Mouse rouses TV buyers

'CSI: NY' adds life to L.A. Screenings

The Mouse House kicked the L.A. Screenings into high gear Sunday with a presentation and party at the El Capitan featuring stars of its five upcoming series for ABC and UPN and the unveiling of several deals for returning shows.

In other Screenings action, indie distributor Alliance Atlantis racked up its first five deals for the third installment of its “CSI” franchise.

Some 1,300 foreign TV program buyers hit town over the weekend to get their first look at upcoming series on the Big Six U.S. networks. After three lackluster years for Hollywood TV sales abroad, distribs are counting on a modest uptick in buyer enthusiasm for American product.

The U.S. networks announced last week a record 50-odd shows they plan to air this fall or later in the season.

Despite the recent global recession — and the ongoing problems at the Mouse’s own ABC network — Disney’s international TV topper David Hulbert told the crowd Sunday he was bullish on the biz.

This year is “going to be a fantastic year for the international TV industry, and I believe the entertainment industry overall. There has been a tendency for us all to overanalyze the last few years, but even in what has been called a recession, most broadcasters were still profitable businesses.

Bright horizon

“Last year at this event, I forecast a return to growth in the medium term — we can now say that I was being overly cautious and that we are already seeing significant growth in each area of the TV business in most geographical areas,” Hulbert said.

Disney international TV toppers told Daily Variety that their five new) and seven returning shows repped the highest-ever number of drama and comedy series to sell into the foreign markets.

Shows include the latest J.J. Abrams drama “Lost,” which is already drawing buzz from the overseas contingent. Abrams is the exec producer of another Disney show which sold well into foreign, “Alias.”

Other new dramas on Disney’s plate are the satirical suburban-set drama “Desperate Housewives,” midseason medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy,” the Mel Gibson-produced quirky family drama “Kevin Hill” and the young-male-targeted “Life as We Know It.” The Mouse’s only new sitcom is “Rodney,” featuring standup comic Rodney Carrington.

Hosting Disney’s so-called International Upfronts at the El Capitan were Laurie Younger, prexy of Buena Vista Worldwide TV Distribution; Tom Toumazis, senior VP of BVITV for Europe, Middle East & Africa; Steve Macallister, veep of BVITV for Asia-Pacific; as well as Hulbert, who is prexy of Walt Disney Television Intl.

Other Hollywood majors will be hosting similar events throughout the week, though not all of them invite journalists. (CBS Intl. has canceled its screening sessions for buyers, as it had only one midseason project picked up for primetime.)

Touchstone TV prexy Mark Pedowitz joined the Disney event to present the broad range of the company’s series. He was flanked by talent including Taye Diggs (“Kevin Hill”), Matthew Fox (“Lost”), Zach Braff (“Scrubs”) and Katey Sagal (“8 Simple Rules”).

Creatures cavorting

Kermit the Frog and Statler and Waldorf, who have become part of the family since the Mouse acquired the Muppets property from the Jim Henson Co. earlier this year, also cavorted with the crowd.

Hulbert told reporters Sunday of further growth in Disney’s business in Central and Eastern Europe, with a new multi-year agreement with Ukrainian commercial broadcaster Inter TV for shows like “Scrubs,” “Alias,” “Extreme Makeover” and a remastered “Moonlighting.”

Agreement, BVITV’s first with Inter, will also include the launch this summer of a Disney-branded timeslot on the channel.

The Mouse House also took the wraps off a recent “partner-sharing” agreement with SBS Broadcasting whereby its TV outlets in Denmark, Sweden and Norway will share windows on Mouse House product with other specified stations in those countries.

“Hope and Faith” is among the current series in the deal, while the film product includes upcoming movies like “King Arthur” and “The Village,” as well as recent hits like “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

“For many years SBS has had strong relations with BVITV in Belgium and the Netherlands, with great success. We’re very pleased to extend this relationship in Scandinavia and broaden our programming offering,” said SBS’ top buyer Bart Soepnel.

‘CSI’ spreading

Meanwhile, on the indie front, Alliance Atlantis head of distribution Ted Riley unveiled five deals for “CSI: NY,” which has become a hot franchise in many places abroad as well as Stateside.

Show has been picked up for Australia (Channel Nine), France (TF1), Germany (Vox), Spain (Tele Cinco) and the U.K. (Channel 5). All are incumbent stations that air the first two installments of the forensics drama, set in Las Vegas and in Miami.

“To have these five strong broadcasters commit to all three ‘CSI’ series is a terrific show of support for the world’s most popular drama franchise,” Riley said.

In other indie action, E! licensed 50 hours of programming to RCTV in Venezuela, and Azteca TV is negotiating to sell its new telenovela “Belinda” (through distrib Comarex) to Argentina and Brazil, having already made deals in other Latin countries.

(Eileen Tasca contributed to this report.)

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