Overseas buyers still optimistic about L.A. Screenings


The first trick will be to hold a Los Angeles Screenings with not much more than a handful of TV pilots to screen.

The next trick will be to convince international buyers to shell out millions of dollars for the sizzle but not the sight of the next generation of possible U.S. megahits.

Yet the studio execs whose job it is to pull off this stunt in the pilot-starved aftermath of the WGA strike are professing quiet optimism as the screenings kick off this week.

The fact is, there will be pilots eventually, and sooner or later, buyers will step up to pitch their money into the hefty $7 billion-plus pot that exported U.S. TV shows earned in 2007.

But at the same time, buyers say they're determined not to be pushed into acquisitions decisions without first seeing what they're buying. So unless there's serious buzz around a new show, such as CBS Paramount's "Beverly Hills, 90210" reincarnation or, from Warner Bros., Jerry Bruckheimer's "Eleventh Hour" and J.J. Abram's "Fringe," the screenings will be decidedly low-key this year.

Typically, program acquisitions execs from around the world descend on Hollywood immediately after the network upfronts for studio lot parties, dinners, and -- most important -- daylong sessions of screenings, note-taking and sometimes bidding on the latest potential hits. This time around, studios will most likely hold individual follow-up events in local territories later in the summer, when full pilots are available. The strong message from buyers is that they want to see what they're buying before writing checks.

Germany, for instance, has been one of the most voracious consumers of U.S. TV series in the past few years. But top Teutonic buyers are expecting leaner fare at this year's event.

Leading commercial network RTL has trimmed its screenings acquisitions team to just four, about half of what the channel sent in 2007.

"For us, and I think for most of the international buyers, it's a riskier proposition committing just on the basis of a script or an idea," says RTL acquisitions head Dirk Schweitzer. "We can afford to take our time and wait till there's a bit more to see, a pilot at least."

Spain is another big buyer of U.S. product. La Sexta and Cuatro, two nationwide general channels incorporated in 2006, have bet heavily on American series in their programming and routinely go head-to-head looking for the next great American hit.

"It's a problem to have so few episodes of each series this year," says Sergio Ramos, head of international acquisitions for La Sexta. Ramos also expects to sign off on deals later in the summer or fall.

The U.K.'s influential Jay Kandola, head of acquisitions at ITV, points to another element of concern for buyers.

"This year is going to be a really difficult year for the studios -- they need to bag a certain amount of revenue from the screenings," he says, "which is now, in many cases, part of the production financing. But international buyers aren't going to commit tons of money to shows until you've got a better sense of where they're going to fit, how much commitment there is in terms of marketing and scheduling.

"I do feel a bit nervous about committing a lot of money when I'm not quite sure how that show is going to be handled by the network," Kandola continues. "That hasn't really been communicated. The studios have communicated to us about the shows, but the networks haven't. It's hard to buy when you know that the network is a bit at sea."

Nor are the international heads at the studios looking to play down the less-than-buoyant mood this year. "Quietly optimistic" is how Belinda Menendez, president of NBC Universal International TV Distribution, describes the mood of her team going into the screenings. "We have a great slate of returning shows and powerful franchises ("Heroes," "Law & Order, "House"), and we're confident that they will continue driving our business." She describes the lack of pilots for new shows this year as a challenge.

Adds Armando Nunez, president of CBS Paramount TV International: "I believe the market continues to be robust and vibrant, though it's a little unique this year." He agrees that the "decision-making process" may be "slowed down" a little this year, but says the reality is that U.S. programming remains immensely popular abroad. "Ultimately, we're going to get to where we need to get to."

Also looking ahead to late summer or fall is Marion Edwards, president of international television at 20th Century Fox TV Distribution. "We'll talk to our clients and rethink things after the screenings. We've always had pilots with the occasional one-off presentation. The question is, Do we come together again some other time when we have full pilots?"

But she agrees with Nunez that expensive, blue-chip American programming isn't falling off anybody's roster in the overseas markets anytime soon.

"The French market is still competitive as far as American series are concerned," affirms Tania Khali, France Television's head of acquisitions.

In fact, France's main networks are paying more and more for U.S. series: one-hour dramas now sell for 200,000 euros-500,000 euros ($310,000-$770,000) per episode.

While Gallic network executives aren't expecting a surfeit of product at the L.A. Screenings, now that the strike is over, competitive bidding for select series may not be out of the question.

"We're not expecting much at the L.A. Screenings after a long writers strike, but there are always surprises," Khali says.

Canal Plus head of cinema Manuel Alduy agrees, adding that despite a dearth of finished pilots in May, "we expect more series to come later in the year."

Ben Pyne and his team at Disney-ABC International TV, for one, will be doing just that. Pyne, president of global distribution, confirms that they will, indeed, be laying on special screenings and events in local territories later in the summer, when they have full pilots to show.

But don't dismiss an underlying value of the screenings, cautions Gary Marenzi, co-president of MGM Worldwide Television. "The screenings have taken on a life of their own. They remain the starting gun for new series. In this year's case, we're going to see a lot of presentations, but it's a very good time for people to come out to Los Angeles and see the studios where we (work), and talk to some of the key executives who don't always get a chance to travel to the markets."

Scott Roxborough in Cologne, Rebecca Leffler in Paris and Pamela Rolfe in Madrid contributed to this report.

Click the next page to see the shows offered at this year's L.A. Screenings.

Network shows offered at this year's  L.A. Screenings

CBS Paramount International TV
Screening Dates: Through Thursday
Location: Paramount Pictures Studios,
5555 Melrose Ave., Hollywood
Buyers Contacts: Armando Nunez Jr.,
Joe Lucas, Barry Chamberlain
Phone: 323-956-5000

Harper's Island* (Hour drama)
A group of friends are terrorized as they prepare for a wedding on a secluded island off the Seattle coast. Executive producers: Jon Turteltaub, Ari Schlossberg. Produced by CBS Paramount Network Television.

90210 (Hour drama)
Three generations of a Kansas family move to Beverly Hills in this updated version of "Beverly Hills, 90210." Shenae Grimes, Tristan Wilds, Lori Loughlin, Jessica Walter, AnnaLynne McCord, Dustin Milligan, Michael Steger, Jessica Stroup, Ryan Eggold and Jennie Garth star. Executive producers: Gabe Sachs, Jeff Judah.
Produced by CBS Paramount Network Television.

Worst Week (Half-hour comedy)
This multigenerational comedy centers on a young couple who are juggling wedding plans and their crazy families. Kyle Bornheimer and Erinn Hayes star. Executive producers: Matt Tarses, Jimmy Mulville. Produced by Universal Media Studios and CBS Paramount International TV

International Television
Screening Dates: Through Friday
Location: Walt Disney Studios,
500 S. Buena Vista St., Burbank
Buyers Contact: John Hezlop
Phone: 818-460-7978

Project Gary (Half-hour comedy)
A painting contractor and his controlling ex-wife share custody of their two children. Jay Mohr and Paula Marshall star. Executive producers: Ed Yeager, Ric Swartzlander. Produced by ABC Studios and CBS Paramount Network Television.

NBC Universal International
Television Distribution
Screening Dates: Through Friday
Location: Universal Studios,
100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City
Buyers Contact: Belinda Menendez
Phone: 818-777-1300

Kath & Kim (Half-hour comedy)
A dysfunctional mother-and-daughter duo must deal with each others' idiosyncrasies when the adult daughter moves home. Molly Shannon, Selma Blair, John Michael Higgins and Mikey Day star. Executive producers: Michelle Nader, Paul Feig, Wil Calhoun, Mark Koops, Howard Owens, Gina Riley, Jane Turner, Rick McKenna. Produced by Universal Media
Studios and Reveille.

Kings (Hour drama)
A young soldier who rescues the king's son from enemy territory becomes a reluctant poster boy for hope in their modern, war-torn metropolis. Ian McShane, Christopher Egan, Sebastian Stan, Allison Miller, Susanna Thompson, Wes Studi and Sarita Choudhury star. Executive producers: Michael Green, Francis Lawrence, Erwin Stoff. Produced by Universal Media Studios.

Knight Rider (Hour drama)

The crime-fighting KITT car returns better than ever, equipped with artificial intelligence, a supercomputer capable of hacking almost any system, and nanotechnology that allows it to change shape and color. Justin Bruening, Deanna Russo, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Bruce Davison and Val Kilmer star. Executive producers: David Bartis, Doug Liman, Gary Scott Thompson. Produced by Universal Media Studios and Dutch Oven Prods.

My Own Worst Enemy (Hour drama)
A middle-class efficiency expert living life in the
suburbs is programed to be unaware of his other persona -- an operative who speaks 13 languages, runs a four-minute mile and is trained to kill with his bare hands. Christian Slater and Mike O'Malley star. Executive producers: Jason Smilovic, David Semel. Produced by Universal Media Studios.

The Office Spinoff (Half-hour comedy)
The title says it all. A spinoff of the successful NBC
sitcom. Executive producer: Greg Daniels. Produced by Universal Media Studios and ShineReveille.

The Philanthropist (Hour drama)
A renegade billionaire uses his wealth, connections and power to help people in need, becoming the world's first vigilante philanthropist. Executive
producer: Charlie Corwin. Produced by Universal
Media Studios and Original Media.

Virtuality* (Hour drama)
Twelve astronauts, sent on a 10-year journey to find a distant solar system, pass the time by hooking up to advanced virtual reality modules that allow them to explore self-created worlds. Executive producers: Michael Taylor, Ron Moore, Gail Berman, Lloyd
Braun. Produced by Universal Media Studios and BermanBraun.

Sony Pictures
Television International
Screening Dates: Through Friday
Location: Sony Pictures Studios,
10202 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City
Buyers Contact: Keith LeGoy
Phone: 310-244-3977

Sit Down, Shut Up**
(Animated half-hour comedy)
Eight staff members at a high school in a small
Northeastern fishing town have better things to do than serve the needs of their students. Will Arnett, Maria Bamford, Jason Bateman, Will Forte, Tom Kenny, Nick Kroll, Cheri Oteri, Kenan Thompson and Henry Winkler star. Executive producers: Mitchell
Hurwitz, Kim Tannenbaum, Eric Tannenbaum, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein. Produced by Sony Pictures Television, 20th Century Fox Television, Granada America and Tantamount.

20th Century Fox
Television Distribution
Screening Dates: Through Friday
Location: 20th Century Fox Studios,
10201 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles
Buyers Contact: Marion Edwards
Phone: 310-369-1000

The Cleveland Show**
(Animated half-hour comedy)
A man and his son move to Virginia so he can marry the girl he loved in high school. Mike Henry stars.
Executive producers: Seth MacFarlane, Rich Appel, Mike Henry. Produced by 20th Century Fox

Dollhouse* (Hour drama)
Members of a highly illegal and underground group carry out assignments that cater to the wealthy, powerful and connected. When the assignments are complete, their memories and personalities are wiped clean so they can be imprinted with any
number of new personas for subsequent assignments. Eliza Dushku, Olivia Williams, Tahmoh Penikett, Fran Kranz, Dichen Lachman, Enver Gjokaj and Harry Lennix star. Executive producer: Joss
Whedon. Produced by 20th Century Fox Television and Mutant Enemy.

Do Not Disturb (Half-hour comedy)
A workplace comedy that takes place at the Inn,
one of New York City's hottest and hippest hotels.
Jerry O'Connell, Niecy Nash, Molly Stanton, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Brando Eaton and Jolene Purdy star.
Executive producers: Abraham Higginbotham,
Howard Owens, Carolyn Bernstein, Paul Young, Peter Principato, Brian Dobbins. Produced by 20th Century Fox Television, Reveille and Principato-Young.

The Ex List (Hour drama)
A woman is told by a tarot card reader that she needs to marry a man she has already encountered in her life. Elizabeth Reaser stars. Executive producers: Diane Ruggiero, Jonathan Levin. Produced by 20th Century Fox Television.

Life on Mars (Hour drama)
After being involved in a car crash, a cop finds himself transported back to 1973. Jason O'Mara, Rachelle Lefevre, Colm Meaney, Stephanie Jacobsen,
Lenny Clarke, Patrick Wenk-Wolff and Richard
Benjamin star. Executive producers: Josh Applebaum, Andre Nemec, Scott Rosenberg, Jane Featherstone, Stephen Garrett, David E. Kelley. Produced by 20th Century Fox Television and ABC Studios.

Warner Bros.
International Television
Screening Dates: Through Friday
Location: Warner Bros. Studios,
Steven J. Ross Theater,
4000 Warner Blvd., Burbank
Buyers Contact: Jeffrey R. Schlesinger
Phone: 818-954-6000

Eleventh Hour (Hour drama)
A brilliant biophysicist is recruited by the government to investigate a rapidly growing number of crimes and crises of a scientific nature. Rufus Sewell and Marley Shelton star. Executive producers: Jerry Bruckheimer, Jonathan Littman, Danny Cannon, Cyrus Voris, Ethan Reiff, Mick Davis, Paul Buccieri. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer Television and
Granada International Media in association with Warner Bros. Television.

Fringe (Hour drama)
An FBI special agent needs the help of an institutionalized scientist to investigate the grisly deaths of all the passengers on an international flight landing at Boston's Logan Airport. Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, John Noble, Lance Reddick, Kirk Acevedo, Mark Valley, Blair Brown and Jasika Nicole star.
Executive producers: J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Bryan Burk, Alex Graves, Jeff Pinkner.
Produced by Bad Robot Prods. in association with Warner Bros. Television.

The Mentalist (Hour drama)
A well-known former television psychic uses his
abilities as a mentalist to help the California Bureau of Investigation solve crimes. Simon Baker, Robin
Tunney, Owain Yeoman, Amanda Righetti and Tim Kang star. Executive producers: David Nutter, Bruno Heller. Produced by Warner Bros. Television.

Surviving the Filthy Rich (Hour drama)
A young former tabloid journalist tutors two 16-year-old twin billionaire sisters. JoAnna Garcia, Michael Cassidy, Lucy Kate Hale, Ashley Newbrough and
Marsha Mason star. Executive producers: Rina Mimoun, Bob Levy, Leslie Morgenstein. Produced
by Alloy Entertainment in association with Warner Bros. Television and CBS Paramount Network

* Midseason
** Spring