MIPCOM: Naomi Campbell, Dean Norris, Mike Darnell Among Stars in Cannes

1:13 PM PST 10/08/2013 by Elizabeth Guider, Rhonda Richford
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Rachelle LeFevre and Dean Norris

The small screen's big names promote their shows to international buyers.

Never during a TV market has the Cannes Croisette been so bright with starlight.

From Clemence Poesy to Meghan McCain, Dean Norris to Naomi Campbell to Mike Darnell, top talent from in front of and behind the camera have descended on MIPCOM as never before.

And it's hardly a vacation for any of them. Rather, their routine during the trade show is every bit as rigorous and demanding as, say, those of stars at the Cannes Film Festival.

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"The stars bring in the sizzle. MIPCOM in the past has been a lot of steak and very little sizzle," says Starz managing director Carmi Zlotnik, explaining why the pay TV net flew in the cast of its big-budget pirate action series Black Sails.

"The talent brings the sex appeal for the buyers. It lets you show the emotional aspect of a show. And we all know, even more than the financial aspect, we make decisions based on emotion," Zlotnik adds.

Wooing international buyers has become more crucial in the past few years as global sales account for an increasingly larger share of a TV series' budget and eventual downstream revenues.

In particular for Hollywood, drama series are always deficit-financed -- they're so costly, in fact, that without foreign license fees they could never get made.

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Zlotnik estimates international sales accounts for around half the budget of a typical Starz series. "Maximizing revenues from the world is critical," he says.

After bringing in talent from NCIS last year, CBS Global Distribution Group is fielding Dean Norris and Rachelle Lefevre from its summer sci-fi hit Under the Dome.

The first season is already airing to top ratings in various key territories abroad. Still, it never hurts to have talent on hand to mix and mingle.

"Everybody loves to see stars. It connects the dots for the clients," says CBS Global Distribution president/CEO Armando Nunez.

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For his part, Norris said that TV stars increasingly realize how important international is to the financial health of U.S. series.

Supermodel Naomi Campbell, meanwhile, flew in to promote the second season of The Face.

"Television is huge now, just as much as film. So many people that do film have moved to television, and I totally understand. I think television is at its ultimate best right now," she says.

"It's not that different from Cannes, the film festival," she continued. "It's less manic, and you can actually drive down the street," she explains, before hosting a party for the industry crowd at another five-star hotel along the Croisette.

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And it's not just the Americans who are bringing sparkle and the paparazzi to the Palais.

Canal Plus and Sky Atlantic hosted a gala premiere Monday night for its co-production The Tunnel, complete with stars Clemence Poesy and Stephen Dillane.

David Sutcliffe, co-star of the Canadian cop drama Cracked, says his presence in Cannes alongside female lead Brooke Nevin aims to help BetaFilm sell the procedural internationally by putting a face to the show.

"People like to meet the actors on the show and have contact with them," Sutcliffe says.

Even Turkish players have followed suit, bringing several stars of its latest hit, Song Bird, which is also being screened here in the Palais.

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"It's a growing part of what we have to do," producer Mehmet Altioklar tells The Hollywood Reporter. "We're selling more of our dramas abroad now, and this definitely helps the effort."

But for Warner Bros., the stars of MIPCOM look a little different.

"Our feeling is that we're at a trade show. And for many of our buyer clients, the stars for them mean people like Peter Roth (the longtime head of production at the studio)," worldwide distribution president Jeffrey Schlesinger says. Roth actually didn't make it to MIPCOM, but the company's recently hired reality meister, Mike Darnell, formerly of Fox, is on hand to talk to clients and discuss projects.

International buyers are even more crucial for series on smaller networks, where the commissioning fee from a U.S. channel can often be a fraction of the total budget, with the biggest gap, and all the upside, coming from abroad.

This year's Beta Brunch, a traditional MIPCOM buyers event hosted by German sales group Beta Film, included cameos by Sutcliffe and Nevin as well as Andie MacDowell and Dylan Neal of Hallmark Channel's Cedar Cove. Beta co-financed both Cove and Cracked and is selling them overseas.

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Another industry trend boosting MIPCOM's star wattage is the increase in onscreen talent taking on executive producing roles, meaning the stars have a direct financial stake in selling their shows abroad.

"It's actually really refreshing for me to do this," Newsroom star Emily Mortimer tells THR about coming to Cannes to pitch her new comedy, Doll & Em, which she co-wrote with actress friend Dolly Wells, to international buyers. "I actually used to sell hats on London's Portobello Road, and there is something so satisfying about making a sale. I love it!"

"Having stars, both in front of and behind the camera at the market, lends credibility and reality to the process. It helps justify the prices buyers have to pay to secure these shows. And what customer doesn't like seeing them!" explains veteran Hollywood executive Philip Schuman, who now runs his own company, Highview.

There's also been such a blurring of the lines between the film and TV divisions of American companies, that, increasingly, they are borrowing techniques and best practices from each other.

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So thinks Participant Media's Jim Berk, whose own film-focused company set up a TV division called Pivot just a year ago.

"I think TV divisions have seen just how effective film marketing, which has long depended on star appearances, has been. And so they're adopting a similar strategy."

Pivot brought McCain to the market to tout her talk show for milllennials, Raising McCain.

"I'd say that television has eclipsed film as the most important medium in the world," adds Pivot's head Evan Shapiro. "It's not surprising that stars are becoming part of the effort to enhance the sales effort."

To be sure, it was not always so glam on the Croisette.

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Twenty years ago, television was still considered the sheepish step-sister to the glamorous film business -- and because the most glam media event in the world just happened to take place in the very same spot as MIPCOM (think the Cannes Film Festival), the TV market owner-organizers could be forgiven for feeling stymied, if not downright intimidated, about doing anything glitzy. TV, in short, was thought of as not being quite star-worthy.

It was the French, who would occasionally bring down from Paris a teen starlet or songbird, that started to change things. Arguably, no one outside Gaul had the slightest idea who these actresses posed on the Palais steps were -- but local jeunes filles crowded around outside the Palais barricades, screaming as wildly as they do during the film fest.

The Americans took note, and that was right at the time that broadcasters and cablers Stateside were making a concerted effort to raise the bar -- almost systematically hiring A-list cinema talent on both sides of the camera for their series and TV movies.

One watershed event was the appearance of Jerry Bruckheimer on the Riviera in 2000, whom most MIP-goers still thought of as a blockbuster movie producer. He submitted to a round of interviews and a small press conference to introduce an unlikely new kind of drama, a thing called a forensic procedural, he patiently explains. It wasn't long before CSI became a global juggernaut.

Flash forward to the zombies, as in 2010, when Fox International Channels unleashed on the Croisette the said creatures to promote its day-and-date global launch of The Walking Dead. Key cast members along with producer Gale Anne Hurd and graphic novelist/screenwriter Robert Kirkman gamely took part in a panel discussion and a press conference.

The stunt generated considerable ink, per FIC reps, as did a similar exploit by distributor Lionsgate, with Mad Men stars Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss.

For its part, Reed Midem also awoke to the possibilities, signing a protocol with the film festival five years ago to trade best practices and cross-pollinate, as it were. One result: gala screenings at Mip and MIPCOM of top-notch American and European dramas that have been produced and widely sold in the last few years.

Scott Roxborough and Etan Vlessing contributed to this report.

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