U.K. b'casters cautious after L.A. Screenings

Richard Woolfe says Five taking wait-and-see approach

LONDON -- U.K. broadcasters are taking a "wait-and-see" approach to buying U.S. fare post the recent L.A. Screenings, Five programming head Richard Woolfe said Wednesday, warning that past cancellations and the absence of many standout shows meant that buyers were exercising caution.

The former Sky One head, who was wooed to Five as head of programming by chief executive Dawn Airey last year, is responsible for commissioning, scheduling and strategy at the RTL-owned channel that boasts such fare as the "CSI" franchise, "The Mentalist" and "NCIS."

"I saw over 65 shows at the L.A. Screenings, and there was not a great deal of quality in evidence," he said, speaking at a lunch hosted by the Broadcasting Press Guild.

"One of the things we (buyers) can do is wait and see," he said, pointing out that following the cancellation of Five's 2009 big buy "FlashForward," he was keen to scope out much more than just the pilot.

"We're very interested in talking to producers about story arcs, about scripts, about how characters develop. I want to know what happens in episode 17. I'm not the only broadcaster asking that question."

Woolfe acknowledged that Five had been outbid for CBS Studios International's remake of "Hawaii Five-0," which was picked up by Virgin Media's Bravo this week. But he said that such U.S. fare as "The Mentalist" was "doing gangbusters" for Five and hinted at an announcement of a renewal deal with Warner Bros. for the show.

"We've got money to spend, it's business as usual."

Woolfe declined comment on reports that John de Mol and Greek broadcaster Antenna are among possible bidders for cash-strapped, Five which Pan-European broadcaster RTL has put up for sale, saying he had nothing to say on "the elephant in the room" issue of Five's ownership.

Woolfe said he aimed to "put the fun" back into the terrestrial channel and ramp up its line-up of domestic entertainment shows.

Upcoming this summer is feelgood singing and dancing talent show "Don't Stop Believing," and "The Restaurant Inspector" in which Fernando Peire of London's celebrity glamour spot the Ivy, mentors struggling restaurants.