Sky Studios Adds to Drama Team, Taps UTA’s Megan Spanjian, Bad Wolf’s Ellen Marsh (EXCLUSIVE)

Comcast-owned Sky Studios has added to its drama team, tapping two new executives and promoting others, Variety can reveal.

In a memo circulated today, drama director Meghan Lyvers confirmed that Bad Wolf producer Ellen Marsh has joined the team as head of series development while UTA’s Megan Spanjian is set to join later this summer as senior executive producer.

Sam Hoyle, who joined last year as an executive producer, has transitioned to the role of commissioning editor, reporting to Katherine Butler. Hoyle will work alongside Paul Gilbert, Manpreet Dosanjh and Sholla Caramba-Coker while Tilly Coulson will continue to head up development for commissioning.

And executive producer Adrian Sturges, whose projects include “Gangs of London” Season 3 and “COBRA” Season 3, has been upped to senior executive producer.

At Bad Wolf, Marsh co-produced the 60th anniversary specials of “Doctor Who” among other projects. She previously worked on “Industry” and “Succession” for HBO. At Sky she will focus on advanced script development as well as greenly series moving into production. Marsh’s direct reports will include Christabel Rose-Brown and script exec Angus Towler.

Spanjian joins from UTA where she worked across the agency packaging IP and developing film and TV projects. She previously worked at The Weinstein Company as head of scripted television, overseeing series including “Yellowstone” and “Waco,” co-productions such as “War & Peace” and acquisitions including “Gomorrah,” and CBS Studios. Her direct reports will include executive producers Kara Manley and Serena Thompson.

Lyvers also used her memo to shed some light on the commissioning structure at the studio, which recently came under fire for being “confusing.” Sky Studios produces scripted original drama and comedy programming arm for Sky across the U.K., Germany and Italy. Upcoming projects include “Mary & George” featuring Julianne Moore and “The Day of the Jackal” starring Lashana Lynch.

“As Sky Studios, we commission, develop, and produce projects of varying scale, commissioning from independent production companies through to producing directly with talent under an in-house producer/partner model,” she said in her memo.

“Katherine and her team are responsible for commissioning projects from the indie community, and our executive producers oversee projects – commissioned or in-house/partnered – through prep, production and post to launch.”

“Once projects are commissioned, or in advanced development and progressing to greenlight, we look to bring executive producers and development executives on board as needed to help further shepherd series through continuing script development, prep, production, post, and delivery.”

Ahead of the news, Lyvers sat down with Variety to discuss the re-org and her drama commissioning strategy.

What has prompted this restructure of the drama team?

I wouldn’t call it a restructure. I joined last August so this is a continuum of the work that we’ve been doing not just across drama, but across Studios, and our desire to create and scale up our business. So yes, we’re making more ambitious and more complex stories, projects, series. But also, the way in which we’re working with the industry is evolving as the needs of the industry and certainly the state of the business is requiring. So this is the last piece of a process, if you will.

How would you sum up the drama commissioning strategy?

This is the work that we’ve been doing these past few months with our group: distilling and clarifying the three major areas that we look for in terms of our drama series for Sky Originals.

The first area is the prestige limited event series space. Right now we’re in production on “Mary & George” and “The Tattooist of Auschwitz.” Those are incredibly ambitious stories; they feel like cultural events. We make a few [limited series] each year and we’ll continue to want to do that moving forward.

The next two areas are the main areas that we look for. The first one is tentpole series. These are very commercial series, they’re much more for a broad audience, they’re world-creation, they often are based on IP. [In this space] “Gangs of London” remains a huge flagship, massive series for us, we love it, we’re going to make Season 3. The next one up that we’re making is “Day of the Jackal,” which is also an ambitious project for us. It’s also great that we can make this with our partners at Peacock who are in the Comcast family and Carnival are incredible producers. This is a much more broad, entertaining, highly marketable spate of series that we want to continue to make more of.

Next is the U.K. contemporary series that have to really, really resonate with audiences today, now. They need to feel like there are contemporary aspects that relate and we can find ourselves in the stories. Not only the characters, but the circumstances. And it really comes from the creator’s point of view of what it is that they want to explore whether it’s in the more familiar franchise world – that could be legal, medical, it could be crime, law enforcement. I don’t think we would shy away from an incredible detective series, but the difference is that it would be a serialised storyline. So we’re not going to be doing week-to-week procedural. But we love the notion of continuing to build on stories that really reflect our circumstances. And the other piece of that is really just the characterization: the characters are key for anything we develop. The next one up that we will be launching in this space is “The Lovers,” which is an incredible series we’re very proud of.

Finally, we’re always open to talent-driven projects that feel like passion projects. They typically come from a creator, performer or hybrid multi-hyphenate and it’s a story – and specifically a point of view -from a creator.

What would you say to writers and producers who want to pitch you?

The strategy that I just outlined to you is an effort to clarify and demystify the age-old eternal question of “What is the buyer looking for?” We are adopting a more flexible and agile process because not all projects require the same care. So we take an approach which is: let us fall in love with the project and figure out what the best model is for that, whether it is a co-production, whether it is just commissioning with a licence fee or some version of in house, if it is with a writer who doesn’t have an indie to help shepherd that project through. But again, that flexibility in terms of our model and the agility in which we can do that is rare. We are not working in a volume space and we can be more attentive in terms of the care that we provide on the projects that do come onto our slate.

If a particular pitch that comes in works in and fits into our strategy, we can very quickly champion that. And if it doesn’t, [we can] also be very clear about the fact it may not be right for us. And again, that clarity, and the reaction time and being able to be transparent about that is really key.

This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.


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