Sky Seeking Next ‘Happy Valley’ As Content Boss Zai Bennett Teases Less Is More Approach

Sky is seeking inspiration from Happy Valley for its next hit show as programs boss Zai Bennett says the pay-TV giant is taking a ‘less is more’ approach to original content.

Speaking at a Broadcasting Press Guild event this morning, Director of Original Drama Meghan Lyvers said conversations are taking place with producers about shows that have “an investigative spine with complicated, dysfunctional, flawed, human and relatable characters at the center,” evoking Happy Valley star Sarah Lancashire’s Catherine Cawood.

She responded “perhaps yes” when questioned if the next big Sky drama could be led by a Cawood-esque figure and talked up the way in which the BBC One/AMC+ sensation places an older woman front and centre of the story. A similar show, the Kate Winslet-starring Mare of Easttown, was launched by Sky and HBO in 2021 to critical acclaim.

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“There are always trends in terms of trying new shows and reaching new audiences but older women watch a lot of TV,” she added. “We are talking about this with producers.”

Happy Valley ended last night with a whopping 7.5 million overnight viewers, the highest rated show of the year so far, which also drew critical acclaim for Lancashire and co-star James Norton’s performances in particular. Writer Sally Wainwright has said the show, which launched in 2015, will definitely end with season three, however.

Sky was presenting a wealth of its new drama, comedy and factual shows at the event, which took place in Central London, including the likes of the Lily Allen-starring Dreamland from Sharon Horgan, Nick Love’s A Town Called Malice and Johnny Flynn-starring The Lovers.

Having greenlit 200 originals in 2022 and upped content investment to £500M ($601M), Sky UK and Ireland Managing Director of Content Bennett said the outfit is now taking a “fewer, bigger better” approach to the shows it commissions and produces. Of those 200 originals, only around 20 were high-end scripted, he stressed.

“We want to make sure when we have something we put it in front of customers in a loud, meaningful way,” he added. “The 200 number was a shiny stat but when you take say single arts documentaries into account it can be built up and you get there quite quickly.”

The “fewer, bigger better” approach evokes BBC Director General Tim Davie’s strategy since he took the reins of the UK’s biggest public broadcaster.

With the world entering recession and the TV industry feeling the pinch, Lyvers stressed that Sky’s scripted series budgets are not being cut and the “ambition and scale remains.”

She concurred with Bennett on “fewer, bigger, better,” adding: “We’re in a moment where [buyers] are being a bit more mindful when picking what they produce. We want to say to our audiences ‘Oh there are great options here’ instead of ‘Here’s a lot of filler’. Eighteen months ago the competition [in drama production] was really fierce but it feels like it’s normalizing a bit.”

Shows such as House of the Dragon and The Last of Us, which are co-produced with HBO, remain “very very expensive,” added Lyvers, with the latter coming in at around the $25M per episode mark.

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