Celebrities called in to fuel sales at MIPCOM


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CANNES -- The weather on the Riviera at night is balmy and the stars are out. But it's not the Cannes Film Festival: It's that heretofore buttoned-down TV trade show known as MIPCOM, which is emulating its movie-mad cousin by upping the glitz quotient on the Croisette.
 
The parade of personalities this week is led by a twosome from "Mad Men" -- Elisabeth Moss and Jon Hamm -- who, among other things, will grace a first-ever red carpet event Monday night.
 
The Emmy-winning AMC drama is just starting to catch on internationally, and distributor Lionsgate decided this is the moment to pique buyer interest by bringing along the talent.
 
MIPCOM organizer Reed Midem several years ago said that there eventually would be cross-pollination between the film festival and the TV trade shows -- all French-based, French-fortified events. The Cannes fest would pay more attention to TV talent and money; sister markets MIP and MIPCOM would inject more glamour into the typically business-like atmosphere of the sales bazaars.
Et voila.
 
The glamor is not just about tarting up the trade shows' image: it's also about sales companies, including U.S. players, finding an easy way to create buzz among program buyers.
 
With Oliver Stone jetting in for a private lunch with buyers -- interviewed by no less than David Frost -- to promote his Showtime doc "The Untold History of the United States," and Sarah Jessica Parker hopping over for a meet-and-greet to promote her new show "A Work of Art," it seems that for all but the biggest franchises (which essentially sell themselves), exposing the talent is a smart way to sweeten deals for projects that are just getting off the ground.
 
"We do it very selectively, but this is one year we felt that with the lineup that we had, it warranted bringing talent over," says David Ellender, global CEO of Fremantle Media Enterprises, which is distributing the 12-hour Parker-topped series.
 
Other stars on tap to glad-hand with buyers include British comic Stephen Fry (here to stump for a doc about language called "Planet Word"); Matt Lucas and David Walliams (the BBC's "Little Britain"); Andrew Lincoln and Sarah Wayne Caillies (AMC's upcoming "The Walking Dead"); Laura Innis (ABC's "No Ordinary Family"); Gene Simmons (AETN's "Family Jewels"); and Ken Finkleman (Canadian show "Good Dog").
 
Even showrunners and exec producers, as in Steve Stark and Greg Berlanti, made the trek to greet foreign buyers of their new primetime dramas "The Event" and "No Ordinary Family," respectively.
 
So, why is this happening -- and why just as the global market gingerly begins to shake off two years of recessionary woes?

"We think it's important for buyers to have an opportunity to find out more about the shows, to learn what the story arc is and what the producers are thinking," NBC Universal programming chieftain Angela Bromstadt said.
 
The timing of promotional efforts can be quite different from those Stateside. "Mad Men," for example, is just beginning its international rollout in some territories, or, as in the U.K., moving from one channel to another.
 
Hamm seemed to be taking it all in stride and, like most actors on their first trip to a foreign trade show, surprised at how widespread interest already is.
 
"Tonight we're screening an episode from the fourth season, and we've had a lot of people coming up to us and saying, ‘Oh, my God. I love your show -- I'm from Brazil, I'm from Mexico, I'm from Denmark.' It's jarring even because you never think of the show being felt in places as far away."
 
At the film festival, there are always horror stories about the demands of various divas, but THR couldn't find anyone at MIPCOM to say anything worse than that the stars "can occasionally take up time that we need to be spending with clients. A headache? Occasionally. A nightmare? Never."
 
Said Hamm: "They aren't going to fly us halfway around the world to sit in a hotel room and not interact. Part of accepting the opportunity to come here is talking to people and hopefully delivering or clarifying the message of the show. You want more people to see the show. It's not backed by an enormous Fox or NBC or one of these giant networks. AMC's still a relatively small network, so anything that we can do as actors to broaden that audience is helpful in the grand scheme of things."
 
"It's smart to do this occasionally. All the foreign clients like it. Very few customers abroad ever get quality time with those in front or behind the camera," said MGM's international co-president Gary Marenzi, who has even fielded a couple of Bonds back in the day.
From the stars' perspective, showing up abroad can boost their profiles. And if a show works well internationally, the license-fee money comes back home to oil the production machine, indirectly putting more moolah into the actors' pockets.
 
Plus, as in the movie biz, there are now clauses in actors' contracts stipulating that they have to do a certain amount of publicity and promotion.
 
The south of France in October? Beats Cleveland.
 


In fact, stars of the TV Land hit "Hot in Cleveland" -- Wendie Malick, Jane Leeves and Valerie Bertinelli -- are also at the Riviera rendezvous to talk up that show.
 
"The chemistry is just there, and that's what makes it a great show," Leeves said, hopeful that the foreign buyers in attendance would feel similarly. The women showed their off-screen chemistry as they discussed the show's plotlines, finishing one another's sentences and laughing a great deal.
 
"It's a reality that talent is often some of the best advocates for a show," Endemol global head of marketing Steve Copestake said.
And bringing "talent" to Cannes doesn't necessarily mean the faces in front of the camera.
 
Disney, for example, typically chooses to save actors for more media-oriented, public-friendly events like Monte-Carlo's TV Festival in June; at MIPCOM, the company often turns to exec producers to help buttress its pitch to foreign clients.
 
"It's great face time and a way for the people to whom we sell our show to get inside our heads about what makes the show special," Berlanti said of his quick trip to Cannes, adding: "At home, I don't do a day without talking to the network, so it makes sense to talk to our broadcasters around the world about what makes the show unique."
 
But why aren't the stars of "No Ordinary Family" in Cannes to boost sales as well?
 
"It's an incredibly busy time for talent and we don't want to take them away from ABC studios," Disney head of media distribution Catherine Powell said. "To have someone like Greg here speaking passionately about the show is very helpful for us. Executive producers are typically closer to the production than actors."
 
Meanwhile, the post-apocalyptic zombie drama "The Walking Dead" was very much alive in Cannes as Fox International Channels and indie distrib Entertainment One brought Lincoln and Callies to the Croisette to promote the show that will air on AMC at Halloween and then roll out on FIC feeds around the world.
 
Lincoln and Callies talked up the series in interviews Monday and will promote the show to buyers and journalists during a panel and subsequent cocktail Tuesday.
 
"It's a universal story about a group of people who have lost everything. Everyone can related to this idea of living in a post-apocalyptic world," Callies said.
 
Entertainment One also saw "90210" alum Luke Perry changing ZIP codes to head to 06400 Cannes to hype his latest TV movie, "Goodnight for Justice," directed by Perry's former co-star Jason Priestley. "I love Westerns, but they don't always have to be stories about cowboys or cows," Perry said, relaxing at a small hotel on the Croisette during the actor's first visit to the bazaar.
 
"Whenever we travel, we come back a different person. And this circuit judge becomes a different judge with every place he travels," Perry said of his character in the project.
 
"Haven" stars Emily Rose and Eric Balfour left their sleepy Maine town to promote their new show, a Syfy supernatural series based on a Stephen King novel. "People watch film and TV to see worlds they can't see in their daily lives. It's the reason people seek out entertainment. That's what ‘Haven' is," Balfour said.
 
Added Rose: "A small town is something people all over the world can relate to."
 
Showing up to do local appearances, in foreign countries or at trade shows, can pay off by saving on marketing costs.
 
When the producers of the miniseries "Pillars of the Earth," Germany's Tandem and Scott Free Prods. in the U.S., dispatched star Ian McShane to Spain a couple of months ago, they never imagined how effective that move would be. But when Cuatro aired the eight-hour series, the mini became the highest-rated show in the cabler's history -- in part thanks to multiple stories in newspapers on McShane and the 12th century-set story.
 
And just as star power in the movies shows signs of waning (thanks largely to the emphasis on digital effects), top talent on TV has become a growing draw for global audiences.
 
"The buyers love celebrities. They are, after all, the first fans of any TV show because they see the shows first. They also want to feel a connection with the talent," said Sharon Tal Yguado, who as head of Fox International Channels fields the contingent for "Walking Dead." Producer Gale Anne Hurd took ill in London during a prior junket there and couldn't make the final lap, so Tal Yguado cajoled the writer of the comic book, Robert Kirkman, to get on his first transatlantic flight.
 
"There's a lot of logistics and a lot of extra organization required to bring out the stars," said one veteran studio distributor, who cautioned that it only works for the right project at the right time in its life cycle.
 
"It may be hard for us to do every year, but generally buyers respond well. I'm guessing we're going to see more of it."
Mimi Turner contributed to this report.
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