As “Virgin River” Season 4 launched on July 18 to become Netflix’s No. 1 most watched TV series in the world, its producer, Vancouver’s Reel World Management and literary source, New York Times best selling novelist Robyn Carr, are re-teaming, to launch another big bold broad global audience play, “Sullivan’s Crossing,”
This time they partner with Canada’s CTV and Fremantle, which is handling international distribution. Fremantle has shared in exclusivity with Variety first look behind-the-scenes photos of the series’ shoot.
“Sullivan’s Crossing” forms part of RTL Group-owned Fremantle’s drive into English-language production both in the U.K., – where it triumphed this year with BBC One’s “The Responder,” starring Martin Freeman – and beyond, in Australia and now Canada.
“Sullivan’s Crossing” also shows yet another key global TV player, here Fremantle, moving into ever bigger mainstream swings as distributors and VOD platforms alike look to secure big audiences once broadly the domain of broadcast networks.
“We’re thrilled about the English-language drama pipeline and Canada was a big goal for us. It’s the first big show we’re working on coming out of Canada. We’ve also embarked on a limited series called ‘Little Bird,’ with Bell. So we have two series coming out of Canada, eventually more,” said Jens Richter, CEO of international at Fremantle.
“It’s a fantastic territory for us to work with and we definitely have ambitions to grow our footprint in Canada, especially with the relevance in the U.S. market. Producing in Canada and then hitting the overall North American market with great series like ‘Sullivan’s Crossing’ is definitely the big goal here,” Richter added.
Breathing cinematic life into the CTV Original series are its executive producers, showrunner Roma Roth and Christopher E. Perry of Reel World Management. The team spun gold with Carr’s “Virgin River” novels, adapted to become the Netflix Original of the same name. Season 4 has run up 240 million hours watched in its first three weeks.
“I’m very excited to be in business with CTV and Fremantle, two forward thinking companies who really understand and support our creative vision for the show,” stated Roth.
“This is one of Fremantle’s first forays into drama series and it’s made the show its priority, which is wonderful given that it’s a distribution company with a huge global footprint. We were lucky enough to get a straight-to-series order because both Fremantle and CTV have an incredible team of creatives who instinctively understood the value of the Robyn Carr brand and fan base,” she added.
The project is an inter-province co-production with Mike Volpe, president of Nova Scotia-based Topsail Productions (“The Lighthouse”), and Mark Gingras, managing partner at Toronto’s Urban Post Production (“Death of a Ladies Man”).
Produced by Reel World Management and executive produced by CTV and Fremantle, “Sullivan’s Crossing” is developed and produced in association with Bell Media, with the participation of Canadian Media Fund and the Bell Fund.
“Sullivan’s Crossing” follows neurosurgeon Maggie Sullivan as her life in Boston collapses around her, placing a fork in the road where her personal and professional paths once moved effortlessly forward. Forced to head in the opposite direction, she finds her way back to the rural town she once called home, where her estranged father runs the local outpost.
The 10-episode romantic drama unspools as Maggie confronts past traumas to reconnect to the parts of herself she’d long forgotten. Tackling relatable themes of community, familial bonds, love and self-fulfilment, the show allows its characters the grace to grow, heal and live a bit in the process.
“‘Sullivan’s Crossing’ is more of a multi-generational drama that focuses on a wide range of relationships. My goal is to create a high-level emotional drama that will feel genuine and authentic to our audience, offering them a glimpse into a world that feels relatable and real,” Roth commented.
“What Roma does so well is go back to the more traditional idea of mainstream, which is good, accessible storytelling done very well. This show is the best example of that,” added Christian Vesper, president of global drama at Fremantle.
“The scripts are emotional, adult and compelling, yet at the same time, they’re for a broad audience. They don’t exclude anyone in the family. Yet they’re not soft. They’re quite real about adult and family life experiences,” Vesper added.
Carrs’ novels provide ample material and have the potential to add several seasons worth of content to the inviting debut narrative.
“Robyn creates characters and worlds that resonate on a deep and emotional level. That’s resulted in her building an enormous dedicated and loyal global fanbase,” said Roth.
“Our clients, whether it’s broadcast or platforms, love big IP, big IP is fantastic to set up all marketing and launch communications around the show and you can tap into that existing fan base,” added Richter.
Canadian actor Morgan Kohan (“When Hope Calls”) will portray Maggie with nostalgic casting picks Scott Patterson (“Gilmore Girls”) and Chad Micheal Murray (“One Tree Hill”) playing Maggie’s father and potential love interest, Cal Jones, respectively.
“Roma put together a beautiful ensemble cast. We also have a cast that has a great track record in the U.S. market,” Richter added. “When thinking about how we can create a show that can travel really beautifully, casting is clearly a big point. With three of our leads, Morgan, Chad and Scott, we have those elements in the show.”
Rounding out the supporting cast are Lindura (“Through The Gorge”), Dakota Taylor (“Zero Chill”), Allan Hawco (“Frontier”), Amalia Williamson (“Northern Rescue”), Andrea Menard (“Rabbit Fall”) and Canadian folk singer and actor Tom Jackson (“Cardinal”) .
Currently filming in Nova Scotia, the production nods to the sweeping landscapes, rich culture and diversity of the province, changing the location from the book’s Rocky Mountains to the Canadian countryside and casting local talent more representative of the modern patchwork of people that make the region diverse.
“To ensure the show would feel distinctive from her other adaptation, I decided to set it in Nova Scotia for Nova Scotia. This meant diverging from the books slightly; however, having been born and raised in Canada it’s always been a personal goal of mine to create and write a Canadian content show that would reach a global audience. I believe that given Robyn’s successes we have a strong chance of accomplishing this with ‘Sullivan’s Crossing,’ Roth stated.
Eyeing a February release date, Richter concluded, “It’s a big piece of IP. It’s pretty clear what we’re going to deliver on, what we want to deliver on. I just want to underline that romance and connecting to people, it just fits beautifully in today’s times.”
‘Sullivan’s Crossing’: Further Credits
On behalf of Fremantle, Michela Di Mondo, executive VP, distribution and sales, Canada, and Hilary Martin, executive producer, global drama, are executive producing, with the participation of Mike Cosentino, CosMedia. Pat DiVittorio serves as VP, CTV, specialty programming.
At Bell Media, Carolyn Wu serves as development executive, Rachel Goldstein-Couto as head of development, original programming, Mitch Geddes as a production executive. Sarah Fowlie is head of production, original programming and Carlyn Klebuc, general manager, original programming. Justin Stockman is VP, content development & programming, Bell Media. Karine Moses is senior VP, content development & news, Bell Media and vice chair, Québec, Bell.