ITV Studios Global Entertainment (ITVS GE) is well known as one of the world’s preeminent suppliers of British drama, from classics like Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Prime Suspect to its latest wave of hits, among them Victoria, Poldark, The City and the City and Vanity Fair. As its parent company has expanded its reach, however, ITVS GE has been able to radically broaden its slate. ITV Studios’ enhanced global presence—with operations in the U.S., Australia, France, Germany and Scandinavia—has translated into a wider portfolio at ITVS GE, one that includes the upcoming, highly anticipated American drama Snowpiercer and a wave of foreign-language shows. Maria Kyriacou, the president of international at ITV Studios, tells TV Drama about the diverse slate at ITVS GE and weighs in on the latest developments in the global scripted landscape.
TV DRAMA: Tell us about ITV Studios’ new drama slate for this MIPCOM.
KYRIACOU: Headlining our MIPCOM slate is The War of the Worlds. It’s from Mammoth Screen, the company behind Victoria, Poldark and Vanity Fair. They are a super team, extremely good at these literary adaptations. With Peter Harness writing, I think it’s a great example of what the U.K. does very well. It’s a very bold interpretation of the original [H. G. Wells] novel, set in Edwardian England. I think people will be surprised at how the menace of the aliens is built up and how thrilling it becomes.
We have a really good-looking slate of both English-language and non-English-language shows. What’s new for us this market is the number of shows that are coming out of Europe. I believe it’s a sign of the strength of creativity in France, Italy, Spain and Scandinavia. And it’s a sign of what ITV Studios has become—more of a balanced global business now than it was a few years ago. Alongside our British shows—Dark Heart, an ITV detective series from Chris Lang; Cleaning Up, from Sister Pictures, Jane Featherstone’s company, starring Sheridan Smith—we have several European dramas. West of Liberty is a six-part series set in Germany but predominantly in the English language. It’s from Anagram and Network Movie for SVT and ZDF, and tells the story of a retired Stasi agent and CIA informant, who is coaxed back into the field for one final investigation. We also have the crime procedural Balthazar from one of our French production labels, Beaubourg Stories, and Speakerine from another of our French labels, Macondo.
TV DRAMA: You have a slate that encompasses shows from ITV Studios-owned outlets as well as third parties. What are some of the models you’re using to pull these projects together?
KYRIACOU: The models vary. Co-production is a big part of the conversation for us, bringing partners together. Sometimes it’s just as simple as joining forces in order to fund ambitious shows such as Vanity Fair (a co-production between Amazon and ITV), but we’re also starting to see a few more bottom-up co-developments happening organically across the business. Because we have production capabilities in France, Italy, Scandinavia and Germany, as well as the U.K. and the U.S., that network of talented producers has begun working together on ideas that could bring in audiences in more than one territory. There’s nothing we can announce yet, but there are three or four projects that are live and working their way through the development cycle. It’s a heartening thing to know that we are becoming much more than the sum of our parts; our labels are really benefiting from being part of our creative-led business, and they are leveraging it.
Additionally, we’re bringing in the knowledge of our local production teams to help presell and bring funding into projects that are relatively well-developed.
TV DRAMA: What are you hearing from broadcasters about the demand for procedurals versus serialized?
KYRIACOU: At the Edinburgh TV Festival in August, Kevin [Lygo, director of television at ITV] invited producers to pitch new procedurals. Some of our highest-rating, most-adored dramas are ones like Vera, which, while they don’t get the same sort of buzz in the media that an HBO drama does, do sustain very large, incredibly loyal audiences. There is still a strong market for them, which is why we like selling them internationally. Similarly, as we’ve seen with Bodyguard—from World Productions (a part of ITV Studios)—on BBC One, something highly serialized with many twists and turns was able to captivate an audience of more than 7.8 million average viewers throughout the series, peaking with 11 million live viewers during the finale. It’s become the highest-rated drama in the U.K. in over a decade.
TV DRAMA: There is so much out there. What qualities do you look for in projects that can break through?
KYRIACOU: The really exciting thing about our industry right now is that talent is allowed to explore some ideas that a few years ago would have been too tangential. There are more outlets for a wider set of genres than ever before. So we’re not shutting anything down. In fact, we’re doing the opposite. We’re opening it up.
TV DRAMA: What are some of the things your companies are doing to foster a new generation of talent?
KYRIACOU: All of our creative labels have young producers and young writers coming through the ranks. It’s about giving people a chance and making sure they have access to training and hands-on experience. With all the wealth of production in our pipeline, the opportunities are there.
TV DRAMA: You have a lot of co-productions on the slate. What are some of the approaches you’ve used to ensure the success of these collaborations?
KYRIACOU: Number one is that everybody buys into a single creative vision, so you don’t get multiple voices at the table pulling a project in different directions. That is probably the most important thing. Whether it’s the writer or producer, you have to support what they want to make.
TV DRAMA: What considerations do you take into account when determining a windowing strategy on a property to make sure you’re maximizing it on as many platforms as possible?
KYRIACOU: It’s interesting. Distributors, five to ten years ago, were talking about the importance of pushing shows through multiple windows, and that was the way to create long-tail value. I think we’ve gone slightly in reverse now. I think buyers are now looking for ownership in the long-term—they want to attach themselves. For us, that means bringing them into a project much earlier. We are selling more shows at a script or treatment stage now than ever before. And buyers are asking us about what we have coming throughout the year.
TV DRAMA: Does that early involvement cause any issues with producers in terms of dealing with more people giving notes and other editorial input?
KYRIACOU: They’ve got to buy into the initial vision of the creative. If you’re bringing on a partner, they have to be saying, “Yes, this is what I want and this is the person I trust to produce and write it for me.”
TV DRAMA: What developments in scripted do you expect will be most transformative for your business in the 12 to 18 months ahead?
KYRIACOU: Audience curiosity is opening up the possibilities for good shows from anywhere and everywhere to find success. Personally, I am using my access to global platforms to explore shows from India, Spain, Norway and more. That is what is driving the transformation of our portfolio.
TV DRAMA: What are some of the other projects you have in the pipeline that you’re particularly excited about?
KYRIACOU: If we fast-forward six months, our shows are becoming even bigger and bolder. We have Snowpiercer in production for TNT and Netflix, and we have World on Fire. World on Fire is our big, epic drama from Mammoth Screen that tells the story of the Second World War from multiple points of view. Every season will be a year of the war. It is amazing and the scripts are wonderfully compelling. I think it’s the perfect time for us to revisit the impact of the Second World War on ordinary people and how it devastated ordinary lives. We’ve also got Noughts & Crosses, an adaptation of the Malorie Blackman books, for the BBC. That’s really exciting; it reimagines the world as run by a black ruling class—the Crosses—with a white underclass, the Noughts.
TV DRAMA: There is so much book-based IP out there, I find myself envisioning what the TV adaptation will look like with everything I read these days! Is it becoming harder to secure the rights for new novels?
KYRIACOU: I think it depends on who you talk to. If you’re talking to an independent producer who is trying to secure the best ideas, they might feel a little bit under pressure. But from where we sit, from our point of view, when we consider the production labels we now have across ITV, they have phenomenally strong development slates and they are busier than ever before. There are a lot of great ideas out there.