Studios score high marks at L.A. Screenings


It was a banquet literally and figuratively at the Los Angeles Screenings for more than 1,500 TV buyers from around the world who had high praise for the quality and wide variety of new series on offer. As the screenings begin to wind down Friday after a week of parties, studio dinners and daytime screenings, the overall reaction from the foreign broadcasters to the studios was "thumbs-up."

For many buyers -- who spend upward of $5 billion annually on U.S. programs -- the Los Angeles Screenings is the first opportunity they have to view the pilots of series which only the week before had been scheduled for the new season by the networks.

"I think that there is tremendous variety this year, and there's no doubt that it's also the year of the woman as far as outstanding series are concerned," said Brian Walsh, executive director, television and marketing with Australia's Foxtel. "Glenn Close is very strong in 'Damages' and, of course, there's 'Cashmere Mafia,' both at Sony. He also praised Fox's "The Sarah Connor Chronicles."

Michael Murphy, founder and chief programming executive at Ireland's Channel 6 observed: "It's an interesting year in that every studio has a number of really good shows. Some of the shows I liked are Fox's new Kelsey Grammer comedy "Back to You." I also liked 'Lipstick Jungle' at Universal. It has very strong female appeal, based as it is upon the book by 'Sex and the City' author Candace Bushnell."

Murphy also underscored CBS Paramount's "Cane," starring Jimmy Smits, and "Californication," starring David Duchovny. Murphy and other buyers also pointed to the scheduling potential for Warner Bros. International Television's "Gossip Girl,' set around the party-heavy lifestyles of teenagers attending elite private schools in New York.

Also gaining considerable attention, according to international TV consultant Richard Sattler, was Warner Bros.' "Chuck," a drama about computer geek who is catapulted into a career as a special agent.

Various buyers, including Foxtel's Walsh, said they were particularly pleased with the number of non-U.S. actors starring in many of the high-profile shows, including Australian Hugh Jackman in "Viva Laughlin," the series from Sony that is based on the hit BBC property, "Viva Las Vegas." This series is also unusual in that it is a musical drama. The international casting this year "is a great trend because it really demonstrates how innovative television producers have become and also how important the international marketplace is to Hollywood" noted Walsh.

Michael Healy, director of programming for Australia's Nine Network, highlighted various new shows, including "Back to You," "Viva Laughlin" and "Cashmere Mafia" (in which two of the leads are Australian). "I also really liked 'Pushing Daisies' and 'Chuck' from Warner Bros. 'Pushing Daisies' (about a young man who has the power to bring dead things back to life and which has a romantic angle) will have strong female appeal and I think do well with younger females in particular. I think 'Big Shots,' (also from Warner Bros.,) will have strong female appeal and we'll be happy to have it on our schedule."

The series revolves around four high-powered CEOs who socialize in the same golf club. "But it's fair to say that there is quality across the board this year with very high production standards. You can see that more time and effort has been put into the productions, and overall it's been a really exciting week," added Healy.

Even Nine's competitors noted that the network had done well this year through its output deals with Warner Bros. and Sony. "NIne will be well-pleased because they have so many strong shows this year," said one. "They get a particularly strong slate with "Damages,' 'Cashmere Mafia' and 'Viva Laughlin',' among others from Sony and with 'Chuck' and 'Pushing Daisies" and the other shows from Warners. Nine now has some key properties,"

Several shows drew praise for the special-effects. "Disney's 'Reaper' drama definitely falls into this category, the special-effects they used in it were very good indeed I must say," noted TV2 Norway's John Ranelagh.

"And while it was somewhat darker in look and feel compared to the original hit it is reprising, 'The Bionic Woman' from NBC Universal also featured special effects well above our normal expectations for series dramas, and that is a trend at this market that we all agree is just great," commented Richard Sattler, head of Los Angeles-based programming consultancy RSP International.

Sattler added: "As the week draws to a close our vote for the most popular new drama on offer at the LA Screenings goes to (20th Century Fox's) 'Journeyman,' their new time-travel hour for NBC. Buyers are very much taken with the production quality of the pilot, but also its great time slot stateside as the lead-out to NBC's big hit "Heroes" at 10 p.m. Mondays this fall. Other Screenings favorites are Sony's two female skewing mid-season dramas "Cashmere Mafia' and "Canterbury's Law.' Others that our buyers liked are Disney's 'Dirty Sexy Money,' Warner Bros.' 'Chuck' and CBS Paramount's 'Cane' and "Californication.'

Keith LeGoy, executive vp distribution, Sony Pictures Television International, said: "Overall this week we have been humbled by the response from buyers to our whole portfolio of television properties. People have been raving about a number of shows, including 'Cashmere Mafia' and 'Viva Laughlin' which, when you think about it, represent the United Nations of casting." I would say overall this week we have been humbled by the response that we have had from buyers to our whole portfolio of TV."