‘Chernobyl’, ‘Temple’ and final run of ‘Game of Thrones’ destined for Sky screens

Comcast-owned Sky previews return to ‘Riviera’ and Brendan Gleeson short ‘Psychic’


A drama about the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, a comic thriller set under a London Tube station and a short film about a television psychic were among the programmes previewed at a celebrity-packed Sky event in Dublin on Tuesday.

It was the first media event held by the pay-TV company and broadcaster in Ireland since US telecoms giant Comcast acquired majority ownership of the company, ending its relationship with Rupert Murdoch.

Host Deirdre O’Kane, who previously starred in Sky comedy Moone Boy, joked about Brexit with Sky’s visiting London executives, suggesting they might relocate to Dublin to stay within the European Union.

“The passport office is five minutes up the road.”

While no new commissions of Irish production companies were announced, Irish talent featured in several of the upcoming shows.

Bafta Rising Star nominees Jessie Buckley and Barry Keoghan will appear in the high-end Chernobyl, a five-part mini-series from Sky and HBO. It is the first drama arising from a $250 million co-production deal agreed between the two broadcasters in 2017, and will air on subscriber-only channel Sky Atlantic.

Buckley plays Lyudmilla Ignatenko, the wife of one of the first firefighters on the scene of the 1986 nuclear accident.

“Her story is one of dangerous, passionate love and loss,” Buckley said. “The responsibility to tell this as honestly and as sensitively and as provocatively as possible was terrifying.”

Chernobyl activist Adi Roche helped her prepare for the role, she said.

Irish screenwriter Mark O’Rowe has written Temple, an eight-episode Sky One series set underneath Temple Underground station that takes Norwegian series Valkyrien as its “jumping off point”.

Family business

It’s a family affair, meanwhile, on Psychic, a short film for Sky Arts that was directed by and stars Brendan Gleeson, was written by son Rory Gleeson, and stars two of his other sons Domhnall Gleeson and Brian Gleeson with music from another sibling, Fergus Gleeson.

Shot in Co Wicklow, it was produced by Juliette Bonass and Brendan Gleeson and co-funded by Screen Ireland.

Other Irish acting talent includes Yasmine Akram who plays “a bit of an eejit” alongside Romesh Ranganathan in his Sky One comedy The Reluctant Landlord, which returns this autumn, while Damien Molony plays “the brains of the gang” in new comedy Brassic.

Genevieve O’Reilly will be back in a second series of Sky Atlantic drama Tin Star, while the channel will also see a comeback for glossy €40 million-per-season thriller Riviera, which sprang from an idea by former U2 manager Paul McGuinness, its executive producer.

Riviera arrived with some controversy in 2017 after Neil Jordan, who co-wrote the pilot with John Banville, disowned it after objecting to changes made to their script. But Sky is happy with the Côte d’Azur drama, with the first series holding the company record for the most downloads at 20 million.

The most anticipated show that Sky will air this spring, however, is the eighth and final season of HBO’s Game of Thrones, which is mostly filmed in Belfast.

The six-episode season, which draws the George R.R. Martin saga to a close, will debut on HBO in the US on Sunday, April 14th, and will be simulcast on Sky Atlantic at 2am in the early hours of April 15th, before going on-demand, with a channel repeat scheduled for 9pm.

Industry changes

Game of Thrones is broadcast as part of a distribution deal with HBO that runs until 2020, with Sky also having a separate deal with US network Showtime.

While Sky has stepped up its original drama and comedy commissions in recent years, its relationships with the US networks remain important to its efforts to keep subscribers happy, especially as HBO will launch at least one Game of Thrones spin-off in the years ahead.

But like Sky, HBO has also undergone a change of ownership, with its parent Time Warner acquired by Comcast rival AT&T in 2018.

Comcast has experience of broadcasting through its subsidiary NBCUniversal and is expected to retain and expand the Sky brand. The company, which has 23 million customers across Europe, employs almost 1,000 people in Ireland, where it is led by managing director JD Buckley.

“In the last five years we have seen the media landscape change immeasurably,” said Sky UK and Ireland’s director of programmes Zai Bennett. Sky’s focus remained delivering shows that become the “obsessions” of its customers, he said.

It would take a binge-viewer two and a half days to catch-up on all previous episodes of Game of Thrones, back to back, ahead of the final season, Mr Bennett said. “You would look fine after it. Absolutely fine.”