Ed TV Festival: Disney+ dives into Jules Verne; NBCU’s co-pro plans; Jack Thorne blasts disability failings

Disney+ has unveiled Nautilus, its latest UK-based scripted series, while NBCUniversal revealed its global co-pro plans and Jack Thorne has blasted the industry’s lack of disability representation, as the 2021 Edinburgh TV Festival got underway yesterday.

Speaking on a panel session at this year’s hybrid event, Disney EMEA execs Liam Keelan, VP of original content, Johanna Devereaux, director of scripted content and Sean Doyle, director of unscripted content, discussed the Mouse House’s latest original series for the streamer.

Moonriver TV and Seven Stories are in production on the 10-part live-action drama series Nautilus, which is based on the classic Jules Verne novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and will reveal the origins of the iconic Captain Nemo and his submarine, The Nautilus.

Developed and co-produced by Moonriver TV’s Xavier Marchand and Seven Stories’ Anand Tucker, Nautilus is written and executive produced by James Dormer and executive produced by Devereaux for Disney. Filming is due to begin in 2022.

“Jules Verne’s story is a beloved classic all around the world. It’s a huge privilege to bring the Nautilus and her crew to life again in such a bold, exciting way, with a diverse team of creative talent and on-screen characters,” said Devereaux.

The execs also shared further casting details about two previously announced Star originals, with Rosa Salazar set to take the lead in romantic comedy action thriller Wedding Season and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett now confirmed for heist series Culprits.

All three shows are part of Disney’s ongoing commitment to source, develop and produce 50 original productions in Europe by 2024.

Susan Rovner

True crime and global co-pros

Speaking on a separate panel session, meanwhile, Susan Rovner, chairman of entertainment content for NBCUniversal television and streaming, revealed that streaming service Peacock is looking to push into true crime content and global co-productions, while NBC is seeking to develop more limited series.

As part of that strategy, it was revealed yesterday that Peacock has commissioned Irreverent, a new 10-episode drama series, which will be a co-production between Peacock and Netflix Australia.

The series comes from Matchbox Pictures, which is part of NBCUniversal International Studios, and is created by Paddy Macrae (Wanted). It will be set and filmed in Australia and tells the story of a criminal from Chicago who bungles a heist and is forced to hide out in a small Australian reef town in Far North Queensland posing as the new church Reverend.

The series will be executive produced by Debbie Lee and Andrew Knight, while Tom Hoffie and Paddy Macrae will serve as producers.

Rovner also revealed yesterday that NBCUniversal has signed an expanded deal with Got Talent and The X Factor creator Simon Cowell, which will see him produce and appear in a new unscripted series for Peacock.

Jack Thorne

TV’s disability failings

English dramatist and playwright Jack Thorne delivered this year’s keynote MacTaggart Lecture at the festival, in which he concluded that: “TV has failed disabled people. Utterly and totally.”

Highlighting the lack of discussion around disability representation in front of and behind the camera, Thorne said: “Gender, race, sexuality, all rightly get discussed at length. Disability gets relegated out. In conversations about representation, in action plans, and new era planning, disability is confined to the corner, it remains an afterthought.

“Actors – actors I admire – have taken roles they shouldn’t have; I’ve been complicit in some of those decisions. Producers have ignored disabled writers. Commissioners haven’t taken the opportunity to tell disabled stories. There are very few disabled people in front of the camera, and even fewer behind it.”

Looking to address the issue, the His Dark Materials and This Is England writer announced the creation of a new pressure group named Underlying Health Condition which will work on a plan to bring about industrial change.

“With a dedicated fund we can make every space accessible and create rules for the building of further spaces,” said Thorne. “Not just inside studios, but also outside facilities. This fund will cost us comparatively little as an industry and yet make a huge difference to getting those percentages up behind the scenes.”

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