Deals done as confab coasts

Suppliers generally satisfied, biz may be picking up abroad

Seven days into the L.A. Screenings, hoarse Hollywood distributors have started to shift gears, withdrawing into closed-door meetings with top clients (if any major business is likely to be written) and leaving the smaller territories and deals to their sales staff.

The toppers often don’t have a complete idea of how much business is actually being immediately generated until the Screenings eventually peter out next Wednesday. Canadians, however, did fill their skeds and will leave town today.

A round-robin of phone calls to the half-dozen major Hollywood distribs late on Thursday turned up little in the way of deals that are signed, sealed and delivered. There was, however, general satisfaction among suppliers, who feel that things were going well and that business may even be picking up from three down years abroad.

Top Mouse House distrib David Hulbert said: “The overall mood is more positive. The volume of scripted product may be slightly down, but the quality is better.”

So what happens now?

SBS chief buyer Bart Soepnel, who has attended the annual sales bazaar since 1992, told Daily Variety the next phase involves buyers putting their heads down and brainstorming over the weekend.

In his case that means trying to coordinate the needs and preferences of a dozen European stations in almost as many countries. Six of his key lieutenants are in town for the Screenings, repping various countries and different programming niches.

No ‘sure bets’

“I personally didn’t see any sure bets this year, as I did last go round,” said Soepnel, who is Dutch. “But there were ones I liked (“Desperate Housewives,” “Medium,” “Mountain” and “Jack & Bobby,” among them) — in some cases, they may be in our existing deals, and in others, we may try to chase after them.”

Soepnel said SBS’ current output deals with the majors typically allow the station group to pick and choose several hours’ worth of series — and do not obligate the broadcaster to take everything the supplier has on offer.

From other key buyers’ perspectives too, the ongoing Screenings have been worthwhile.

“It took three years since 9/11, but in reality five years overall for the Screenings to return to their former glory, but at last we are there,” said Scandi buyer rep Richard Sattler.

Other buyers were perhaps less overtly enthusiastic but nonetheless expressed moderate satisfaction with the quality of the shows on offer, especially the dramas.

ProSiebenSat 1 CEO Guillaume de Posch has been screening all week alongside a 10-member team repping his four stations.

“Shows overall look good, but I’ve seen nothing revolutionary. No ‘Sex and the City,’ in other words, but lots more reality. There was not a no-brainer ‘have to have’ kind of show,” he said.

(His company has ongoing deals with Paramount, Disney and Sony as well as various packages with indies.)

RTL likes laffers

In a contrarian opinion, RTL’s top buyer August Rinner said he found the laffers on offer quite well written — “much better than last year.” He said “Joey” was great, and he generally liked what he has seen so far at Fox and Paramount. “Good humor works everywhere” is how he put it. (RTL and ProSieben are top rivals in Germany.)

As for dramas, several are still going strong in Germany. The best show, in Rinner’s view, is not surprisingly “CSI: NY,” which he bought sight unseen before the Screenings.

“I’m absolutely sure that it will work very well in Germany: It’ll be placed in primetime on Vox.”

A few scattered deals began to take shape Thursday during the Screenings:

  • TV 2 Norway and RUV in Iceland have picked up “Clubhouse,” “Blind Justice” and “Medical Investigation.”

    The Norway station is even inviting “Clubhouse” stars Jeremy Schumpter and Dean Cain to Norway for the show’s launch next year.

  • Indie Carsey-Werner-Mandabach sold “Good Girls Don’t” to Fox Latin America. The company’s distrib topper Herb Lazarus said he has an offer from an Aussie net as well, but won’t make a decision until Tuesday after all Aussies have screened it. (Show sold to the BBC on Wednesday.)

  • Sony’s pan-regional Latin channel AXN has renewed an output deal with MGM for NBC-produced fare.

    Sergio Pizzolante, veep of SPE channels in Latin America, said he especially liked NBC’s “Revelations,” which he said “touched a nerve along the lines of ‘The Da Vinci Code.’ ”

    “This year’s dramas are the big winners. There is a lot of reality out there too, but reality is always a big gamble. Only a few succeed,” Pizzolante added.

  • Denmark TV2 buyer Felince Munck said her station is definitely going to buy the new sitcom “Joey” and may slot it into primetime.

    However, she echoed other buyers’ comments about laffers, saying that comedies were harder to translate into another market because they’re too centered on “things American.”

    Munck also believes that Steven Bochco’s latest drama “Blind Justice” has primetime potential because the central character is so well conceived. “It’s interesting to see a handicapped person portrayed so strongly, and the story is totally believable.”

  • Gabriella Ballabio, a buyer for Italy’s Mediaset, said that she had seen “nothing that makes the heart beat, no standouts like ‘The X-Files’ or ‘Nip/Tuck.’ ” The commercial station will wait to se how shows perform in the fall in the U.S. before making final decisions.
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