Networks, Studios Reintroduce Serials to Development Diet

Dec 1, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Jack Bauer may get some company next year.
Marking a departure from typical prime-time formats in recent seasons, several broadcast networks have bought scripts for drama projects that will follow a single serialized story as it plays out over the course of a full season, a la Fox’s hit drama “24.”
ABC bought a script from Universal that tracks a serial killer and the FBI agent who is trying to catch the killer throughout the season. The show is from writers Melissa Byer and Treena Hancock, with Robert Nathan attached to executive produce.
Fox ordered a script called “The Dinner Party” from Lisa Kudrow’s production company, at Warner Bros. Television. The series would revolve around a Manhattan dinner party that takes place over the course of 24 episodes. Ms. Kudrow will executive produce with her producing partner Dan Bucatinsky. Sandy Isaac is the writer.
Fox also bought a script called “Stealing” from writers David Simkins and Jeff King that follows the inner workings of an “Ocean’s Eleven”-type heist planned over an entire season. 20th Century Fox is the studio.
In the past few years networks have shied away from serialized dramas, which tend not to repeat well. This year, studio and network executives agree that they are more open to them. “The success that `24′ and `The O.C.’ have enjoyed has somewhat rekindled network interest in serialized dramas,” said David Kissinger, president of Universal Television Productions. “But the prevailing appetite is still for closed-ended storytelling.”
While serialized dramas don’t repeat very well, studio chiefs say the burgeoning DVD market can make them financially viable. Of the top 70 best-selling TV series DVDs from 2001-03, 12 dramas make the list-all of them serialized-including “The Sopranos,” “24,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel.”
“The emergence of a genuine DVD market for serialized dramas like `24′ and `The Sopranos’ has certainly made studios more open to this form,” Mr. Kissinger said. “But it’s clear that these are shows of rare quality and that being serialized isn’t enough. It’s got to be a great show to attract DVD buyers.”
Dana Walden, co-president of 20th Century Fox Television, said interest in serialized dramas is cyclical, and this time around it may reflect the current television landscape. “What we’ve seen historically in television is that there is an incredibly loyal group of viewers who will tune in week in and week out to serialized shows,” she said.
About 35 percent of 20th’s drama development this year is serialized, Ms. Walden said.
Thom Sherman, senior VP of drama series at ABC, said the network is developing serialized dramas and nighttime soaps. “So many dramas are just completely closed-ended and void of real characters and relationships that we just feel there is an appetite out there,” he said.
Fox has numerous serialized shows in development. It bought a drama script from Universal called “Couch Canyon” about a group of young therapists in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Fox also bought a high school soap focusing on the romantic lives of teenagers from 20th called “The Sex Life of American Teenagers.” It was sold by executive producer Susanne Daniels and writer Brenda Hampton.
“Given the success of `The O.C.’ and some of the continued success of reality shows, there is clearly a desire on behalf of the audience to have a continuing relationship with characters and stories,” said Craig Erwich, executive VP of programming at Fox Broadcasting Co.
In addition to “Stealing,” Fox also bought a script from Craig Silverstein based on Lions Gate Films’ “Confidence.” Produced by 20th and Lions Gate Television, it would follow a team of con artists over the course of a season.
NBC bought “Den of Thieves” from 20th Century Fox and Original Television. It has been described as an “Italian Job”-style heist. Fox also bought a script from feature writer Paul Scheuring about a man’s attempt to break his brother out of prison that will run through the season. The show would be produced by 20th Century Fox Television and Original Television.