Banff: Lionsgate TV Boss Talks 'Orange is the New Black,' Network Showrunners in Cable

Orange Is the New Black FYC Panel - H 2015
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"Jenji [Kohan] and her team expertly created an amazing ensemble, with Taylor Schilling as Piper as a way in for viewers," Kevin Beggs said.

As the third season of Orange Is the New Black debuts on Friday on Netflix, Lionsgate TV's Kevin Beggs credits the prison-set show's creator and writer Jenji Kohan for producing a diverse, multi-ethnic cast for a drama that increasingly plays well globally.

"There's a lot of ways in (to the drama). The majority of viewers are already women. And it's diverse ethnically, and in every other category you can imagine," Beggs, chairman of the Lionsgate Television Group, told The Hollywood Reporter on Sunday while attending the Banff World Media Festival.

He added Orange Is the New Black, inspired by Piper Kerman's book about her real-life experiences in prison, was originally a show about Piper, played by Taylor Schilling, ending up in prison. But Kohan has since exploited the varied women prisoner characters Piper meets in jail to create a global drama that female viewers especially widely embrace.

"Jenji and her team expertly created an amazing ensemble, with Taylor Schilling as Piper as a way in for viewers," Beggs said. Orange is a New Black has also become a major market opener for Netflix.

"It's a huge marketing driver. They (Netflix) come to us territory by territory to license it. And they're acquiring the series in territories they aren't even operating in yet, but want it in advance for when they do, like in France," Beggs said. The Lionsgate TV boss also pointed Sunday to the indie studio gaining as seasoned network showrunners move over to do premium cable shows that play like mini-movies and forego the punctuation of ad breaks.

"We've been attracting people that have been in broadcast and said, 'I've done that for a while, I want to come over to cable,'" Beggs said. He explained showrunners have enjoyed the financial benefits of network shows, but are looking at the success of Orange is the New Black, Mad Men and Breaking Bad and want to attempt a new medium.

An example is Dee Johnson (The Good Wife, ER), who ran Starz's political drama Boss for Lionsgate TV. "She hadn't done cable, which was 10 episodes, as opposed to 22," Beggs recalled.

When Boss was winding up, and another cable show wasn't available, Lionsgate convinced Johnson to board the ABC musical drama Nashville as a showrunner. "We twisted her arm and she agreed to go over," Beggs said.

Of course, Johnson has an overall deal with Lionsgate TV. So while she's doing Nashville, Johnson is eyeing future cable projects for the indie studio, Beggs said. The Banff World Media Festival is set to run to on Wednesday in the Canadian Rockies.