Last week Stephen Garrett, executive producer of Hunted, was in Australia for the SPAA Conference.
Together with Jane Featherstone, he has run independent production company Kudos (The Hour, Spooks, Hustle, Ashes to Ashes, and Life on Mars).
Hunted is the latest project, but in the tenuous world of television, the co-production was axed by the BBC then renewed by HBO. Star Melissa George was also in the midst of a horrendous week of media stories, none of which he had heard until I related them.
While neither of us knew what was to come, one of my questions to him was about the show’s future.
“It’s done pretty well,” he said of the UK broadcast.”It’s beaten the slot average, it’s winning its slot. It’s had some great press and it’s had some mixed press. It’s the kind of show that can be a bit Marmite… some people find it silly and some people find it exciting.
“Conversations are afoot. There’s a genuine desire to do it. We’re in more detailed conversations with HBO than the BBC.”
That turned out to be more telling than either of us realised….
To return to the show’s core idea, Garrett explained the concept by US writer Frank Spotnitz (The X Files).
“The idea was for a highly functional spy but a dysfunctional human being at the heart of a post-Spooks privatised global security agency,” he said.
“We rarely have an idea that appeals to all the broadcasters, but it did appeal to them. All of them wanted to do it. We offered it to SKY and developed it with them. We were confident it was going to happen with SKY and we were getting all the right signals out of them.
“Frank had already committed to moving to London and had rented a house 400 metres from where I live when we got the call from SKY that they weren’t going to do it.”
SKY withdrew its support due to the surprising success of Strike Back.
“It performed vastly in excess of SKY’s expectations as we were developing Hunted. It was a very different show, but they’d decided to commission another season of Strike Back. So the slot and finance that had been earmarked for Hunted went to Strike Back,” he explained.
“So we went groveling back to the BBC, apologetically saying, ‘You know we said no, can we now say yes?’ And I have to say to the BBC’s great credit they welcomed us back with Hunted.”
Garrett was adamant in his support of Melissa George as Sam Hunter, a highly skilled operative for an elite private intelligence firm who survives an attempt on her life.
“Melissa was one of the actors we saw first of all and she looked absolutely perfect from the get go. But the trouble is when you find your perfect person, and she’s pretty much the first person you’ve seen, you think, ‘Maybe there’s somebody else,” he recalled.
“She’s a really good actress and she’d shown what she can do -and we weren’t referencing Home and Away. Her character in Hunted is a combination of what she did in In Treatment as Patient One., f***ed up beyond imagining, and Alias as kick-ass. Those two things is what we were looking for and it’s a rare actor who can do both of those.
“She looks good, she’s genuinely fit, and it’s sometimes implausible if you’ve got people doing stunts who don’t look like they’re up to it, and she just ticked all the boxes.
“From a UK point of view, and to some extent from a US point of view, she came with no baggage. There were people who had grown up with her maybe in Home and Away but that was so long ago she’s physically so different.
“HBO is very loyal to people they’d worked with before and they had a very happy memory of working with her on In Treatment, albeit in a very different role.
“So it was no fight and there was never really anyone else in contention.”
The series also stars Adam Rayner, Stephen Dillane, Stephen Campbell and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje.
With his impressive CV, one might be forgiven for thinking everything Stephen Garrett touches turns to ratings gold. But even he conceded there have been misfires.
“I’d love to say they’ve all been perfect but they haven’t,” he admitted.
“We messed up a bit with a show called Outcasts. It was about a group of people from Planet Earth go and occupy another planet, because something not quite clear has happened on Earth.
“It was commissioned for mainstream, primetime BBC, weekday 9:00. Partly I think SciFi isn’t mainstream enough to work, but we couldn’t quite decide if we were making something that was cerebral and profound or thriller-y. It kind of fell between the two.”
He was disappointed The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard, with Jane Horrocks, wasn’t more successful.
“It was at times funny and moving but people just thought it was about Politics and they didn’t want to watch it.”
Kudos was also behind the bold double Moving Wallpaper, a comedy about making a soap, and Echo Beach, the soap the Moving Wallpaper cast were making. The duo by writer Tony Jordan ran for 2 and 1 seasons respectively.
“We allowed the broadcaster to compromise the vision of it,” Garrett said.
“Tony originally conceived it to be an absurd soap, but ITV got slightly greedy and saw it as a way of backdoor piloting something that could become a real soap and we toned it down.
“Tony’s idea was always to cast ex-soap stars in it, which was inspired. But he wanted it to be much more over the top.
“In his original Pilot episode the final scene was a 17 year old boy having sex with his step-grandmother on the kitchen table. In an amusing way! So it was certainly out there and ahead of its time as a brilliant multi-channel idea, conceived in a non-multichannel universe.
“The problem was the soap just wasn’t as interesting as it should and could have been.
“It was a bold failure but we should have stood our ground.”
I ask about his views on Australian production. Noting he hadn’t had much time absorb Australia’s content, he was encouraged.
“This is a place full of genuinely talented and brilliant people who are much more starved of cash and opportunities than we are. It just reminds me how lucky I am to come from an economically healthier environment,” he said.
“What continues to stagger me is that you have a more of a film industry than we do. There’s more consistency about it and you’re churning out, in a good way, world class directors and actors in a way that we’re not. Which isn’t to say we don’t have them. We do, but there’s a consistency about Australia which is a third of our population.
“There’s some really good drama coming out of here as a consistent flow, rather than just a one off.”
Upcoming Kudos projects include Utopia, “an incredibly entertaining and incredibly provocative” show for Channel 4, Broad Church, “a portrait of a community through a murder investigation set on the south coast of England” and an Anglo-French version of Danish drama The Bridge, to be set in The Tunnel.
Finally, I ask about perceptions -or misconceptions- that Hunted was conceived as a successor to Spooks. Garrett denies this.
“Of course it has similarities because it has Spooky-type people, but it’s a very different show. Spooks became more serialised as it evolved but it started as closed episode stories. This is quite strongly serialised, deliberately so,” he said.
“So there are similarities but it came from Frank’s very LA sensibility and he was keen to make something that is quite distinct.
“There are thematic connections and in a Spooks-free world hopefully if you like Spooks you’ll like Hunted.”
Hunted premieres 8:30pm Saturday on SBS ONE.