The loudest part of the growing drumbeat in TV is for networks to find the next “Game of Thrones,” throwing mammoth budgets at pre-existing intellectual properties. But after the high-profile swing of “American Gods” (considered a mixed success for the channel), Starz has taken a different approach to this idea. The nature of several of Starz’s upcoming shows suggest that execs are now focusing their development strategy in a much different way: auteur-driven shows centered on new ideas.
The latest move for the network is “Now Apocalypse,” a ten-episode commitment to director Gregg Araki, produced by Steven Soderbergh. Per Monday’s announcement, the new series “explores identity, sexuality and artistry, while navigating the strange and oftentimes bewildering city of Los Angeles. Between sexual and romantic dating app adventures, Ulysses grows increasingly troubled as foreboding premonitory dreams make him wonder – is some kind of dark and monstrous conspiracy going on, or is he just smoking too much weed?”
Araki is writing all 10 half-hour episodes with author and Vogue.com sex columnist Karley Sciortino, who’s the creator and host of “Slutever” on Viceland.
Giving Araki the reins to a new series is a smart way to capitalize not only on the “Mysterious Skin” filmmaker’s previous work, but his recent TV stints. Besides a recent memorable appearance behind the camera for the CW show “Riverdale,” Araki has also directed episodes of “13 Reasons Why,” “American Crime” and “Red Oaks.” Adapting his filmmaking style to shows across four different networks proves that he can work within a pre-existing framework, but co-writing a new series seems to be the best way for both network and creator to benefit.
Soderbergh’s involvement in a Starz show has worked wonders in the past, after the artistic and critical success of “The Girlfriend Experience,” one of the best examples of a cable series having it both ways: using a pre-existing property and giving a creator carte blanche to pursue a singular artistic vision.
Creator Justin Marks was able to shepherd “Counterpart” to a two-season commitment from Starz that helped make it one of the best new shows of 2018. The network’s next upcoming produced series is “Vida,” a look at a Latinx family that’s also creator-driven, coming from “Looking” alum Tanya Saracho.
Even Starz’s upcoming adaptations are still heavily creator-driven, just as “Gods” was: The network’s acquisition of “Howards End” comes with the attachment of being written by “Manchester by the Sea” scribe Kenneth Lonergan. And “Sweetbitter,” the network’s May premiere, is the kind of bestseller adaptation that has more of an eye to story than as a means to a lucrative franchise.
“American Gods” may not have turned into the all-consuming hit adaptation the network may have been hoping for, but what’s coming in its wake is an apparent commitment to independent-minded entertainment that may give the network better projects to throw the channel’s full weight behind.
One thing the above synopsis doesn’t tease that also figures into the “Now Apocalypse” equation? Aliens. So many indie filmmakers have made the jump from smaller films to space-based spectacles. It looks like Starz is trying to see if the TV version of that career move can keep more of the indie spirit alive.