World vision for Fox TV Studios

Preparing series to be filmed abroad

Fox TV Studios president Emiliano Calemzuk is going back to his Latin American roots. In doing so, he also is reinventing the company's business model.

FtvS has greenlighted "Mental," a 13-episode series starring Chris Vance and Annabella Sciorra, which will be filmed in Bogota, Columbia.

It is one of three series FtvS is ramping up to independently produce abroad with foreign broadcast partners and then shop to U.S. networks.

"It is a new business model that would give us a competitive advantage and would probably give the industry something to think about," Calemzuk said.

It is also part of a growing trend of bringing indie film financing mechanisms to TV, such as the Nehst Studios-backed series adaptation of "The Saint," directed by Barry Levinson.

For FtvS, its expansion into international series production will come in addition to its core business of producing for the U.S. cable networks.

"Mental," a medical drama from executive producers Deborah Joy LeVine and Dan Levine, is being co-financed with Fox International Channels, which will air the series across its outlets in Latin America, Europe and Asia.

Argentinean-born Calemzuk spent a decade working for FIC, primarily in Latin America and Italy, before taking the reins of FtvS a year ago.

As a buyer, he said he was frustrated by the limited supply of U.S. series and about being at the mercy of the U.S. networks, which can cancel a show after only a few episodes.

When he joined FtvS, he studied the economics of the U.S. TV business and, with revenue streams flat and costs rising, he was convinced the traditional production model was "not sustainable in the long run."

Calemzuk set off to find a way to produce "network-quality programming at a fraction of the cost," and that's how the "Mental" experiment came about.

"Mental" had been originally developed at TNT, but the network passed on it. It remained a passion project for FtvS' executive vp programming David Madden, who immediately thought of it when Calemzuk laid out his plan to produce series under a new model.

"I look at it as a way to do something that I believe in that hadn't happened in the traditional way," Madden said.

"Mental," which stars Vance as a rebellious psychiatrist in a Los Angeles mental health hospital and Sciorra as his boss, is slated to begin production June 2 at the Fox Telecolombia production facilities in Bogota.

Guy Ferland ("The Shield") is set to direct the pilot episode.

FtvS plans to shop the project to U.S. networks when it has two to three episodes in the can. The company is eying both broadcast and cable networks.

Calemzuk calls series produced under the new model "very cost efficient ratings drivers" that would be perfect for a cable network or a broadcast network looking to add original programming for the summer.

Overall, FtvS plans to do its internationally produced series at 50-70% of the cost of a network drama series. But the savings won't be seen onscreen, Madden said.

"Our cost is exactly the same and even slightly higher above the line and significantly less below the line," he said.

As for adjusting to filming in Colombia, aside from the logistical issues of trying to get known actors willing to relocate for the lengthy shoot, it has gone "very smoothly," Madden said.

Calemzuk declined details on the other two series FtvS is planning to produce this year but stressed that they have been financed and are ready to start production. They won't shoot in Colombia but in other foreign countries.

The broadcast networks have been looking for new, more cost-efficient ways to provide year-round original programming, a trend that has been intensified by the writers strike.

Calemzuk stressed that his decision to develop the new model a year ago "had nothing to do with the strike."

"We wanted to go out and compete advantageously, gain expertise and produce in a way no one has," he said. "The consequences from the strike validate that."