Handful of U.S. shows doing fine in some high-profile slots

COLOGNE — It’s not all doom and gloom for American shows in the all-important German TV market.

Yes, local fare dominates primetime and acquisition budgets have been shrinking. But a handful of U.S. shows are doing fine in a number of high-profile slots — and Teutonic buyers are likely to pick up a few more this week at the Mipcom TV mart in Cannes.

Germany’s best customer for new Yank series is ProSieben. The station’s Monday primetime has been dominated by Fox’s “The X-Files” for five years, while last January it moved “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” already in its fourth season, from Saturday afternoon to Wednesday primetime. It pairs “Buffy” with its new spinoff, “Angel,” and now reaches an average audience of 14%.

“The crossover effect of ‘Buffy’s’ fourth season with ‘Angel’s’ first was their stepping stone into our primetime,” says a ProSieben spokeswoman.

The station has aired “Charmed” on Wednesday nights since June, though after Halloween week “Buffy” and “Angel” will return with new seasons.

ProSieben has also been pushing comedies, with “Sex and the City,” now on Tuesdays, providing a link to the station’s live comedy shows. Following intensive promotion, it debuted with 18%, which by the third week eased to the 14% ProSieben had realistically targeted.

“We turned down the first offer a year ago, but in the meantime have developed our comedy track, initially by putting ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘Futurama’ into an evening slot last year,” says the spokeswoman.

With a 15-minute overlap, “Sex and the City” goes up against netlet Vox’s “Ally McBeal,” which has just returned to the 10 p.m. spot with its fourth season and an expected rating of 10%.

‘Ally’ on the rebound

“Some years ago, the first ‘Ally’ season was canceled half-way. When we retried it a year later, it became the cult hit it still is,” Vox programmer Chantal Gerrero says.

“Ally” has not only become Vox’s flagship, but is arguably the show with the biggest billboards in German cities.

(Of course, a few U.S. shows have flopped in Germany: “Once and Again” lured a measly 2% of viewers and was axed after nine episodes. And “CSI” and “The District” both started in September in primetime on Wednesdays but managed only a 3% share against stiff soccer competish.)

As for RTL, the top-rated station has slashed its budget for foreign series from $260 million to $120 over the last five years. The station spent $350 million on inhouse productions in 2000.

“In the early ’90s, it was a 50-50 thing, but now more than two-thirds of programming is domestic material, especially in primetime,” a spokesman says.

Beyond primetime, however, RTL is very much interested in American series. It reported a good start in September for “Veronica’s Closet,” which attracted a 14.5% in a daily midnight spot.

Pubcaster ZDF snapped up HBO’s “The Sopranos” last year, and though it’s pulling only an 8 share at 10 p.m. on Saturdays, the station has decided to nurture its catch. It will rerun the first season on latenight Saturday, with seasons two and three likely to follow right after.

At Mipcom, RTL’s buyers will be on the hunt for shows for smaller sister stations RTL 2 and Vox, rather than for the flagship, which is mostly serviced through output deals with the majors.

ProSieben’s head of international series programming, Nadia Annan, says the trade show is a good place to shop for animated and syndicated fare.

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