Scripted series take a run at reality

HOLLYWOOD — There’s a harsh reality for scripted comedies and dramas as the industry gathers for Mipcom: Reality formats continue to survive, even thrive, around the globe.

And while that may mean it’s a tough market for other genres, it’s not an impossible one.

“Reality is not the solution to everybody’s programming ills and needs,” says Fireworks Intl. prexy Greg Phillips. “People still want good dramas, good comedies and good fiction.”

One place those needs are being filled is the U.S. fall TV sked. Among the new domestic shows with potential for overseas auds: “24,” a real-time drama with Kiefer Sutherland leading a unit that fights terrorism; “Small-ville,” a Superman backstory with a young Clark Kent in high school; and “Thieves,” toplining John Stamos and Aussie Melissa George as a pair of crooks in a comic adventure.

With three CIA-themed dramas on the U.S. fall slate, it will be interesting to monitor the popularity of espionage-themed series — particularly in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

While many are high on this year’s U.S. exports, local product generally has a tougher time crossing borders and is more expensive to produce.

For SBS, the pan-Euro TV station group with more than 140 million viewers in 11 countries, launching a local sitcom costs at least triple that of a reality series; a drama is at least double the price.

“And the chance of succeeding is worse,” says Brian Frons, SBS Broadcasting’s London-based senior veep of programming, pointing to the popularity of reality skeins such as Euro versions of Fox’s “Temptation Island.”

No wonder, then, that the only comedy SBS commissioned this year was the “Big Brother” twist “Christmas Calendar,” which follows 12 Santas stuck for 24 days in a cabin in the woods.

U.K.’s Target Distribution is also among those going the comedy/reality combo route with “Make My Day,” a variant of “The Truman Show,” with hidden cameras following an unsuspecting subject.

Back on the drama front, Lions Gate TV has a hybrid of another sort: “Tracker.” The sci-fi actioner has a largely British cast, including Adrian Paul of “Highlander” fame, and is being shot in Toronto, involving both sides of the Atlantic.

“Take one of those elements out of the equation, and it’s a different story,” says Ira Bernstein, Lions Gate TV distribution topper. “You need to put together a variety of compelling elements in any one program in order to make those sales.”

Meanwhile, reality programming will likely undergo more scrutiny in the year ahead.

“It’s sort of like the Nasdaq top for reality shows,” says Mary Ann Halford, exec VP at Fox Intl. Entertainment Channels. “People are beginning to get confused with all the various races, contests and prizes. You’re going to see new drama formats tried, new comedy formats coming out. Right now we’re at a crossroads in the whole development process.”

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