Which new U.S. shows will be hot overseas?

Hollywood set to tout programs to int'l buyers at MIPCOM

More MIPCOM coverage

CANNES -- How hungry the international market is for Hollywood fare -- and how much bobbing and weaving it must do in response to cancellations and downgrades in the U.S. -- becomes apparent today as 12,500 attendees flock to MIPCOM, the Riviera rendezvous where shows and formats from around the world are bought and sold.

The annual confab, which runs through Friday, arguably is the most important date on the small-screen calendar outside the U.S., and the money Hollywood heavyweights pocket from sales abroad arguably never has been as crucial for buttressing those fraught bottom lines back home.

Plus, a lot has been spent on original content by the U.S. networks, including the once penny-pinching NBC and those once-cautious cablers that used to rely on reruns. A big part of the broadcast nets' deficits now have to be made up in "foreign," as veterans still call the international program sales business.

So how enthusiastic is the taste for Hollywood product these days?

"I believe it's still incredibly strong," said Sony Pictures TV distribution president Keith LeGoy, who will lead that major's team at the sales bazaar. "Major broadcasters abroad can air a U.S. series in primetime for a fraction of the cost of producing one locally. Plus, they get the security of knowing that these shows have excellent production value, strong marketing support from L.A. and a lot of world-class stars in them."

(Among LeGoy's top draws at the moment are Showtime's "The Big C," starring Laura Linney, and the network comedies "Mr. Sunshine," starring Matthew Perry, and "Mad Love," starring Jason Biggs.)

The Tinseltown contingent also arrives on the Croisette with its first batch of ratings from the fall season, and the studios' international honchos must do some fast talking to reassure overseas clients that at least a few of the costly new dramas will be massaged into bona fide hits. Top foreign buyers already have spoken for many of the newcomer series through ongoing volume deals, so they'll be on the hunt for possible replacements if they get a sense that something high-profile they've bought will fail stateside before it gets to 13 episodes.

So far in the U.S., it is new half-hour comedies that are showing decent numbers, and dramas are having a harder time catching on. That's bad news abroad; it is America's glitzy dramas that foreign buyers go for and that bring in the big bucks to the Hollywood studios -- the opposite of what happens domestically in syndication, where sitcoms are the money-spinners.

Fox's touted "Lone Star" and Disney's "My Generation" are the season's first casualties so big buyers in Europe either will fall back with another Fox or Disney show, respectively, in their deals or look for an alternative program from someone else.

Warner Bros. can breathe a sigh of relief over the debut of its sexy "Nikita" on the CW, but it will have to hold its breath to see whether one of its other big-ticket items, NBC's "Undercovers," catches fire. It was producer Dick Wolf's latest installment in the "Law & Order" franchise, this one set in Los Angeles, that recently bested in the ratings the Warners hour about two caterers who moonlight as spies.

One foreign buyer said Sunday he was surprised to learn that the sexy "Undercovers" was outrated by the cerebral "L&O: LA." In any case, he continued, "we do look closely at the American ratings so we can be prepared to make some changes to our own lineup if our audience reacts the same way."

CBS' schedule in the U.S. is holding up the best so far, which bodes well for the network's international unit under Armando Nunez, who said he hopes to build on the success of such foreign stalwarts as the "CSI" and "NCIS" franchises with newcomers led by "Hawaii Five-0." The revamp of the classic hour drama got off to a solid start, winning its time period in both airings so far.

In fact, it is sophomores -- think Fox's "Glee" and "Modern Family" and CBS' "The Good Wife" and "NCIS: LA" -- that are besting the performance of many of the two-dozen newcomers to the broadcast schedules to date.

Still, there is plenty of good news to brighten the mood in Cannes, most reassuringly signs that the overall global economy is picking up. That means more advertising dollars for foreign broadcasters, and hence, heftier program-acquisition budgets.

"I think the market is going to be really solid," said MGM distribution co-president Gary Marenzi, a veteran who has managed to keep mining the Lion's vast catalog despite the company's debt problems. He noted that two problematic markets, Spain and Russia, are "climbing back into the game," and that management changes at several U.K. broadcasters are solidifying.

But given the worldwide explosion of media players and digital-delivery systems, MIPCOM nowadays is about much more than primetime series on the U.S. networks.

Companies from around the globe are bringing their own finished content and program concepts to the market, hoping to drum up business outside their national borders. High-profile shows include the miniseries "Hindenburg" and "Laconia," from Germany's Beta; a drama series, "Versailles," from France's Canal Plus; and an animated "New Adventures of Peter Pan," which involves India and Ireland as well as France.

The international units (or designated distributors of) U.S. cablers also are coming with plenty of product, most notably HBO, which already has stitched up much of the world for its Prohibition-era "Boardwalk Empire." The period piece premiered mightily in the U.S. (for cable, that is) with a record 5 million viewers. Already renewed for a second season, the show likely will be cult viewing abroad as well.

Lionsgate hopes to expand interest in its media darling and Emmy winner "Mad Men" by bringing stars Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss and John Slattery to the Croisette for glad-handing.

Fox International Channels, a newish unit of News Corp., will talk up its most ambitious project, "The Walking Dead," a zombie love story produced by Gale Anne Hurd. The series will launch day-and-date on the company's foreign feeds and is being licensed overseas by indie distributor Entertainment One.

Even film favorite Robert Redford will do a cameo to promote Sundance Channel, which is seeking to extend its carriage beyond France, Belgium and Poland into the heart of Europe.

"Sundance is a great brand -- people know about the festival, they know Robert Redford and there's a very desirable upmarket demo that likes indie movies, everywhere, said Harold Gronenthal, senior vp and GM of Sundance parent Rainbow Media. "We will localize the channel here and there, but the brand remains. We have cachet."

Finally, the dealmaking here has evolved so rapidly that transactions would be unrecognizable to some 15 years ago. Back then, there still were handshakes and scribbles on napkins; everything was about "relationships," or so everyone pretended. Now, it's a lawyer's field day or nightmare, depending on how well-constructed and airtight deal agreements are.

Alfred Haber, a 43-year-veteran who specializes in award shows like the Grammys and reality series like "Ghosthunters," put it best.

"The negotiating process is dramatically different nowadays," he said. "You don't anymore just ask for $50,000 an episode, they come back at $40,000, and you settle at $45,000. Today you talk about IPTV, mobile Internet, high-def, VOD, catch-up runs, and on and on. Not to mention that the shows are changing, too. You have to be out there year-round supporting them with all kinds of events and activities. It's still great fun, but a lot more complicated."