Essential Media returns to drama space with Essential Scripted

Michelle Hardy.

Essential Media Group (EMG) has re-activated its drama arm with the mandate to produce premium international TV dramas and theatrical features via the newly-unveiled Essential Scripted.

Michelle Hardy, who produced the International Emmy® Award-winning multi-platform ABC2 comedy #7DaysLater, has joined as vice president of scripted, Australia, while Simonne Overend continues as VP of scripted, US.

Essential Media has also signed a first-look deal with Hardy White Pictures, a joint venture between Hardy and director Erin White (Sando, Little Lunch).

The move marks a return to the scripted sphere since founding partner Ian Collie departed last September and Essential sold its drama slate and catalogue to Easy Tiger Productions, launched by Collie and FremantleMedia.

It follows the acquisition of EMG (formed by the merger of Essential and Quail Entertainment) by Canada’s Kew Media Group for $32.8 million, a deal which is expected to close next week.

EMG CEO Chris Hilton said: “We’re relishing the prospect of our return to drama production in Australia and the US at a time when the opportunities have never been greater. We have an exciting new slate and with the support of our new partners at Kew we’re looking forward to bringing more premium scripted content to audiences around the world.” 

Hilton recalled that he and Collie started from scratch in drama in the early years at Essential Media and Entertainment, producing a raft of shows including Rake, Jack Irish and The Principal and the Disney movie Saving Mr Banks on the back of the company’s factual slate.

Essential Scripted is working with new and emerging writers including Yolanda Ramke (Cargo) and Chris Squadrito (who worked as a senior script editor on Hoodlum Entertainment/Netflix’s Tidelands) on a slate which includes six TV dramas and as many features.

Hardy has been working unannounced for Essential for some months so some projects are in advanced development or are close to the pilot stage. The projects are being developed in partnership with networks and distributors.

“Australian broadcasters are aspiring to produce dramas that are comparable to those screening on Netflix,” Hilton tells IF. “That means you need sufficient quality to attract pre-finance from European or US broadcasters or a deep-pocketed distributor.”

Hilton has identified the need to develop the next generation of writers partly because creatives such as Andrew Knight, Sarah Lambert and Kris Mrksa are tied up with their own projects.  His plan is to put emerging writers together with experienced writers and showrunners.

Overend is working with Ramke as she develops a TV series based on a crime novel and a feature screenplay. Hardy’s credits include Skit Box’s Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am and Back Seat Drivers, a comedy entertainment series for ABC2.

She worked with Greg Quail, who is now EMG’s chief content officer, on several projects including Timothy, a half hour narrative comedy that was part of Mental As, ABC’s Mental Health Week.

Last year she produced a low budget feature film in Los Angeles for Essential, working title Wild Woman. The survival saga set in the desert from writer-director Nick King is yet to be released.

Hilton is discussing several feature films and feature docs with Kew Media’s international theatrical sales company, observing, “Being part of a large group means we can leverage their resources.”