December 14, 2023

Fox Orders ‘Murder In A Small Town’ Drama Series Under New International Content Strategy


December 14, 2023

By Nellie Andreeva

December 14, 2023 9:00am

EXCLUSIVE: Fox has picked up psychological crime drama Murder in a Small Town, starring Rossif Sutherland (The Handmaid’s Tale) and Kristin Kreuk (Smallville), for the 2024-25 season. The network has acquired U.S. rights to the series, based on the “Karl Alberg” books by L.R. Wright,, which hails from head writer Ian Weir (Edgemont), director Milan Cheylov (The Cleaning Lady) and Canada’s Sepia Films in association with Fox Entertainment and Future Shack Entertainment, the company of former USA Network President Jeff Wachtel.

This marks Fox’s first green light to a scripted series co-produced with an international studio.

Michael Thorn
Michael Thorn Brian Bowen Smith/Fox

Murder In a Small Town illustrates our ongoing strategy to identify and commission impactful global content in a smart and effective manner with proven creative partners,” said Michael Thorn, Fox Entertainment’s President, Scripted Programming.

Looking abroad is a natural extension to Fox’s current development model, put in motion in 2020, which foregoes pilots in favor of more cost-efficient straight-to-series orders. (On the comedy side, Fox occasionally does presentations as part of the development process.)

In drama, Fox has been using a script-to-series template, commissioning two scripts and a series format for most projects and writers rooms to produce 3-4 scripts and a bible for the more densely serialized ones.

Being independent, with no vertically integrated studio or sibling SVOD platform, Fox has instituted a disciplined approach, capping drama budgets at $3M-$4M an episode, sources said. While that was considered a bit of an anomaly early on, more networks and platforms are starting to target similar price ranges amid a Hollywood belt tightening, making Fox an early adopter of a new industry standard.

Working within that framework has not been limiting, according to Thorn. It has allowed the network’s executives to “turn off the noise of the marketplace” by not pursuing pitches built around packages stacked with pricey above-the-line talent, high-end fantasy/sci-fi concepts or expensive IP and instead identifying the right creatives to sign pacts with, including direct deals like the one with Dan Harmon that led to Krapopolis.

“If you build it from the ground up and are very transparent with the creatives about the business, most people say yes,” Thorn said, noting that Fox has been able to land dramas from top producers such as Howard Gordon, John Wells, Hank Steinberg, Barbie Kligman, and has been partnering with independent studios such as Warner Bros. TV, Lionsgate TV and Sony TV under the new model.

“We believe we can have a shared win, which is good for everybody,” he said about working with co-producing partners.

That now includes international studios which, in addition to being able to deliver series at an attractive price point, can also handle physical production.

“Even though we are growing our in-house studio capabilities, we don’t have a vertically integrated infrastructure like some of our competitors,” Thorn said, referring to Fox Entertainment handling production for its fully-owned comedy series Animal Control alongside the company’s animated house Bento Box and alternative studio. (While Fox doesn’t currently have a fully owned drama series after the network’s first foray with the short-lived Monarch, “we are absolutely working on Fox owned drama and we have several in development,” Thorn said.)

But above all, “our goal is to find signature voices and great partners to make premium content with,” Thorn said about the expansion into international content production. “There are so many great writers and talent outside the U.S.”

Many American networks and streamers leaned on international series during the double Hollywood strikes, which shut down U.S. production. Fox’s efforts started well before that, Thorn said, starting with an outreach in Canada and the UK.

In October, after months of conversations, Fox announced pacts with Canada’s Bell Media and UK’s Eagle Eye and Clapperboard. A British development slate is already in the pipeline and discussions with potential Australian partners are underway. “It’s only the beginning,” Thorn said.

Murder In a Small Town originated with Canadian studio Sepia Films which had developed the project internally, commissioning Weir to write four scripts.

Wachtel — who launched Future Shack Entertainment last year with the goal of developing and co-financing shows for global audiences and an initial focus on Canadian projects — put the drama on Fox’s radar.

“It’s a joy to be doing this wonderful show with my old friends at Fox,” Wachtel said. “Ian, Milan, Rossif and Kristin form the core of a world-class creative team that will bring this unique detective show to life.”

Common issue for international series airing in the U.S. is relatability. Fox’s goal is “to find characters and concepts that will speak to the Fox audience,” Thorn said, noting that Murder In a Small Town fits that bill.

“It’s a wonderful, great aspirational series which will feel very specific to our audience, with the promise of a signature Fox character in Karl Alberg,” Thorn said.

Based on the Edgar Award-winning, nine-book “Karl Alberg” series by the late Canadian author L.R. Wright, Murder in a Small Town follows Karl Alberg (Sutherland), who moves to a quiet coastal town to soothe a psyche that has been battered by big-city police work. But this gentle paradise has more than its share of secrets, and Karl will need to call upon all the skills that made him a world-class detective in solving the murders that, even in this seemingly idyllic setting, continue to wash up on his shore. Kreuk stars as Cassandra, a local librarian who becomes Alberg’s muse, foil and romantic interest.

“Ian has done a masterful job bringing L.R. Wright’s seminal detective Karl Alberg to life, finding his perfect alter ego, Rossif Sutherland, to star on screen alongside Kristin Kreuk,” Thorn said.

Imported scripted series are often being relegated to summer runs in the U.S. but Murder In a Small Town is targeted for the regular 2024-25 season where it would launch alongside high-profile new drama series Doc and the Wells-produced Rescue: Hi-Surf, which were pushed from midseason 2024 due to strike-related production delays, along with returning drama 9-1-1: Lone Star.

“We believe that these series can run side-by-side” with U.S.-produced shows, Thorn said of the international projects.

Production on Murder in a Small Town is slated to begin in January in British Columbia, with Cheylov executive producing and directing multiple episodes. Also executive producing are Weir, Nick Orchard (Soapbox Productions), Morris Ruskin and Sharon Wisnia (Mojo Global Arts) and Jon Cotton.

“We are thrilled to be collaborating with Fox Entertainment and Future Shack on an innovative production model that will bring the internationally acclaimed Karl Alberg mystery novels by Edgar Award-winning novelist L.R. Wright to the screen,” said Tina Pehme and Kim Roberts, Co-CEOs/Producers of Sepia Films.

Vancouver-born Sutherland, son of Donald Sutherland and half-brother of Kiefer Sutherland, recently wrapped feature Shadowless Horse, opposite Tatiana Malany, and Season 2 of Apple+’s Canadian series Plan B. He was recently seen in TV movie Bad Romance: The Vicky White Story, in William Brent Bell’s feature Orphan: First Kill and in Darlene Naponse’s Stellar, which premiered at TIFF in 2022. He is repped by Jennifer Goldhar at Characters Talent Agency and manager Perry Zimel.

Fellow Vancouver native Kreuk is known for her series starring roles in the CW’s Smallville, CBC’s Edgemont, the CW’s Beauty & The Beast and CBS/the CW’s Burden of Truth, which she also executive produced. Most recently, Kreuk was seen in Season 1 of Amazon’s series Reacher. She is repped by Gersh and Pacific Artists Management.

During his tenure as President of USA, Wachtel oversaw the network during its “blue sky” era of hits such as Monk, Burn Notice, Suits and White Collar. He also founded and was president of NBCU’s cable studio, UCP and subsequently served as President of NBCU’s international television studio, based in London.

Storytellers welcome.