A scripted development exec looks to move beyond the foreign adaptations that have brought acclaim to Shine America.
By Gina Piccalo For Emmy.
January 14, 2015
Long before Carolyn Bernstein brought Shine America a Peabody Award for helping develop a Scandinavian drama into The Bridge for FX, she considered her career in television a curious derailment.
A lawyer’s daughter, an alum of the prestigious Brearley School on New York’s Upper East Side and a magna cum laude grad of Brown University, Bernstein was groomed for the world of publishing.
But that changed after summer in Los Angeles working with legendary TV producer Edgar J. Scherick.
“It turns out a big part of my job is working with really smart writers and trying to bring a critical eye to the work,” Bernstein says. “It felt like a logical extension of what I had already been doing as a student.”
Like her peers, Bernstein had never missed an episode of Laverne & Shirley and revered the “glamorous” suburban teens in John Hughes’s films. Her literary background — coupled with an appetite for pop culture — made her perfect for story development.
“I liked high and low, not all necessarily with great nutritional value but all with juicy, terrific storytelling,” she recalls of those early years.
“I loved the collaborative nature of [development]. Digging into material. Trying to work with writers to make their work as strong as possible.”
From Scherick, Bernstein went to Creative Artists Agency’s film literature department, which led to development in Fox Broadcasting’s TV-movie unit, which led to FX, which led to Columbia Tri-Star Television.
There, Bernstein developed some of the WB’s most beloved series, including Dawson’s Creek . Then, as an executive at the WB, she developed such hits as Gilmore Girls, One Tree Hill and Smallville .
She joined Shine America in 2008, and as the company’s executive vice- president of scripted development, she’s watched the search for great television expand globally.
“It’s sort of a rich stew now of different cultural influencers that end up making some of the [foreign] formats feel both intensely specific to the territory in which they’re made and surprisingly universal,” she observes. “That gets me excited.”
The Bridge, which ended its two-season run on FX this past summer, exemplified this trend: its protagonists — a police detective from Mexico and another from the U.S. — bridged a cultural divide to find a serial killer.
This fall, Shine’s eight-part murder mystery, Gracepoint, debuted on Fox. The drama was adapted from BBC America’s Broadchurch , with the setting moved in the process from England to a coastal California town.
“Our hope was that The Bridge and Gracepoint would signal to producers in different territories that we’re a very hospitable home for their interesting formats,” Bernstein says. “Now that’s happening.”
Next up for Shine is a sci-fi drama, Utopia , an adaptation of a BBC series coming to HBO. Utopia follows five comic-book fans, each of whom owns a copy of a manuscript believed to have predicted past disasters.
Bernstein calls this series her “dream come true,” with Emmy and Oscar winner David Fincher directing and Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn adapting. Production is set to begin next year.
Following Utopia , Bernstein hopes to debut a “palate-cleanser” Swedish comedy.
Thinking ahead, she wants to expand beyond the format adaptations that earned Shine America its reputation and move into third-party adaptations and original storytelling.
“We have access to wonderful formats from sister companies,” Bernstein says. “We think of that as phase one. The combination of projects is really what we’re working toward.”