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A quiet coastal town slumbers as the camera reveals its vacant streets, darkened houses and ominous cliff side, ultimately landing on a doomed 11-year-old boy staring out at the water. It’s soon evident that these are the final moments of his life.
This scene might leave some viewers feeling a bit of deja vu. It’s not just the opening shots of Fox’s Gracepoint. It’s virtually the same introduction as its source material, one-year-old British hit Broadchurch. The similarities don’t stop there — one reason why this straight-to-series stateside adaptation will be launching under the original’s shadow on Oct. 2. And those comparisons may prove both a blessing and a burden.
“I felt it would be really exciting to be able to take this story and put it in another landscape with another community and set of actors,” Chris Chibnall, creator of both series, tells The Hollywood Reporter. “If you can do something exciting and unusual, you might as well give it a go.”
As much as TV critics may have raised eyebrows last summer when Fox announced its order for the murder mystery — mere days after BBC America trotted out members of the original’s cast and crew for reporters at the semiannual Television Critics Association press tour — it was not the only network interested in Gracepoint. Chibnall spoke with executives at each of the Big Four and Netflix before a “very proactive” Kevin Reilly and Peter Rice snatched up the project with a handsome commitment.
One year later, it’s all in the can. The Shine America- and Kudos-produced Gracepoint completed filming its 10-episode order, starring Broadchurch original David Tennant and Breaking Bad‘s Anna Gunn. Chibnall is back in Dorset, England, working on the second season of the first series — one reason why he won’t be at TCA on July 20 when Fox rolls out Gracepoint, where its creatives will field inevitable questions about duplicating something so recent and warmly received.
Chibnall acknowledges that the first two episodes of Gracepoint are similar to Broadchurch, but is adamant that the series then strays. (It would have to at some point, if only to accommodate the extra two episodes Fox ordered for its U.S. redo.) “Where you start is very similar … Where you end up is entirely different,” he says. “We wanted to take the proposition of the show — the mood, the tone, the pace, in terms of what he had in Broadchurch — and start with that. A sense of place is very important.”
The locale for Gracepoint was something Chibnall spent a lot of time considering. And while the shoot took place just south of Vancouver, B.C., the inspiration is the central California coast. He spent two weeks in Pacific Grove, just north of Big Sur, getting a feel for the town and speaking with local police, residents and business owners. Ultimately capturing that landscape, the West Coast’s closest comparison to Dorset, comes down to cinematographer John Grillo and a handful of directors — including Broadchurch alums James Strong and Euros Lyn.
Casting also proved to be a pleasant experience for the producers, with Oscar nominees Nick Nolte and Jacki Weaver as well as Michael Pena joining the primary duo of Tennant and Gunn.
Preferred pedigrees intact, one lingering question was the story’s resolution. Reilly, still running Fox in May, was the first to announce that the ending to Gracepoint would be different from that of Broadchurch. To that end, Chibnall wants to assure every concerned skeptic in this post-Killing TV landscape that the mystery will come to a complete end within the first 10 episodes. According to Chibnall, it is different.
“It was something I had thought about in the original. There were a couple of different endings,” says Chibnall, who adds that showrunners Danny Futterman and Anya Epstein first approached him with one of the alternatives he’d originally considered. “That was my other ending, so that’s great. Do that. It was a really lovely bit of harmony there.”
Letting go of the day-to-day reins on Gracepoint is not something that came easily, but Chibnall is fond of the product of the collaboration and takes the inevitable similarity issues from critics in stride. “It’s something we have to deal with, but I’m relatively relaxed about it,” he says. “I’m incredibly grateful and humbled by the response Broadchurch got. What I’d hope would happen is people would look past their experiences with Broadchurch and look at what is unique about Gracepoint.”
Most viewers, however, won’t have to look past that experience. For all of its acclaim, Broadchurch‘s BBC America ratings were negligible. (It was a monster hit in the U.K. when it aired there in spring 2013.) Though it’s readily available for consumption on iTunes, Amazon and the like, there’s no evidence it’s found a bigger American audience from streaming.
With his attention currently on the original, Chibnall is optimistic about the future of Gracepoint — despite Fox’s eagerness to bill it as an “event.” That label is more about creating buzz than implying it is any more ephemeral than a traditional series.
“I would very happily come back and be an event again next year,” he says, laughing at the label. “But I’m only coming back if we can be an event again. Events only.”
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