TV Drama sat down with Dan Paulson, founder, president and CEO of Daniel L. Paulson Productions and executive producer on the Hallmark Channel series Chesapeake Shores, to chat about the show and his production process.
Paulson gained experience in the entertainment industry through roles at NBC and 20th Century Fox. He also learned from the legendary Dick Clark during his time at the iconic producer’s company. Paulson is perhaps a rare find in a world of producers for hire as he maintains control of the projects he works on under his production banner, which is behind a bevy of theatrical films, series pilots and a slate of TV movies, including several for Hallmark Channel.
Paulson’s latest production, Chesapeake Shores, premiered on Hallmark Channel last August and quickly gained a loyal following. It has also aired on W Network in Canada. Season two is set to premiere on Hallmark Channel on Sunday, August 6, at 9 p.m. Paulson tells TV Drama Weekly about his production model, Chesapeake Shores and the current need for family content in the marketplace.
TV DRAMA: How did the drama series Chesapeake Shores come about?
PAULSON: Chesapeake Shores was a New York Times best-selling series of books, which I read and loved. I took it to the Hallmark Channel, and I took Sherryl Woods, who’s the author, in to meet Bill Abbott, the president [and CEO] of Hallmark [Channel parent company Crown Media Family Networks], and he got it right away. He read the books and said, We want to do this. It’s become the biggest show they’ve ever done ratings-wise, and this coming season is going to be bigger and better. It looks great. Everybody’s very, very excited about the show.
TV DRAMA: What has it been like working with Hallmark on this project?
PAULSON: Hallmark fits this show like a glove. It’s an appropriate series for them. It’s about family, it’s a feel-good kind of show. It’s right in their wheelhouse, so to speak. I licensed the show to them, and I licensed it all over the world, but they’re my domestic partners, and they’re great partners, especially Bill Abbott. Very collegial. We discuss things. We have the same frame of mind of how the show should be made. Hallmark is a very specific brand [and it has] a very loyal audience, and I would never pretend to know the audience like Bill Abbott does. He knows his people and what they’re going to respond to, and I certainly listen to that while making the show.
TV DRAMA: When you work on a project that’s based on a book, how closely do you stick to the existing material?
PAULSON: We obviously take some license in television. Sherryl Woods—who’s terrific—was a former television critic, so she understands the business. Basically, we use the characters, and that’s our jumping point. Obviously, as the seasons progress, we have different arcs and trajectories for different characters and we take certain liberties from the books to make it interesting for television because it’s a different medium. But the fans—Sherryl has a huge fan base, and Chesapeake Shores is a best-selling series—want you to be pretty close to the books because that’s what they bought into, but you just try to make it more interesting, and we bring different characters into the show that are not in the books. Sherryl reads all the scripts, and we have her support. She’s an executive producer on the show, so I look to her for certain guidance so I don’t go too far from the original novel.
We want to be true to the book, we want to be true to Hallmark because they have a very loyal fan base, and there are certain parameters they stay within; it’s family programming. So, it’s something that families can watch together. Today, everything is so dark and edgy. Netflix bought it around the world, and they have so many dark and edgy shows, but they were really welcoming a family show. There’s a whole audience out there that’s basically underserved, and Hallmark understands that. It’s done very well all over the world. These are characters that people can relate to, and it’s about a family. I think our audience would like to be a part of that family. They’re dysfunctional, that’s for sure, but when they have a dinner, you want to be at that table.
TV DRAMA: Where are you scouting new material from these days?
PAULSON: A lot of my material comes from books because at least that’s pretty set and I can see how the story is structured. As a producer, you have to know that you have a market for the property. There are all different markets. As a producer, you have to have a sense for material—what you’re going to like, what the buyer is going to like and ultimately what the audience is going to like. That’s the key.
TV DRAMA: How would you explain your production process?
PAULSON: Maybe it’s a bit of a dying breed, those of us who actually own our material and act as studio. Most producers today are work for hire; they work for a network or studio. But I choose to stay independent, like the old producers, the Darryl Zanucks. They knew what they liked, and I know if I like something, and I go for it. I don’t answer to a board of directors. So, agents bring me material and I’m a pretty quick study. I either like it or not, and if I like it, I’ll option the material and then I’ll shop it and once we’ve set it up, we have to hire a writer and adapt the material for the screen, then you’ve got to package it, cast it, put a director on it. And I choose to be on the set 24/7. A lot of producers just have other people do it. I like to be there. I watch everything that goes on. My name’s on it, and I feel that obligation to myself and to my buyers, my partners.
TV DRAMA: Do you seek outside financing or co-producing partners?
PAULSON: I do. Unless I want to write the check myself. A lot of people have gotten private money for film. I never really work with private money, and I always say I’ve had more tequila sunrises and guacamole dips at The Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel, [but] it’s never worked for me. I’ve always had my most success with networks and studios. That’s where the business is. A lot of people like to dabble and talk film, but the networks and studios need the product. Especially the networks; that screen can’t be blank, they’ve got to fill it. They’re real buyers, and they’re professionals, so that’s where my funding comes from. But at the same time, I don’t give up control of the property. I become the studio in that sense, and it works, especially in television.
This is the golden age of television. The best writers are on TV. Television is a great medium to do good work. I want special projects, that’s what I look for. With Chesapeake Shores, that’s like winning the lottery. It’s a home run. The shows are good, it’s getting critical acclaim now, and obviously the audience loves it, and that’s important.
TV DRAMA: You are a permanent resident of Canada. How does that help you gain tax advantages for filming?
PAULSON: I’m a permanent resident, and that means the tax credits are still the same. Canada has a very strong incentive with filming. However, somebody who’s not a citizen can only be in the country for a certain amount of time, so you can only be around for about 25 percent of the production of the show. As a permanent resident, I can do everything but vote in Canada, so I can be on the set 24/7, which I like to do. I have a Canadian line producer, but I can be more involved having my permanent residency, and that’s part of my model, that’s very important, just in terms of being more involved in the process.
Chesapeake Shores films on Vancouver Island, which has become a character in the show. My main focus now is Chesapeake Shores because it’s so intensive. When I do a series, I’m away for over four months producing the show, and I want to make it as good as it can be. The second season is very important because if you can get through the second season and be strong, you can go for seven seasons. People have told me that, and it’s not lost on me.
TV DRAMA: How does your past work experience inform how you run your production company, Daniel L. Paulson Productions?
PAULSON: I learned a lot from Dick [Clark]. I ran Dick’s production company, and I’ve never seen anybody with the work ethic that Dick had, and that shaped the way I run my business. I’m hands-on, will go anywhere, do anything that has to be done to make the show right. That was a great experience.
At Fox, I got experience with executives. Fox actually brought me out from New York to Los Angeles and I was the executive assistant to the head of production at the studio. I sat in on all the meetings and I not only met a lot of people who I do business with today, but I learned a lot about how a studio works, and that helps me now in dealing with networks and studios because I know the inner workings of these monoliths. But I always knew that I wanted to be an independent producer. The studio business is not for everybody, but it was a great training ground for me.
There aren’t many of us left—just the independent producer, the true entrepreneur. There are fewer and fewer people that do that and I’m proud of my studio and that we’re still standing. It ain’t easy, that’s for sure. To get on the top of the mountain, it’s not that big a deal, but the journey’s got to be good. If not, don’t do it.