From Collingwood to Carter: How Amaze built its new primetime show

At BanffConnectTO in Toronto, the team behind Carter, airing this spring on Bravo in Canada and AXN internationally, shared its origin story and how it landed in a sweet primetime slot.
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Carter is a premiere example of the new way primetime series are often built: one partnership at a time.

The origin story of the new Bravo and Sony series, which will premiere in Canada on May 15, was the highlight of 2018′s BanffConnectTO event in Toronto, an annual local extension of the Banff World Media Festival.

Produced by Amaze Film + Television for Bell Media’s Bravo and Sony Pictures Television Networks’ AXN, Carter (10 x 60 minutes) is toplined by U.S. actor Jerry O’Connell, who plays a Hollywood star whose public meltdown leads him to return to his small northern Canadian hometown.

The brainchild of showrunner Garry Campbell, the series was born as an idea between he and Amaze’s Teza Lawrence, who happens to be his neighbour in Duntroon, a small community outside of Collingwood, ON. Campell wanted to do a series based on his experiences in L.A., and those he saw other Canadians having, and both he and Teza wanted to set up a series they could shoot in their home town.

While the location would eventually not work out, the series soon found its first champion in Marie Jacobson, EVP, programming and production,  Sony Pictures Television Networks, who put the project into development in 2015.  It was originally in development with CBC in Canada but when that piece of the puzzle didn’t move forward, Amaze went on the hunt for another Canadian partner to provide and trigger funding.

Enter conversations with Bell Media, which in summer 2016 had the end of gritty cop drama 19-2 on the horizon and was looking for a more light-hearted series to fill the gap in programming – and preferably, one it could fast-track.

“We were looking at exploring new ways to find original programs, without going through the tried-and-true commissioning, development, ordering cycle, which is a long cycle,” said Mike Cosentino, president, content and programming, Bell Media, adding Carter‘s May 15 premiere will be in the 8 p.m. timeslot, among a programming roster that also includes The Handmaid‘s Tale, Colony and Life Sentence

The puzzle was starting to turn into a picture, but it still didn’t have a lead actor. The role was a specific one: someone with comedy chops and dramatic gravitas and who could identify with character Harley Carter’s plight. “We had a package but it was all conditional upon finding [its lead character, Harley]. The show lives and dies by finding this character – someone that can play the character-driven comedy of it, but also knows the procedural language and has the name recognition.”

As Jerry O’Connell, the man who would become Harley Carter, explained, when the script came across his desk, he could not have been any more excited about the possibility, given his still-recent seven-season stretch as a cop on coroner drama Crossing Jordan, and his previous knowledge of Campbell’s resume through Kids in the Hall.

O’Connell signed on and the project went to camera in summer 2017 in North Bay, ON, with the team also tapping funding from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC).

Although the viewing landscape continues to shift toward on-demand viewing, Cosentino stressed that scheduling is still crucial when launching new properties into a crowded TV landscape. With that in mind, Cosentino emphasized that in addition to launching alongside Suits, which he said he believes has a similar tone to Carter, it will also receive the full might of the Bell Media marketing engine. “It will have Handmaid’s Tale-like promotional support – that is important for us,” he said.

The Carter Master Class was preceded by a commissioning-themed panel featuring Sally Catto, general manager, programming, CBC, Lisa Godfrey, VP of original content, Corus Entertainment and Corrie Coe, SVP, original programming, Bell Media. The trio were moderated by producer, lawyer and debut author (Whatever It Takes) Stephen Stohn, and gave an overview of what they’re looking for right now, including dos and don’ts for pitching broadcasters.

On thing the panelist agreed on was that, while every TV project should have a strong business proposition, pitches that are geared solely toward selling a business model are unlikely to appeal to network heads.

“What I don’t respond to in a pitch is when someone comes in and they just want to pitch a business model,” said Coe. “There’s nothing less interesting than that.”

She encouraged producers and creators to consider if their story world is large enough to sustain a multi-season episodic project. “What is effective and what is important to think about is, what is the story and what is this [story] world? Beyond the premise, which could be compelling, is there something here that can actually sustain a series, or is this premise really better for a feature film, which happens quite often, where people craft a world that kind of wraps up and isn’t sustainable,” she added.

Catto and Godfrey both thoughtfully connected TOConnect to the Banff World Media Festival, noting that two of the best pitches they’ve ever received were at the annual fest (which is operated by Playback parent company Brunico), with both coming from young, first-time writers. For Catto, the simplicity and authenticity of the pitch she received from Jana Sinyor for Being Erica struck a chord. “It was a pitch that was so incredibly different, but also authentic. It wasn’t all worked out and she was pretty new at the time, but you just knew the combination of that talent and that team [Boat Rocker] was something really special.”

Godfrey, too, noted that the pitch she received from Tara Armstrong for Mary Kills People stands out, and speaks to the strength and ability of emerging writers to break through with original perspectives and stories. “We should be really open to new writers and new voices in the marketplace, because we can help develop it and marry it with the right mentor and package it,” she said.