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BBC America Plots New Series: Orphan Black

By July 2, 2012

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(I)Orphan Black(/I) co-creator Graeme Manson (as featured in an online video involving a (a href=

Orphan Black co-creator Graeme Manson (as featured in an online video involving a saltine-related challenge).

© Georgian Entertainment

Is all the best stuff coming out of Canada these days? I don't just mean the ostensibly American series that are actually filmed in Vancouver or Montreal--I mean shows like Lost Girl and Todd and the Book of Pure Evil that start in Canada, are made for Canadian audiences, and then suddenly get discovered by johnny-come-latelies down here in the States.

It's an iffy prospect: American Anglophiles may create built-in, enthusiastic audiences for your Doctor Whos or your Merlins. But there's no such thing as a Canadiophile, and half the time the U.S. audience's perception of a Canadian show's milder approach may leave audiences scratching their heads and networks giving up early. In fact the best strategy for selling Americans on Canadian-made shows is not to tell us.

The latest project to cross the border is a forthcoming offering on Space, the Canadian cable channel owned by Bell Media which aired The Listener and other genre shows of various provenance (e.g., SGU). Bell just greenlit ten episodes of Orphan Black, a series that sounds from its logline like it may have a few things in common with fellow Canadian hit Lost Girl, but this time with it's not fae or werewolves or vampires or zombies but something we haven't seen a lot of recently: The show's central concept involves a street-wise orphan who discovers that she is a clone.

The show was already lined up for distribution by BBC Worldwide, so it's not surprising that BBC America has picked up the series to air as part of its Supernatural Saturdays promotion. Production will begin this fall, and so far no casting has been announced. The network offered the following, more detailed summary of the premise:

"After witnessing a woman's suicide, Sarah assumes the identity of the stranger--who happens to look just like her. Expecting to solve all her problems by cleaning out the dead woman's savings, Sarah is instead thrust headlong into a kaleidoscopic mystery as she realizes the dizzying truth--she and the dead woman are clones. As Sarah searches for answers, she discovers the chilling fact that there are more people like her out there--genetically identical individuals who were planted in unsuspecting birth parents and nurtured in completely different circumstances. With no idea who created the clones, she'll need to discover the reason in a hurry as an assassin is killing them one by one."

The series is produced by Temple Street Productions, a Toronto house that's already given us the time-travel series Being Erica and the Canadian-American version of Queer as Folk. It's being developed by Graeme Manson (Flashpoint, Rent-a-Goalie) and John Fawcett, an experienced director (he's done everything from Xena: Warrior Princess to Spartacus to, well, Lost Girl) but newer to writing for television.

Bell Media is pretty happy about the partnership. "Orphan Black has the perfect blend of excitement, mystery and action," says Corrie Coe, a Bell SVP. "We're delighted that what was initially developed at The Canadian Film Centre by Graeme Manson has found a home on Space and BBC America, and we look forward to working with all our partners to bring this exciting new project to life."

BBC America is enthusiastic about the possibilities for shifting the attention of sci-fi audiences away from the latest overexposed fads toward a recently underserved corner of fantasy pantheon. "Orphan Black is a non-stop thrill ride that is a perfect fit for BBC America's Supernatural Saturday" says network rep Perry Simon. "In the talented hands of Graeme Manson, John Fawcett and Temple Street Productions, it promises to be a genre game changer. Move over zombies—send in the clones!"

The executive producers from Temple Street, Ivan Schneeberg and David Fortier, are already calling this one "must-watch television." I'm certainly looking forward to finding out if they're right.
Tags: Orohan Black, Graeme Manson, John Fawcett
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July 5, 2012 at 11:19 pm
(1) Curt says:

In case it hasn’t caught your ear yet, you should look into another new Canadian genre show called Continuum. It airs on Showcase Sundays at 9pm (it borrows Lost Girl’s time slot during the summer). It premiered late May to 900,000 viewers, more than double Showcase’s previous best ratings (which was a Lost Girl episode that pulled in 420,000 viewers), and won the time slot over even the major Canadian & US networks in Canada.

July 15, 2012 at 1:23 pm
(2) Lapis says:

Mark Wilson writes that “there’s no such thing as a Canadiophile.” Perhaps we are just invisible. I’ve been watching Hulu and Netflix reruns in the summers when I’m not teaching, and watching an entire season at one time allows me to see patterns more clearly. I have begun to search specifically for Canadian TV–any shows, any topics, any genres–just because they’re so much better written and casted than American shows and so much more rational and everyday-realistic than British shows. The Canadians can make anything look “true”, much better than any other film studios I’ve seen. The one British offering I still follow closely is “Dr. Who”. I’ll watch anything and everything Canada has to offer. I just wish Hulu, Netflix, and the lower-tier cable channels would run more Canadian TV. I’m 61, have been watching TV for many decades, and use TV clips in some of my college classes. American TV is too childish; British TV is too raunchy; Canadian TV is exactly right.

August 27, 2012 at 7:14 am
(3) Jaice says:

@ Lapis…. I so agree with you ref Canadian tv shows.
Sci-Fi TV is one of my favourite channels, though I d worry that like their american counterparts the best serials seem to be ending sooner and sooner as the TV companies make a decision to cut short a good series at the end of the season, and jump to making a new series without taking into account that the series have a good following.
I do wish that they would look at the WORLD SALES and not just the US or Canadian ones…they would find that the series are really more profitable than they originally thought…

I am sure alot of people loose interest in watching a good series as they realise that the studios are eventually going to cut the series short as happens with 95% of the series.

Maybe the studios should better check WHY a series is not selling as well as it could… namely in some cases due to poor advertisement…often we know that a seriescame out AFTER it has been taken off the air….

January 3, 2013 at 2:28 am
(4) Simone says:

@Lapis: I would have to disagree that American television is generally written and casted poorly, the problem is that the good shows are always cut short, as @Jaice bring up. An array of television I adore only lasted one season like The Middlemen and Freaks and Geeks just as two examples.

However, I find it interesting the appeal Americans have to British television; I never thought to consider the creative writers to the North. I wasn’t aware that the Orphan Black show was Canadian but this article has opened my eyes to a new source for television for sure. The Lost Girl “remake” for lack of a better term will succeed because most American writers believe copying the original is the way to write for the “new show”.

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