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This story first appeared in the Oct. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
“Golden age of television” was the most overused term at the international TV confab MIPCOM in Cannes, France, that ended Oct. 16, as execs attempted to describe the unprecedented boom in high-end TV drama flooding the global market. Inspired by the critical and commercial success of the likes of Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, networks around the world are ramping up serious serialized drama.
The MIP halls usually are stuffed with posters promoting daytime soaps and cheap reality formats, but the focus this year was on pricey prestige fare like the swashbuckling adventure of Starz’s pirate series Black Sails, the Minnesota noir of MGM’s film-to-series adaptation Fargo, starring Billy Bob Thornton, the British crime procedural Broadchurch and the Turkish conspiracy thriller The End (the latter two of which are being adapted for the U.S.).
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But while drama is hot, the sudden shift to serious TV has left many global broadcasters worried about a future lack of bread-and-butter programming: the sitcoms and nonserialized cop shows that make up the bulk of TV schedules worldwide.
“Networks are looking for comedies, but the hype is about drama now. Look at Modern Family — that is changing the face of television, but dramas are getting all the attention,” says Peter Iacono, international managing director at Lionsgate, which sells both top dramas such as Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black and lowbrow comedy, including Charlie Sheen‘s Anger Management.
Despite the current focus on dark and complex, most mainstream channels worldwide like it simple and repeatable. By-the-book procedurals such as CSI, NCIS and The Mentalist are global ratings giants, as are laugh-track sitcoms in the vein of 2 Broke Girls and The Big Bang Theory. By contrast, the international market for a Breaking Bad or Black Sails is more niche, and selling to a pay-TV or a smaller digital network is more probable than scoring a lucrative primetime slot on one of the big free-TV broadcasters in France, Germany or Brazil.
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“A show you can pop in and out of. Not too dark or gritty,” says Christina Jennings, CEO of Canadian production house Shaftesbury, on the demands of international networks. Shaftesbury’s light, mainstream procedural The Listener has sold in more than 120 territories.
Still, the MIP market is valued at around $4 billion, so there’s plenty of money in play. And at the moment, the demand for high-end drama — driven by an explosion of new digital, cable and VOD platforms worldwide — continues to outstrip supply.
But as dark and gritty become commonplace, viewers worldwide may begin to cry out for less Walter White and more Sheldon Cooper.
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