Howard Gordon Talks Accused


Acclaimed writer, producer and showrunner Howard Gordon delivered the opening keynote speech at the TV Drama Festival today, discussing how he adapted the British drama Accused into a new anthology for FOX in the U.S.

Gordon’s keynote conversation with TV Drama’s Anna Carugati, which can be viewed here, began with him discussing the background of Accused, the first show ordered out of his and Alex Gansa’s broad overall deal at Sony Pictures Television.

David Shore had begun to adapt the Jimmy McGovern-created BBC One show, but with his schedule preoccupied with the hit ABC series The Good Doctor, “he kindly handed it over to my development,” Gordon said. “It was kind of a pandemic catharsis for me. It felt like an amazing opportunity to tell stories about my own anxiety about living in the world today.”

Each episode focuses on a new storyline and character, exploring the backstory of someone accused of a crime. “It has the trappings of a pretty classic courtroom story. But it’s about so much more than that. It is about very human stories, relatable, small-scale stories, but told against all the fault lines in the world that we’re living with: The corrosive impact of social media, identity, race, inequality. There’s something very deep at the bottom of every one of these stories that I’m extremely proud of. They’re complicated and simple at the same time. It shows us how exquisitely vulnerable we all are at this moment. It’s an empathy engine. We’re kind of in a revolutionary moment, an inflection point. These stories all exist somewhere on one of those fault lines.”

On working with the source material from the U.K. show, Gordon noted, “You got to see what worked and what didn’t and how something could be made, in my opinion, better. The format is Jimmy McGovern’s, and it’s one of those; how come this hasn’t happened before?”

While the British original was deeply rooted in its location, resulting in what Gordon described as a “northern England, industrial Manchester cobalt blue,” the version for FOX spreads across the U.S. “We’re taking advantage of the bigness and the diversity of this country. There’s a diversity of stories.”

He continued, “I slowed some of the stories down and created characters. We’re doing one or two of his stories—the rest are all original. His came out in 2010; the world is a different place, so profoundly different from how it was then. The stories, by definition, are quite different.”

On the creative opportunities of doing self-contained episodes in an anthology versus a serialized show, Gordon said: “At the time I took this on, I thought, Wow, this is going to be so much easier. It was a great pandemic writing experience. It has been a very challenging production experience. You have to cast a new set of characters every single time. Our thesis was that the scripts are good; they will draw talent. And it has.” Cast members include Michael Chiklis, Jill Hennessy, Abigail Breslin, Margo Martindale and Wendell Pierce, with Billy Porter and Marlee Matlin among those on board as directors. “We have managed to draw some amazing, amazing talent to this show because of the material.”

On the role of broadcast TV today, Gordon noted, “I have strong feelings about the culture and the abnegation of curating content. There was a moment when you knew Monday night was Thirtysomething or Thursday was ER. You created a sense of anticipation and couldn’t wait for the next week. Now, an entire thing is dumped. It’s like eating breakfast, lunch and dinner again and again and again. And you’re left bleary-eyed. It doesn’t live in your imagination, heart or mind for long. Structurally, we’re in a curious place. The broadcast networks’ ratings are a fraction of what they were. But they remain the most durable place for people to gather at the same time and watch a story. That’s what I’m encouraged by.” Gordon added that the show will also be available on a catch-up basis on Hulu and Tubi.

Gordon then noted that his show 24 was the last network series to win the Primetime Emmy for best drama back in 2006. “Since then, it’s been streamers and premium cable. The business model is a curious thing, but I’m more interested in how it’s impacted our capacity to tell a story where enough people watch it at the same time to spark some kind of conversation and impact.”

Gordon continued: “I know there’s something subversive and challenging about this material. 24 premiered right after 9/11, and the conventional wisdom was that nobody would want to watch this. I think what made it a much more meaningful experience for people, in the end, were the events of the world. In this show…we are hitting everything. You asked before, what’s the challenge of an anthology? In a serialized show, you can expand on and grow the story novelistically. This is much more like a short story. The discipline and the exercise and the learning curve have been about how to thrust you into a situation quickly. You’re in a place and you meet these characters. The real challenge and the fun has been, how do I make this so recognizable, so legible, so almost instantly gettable, so that you can’t stop watching?”

Carugati then asked Gordon if it is harder to pitch and get projects greenlit today as the landscape fragments. “We went to Sony under the premise that they were agnostic and could find business deals with everyone. But it is getting harder. Players are going to be drafted by these monoliths, by these vertically integrated [companies and platforms]. It feels as though lines are being drawn that are harder and harder to cross. They are disincentivized now to take a show from an independent producer. Everything is sort of in flux always. I know for my TV critic friends whose job it is to stay on top of things that it has become a firehose of stuff that is overwhelming. How do you pick and choose and curate your own consumption and your own TV watching? Throw in the movies, which are now up in the air. I mean, what is a movie anymore? What is theatrical distribution? It is an interesting and revolutionary time. I hope there will always be a home for me. What the appetites and the algorithm are dictating don’t always seem to be in sync with what interests me.”