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‘Scoop’ Producer Developing Sarah Lancashire TV Series

EXCLUSIVE: The production outfit behind Netflix’s Prince Andrew feature Scoop is working with Sarah Lancashire on an “ambitious, contemporary returning series” that Lancashire will star in.

Lighthouse Film & Television is teaming with Lancashire’s recently launched Via Pictures on the show, we can reveal, which Lighthouse co-founder Radford Nevills teased is a “research heavy project inspired by real characters.”

Conversations with networks have already begun and Lancashire will star, contradicting reports that emerged earlier this week that she has retired from acting.

Lancashire launched Via Pictures with husband and former BBC and Banijay UK boss Peter Salmon last year upon the conclusion of Happy Valley, one of the corporation’s biggest dramas of the past decade.

“When we set up Lighthouse in 2020 we talked to Sarah about developing something specifically for her,” added Nevills. “In the interim she has set up Via and towards end of last year we had an idea for an ambitious, contemporary returning series that may be perfect for Sarah.”

Co-producing with indies with a different skillset is one of Lighthouse’s strategies and the team did so to good effect on Scoop, which was made with factual producer Voltage TV following a conversation that started over mince pies and wine at Christmas, according to Nevills. “We’ve never been shy of partnerships and brainstorming with a factual company is a different experience,” he added.

Lighthouse has been busy looking to the future while producing Scoop and has also optioned the rights to Killjoy by Jo Cheetham, a non-fiction book telling the uplifting true story of how a group of unlikely everyday campaigners fought to have The Sun stop publishing pictures of topless women on page three. It took three years, with Cheetham protesting up and down the country, attending parliament and making an unlikely group of friends ranging from 16 to 60 years old.

Lighthouse co-founder Hilary Salmon said Killjoy “fits in with Scoop quite nicely as a body of work,” while also having shades of ITV’s smash campaigning drama Mr Bates vs the Post Office, which has seen a renewed focus placed on local British stories.

“When we looked for the project that became Scoop we were saying we definitely want to do actual drama but seek cultural and critical moments of the last two decades,” added Salmon. “It felt like journalism was a really good area for this and campaigning around social change and a change in attitudes is ripe for exploration.”

Cheetham’s novel, Salmon added, was “there to be plucked as a drama, full of extraordinary questions over how Page 3 only ended in 2016 when Miss World was canceled in 1984 on the basis that it was outdated and offensive.”

The campaign ran for three years and ended with a number of tabloids’ ceasing publication of photos of topless women.

Striking the right tone on ‘Scoop’

Scoop. Image: Peter Mountain/Netflix

Starring Gillian Anderson, Billie Piper and Rufus Sewell, Scoop was the result of many months of research led by writer Peter Moffat and is adapted from three chapters of a book penned by Newsnight producer Sam McAlister. It tells the story of the notorious 2020 interview with the now-disgraced Prince Andrew, who attempted to explain his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein to presenter Emily Maitlis and the nation but ended up humiliating himself on the national and international stage, with comments about visits to a Pizza Express in Woking and an inability to sweat still likely haunting him today.

The producers have said the series is really a story about three women – McAlister, Maitlis and then-Newsnight editor Esme Wren.

Salmon said striking the right tone when dealing with such a ridiculous spectacle that nonetheless related to incredibly serious crimes by convicted sex offender Epstein was always going to be a challenge. She compared it in tonal scope to Russell T. Davies’ BAFTA-winning BBC/Amazon drama A Very English Scandal about the Jeremy Thorpe affair.

“It’s not ostensibly about [Epstein’s] victims but we had to be mindful of those who have not had justice,” she added. “It expresses the absurd notion of what Andrew decided to do at that jaw-dropping moment in time but at the same time takes the subject matter seriously.”

Given that it is based on her book, the movie leans heavily into McAlister’s Newsnight experience, a ‘booker extraordinaire’ who also secured interviews with the likes of Stormy Daniels, Sean Spicer and Julian Assange.

At times in the film she is pitted against more traditional Newsnight producers and some scenes could be viewed as veiled critiques of the way in which the BBC is sometimes accused of leaning too heavily towards ‘metropolitan’ Britain with its news coverage.

“I think the fact that there are debates going on inside the BBC about the age and class of its audiences is well known,” said Salmon. “Critique is a bit of a strong word but we wanted to reflect the atmosphere in the Newsnight newsroom at the time [the interview] was being planned.”

The BBC has been part of the “phenomenal” pickup the movie has already had, Salmon added, pointing out that interviews with leads Piper and Anderson have been played several times across BBC channels.

Meanwhile, the pic has recently been advertised in Times Square, and Salmon said the team were always confident it could hopefully permeate an international audience.

“The Royal Family is an international brand,” she added. “There is loads of interest in the States and around the world. Newsnight is not a widely known news program and so it could have felt quite parochial but we were at pains from the beginning of the film to give the audience enough information about the story and what happened before the interview.”

This re-telling of events before the interview had to be “compressed” in such a way as to communicate and tell “years and years” of a complex story in a short period of time, with a focus on McAlister’s experience, Salmon said.

She described the actual interview, which runs for around 15 minutes, as an “educated dramatization,” with lines read verbatim but “different shots and experiences” used for effect.

Salmon now hopes that “recognizing the achievement of journalists” in a mainstream Netflix movie will support “serious journalism” in the future.

She is also delighted to have got the Netflix project out first, coming a few months before a Maitlis-produced Amazon TV series starring Ruth Wilson and Michael Sheen, although she acknowledged that “audiences feed off two different ways of looking at a story.”

Scoop launches April 5 and London premiere is tonight.

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