US grabs show TVNZ ditched

By Bevan Hurley

Tandi Wright, Charles Mesure and Miriama McDowell in the show. Photo / Supplied
Tandi Wright, Charles Mesure and Miriama McDowell in the show. Photo / Supplied

An acclaimed drama series that was dumped by TVNZ after just one season is being turned into a primetime show in the United States.

The rights to This Is Not My Life have been snapped up by ABC, and producers hope the show could reach US screens in time for a coveted slot in the summer season.

TVNZ said flagging ratings meant they decided not to renew the $8 million show, despite glowing reviews and strong interest through its online On Demand service.

But the show's executive producer, Steven O'Meagher, said the deal with ABC was a major coup for New Zealand drama.

"We didn't have to knock on many doors, there was a lot of demand for the show. It shows that our ideas are world-class and are as attractive to an international audience as they are to Kiwis," he said.

This Is Not My Life, starring Charles Mesure and Tania Nolan, was a psychological thriller about a man who wakes up in a futuristic suburb with no idea who he is.

O'Meagher said the budget for the US version could be five times that of the New Zealand production.

"One of the beauties of the American format will be just seeing what a larger budget will do on the screen. The key thing is that the spirit and the integrity of the New Zealand series is preserved. The American writers have been nothing but respectful and complimentary."

Creators Gavin Strawhan and Rachel Lang will work closely with US producers and are to begin script meetings with ABC writers in the next few weeks.

Strawhan, who spent several years developing the show's concept, said: "It's always a bit of a lottery in America. We have got to be level-headed about it."

In 2004, TVNZ rejected a chance to greenlight a series of The Flight of the Conchords after making a pilot. Creators Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement took their concept to US cable network HBO and became the country's most successful television exports.

TVNZ commissioning head Andrew Shaw said the call to pass on a second series of This Is Not My Life was due to commercial realities. "It's the hardest thing, which one of your children do you knock off? We have got to get something that works straight away."

The state broadcaster instead ploughed its drama budget into a new TVOne drama/comedy called Nothing Trivial, set to go into production.

This Is Not My Life received New Zealand On Air funding, but chief executive Jane Wrightson said it couldn't pay for a second series without network support. "The ratings were good, it had critical acclaim. It was terrific but it doesn't fit the network's priority for the next season."

This Is Not My Life's ratings began well but its finale in November - which clashed with the Commonwealth Games netball final - attracted only 6 per cent of viewers aged over 5.

Mediaworks programming director Kelly Martin, who looks after TV3 and Four, was surprised TVNZ hadn't supported a second series. TV3 backed Outrageous Fortune through its first two series when ratings were low - before it became the nation's favourite.

"To me it feels a bit weird. I would have tended to go with the show that was working, and that the audience responded well to."

Outrageous Fortune's US offshoot, Scoundrels, the only other Kiwi show made into a primetime US drama, was axed after one series due to poor ratings.

- Herald on Sunday

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf03 at 26 Dec 2014 15:05:46 Processing Time: 365ms