Five's fast at Screenings with 'Californication'

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Despite the seminude bedroom scenes and the occasional expletive, CBS Paramount International Television's "Californication" has gone over big with over-the-air broadcasters from Europe who say there will be no content problems for them.

The U.K.'s Channel Five signed a deal for the series Tuesday, a CBS Paramount spokeswoman confirmed. Numerous terrestrial channels also were known to be bidding for the David Duchovny-starring series, which is set to air in August on Showtime.

Five's deal, one of the earliest programming licensing agreements ever seen at the Los Angeles Screenings, was negotiated by Five controller of acquisitions Vanessa Brookman and Stephen Tague of CBS Paramount International Television.

" 'Californication' is a high-quality, sophisticated new comedy drama with Duchovny stylishly playing the troubled, lovable writer," Brookman said. "I am delighted that we have secured the rights for Five's family of channels."

Five has been a big customer for U.S. series, with "Prison Break," the "CSI" and "Law & Order" franchises, "The Shield," "House," "Grey's Anatomy," "Shark" and "Dirt" on its channels' slates.

Michael Murphy, the founder and head programmer at Ireland's Channel 6, saw the "Californication" pilot Tuesday. He said the ability of the CBS Paramount international division to offer "edgy" programming like this from a pay cable network gives the studio a major new playing card.

Also attracting favorable comments was the Jimmy Smits vehicle "Cane," about a rum-making sugar dynasty of Cuban immigrants and their offspring living in Miami. RTE deputy head of acquisitions Brian Walsh had high praise for the series, saying the international markets are more than ready for a return to the serialized formula that was epitomized by such shows as "Dallas" and "Dynasty."

Smits, who shares the executive producer title with Jonathan Prince, Polly Anthony, Cynthia Cidre and Jimmy Iovine, said in an interview that he and his fellow exec producers were conscious of the international markets when developing the series. He said the plot spans three generations and touches upon the universal themes of immigration and the struggle for success in a new home.

Some buyers felt the series had a "Dallas"-type feel to it because it involves feuding families, stepbrothers destined to be at loggerheads, hot romances, young love and dark violence.

Smits said he was more than aware of the comparisons to "Dallas," saying "we should be so lucky." That primetime soap remains one of the biggest-selling serials ever in international markets.

Prince added that though "Cane" is serialized, each episode will be a self-contained story -- an important factor according to buyers who say their viewers are increasingly time-starved and need conclusions at the end of each episode.

Canadian broadcasters, meanwhile, are expected to finish previewing new U.S. pilots today before finalizing decisions about their potential primetime hits. The main buying likely will come from Canadian industry heavyweights CTV and CanWest MediaWorks, with smaller rivals also dealing with U.S. program suppliers for new network series.

Kathy Dore, president of television and radio at CanWest, said Tuesday that no "big buzz show" had emerged since screenings for the Canadians started Friday. But she added that CanWest, which has output deals with Fox and NBC suppliers, expected its purchases to help it regain the Canadian TV ratings crown it held during the 1990s before losing it to rival CTV.

"We think there's a real opportunity to recapture the No. 1 position in Canada and continue Global Television's great success of the past two years," Dore said, pointing to her network acquiring Fox's "Prison Break" at the 2005 L.A. Screenings and NBC's "Heroes" last year.

Toronto-based CTV, which depends on outputs deals with CBS and ABC suppliers to drive buying, declined comment going into today's programming bazaar.

Don Gaudet, GM of Toronto station SunTV, said this year's screenings offered "lighter fare" compared to last year's crop of new serial dramas.

"The biggest thing is the dramas tend to be lighter, more comedic, not as heavy in content as they were last year," he said.

Another emerging trend are dramas about powerful women bonding to conquer their worlds, with Gaudet citing as evidence ABC's "Cashmere Mafia," from Sony Pictures Television, and NBC's midseason replacement "Lipstick Jungle," produced by NBC Universal.

The SunTV executive said he and other smaller Canadian broadcasters likely would wait to see what industry leaders CTV, CanWest and Chum leave on the table before doing most of their buying. "We know our place. We just don't have infrastructure to support going head-on for the bulk of the programming" Gaudet said.

As in the past, the Canadians will fly home Thursday with this week's purchases and get ready to tout their returning and new U.S. network series to Canadian advertisers during upfront presentations in early June.
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