBT men and women who helped pioneer one of the last legs of the U.S. Civil Rights movement from its turbulent infancy in the 20th century to the once unfathomable successes of today.

The mini is produced by ABC Studios and features a large cast that includes, amongst others, Guy Pearce, Mary-Louise Parker, Rachel Griffiths, Austin McKenzie, Emily Skeggs, Jonathan Majors, Fiona Dourif, Michael K. Williams and Whoopi Goldberg. The executive producers are The mini-series is executive produced by Black (“Milk”), Laurence Mark (Dreamgirls), Bruce Cohen (Milk) and Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting). Van Sant also directed the first two episodes.

To their credit, Disney Media Distribution have been pushing hard for a UK deal on this eight-part miniseries, which is partially based on Cleve Jones’ book of the same name. That effort started after the LA Screenings but picked up steam after the premiere at RomaFictionFest late last year. Initially it appeared that DMD was having little success on securing a UK broadcast partner, but, in researching another story, I’ve learned from sources at Disney’s international sales division that they are close to finalising a UK deal for the show.

I don’t have a crystal clear picture on which UK broadcaster is bidding for the rights, but from what I’ve heard in the last 24 hours the expectation is When We Rise will land at Channel 4 soon (though Channel 5 and Amazon UK also expressed interest some months ago, I’m told). Representatives of C4 did not immediately respond to TVWise’s request for comment. (Just to throw in my two cents: this is a remarkable miniseries which deserves to find a home here in the UK.)

The Looming Tower

Based on Lawrence Wright’s Pulitizer prize winning book of the same name, The Looming Tower examines the chain of events that led to the September 11th terrorist attacks. Of particular focus is the rising threat of Bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda network throughout the 1990s and how dysfunction at the heart of government, the FBI and CIA prevented U.S. authorities from identifying and disrupting the attack. Lawrence Wright won a Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction for his work on the book.

Richard A. Clarke, the former counter-terror chief at the National Security Council during Clinton’s two terms and George Bush’s first few years in office, who is well known for his zealous attempts to convince both administrations of the Bin Laden threat prior to 9/11, features prominently in the book. Clarke was so well versed in Al-Qaeda and their tactics that on the day of the attacks, National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice stepped aside and named him crisis manager. The tragic story of John P. O’Neill, a senior FBI counter-terrorism agent who died during the attacks, is also explored.

The project hails from Legendary Television and will be written by Oscar nominee Dan Futterman (Capote, Judging Amy) and Alex Gibney (The New Yorker Presents). At present, the only actors attached to the project are Michael Stuhlbarg as Richard Clarke; Bill Camp as Robert Chesney, a member of O’Neill’s unit; Tahar Rahim as Ali Soufan, O’Neill’s protege and later the lead agent on the USS Cole investigation. Futterman, Gibney and original author Lawrence Wright will serve as the executive producers.

Calling this an early move would be something of an understatement. This 10 episode 9/11 drama, which was picked up by Hulu late last year, only recently started casting and isn’t expected to premiere until late 2017 at the very earliest, but it has already caught the eye of at least two UK buyers. I should stress, however, that no formal talks have begun and likely wont until after the LA Screenings. Interestingly, I’m told the BBC is in the mix here, with insiders insisting it was something they would “look at”, despite having aired the similarly themed – though admittedly controversial – ABC mini The Path To 9/11 back in 2006. I understand that the project is also on the radar of the acquisitions team at Channel 5.

Law & Order: True Crime

Law & Order: True Crime is an anthology series in a similar vein to American Crime Story, in so far as it dramatises a different true crime story each season. The first season, which will have the subtitle The Menendez Murders, will focus on Lyle and Erik Menendez, brothers who were convicted in 1996 of murdering their parents and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The brothers, who were 21 and 18 years old, respectively, at the time of the murders, were tried separately but eventually convicted in a third trial after no verdicts were rendered in the first two trials because of hung juries.

The series was devised by Dick Wolf himself, and was set up at NBC in early 2016, just as the first season FX’s American Crime Story was wrapping its run. Edie Falco has already been cast as tenacious defense attorney Leslie Abramson. Casting for the remaining roles is still underway. Law & Order veteran Rene Balcer, who served in the same capacity on Law & Order, Law & Order: Criminal Intent and Law & Order Los Angeles, is the executive producer and showrunner. Dick Wolf, Peter Jankowski and Arthur W. Forney also serve as executive producers. Universal Television is the studio.

Despite the failure of a number of Law & Order spin-offs (Conviction and Trial By Jury spring to mind), whenever NBCU has a new iteration of the franchise on the market it inevitably garners a lot of interest. This one is on track for a fall 2017 launch on NBC and NBCUniversal International Distribution expects to launch the show to international buyers at the upcoming LA Screenings, but sources tell TVWise that there will be “no real bidding war” for the UK rights.

When it re-branded from Hallmark to Universal Channel several years ago, a core part of the brand of the new channel was that it would be the exclusive UK home to new episodes of all current and future Law & Order shows. That remains the case and I’m told that there is zero chance of it landing anywhere else. That said, you can expect NBCU will look to conclude a second window deal for the show with another UK buyer. Bonus scoop: I hear the studio is also prepping to shop SVOD rights to the entire Law & Order library. Who has deeper pockets Netflix or Amazon?