Advance preview - Issue 90 - Magazine | Monocle

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There’s been a small-screen revolution over the past few years with television usurping the feature-film world and taking many of its A-list stars with it. As you’ll discover with our studio tour of 2016, the talent has ended up both in front of and behind the camera.

The big-budget drama revolution shows no sign of slowing down, particularly with the emergence of new digital players. But other genres are also revelling in new styles of storytelling with high-end factual titles, youth-skewed current-affairs programmes and inventive new entertainment formats all making as much noise as the next Netflix box-set.

Join us on the edge of the sofa as we get excited about the shows, producers, regions and platforms that will shape our viewing habits in the year ahead.

Pleasure without a pause button

Episodic television has largely followed the rule that dramas last an hour and comedies come in a half-hour format. However, Netflix and its digital rivals, as well as a number of pioneering producers, are starting to break the rules. These online subscription services see no need for traditional boundaries and linear broadcasters are also playing with the form, such as the BBC adapting Charles Dickens’ novels as 20 half-hour experiments.

House of Cards creator Beau Willimon believes that there will soon be full series of shows with no breaks, in effect becoming 13-hour films that can be chopped up to suit the viewer. “Is there any reason a TV show should have episodes or, if it does, they should be half an hour or an hour long?” he says. “Could shows be watched in their totality? You can think of them as chapters in a book but would it still work if you took that demarcation away?”

Fact is stranger than fiction

Serial was the fastest podcast to reach five million downloads and the WBEZ-produced tale is having a knock-on effect on television. In addition to an official series produced by The Lego Movie directors Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, global producers are using the form for their own mysteries. HBO had huge success with real-life manhunt The Jinx, which lead to the arrest of Robert Durst on first-degree murder charges, while Netflix released binge-viewing documentary series Making a Murderer at the end of 2015.

Broadcasters are now looking to take this to the next level. “The notion of ‘box-set factual’ is really interesting,” says Magnus Temple, chief executive of 24 Hours in A&E production company The Garden. “I’m envious of both Serial and The Jinx, and you’ll see the consequences.”

That shrinking feeling

There’s been an avalanche of A-list feature films being adapted into television series in recent years, including Psycho prequel Bates Motel, the Coen brothers’ Fargo and Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn. More than 20 big-screen transitions were developed last year in the US and the trend is only set to continue in 2016.

Kevin Bacon, for example, is remaking worm-horror thriller Tremors and Luc Besson’s Liam Neeson-fronted action franchise Taken is being adapted by NBC. And Bong Joon-ho’s South Korean film Snowpiercer, which itself is an adaptation of a French comic, is being remade by Terminator writer Josh Friedman.

Screen dreams

Netflix and Amazon broke through to the global stage in 2015, the former with 16 new series – including Narcos and Daredevil – and the latter with shows such as The Man in the High Castle and its ambitious bet on Jeremy Clarkson’s post-Top Gear career. This year both are looking to cement their place on television proper.

Netflix is banking on shows such as UK period drama The Crown, French political thriller Marseille, Judd Apatow comedy Love and Gomorrah follow-up Suburra. Meanwhile, Amazon is banking on an ambitious comedy from Woody Allen – his first move into the medium – and Sneaky Pete, a crime drama produced by Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston and House creator David Shore.

Seoul benefactor

South Korea is fast becoming the new Israel – which had cemented its position as the next Netherlands – when it comes to crazy entertainment formats. The world has been flocking to Seoul to shop for ideas that can be translated globally. Travel show Grandpas Over Flowers, which sees four elderly actors travelling the world with little preparation or money, is being adapted by NBC with stars William Shatner and Henry Winkler.

Other shows causing interest include work-life-balance format Where are we Going, Dad?, From Start To Clear, which challenges a celebrity to play a computer game until it’s finished, and The Genius, loosely based on Japanese manga series Liar Game.

The force is strong

Star Wars: The Force Awakens has helped JJ Abrams become one of the highest-grossing directors in Hollywood. The success of the latest instalment of the sci-fi franchise will, however, not only cement his feature credentials but also provide a noticeable boost for his television business, which has struggled to produce a breakthrough global hit since Lost.

His company, Bad Robot, has three high-profile projects launching later this year. 11/22/63 is a James Franco-fronted adaptation for Hulu of Stephen King’s novel about a time traveller who attempts to prevent the assassination of John F Kennedy. Westworld is an adaptation for HBO of Michael Crichton’s novel about a futuristic and apocalyptic theme park, while rock’n’roll thriller Roadies is a comedy drama for Showtime created by Cameron Crowe.

The Santa Monica-based firm will also benefit hugely from its latest hire: former BBC1 drama boss Ben Stephenson, the man responsible for shows including Sherlock, Wolf Hall and The Fall, is now in charge of its TV output.

Clear vision

The latest development in the world of TV technology is ultra-high-definition (UHD). BT launched Europe’s first live UHD sports channel at the end of 2015 but there are still only a handful of options available (largely across Asia, as well as a few niche offerings such as German shopping channel Pearl TV).

However, the concept will explode next year. Netherlands firm Tern International, with backing from Russian tech giant General Satellite Group, is launching Insight TV across Europe. Series will include Secrets of the Brain, Extraordinary Humans and magic show Around the World in 80 Tricks.

Real deal?

It has been a hot topic since the 1980s but 2016 is the year that the television industry is expected to take virtual reality (VR) to the next level. The emergence of YouTube 360 – a portal through which YouTube showcases its VR videos – is evidence of its edging towards the mainstream; broadcasters and Hollywood studios have also been investing in the technology.

Pay-TV broadcaster Sky has done VR tests for shows including horror drama Penny Dreadful and eco-thriller Fortitude, after it funded Silicon Valley firm Jaunt. German broadcaster ProSiebenSat.1, China Media Capital and Disney have also invested in Jaunt, while Netflix, Hulu and Vimeo have partnered with Facebook-owned headset Oculus Rift to create new programming.

Arabian TV nights

Legal drama Game of Silence (originally known as Suskunlar), set to air on NBC next year, will become the first US adaptation of a Turkish series. It’s part of a major step-change for what was previously an import market, with Turkey’s TV exports worth €185m in 2014 thanks to the success of period dramas such as Thousand and One Nights and Magnificent Century. Turkey is now hopeful about its next iteration of shows such as The End, which centres on a woman discovering a web of lies about her husband after he supposedly dies in a plane crash, and Ottoman empire thriller Resurrection.

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