Buyers like Screenings choices

'Tremendous variety' with int'l actors, female-led series

It was a banquet literally and figuratively at the Los Angeles Screenings for more than 1,500 worldwide TV buyers who had high praise for the quality and variety of new series on offer. As the Screenings begin to wind down today after a week of parties, studio dinners and daytime screenings, the overall reaction from foreign broadcasters to the studios was thumbs up.

For many buyers -- who spend upward of $5 billion annually on U.S. programs -- the L.A. Screenings is their first opportunity to view the pilots of series that only the week before had been scheduled by the networks for the new season.

"I think that there is tremendous variety this year, and there's no doubt that it's also the year of the woman as far as outstanding series are concerned," said Brian Walsh, executive director television and marketing with Australia's Foxtel. "Glenn Close is very strong in 'Damages', and of course, there's 'Cashmere Mafia,' both at Sony." He also praised Fox's "The Sarah Connor Chronicles."

Said Michael Murphy, founder and chief programming executive at Ireland's Channel 6: "It's an interesting year in that every studio has a number of really good shows. Some of the shows I liked are Fox's new Kelsey Grammer comedy 'Back to You.' I also liked 'Lipstick Jungle' at Universal. It has very strong female appeal, based as it is upon the book by 'Sex and the City' author Candace Bushnell."

Murphy also underscored CBS Paramount's "Cane," starring Jimmy Smits, and "Californication," starring David Duchovny. Murphy and other buyers also pointed to the scheduling potential for Warner Bros. International Television's "Gossip Girl," set around the party-heavy lifestyles of teenagers attending elite private schools in New York.

Also gaining considerable attention, according to international TV consultant Richard Sattler, was Warners' "Chuck," a drama about computer geek who is catapulted into a career as a special agent.

Buyers including Foxtel's Walsh said they were particularly pleased with the number of non-U.S. actors starring in many of the high-profile shows, including Australian Hugh Jackman in "Viva Laughlin," the series from Sony that is based on the hit BBC property "Viva Blackpool." This series also is unusual in that it is a musical drama. The international casting this year "is a great trend because it really demonstrates how innovative television producers have become and also how important the international marketplace is to Hollywood," Walsh said.

Michael Healy, director of programming for Australia's Nine Network, highlighted new shows including "Cashmere Mafia," in which two of the leads are Australian, "Back to You" and "Laughlin." "I also really liked 'Pushing Daisies' and 'Chuck' from Warner Bros.," he said. " 'Pushing Daisies' (about a young man who has the power to bring dead things back to life and which has a romantic angle) will have strong female appeal and I think do well with younger females in particular. I think (Warner's) 'Big Shots' will have strong female appeal, and we'll be happy to have it on our schedule."

That series revolves around four high-powered CEOs who socialize at the same golf club. "But it's fair to say that there is quality across the board this year with very high production standards. You can see that more time and effort has been put into the productions, and overall it's been a really exciting week," Healy said.

Even Nine's competitors noted that the network has done well this year through its output deals with Warners and Sony. "Nine will be well-pleased because they have so many strong shows this year," one said. "They get a particularly strong slate with 'Damages,' 'Cashmere Mafia' and 'Viva Laughlin,' among others from Sony, and with 'Chuck' and 'Pushing Daisies' and the other shows from Warners. Nine now has some key properties."

Several shows drew praise for their special effects. "Disney's 'Reaper' drama definitely falls into this category; the special effects they used in it were very good indeed, I must say," TV2 Norway's John Ranelagh said.

"And while it was somewhat darker in look and feel compared to the original hit it is reprising, 'Bionic Woman' from NBC Universal also featured special effects well above our normal expectations for series dramas, and that is a trend at this market that we all agree is just great," said Richard Sattler, head of Los Angeles-based programming consultancy RSP International.

"As the week draws to a close, our vote for the most popular new drama on offer at the L.A. Screenings goes to (20th Century Fox TV's) 'Journeyman,' their new time-travel hour for NBC," he added. "Buyers are very much taken with the production quality of the pilot, but also its great time slot stateside as the lead-out to NBC's big hit 'Heroes' at 10 p.m. Mondays this fall.

"Other Screenings favorites," he added, "are Sony's two female skewing midseason dramas, 'Cashmere Mafia' and 'Canterbury's Law.' Others that our buyers liked are Disney's 'Dirty Sexy Money,' Warner Bros.' 'Chuck' and CBS Paramount's 'Cane' and 'Californication.' "

Keith LeGoy, executive vp distribution at Sony Pictures Television International, said: "Overall this week we have been humbled by the response from buyers to our whole portfolio of television properties. People have been raving about a number of shows, including 'Cashmere Mafia' and 'Viva Laughlin' which, when you think about it, represent the United Nations of casting. I would say overall this week we have been humbled by the response that we have had from buyers to our whole portfolio of TV."