“My shows have performed well outside the US — both in their original versions and as formats; but I haven’t really had an opportunity to engage with the international TV business. So attending MIPCOM is a chance to put that right. To know the world, you need to travel,” says Darren Star.
That philosophy fits neatly with Star’s latest project, a 10-part scripted series called Emily In Paris, for Paramount Network. “It stars Lily Collins as a US exec who goes to work with a French marketing firm. US audiences are pretty insular, so it struck me as refreshing to be able to tell them a fish-out-of-water story,” he said.
According to Star, US audiences have “something of a fantasy about Paris; so this will be a kind of love letter to the city — analogous to Sex In The City and New York. But it’s not an easy journey. The show embraces and punctures the dream.”
Having been used to filming in the US, shooting on French soil is something of a novelty for Star — but he says it is going well: “We’re working with a cast that is 50-50 French and US and with fantastic French crew. They’re really talented and committed.”
To date, Star has had a phenomenal record in terms of series renewals, with all of his major projects running for multiple seasons — including Younger, which has just been recommissioned for a seventh season by Viacom’s TV Land. The secret, he says, is having “a great cast, a premise that is rich enough to sustain the show and the right characters. Getting the audience to build a relationship with characters is critical. I’m still amazed at how people connect with Beverly Hills 90210 and Sex In The City two or three decades after they launched.”
In terms of his creative process, Star said: “I start with subjects that seem relevant to me. Younger, based on a book by Pamela Redmond Satran, tells the story of a 40-year-old woman trying to reinvent herself by pretending she is younger than she really is. I knew women who were seeking to reinvent themselves and, in a sense, I was experiencing that too. It’s all about what you do when you are no longer the youngest person in the room.”
Star added that he doesn’t design shows by algorithm, but he cites Younger as an example of how he has responded to the post-linear TV market. “I always envisaged the show having a life beyond TV Land, among the streamers. So I created episodes that have connected stories which lend themselves to bingeing,” he said.
More than most showrunners, Star’s series have been a step or two ahead of contemporary pop culture. Is he aware of that when making the shows? “You feel like you’re making something special when you are in production,” he said, “but when you’re creating something new, it can take time for the audience to find your show. I wouldn’t say my shows were immediate successes. That was one of the attractions of working with HBO on Sex In The City, because they were not so ratings driven. I think networks these days increasingly recognise the importance of quality — though that’s not to say shows can survive with low ratings.”
A big theme at recent editions of MIPTV and MIPCOM is diversity. It’s an issue that Star, who is openly gay, is conscious of and has addressed in his work. “Melrose Place was one of the first shows to have a prominent gay character. And we have set out to make Emily In Paris feel like an inclusive, diverse show. I just think you have to be careful with diversity that you aren’t checking boxes. It works best when the subject relates to you.”
Darren Star’s Media Mastermind keynote is on Tuesday, October 15 at 12.00 in the Grand Auditorium
This is an advance extract from the MIPCOM Preview magazine; full version online soon!