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Networks Look Overseas for Their Next Big Series

'Gangs of London'
AMC Networks has imported hits like 'Gangs of London' even before the pandemic. (Image credit: AMC/Sky)

Its name may stem from the U.S. of A., but there’s a decidedly worldly vibe to AMC these days. In fall 2020, the network launched a pair of acquired U.K. dramas, Gangs of London and The Salisbury Poisonings, on streaming service AMC Plus. Its second season to be a co-production for AMC, Gangs premieres on the linear network Sunday, April 4. Salisbury, for its part, debuted on AMC in late January. 

The next import up for AMC is U.K. thriller The Beast Must Die. Starring Jared Harris and Cush Jumbo, the drama makes its U.S. debut later this year and will stream on BritBox U.K. 

Dan McDermott, president of original programming at AMC Networks and co-head of AMC Studios, said imports have been key to AMC’s schedule for years. “It’s been part of our strategy from the beginning,” he said, mentioning Humans, Top of the Lake and The Night Manager. “When COVID hit, we needed to maintain our robust pipeline, and we did step up our efforts at that time.”

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‘Transplant’-ed Series

AMC Networks president of original programming and co-head of AMC Studios Dan McDermott

AMC Networks president of original programming and co-head of AMC Studios Dan McDermott

Amidst production lags brought on by COVID, and viewers’ increasing comfort level with overseas series, AMC is but one network filling out its schedule with imported programs. NBC ran Canadian dramas Transplant and Nurses in the fall, and has ordered a second season of Transplant. Apple TV Plus debuted Israeli spy thriller Tehran in September. The CW started years ago with ITV (U.K.) series Penn & Teller: Fool Us, and has moved on to Canadian dramas Trickster, Coroner and Burden of Truth, and competition series The Great Chocolate Showdown, which premieres later this year. The CW also debuted Italian series Devils, with Patrick Dempsey, last fall, and has aired U.K. drama Bulletproof and U.K. satirical competition series Killer Camp.

Kevin Levy, executive VP, program planning, scheduling and acquisitions, said the imports were “integral” to The CW’s schedule in late 2020, as the network pushed its season start to January. “Once the pandemic hit, we had to get more aggressive to find completed product to bolster our schedule,” Levy said. “We had the infrastructure in place, and needed that when we shifted our schedule.”

The pandemic has been a catalyst to what was already in the works, according to Zak Shaikh, VP of media and entertainment at Magid. American talent can be hard to come by in the 500-scripted show universe, and the streamers’ seemingly bottomless troves of content have prompted more global tastes among viewers. Netflix, for one, has had hits with Peaky Blinders, Derry Girls and Lupin, among other overseas series. 

“The streamers want U.S. subscribers and they want overseas subscribers,” Shaikh said. “Viewers have become more comfortable with accents.”

They’re less comfortable with subtitles, he added. Mary Dalton, Wake Forest professor of communication, said that may change, as she sees students get more accustomed to foreign-language television. “Canadian imports and shows from the U.K. are a lower bar for students to clear because of language, but I support all types of stories that take students out of their comfort zones and expose them to different cultures,” she said. 

Reinforcing the notion of American viewers finding comfort with programming beyond the U.S., the top comedy at the Golden Globes last month was a Canadian import in Pop TV’s Schitt’s Creek, while the top drama was The Crown, a Netflix original about the U.K.’s royals that is produced in the U.K. 

As stuck-at-home viewers dig deeper into their streaming platforms for fresh programming, they’re getting more and more familiar with foreign series. “Americans are just looking for good storytelling,” said CW’s Levy. “The boundaries have expanded.”

Hollywood set the standard for quality programming, according to Shaikh, and the rest of the world is upping its game. U.S. networks appreciate the effort. 

“I see this continuing,” said McDermott. “We’ve had our oar in this water for years. It’s important to us now, and it’s going to be important to us going forward.” λ

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.