BBC Worldwide's Julie Gardner | ©2011 BBC

BBC Worldwide's Julie Gardner | ©2011 BBC

Julie Gardner is a name that most DOCTOR WHO and TORCHWOOD fans are familiar with. She is one of the people directly responsible for the resurrection of the WHO franchise in 2005, and the subsequent spin-offs TORCHWOOD and THE SARAH JANE ADVENTURES. Gardner’s list of series she has been involved with is as extensive as the awards she has won for her work in television.

In 2009 Gardner relocated to Los Angeles to become the Senior Vice President of Scripted television for BBC Worldwide Productions. She and WHO producing partner Russell T Davies have continued to create new television, and their first series TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY is a co-production of BBC Worldwide and STARZ (which just wrapped up its latest season).

ASSIGNMENT X stopped by the BBC offices to chat with Gardner about her transition to U.S. production work, the evolution of TORCHWOOD, and all of complexities that goes along with a UK show on American TV.

ASSIGNMENT X: How has your transition to the US and becoming the Senior Vice President, Scripted of BBC Worldwide been for you over the last couple of years?

JULIE GARDNER: I have loved it. I mean, it’s a mad old town isn’t it? That’s why I wanted to come. In the UK I had always watched American television, any kind of imports that made it into the country. I had DVD boxed sets and I was cramming viewing of so many titles, and throughout the time I worked with Russell T Davies in the UK and we were always talking about what was happening with the big American series. I was always interested in seeing what the differences would be in how you develop and make a drama series in America compared to the UK. I think I’ve always had a dream of the palm trees [Laughs]. And, I’ve loved it and I continue to love it. The kind of things I thought would be culturally different aren’t, and I am constantly surprised by things that are [different].

AX: What are some of the changes that you’ve had to make producing television in America?

GARDNER: I think it’s just the shape of production. Of course, the first big decision you have to make is where to shoot, and I think so many productions go to tax break countries and states, and into Canada of course. I think I will look forward to a time when I will be able to get out of LA, but for our first drama series we wanted to be able to be where the office is and to get the feel of Los Angeles. We wanted to be able to use crews that in some ways get left behind. They have all the experience in the world and they’ve been to the tax break states, but they want to shoot something at home before uprooting themselves again. I think we got to work with some great people from making the choice to be in L.A. The problems with filming L.A. are very obvious. It’s such a busy city. TORCHWOOD is not a show that sits in a set with characters talking about their domestic lives. It would have been much easier to film that show in L.A., rather than what became a show with a lot of set builds that still had an enormous amount of locations.

So we did a lot of traveling and moving the unit base and the company around Los Angeles. That was at once thrilling – I can remember turning up downtown with Russell and just walking for what felt like miles. Of course it wasn’t miles but us being from the UK, it felt like that. [Laughs] We were seeing truck after truck, because when you move a production the whole circus goes with you. It’s big! There are a lot of trucks compared to what I had experienced in Cardiff. It’s a different way of working.  We walked past all of these trucks and eventually got to our location and in that moment I remember thinking, “OK this is exciting this American production is slightly different than it would be in the UK!”

AX: So in regards to the evolution of TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY, is it the same series that would have been on FOX before that came apart and you moved to STARZ?

GARDNER: It was the same concept. I think clearly a show takes a different shape when it moves from what would have been a forty-two minute network show with commercial breaks to a cable broadcaster that has no breaks and you can go up to fifty-four to fifty-five minutes of actual content time. That makes a significant difference. In a cable atmosphere you can be darker, you can swear if you choose. There’s more of that.

AX: Coming to STARZ with them already having a show like SPARTACUS, you probably had no limits and no fear of censorship then?

GARDNER: The thing about the conversation with STARZ is even though SPARTACUS is a huge hit for them, they were never going to try to make TORCHWOOD that. When they picked up MIRACLE DAY, they rea

Eve Myles and John Barrowman in TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY | ©2011 BBC Worldwide Limited

Eve Myles and John Barrowman in TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY | ©2011 BBC Worldwide Limited

lly bought into what TORCHWOOD already was. They had seen CHILDREN OF EARTH and the series before that and they knew loosely what they were getting. There are always things you are going to work on. In Russell’s pitch for MIRACLE DAY, the heart of the pitch was it would be the day the world changes forever. People can’t die, what does that does to science and society, what does that do to people physiologically, and what is the thriller running behind it? That’s what they bought into, and they bought into the characters of Captain Jack and Gwen Cooper. It was never about sexing it up or making it violent in the way some of their other shows are. It was always meant to be a continuation or as you said an evolution of what had gone before. Also what was exciting and appealing to us is, and I think this is the first time this has been done, that the show would play on the BBC and STARZ.

AX: So this was always a continuation and not a new stand alone series?

GARDNER: We would be creatively taking the history and heritage of the TORCHWOOD series from the UK and very faithfully and truthfully, I hope because that was the intent, taking what was established and of course making it different. TORCHWOOD is a show that every single season has been different. I love the word evolution in regards to the show. It’s the strangest, craziest beast.

To start on BBC 3 on a digital platform for the UK a brief to hit the 18-30 year olds – that was a much more sexed up and sexy show compared to MIRACLE DAY. I remember we said the word “f**k” in the first five minutes. We were saying that this show wasn’t DOCTOR WHO, it was a more adult sister show in that universe. That was BBC 3 then we moved to BBC 2 where we sat in the home of acquisitions like THE TUDORS and HEROES, and it became a different type of show for creative reasons. We had seen how the BBC 3 first season had worked and you can see across the second series that the swearing starts to disappear. We never had explicit violence and we didn’t like and didn’t want that in a way. In BBC 2 it became more mainstream than it did in its first few episodes on BBC 3. Then we moved to BBC 1 which was the place we always wanted to be.

TORCHWOOD - Season 2 DVD

TORCHWOOD - Season 2 DVD

AX: Funnily enough when you moved to BBC 1 and became completely mainstream, that’s when the series became even darker.

GARDNER: Isn’t that weird? I think it was probably our darkest offering. Though MIRACLE DAY has had death camps and you don’t get much darker than that. It’s funny, and it’s something we’ve always talked about this way, I think with CHILDREN OF EARTH we hit our stride. We felt that a serialized story feels more epic and it plays better than doing individual stories of the week. We had loved that format on BBC 3 and 2 but we had gotten to the point of how many times can we save the world every week? What is the level of threat here? This isn’t DOCTOR WHO where we are doing that every week. The serialized nature of the story felt like we could be more epic and go deeper into the characters.

AX: Funny you should make that comparison since DOCTOR WHO now has become more serialized with the River Song storyline.

GARDNER: I know! It’s strange isn’t how everything swings in roundabouts and shifts and shapes?

AX: How is it for you and Russell to return to a show with only a couple of the core cast members remaining (meaning the main TORCHWOOD team)?

GARDNER: R.I.P. Ianto is what you want me to say isn’t it? [Laughs] That’s the good thing about this format and in those choices – the way the show has changed shape every single season.  The death of the characters allows you to do that clearly and boldly. I loved GAME OF THRONES, and I’ve read the books, but you get to Sean Bean’s death and it’s a stunning choice to make in a television drama. It was talked about a lot because that is not the normal choice of narrative for a show like that. You want to go for that unexpected story – you want to shake up the audience. The choices in TORCHWOOD for killing those characters were to make it a more dangerous world. They can’t be facing death every single episode, in runs of 13 episodes, season after season and have everyone survive. There has got to be a cost.

AX: With MIRACLE DAY this series has been very grounded and Earth based. Would a future TORCHWOOD series have heavier Science Fiction overtones?

GARDNER: The way to answer that is not to specifically answer whether we would be off in space or Earth bound, because I think we will always be Earth bound. The answer really is TORCHWOOD for us is always at its best when it looks at the actions of people. You always want some heightened reality within that or some science fiction, because I enjoy watching that. That’s the genre we’re in with TORCHWOOD, but actually we’ve always talked about (and when I say we I mean Russell and all of the writers for each season) how TORCHWOOD could say something about how we live. That has been an important piece of the thinking. In MIRACLE DAY, in a time of crisis, who would become a hero, who would become a collaborator, who would become a victim? The rules would completely change, and what would that do to us as a race?

Arlene Tur in TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY | ©2011 BBC Worldwide Limited

Arlene Tur in TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY | ©2011 BBC Worldwide Limited

AX: It was an interesting choice to make Jack mortal for this series, and by that token to make him more cautious and less proactive in how he is able to effect change in the story, because now he can die.

GARDNER: Yes, and that continues to be extremely important to the climax of episode ten.

AX: The flip side of that is Gwen has become more of the leader of the team and is the one charging in to situations now.

GARDNER: She’s more of an action hero. I think that’s also linked to the fact that she is a mother. You’ve got lots of choices about how you write and develop that character. You could write her as more fearful and more protective of her life and her nesting instinct takes over, verses how I think Gwen has reacted to motherhood, which is very much her desire to make the world better. You’ve got to face your responsibilities and the consequences of your actions and those of the people around you become really important because this is the world her child is in.

What I loved about episode seven was the relationship between Jack and Gwen trapped in the car. We’ve never seen them be that violent and brutal emotionally with each other. The moment when they say that they would kill each other, her to protect her daughter and he to continue to live – we’ve never pushed them that far. We’ve never stress tested the characters to those limits. I think that was a great piece of writing and performance from Eve and John. That’s what you’re looking for. It all goes back to the same thing about killing characters; you want to keep putting stress onto your core characters.

Click on Link: Exclusive Interview with BBC’s Julie Gardner – Part 2

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Comments:

  1. I felt that the Starz version of Torchwood was dumbed down and that the character development of Jack was disappointing at best. As an avid fan of Torchwood and Doctor Who before that I watched faithfully and will in the future, but hope for the old Torchwood feel to come back.

    eVr0n
  2. Miracle Day was AWFUL. Torchwood has “evolved” into something that is unrecognizable from what I first fell in love with. Fans and viewers did not enjoy this series–you can see this via ratings and reviews. I don’t see why they wasted money making this failure when they could have made a guaranteed success by listening to the fans.

    Marie
  3. “The choices in TORCHWOOD for killing those characters were to make it a more dangerous world. They can’t be facing death every single episode, in runs of 13 episodes, season after season and have everyone survive. There has got to be a cost.”

    The cost is that I am not watching anymore. What’s the point getting attached to new characters who will all die just for shock purpose, except Teflon Gwen and immortal Jack?

    Additionallly, I still think it was stupid to kill Ianto, wasting a great character and a great actor.

    Julie Gardner said that it was good for the story (and that art was not a democracy –haha loved that one, it’s a TV show aiming to make money, not an artistic gift).
    Today she justifies it by saying that even Game of Thrones did it.
    But I think that the explaination John Barrowman gave in an interview is more accurate. He said that Russell explained that they couldn’t bring everyone to the US and so some characters had to die…What an artistic choice…

    I think the producers of this show have no respect for their fans. Hope they realise that fans help promote the show even if they represent a few number of viewers.

    Pat
  4. Pingback: John Barrowman and Julie Gardner cover moving Torchwood stateside and the show’s future - Hypable

  5. They should have named the series ‘Let’s Kill Torchwood’. The really disappointing part was how Jack and Gwen were the only real, original characters. All the others were typical US series stereostypes. Not one had any originality. This turned into another US crime drama. Sorry this is not evolution, it’s devolution. Bring back Torchwood, and, oh, don’t bother with that cardboard cutout, Ianto, he was completely replaceable.

    Steve
  6. From the moment they talked about Jack and Gwen coming to the US, I expected Martha (last heard from stationed in New York) to show up too. Well, no Martha (which would have added some additional continuity), but it wasn’t too terrible. Just several episodes longer than it should have been.

    Jeremy
  7. When I first heard that there would be a 4th series of TW  I was hopeful that JG would be able to rein RTD in a bit so that we didn’t end up something as depressing as CoE (whose basic take away was that governments are all EVIL) or as riddled w/ plot holes, characters being out-of-character & continuity mistakes.  Boy was I ever wrong!  
    MD not only had the same message but it also had even *MORE* (dear god how was that possible?!?)
    characters not being not themselves, 
    plot points that lead no where, 
    black hole-like plot holes, 
    horrid pacing & writing, 
    what’s-this-thing-called-continuity ’cause we don’t need no stinking continuity,
    all with added BIG XPLOSHUNS, bloody violence & characters that were overwrought American stereotypes.  In short, ten times worse that CoE.

    In fact it almost seems like they are actively TRYING to see how bad they can make it & how many audience members they can lose from series to series.  They are a number of viewers for whom this was their first or second time watching TW who think MD was poorly done.  Only a good thing if you DON’T want to keep making the show.

    As for the whole “The choices in TORCHWOOD for killing those characters were to make it a more dangerous world. They can’t be facing death every single episode, in runs of 13 episodes, season after season and have everyone survive. There has got to be a cost.” thing? Well kids, killing off half your bloody team EVERY F****** SERIES cheapens every death & lets your viewers know that there is absolutely no reason to become interested/involved with any new characters because they’ll be dead by series end.  Once again, not a great way to build a steady viewer base.  You have to ‘reinvent the wheel’ every series which just slows things down & bores the viewers.

    I also think that you will find that the TV shows that have the most longevity usually don’t do massive or abrupt style/format changes every series or two either.  So it probably would be best if MD was written off and more or less ignored as having never happened and have Torchwood return to basics i.e. self-contained stories or short story-arcs that focus on the team, aliens & sci-fi and not big political-thrillers.

    Morgan
  8. Both shows “came to America” and became quite horrid. Torchwood Miracle Day- Horrible. Dr. Who with M. Smith -Horrible. Start over, rethink, re-do – whatever it takes.

    Pat
    • Yawn. Same old Pat comments. Seriously pat, get a life. You moan on and on about how you hate it, yet 2 years later are still reading about it non stop.

      Patzabitboringnow
  9. Does Russell T Davies have a short attention span or what? Sitting through all 10 mostly meandering episodes of Miracle Day was a trial. Also, no Gareth David Lloyd, no James Marsters, Barrowman mostly on the backburner — who was supposed to bring the sexy fun previous season had? How about a show where Capt John rescues Ianto in the Rift and they explore Time together.

    jiffy
  10. Pingback: TORCHWOOD: Julie Gardner On Serialized Format & Future Of Series

  11. Pingback: Exec Producer Julia Gardner sagt, die Zukunft von ‘Torchwood’ ist offen. | Serien-Load.de

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