L.A. Screenings: Which New TV Shows Clicked With International Buyers

S.H.I.E.L.D Group Shot - H 2013

S.H.I.E.L.D Group Shot - H 2013

After a year of flops, there's optimism around the new class, including "SHIELD," "Hostages" and "The Blacklist": "Nothing to go crazy over, but a lot of great shows."

A version of this story first appeared in the June 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

In an era of splintering audiences, U.S. studio owners should be pleased to know foreign TV buyers like their new crop of shows.

THR spoke with a dozen of the record 1,500 buyers who descended on Hollywood in late May for the L.A. Screenings, and most say they were pleased with what they saw.

Last year's Screenings were a washout, with few big deals and what turned out to be a string of fall-season flops, but this time buyers opened their not-inconsiderable checkbooks.

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This is important because the Screenings are big business. Foreign licensing revenue is worth an estimated $8 billion annually, the bulk of which, around 80 percent, ends up with the six major studios: Warner Bros., Disney, Fox, CBS, NBCUniversal and Sony. With big question marks hanging over the rapidly shifting domestic market, U.S. broadcasters need their foreign friends more than ever. Foreign interest also is a good barometer for U.S. performance. Last year's crop of comedies failed to raise a smile with international buyers and American audiences agreed, leading to a string of midseason cancellations.

So the positive buzz coming out of this year's Screenings is good news all-round.

"It was a good year, definitely, there were something like 50 new pilots, you can see the networks are restocking," said Rudiger Boss, head of acquisitions at German broadcasting giant ProSiebenSat.1. "There were no absolute must-haves, nothing to go crazy over, but a lot of great shows, both drama and comedy."

On the drama side, Boss singles out CBS' Hostages, a new high-octane actioner from executive producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and The Blacklist, NBC's James Spader procedural from Sony TV, as the picks of the pack. The hottest new comedies include the CBS shows Mom, from Chuck Lorre and Warner Bros., and Friends With Better Lives, as well as Fox's Surviving Jack. Internationally, Bruckheimer and Lorre already have proven track records.

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The CSI franchise, produced by Bruckheimer, is the most successful TV drama franchise worldwide, and Lorre has proved U.S. comedy can indeed travel with his international hits Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory.

Joss Whedon's Avengers spinoff Agents of SHIELD drew enthusiastic applause from buyers at ABC's screening.

"The production value is fantastic, The Avengers was huge worldwide and Whedon is doing the show. I can't see how it can't be a hit," says Jan Tibursky, who buys U.S. series for Swiss and German commercial channels.

The return of the event miniseries (CBS' Stephen King-penned Under the Dome and two Fox shows, M. Night Shyamalan's Matt Dillon starrer Wayward Pines and 24: Live Another Day) had European buyers salivating.

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ProSieben already has picked up Under the Dome for a German bow later this year. The miniseries never went out of fashion in Europe, but with the decline of the format stateside, homegrown shows have taken over those slots. If there was a downside for buyers at this year's L.A. Screenings, it was the shrinking of series orders.

"Instead of getting 26 or 22 episodes (a season) now it's often 15 or 13," says Boss. "And many of the shows are high-concept serials with a single story arc, which makes it more challenging to program. We have to do a lot more repeats, catch-up broadcasts, that sort of thing, to help our audience keep up."

"If you only have 13 episodes it is much more difficult to build that relationship with the fans," agrees Maurice Hols, senior VP of Comedy & Entertainment of North Europe for Viacom International Media Networks. Still, Hols picked up Mom and Surviving Jack for Comedy Central in Poland and Fox's Brooklyn Nine-Nine and NBC's About a Boy for Comedy Central channels in the Netherlands.

"Because most of our schedules are based on horizontal stripping (i.e. running a show in the same slot five days a week) it's very important that a show runs for several seasons." But after seeing this year's lineup, Hols, like most global buyers, is optimistic.

"There wasn't anything mind-blowing, truly groundbreaking," he says "but overall it was decent, with a lot of shows with the potential for a second season."