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Scripting a New Path at Sundance

12/05/2011 8:01 AM Eastern

Taking a page from sister service AMC,
Sundance Channel is launching at least three scripted projects
over the next 12 months in an effort to broaden its brand
beyond independent and art house films.

While the
15-year-old network
has offered
reality programming
such as Girls
Who Like Boys
Who Like Boys

and Iconoclasts,
the network in
October greenlighted
its first
wholly-owned
scripted series, a
six-episode original
titled Rectify.
The drama,
expected to air
in 2012, explores
themes of justice,
redemption
and freedom, set
against the backdrop
of a wrongful
conviction, according to Sarah Barnett, Sundance Channel’s
general manager.

‘APPROPRIATE’ START

Coming up on Dec. 10 is the special Appropriate Adult, a
scripted co-production (with ITV Studios) starring Emily
Watson (War Horse, Hilary and Jackie) as social worker Janet
Leach who, in 1994, was appointed by the court to safeguard
the interests of British serial killer Fred West during police
questioning. It also stars The Wire’s Dominic West, seen recently
in BBC America’s acclaimed The Hour.

Also slated for a 2012 debut is the seven-part drama Top of
the Lake
, co-produced with BBC Worldwide, about the search
for a missing, five-months-pregnant 12-year-old in the remote
mountains of New Zealand.

Sundance Channel, created by Robert Redford in 1996 originally
to showcase independent-film entries related to the
annual Sundance Film Festival, has several other series in development,
although Barnett would not reveal details.

The move marks a programming strategy shift for the AMC
Networks service, which has relied mostly on independent
films and non-scripted fare to reach its core adult 25-54 audience.

“Our audience is very hungry for fresh stories that can are
told in a different way and scripted allows us to tell those stories
in a different and distinct way,” she said.

Barnett said the network decided to step up its original
scripted projects after seeing the success of its 2010 mini-series
Carlos, starring Edgar Ramirez as famed international
terrorist “Carlos
The Jackal.” The
series, originally
produced for
Canal Plus in
France, won Sundance
a 2011
Golden Globe for
best miniseries or
motion picture in
the made for television
category.

“Sundance has
been known for
great storytelling
through our
movies so our
original scripted
programming
represents from
a strategic point
of view an opportunity
to expand
our storytelling,” she said. “It seems like a natural place for
us to be — our projects fit the brand’s filter of quality stories.”

AMC PRECEDENT

Barnett also cites the success AMC has had with such scripted
series as Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead.

“[AMC] has really set the bar for scripted programming
and beyond, so it’s great to have that example so close to
home,” she said.

While Sundance is focusing its scripted fare exclusively
in the drama and thriller genres, Barnett said she isn’t
ruling out a potential comedy or other genre-themed series
in the future.

September