‘Dope Girls’: Bad Wolf Adopts US-Style Pilot Strategy On Upcoming BBC Series

Bad Wolf is adopting a U.S.-style pilot strategy on BBC drama Dope Girls by finishing episode one months before the rest so that it can be shopped at the London and LA TV Screenings.

Jane Tranter, who co-runs the Doctor Who and His Dark Materials producer, said this is the first time the Sony-backed indie has taken such an approach but it is being driven by the necessities of the current drama market.

Ordinarily, Bad Wolf would have the majority of a series in the can before taking to buyers but the first episode has effectively been “fast-tracked” so that buyers from the U.S. and around the world can get a feel for it early on at the screenings. An extended sizzle will be shown during this week’s Sony London TV Screenings showcase event on Thursday at the Ham Yard Hotel and episode one should be complete by May’s LA Screenings.

“This is something I’ve never done before,” Tranter told Deadline. “Normally we are editing for as long as we can to look to create tone across a series but what we are doing at the moment is much more American, which is creating a first episode that we know can hook an audience.”

As one of the few high-end TV shows to have rolled cameras last year due to the writers strike and broader economic slowdown, Tranter described the Peaky Blinders-style series about inter-war Soho as a “rare jewel.”

She acknowledged tricky economic headwinds have somewhat forced Bad Wolf’s hand in terms of taking the pilot approach and predicted the strategy will become “more commonplace” as the industry gets used to reduced commissioning and lower budgets.

“The traditional co-pro model where a UK broadcaster would put in a license fee and you’d go out and get the rest [of the funding] from North America and the rest of the world began to shift after Covid,” she mused. “This left one scar on the industry and that scar was opened up by the strikes. There is a feeling of caution across the board from UK broadcasters who are conscious of how many high-end pieces they greenlight because it is so hard to raise the rest of the funding. And from a U.S. point of view, buyers are taking a beat and there is no stampede to see what is coming out of the UK.”

Tranter said she is “curious” rather than “concerned” about the development. “It will mean that every piece you do has to be even more undeniable than it was before because you are competing for fewer slots, but that is not unsuited to Bad Wolf’s existence,” she added.

Revealed by Deadline last yearDope Girls delves into the history of the inter-war Soho criminal underworld and is inspired by Marek Kohn’s Dope Girls: The Birth of the British Drug Underground non-fiction book. It has been gestating since 2018, when Tranter met co-writer Polly Stenham about a different project but was amazed when she heard about how the Soho nightclub scene had boomed in the 1920s, with 150 such clubs operating during the almost prohibition-like period. Julianne Nicholson (Mare of Easttown) and Eliza Scanlen (Sharp Objects) are leading.

“It felt distinctive and original,” said Tranter. “There are four female characters at the heart and it struck us that you don’t often get to see women behaving like this together on TV.”

While dramas about the two world wars are never far from a greenlight, Crowther said TV has rarely “lifted the lid” on the hedonistic inter-war period. “There has always been a certain reverence to the war but we are showing that suddenly there was this huge release of everyone’s emotions,” she added.

For this reason, the team were keen to depict the era accurately while giving it a fresh feel in a more subtle way. Rejecting comparisons with the likes of Downton Abbey and Bridgerton, Crowther instead said it evokes the 1990s UK rave scene.

“Polly and [co-writer] Alex [Warren] talk about the clubs of the time being more akin to the 1990s, where lots of people wanted to dance until dawn with their friends while not getting arrested for doing so,” she added. “The Met Police then came into its own and that was the time they they started recruiting women to patrol the streets. It was nicely chaotic.”

Tranter added that Dope Girls, which was filmed not in the English capital but in Bridgend, Wales, will be “modern but not in a self conscious, ‘Let’s nail down every modern parallel’ kind of way.”

“It relishes the world of 1918 costume design and we’re trying to be quite timeless with the music,” she added. “There won’t be a period dance scene where we suddenly start playing Kylie Minogue.”

Crowther also hailed the contribution of lead director and EP Shannon Murphy (Killing Eve), who “is very striking and added another layer to lift the series off the page.” “She fills the frame with as much detail as possible,” she added.

Tranter and the team are hopeful the series will run for numerous seasons in the vein of many Bad Wolf shows such as the BBC/HBO’s Industry, which will soon air its third.

“We try to provide audiences with storylines that feel satisfying in episodes we’ve been lucky enough to be given but can also be the foundation for future seasons,” added Tranter. “I’ve never done anything, even an adaptation of a novel, without thinking about whether there is a sequel we could pick out.”