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C21 DIGITAL SCREENINGS

Sony Pictures Television

Programming Profile

SPT brings the world to its Digital Screenings

22-05-2020

Sony Pictures Television has led the change in launching virtual screenings. Here, president of distribution and networks Keith Le Goy talks us through the studio’s playlist on C21’s Digital Screenings.

 

Le Goy
Keith Le Goy,
Sony Pictures Television

In a month when international buyers would’ve normally been hanging out in sunny Hollywood for the LA Screenings, the current global lockdown has meant that US studio Sony Pictures Television (SPT) has taken to unveiling its latest programming digitally. Instead of buyers all flying into the US, the studio has instead been going directly to them, via the magic of the internet.

 

It’s perhaps a fitting trend, since an increasing number of shows on SPT’s slate aren’t actually from Hollywood, or even produced in the US, but instead are fruits of its international approach to production.

 

“We always pride ourselves on having a wide variety of shows,” says Keith Le Goy, SPT’s president of distribution and networks, talking us through the company’s slate. “Being an independent major studio allows us the creative and commercial freedom to partner with a wide variety of people to tell the stories that our creators want to tell. That is serving us very well at this moment.”

 

SPT certainly does have US shows on the slate, ones it has produced for Hulu and Paramount Network, for example. But equally it also has titles from partners including the BBC and ITV in the UK as well as coproductions with German, Italian and Brazilian companies “that really bring a wealth of global storytelling to the buyers who come to our virtual screenings.”

 

The slate, Le Goy continues, “speaks to the breadth of what we’re trying to do, both in terms of the types of partners we work with, from streaming services to the most mainstream of broadcasters, and also to the global breadth of what we’re doing. We’re really bringing together the best storytellers from around the world, because we’re now very much in the global business where great stories can come from everywhere and commissions can come from everywhere.”

 

And increasingly for studios like SPT, audiences are global too, so content strategies need to reflect that, even with regard to audiences within the English-speaking world. “Increasingly, people are very receptive to seeing stories that aren’t solely American stories or stories that are much more open. We’ve seen that with Casa de Papel, Narcos and Parasite, so people are just interested in great storytelling from wherever it may come,” explains Le Goy.

 

The SPT exec divides his playlist on C21’s Digital Screenings into two halves: shows with all episodes available right away and those that are commissioned and have trailers but are awaiting the production freeze to thaw before cameras can start rolling.

 

Coyote
Coyote

“Some of the shows have full episodes because they were shot in advance of when production had to cease. So we are in a very enviable position of having multiple episodes of new shows that we can sell to our customers, at a time when there is a scarcity of new content for obvious reasons. We think that is going to be very compelling to people,” says Le Goy.

 

Top of the list of shows that are available to buy right now is Paramount Network action drama Coyote, starring Michael Chiklis as a border patrol agent who experiences life across the border. Le Goy thinks this show will travel as “the show deals head on with universal themes, whether these are big global ones such as borders and the movement of people, or more personal ones such as the search for truth and morality in a complex world where ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are rarely absolute.”

 

Crossing Swords
Crossing Swords

Throw in the star power of Emmy winning Chiklis and SPT and production partners MacLaren Entertainment and Dark Horse Entertainment might be on to something here. “Michael is a legendary actor in both film and television. He almost invented the anti-hero genre with The Shield. We’re thrilled to have him in this show, which I think is going to be gigantic,” adds Le Goy.

 

On the other end of the spectrum, SPT is offering its Hulu series Crossing Swords, a 10-part animated adult comedy from Stoopid Buddy Stoodios that debuts on the streaming platform in June. Set in the fictitious Middle Ages and voiced by Nicholas Hoult and Luke Evans, among others, it follows a peasant who joins the royal household of his king.

 

Woke
Woke

“Think of South Park but exponentially more irreverent. It’s a complete antidote to what we’re going through right now. Part of our job as a storytellers is to give audiences the chance to be entertained and to laugh and be diverted from the current news cycle that everyone’s going through. And this will certainly do that,” says Le Goy.

 

On perhaps a broader note, SPT is also shopping Woke, a half-hour series for Hulu that combines live-action and animation by telling the story of the political awakening of a middle-class African-American cartoonist. Lamorne Morris (New Girl) stars in a show created and written by Keith Knight and Marshall Todd (Barbershop). “It’s funny but funny with a serious message, and a lot about somebody’s own personal journey, their search for who they really are.” explains Le Goy.

 

Out of Her Mind
Out of Her Mind

Other shows for which SPT has completed episodes include UK series Out of Her Mind, a six-part comedy that Nick Frost and Simon Pegg’s prodco Stolen Picture is making for BBC2. Written by and starring award-winning British comedian Sara Pascoe, the show explores heartbreak, family and how to survive them.

 

“Sara Pascoe in a brilliant stand-up comedian,” says Le Goy. “Hits like Fleabag and others have shown there’s an appetite for this kind of irreverent, offbeat, very strong female character-driven humour. Comedy where you’re talking about real life and not trying to sugarcoat it: just being real, honest, authentic and funny. And those are things that are resonating, particularly right now.”

 

Quiz
Quiz

Quiz (3×60’), another UK series, is also in the can and ready to go. The ITV drama is about the couple who famously tried to cheat the quiz show Who Wants to be a Millionaire in 2001. Starring Matthew Macfadyen, Michael Sheen and Sian Clifford, the three-parter is “one of those very rare shows where for three nights everybody is watching the same thing and talking about it,” says the SPT exec.

 

The show’s broadcast in the UK in April “was one of those moments when you realise that live viewing still has power and it doesn’t have to be sport but can be scripted content. The show certainly got the UK talking,” he adds.

 

Coincidence, perhaps, but the debut of Quiz, produced by SPT-backed Left Bank Pictures, comes at a time when the gameshow format upon which it is based is enjoying something of a renaissance around the world.

 

Monsterland
Monsterland

“The show has had a revival in the UK with Jeremy Clarkson. Similarly, in the US with Jimmy Kimmel doing a series of primetime Millionaire specials and right now we’re doing a series of Millionaire at home with TF1 in France. It’s a 21-year-old brand that is still going incredibly strong and Quiz has really helped to reinforce that,” says Le Goy.

 

Also on the list of shows in the can is Monsterland, a provocative Hulu anthology series from Annapurna TV that showcases such stars as Taylor Shilling, Kaitlyn Dever, Jonathan Tucker, Bill Camp and Mike Colter. “It’s about the monsters within and the fears that people have – not for the faint of heart,” says Le Goy. “People who like smart horror, people who like suspense will find this spine-tingling but very satisfying.”

 

One Day at a Time
One Day at a Time

One Day at a Time, meanwhile, is a reimagining of the classic Norman Lear sitcom from the 1970s and follows three generations of a Cuban-American family navigating the ups and downs of life. A total of four seasons of the half-hour Pop TV hit are available to license.

 

Aside from these shows that are ready to buy now, SPT has a number of shows that are commissioned and waiting for the production lockdown to lift. These include Epix drama Chapelwaite, starring Oscar winner Adrien Brody and based on the short story Jerusalem’s Lot by Stephen King; and Leonardo, a drama production that SPT is shooting in Europe with Aiden Turner from Poldark and Freddie Highmore from The Good Doctor, which tells the untold stories of Leonardo da Vinci.

 

Angel of Hamburg
Angel of Hamburg

Le Goy also highlights an English-language drama that SPT is coproducing with partners in Brazil and Germany called Angel of Hamburg. It’s based on a true story about a couple who conspired together to help people escape from Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s and find safe passage to Brazil.

 

Le Goy finishes his slate round-up with the new kids spy drama Alex Rider, which SPT took a gamble on as the show was the first series commissioned by SPT’s international production and distribution divisions on spec, greenlighting the project independently of any broadcasters, to be distributed worldwide.

 

Alex Rider
Alex Rider

“It was something that we believed in fervently and we also believed in our ability to reinvent the television greenlighting model,” says Le Goy.

 

The studio’s faith has been rewarded, if some recent sales announcements are anything to go by. The 8×60’ series, from Sony-backed Eleventh Hour Films and adapted from Anthony Horowitz’s young-adult spy novels, has been picked up in almost 100 territories around the world and will premiere on Amazon Prime Video In the UK on June 4th, the studio announced this month.

 

The studio might be on to something with its virtual screenings strategy.