Hugh Laurie to Star in BritBox’s Biggest Original Production, Based on Agatha Christie Book

Actor Hugh Laurie and British-themed SVOD service BritBox would seem a perfect pairing. Now, the North American streaming service from BBC Studios and ITV announced that the former “House” star will adapt Agatha Christie mystery, Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?, into an original three-part miniseries — the service’s its biggest original commission to date.

Laurie will also direct and executive produce the series, which will make its global debut on BritBox in the U.S. and Canada in 2022.

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Hugh Laurie

Produced by Agatha Christie Limited and Mammoth Screen, whose previous collaborations include The ABC Murders, starring John Malkovich, Evans follows the amiable Bobby Jones and his whip-smart friend, socialite Lady Frances Derwent.

On the hunt for a lost golf ball, Jones discovers the crumpled body of a dying man who, with his last breath, gasps the cryptic question of the series’ title. Armed with only a photograph of a beautiful young woman found in the dead man’s pocket, the sleuths embark on a crime-solving adventure and prove surprisingly adept at unearthing clues.

“I can’t overstate how excited we are to bring this new adaptation to life for the BritBox community,” Emily Powers, head of BritBox North America, said in a statement. “Laurie’s writing pays homage to the brilliance of the original Agatha Christie mystery, while adding fresh wit, humor, and creativity that will appeal to all audiences.”

Casting will be announced at a later date. Endeavor Content brokered the commission and will handle International sales outside of the U.K., Ireland and the Americas.

“Hugh has brought his own inimitable style and flavor to this work, whilst at the same time being faithful to the original,” said James Prichard, CEO of Agatha Christie Limited.

“I loved this book as a nipper and still do. The hairs on the back of my neck haven’t properly settled down from the first time I grasped the beauty of the essential mystery,” said Laurie. “Since then, I have fallen deeper and deeper in love with the characters, and feel immensely honored to have been given the chance to retell their story in this form.”

BritBox has been commissioning original programming since 2017, starting with “The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco,” and most recently announced “Hope Street,” a new cozy crime series. In addition, the service showcases a substantial slate of co-productions, including “The Pembrokeshire Murders,” starring Luke Evans; “Honour,” starring Keeley Hawes; and “There She Goes,” starring David Tennant.

Crime Thriller Series ‘Grace’ Premieres on BritBox Streaming Service April 27

BritBox, the subscription streaming service from BBC Studios and ITV, on March 18 announced it is expanding its collection of originals in North America with a new crime thriller series based on the popular Roy Grace novels by Peter James.

“Grace,” starring John Simm (“Doctor Who,” Trauma) as the title detective, premieres April 27 on BritBox in the United States and Canada. The screenwriter is Russell Lewis, who created the popular mystery series “Endeavor.” The Roy Grace novels have sold more than 20 million copies in 37 languages.

“Grace” follows hard-working Brighton-based detective Roy Grace, who because of his unorthodox crime-solving methods is exiled to investigating long-forgotten cold cases. After a stag night prank appears to go wrong the groom has gone missing, and Grace, still haunted by the disappearance of his wife, and at risk of losing the job he loves, is tapped by his colleague, Detective Sergeant Glenn Branson (Richie Campbell, Small Axe) to help solve the time-sensitive case.

“Grace contains all the elements of what our audience is looking for from BritBox: an award-winning writing team, a phenomenal British cast, and, most importantly, a compelling mystery story packed with shocking twists,” said Emily Powers, head of BritBox North America. “As the only authentic British streaming service available in North America, we have and continue to premiere edgy, modern, premium content.”

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“We’re absolutely delighted to be working with Russell Lewis and Peter James, two of the greatest writers around, and to have the chance to bring Grace alive on screen,” said executive producers Andrew O’Connor and Paul Sandler of Second Act Productions. “Like so many other readers, we’ve been fans of the Grace books since they first appeared, so this is a fantastically exciting project for us.”

“Grace” is co-produced by Second Act Productions, Tall Story Pictures (both part of ITV Studios) and Vaudeville Productions, and is distributed internationally by ITV Studios. This season will feature two 90-minute standalone TV films based on the first two books in the series: Dead Simple and Looking Good Dead.

“Grace” is the latest addition to BritBox North America’s slate of original films and series, which include true crime co-productions “The Pembrokeshire Murders” and “Honour” as well as “A Confession,” “There She Goes” and “McDonald & Dodds.”

BritBox subscriptions are $6.99 per month or $69.99 per year — after an introductory free trial period — on Roku, Amazon Fire TV stick, Apple TV (fourth generation), Samsung, LG and all iOS and Android devices, AirPlay, Chromecast, and online. BritBox is also available on Amazon Channels for Prime members and on Apple TV Channels on supported devices.

BritBox Exclusively Streaming Sitcom ‘Kate & Koji’ in U.S.

BritBox, the $6.99 monthly subscription streaming service from BBC Studios and ITV, March 11 announced it would exclusively stream in North America ITV sitcomKate & Koji.”  Starring award-winning actress Brenda Blethyn (Vera, Secrets & Lies) and Jimmy Akingbola (“Arrow,” “Ted Lasso”), the series follows the unlikely friendship between Kate, a working-class woman who runs an old fashioned seaside cafe, and Koji, an African asylum seeker.

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Although from very different worlds, they are similar in ways they do not recognize, including a dogged determination to never back down. The six-part show was filmed in the picturesque coastal town of Herne Bay in Kent, South East England. It premieres April 13 on BritBox.

BritBox, which launched in the U.S. in 2017 as competition to AMC Network’s Acorn TV and Netflix, is available on Roku,  Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV 4th Gen, Samsung, LG and all iOS and Android devices, AirPlay, Chromecast and online.  

BritBox, which has more than 1.2 million subscribers in North America, and 500,000 in the U.K., is also available on Amazon Channels for Prime members and on Apple TV Channels on supported devices.

BritBox North America Commissions Original Detective Series Set in Northern Ireland

BritBox, the streaming service from BBC Studios and ITV, March 4 announced that it will commission “Hope Street,” a new serial crime drama streaming exclusively on BritBox in the U.S. and Canada. Set in the fictional town of Port Devine on the Northern Ireland coast, the series focuses on the mysterious arrival of English Detective Constable Alimah Kahn (Amara Karan), the first Muslim police officer in the town’s history.

Amara Karan

The character-led series combines a long-running serial narrative with quirky self-contained crime stories in each episode.  At its heart, “Hope Street” celebrates the warm-hearted and good-humored people of Northern Ireland – as they build a future together rather than dwelling on the differences of the past. The series is funded in part by Northern Ireland Screen.

“[The series] offers a modern twist and a fresh setting for the mystery shows that are popular with BritBox fans,” Emily Powers, head of BritBox North America, said in a statement. “It’s a new take on a beloved genre, set in an area rich in history.”

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The cast features character actors, including Brid Brennan (“Brooklyn”) as Concepta, Des McAleer (“The Crown”) as Barry, Ciarán McMenamin (“Primeval”) as Finn and Amara Karan (“The Night of”) as Alimah.

“Hope Street” adds to BritBox’s repertoire of original co-productions including, “There She Goes,” starring David Tennant; “McDonald & Dodds,” starring Jason Watkins and recent premieres, “The Pembrokeshire Murders,” starring Luke Evans; “Honour,” starring Keeley Hawes; and upcoming “Sister Boniface,” the “Father Brown” spin-off.

BritBox Promotes Reemah Sakaan to CEO International

BritBox Feb. 24 named Reemah Sakaan to the position of CEO International as the British-centric programming subscription streaming VOD expands operations globally. Sakaan, who begins her new position in April, currently heads SVOD operations at ITV, co-owner of BritBox with BBC Studios. She is also currently chief brand & creative officer at BritBox Global.

Reemah Sakaan

Sakaan will oversee all BritBox operations outside the United Kingdom, which bowed service there in 2019 following previous launches in the U.S. (2017) and Canada (2018). With more than 1.5 million subscribers, BritBox bowed operations in Australia last year and plans to roll out service in South Africa later this year.

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BritBox management includes Moira Hogan, country manager for Australia, and Emily Powers EVP and head of BritBox North America — all of whom report to Sakaan.

“The role attracted a very impressive field of external candidates which reflects the strength and appeal of the BritBox brand,” Carolyn McCall, ITV CEO said in a statement. “Reemah was deservedly successful and I am really pleased that she will lead BritBox internationally.”

Tim Davie, director general BBC, said international audiences are increasingly turning to British TV shows and movies — a reality not lost on Netflix, Amazon Studios and Disney, which all have content production operations in the U.K.

“This is an important moment for BritBox and its ambitions to become a truly global brand,” Davie said.

 

‘BBC Select’ Subscription Streaming Service Launched in U.S.

The BBC has launched its new BBC Select streaming service in the United States, following the ITV co-partnered bow of BritBox in 2017. The $4.99 monthly documentary-themed service is available through Amazon Prime Video Channels and Apple TV.

Programming will focus on social and political-themed content, including the 2020 Presidential Election, social justice movement, culture and the pandemic, among other themes.

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Content includes “The Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty,” “The Fall of an Icon,” Grayson Perry’s “Big American Road Trip,” “54 Days: America and the Pandemic” and “TV’s Black Renaissance: Reggie Yates in Hollywood,” among others.

“BBC Select is a powerhouse of ideas, firing off in all directions,” Jon Farrar, VOD director for BBC Studios and co-founder of BritBox, said in a statement. “As Select content reveals our world — in these complex times — through the lenses of culture, politics, and ideas, I hope we come to understand the forces that shape what it means to be alive in 2021. We hope our shows equally keep our viewers inspired and optimistic.”

BritBox Streaming New ‘Up’ Installment Showcasing Lives of 14 Brits Since 1964

BritBox Feb. 11 announced it would exclusively premiere of the latest installment of the acclaimed “Up” series, 63 Up, on March 9. The series began in 1964 called 7 Up, showcasing the lives of 14 British children, with follow-up docu-series every seven years thereafter. 

Directed by Emmy-nominated, DGA and BAFTA award-winning director Michael Apted (The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Coalminer’s Daughter, Gorky Park, The World is Not Enough, Amazing Grace), the documentary anthology series aims to offer insight into the premise of whether or not our adult lives are pre-determined by our earliest influences and by the social class in which we are raised. 

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Following a successful theatrical run, The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis wrote, “there’s a great pleasure in revisiting this series, seeing who turned out just fine and sometimes better than you might have expected or hoped.” 

“Michael Apted brought one of the most astonishing and innovative documentary series into our homes and hearts,” Emily Powers, head of BritBox North America, said in a statement. “We are honored to be the exclusive home to the entire ‘Up’ series and to offer Michael’s last installment of this important feat in storytelling on BritBox.”

The original 7 Up was broadcast as a one-off “World in Action Special” inspired by the founding editor Tim Hewat’s interest in the Jesuit saying, “Give me the child until he is seven, and I will give you the man,” and his anger at what he saw as the rigidity of social class in England. The series featured select children talking about their hopes and dreams for the future. As members of the generation who would be running the country by the year 2000, what did they think they would become?

The result was groundbreaking and the follow-up films every seven years have won an array of awards. Over six decades, the films have documented the group as they became adults and entered middle-age, dealing with everything life has thrown at them in between. Now, as the group reaches retirement age, the film is back to discover what they are doing. 

Apted died Jan. 7 at age 79.

The entire “Up” Series (7 Up, 7 + 7 Up, 21 Up, 28 Up, 35 Up, 42 Up, 49 Up, 56 Up and 63 Up) as well as a documentary about the impact of the series, “7 Up and Me are available on BritBox. 

BritBox is available for $6.99 per month/ $69.99 annually — after an introductory free trial period—on Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV 4th Gen, Samsung, LG and all iOS and Android devices, AirPlay, Chromecast, and online at www.britbox.com. BritBox is also available on Amazon Channels for Prime members and on Apple TV Channels.

BBC Studios Set to Launch BBC Select Streaming Service

BBC Studios will launch an ad-free subscription streaming channel called BBC Select in early 2021 on Amazon Prime Video Channels and the Apple TV app. BBC Select will offer a range of programs from the United Kingdom covering three main topics: culture, politics and ideas.

“For nearly a century, the BBC has been synonymous with extraordinary television programs — full stop. Name any genre, the BBC is best in class at identifying talent and providing them a platform for expression,” said Rebecca Glashow, president of BBC Studios — Americas. “As we shift our business focus to engaging our fans direct, the digital space offers us the opportunity to bring audiences a portfolio of shows that bring new ideas and perspectives into the conversation. Our research has shown that audiences are looking for an alternative to what is already out there. BBC Select is it.”

The BBC already operates as a joint venture with ITV the SVOD service BritBox, which also offers a selection of British programming.

BBC Select will feature a range of British talent and shows including Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry and his programs on class, masculinity, and identity, including his latest, “Grayson Perry: Big American Road Trip”; author and documentarian of social issues Stacey Dooley and her series “Brainwashing Stacey”; historian Professor Sir Simon Schama with his new series “The Romantic Revolution”; and filmmaker Louis Theroux and a large collection of his work, including Selling Sex, Surviving America’s Most Hated Family and Talking to Anorexia.

“BBC Select is for those who crave knowledge, new perspectives, and programs that are not your standard fare,” said Louise la Grange, GM and launch Director. “BBC Select will combine a rich line up of never-before-seen shows in the U.S. and Canada with a prized portfolio of thought-provoking, eye-opening programs that provide context and color to the world we all share — all in one place.”

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Exclusives to the service include:

  • “Shock of the Nude,” hosted by Professor of Classics Mary Beard, who gives a personal and provocative take on the nude in western art, from ancient Greece to the present, and asks why artists and viewers seem so obsessed by nudity.
  • “Reggie Yates in China” sees actor, DJ, and presenter Reggie Yates travel to four very different cities in China to discover the new fault-lines in society and how they affect a generation who have grown up with seemingly more freedom than that of any other in the last 70 years.
  • “In Search of Frida Kahlo” follows musician Emeli Sandé — who was inspired by the paintings of Kahlo when writing her album — as she visits Mexico City to tell the story of one of Mexico’s most famous artists.
  • “Fall of an Icon” explores the life of Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi, who after 15 years of house arrest was celebrated as an icon of democracy. But years on, she is now seen by many as an international pariah.
  • “Mystery of the Missing Princess” tells the story of Princess Latifa, the daughter of Dubai’s ruler, who attempted to escape from torture and imprisonment at the hands of her father.
  • “Putin — A Russian Spy Story” is the portrait of a politician who modeled himself on the Russian James Bond and whose presidency reads like a spy thriller.
  • “The Last Igloo” follows a lone Inuit as he hunts, fishes, and constructs an igloo. It tells the story of skills that are disappearing and of how climate change is affecting the lives of Greenland’s indigenous people.
  • BAFTA-winning documentarian Adam Curtis and his “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace” argues that computers have failed to liberate humanity, and instead have “distorted and simplified our view of the world around us.”

 

Pricing, launching platforms and more content will be announced at a later date.

 

Netflix Upped U.K. Content Spend 50% to $1 Billion in 2020

After signing a 10-year lease for original content production at Shepperton Studios in the United Kingdom, Netflix has significantly upped content spending across the Atlantic.

The streaming video behemoth is reportedly set to spend $1 billion (£750 million) on U.K. episodic and feature film productions in 2020, up from the £500 million spent in 2019 and spearheaded by “The Witcher,” starring Henry Cavill (Man of Steel).

Netflix, which launched streaming service in the U.K. and Ireland in 2012, topped more than 13 million subscribers in the region at the end of March.

“The U.K. is an incredibly important market to Netflix and we are proud to be increasing our investment in the U.K.’s creative industries,” a Netflix U.K. rep told The Guardian. “‘The Crown,’ ‘Sex Education’ and ‘The Witcher’ are among the shows that have been made in the U.K. this year and will be watched by the world. These shows are a testament to the depth of talent that exists here.”

Regardless, Netflix’s content spend still lags that of the BBC’s TV spend of £1.6 billion and ITV’s £1.1 billion, respectively. Both companies co-own BritBox, a competing SVOD service launched in the U.S. and now also operating in the U.K. and Australia.

BritBox Streaming Service Gets New North American Head

Emily Powers has been promoted to EVP and head of BritBox, spearheading the streamer’s business for North America.

She effectively succeeds Soumya Sriraman, who stepped down as president and CEO of BritBox earlier this month.

Powers joined BritBox in September 2015 as SVP of commercial, and was promoted to chief revenue officer in July 2020.

Emily Powers

In her new role, Powers will continue to lead all commercial relationships, distribution partnerships, performance marketing and customer retention, as well as evaluate, foster and deliver strong business development opportunities. Powers now adds editorial and creative to her purview — working closely with the team to bring British television shows to BritBox. Currently, she is also overseeing much of the business operations for the launch of BritBox in Australia.

“Emily is an essential part of the BritBox team who has been instrumental to BritBox’s early development, followed by rapid growth and significant successes since launch,” said Rebecca Glashow, president of BBC Studios Americas. “This promotion is well-deserved, and I anticipate BritBox will continue to soar under Emily’s leadership.”

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“I look forward to guiding the growth of BritBox in North America,” Powers said. “Over the past five years I have had the privilege of being part of the senior team that has transformed BritBox from an initial concept to a hit service with more than 1.5 million subscribers, which in turn has laid the foundation for global expansion.  In this new role, I will look for innovative ways to continue fostering the service’s success.”

Powers was a member of the original team that developed and launched BritBox, along with Sriraman. In her initial role, she was responsible for writing the initial business plan, negotiating and executing the joint-venture relationship between BBC and ITV, and directing the service’s launch in the United States and Canada.

Powers joined BBC Studios (then BBC Worldwide) in 2012 as director, strategy and was later promoted to VP, strategy and business development. In this role, Powers worked to support all BBC Studios’ businesses in a strategic capacity, including program sales, digital distribution, BBC.com, Los Angeles productions, and provided strategic deal support and analysis for the spin-off of BBC America into a joint-venture with AMC Networks.

Prior to her tenure with the BBC Studios, Powers was director of business development in NBCUniversal’s Digital Distribution group.