The TV business is no longer a cruel and shallow money trench where film ideas go to die but rather a small-screen revolution gathering pace. Peak-time television saw 409 original scripted series on air in the US last year, in addition to thousands of hours of documentaries and non-scripted formats.
However, the US is beginning to face meaningful competition from countries around the world keen to export their latest high-profile dramas fronted by local A-listers. Monocle’s map looks at how Brazil, Nigeria and the Middle East are taking on Hollywood in the living room.
Meanwhile, giants such as Netflix and Amazon are on the hunt for original programming, and digital movements such as button-bashing e-sports (competitive computer gaming) are moving from the web to the TV screen.
The most surprising trend for the forthcoming US television season is time travel. It’s thought one of the reasons for this is that 21 October 2015, the day that Michael J Fox’s Marty McFly travels to in Back to the Future Part II, coincided with development season.
ABC is launching Time After Time, based on the life of a young HG Wells. The show follows Wells after he is transported to a modern-day New York to hunt down Jack the Ripper.
NBC’s Timeless, produced by The Shield creator Shawn Ryan, tells the story of a man who steals a time machine to destroy the US and those who attempt to stop him.
The Lego Movie creators Phil Lord and Chris Miller are producing Making History for Fox. Their comedy follows the adventures of two friends who go back to 18th-century colonial Massachusetts to affect the American Revolution – but one of them falls in love with Paul Revere’s daughter.
Brazil is known for producing thousands of hours of telenovelas: long-running soaps with swarthy hunks and romantic trysts. These shows are incredibly popular locally and with audiences in central and eastern Europe. However, production companies have recently been developing shorter, edgier series with the aim of selling them to western markets.
Globo, the country’s largest broadcaster, is hoping to sell its glossy period drama Dangerous Liaisons, an adaptation of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’s novel. TNT has also recently commissioned The Law, a crime drama that is thought to be the highest-budget TV production to emerge from Brazil. HBO has found success with high-class prostitution drama The Deal and followed this up with psychoanalyst drama Psi, written by Contardo Calligaris. Much of this drama boom has been down to the fact that the Brazilian government introduced both a quota system that obliges channels to produce a proportion least of local content and a tax-break scheme for such productions.
E-sports, the live filming of people playing video games, is one of the fastest-growing genres on the small screen. The burgeoning industry has long seen some of the best video-game players face off on YouTube and Amazon-owned Twitch and this world is now moving to linear television.
Reality competition series Legends of Gaming, for instance, is being adapted in multiple territories, including the US, UK, Brazil, Germany, France and Chile. UK broadcaster ITV and paid-for Sky have invested in channel Ginx eSports, while Scandinavian media conglomerate Modern Times Group has been buying some of the leagues, including the oldest ESL. US-based Turner Broadcasting has partnered with talent agency WME-IMG on an eLeague that will air in 80 territories across Africa, Asia and Europe. So e-sports, which is thought to be worth $890m (€800m) this year, is expected to grow to $1.23bn (€1.1bn) by 2019.
Africa's lead role
Nigeria’s film industry is one of the most prolific in the world and now its television business is becoming just as creative. Leading this charge is iRokotv, a Netflix rival part-owned by French broadcaster Canal+ and Swedish investor Kinnevik. The company is producing about 300 hours of original shows this year. Its latest hits include Lekki Wives, a drama series following a group of trophy wives in Lagos, and crime thriller Delilah.
But iRoko faces competition from digital rivals such as Ndani TV, which produces Skinny Girl in Transit, starring Ngozi Nwosu as radio personality Tiwa, and relationship drama Gidi Up. Then there are traditional broadcasters such as M-Net, which has had long-running success with soap opera Tinsel.
CEE-ing is believing
Game of Thrones and True Detective are global hits for HBO but the US premium cable network is now gearing up to take over other territories and is focusing on central and eastern Europe. The company is set to double the amount of original drama it produces in countries such as Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.
One launching later this year is Wasteland. The Czech series, which is set in a mining village on the verge of extinction, was created by Stepan Hulik. He wrote mini-series Burning Bush, which told the story of a student who set himself on fire to protest against the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia.
The broadcaster is also developing Backwater, a feminism drama from its Hungarian division. Both of these shows will air alongside a raft of CEE remakes of European productions. HBO Europe is making miniseries Valley of Silence, based on Norwegian biker drama Eyewitness, as well as Hungarian and Czech remakes of Israeli therapist drama In Treatment.
Middle East, top drawer
Israel has carved out a niche in the Middle East for producing edgy, long-form drama series such as Prisoners of War. However producers in the UAE, Libya and Syria are starting to create shows that can rival Tel Aviv’s TV export machine. UAE’s Image Nation is making 20-part Heart of Justice, a Middle Eastern take on LA Law. The show, which is written by US writer William Finkelstein and directed by Ahmed Khaled, stars Fatima Al Taei as a young Emirati lawyer who refuses to join her father’s successful law firm and strikes out on her own.
In Libya, 15-part drama Dragunuv, named after a Soviet-made sniper rifle, tells the story of love and revolution after Muammar Gaddafi’s death in 2011.
Meanwhile, Syrian digital comedy Umm Abdo Al-Halabiya follows a 13-year-old girl pretending to be a mother in a country torn apart by war.