Rivals Netflix, Rogers team up for Canadian drama Between
October 20, 2014
With industry alliances shifting and new players being revealed, Rogers Media and Netflix have teamed up to back a new Canadian miniseries, Between, by writer/director Michael McGowan.
Friction between the U.S. streamer and the CRTC be damned, the unlikely partnership will see the first season of the 6 x 60-minute drama debut on City and upstart SVOD shomi in Canada and on Netflix’s expanding territories outside of Canada.
The survival thriller, which starts production Monday in Toronto, will then stream on Netflix Canada one year after the initial bow.
The miniseries comes from Don Carmody Television, which started developing Between at City a year ago before Elevation Pictures, looking to sell content outside of Canada, brought Netflix into the discussion for a possible pre-buy and international streaming deal.
“We knew it would be a complicated deal. But getting Netflix on board gives you a good seal of approval. They don’t make crap,” Don Carmody, Between executive producer and head of Don Carmody Television, told Playback Daily.
Between stars Jennette McCurdy (iCarly, Sam & Cat), with Jesse Carere, Jim Watson, Justin Kelly, Brendan Stacey included in the ensemble cast. Jon Cassar (24, The Kennedys) will direct the first two episodes, with McGowan directing the remaining four episodes.
Between, created by McGowan, portrays a town under siege from a mysterious disease that has wiped out everybody except those 21 years old and under.
As the government quarantines the town, its young people, mostly in high school, must decide how to survive, with competing factions emerging.
Nataline Rodrigues, director of original programming at Rogers Media, said McGowan’s cinematic vision brought to the TV screen initially drew her into the project.
“It’s a concept that excited us when we saw it. It has a stellar team, including McGowan. His vision for the small screen really excited me,” she recalled.
For Carmody and David Cormican, EVP of business development and production and a partner of Don Carmody Television, the challenge was convincing Netlfix to see Between as not just another Canadian acquisition, but instead as an original event series that the streaming giant could launch on its expanding global network.
Erik Barmack, VPof global independent content at Netflix, told Playback Daily he came across McGowan’s scripts for Between and was immediately intrigued.
“We’ve seen dramas that involved teenagers do well and we’ve seen event series and sci-fi doing well, so this is a crossover show that we think can reach a few different audiences that we really like speaking to,” Barmack said of Between‘s appeal for Netflix.
The Netflix programmer pointed to earlier sci-fi hits out of Canada like Bitten and Continuum, and the chance to partner McGowan with Cassar, an Emmy award-winning director, and veteran sci-fi producer Don Carmody, all of whom are Canadian.
“We saw all the [Canadian] talent that we could assemble around the show, and the ability to take a genre that had been successful out of Canada and put it in all of our other territories around the world,” Barmack said.
The three-way partnership took coaxing to complete, with Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos and Rogers Media Keith Pelley having a face-to-face on the first weekend of the Toronto International Film Festival during the Netflix party at the Brassai nightclub.
The varied players involved in the deal told Playback Daily that Netflix’s recent confrontation with the CRTC had little impact on the landmark deal.
“We were concerned, but [Netflix] never brought it up. All of our dealings with Netflix and Rogers for that matter were extremely professional during all the CRTC brouhaha,” Don Carmody recalled.
He expected Netflix to unveil the original Canadian series deal ahead of the CRTC’s Let’s Talk TV hearings, but that never happened.
Barmack told Playback Daily that, notwithstanding rivalry between Netflix Canada and shomi, Between came about because of excitement around the series concept and the Canadian talent assembled to make it happen.
“What you see is the ability of different groups to contribute to a great series. So you have a Canadian broadcaster, you have us and you have Canadian talent all coming together because we’re all just excited about the show,” he added.
As much as the Netflix-Rogers tie-up will surprise the Canadian industry, the various players in the Between deal insist this is the way the industry is moving.
“More and more, it’s how things have to be done. It’s a changing marketplace and it’s our reality,” Rogers’ Rodrigues argued. “If we’re gong to be innovators and provide audiences with great content, at the end of the day, audiences are on all platforms and content needs to be on all platforms,” she added.
Ditto at Netflix, which faces HBO unveiling an over-the-top play and CBS unhooking and launching its own SVOD service, and so is tying up with Canadian talent to make original series.
“The bottom line for us is we see this as an example to support Canadian production and bring a great show to our world audience,” Barmack said.
For Carmody, who has three children without cable TV, it’s about embracing an increasingly over-the-top digital business.
Between is the first TV series for the veteran movie producer, who got into small screen production after seeing the writing on the wall for movie production.
“There’s so little room to tell stories that aren’t filled with superheroes or gigantic action things, and [movies] take incredible amounts of money to produce and even more money to release. I’m starting to watch TV now because I enjoy it,” Carmody said.
Between is produced by Don Carmody Television and McGowan’s Mulmur Feed Co., in association with Elevation Pictures Corp.
McGowan executive produces the miniseries along with Carmody, Cormican and Naveen Prasad, EVP and general manager of Elevation Pictures.
Elevation will oversee worldwide distribution.