Netflix is going big on original programming. Having started off with Lilyhammer, it stepped things up a gear with David Fincher and Kevin Spacey’s political drama House of Cards. It has a new series of Arrested Development on the way and, for the summer, a prison drama from the creator of Weeds and produced by Lionsgate TV.
Lionsgate has already worked with Netflix as a provider of content via a deal between Netflix and Epix, the cable programmer in which Lionsgate is a partner (although this deal has now moved from exclusive to non-exclusive).
Making a series for Netflix stemmed from that relationship, Lionsgate Television’s managing director Peter Iacono says.
“Netflix has become a really important partner for us, especially because Lionsgate is a lead partner in the Epix/Netflix content deal. It has been a long and mutually beneficial relationship,” he says. “This was a confluence of events. If you put all the chemicals together in the beaker something has to happen.”
The chemical reaction in question has produced a thirteen-part drama. Based on the best-selling memoir by Piper Kerman, Orange is the New Black is produced by Jenji Kohan, best known as the creator of suburban mom turned pot dealer drama Weeds, another Lionsgate produced and distributed show. The one-hour drama is in production and will go out on Netflix this summer.
In the series, Taylor Schilling (Mercy) plays Piper Chapman, a career woman with a fiancé and family whose past comes back to haunt her when she is convicted for delivering a suitcase of drug money ten years before.
She is sentenced to fifteen months at an infamous federal woman’s prison in Connecticut.
The drama follows her while imprisoned and also stars Laura Prepon (That ‘70s Show), Jason Biggs (American Pie) and Pablo Schreiber (The Wire).
Currently in production, Lionsgate is previewing the show to buyers at MIPTV and has some early promotional materials. “We did a little interview with Jenji and the woman it was based on and we have got a short trailer of some episodes,” Iacono explains. “The whole show will be at the LA Screenings.”
As with its other series, Netflix will make the whole season available at one time and that presents a new challenge for a distributor.
“We’re customising our approach to fit brand new consumption patterns since Netflix subscribers can either stream the show episode by episode or watch the full season in one sitting,” says Jim Packer, president, worldwide TV and digital distribution at Lionsgate. “Our marketing strategies certainly won’t be built around a cliffhanger season finale.”
Iacono likens the delivery process to that of a movie, where everything arrives at once instead of post production work on later installments being done as earlier ones arrive, as with normal TV series production.
Lionsgate is keen to build upon its relationship with Netflix, he adds: “We’re looking to extend the relationship,” he says. “The platform really does reflect so much about how people watch shows now.”
The advent of streaming services also means more places to shop ideas. As well as Netflix, Lionsgate has deals with Amazon and others. But cable TV also remains a strong place to shop ideas with the basic cable nets looking for unscripted ideas and their premium counterparts for channel-defining shows.
“It’s a good time to be a producer,” Iacono states. “The full gamut of networks are commissioning programmes from us, across basic cable networks and premium channels like HBO. There are so many different types of networks around these days so you can create even more types of shows for them and be even more creative. We look at shows we want to develop and then work out where it should go.
The show: Orange is the New Black
The Producer: Lionsgate Television
The Distributor: Lionsgate Television
The Broadcaster: Netflix
Concept: Comedy drama about a career woman incarcerated for a crime she committed ten years earlier, based on the Piper Kerman memoir Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison and produced by Weeds’ Jenji Kohan