Exclusive: eOne maps out the future of its scripted division

The Toronto-headquartered studio has restructured its Canadian development team and given Playback an inside look at its upcoming Canadian slate.

Changes are afoot in eOne’s Canadian scripted division as the global studio looks to position itself for future success in a TV landscape in which hundreds of new shows are released each year.

After nearly a decade with the company, VP of scripted development Rachel Fulford is leaving this week to set up a full-time practice as a psychotherapist. The departure has prompted eOne to shuffle its scripted pack, promoting Chris Bell (formerly eOne’s VP of current programming) to VP of development for scripted programming and bolstering its ranks with two exec-level hires.

In addition, Andrew Kelly (formerly manager of creative affairs) has been upped to director of development, scripted programming. Tecca Crosby continues to head up the division as SVP of scripted.

Earlier this summer, eOne added two members to its scripted team. CFC’s former executive in charge of project development and packaging Isabel Gomez-Moriana, who joined in June, takes the role of director of development. Meanwhile, Darren Giblin, a former director of development at NBCUniversal in the U.K., as well as VP of scripted development at Vancouver-based Front Street Pictures, joined the team as director of current programming in July.

The hires and promotions come at a time when eOne is doubling down on its development efforts, Jocelyn Hamilton, president, eOne Television, Canada, told Playback Daily. “We have decided to invest strategically in the early days [of a project] ourselves, rather than waiting for a broadcaster to put it into development,” she said, with the company looking to have the best product possible before shopping it to potential buyers.

“With such a high level of competitive demand now for IP internationally, it almost requires an upfront investment,” added Crosby.

The company has had a string of critical and commercial successes in the past two years, with Cardinal, Mary Kills People and Private Eyes notching up impressive ratings, renewals, a catalogue of international sales and critical buzz. The focus now is on expanding its development slate as eOne looks to nurture its next hits for the coming years. Crosby, Hamilton and Bell said the reshaping of the scripted division is geared toward strengthening its relationships with some of Canada’s finest creative talent, as well as finding the next hot writers and showrunners, with a view to creating a new raft of breakthrough series. “There’s never been more competition and we’re operating in a 500-series universe. How can we, as eOne, cut through that?” said Bell of an oft-posed question within the company’s Canadian headquarters.

Among the projects on the company’s development slate is a serialized drama based on the Fiona Griffiths mystery novels of U.K. author Harry Bingham. Los Angeles-based Canadian scribe Shernold Edwards (Haven, Sleepy Hollow) is adapting the novels for TV. L.A.-based prodco Piller Segan, with which eOne has a first-look deal, is producing the project about a biracial detective that talks to the dead.

As well, eOne is working on the historical thriller Murder as a Fine Art, which is in development as a U.K. coproduction with Glasgow, Scotland-based prodco Sigma Films (The Outlaw King). Currently at the scripting stage, the project, which is based on a book by Canadian novelist David Morrell, is being penned by Irish writer Declan Croghan (Waking the Dead, BBC).

eOne also recently acquired the rights to the French-language series Mensonges, which it is adapting for English-speaking markets. The procedural, penned by CFC Prime Time TV Program alum Sandra Chwialkowska (X CompanyLost Girl), revolves around a female detective with an innate ability to detect lies, stemming from the fact that she is the biggest liar of all the people she encounters. The French-language version has run for three seasons on TVA and is currently in production on a fourth. eOne is coproducing the adaptation in partnership with Montreal-based prodco Sovimage.

In terms of the strategy, Bell said that, more than ever, eOne is considering development and pre-production as one in the same thing. At the earliest stages of a project, the development teams are now consulting the production teams to glean early-stage insights on different ways to approach certain projects. “You want to incubate an idea, but at the same time these are projects that we’ll have to take to market and they have to be executable,” he said. “For example, we’ll speak to a production designer really early and get them to think about the vision for the series and how that could be executed on a budget that isn’t going to put us all out of business. Locking in the notion that these ideas are real is paying off when when we talk to our broadcast partners because then it becomes more real in their minds,” he said.

Attaching talent at an early stage has also been an important part of this shift to thinking of development and pre-production as part of the same process. Bell cites the example of eOne casting Kristin Kreuk as the lead actress and EP on Burden of Truth as a key reason the CBC greenlit the legal drama.

Another crucial element of the company’s vision is to collaborate as closely as possible with eOne’s other international hubs in the U.K, U.S., Australia and New Zealand. “We have really concentrated over the past couple of years on building our scripted division as more of a global play,” said Hamilton. As such, eOne’s Canadian scripted team is in closer contact with its foreign counterparts when discussing in-development projects that may have appeal in other English-speaking markets. Regular contact with these international hubs is essential in understanding the potential of Canadian projects in other markets, adds Crosby.

In terms of new areas the company would like to tap into, Bell said short-form scripted drama is of great interest to eOne. “We’ve heard from buyers such as [U.S. streaming platform] go90, CBC and Bell Media’s SnackableTV that about 10 to 12 minutes seems to be the sweet spot in terms of length,” he said. In development is a short-form series, The Six, which looks at six characters from different Toronto neighbourhoods that have very different dreams. eOne has tapped Marsha Greene (Private Eyes) to pen the project.

Hamilton is quick to point out that, while eOne series and Cancon more generally is growing in reputation on the world stage, the fiercely competitive international market means it is more vital than ever that the industry continue to evolve and support its creators. “We’re a small country in the scheme of the globe, and for us to have as many successes coming out of Canada in the last few years as we have, it’s boding really well. We just need to keep it going now,” said Hamilton.

Image: Shutterstock

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that Marsha Greene and Tassie Cameron are attached to write The Six, when in fact it is only Greene. Cameron is not involved with the project. Playback regrets the error.