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Sony Pictures is launching a specialty TV label for lower-cost shows

Sony Pictures is launching a specialty TV label for lower-cost shows
Angel Bonanni, center, in Sony’s thriller series “Absentia.” (Sony Pictures Television)

The TV studio behind “Breaking Bad” wants to make more shows without breaking the bank.

Sony Pictures Television, known for “The Blacklist,” “The Good Doctor” and “Outlander,” on Tuesday said it is launching a new production unit to make high-quality shows at a lower cost than the typical series, by taking a page from the indie film playbook.

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Jeff Frost, President of Sony Pictures Television Studios, told employees that the new label would focus on “producing distinct television programming in the indie feature film style.” The company expects to save money by filming in less expensive locations that offer production incentives, shooting more than one episode at a time and filming over shorter periods.

The nascent division, which will have a small staff, doesn’t have a name yet.

However, Frost wrote that the business is expected to create shows for Sony-owned international channels, such as AXN, which is available in Europe, Asia and Latin America, as well as cable networks and streaming services. The model appeared to work for Sony’s thriller series “Absentia,” which premiered on AXN and was picked up by Amazon Prime Video for U.S. audiences.

Sony’s new effort reflects the rising demand for television content, which has increased competition among studios and escalated the costs of producing quality shows. The initiative also comes after the Culver City studio, owned by Japanese electronics company Sony Corp., underwent a significant restructuring to adapt to challenges in the entertainment market.

“Establishing this new label presents a tremendous opportunity to continue serving our customers as well as our own networks with programming that audiences love and that makes financial sense in today’s new entertainment landscape,” Frost wrote in the email.

The idea of a studio creating a subdivision for less expensive TV productions is not a new one. Fox 21 Television Studios, for example, was initially launched as a low-cost production arm to operate in tandem with the larger 20th Century Fox Television studio. Over time, its mission changed after producing such big-budget hits as “Homeland” and the “American Crime Story” anthology.

Fox Searchlight, the specialty film division of 21st Century Fox known for such films as “The Shape of Water” and “The Favourite,” launched its own TV unit last year. AT&T’s Burbank-based studio Warner Bros. has Horizon Television, which is focused on reality and scripted TV shows such as “Animal Kingdom” for TNT and “Fuller House” for Netflix.

Sony sees the concept as a chance to test new ideas and boost its network business with content.

The initiative will be overseen by programming and production head Marie Jacobson, Frost wrote. Its portfolio will include the second seasons of “Absentia,” “Carter” and “Ultraviolet,” and a new psychological thriller, “The Reckoning,” which the studio will take to buyers in the spring.

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