EmptyThe first irate calls and e-mails started coming into the station in Ireland just days after the new season lineup was announced. Channel 6 had something of a cult hit with "Blind Justice" in a late-night slot. The problem for the start-up independent station was that ABC in the U.S. had canceled the cop drama.
The station's founder and programming manager, Michael Murphy, had picked up the series in the hopes that he might have a primetime hit on his hands. But when it got canceled, he figured he could still run it in late-night — after all, he had 13 produced episodes to air.
"When shows that you have had high hopes for are canceled, you can still use them," Murphy says. "But you are not going to give them a high profile, certainly not the profile you would have given if you knew they were continuing in production."
So "Justice" served to fill a ghetto time period for its 13-episode run in Ireland. "Then something odd happened," Murphy says. "We got letters of complaint from a lot of viewers about why we were not running it for a second season."
Clearly this was a drama that would have taken off in what admittedly is a fairly small market for U.S. studios. But that same scenario seems to be repeated — albeit with minor plot changes — in TV markets throughout the world. The program bosses at Spain's Telecinco, for example, say they would have had a hit with "LAX" had it not been canceled. CTV in Canada had a similar situation with "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip."
"Quite a few of the many canceled U.S. series in fact went to 13 episodes, so we could put them somewhere on the schedule, maybe run them over the summer or in late-night," Murphy says.
This is not a new problem for international buyers. In fact, it always has been one of the elements of the business. But now some buyers say that they will hold off for much longer periods before committing to U.S. programming. They want to see ratings and know that the series will survive.
Whether this is realistic is another question. Programmers in highly competitive markets like the U.K. are hardly likely to sit around while a rival broadcaster picks off the next "Heroes" or "Desperate Housewives." With price tags of about $1.5 million per episode for top programs, it can certainly make an acquisition boss' life stressful.
But Murphy, who is gearing up for his annual trip to the Los Angeles Screenings this month, isn't so sure that the annual informal TV market will be as hot as previous years or that buyers will be jumping through hoops to compete with one another. The Screenings bring buyers from all over the world to view the pilots that have been picked up by the networks for the new season.
"I think it will be cooler this year, and people will be more cautious about jumping into these deals," Murphy says. "I am sure that the all the bigger markets will be more cautious because practically everything they bought last year failed. Everybody will want to wait and see what happens with the new shows in the autumn."