Canadian dramas get Hollywood leg-up

Los Angeles agents and distributors source talent, shows

TORONTO -- Credit Los Angeles agents and distributors with the heavy lifting behind recent U.S. network deals for Canadian series like CBS' "Flashpoint" and NBC's "Howie Do It."

"All roads lead through Hollywood, whether it's for packaging, financing, distribution, and everyone needs an advocate physically based in Hollywood," says agent Charles Lenhoff at Lenhoff & Lenhoff, who has represented Canadian A-listers on his roster since the 1980s.

Much as last year's Hollywood writers strike opened a door into U.S. primetime for series from the Great White North, Canadian producers have relied on Los Angeles handlers to keep their foot in the door at the studios.

Sure, the creative for upcoming series like NBC's "The Listener" and CBS' "The Bridge" was spawned in Canada, and that's where the recognizably Canadian series get made with tax credits and other local incentives.

But it's local agents and distributors that have helped guide the Canadians to know how best to approach the U.S. networks with series pitches, how to sustain their interest and finally close the deal.

Lenhoff says success has come in part from being ever on the prowl in Hollywood for opportunities for his clients, and other times by adding to what that talent and their Canadian representation have in motion.

"And sometimes you just got to beat the door down to get the client in the right room with the right person at the exact right time," he argues.

Lenhoff first noticed Canadian talent while working on some animation shows during the early 1980s for Metromedia, a forerunner for Fox Broadcasting.

Ironically the challenge then was getting his own calls returned by Canadian broadcasters. "It just wasn't done. They thought I was crazy," Lenhoff recalls.

That's changed now that Canadian cop dramas are in demand stateside.

"The good thing is now the Canadian broadcasters and studios need Hollywood to get their shows made, and everyone returns their calls faster than a Tango dancer in Buenos Aires," Lenhoff remarks.

Over at Toronto-based E1 Entertainment, having top executives Noreen Halpern and John Morayniss on the ground in Los Angeles was essential to recently parking "The Bridge" at CBS and "Copper" at ABC.

Halpern was able to attach the Canadian showrunner Alan DiFiore to "The Bridge" after he earlier worked with CBS on "The Handler," and she offered up to ABC Tassie Cameron, who was head writer on the first season of "Flashpoint" before she came on board "Copper" as its showrunner.

"All of us want to be in business with people we know, who we believe will deliver the level of quality that we're used to," Halpern says of the need to offer comfort to cost-conscious U.S. networks suddenly keen to partner with the Canadians on series.

E1 Television president Laszlo Barna says Halpern and Morayniss offer a "mature presence" in Los Angeles that's indispensable to landing U.S. network deals.

"Noreen and John have been there for ten years, building relationships in the networks. So we have a staff of (Los Angeles) executives who do nothing but work those people," Barna said.

Canadian cartoon factory Cookie Jar Entertainment recently hired former Columbia TriStar and Paramount TV division boss Tom Mazza to lead its hunt for the next "Flashpoint" (HR, April 29).

Toronto-based Virginia Rankin, who has just completed a stint as broadcast executive on 22 episodes of "Flashpoint" for Canadian broadcaster CTV, is returning to indie production and hopes to shop her projects to U.S. networks before long.

"The doors are pretty open now. It's not that hard to get a meeting in Los Angeles," Rankin said.

But the key is pitching the right project, and assembling the right team around you to maintain momentum after the initial pitch to U.S. network executives.

"It's what happens after the meetings. That's the key. And I don't expect to do any of this by myself," Rankin said.