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Arts & Life

Reality Show Networks Getting Into High Quality Scripted TV


The website Crackle, once known as the home for Jerry Seinfeld's "Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee," has a new high-profile series coming. On Thursday, it debuts a TV version of the British gangster movie "Snatch." NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans says, the show is the latest example of a new trend, television outlets boosting their image with expensive, high-quality, scripted series.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Albert Hill is a smart, 20-something son of a legendary bank robber. He's got a movie-star smile, and he supports his mom's flower shop with the occasional bit of larceny in a working-class London neighborhood. But he's also borrowed money from the wrong neighborhood gangster, which becomes obvious when said gangster, named Patsy, shows up expecting payment and Albert has to put them off.


LUKE PASQUALINO: (As Albert) I do need a bit more time. Come on, Patsy, I am good for it. You know that, don't you?

MARC WARREN: (As character) Well, I'm starting to wonder, son. You've been tap dancing around me quicker than Fred Astaire on the nose candy. Money's owed, and money will be paid. You've got until the weekend, or I take a finger.

DEGGANS: For help, Albert turns to his friends. That includes the son of a rich family fallen on hard times, Charlie Cavendish Scott. Charlie's played by Harry Potter alum Rupert Grint. He's a small-time hustler who nearly gets the two of them killed while selling counterfeit vodka to a mob-connected bar.


RUPERT GRINT: (As Charlie) I just made us two grand. When are you going to give me a pat on the back?

PASQUALINO: (As Albert) When you start adding some risk-averse value to this operation.

GRINT: (As Charlie) Risk-averse value? I think you might want to reconsider our chosen line of work, Albert.

PASQUALINO: (As Albert) You know it was never a choice for me.

GRINT: (As Charlie) I know what you and Billy think. Oh, Charlie, he's not the offspring of a bank robber or a bare-knuckle fighter. No, he couldn't possibly know his way around a bit of business.

DEGGANS: This is the world of Crackle's new TV series "Snatch." Based on the Guy Ritchie movie starring Brad Pitt, the show's a cheeky well-produced look at a crew of scrappy young upstarts in Britain who stumble into a serious crime. It's also part of Crackle's effort to stand out in a world of peak TV. The network aims to boost its profile with a sleek-looking series based on a well-known movie with international flavor.

And Crackle isn't the only TV outlet ramping up its image with high-quality, original, scripted series. The cable channel E!, best known as the home of the Kardashians' reality shows, last week, debuted the scripted series "The Arrangement." It centers on an aspiring actress who dates a movie star after she auditions for one of his films. But their date takes a turn when the star tells her about the self-help group he's involved with called the Institute for the Higher Mind.


JOSH HENDERSON: (As Kyle) Have you ever been up to the institute, taken a class?

CHRISTINE EVANGELISTA: (As Megan) Nope, I try to self-help myself as little as possible.

HENDERSON: (As Kyle) I get it. You know, some people find it weird. Challenging the way we think about ourselves and our relationship to the world and to our past, it can freak people out.

DEGGANS: It could also freak out some critics, who wonder if the series is a fictionalized take on how noted Scientologist Tom Cruise courted his third wife, Katie Holmes. Lots of channels once known for unscripted shows are getting into the scripted game - MTV, VH1, BET, Ovation and Oprah Winfrey's OWN Channel. The upsides are plenty. Most scripted shows can charge more for commercials and earn more in syndicated reruns or later viewing.

They also drop buzz and critical attention. Just look at USA Network after the success of its Emmy-winning hit "Mr. Robot" to see how a prestigious drama can elevate a middling network's image. But this helps create a lot of product, too. A record 455 scripted shows aired in 2016. Some of these programs won't make it, and they'll be much more expensive failures than a cheap reality TV show, which suggests that fans should savor a TV universe that includes experiments bold as a rollicking televised version of "Snatch" because the trend that produced this embarrassment of TV riches might not last very long.

I'm Eric Deggans.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.