Pilot Trend: Networks Borrow From Beyond Our Borders

Broadcast nets look to foreign series adaptations for cable-level success in 2015

If there’s one surefire way to know your fall programming slate is going to be a hit, fill it with shows that have proven their success overseas, right?

Not exactly.

Despite a record over the last 10 years that can best be described as mixed, the broadcast networks are loading up their fall 2015 slates with adaptations of foreign series, one of the biggest trends to emerge this pilot season.

There are seven adaptations in the mix this year, representing all five of the broadcast nets. NBC is trying its hand with two comedies: “Cuckoo” (U.K.) and “Strange Calls” (Australia), a comedy about a small town with supernatural secrets that was based on a short film and ran six episodes in a limited-series type format.

ABC’s two offerings include comedy “Irreversible,” based on Israel’s “Bilti Hafich,” and “Runner,” based on the Turkish series “Son.” Like “Strange Calls,” that well received psychological thriller was brief – a single season of 25 episodes – but ABC plans to structure it as a regular drama series.

The CW — which hit the bullseye with its adaptation of Venezuelan series “Jane the Virgin” last season — just announced a new project from “Vampire Diaries” EP Julie Plec called “Cordon,” based on a Belgian series about a city under virus quarantine. CBS has “Taxi-22” with John Leguizamo, based on the hit French Canadian series “Taxi 0-22” on order. And Fox is taking a swing at the award-winning BBC series “Luther,” with a huge asset in star Idris Elba attached as a producer.

But including elements of the original series hasn’t always ensured their translation to the American screen. Fox’s “Gracepoint” and its BBC inspiration “Broadchurch” both starred David Tennant, but the U.S. version fell flat. Fox played coy about whether the series was always intended to be limited, but after 10 episodes, the network confirmed the series would not be renewed.

By the same token, NBC’s “The Slap” is based on the Australian miniseries of the same name. It includes stars from the original, yet the limited series debuted low and has dropped since.

NBC’s “Prime Suspect,” CBS’s “Worst Week,” ABC’s 2014 pilot “An American Education” – even Fox’s “X Factor” crashed and burned where their predecessors soared.

Of course, cable and streaming networks have seen tremendous success with adaptations over the last decade, perhaps due in part to the creative opportunities these formats allow compared to broadcast. HBO’s “Veep,” (“In the Thick of It,” U.K.), Netflix’s “House of Cards” (BBC’s miniseries of the same name), and Showtime’s “Homeland” (“Hatufim,” Israel) set a high water mark in both prestige and popularity that tantalizes broadcast networks every pilot season.

The networks may be able to find their next “The Office” with this crop of foreign series adaptations, but it may well be an uphill battle.

Here are the foreign series adaptations ordered to pilot by the broadcast networks this season:

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IRREVERSIBLE (Reshet TV, Sony Pictures Television, Fedora Entertainment)
Writer: Segahl Avin
Producers: Segahl Avin, Peter Tolan, Michael Wimer
Director: Segahl Avin
Logline: Based on the Israeli series “Bilti Hafich,” the comedy follows Sarah and Andy, an eccentric couple, and their trials and tribulations which they mostly bring on themselves. The comedy is No. 1 in Israeli broadcast TV.
Cast: Justin Long

RUNNER (20th Century  Fox Television)
Writer: Michael Cooney
Producers: Michael Cooney, Ian Sander and Kim Moses with Jon Cowan attached to Executive Produce and Showrun the series.
Director: Michael Offer
Logline:  Lauren Marks believes she is leading a perfect life. It’s ripped apart by one simple twist of fate; to uncover the truth she must follow a trail of lies that take her into the world of cartels and the illegal gun trade between the US and Mexico. Based on the Turkish series “Son.”
Cast: Paula Patton

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TAXI-22 (CBS Television Studios)
Writer: Tad Quill
Producers: Tad Quill, Francois Flamand, Nancy Sanders, Mark Armstrong, Dennis Erdman, Clark Peterson, Patrick Huard, James Gandolfini, John Leguizamo, Jeff Golenberg, Sam Maydew
Logline: Follows a New York City cab driver, based on the hit French-Canadian series “Taxi 0-22.”
Cast: John Leguizamo

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CORDON (My So-Called Company, Eyeworks, Warner Bros. Television)
Writer: Julie Plec
Producer: Julie Plec, David Nutter
Director: David Nutter
Logline: Based on the Belgian series, when a deadly epidemic breaks out in Atlanta, a large city quarantine is quickly enforced, leaving those stuck on the inside to fight for their lives. “Cordon” tells the story of loved ones tragically torn apart, and how the society that grows inside the cordon reveals both the devolution of humanity and the birth of unlikely heroes.
Cast: “Major Alex ‘Lex Carnahan” – David Gyasi; “Jana” – Christina Moses; “Katie Frank” – Kristen Gutoskie; “Jake” – Chris Wood

Fox_Broadcasting_Company tinyFOX

LUTHER (20th Century Fox, BBC Worldwide Production, Chernin Entertainment)
Writer: Neil Cross
Producer: Neil Cross, Peter Chernin, Katherine Pope, Jane Tranter, Julie Gardner, Idris Elba
Logline: Based on the award-winning BBC series. Centers on John Luther, a near-genius murder detective whose brilliant mind can’t always save him from the dangerous violence of his passions.

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CUCKOO (Lionsgate Television, Roughtcut TV)
Writer: Tim Lon, Robin French, Kieron Quirke
Producer: Tim Long, Robin French, Keiron Quirke, Ash Atalla
Logline: Based on the British series, a daughter comes back from a summer abroad married to a charming but infuriating eccentric named Cuckoo, much to her father’s annoyance.

STRANGE CALLS (20th Century Fox Television, Kapital Entertainment, Hoodlum)
Writer: Blake McCormick
Producer: Blake McCormick, Aaron Kaplan, Tracey Robertson
Director: Jason Winer
Logline: A single-camera comedy, Based on the Australian series, an affable but down on his luck young police officer is transferred to a rural town where — with the help of a peculiar elderly night watchman — he starts to realize the town has a bizarre supernatural underbelly.
Cast: Patrick Brammall – “LLOYD”