August 16, 2014

THE SKED Fall Pilot Report: FOX’s “Gracepoint”


GRACEPOINT:  Thursday 9PM on FOX starting October 2 – Potential DVR Alert

Disclaimer: Network pilots now in circulation aren’t necessarily in their final form. It’s not unusual for pilots to be reedited and re-scored, and in some cases even recast or reshot, before hitting the air. Consider these reports to be guides to the general style and content of the new shows coming your way.

PLAYERS:  Broadchurch, the wildly successful limited (and now continuing) British TV series, of which Gracepoint is a remake.  Broadchurch returnees, including series creator Chris Chibnall, director James Strong and star David Tennant.  A cast surrounding Tennant that includes Anna Gunn, Nick Nolte, Jacki Weaver, Michael Pena and Kevin Zegers.  US showrunners Dan Futterman and Anya Epstein. The Shine America studio.

PREMISE:  In the picturesque Northern California seaside town of Gracepoint, the body of 12-year old Danny Lasseter Solano is found one morning on the local beach, having been thrown from the surrounding cliffs.  Brusque, short-tempered newcomer homicide investigator Emmett Carver (Tennant), who has a troubled history of his own and who’s been hired for the senior job over well-liked native cop Ellie Miller (Gunn), turns the town upside-down as he searches for Danny’s killer, and the inhabitants’ secrets are revealed.

PILOT:  The experience of watching Gracepoint will unavoidably be different for viewers (and that will be the vast majority of them) who haven’t already seen the British Broadchurch on BBCAmerica.  Although FOX has suggested that the US version will diverge from the British story, possibly even including the identity of the killer, and the hiring of strong writer/producers Futterman (Oscar nominated for his Capote screenplay) and Epstein suggests they’ll be doing more than transposing British dialect to American, the US version’s first hour is almost note for note a repetition of the British series.  It’s particularly strange to see Tennant giving the same performance as he did there, but with an entirely different accent–which is something of a relief for American ears, since whatever one can say about Tennant’s ability to sound like a Yank, it’s a lot easier to understand him here than with his Scottish accent the last time around.  It’s difficult not to make comparisons between Olivia Colman, Tennant’s Broadchurch partner, and Gunn.  (The latter has plenty of the necessary intensity, but not quite the warmth of Colman’s portrayal.)

First-timers to Chibnall’s story, of course, won’t have those distractions.  They’ll see a dark, mournful but compelling story about the death of a child, and the consequences that the ensuing grief and suspicion have on a seemingly tightly-knit town.  The general outlines of the tale transfer fairly readily to the new location, and Gracepoint has been generally well cast and atmospherically shot.  The British show tended to push the idea that everyone in town had a dark secret rather forcefully, and became a bit of a parade of red herrings about midway through its run, but recovered well toward the end, as it gathered itself for a genuinely powerful conclusion.  Whether the US mystery will follow the same pattern remains to be seen.  Nevertheless, this is one of the most ambitious dramas of the new season on any broadcast network.  (Like the British show, Gracepoint has been announced as a limited 10-episode miniseries.  However, the success of Broadchurch has prompted an as-yet unaired 2d season in the UK, and no doubt FOX hopes for the same here.)

PROSPECTS:  Since Gracepoint is an extremely serialized story, it’s crucial that viewers tune in for the first episode.  Unfortunately for FOX, that hour will be airing against Thursday Night Football on CBS and Scandal on ABC (with sitcoms on CBS and NBC), which are likely to suck away, respectively, the older male and female audiences who might otherwise be inclined to try a well-reviewed new drama that requires some patience and attention.  In short, FOX has a major challenge on its hands if Gracepoint is to be more than a prestige curiosity in the US.  Of course, with only 10 episodes to air, the risks are limited–but the rewards may be as well.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."