MIPCOM: CBS' David Stapf Talks Big Swing Summer Dramas

Under the Dome Extant - H 2014

Under the Dome Extant - H 2014

'Under the Dome,' 'Extant' and 'Zoo' in 2015 signal a rise in event programming

The time when summer TV meant only repeats and reality fare are over, CBS toppers David Stapf and Armando Nunez told a MIPCOM keynote audience on Tuesday.

The U.S. network execs talked about their recent hot summer streak with pricey dramas like Under the Dome, Extant and next year's Zoo. Each is backed by innovative financing models with exclusive streaming deals and internationals sales.

Nunez, president and CEO of the CBS Global Distribution Group, recalled seeing early Under the Dome scripts and thinking the series was just another project the network had in development. Then Stapf, president CBS Television Studios, told him it was an event series destined for the summer schedule.

Debuting quality dramas with shorter 13-episode runs wasn't something Nunez relished selling to international broadcasters. "The challenge for us was explaining to our client base that we're going to do a big budget event series over the summer. U.S. broadcasters typically don't put their best content on in the summer," Nunez explained.

Read more 'Under the Dome' TV Review

In part because the success for repeating dramas like the CSI and NCIS franchises had left fewer holes on the CBS schedule to debut new shows, Under the Dome was initially positioned for a summer release.

"For us, it was too good a project not to do. Yet it was serialized, it was expensive. It didn't necessarily fit in the normal, which isn't normal anymore, summer season. Yet we had to do it," Stapf recalled.

Faced with the challenge of where to put Under the Dome and how to pay for it, Stapf said he turned to CBS chairman Nina Tassler to find a slot and Nunez to finance the series. "I was lucky I had good partners to figure it out," he said.

The first season of Under the Dome debuted well on CBS. But it also successfully transitioned to Amazon Prime as part of a streaming distribution pact with the digital player, and secured additional international sales.

"It's rare that you have success across the board. But most broadcasters around the world were incredibly successful with the first year of Under the Dome," Nunez said.

Suddenly, CBS had a business model for its pricey, serialized big event summer series: debut on CBS, secure an in-season second window on a digital platform and rich international broadcast deals.

Read more CBS Inks Rich Netflix Deal for James Patterson Drama 'Zoo'

Under the Dome repeated a second season this summer, when CBS Television Studios' and Amblin Television's Extant, starring Halle Berry, also debuted. Episodes of Extant also follow Under the Dome in streaming exclusively for Amazon Prime subscribers four days after their air date. CBS added the drama Zoo, adapted from the James Patterson thriller novel of the same name, for the network's 2015 summer lineup. All three series, Extant, Under the Dome and Zoo are straight-to-series orders with strong creative and marketable stars.

Despite those advantages, Nunez points to challenges selling international broadcasters on a 13-episode story arc. "Generally, broadcasters prefer 22-episode orders so they can sink their teeth into the marketing and promotion and play out during a longer period of time during the year," he said.

Stapf and Nunez are looking for their summer hot streak at CBS to continue next year with Zoo, which already has a rich streaming deal with Netflix. "Zoo is based on the Patterson book that posits the question, 'What if animals around the world could communicate with each other,?'" Stapf told the MIPCOM audience.

"In this case, they can and they're pissed. They're angry," he continued. The result is waves of violent attacks by animals on humans around the world.