Colin Callender is Chairman of Playground LLC, a film and television production company he founded in 2012 based in New York and London.
With unique experience successfully bridging the UK and US markets, Callender has been at the forefront of the international television co-production business with extensive experience commissioning and producing high end quality drama.
As a pioneering Emmy, BAFTA and Golden Globe winning producer, Callender was one of the leading forces behind the new British independent production sector at the birth of Channel 4, and played a central role in HBO’s unprecedented commercial and critical success that helped transform the entertainment landscape, setting new benchmarks for quality film and television production.
Since its launch in 2012, Playground has produced more than 80 hours of prime-time television drama garnering 15 Emmy nominations, 22 BAFTA nominations, 10 RTS nominations and 12 Golden Globe nominations, including a Golden Globe and BAFTA for Best Miniseries for WOLF HALL.
Playground’s television productions include WOLF HALL, the BAFTA and Golden Globe winning production of Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize winning novel starring Mark Rylance, Damian Lewis and Claire Foy for the BBC and Masterpiece PBS; three seasons of the Starz series drawn from the bestselling books by Philippa Gregory THE WHITE QUEEN, THE WHITE PRINCESS and THE SPANISH PRINCESS; also for Starz two seasons of the acclaimed thriller THE MISSING; and THE DRESSER, Richard Eyre’s Golden Globe and BAFTA nominated television adaptation of Ronald Harwood’s acclaimed play starring Anthony Hopkins and Ian McKellen for the BBC and Starz.
Most recently, Playground has produced Academy Award winner Ken Lonergan’s four-hour adaptation of E.M. Forster’s celebrated novel HOWARDS END starring Hayley Atwell, Matthew Macfadyen and Tracey Ullman for BBC One and Starz; LITTLE WOMEN, Heidi Thomas’ (Call The Midwife) three-hour adaptation of the beloved Louisa May Alcott classic novel for BBC One and Masterpiece PBS starring Angela Lansbury, Michael Gambon, Emily Watson and exciting newcomer Maya Hawke as Jo; and KING LEAR starring Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, Emily Watson, Florence Pugh, Jim Broadbent, Jim Carter, and Andrew Scott, directed by Richard Eyre for the BBC and Amazon Prime.
Playground is currently in post-production on CHIMERICA, a four-hour thriller set in New York and Beijing, starring Alessandro Nivola, Cherry Jones and F. Murray Abraham, written by Lucy Kirkwood, and directed by Michael Meillor for Channel 4 in the UK and All3Media.
Born and raised in England, Callender started in the entertainment industry as a member of Britain’s National Youth Theatre and began his production career in 1974 at the Royal Court Theater in London as stage manager working with directors such as Mike Leigh, David Hare and Sam Shepard. He later joined Granada Television as a graduate trainee where he worked on CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, the Granada co-production with NBC starring Natalie Wood, Robert Wagner and Laurence Olivier.
In 1978 Callender founded Primetime Television with distributor Richard Price where he pioneered the packaging, pre-selling, and co-producing of UK dramas with foreign broadcasters. At the time, all television was produced in-house by the UK broadcasters. Primetime would acquire IP, develop projects, raise co-production financing from the international market and then sell the package to a British broadcaster with the co-finance attached. The UK broadcaster would produce the series and Primetime would retain worldwide distribution rights. Productions included THE CAPTAIN’S DOLL starring Jeremy Irons for BR (Munich), CLT and the BBC, and the series BRENDON CHASE and SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS for ZDF and the BBC.
When the UK’s fourth network, Channel 4 was created, Primetime was the first independent production company to be commissioned by the new channel with the television adaptation of the RSC’s groundbreaking nine-hour THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. It was Callender’s first credit as a producer and he went on to win the Emmy Award for Outstanding Miniseries in a category that included other nominees THE WINDS OF WAR and THE THORN BIRDS.
Primetime became HBO’s co-producer of choice in the UK and went on to produce John Schlesinger’s SEPARATE TABLES starring Alan Bates and Julie Christie for ITV and HBO, and MR. HALPERN AND MR. JOHNSON starting Laurence Olivier and Jackie Gleason for ITV and HBO.
After winning the Emmy for NICKLEBY Callender launched The Callender Company Ltd. and quickly established himself as one of the UK’s leading television and film producers at the forefront of bringing together talent from the UK and the US. Productions included Peter Greenway’s THE BELLY OF AN ARCHITECT, which was the official British entry to the 1986 Cannes Film Festival; John Schlesinger’s MADAME SOUSATZKA starring Shirley MacLaine; PRISONER OF HONOUR starring Richard Dreyfuss for HBO; ARCH OF TRIUMPH starring Anthony Hopkins for CBS; THE BRETTS a 13-hour mini-series for ITV and Masterpiece Theatre; and the British cult hit THE LAST RESORT which changed the face of late night television in the UK and launched the career of British TV personality Jonathan Ross.
In 1986, Callender moved to US to become Executive Producer of HBO’s newly formed East Coast production unit. HBO Showcase produced 27 films receiving widespread critical acclaim and earning HBO its first Emmy Award for drama. In 1996, Callender and HBO CEO Jeffrey Bewkes created the film division HBO NYC. Shortly thereafter he was appointed president of HBO Films, which rapidly developed a reputation for consistently producing an award-winning slate of sophisticated and provocative television and feature films.
During his tenure, Callender oversaw the production of over 115 award winning movies and mini-series, among them: JOHN ADAMS, the Tom Hanks produced and Tom Hooper directed mini-series based on David McCullough’s best-selling historical biography starring Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney, which won 13 Emmy awards and 4 Golden Globes, and still holds the record for the most wins for a program in a single year in the history of the Emmy awards; EMPIRE FALLS, Fred Schepisi’s star studded adaptation of Richard Russo’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward in their final roles together, Ed Harris, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Wright; RECOUNT, Jay Roach’s Emmy and Golden Globe winning recreation of the controversial events surrounding the Florida recount that decided the outcome of the 2000 election, written by Danny Strong; ANGELS IN AMERICA, Mike Nichols’ acclaimed adaptation of Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, which received 11 Emmy and 5 Golden Globe awards; and THE PACIFIC, the ten hour mini-series produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks.
Under Callender’s stewardship, HBO Films won an unprecedented total of 140 Emmy Awards (475 Nominations), the Emmy for Outstanding Movie or Mini-Series 11 out of 14 years; 44 Golden Globe Awards (145 Nominations), the Golden Globe for Best Movie or Mini-Series for 8 years in a row; 9 Peabody Awards; 12 Humanitas Awards; 3 Oscars; top prizes at the Sundance Film Festival 4 years in a row, and The Palm D’Or at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival
Colin Callender is a regular panelist and guest speaker at industry events, has been invited to give the prestigious BAFTA Annual Lecture, and has regularly given evidence to the UK Parliamentary Select Committee on Film and Television. He has been a guest lecturer at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television and gave their annual commencement address to the 2008 graduating class.
Callender is a Trustee of the New York Public Theater and the NYU Tisch School of the Arts. He is the recipient of the Evelyn F. Burkey Award at the 54th Annual Writers Guild Awards for services to writers; the Anti-Defamation League’s Humanitarian Award; the first ever Sundance Creative Coalition Award for independent production; the prestigious Geffen Distinction in Theater Award for services to the theater; the Jacob Burns Film Center Vision Award and the Humanitas Award for his continued work in the arts.
In 2003, Callender was honored by Her Majesty the Queen of England when he was appointed Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in the Queen’s Birthday Honors list and again in 2016 when he received a Knighthood for his services to British film, theatre and television in the US.