Aliens, transplants trendy

WB, CBS roll out wares for foreign TV buyers

Seductively insidious visitors from another planet and seductively intense vampires wowed the 400 foreign program buyers who trekked to the Warner Bros. lot Monday morning for a first look at the studio's upcoming slate of fall shows.

Of the dozen series screened for clients throughout the day, it was "V," a cross between "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and "Star Trek," that got the most upbeat comments from buyers, several of whom termed it "highly cinematic" and "full of interesting characters."

"Vampire Diaries," a sort of "Gossip Girl"-meets-"Twilight" from producer Kevin Williamson, also got thumbs-up from international broadcasters with younger-skewing target audiences.

Also screened Monday were the latest Jerry Bruckheimer procedural, "The Forgotten"; "Human Target," a high-energy actioner from McG; and "Eastwick," a reimagining of the classic wacky witch movie from veteran David Nutter.

"I'd say the Warner guys have come through — the shows look good, they're mostly escapist and they should work for a broad audience," one buyer said.

The buyer's station has an ongoing volume deal with Warners, so he might as well be pleased. Still, he insisted he can effectively use most of what he's getting this go-round.

"The shows just need to stay on the air and not get canceled," he said.

At the CBS lot, another 400 buyers appeared collectively upbeat about CBS Studios International's offerings as they milled over lunch al fresco outside the Paramount screening rooms. The Julianna Margulies-starring legal drama "The Good Wife," medical scripter "Three Rivers" and "NCIS" spinoff "NCIS: Los Angeles" garnered generous critiques from a diverse group of buyers.

From the Philippines, ABS-CBN acquisitions head Macie Imperial had good words for glitz-filled "The Beautiful Life," which she said will be a dream to promote because of Ashton Kutcher's global cachet and hands-on role as executive producer.

"NCIS: Los Angeles" co-star LL Cool J made it to the event to talk up the series to buyers. "I'm very passionate about the series," he said, adding that he had cleared the deck of other projects to meet his obligations. Chris O'Donnell co-stars.

The Edie Falco starrer "Nurse Jackie" from Showtime and the new "Melrose Place" also were being closely scoped by buyers. " 'Melrose' is very commercial and very portable," said Leo Katigbak, head of projects at ABS-CBN.

The buyers at CBS came from a variety of territories including France, Australia, Scandinavia, the Philippines, Japan and Italy. Veteran M6 buyer Bernard Majani, who has an ongoing deal with CBS, was playing his cards close to the chest about plans for the CBS shows but stressed that the presentation was strong all-around.

About 1,300 foreign buyers have begun scattering to various studio lots to sift through new shows. Disney kicked off the week Sunday night with a star-studded presentation to introduce its new and returning shows.

In many cases, broadcasters have output deals with the Hollywood majors; in others, notably the U.K., there is a la carte buying on the open market.

The big question: With so much pressure on the international TV divisions of the majors to bring home the bacon in such lean times — the DVD biz is in the doldrums and license fees for network shows aren't going up — will revenue from foreign TV continue to make up the difference?

Top Warner Bros. Television Group execs are adamant they will be able to make their nut, pointing to what they say is another in a string of years of "the largest and most durable slate" among their rivals. They also reassured buyers that nothing had been spared creatively in coming up with the studio's latest offerings.

CBS Studios International president Armando Nunez said in his welcoming address to buyers on the CBS Paramount lot that they were in Los Angeles at a tough time for the industry worldwide, but broadcasters still need quality programming to fill their schedules.

"Everyone is facing a challenging economic environment, but we're expanding while others may be scaling back," WBTV Group president Bruce Rosenblum told the assembled in Burbank. He also said the studio remained the only indie production company of scale left in the business. "We're everybody's second-favorite supplier," Rosenblum quipped, referring to the fact most networks pick up the bulk of their shows from their sibling production companies.

WBTV president Peter Roth expanded on the strengths of nonaffiliation, noting that Warners boasts 10 new primetime shows and 14 returning ones for a total of 22 1/2 hours across all nets; these plus two new cable shows, "Dark Blue" and "Rubicon," and eight returning ones total 34 series.

"We are No. 1 one in new shows, returning shows and total series, and we have the No. 1 comedy ('Two and a Half Men'), the only new-season hit ('The Mentalist') and the top new show in the 18-49 demo ('Fringe')," Roth said.

Roth and Rosenblum later said that the cost of producing series on their slate — and generally throughout the biz — have come down noticeably, and all producers have been asked to be more cost-conscious. Asked whether they thought buyers would use that as a negotiating tool, Rosenblum said acquiring a U.S. show was so much more cost-effective than making one's own series that he didn't think the argument would fly.

As for current negotiations, Warner Bros. International TV president Jeffrey Schlesinger said there were a couple of territories where long-term deals for Warners product were coming up for renewal.

One is Australia, where incumbent station Network Nine is trying to hold on to the studio's product but rival the Seven Network is looking to beef up its slate by adding another major supplier. Such competitive situations occasionally drive prices up for U.S. product.
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