BBC bags a big ‘One’ at L.A. Screenings

The British are famous for their innate caution, but at the L.A. Screenings, TV buyers repping the U.K.’s main nets could not contain their enthusiasm for much of the fare.

The BBC, now showing signs of a long overdue ratings revival, returned home with a full shopping bag confident that at least one of its new acquisitions will prove as popular with viewers as 20th Century Fox Intl.’s “The X-Files” did last fall.

The Beeb’s biggest purchase was a record-breaking deal for Steve Bochco’s new ABC courtroom drama, “Murder One.”

In partnership with Rupert Murdoch’s satcaster British Sky Broadcasting, the BBC is believed to have paid an unprecedented $250,000 an episode for the Bochco drama, beating competition from commercial webs ITV and Channel 4.

The price is understood to have rocketed after ITV made it clear that it also was prepared to share rights with BSkyB. That left ITV and the BBC to slug it out head to head.

“Basically the BBC’s strategy came unstuck. I think it’s pretty insane to pay that much for a second window,” said Mairie MacDonald, Channel 4 acquisition executive. In the joint deal with BSkyB, the satcaster gets the first airing, then the Beeb.

One U.K. buyer claimed that this kind of coin has not been seen at the Screenings since C4 paid around $150,000 an hour for Bochco’s “Cop Rock” several years ago.

The price achieved by “One” was almost double what U.S. distributors can normally expect to receive from U.K. buyers for a one-hour drama.

BSkyB will premiere “Murder One” this fall on its pay channel, Sky One. The series will then receive a peak timeslot in early 1996 on either BBC1, the pubcaster’s flagship network, or on arty BBC2, where U.S. programs regularly attract a cult following.

The BBC-BSkyB buying alliance also closed deals on Fox’s sci-fi series “Space: Above and Beyond,” Disney’s lost identity drama “The Nowhere Man” and New World’s black comedy “Profit.”

“There was more interesting shows around than we’ve seen in previous years,” Alan Howden, the BBC’s head of acquisitions, said. “I’d say the overall quality was higher than it’s been for five years.”

ITV was similarly impressed. However, the net has yet to finalize any purchases. Chief buyer Jeff Ford could not comment on reports that ITV is trying to buy “Central Park West,” a glitzy “Dynasty”-style soap set in Gotham, which is being sold by CBS Intl.

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