L.A. Screenings kick off with high hopes

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Great TV programs can no longer exist "in a vacuum," they have to be able to thrive in today's multimedia media environment, said Laurie Younger, president of Disney-ABC Worldwide Television, at a big gathering of program buyers from around the world Sunday night at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank.

About 1,500 program buyers flew into Los Angeles late last week and over the weekend for the annual Los Angeles Screenings this week at which they view all of the program offerings from the studios that have been picked up for the coming season.

Younger, who was set to address buyers Sunday night before a party on the studio lot, noted, "Last time we met, I encouraged us to embrace together the positive change that technology will undoubtedly bring to us. Since then, we've seen evidence that content can really resonate when its presence on multiple media platforms actually complements a traditional TV broadcast.

"For that reason, we have continued across the course of this year to work with you to bring programming to audiences whenever and wherever they want it, delivering original mobile content, expanding the scope of our VOD offering, providing high-definition materials," she added. "This type of activity will continue to be the expression of our commitment to using technology to enhance the consumer experience and all that it can mean to you, to your advertisers and particularly to the viewers," Younger said in a statement released before her address to buyers.

At the event, Disney-ABC International Television launched its new network series, including the new one hour dramas "Dirty Sexy Money," "Eli Stone," "Private Practice" and "Reaper," and the new half-hour comedies "Carpoolers," "Cavemen," "Miss/Guided" and "Sam I Am." Also joining its portfolio are three series for cable that premiere in the summer -- "Army Wives," "Greek" and "Slacker Cats." Combined with returning shows, the program presentation was " our biggest ever (international) upfronts," she said.

This was a first on two fronts for the studio. Although it was the seventh annual "international upfront" for Disney, this was the first to be held on the studio lot. It also was the first time that the presentations were made under the division's new moniker announced last week, Disney-ABC International Television. Anne Sweeney, co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president of Disney-ABC Television Group, also was on hand to greet buyers.

A recipe of high-quality programming, marketing support and cross fertilization in new-media outlets has propelled U.S. programing to the forefront of broadcast schedules worldwide. Sweeney noted that in the past year alone, the volume of U.S. programs airing in Europe has increased by 20%.

"I'm proud to say that we have made a significant contribution to that phenomenon," she said. "Megahits such as 'Lost, 'Desperate Housewives,' 'Grey's Anatomy' and 'Criminal Minds ' have continued to grow their profile and contribution to your schedules." She stressed that other shows, including "Brothers & Sisters" and "Kyle XY" also are becoming international hits. The Golden Globe-winning "Ugly Betty" has been licensed to 130 countries to date and has been a big hit in such markets as the U.K., Australia, Hong Kong and Sweden.

Celebrity guests set to be on hand to help Disney-ABC celebrate were Sally Field, Calista Flockhart, Rob Lowe, Marcia Cross, Eva Longoria, Patrick Dempsey, Daniel Dae Kim, Jorge Garcia, America Ferrera, William Baldwin, Jill Clayburgh, Peter Krause, Donald Sutherland, Tim Daly, Taye Diggs and Christina Applegate.

CBS Paramount Television International president Armando Nunez also was playing host during the weekend to international buyers. He noted that this year's pickups by the networks indicate that "the bar has been set high" and that the U.S. studios "continue to make programming that is very high-caliber." Falling into that mold are the CBS Paramount dramas "Cane," with Jimmy Smits, "Swingtown" and "Life Is Wild," which was lensed in South Africa.

He agreed that new media will be a highlight conversion piece again this year and added, "As the process continues, we will get to the point where we are just talking about media, not new media or traditional media."

On the Warner Bros. lot, buyers were getting their first glimpses of such new shows as "Gossip Girl," "The Sarah Connor Chronicles," "Pushing Daisies," "Chuck" and "Big Shots." "This is one of our strongest slates of new programming in years," said Jeffrey Schlesinger, president of Warner Bros. International Television. "Our shows are not only high quality but also unique and distinct in terms of concept, execution and look. We have a diverse lineup that will appeal to different networks, for different demographics, in different time slots."

Noted Keith LeGoy, executive vp distribution at Sony Pictures Television International: "The biggest trend I see is a return to great entertainment -- the networks seem to want audiences to be inspired and entertained by the new shows, so there are more dramas which have story lines that are resolved during each episode. That makes it easier for a new show to begin to attract, keep and build an audience from Week 2 or 3 rather than the network worrying that people who don't tune in to the first episode will feel they can't get into the plot.

"There also seems to be more shows with strong women at the center, including our own 'Cashmere Mafia' for ABC and 'Canterbury's Law' for Fox as well as 'Damages' for FX if you include cable," he added. "Also, the networks seem to be embracing nontraditional genres. 'Viva Laughlin' on CBS is certainly innovative; CBS seem really strongly behind the show, and I look forward to audiences embracing it."

The buyers will trawl through al the studios throughout the next week, including Fox and NBC Universal as they view the latest program offerings. Some buyers already were talking up "Journeyman" with Kevin McKidd from 20th Century Fox International and "Lipstick Jungle" from NBC Universal.
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