Merchants showcase primetime series, telepics

Both foreign TV station buyers and Hollywood sellers continued in upbeat mode Wednesday, two-thirds of the way through the 10-day viewing marathon known as the L.A. Screenings.

The annual event is the first time overseas clients have a chance to assess the new primetime series that will air on the six U.S. broadcast nets this fall.

Over at the Paramount lot Wednesday, 120 buyers showed up in the morning to screen the six new shows the studio is fielding in the various fall primetime skeds.

Fuller pictures

Among buyers encountered during the break, dramas “The Handler,” a dense actioner toplining Joe Pantoliano, and “NCIS,” a spinoff of “JAG,” seemed to get general high marks.

The studio is using each afternoon session to screen the second episodes of “NCIS” and “Keene Eddy,” a show for Fox that was actually ordered last year but never made it onto the sked. Idea is to give buyers a more complete picture of the storylines in the hopes buyers will then be reassured enough to commit to the shows.

Paramount Intl. TV prexy Gary Marenzi confirmed the more positive atmosphere surrounding this edition of the annual event.

“This is definitely the best Screenings in the last few years at Paramount. The product has been universally well received, and we are fielding more offers than normal based on the strength of the pilots,” he told Daily Variety.

Strong Euros

European buyers in particular have more money to spend this go-round as the Euro has appreciated 25% since last May.

Even British buyers, who are normally loath to express public enthusiasm for any show, noted the variety of series on offer and the likelihood that a few eventually would be bought.

Meanwhile, over at Universal, buyers said they were enthused by the drama “Karen Sisco” and the sexy half-hour called “Coupling,” which is being pitched as a cross between “Friends” and “Sex and the City.”

Universal has been treating select buyers to performances of “The Producers” each night and holding latenight cocktail parties thereafter.

No studio deals

So far, however, no major studio has announced any deals for its shows, but several were in late-afternoon huddles with buyers on Wednesday.

Some buyers also try to find some time while in L.A. to consider the latest crop of U.S. telepics and miniseries for their own skeds back home.

“One project that is really capturing our interest,” said Richard Sattler, an L.A. consultant for a clutch of foreign station clients, is the Los Angeles earthquake miniseries ’10.5′ starring Kim Delaney.

“With Hallmark coming onboard to distribute it internationally, we are quite excited at the prospect of having viable alternatives to the tired ratings for theatricals,” Sattler added. “At the same time we are expecting prices to drop dramatically for studio theatricals when it comes to global broadcast rights. Otherwise we will have to seriously consider leaving that genre until they do.”

Long night’s journey

Finally, the Canadian contingent is gearing up for a long night tonight in which they essentially divvy up the best of the primetime skeds among themselves, ink their deals and fly out the next day.

Jay Switzer, president and CEO of Canuck broadcaster Chum, said the Canadian contingent – which also includes CTV, the Global Network, and Craig Media –  has yet to spot the kind of red-hot hit that sparks a bidding war.

“There is no single, breakout, must-have show, like a ’24′ or ‘West Wing’ from previous years,” Switzer said. “But then again there’s less at the bottom, fewer cheapies. It’s more middle to upper-middle. We’ve seen some good dramas and sitcoms, and we’ve seen some improvement in the WB and UPN dramas, which is great. It’s continuing to level the playing-field, which is good.”

Going with God

Michael Taylor, VP of programming at Calgary-based Craig Media, said there are some surprising trends in the fare the Craig team has screened so far.

“One of the themes in the one-hour dramas has been people talking to God and God coming in various guises,” Taylor said.

“I think things are trying to be a little more relatable to the viewers. Only a couple of shows are sci-fi-ish. The dramas are trying to be a little bit closer to home, with values and messages.

“On the sitcom side, dysfunctional families are as extreme as ever. As long as you make it somewhat believable, you can have some fun with it and push the limit. There are a couple of sitcoms that I think go too far and they’re just too hard to relate to. It’s a season of divorced gay families and God appearing in a couple of these one-hours.”

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