A marriage of concise storytelling and Web-friendly marketing, “State of the Union” may be the shortest TV show to play on cable. Each episode is 10 minutes long.
The unusual format may help the series, created by Oscar-nominated screenwriter and novelist Nick Hornby (“Brooklyn”), reach a wide audience on Sundance. “One of the things we [asked ourselves is], ‘How can people experience this show in ways they can’t with other shows?,’ ” says Jan Diedrichsen, Executive Director of SundanceTV and Sundance Now. “That’s one of the reasons why at 5 p.m. on weekdays you can watch the show on your phone. If you’re commuting home, what a perfect time.”
That platform is called the “Digital Happy Hour” and it’s available on Sundance Now. The series debuts on Sundance Monday at 10 p.m. “We were very pointed in our distribution strategy,” says Diedrichsen. “It’s a terrific show to watch while you have a short chunk of time.”
“State of the Union” tells the story of Tom (Chris O’Dowd) and Louise (Rosamund Pike), a married London couple who have signed up for therapy following what Tom calls “a spot of infidelity.” They meet before their weekly appointment in a pub — it’s called the Thatched House — across the street from their therapist’s office and apprehensively watch as the couple with the previous appointment emerges from the building.
“While they’re talking about them, they’re not talking about themselves,” says Hornby. “They’re playing a game.”
Even though we never see Tom and Louise with their therapist, we learn about the ups-and-downs of their relationship from their pub chats. Hornby worked on the scripts while he was “stuck” waiting to hear from some directors about pending film projects.
“I want to write something short,” he says. “What people talk about before they do something.” The show is not autobiographical. “I’ve been through therapy, but it’s not my experience. Once you know who the characters are the stories take care of themselves.”
Given the format, it wasn’t hard to attract talent. Hornby had already worked with Pike, whom he calls “a friend and a neighbor.”
“She had a comic role in [the 2009 film] ‘An Education’ and absolutely killed it,” he says. “I had no idea she had that in her locker and I gave her some funny lines.”
Pike and O’Dowd filmed one show per day over a three-week period. Tom and Louise’s story concludes in the 10th episode. Hornby would like to do another installment of “State of the Union” with a different couple and he would fit that in with his other commitments. He says he doesn’t prefer one form of writing over another.
“I prefer whichever one I’m not doing at the time,” he says. “I do like screenwriting a lot. Everything that drives me mad about screenwriting is the business and the waiting. It’s always a struggle. Things have to blow up [for a movie to get made]. That stuff is not something that appeals to me.
“If you want to make a $10 or $15 million dollar movie, that’s tough.”