Warner Bros. opens up scripted formats in Russia

WBITV forges deals for sitcoms

Russia is out to find its own Brooke Shields to star in a new, local-language version of the Warner Bros. sitcom "Suddenly Susan."

The Russian incarnation of the 1996-2000 series, which starred Shields in the title role, is part of a big move by Warner Bros. International Television into the scripted format business that was unveiled Monday ahead of MIPCOM next week in Cannes.

As Warners gets set to unveil classic and contemporary TV series earmarked for formatting at the international television market, which begins Monday, WBITV president Jeffrey Schlesinger announced Russian versions of "Perfect Strangers," "Step by Step" and "Full House" in addition to "Susan."

Additionally, WBITV has renewed the format pact for another season of "The Bachelor" in Slovakia and has signed a new deal for a version of the show in the Czech Republic -- while actively marketing the production rights to other reality and scripted series in its library. Denis Leroy, vp format licensing and production, is leading the initiative.

Leroy described the format business as a "win-win" for all involved. "We are witnessing a great number of countries throughout Europe, and I include Eastern Europe in that, where there is a need for half-hours and hours for primetime programming -- while at the same time there is a need for domestic product with local stories, local actors and clearly identifiable characters."

The way to respond to that market demand is with local versions of shows with universal story lines that have already proven to be hit formulas and with 50 or 60 scripts available for adaptation, he said. In most cases, the shows' titles have already become international brand names in their original U.S. versions, he added.

While other U.S. entities, most notably Sony Pictures Television International, have successfully ventured into the format business, Monday's announcement heralded a significant expansion of Warner Bros.' operations in the burgeoning sector.

In fact, WBITV has been working quietly with international broadcasters on local versions of several reality shows, including "Bachelor," for some time. Other reality titles being formatted include "High School Reunion," "Crossroads" and international editions of magazine show "Extra." Additionally, WBITV is actively working with Warner Horizon Television to identify additional entertainment concepts and reality format opportunities for international production, according to Monday's announcement from Schlesinger.

"We learned a lot from the (reality) experience, and we started looking further and trying to see where we could expand this experience by looking into the library of our classic successes," Leroy said in an interview.

According to Monday's an-nouncement, "Susan" is being produced in conjunction with a Russian broadcaster. CTC has committed to producing 40 episodes of the series. Preproduction recently began, and casting is under way.

WBITV also is about to begin production on both "Step by Step" and "Full House." CTC has committed to 40 episodes of "Step by Step" and 20 episodes of "Full House."

For "Perfect Strangers," WBITV has partnered with production company AMEDIA to produce 50 episodes of the comedy, the first episode of which debuted a week ago on Ren TV in Russia. In the Russian version, mismatched roommates Larry and Balki have become Ivan (Artem Semakin) and Andrei (Anton Eldarov). Andrei arrives from his remote ex-Soviet republic and moves straight into the flat of his Moscow cousin, Ivan, where cultures clash between the two dissimilar characters.