L.A. Screenings look lean

Paucity of pilots has studios considering follow-up events around world

Get set for L.A. Screenings: Part Deux. m So sparse are TV pilots for the annual influx of foreign program buyers this week that the studios are mulling the idea of organizing special screening events around the world in the summer when they will have full pilots to showcase for clients.

Because of the WGA strike, pilots are available for only a fraction of the shows being pitched to foreign buyers at the L.A. Screenings. And it's unlikely that international program acquisitions executives will write checks for buzz.

With U.S. programming exports worth a hefty $7.2 billion last year, studio executives are determined to put their best foot forward in the summer, when full pilots will be delivered. "What are we going to do, put the pilot in the mail?" one executive said.

Ben Pyne, president of global distribution at Disney-ABC Worldwide Television and Disney Media Networks, said that he is talking with his team about post-L.A. Screenings events for buyers.

"Our final approach is not set in stone, but once we have a greater number of pilots and know the lay of the land, then we plan to find a way to showcase them and screen them for clients in key local territories."

"People are coming in from all over the world, and we are showing them perhaps 10 minutes (of a presentation)," said Marion Edwards, president of international television at 20th Century Fox TV Distribution. "The fact is that nobody really knows if buyers will be willing to make decisions.

"I think our clients' response will dictate what happens," she added. "If everybody says, 'Come back and see us when you have full product,' we may well do something else in the summer or fall."

Some studios also are talking about hiring extra banks of screening rooms at MIPCOM in October as an additional fail-safe arrangement.

"A lot will depend on the timing," Pyne added. "Regional showcases are one way, but clearly MIPCOM is another very important venue. Between now and midsummer we will make a determination."

Addressing the likelihood that the decision-making process at the L.A. Screenings is likely to be a time-delay situation, CBS Paramount Television International president Armando Nunez said: "Ultimately, we are going to get to where we need to get to. It might be that the process will be slowed down and people may want to wait until we have more to show. It all really depends on how competitive the market is."

But the L.A. Screenings remain a must-attend, said Jay Kandola, head of acquisitions at ITV. "It's an opportunity to see whether the new shows coming up are going to be more conservative or high-concept (and) whether people are even prepared to be risky or high-concept given the strike and the curtailed development season."

The L.A. Screenings run Thursday through May 23.

Scott Roxborough in Cologne, Germany, and Mimi Turner in London contributed to this report.