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HomeBollywood'Cheaters' Lands Season 2 As Clerkenwell Films Talk Co-Pros & Funding

‘Cheaters’ Lands Season 2 As Clerkenwell Films Talk Co-Pros & Funding

EXCLUSIVE: When Murray Ferguson left UK drama house Clerkenwell Films in 2021 after more than two decades, it was a true changing of the guard. Today marks a big day for his successors, Petra Fried and Wim de Greef.

Not only is the Truelove and The End of the F***ing World producer’s Netflix drama series Baby Reindeer launching globally, but its BBC series Cheaters has landed a second season. Joint Managing Directors Fried and de Greef revealed the news in their first interview since taking over the company more than three years ago.

Susan Wokoma (CrazyHead, Year of the Rabbit, Enola Holmes), Joshua McGuire (Anatomy of a Scandal, Lovesick), Jack Fox (Riviera, Sanditon) and Callie Cooke (Henpocalypse, Rules of the Game) will all return for another run of the relationship comedy-drama. It is set for BBC One and BBC iPlayer, with no transmission date set yet.

The short-form show follows strangers Josh (McGuire) – who has a long-term girlfriend – and Fola (Wokoma), married women who drunkenly sleep together after their flight is delayed. Upon return to England, they find out that they’re actually new neighbors. Spoilers follow: In season two, Josh and Fola’s relationship has blossomed, but while she is keen to take things slow, the anxious Josh wants to speed things up. Meanwhile, scorned husband Zack (Fox) is determined to win Fola back, and Josh’s ex, Esther (Cooke) returns from travels.

“The interesting issue now is about what happens to a relationship that has started through cheating,” Fried told Deadline. “How do you move on and move forwards? There were some shocking revelations about our characters’ kinks in season one. How do you acknowledge that and move forwards without feeling shame?”

Fried is executive producer alongside Emily Harrison (Somewhere Boy, The End of the F***ing World) and Charlie Langdell (Truelove, Somewhere Boy) for Clerkenwell, alongside Cheaters writer and creator Oliver Lyttleton and Danielle Scott-Haughton for the BBC. Alex Walsh-Taylor (TrueloveLovesick) and Elliot Hegarty (Ted Lasso, Lovesick), return as series producer and director. Clerkenwell’s parent, BBC Studios, is the international distributor.

We hear episodes will increase from a 10-minute format in Season 1 to 15 minutes in Season 2, and that this marks the first time the BBC has commissioned a season of the show — the first was an acquisition that came out of a short-form production initiative between BBC Studios and financier Anton. Furthermore, de Greef noted an international version of the season will package the episodes into more sellable half-hour formats.

Clerkenwell’s broader vision

Clerkenwell, which Ferguson formed in 1998 with actor John Hannah, is known for its quirky and distinctive comedy-drama output such as Misfits, End of the F***ing World and Somewhere Boy. However, Fried and de Greef have been taking a broader view of the UK drama, especially with buyers seeking marketable ideas and high-profile talent and indies more challenged than ever.

“We were really proud of the niche we built with Murray – that distinctive, often youth-skewed drama — but we thought we could expand our brand without losing that,” said Fried during an exclusive interview at the company’s east-central London office. “We still want to make the more distinctive shows we’re known for, but our desire to move into more broad stories has luckily mirrored in the industry at the moment.”

She noted that a move towards genre shows is paying off, with commissioners hunting concepts that are easy to sell, both to audiences and their bosses. “Look at the market now – there’s a huge hunger for them,” said Fried, noting Clerkenwell has just had a “high-octane genre show greenlit” without revealing further details.

De Greef said that even the streamers are demanding ever broader ideas. He recently sat in on a presentation at a major U.S. platform in which ‘four-quadrant’ ideas with major stars were top of the menu.

“Their shows have to appeal to a larger audience, so they want faces,” said de Greef. “There’s been a definite move away from the segmentation that marked the streamers,” added Fried.

Clerkenwell’s most recent financial report showed a loss of £868,000 ($1.1M) for the year to March 31, 2023. However, it’s understood that this was primarily due to program delivery and a requirement from owner BBC Studios that revenue is only recognized on full delivery to a broadcaster. As such, we are told Clerkenwell will report a profit of more than £3M in the 2023-24 financial year.

Clerkenwell has indeed landed several new orders besides Cheaters, according to Fried and de Greef, and also benefits from the backing of BBC Studios, which will finance development. As such, the Clerkenwell slate has expanded up to 35 titles, either in development or greenlit, including with major British acting and producing talent.

Upcoming shows include Sky drama The Death of Bunny Munro, the Matt Smith-starring adaptation of singer Nick Cave’s sophomore novel. It is going into production in three weeks with Smith in the title role opposite a young co-lead who is due to be cast any time now. On the development front is the likes of Swans, a co-production with Envision Entertainment from writer Amy Mason about a young working-class woman who joins a posh finishing school after her father wins some money.

“It is tough times for the industry at the moment but fortunately for us we have a couple of greenlit shows in addition to Cheaters — more are being announced soon,” said Fried. “It has been high intensity by that’s the way we like it.”

“That’s the nature of the market now,” added de Greef. “You have to develop a high number of shows and aim for different baskets. You have to cater for different people to maximize your chances. That’s where the team and the set up we have enables us to do that.”

The company is known for working with new writers such as Pete Jackson (Somewhere Boy), Charlie Covell (End of the F***ing World) and Richard Gadd, whose Netflix drama Baby Reindeer follows the story of a warped relationship involving a failing comedian and a stalker. Based on his Olivier Award-winning play, it stars Gadd and Jessica Gunn.

Supporting new writers

Fried and de Greef support new writers through development and production using a model in which both of them, plus another two experienced Clerkenwell exec producers, are hands on.

“Increasingly the showrunner and writers room model has been imported from America,” said Fried. “It’s so different over here, and I know a lot of writers who feel the UK version of the room is not always very satisfactory. In having two experienced execs, a script editor and me and Wim overseeing, it’s almost like we are that room. We work really hard on structure and scripts and give them the support a U.S. writers room would, in a way I’m not sure a lot do in the UK.”

“That’s important when working with new artists,” added de Greef. “If it’s their first commissioned series they need that support.”

The company has what Fried called an “unusually flat structure,” adopted from Ferguson’s era that allows its small staff of about 15 access to senior leadership and to be involved in projects from the first minute. It’s true that many staffers have spent their entire careers at Clerkenwell, and creative chief Fried and finance and production boss de Greef have been with the company since its inception.

Ferguson had exited in 2021, at which point BBC Studios upped its 48% stake to 100%. BBC Studios had originally invested in the biz in 2008.

International co-productions

Clerkenwell has been successful over the years importing its shows into the U.S. — the BAFTA-winning sci-fi drama Misfits was among the first British titles to run on Hulu back in 2011 and more recently boarded Pete Jackson’s Somewhere Boy, while Netflix has been a partner on shows such as Lovesick. With money in the UK drying up and streamers less likely to make full global buy-out deals, Clerkenwell has been working closely with execs at BBC Studios — whose Managing Director of Scripted Mark Linsey is now based in LA — to find more U.S. co-producers.

“We spend a lot of time speaking with key people within Studios to make sure co-productions happen,” said de Greef. “We have been liaising extensively with those people on strategy, where we pitch. That’s the way the market is going now — it’s more like independent film, with a jigsaw puzzle of funding.”

Fried added that a new front is co-productions in Europe, which has been a hot button topic in production circles over the past year. Again, Clerkenwell is using the BBC’s network of contacts to explore new ideas. “As American become harder to access, it is sensible to look to Europe,” she said. “In both places, as the market has contracted, we’re going back to that older model of a European storyline or a U.S. cast member.”

One project is close to closing its financing, she said, while de Greef said that BBC Studios ability to deficit finance could be the “make or break,” adding: “It is so much harder to get financing now, so we cannot afford not to explore the U.S. and European co-pro markets.”

As Fried and de Greef focus more time on funding and getting projects into production, the pair are convinced their small but experienced staff have the ability to find the best projects on the UK market, and that they’ll continue to hold their reputation as they push into new areas.

“There’s no reason that mainstream, genre shows cannot contain the high-quality, distinctive cinematic approach we are well known for,” said Fried. “It doesn’t just need to be young adult shows that do that.”

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