Adi Hasak has been a busy man. Creator, executive producer and showrunner of USA Network’s Eyewitness, as well as the creator and executive producer of NBC’s Shades of Blue. His MIPCOM keynote today addressed topics including adaptation, and how he navigates the US and international marketplace. He was interviewed by Leo Barraclough of Variety.
Eyewitness is based on a Norwegian format, which he discovered over dinner with the production company as a format. “I saw the show, was riveted by it, and wanted to try to do something with it,” he said. He said that the show needed a stronger resolution for an American audience, and the plot needed to be simplified. That provided extra time to focus more on the characters in the show.
The show includes two teenage boys who fall in love – a potentially challenging subject for an American audience? “We didn’t even think about it,” said Hasak. “I was told it was the first show where you have gay characters at the centre of a thriller… UCP and USA were extremely supportive – ‘Let’s push this relationship and really go in the direction of Brokeback Mountain’. We got a lot of support on that.”
Hasak talked about his big break with Shades of Blue, starring Jennifer Lopez. A number of networks passed on the idea before J-Lo attached herself to the script, after which NBC came on board. He also talked about his career in the 90s writing spec action scripts, before reinventing himself as a television writer. “And then it was time to get something going, so I wrote this cop show,” he said.
He also worked with Luc Besson. “Luc does his own thing, he’s an auteur as far as a director, as we know, but he’s also a savvy businessman… He doesn’t waste money,” said Hasak. “He really studied the business and found where is the weak link? He found that studios had stopped making movies like Die Hard, and he went in there.”
How about Jennifer Lopez? “Jennifer Lopez is remarkable. She’s a one-person conglomerate… she’s in fashion, but at the end of the day she’s a performer… she showed up as opposed to some other actors on my show knowing her lines!” he said. “Jennifer’s getting pitched in movies again because of Shades of Blue, and that just sums up the business savvy that she has.”
Prominent movie directors worked on both shows. “They bring epic scope… a really strong visual sense, but they also work really well with actors,” said Hasak. “It’s rare certainly from my experience to have directors who are both visually stunning and who work well with actors.”
How would he describe the worlds he created in these two shows? They’re quite dark and the characters have a lot of flaws, noted Barraclough. “What I’m interested in is the humanity of these characters. I’m not really interested in the guy in the white hat and the guy in the black hat. It’s the shades,” said Hasak. “You take these complex characters and then you tie in the humanity, and I think it makes for really interesting drama.”
Hasak talked about the way he sees himself as in competition with the studios, painting himself as the Uber to their taxi-company establishment. “I want two things: I want creative control and I want an economic stake in what I’ve created. And I’m looking for international partners,” he said, of his desire to work directly with international distributors. “We’re cutting out the studio, and it makes monetary sense for us, but more importantly, by cutting out the studio we obtain creative control… And in fact if I was younger, I’d get rid of the networks as well!”
Hasak will also soon be working on another adaptation called Black Widows, a Finnish format. “It’s kind of Desperate Housewives on acid. It’s the story of three women married to the biggest assholes ever. And within eight minutes, they literally blow them out of their lives!”
What is his advice for young MIPCOM. “Just get off on rejection. If you get off on rejection and don’t let it get you down, you’ll be fine. And make sure you’re entering the room with IP you can really stand behind… If you keep knocking, eventually they’ll open the door. At the end of the day, it’s about the material… There’s so much noise out there right now… you must create content that rises above the noise.” That includes having an opening that “grabs the audience and never lets go. And then you got a show!”