Warner Bros. unveils slate to foreign buyers

'Undercovers' praised during first full day of L.A. Screenings

A pair of fast-moving, slick-looking dramas with kick-ass female stars appeared to wow a substantial number of foreign TV buyers on the Warners lot Monday as the studio unveiled most of its fall primetime series to the international market.

Some 1,250 program buyers are in town this week to assess the new series on offer from all the major Hollywood studios. Warners is responsible for almost one-third of the new series airing on the various broadcast nets and on cable this coming season.

A random sampling of buyers who sat through the morning viewing session gave high marks to the new J.J. Abrams series "Undercovers," about a married pair of ex-spies turned restaurant caterers, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Boris Kodjoe, who are called back into active duty, and by the latest iteration of the femme Nikita saga, which centers on Hong Kong movie star Maggie Q as the assassin turned rogue, who is now bent on getting even with the mysterious organization that used to "run" her.

Buyers repping territories as diverse as Ecuador, Hungary, East Africa, Germany, Finland and Mexico variously rated those two series as likely "to travel well and gain a big following abroad," as the Finnish buyer put it.

"I particularly liked that the women are so strong, beautiful too, but very together," a German buyer added.

Another buyer from Europe pointed out that Warners this go-round has combined action and sexiness, and the two seemed to go together well. "Now their job is to make sure the combo holds up throughout the series, not just in the pilots," he added. (In past years, shows like "The Fugitive," "Tarzan" and "The Fast and the Furious" looked great as pilots but were axed early on in their network runs.)

In some cases, buyers who spoke to THR have ongoing deals with Warner Bros. and will in any case be obligated to choose a substantial number of offerings from the studio for their schedules back home. Only a few shows will likely be left on the open market for other buyers in each territory to consider.

It being the first official full day of the L.A. Screenings, few buyers were willing to go on the record as to their intentions as they have not yet seen the shows from other studios; nor do they like to give up concrete information that could be useful for their own local competitors.

Reps from one of Europe's most powerful station groups, ProSiebenSat.1, did comment on what the general predilection of audiences on the continent is right now: "Accessible" is the key word, said one of the group's key execs, Jan Frouman. "Nothing too complicated, strong characters and a story that can be followed."

Some 500 executives from abroad came for the first day's screening marathon at the Burbank backlot, including reps from the U.K.'s Sky and Channel 5, Italy's RAI, France's TF1, Australia's Nine and Germany's ProSieben. Monday was actually dedicated "Latin Day" at WBITV, with a major turnout of clients from that continent, including Mexico's Televisa and Brazil' s SBT.

In remarks to the participants, Warner Bros. International TV president Jeffrey Schlesinger pointed out that this fall should be one of the studio's strongest ever, with 11 new and 14 returning series on the broadcast nets, plus two new and nine returning shows on cable. He also pointed to strong performances overseas of some of the studio's stalwarts, including "The Mentalist," which ranks as the No. 1 American show in France and the U.K., and the Chuck Lorre comedy "Two and a Half Men," which does similarly strong numbers in Canada, Australia and even Germany.

For his part, Warner Bros. TV president Peter Roth put the accent on the stable of top producers which have all come up with new shows for the fall.

"For 11 years now, we have dedicated ourselves toward achieving the highest imaginable level of quality execution. We've done so by investing in, and having as part of our roster, such 'A'-level, tentpole creators and showrunners as J.J. Abrams, Chuck Lorre, David E. Kelley, Jerry Bruckheimer, Max Mutchnick and David Kohan, John Wells and more."

Both Schlesinger and Roth also stressed that, despite its size, Warner Bros. is actually "one of the few remaining independent production companies." In other words, they argued, their shows have to be better than those of the sister production entities of each of the networks in order to get a pickup.

"At Warner Bros., we have the distinct advantage to be able to bring our shows wherever they are most well-positioned, without regard for vertical integration or corporate imposition," Roth said. "Our producers know that our sole agenda is to support their vision with the best opportunities -- to be able to bring the right idea to the right network, targeted specifically toward the best time period availabilities."

That strategy, he added, those producers and this freedom, have resulted in "one of our best, most exciting, most opportunistic series slates in years."

Asked by a buyer whether he thought Abrams could continue with the foreign locales to enhance "Undercovers," Roth said he expected the series to involve such exotic scenery in every episode. "Believe it or not, it's all done by CGI," he said. "And there'll be story lines that go with those locales. The look will remain what you saw this morning."

Buyers will wrap up their visits to various studios by Friday. Many will return home before signing off on their shopping lists. It is reckoned, though not confirmed, that Warner Bros., as the largest supplier to the foreign market, rakes in upwards of $2 billion a year from its license fees to foreign free and pay TV outlets.
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