When Katie O’Connell Marsh was hired by Christophe Riandee to launch the international TV production arm of French entertainment company Gaumont Film Company in 2010, the television landscape was in a very different place. For one thing, Netflix had no original programming, to say nothing of Hulu, Amazon and the various alternative models of distribution that came later.
Marsh, 45, who previously served as NBC’s EVP of drama programming, wasted no time in finding stylish, risky projects as CEO of Gaumont International Television (GIT). She quickly packaged and sold Bryan Fuller‘s “Hannibal,” which is now wrapping up its final season on NBC, and “Hemlock Grove,” Netflix’s second-ever commissioned original scripted program. Both shows first premiered in 2013.
Marsh and GIT shepherded three seasons of each show, and the CEO tells TheWrap the company is focused on programming that plays both domestically and internationally. “The brand for us is really auteur-driven, it’s looking for that single visionary that hand-crafts a narrative,” she said. “For us it’s not necessarily genre- or theme-based.”
The company’s latest project, debuting Friday on Netflix, is a 10-episode drama called “Narcos” about Pablo Escboar, the Colombian drug trade, and American DEA agents tasked with taking them down. José Padilha, the director of “Elite Squad,” is the executive producer, and the series doesn’t shy away from extended sequences in the Spanish language, which gives it appeal beyond English-language viewers.
After several successful dramas, Gaumont is also launching its first half-hour animated show, “F Is for Family,” with Netflix. The 1970s set show stars Bill Burr and is based on his comedy, and will debut in 2015.
Below, Marsh discusses why she left a major network like NBC, the fate of the much beloved “Hannibal,” and upcoming projects like a TV reboot of the 1968 Jane Fonda film “Barbarella” with “Drive” director Nicolas Winding Refn attached as an executive producer.
What made you decide to leave a big network like NBC for an independent production company like Gaumont?
I started five years ago and it was a really interesting time in the television business and certainly in business in L.A. speaking to the international marketplace. “The Walking Dead” premiered right around that time, and looking at that sort of surprise — it was one of the biggest global launches for a TV show. In a way, it’s so obvious now, but when you think about that show, it’s on AMC, which is a basic cable network and it’s a show about zombies that captured the imagination of the world.
While international distribution has always existed, it did feel like that was the beginning of a landscape changing.
The company is now five years old. Is it where you thought it would be when you first joined?
I was employee No. 1, creating a team from scratch. Our first two series were “Hannibal” and “Hemlock Grove.” “Hannibal” to me was really special because of Bryan Fuller, who I think is an incredible visionary, and marrying his vision with the Hannibal Lecter character was just something I thought would be a really interesting recipe for something magical, and as we know now, that actually did happen.
And “Hemlock” was interesting as a new company, or a new division of a company. Now, again, it seems so obvious to work at Netflix, they’re amazing and quite successful, but at the time, it was a little bit of a swing for us. But it felt like we could be nimble enough to explore that as a distribution window. So after five years, we have four series in production, we’ve done three cycles of both “Hannibal” and “Hemlock.”
Is there any hope for more seasons “Hannibal”? Are there any avenues left to explore for season 4?
For Bryan, he’s doing “American Gods” [an adaptation of Neil Gaiman‘s best-selling novel, recently ordered to series at Starz]. For his timing, it would have to be something that happens after his commitment to that. Certainly, we would love to do another season, but there are so many things that have to line up for that. First and foremost, it would have to be Bryan’s schedule.
There’s been much talk about a content bubble in TV, with too many networks producing a glut of original programming. Is there one?
There’s some credence probably to that, but I think that almost feels cynical. I like to look at it like there’s something for everybody. It has opened up a world where you can go from shows like NBC’s “The Blacklist” to Amazon producing “Transparent” or something like “Broad City.” All interesting, wonderful shows; there’s just such a diverse slate of programming.
The economics and cost of television and the returns on those costs, that’s going to have to be evaluated, because there’s just not going to be, I think, as much money in licenses and so forth to sustain all of the product. But I think we’re living in a world where there’s a renaissance of something for everybody.
With so much content out there, what made “Narcos” the right project for you?
One, [the showrunners] Jose Padilha and Eric Newman. They really had something to say. There is so much to the history of Pablo Escobar and narcos trafficking. It’s incredibly interesting and in some ways relevant to today. It was an honest story. We loved the idea that it was rooted in fact, it’s kind of a blend of fact and fiction. It’s a very specific story. We shot it down in Colombia. It just ticked all those boxes.
“Narcos” is half-English, half-Spanish. Was that a big factor in appealing to international audiences?
I wouldn’t say it was based on commerce; it was based on telling the truthful story. One of the things I was certainly inspired by was the miniseries “Carlos.” It was amazing and what I thought was really interesting was they just kept whatever language was organic to the scene, so you felt like you were there. So that was kind of the idea.
There are American characters in our show, and when it’s Americans speaking, they’re speaking in English, but Pablo Escobar is not going to be speaking in English. That has a falseness to it. So we just wanted to have a really authentic look at that world and that was one way to do it, not use a language as a barrier but use language as a sort of honest expression of those scenes.
You’re also doing a series based on “Barbarella.” With a director like Nicolas Winding Refn and “Hannibal” producer Martha De Laurentiis on board, is it safe to assume it’s going to be a darker take on the material?
Not necessarily. It’s going to take a lot of the spirit of the source material, the original “Barbarella” were these amazing French graphic novels, which were very counterculture and an expression of the time. When “Barbarella” first came out, it was all about sexual revolution, and so that almost feels a little bit dated at this point, so we’re taking some of the themes and updating them. But it’ll be sexy and cool and vibrant. But it’s in its development stage at this point.