International buyers laud American fare

NBC's 'Journeyman' among shows receiving kudos

The globalization of U.S. television fare probably is more evident at this year's Los Angeles Screenings than ever before, with international television buyers loudly praising the studios for molding plot lines and characters to suit a broad range of viewer and cultural tastes.

International buyers Monday were pinpointing a crop of new dramas that they hope will be international hits for them. The time-jumping drama "Journeyman" from 20th Century Fox Television gained major kudos.

CBS' Paramount Television International's drama "Cane," Sony Pictures Television International's "Viva Laughlin" and Warner Bros. TV's "Chuck" had buyers expressing interest and taking notes Monday after a weekend of screenings. The Los Angeles Screenings sees as many as 2,000 program buyers from throughout the world visit the studios en masse to view the new shows that were scheduled by the U.S. networks the previous week.

With the international market making up a key component of production budgets for U.S. network shows, the Screenings have become a core event for the industry.

Although in its early days yet in the weeklong Screenings, some buyers were not reticent about expressing their enthusiasm.

Richard Woolfe, director of programs at Sky One, Two and Three in the U.K., gave a thumbs up to "Journeyman," with Kevin McKidd headlining the cast. Although Sky is a global corporate sister of Fox, the U.K. broadcaster is not tied into a deal to buy the show. "We really liked it, (McKidd) is great, and we think it has the elements to resonate with our audience," Woolfe said. Boosting the drama's appeal for international buyers is NBC's scheduling of it in the 10 p.m. Monday slot after the hit "Heroes."

The pilot was reported by NBC to be the highest-testing pilot in five years. The plot centers on a man who finds himself catapulted back in time, but only in his own lifetime. In the pilot, he encounters his now dead fiancee and comes face to face again with life altering events in the past.

Woolfe also noted that Fox's development and international teams works closely with Sky's Los Angeles-based executives. This ensures that program development takes place with a view to international appeal. Mark Kaner, president of television distribution at 20th TV, who oversees international broadcast TV sales, pointed out that he and Marion Edwards, president of international TV distribution at 20th TV, now work closely with 20th TV presidents Gary Newman and Dana Walden to ensure that programming for the networks takes into account potential challenges that might arise with some shows in the international markets.

"You can't survive on domestic alone," said Kaner, pointing to the increased production values -- and costs -- of today's generation of broadcast TV programming. "We have been saying to our creative people for a long time, 'If you are creating something, don't just grab it from a newspaper headline that may be so insular as to be of no interest to anybody outside the U.S.,' " he added. Kaner emphasized that international concerns at the end of the day will not dictate what is ultimately developed for the domestic market -- but there is much more communication between the divisions than just a few years ago.

Brian Walsh, executive director of television and marketing at Australia's Foxtel, also was at the 20th TV screenings Monday. While echoing enthusiasm about "Journeyman," he said that he also felt the studio's "K-Ville" would play well to Australian audiences despite the fact that it is about surviving in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans. "But it has a real international aspect to it because it's about survival in the wake of a natural disaster, and that is a situation that ordinary people have faced in recent times and will continue to face around the world, including Australia."

Veteran buyer John Ranelagh, head of acquisitions at leading Scandinavian broadcaster TV2 Norway, was enthusiastic about "Cane" and "Viva Laughlin."

"They both scored great time slots," he said. " 'Viva,' the U.S. remake of the hit U.K. musical drama 'Viva Blackpool,' has been given the post-'60 Minutes' slot at 8 p.m. Sunday, and who could ask for better than that? And the Latin family-based drama 'Cane' is of special interest for our Norwegian viewers, given (that) it stars Jimmy Smits, who was one of the main reasons 'NYPD Blue' was such a huge hit for us a few years ago, so we can't wait to see and assess that one."

International TV veteran Richard Sattler, who represents numerous broadcasters at the Screenings, said he particularly liked "Chuck," which was created by Josh Schwartz ("The O.C.") and Chris Fedak. The action comedy follows a regular 26-year-old everyman whose life is thrown into disarray after his friend, a CIA agent, sends him an e-mail that results in the world's secrets becoming embedded in his mind.