No brand would be happy to have its name appear in the title of a popular novel—and now TV series—in which its product is used to commit mass murder. But Mercedes isn’t raising a fuss about AT&T Audience Network’s new drama, Mr. Mercedes, which is based on the 2014 Stephen King novel of the same name.
Even so, it’s quite possible that if Mr. Mercedes, which premieres tonight, is renewed for a second season—and its encouraging reviews and buzz indicate that scenario is very likely—the show might return with a new, Mercedes-free title, to reflect the next book in King’s trilogy, which the series will follow.
In the 10-episode series, retired detective Bill Hodges (played by Brendan Gleeson) is taunted by the criminal behind the one unsolved case that still haunts him: a mass vehicular homicide in which the killer (played by Harry Treadaway) drove a Mercedes into a crowd of people lined up for a job fair, murdering 16 of them. The opening scene showcases the brutal murders in horrific detail, with later scenes (including one in Mr. Mercedes’ trailer, below) featuring the Mercedes caked with blood.
AT&T and the show’s executive producers left the issue of clearing the Mr. Mercedes title to studio Sonar Entertainment, which produced the series.
“There were a lot of questions, and I left that to Sonar and AT&T, because there was a moment where I thought, are we going to have to call this ‘Mr. Dodge?’” said executive producer Jack Bender, who directed several episodes. “I have a Mercedes; I love Mercedes! Stephen King created this, and because he did, we were able to do it.”
Added AT&T Audience Network head Chris Long, “the studio clears the name. It’s really left up to them to work through those legal issues. I’m indemnified.”
In a statement, Sonar Entertainment told Adweek, “we acquired the TV rights to the Mr. Mercedes book, and are now very much looking forward to bringing this well-known literary title to a viewing audience on Audience Network.” Acquiring TV rights to the novel also included the rights to the title.
There were no legal arguments from Mercedes, which told Adweek in a statement, “the content of this crime novel is subject to the artistic freedom of the author.”
Yet Mercedes could ultimately be dropped from the title if and when the show returns. Long and the producers said they intend to follow the storyline through King’s entire trilogy of books focusing on Hodges: Mr. Mercedes, 2015’s Finders Keepers and 2016’s End of Watch. But they haven’t yet decided if they’ll stick with the Mr. Mercedes name or switch to the title of the corresponding book.
“Jack and I haven’t discussed that yet. You could expand within the first book, another season. But one, you have to talk to Stephen, because it’s his trilogy, and two, you have to figure out, if you want to have a long-enough arc throughout the series, you have to make some decisions and not be completely adhering to the book,” said Long, adding that executive producer David E. Kelly, who wrote the entire season, will also need to weigh in about which creative approach he’d prefer.
Bender is torn about which title would be best. “It’s wonderful to tie it into Stephen’s books, because we’ve got this sexy new rerelease of the book with our cover, and that’s all great. So I don’t know,” said the director. “That’s going to be a question we’ll hopefully get into in the next few weeks, when we hopefully get an order for the next season.”
The commercial-free Audience Network—available to subscribers of DirecTV, DirecTV Now and U-verse—airs a combination of original series and syndicated shows like Mad Men, which began its run on the network in June. The network hasn’t had a breakout hit yet, though Long is well aware that Mr. Mercedes could finally change that.
So the network chief has beefed up the show’s marketing budget, and arranged for Mr. Mercedes to have an activation at Comic-Con last month, for the first time in network history. “We’ve absolutely upped the marketing campaign,” said Long. “There is a huge marketplace out there now, with all of this television. You’ve got to spend a little money to break though the noise. I have a fiduciary responsibility to the show and to my company, to make sure it gets enough eyes on it, so I think you have to spend the money.”