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Canuck fighting fierce at the L.A. Screenings

MONTREAL — As expected, it was perhaps the most cutthroat year ever for the Canadian TV buyers at the L.A. Screenings, with all of the major players chasing the same hot Hollywood properties.

The most intense bidding wars revolved around “Veronica’s Closet,” the sitcom starring Kirstie Alley that occupies the all-important NBC timeslot after “Seinfeld,” and “Brooklyn South,” the new one-hour crime drama from veteran producer Steven Bochco. WIC Television managed to outbid CanWest Global, which has rights to “Seinfeld” in Canada, for “Veronica’s Closet,” while Global took home “Brooklyn South.” Warner Bros. Intl. Television president Jeffrey Schlesinger said that “Veronica’s Closet” got a record-breaking license fee in Canada.

One of the most significant factors in the heating up of the competition among the Canadians was the new, more aggressive stance of WIC, which has only been in the national-rights sweepstakes for the past couple of years. WIC is in expansion mode, having added a station in Montreal (CFCF) and upped the reach of CHCH to cover a larger chunk of Ontario, and it bought a major set of new shows last week.

Ferocious rivalry

Chum TV programming veepee Jay Switzer, who tends not to compete for the top-dollar network series, said he has never seen such ferocious rivalry among the other players from Canada.

“If you’re in the series business, if you’re Baton, WIC or CTV, it’s been a real fight,” said Switzer.

WIC Television was on a spending spree last week in Hollywood, picking up a slew of high-profile new series. Aside from “Veronica’s Closet,” the Vancouver-based station group acquired three shows from NBC Intl.: “The Tony Danza Show,” “Working” and “Union Square.” The latter occupies the 8:30 p.m. Thursday slot on NBC.

WIC also grabbed the one-hour drama “Sleepwalkers” from Columbia TriStar and the new sitcom “The Gregory Hines Show” from CBS Intl. WIC president Jim MacDonald was particularly pleased to report that his company also landed “Michael Hayes,” the new drama from Columbia TriStar starring “NYPD Blue” alumnus David Caruso. “Dellaventura,” which features Danny Aiello as a private eye, was also purchased by WIC.

“Overall, it’s been a pretty good screening,” said MacDonald. “We haven’t seen huge prices, except on a few projects where there was huge bidding.

Baton active

Baton Broadcasting of Toronto was also very active, picking up “Ally McBeal,” the new one-hour legal drama from Fox, Tim Curry vehicle “Over the Top” from Columbia TriStar and Kevin Nealon-Richard Lewis starrer “Hiller & Diller” from Disney.

Warner Bros.’ “Meego,” with Bronson Pinchot as an alien nanny, will also be on the Baton stations across Canada next fall, as will the magic-filled Disney-produced ABC series “Genie.”

Baton’s senior VP of programming Bev Oda said the Canadians were signing deals quicker than ever before in an effort to snare the in-demand shows away from the other Canuck broadcasters.

“It happened very quickly and it started before all the screenings were done,” said Oda.

Aside from “Brooklyn South,” CanWest Global also nabbed the Fox production “Dharma & Greg,” a half-hour comedy about the relationship between a hippie woman and a straight-laced lawyer; and “Dawson’s Creek,” a one-hour teen drama from Columbia TriStar.CBS Intl. president Rainer Siek was very pleased with “Brooklyn South,” which was sold to Global, and was also “pleasantly surprised” by the success of comedy “The Gregory Hines Show.”

Chum signs renewals

Chum signed a couple of renewals of TV-movie packages for its Toronto indie station City-tv, including agreements with Pearson Television for 20 network made-for-TV movies and with CBS for eight telefilms. But Chum’s Switzer was shopping mainly for the New VR, Chum’s station just outside Toronto, and he picked up “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Walker, Texas Ranger,” which has never had a home in Canada, and “Head Over Heels,” a comedy set at a Miami video-dating service from Columbia TriStar.

Nothing as hot as ‘ER’

Other buyers besides the Canadians said they didn’t believe that there was anything as hot as “ER” or “Murder One,” though they said they liked “Veronica’s Closet” and “Brooklyn South.” South African pubcaster SABC bought all the shows from 20th Century Fox Intl., a package that included four dramas and several sitcoms.

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