MIPTV: Keshet U.K. Looks to Plant its Flag with BBC/SundanceTV Drama 'The A Word'

'The A Word'

Keshet UK's head of scripted co-pros discusses the series about a family dealing with autism, which is opening MIPTV's new series of drama screenings.

MIPTV's inaugural Drama Screenings section is kicking off at 10 a.m. Sunday with The A Word, the first British production from the local outpost of Israeli TV powerhouse Keshet.

Written by Peter Bowker and based on Keshet's own Israeli show Yellow Peppers, which aired in 2010, the drama is centered on a family living in rural England and their painful, yet surprisingly humorous, journey after their 5-year-old son is diagnosed with autism.

The BBC aired the first episode on March 22 to strong reviews (which Keshet UK MD Sammy Nourmand said demonstrated the "appetite for Israeli stories in the U.K.") and SundanceTV is set to broadcast the show in the U.S. this summer. Ahead of its debut on the Croisette, The Hollywood Reporter spoke to exec producer and Keshet UK's head of scripted co-pros Sara Johnson about using The A Word to as their introduction to the international market. 

You’ve only had two episodes of The A Word on British TV so far, but the response seems to have been great. What sort of ratings have you seen?

Episode one was fantastic — on our consolidated figures we gained a million. The overnight figures for episode one was 4.7 million; it peaked 5.2 million towards the end. And yesterday we heard that the consolidated figures were 6 million, but this was before iPlayer figures. We all got a lovely email from [BBC One controller] Charlotte Moore just saying how delighted they were to have the show.

You’re taking the drama to MIPTV. Despite its strong reviews, a drama about a British family dealing with the news that their son is autistic and living in a very regional part of the U.K. might seem like a difficult pitch to sell internationally.

I think what’s wonderful about this — and the original Israeli show — is that it’s about this family and every family. There’s a widower who was widowed young who has given up his business, you’ve got a couple who are coming back after an affair to see if they can rebuild their family, you’ve got a teenage girl. You’ve got all of these storylines that are very universal.

Does having SundanceTV bring on board extra firepower when you’re taking it to buyers?

Definitely. And they’ve been absolutely delighted with everything they’ve seen. It’s really interesting that they came on board. You’re right, we’re quite a domestic drama, but with very, very universal themes. It’s a family drama at heart. It’s funny and not completely dour.

This is Keshet UK’s first British production, and the first time an Israeli drama of yours has been adapted for the U.K. What was it about the original Yellow Peppers that made you think, 'This is the one we want to use to plant our production flag'?

This is the show that, when I was shown the trailer by my not yet boss [Keshet International CEO] Alon Shtruzman, I sat crying in Soho House watching it on his iPad while in my interview for the job I ended up taking. I remember saying: ‘This is an absolutely beautiful show and we have to bring it here.’ I got the job and three-and-a-half years on, I have great pride that we found Peter and these partners Fifty Fathoms. For us as Keshet UK, we’re just spectacularly proud that we’re part of this, and this is how we come out to the world, admittedly as a co-production, but just as involved and as passionate. Collaboratively, this is how we get to come out and say hello!

We’re only two episodes in, but given the response is there already talk about a second season?

Pete has actually said he’d love to do a Boyhood type thing on this, following the family through. Because the challenges of a child with difference at age 6 versus 8 or 9 when kids become the people they’re going to be, versus transition when you’re 16 and no longer a kid, those challenges don’t change. Peter has spoken publicly that he’d love to come back to this family in a couple of years. We all would absolutely love to keep returning.

So are we going to see more Keshet UK co-pros going forward?

Not just co-productions! Productions. Yes, we are. We have one co-pro out there — another Israeli show, Loaded — that we’ve brought here with Channel 4 and partners Hillbilly Films. That’s a comedy drama with Jon Brown (Peep Show, Fresh Meat) writing it. We’re very excited about that and will be announcing a big broadcasting co-producer soon.