It was another year of peak TV in the scripted space, with the number of originals in the U.S. alone hitting 495 in 2018, according to FX Networks Research, up from 487 in 2017. Online platforms now boast more scripted originals than basic cable and broadcast, the data notes, with 160 to basic’s 144 (down from 175 in 2017) and broadcast’s 146 (down from 153). Online now accounts for a 32-percent share of U.S. scripted originals, ahead of broadcast’s 30 percent, basic cable’s 29 percent and pay cable’s 9 percent.
Last year also saw Netflix tie HBO in the number of Emmy wins and score more nominations than the premium cable network for the first time—a remarkable achievement given that its original programming strategy only started in 2013 with House of Cards. The streamer continued to make big moves in its IP investments in 2018, significantly ramping up its slate of originals from outside of the U.S., including Korea, India, Africa, Spain, Norway, Germany, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and Sweden.
Apple, too, made some aggressive moves in 2018, announcing series from Jennifer Garner and J.J. Abrams, NBA superstar Kevin Durant, Damien Chazelle and M. Night Shyamalan, and unveiling its first international production—an adaptation of Gregory David Roberts’ best-selling novel Shantaram. Under the leadership of Jennifer Salke, Amazon Studios unveiled a raft of new series in the U.S. and expanded its international productions in Japan and India, including its first Tamil-language drama.
Meanwhile, the upcoming Disney+ service started to take shape, with the company announcing a new Star Wars live-action series; and the digital subscription service DC Universe launched with library fare and original series like Greg Berlanti’s Titans.
With all the drama being produced for linear and digital in the U.S. and across the globe, securing access to talent remains a crucial concern for producers, platforms and distributors, leading to a slew of new investments and first-look deals. Of note, Warner Bros. retained its lucrative pact with Berlanti and aligned with Emmy Award-winning and Oscar-nominated writer, producer and director Ava DuVernay. Fremantle secured alliances with Brazilian author Paulo Coelho and Picnic at Hanging Rock star Natalie Dormer. Carol Mendelsohn entered an overall producing deal with Universal Television. Netflix partnered with Eric Newman (Narcos); Marti Noxon (Sharp Objects, Dietland); Harlan Coben; Jantje Friese and Baran bo Odar, the creators of Dark; and Álex Pina, the creator of La Casa de Papel (Money Heist), among many others. Amazon Studios secured deals with Nicole Kidman, Neil Gaiman and Academy Award winner Barry Jenkins. The Handmaid’s Tale’s Bruce Miller inked a multiyear overall development deal with MGM Television and Hulu. Apple signed producer and director Justin Lin (Fast & Furious) to an exclusive, multiyear overall deal.
On the investment front, NENT Studios, part of Nordic Entertainment Group, purchased a majority stake in the Copenhagen-based drama production company EPIQ. Sony Pictures Television acquired a minority stake in the production company Eleventh Hour Films. NBCUniversal International Studios and Matchbox Pictures backed a new production company with Tony Ayres. Banijay Group set up a scripted operation in Italy and added to its roster the new scripted outfit Neon Ink. BBC Studios increased its holding in Clerkenwell Films and acquired a minority stake in Moonage Pictures and a 51-percent interest in Sid Gentle Films. All3Media backed Noel Clarke and Jason Maza’s Unstoppable Film and TV and Siobhan Finnigan and Judith King’s Witchery Pictures. Beta Film and ZDF Enterprises teamed up to launch Intaglio Films, a new scripted venture to develop, finance and produce drama for the international market.
In a year when two of the biggest, buzziest hits in the U.S. were HBO’s Sharp Objects and BBC America’s Killing Eve, book-based IP continued to be in high demand across the globe. At Netflix, adaptations in the works include a series based on Henning Mankell’s best-selling Kurt Wallander novels, series and film projects based on C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia and a take on Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. Other high-profile adaptations in development or production include The Watch, from Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, for BBC America; Joyland, based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, for Freeform; James Clavell’s Shōgun for FX; Elaine Weiss’s The Woman’s Hour, exec produced by Hillary Clinton; Audrey Niffenegger’s novel The Time Traveler’s Wife from Steven Moffat for HBO; Jane Austen’s unfinished final novel, Sanditon, for ITV and PBS Masterpiece; NOS4A2 for AMC; and Little Fires Everywhere for Hulu. There are also several graphic novels and comics being made into TV series, such as Watchmen for HBO, and Showtime greenlit the video game-inspired Halo.
Reboots, too, remain popular, with Hulu ordering a revival of Veronica Mars and Freeform giving a put pilot commitment for a new version of the ’90s hit Party of Five. Showtime said it would continue the Penny Dreadful saga with Penny Dreadful: City of Angels. AMC unveiled an expansion of The Walking Dead universe (despite a dip in ratings for the flagship show) with a series of films starring Andrew Lincoln to continue the story of his character, Rick Grimes. CBS All Access revealed details of a new Star Trek series, with Sir Patrick Stewart returning to the iconic role of Jean-Luc Picard. Starz and Lionsgate said they are developing a TV series based on the John Wick film franchise called The Continental.
Reaffirming the importance of known IP in a crowded drama space, there were several announcements last year of biographies, including one on Audrey Hepburn from Wildside and a Netflix series about Tejano music legend Selena Quintanilla. Hulu gave a straight-to-series order for Wu-Tang: An American Saga. Lin-Manuel Miranda and Thomas Kail, who partnered on the Broadway hit Hamilton, are teaming up for an FX limited series centered on choreographer and filmmaker Bob Fosse and dancer Gwen Verdon. Dopamine and Onza Entertainment aligned for a production focused on the life of Hernán Cortés. Acorn Media Enterprises revealed it was working with Free@Last TV to develop the first-ever scripted biopic of legendary comic Benny Hill. Mainstreet Pictures and Fremantle are developing a global event drama based on the life of legendary British actress Vivien Leigh.
The year also saw further evolutions in funding models and partnerships. Public broadcasters DR, NRK, SVT, RÚV and YLE kicked off the “Nordic 12” initiative in an effort to secure rights to the best Nordic shows in the face of increasing competition from global SVOD services. France Télévisions joined forces with RAI in Italy and ZDF in Germany to launch a European production pool that will finance series. Keshet International established a $55 million fund in partnership with several of Israel’s largest holding and asset management companies to invest in drama projects.
Finding newer, smarter ways to finance drama will remain a key concern for all those involved in the business this year as questions remain over just how much is too much when it comes to scripted.