'Sopranos,' 'Dawson' score in Europe

Local programming rules in most European broadcasting markets, but some American dramas can still cut a swath through Euro skeds. Here’s how three successful U.S. series play on the other side of the Atlantic:

THE SOPRANOS

For proof that the right U.S. drama series can still create ripples in a tough Euro market, look no further than the swagger of HBO’s mob saga “The Sopranos.”

The David Chase scripted show has made an impact in most key Euro territories. Across the continent several schedulers have used the series to introduce real class to their late-night time slots, particularly on Sunday nights.

In Germany the show airs on ZDF, in France on France 2, niche net Channel 4 shows it in Blighty, while pay channel Canal+ airs the series in Spain.

“In the U.K. ‘The Sopranos’ has a loyal following but it’s quality rather than quantity,’ reckons Zenith Media exec Adam Smith.

British critics have heaped praise on the show, which skews toward upscale viewers in Blighty.When the show’s second series was aired last fall in Blighty, all the signs were that its popularity was beginning to increase — it peaked at 1.9 million compared with 1.6 million in 1999.

In general the show plays best with a male audience — though in Germany it’s female viewers who are most keen to make a date with Tony’s clan.

Jay Kandola, head of series acquisitions at Channel 4 in London, says: “There’s not one broadcaster I’ve spoken to who’s not absolutely thrilled with ‘The Sopranos.’ We’re committed to it for the next three years.”

DAWSON’S CREEK

Now in its fourth season in the U.S., Columbia Tristar’s teen drama, “Dawson’s Creek,” is winning hearts across Europe, from Berlin to Barcelona.

“It speaks to a common youth culture that transcends national boundaries, says Tom Keeter, marketing VP at Columbia Tristar. “The audiences can relate to the tough storylines and the characters. The show has pretty much sold everywhere in Europe.’

Aimed squarely at 16-34 year olds, the series is an established part of the programming menu in Germany (Sat 1), the UK (Channel 4), France (TF1), Italy (Tele Uno) and Spain (TVE), generally occupying an early evening slot, although in Italy it airs at 8:40 p.m.

“Dawson’s Creek” also airs in the rapidly expanding Polish market as well as in more mature territories like the Netherlands, Scandinavia and Ireland.

On TFI “Dawson’s Creek” occupies pole position with its target audience achieving an impressive 64% share with female viewers in the 15-24-age category.

It’s a similar story in Germany, Italy and the UK.

Spain’s TVE — in the grip of game shows like Pearson’s “Greed” — has not aired the teen saga since last summer but it will be back soon.

But as more and more digital TV channels are targeted at the under 35s, the challenge for “Dawson’s Creek” will be to stay ahead of the teen pack. Audiences will be spoilt for choice and teens and twenties are notorious for their fickle viewing habits.

WEST WING

Critics cannot get enough of it but so far the fast-paced Emmy award winning White House saga “The West Wing,” starring Martin Sheen, is proving to be something of a slow burn in Europe.

Germany, in particular, is proving resistant to much U.S. fare and “The West Wing” is no exception, with a transmission date still to be finalized. In fact, so far the program has aired only in Poland (TVN) the U.K. (Channel 4) and the Netherlands (RTL4).

Warners, the series’ distributor, insists that a full Euro roll out is in the pipeline thanks to output deals with pubcasters France TV, Italy’s RAI and Spain’s TVE.

Debuting in the U.K. on pay station Sky One in winter 2000, “West Wing’s” ratings failed to live up to the hype. Subsequently shown terrestrially on C4 earlier this year, audience figures have nose-dived following a promising and much publicized launch.

“I think too many viewers came to ‘The West Wing’ with misguided expectations,” says a British source. ‘It’s a hard show to sell, full of talk and walk but with very little action.’

In the U.K., the second series will be shunted to C4′s digital niche net, E4.

“The West Wing” has not fared noticeably better in the Netherlands on RTL4 where it premiered in a 10 p.m. slot on Mondays last February but was subsequently relegated to midnight on Sundays. It will return for a repeat run on sister station RTL5 next winter.

However, the show is one of the few U.S. dramas to get a slot in the local series-dominated Dutch sked.

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