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Miami heat of 'Cane' raising int'l interest

"It's the whole hot Latino thing — the music, the rum, the fast boats, the cars," enthused one program acquisitions chief at last week's Los Angeles Screenings. "I love it!"

His enthusiasm for the series "Cane" begged the question: Why would a drama about a Cuban immigrant family living in Florida appeal to your audience in Ireland, of all places? The executive simply repeated: "The whole Latino thing, the music, the rum …"

The point he was making was, though the high-octane series centers on a Latino family that has built a rum manufacturing empire, it does not necessarily mean it won't play to audiences in the U.K., Ireland or Poland. "It's just got something I think that will grab our viewers," he said.

That's exactly what made this show one of the big talking points at the Screenings. It seems, on paper at least, to break all the rules for a U.S. TV show that wants to have viewer appeal outside the U.S. or Latin America. Yet the plot lines, the cast, the characters and the South Beach settings had the international buyers diving into early negotiations with CBS Paramount International Television.

The fact that the series comes with such appeal to international buyers is no accident. The executive producers, who include the series star, Jimmy Smits, and writer, Cynthia Cidre, knew they had to break out of perceived cultural boundaries. Executive producer Jonathan Prince says he is nothing if not pragmatic and that it's no secret that blue-chip series simply cannot be made anymore without significant international sales.

Prince adds that, aside from the cultural aspects, there's the reality that the casting lends the series worldwide appeal with Smits leading a cast that includes Hector Elizondo and Rita Moreno. "These are names known all over the world, so clearly there is a comfort zone for audiences outside of Latin America," he says.

Then there's the universal theme of the immigrant seeking and finding success in a new land, Prince adds. "Every country has the same stories, whether it's Jim Sheridan with 'In America' or Barry Levinson with 'Avalon' — the stories are basically the same and relatable everywhere," Prince says.

"Also, we set the series in Miami and South Beach, a world of big boats and NASCAR racing and beaufiful women and incredible music, and that's also pretty important in the international marketplace," he says. "Then the other thing that Cynthia did — and this was brilliant — was not just setting it in Miami with three generations of a family and with great human stories, but she also saw that there needs to be a crime at the heart of it and I think that this series is a little darker because of that than most other serialized shows." The pilot ends with a murder and Smits' character taking a decidedly dark turn.

While some buyers were comparing it to those icons of the serialized TV show — "Dallas" and "Dynasty" — they also liked the darker aspects. "It's 'Dallas' all grown up," one buyer commented. And "Dallas," of course, was one of the biggest international TV sellers ever.

Prince is quick to point out that the producers did a lot of research into international and domestic audience expectations, and it became very clear that time-starved viewers want closure at the end of each episode — self-contained plot lines each week. The producers were very diligent about following that formula, he says.

Jimmy Lovine and Polly Anthony also executive produce.
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