Special Report: L.A. Screenings
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New primetime series major distributors are selling
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Will they fork out for the Warners actioner "Human Target" or Universal's apocalyptic thriller "Day One," be enticed by CBS Studios' whimsical spinoff "NCIS: Los Angeles," opt for a plot twister like Disney's murder-mystery "Happy Town" or choose an upbeat teen-targeted musical like Fox's "Glee"? And how much will they penny-pinch?
These are just some of the questions as foreign TV station program buyers descend on Hollywood studios for the annual L.A. Screenings ritual.
It's at this viewing marathon each year on the heels of the upfront presentations to U.S. advertisers that foreign TV station clients get their first look at the new primetime series that will air on U.S networks in the fall.
Although there are no official stats and everyone is coy about pricing, it's estimated that $1 billion in deals are agreed during the week -- and drama series are at the center of the dealmaking.
This go-round, 1,300 programmers from around the world hit town today and will conclude their business by next Friday -- a much fore-shortened ritual from the endless round of viewing sessions of just a few years ago.
What these buyers pick up can help shape or make a station's lineup back home. And all of these execs have different scheduling holes to fill -- and different size wallets.
"Some buyers are looking for escapism, some for edginess. Others want family fare, while a few want the latest out-there show," one Screenings attendee says. "What they all want is for the shows they pick to work well enough in the U.S. that they aren't canceled."
After last year's painfully thin U.S. TV development season, 20 primetime dramas from the six major studio suppliers are available as well as 11 half-hour sitcoms and several new reality formats. In addition, several shows for such key cable outlets as AMC ("Rubicon"), Turner ("Dark Blue") and Showtime ("Nurse Jackie") could draw interest.
For the most part, buyers from the biggest territories come to see what they'll be getting in their long-term supply deals with the studios, with some leeway as to how many series they must take. (Any series left over are then sold a la carte on the open market in each territory.)
Not that there isn't demand abroad for U.S. series: CBS Studios' "CSI" franchise, Warners' "Fringe," Disney's "Lost," Fox's "24" and Universal's "House" have buoyed skeds around the world -- and brought in record revenue to the Hollywood majors. Now buyers are bent on keeping the lid on prices.
Not only are times tougher now with ad revenue depleted in most territories but local shows also are generally a bigger draw for any station's primetime lineup.
As usual, Warner Bros. boasts the biggest hand, with seven new network dramas and two sitcoms. Among likely strong suits are two Jerry Bruckheimer newcomers, "Human Target" and "The Forgotten."
"Something for everyone" is how Warner Bros. International TV president Jeffrey Schlesinger describes the range of product he has on offer, from procedurals to the young-skewing "The Vampire Diaries."
While Schlesinger expects competitive bidding for top-tier shows, he admits that marginal product from each of the majors will probably sit on the sidelines until the fall season determines whether they catch on or get canceled stateside.
CBS Studios is also coming to the table with a highly playable hand, which might spark interest for its medical drama "Three Rivers" starring "Moonlight's" Alex O'Loughlin as well as its legal drama "The Good Wife."
The company's international president Armando Nunez professes to be equally high on "all his babies" -- but he thinks the spinoff of the "NCIS" franchise will "raise the temperature at the Screenings."
"The economic situation has impacted all of us," Nunez says. "But notwithstanding that, if I'm a programmer I have to program my network. And generally speaking it's much more cost-efficient to acquire content than to produce locally."