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The script for ITV Studios America

Scripted-logo-460_2PMaigretITV Studios America wants to be the top indie drama studio in the US. In his first interview since taking charge, Philippe Maigret, the exec charged with making that happen, talks to Stewart Clarke

ITV Studios America had three series on the air in 2015 and has 40 projects currently in development, but a year into running UK broadcaster ITV’s US drama production business, Philippe Maigret is looking further ahead.

The former Disney and Endemol Shine exec says ITV has the attributes to become one of the biggest independent drama studios in the US, and he is twelve months into a five-year mission to make that happen.

“I don’t think there are shortcuts, but we have a unique set of attributes,” he says. “It’s clear there is a level of change and the competitive pressure in the US is challenging for every player – even more so the new ones – but I believe now is the time for ITV to be successful in scripted, based on the transformation of the company over the past six years. We need to offer the right mix of creative and financial opportunities to talent, and be recognised as being innovative, supportive and ambitious on the creative side.”

Creating a leading US indie needs significant resources, with drama development and production a front-loaded business requiring large deficits. Does ITV have the muscle – and the stomach – to make that kind of big-budget play in US scripted?

“There is no question about that,” Maigret says. “It goes back to ITV’s stated ambition and commitment, which [ITV CEO] Adam Crozier talks about, to build a strong and successful US scripted business. If you look at the level of revenues ITV has versus some of our competitors we have the capital, and we have the size to build and invest into this.”

One way ITV has scaled up its overall US business is through a raft of acquisitions, mostly of unscripted prodcos. As TBI goes to press the broadcaster is pushing for a takeover of Entertainment One, a deal that would bring The Mark Gordon Company (Grey’s Anatomy, Ray Donovan) into the US scripted fold.

“ITV has been very acquisitive and building scale in the US market, and that has been part of the transformation of the company that Adam has been spearheading,” Maigret says. “On the scripted side we are very focused and would do something if the right thing came up.”

Whether a game changing deal such as eOne happens or not, ITV Studios America is pursuing joint ventures, and pod, producer and overall deals.

Aquarius-S2-3Even before Maigret signed on at ITV Studios, it had invested in Tomorrow Studios, the prodco created by Marty Adelstein, one of the founders of the Endeavor Talent Agency. It had also bought into Lesley Greif’s Thinkfactory Media, as well as setting up a deal with Deborah Spero and Maria Grasso’s One-Two Punch banner. These agreements paved the way for Texas Rising (Thinkfactory), and from Tomorrow, NBC’s Aquarius (above) and cable series The Good Witch (below). The latter, a fantasy comedy drama, has rated well for Hallmark, which recently greenlit a third season.GoodWitchFinalKeyArtblank

“When I joined a year ago my mandate was to build on these initial steps, and I wanted to prioritise the build out of our scripted infrastructure and portfolio of projects in development,” Maigret says. “What did not make sense was to jump into selling projects just for the sake of sales.”

Since Maigret joined, ITV Studios has separated its US scripted and unscripted businesses, with the veteran exec running the former under the ITV Studios America banner and reporting into ITV Studios president, international, Maria Kyriacou. The unscripted business, currently the biggest earner for the UK broadcaster in the territory, is under the ITV America moniker. It’s run by Brent Montgomery, who reports to ITV Studios managing director Julian Bellamy.

Maigret’s key lieutenants include Lucienne Papon and Brian Segna on the development and creative side, and he has brought in Mike Azzolino from Jerry Bruckheimer Television as executive VP, creative affairs. Business affairs exec Tom Lane has moved from working across scripted and unscripted and is now focused solely on drama.

A priority has been to ramp up development, which has led to producer deals with Christina Wayne’s Assembly Entertainment in November 2015, and the deal with Gina Matthews and Grant Scharbo’s Little Engine Productions sealed this year. There are two more pacts about to be unveiled.

There is also a first-look pod deal with Secrets & Lies prodco Hoodlum, One Two Punch as well as production relationships with ITV America’s operating companies Leslie Greif’s Thinkfactory, Tony DiSanto’s Diga, which makes movie-inspired dramas Scream: the TV Series and Teen Wolf, as well as a raft of unscripted shows for cable nets. There is also the relationship with Tomorrow Studios, the joint venture with Marty Adelstein.

Among the shows in development, Tomorrow Studios is working on a TV version of the Korean movie Snowpiercer, and a book-to-TV series adaptation of Erik Axl Lund’s Scandi mystery noir trilogy The Crow Girl. Tomorrow also has shows in development via its deal with Fabrication, the company of Aquarius writers and exec producers Alexandra Cunningham, Sera Gamble and John McNamara.

ITV Studios’ development portfolio in the US includes projects at AMC, WGN, Spike, Bravo, E! and Hulu. There are also four projects developed through pods and sold to broadcast nets for upcoming TV season.

On the digital side, ITV is an investor, alongside advertising giant WPP, in Indigenous Media, the multiplatform prodco created by filmmakers and producers Jake and Jon Avnet and Rodrigo Garcia. It recently made Snapchat series Sick House, which stars social media stars Andrea Russett and Sean O’Donnell and is a Blair Witch-esque self-filmed horror story that has been repackaged as a feature for Vimeo and Fullscreen.

“For ITV, an incubation investment in a company [such as Indigenous] that is talent-based allows us to understand new forms of storytelling, and also for our colleagues in the online, pay and interactive division of ITV to possibly develop those concepts and formats in international markets,” Maigret says.

About a third of the overall development slate is original ideas, and the rest emanates from existing IP, including books and, given the access to the ITV catalogue, scripted formats. One is gritty Jimmy McGovern ITV series The Street, which will get a US remake for The Walking Dead network AMC.

Criminal Minds’ Ed Bernero, Medium and Moonlighting’s Glenn Gordon Caron, House of Lies’ Matt Carnahan and Bridge of Spies’ Matt Charman are all writing projects for ITV, and in a competitive market, Maigret says ITV Studios America must offer talent a best-of-both-worlds scenario; being able to cover the significant costs of drama, but also being more adaptable than the Hollywood studios, which can write big cheques but also often want to direct projects towards their own nets.

“The major studios can make richer commitments on projects because they have the financial infrastructure in place to fuel that, whereas we are a start-up – part of a big company, but a start-up,” Maigret says. “The distinction is that we are in the sweet spot, being big enough to commit the necessary resources to projects, but small enough to be flexible and nimble in our approach. If we cannot create a compelling case, why would established talent come and work with us?”

The nature of the US market means that while ITV would ideally hold on to rights and feed them into Ruth Clarke’s ITV Studios Global Entertainment distribution arm, there is also a good margin in simply producing. In terms of upcoming production projects, Tomorrow is making Good Behavior for TNT, a series based on the novel by Wayward Pines author Blake Crouch. Thinkfactory, meanwhile, is making Million Dollar Quartet for Viacom’s CMT, an event series inspired by the Broadway musical of the same name.

The list of competitors, meanwhile, is getting bigger. Maigret counts eleven new indie studios in the US market in the past five years as well as the likes of Media Rights Capital (House of Cards) and Skydance Television (Grace and Frankie), which produce, but don’t distribute. There is also the rise of the in-house cable divisions, with the likes of ABC Signature, AMC Studios, A+E Studios, TNT Studios, and Universal Cable Productions coming to the party.

Hell on Wheels 1In terms of the indie competition, ITV is bigger than eOne, Gaumont, Legendary Television, Europacorp, Sonar Entertainment and Banijay Studios North America, and seemingly more aggressive in US scripted than StudioCanal and Maigret’s former employer, Endemol Shine. As head of Endemol Studios he got four shows away – Hell on Wheels (above), Kingdom, Red Widow and Low Winter Sun – a score card that reads two hits (the former pair) and two one-season misses (the latter).

Thankfully for ITV and the others, there are also new places to sell shows. “It’s a hot market with a record level of scripted television, and there are new entrants as both buyers and as sellers,” Maigret says. “There are also others who haven’t fully entered the market yet such as Apple. Will Facebook enter next?”

In a fragmented market, there may be more places to sell, but getting another returning hit is a greater challenge for all content companies. “You can see the number of mega-hit franchises has not increased in proportion to number of series launched,” Maigret says.

“Fragmentation means any audience, niche or broad, has viewing options and that is good – it is not like the audience is so overwhelmed with choice that people are turning off. However, it does impact what carries through season-to-season, and how an audience responds to a show. They are not always, for example, carrying on to follow subsequent seasons because there is a new shiny object or proposition for them.”

So, more competition, more outlets, and, the challenge of breaking through when so much drama is being launched.

Against that backdrop, UK-listed ITV is dealing with the impact of Brexit and a weak pound, but the blueprint for the US remains the same, Maigret says.

“The company has been clear we are focused on a strategy and that remains unchanged,” he says. “Management has made it clear the creation and ownership of content is a strategic priority and a big growth opportunity, and within that, the growth of the scripted business is another priority.”

The ITV drama chief says the five-year plan will see the unit he runs established as one of the biggest – possibly the biggest – drama independent in the US (aside from Lionsgate, which is often labelled as a ‘mini-major’).

“We have a creative platform: the team; the pods and producers under deals; the operating companies in the US; the British production companies and talent that we have access to, and the IP we can look at through ITV; and that essentially drives an organic build-out,” he says.

“We’re not expected to deliver one hit; it’s about delivering a portfolio of shows. The endgame is to build ITV Studios America to a leading indie studio within five years.”

Transatlantic traction

ITV is a UK-listed business and, as such, its Stateside ambitions have both a British and an international flavour.

Maigret is helping Maria Kyriacou and her international team build a scripted business not just in the US, but around the world, and advising on the creation of a global drama television operation.

“The explosion in the drama landscape is also happening outside the US,” says Maigret. “For example, there is a growing opportunity for UK-US coproduction, and Nordic-French, and German drama is gaining more traction locally and internationally. That feeds into ITV Studios’ global strategy.

“We have a better shot than most of competitors to do some exciting things, and establish a global creative network in scripted television – we are focused on allowing talent and ideas to cross borders, and developing a number of projects from international scripted formats.”

As well as The Street, it is shopping Nordic series Jordskott into the US, although not, as has been reported, for Amazon Prime Video. It is also working with 42, the UK talent agency and producer, on a new drama for US cable net WGN America, and developing other projects with them.

US-UK cooperation also makes sense at a time when talent is so in demand. “In such an expanded marketplace the demand for commercially proven creative talent is at an all-time high,” Maigret says. “That is clearly an unprecedented opportunity for writers, directors, actors and key below-the-line talent. “When all established directors, writers and showrunners are busy, British talent becomes very, very appealing.”

Commercially, US channels are also keen on Brits. “We have the relationships with established producers and talent in the UK at a time when more and more American networks are eager to work with non-American talent,” the ITV scripted boss says.

There is also scope for US-UK co-development. “Obviously there are international companies affiliated to ITV Studios, and we are discussing co-development as well as format adaptations,” Maigret says.