U.S. series stage British invasion

Slew of deals range from fall rookies to latter-day 'Trek'

Big-ticket U.S. television series were bound for the U.K. en masse Thursday in a slew of major studio deals with U.K. broadcasters.

Virgin Media Television, in a groundbreaking deal with Warner Bros. International Television, has secured exclusive U.K. rights to the upcoming drama "The Sarah Connor Chronicles," starring British actress Lena Headey.

WBITV also signed a programming deal with Channel Four, while Disney ABC International TV also signed with Channel Four for a slew of programming.

Virgin 1 said that it will be giving its new acquisition "the full multimedia treatment -- offering viewers the opportunity to watch whenever and wherever they want." Catch-ups and previews will be available via Virgin Media's television on-demand services.

Virgin also said that its Virgin 1 service will be the new U.K. home of the "Star Trek" franchise -- from "Star Trek: The Next Generation" through to "Star Trek: Enterprise" -- totaling 624 hours of sci-fi programming, acquired from CBS Paramount International Television.

"We're going to commission the best U.S. and U.K. producers to come up with bold and brave ideas that always have entertainment at their heart," Virgin 1 director of programming Celia Taylor said, "but Virgin 1 is also about liberating our viewers with a compelling on-demand offer and exciting UGC and broadband strategies."

Meanwhile, Channel Four has signed a new deal with WBITV securing a slew of programming for Channel Four, E4 and More4, according to Jeff Ford, director of acquisitions for Channel Four, and WBITV president Jeffrey Schlesinger.

Channel Four and E4 will hold the rights to broadcast the next two seasons of drama "One Tree Hill," and More4 will continue to hold exclusive rights to "The Closer," starring Kyra Sedgwick.

The deal also includes new comedy series "The Big Bang Theory."

"We are delighted to have renewed the deal on these much-loved series and look forward to launching this highly anticipated new comedy series in 2008," Ford said.

" 'The Big Bang Theory' was one of the most highly sought after comedies at this year's L.A. Screenings," Schlesinger said, "and we are excited to be partnering with Channel Four in the U.K. for the premiere of this funny and insightful mass-appeal series that will play to all demographics."

Channel Four has continued its acquisitions spree with Disney ABC International TV, picking up exclusive U.K. rights to Disney ABC-International dramas "Dirty Sexy Money" and "Reaper," according to Ford and Catherine Powell, vp sales, U.K. and Ireland, at Disney-ABC International Television.

The broadcaster, which will air the series next year on terrestrial net Channel Four as well as digital entertainment Web E4, hopes to continue its highly successful run of Disney-owned shows in recent years that has included such dramas as "Desperate Housewives," "Lost" and "Ugly Betty," all of which were acquired at the L.A. Screenings in May.

"We are thrilled to have acquired these two highly anticipated dramas which represent our tradition of acquiring the best of American series and continue our relationship with Disney-ABC International Television," Ford said.

Steve Brennan reported from Los Angeles; Mimi Turner reported from London.
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