Trade show expected to perk up with war, recession fading

This article was updated at 7:45 p.m.

An unprecedented potpourri of programming — especially reality formats — will spill onto the Croisette in Cannes next week during the 41st annual Mip TV trade show.

The purpose of the five-day rendezvous on the French Riviera is to try to entice station program buyers from around the world to pad out their increasingly successful homegrown TV skeds with imported fare.

With its blockbuster movies and primetime drama series, Hollywood has always been the best at foreign TV sales, but reality concepts, which pop up in the unlikeliest of places, have given a new lease on life to indie distribs from around the globe.

With war and recession fading into the background, the annual trade show should perk up.

That’s partially because most of the freshmen scripted series on U.S. network primetime skeds have flopped, including recent midseason hopefuls like “Century City,” “Wonderfalls” and “The D.A.”

May date

On the series front, most foreign program buyers will wait until the L.A. Screenings in mid-May (after the networks announce their new season pickups) to spend any serious money Stateside.

The younger crowd, worldwide, is heavily into reality programming — so most of the interesting action at Mip will be centered around nonfiction shows and concepts, even if the money involved is much less than it is for Hollywood movies or top series.

L.A.-based reality maven Ben Silverman will be on hand to pitch a clutch of new titles, including Bravo’s “Blowout,” FX’s “Thirty Days,” MTV’s “Date My Mom,” the Sci Fi Channel’s “Mad, Mad House” and NBC’s “Gold Rush.” His company, Reveille, handles abroad all reality formats in the Universal TV Group arsenal.

For its part, NBC Enterprises will field a bundle of new formattable titles including “Knock First” and “The One That Got Away.” Peacock VP Leslie Jones has just inked yet another deal for surprise hit “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” with pan-African paybox M-Net.

CBS Intl. TV topper Armando Nunez points out that his own classic “Wheel of Fortune” is still “one of the hottest franchises still working abroad,” playing seven days a week in many key territories. He’s also making international headway with “America’s Top Model.”

Meanwhile, U.K.-based distrib FremantleMedia comes to the market with Donald Trump topliner “The Apprentice” as well as its “Pop Idol” franchise.

Mixing media

E! Entertainment is touting two reality/entertainment hybrids, “Scream Play” and “Dr. 90201,” the latter a cross between the old drama sizzler “Beverly Hills, 90210″ and FX’s “Nip/Tuck.”

Canuck niche specialist Distraction is fielding seven new formats, including Italian concept “The Protagonist” and a German one called “LadyKracher.”

In many cases the seller of these reality shows is happy to license either the original program or the rights to reformat the original or both.

Aside from new reality concepts, buyers are buzzing about upcoming movies like Sony’s “Spider-Man 2″ and Fox’s “Day After Tomorrow” and series like Alliance Atlantis’ “CSI: New York.”

Games and glamour

Meanwhile, outside the exhibition hall, Greece’s ERT station will pump Olympics programming and Carmen Electra will tease her new striptease DVD. Cocktails will be poured to honor Hallmark honcho Robert Halmi Sr., to celebrate A&E Networks 10th anniversary and to toast the Discovery Channel’s launch into France.

Attendance will be flat with 9,000 participants, but 82 new companies are exhibiting, including 14 Yank outfits. A record 85 countries will be repped at the five-day bazaar (Monday-April 2) including first-timers like Albania, Congo and Brunei.

As for what the 2,655 registered program buyers (up 16%) want to take home from the Cannes festivities, the answers are all over the map.

The good news is that there’s a greater willingness to take chances with new ideas and formats than at any time in the past decade.

“People are experimenting quite a lot with TV abroad,” Sony Intl. TV prexy Michael Grindon said. Aside from boasting “Spider-Man 2″ and the season’s only scripted hit, “Joan of Arcadia,” his company is heavily involved in localized productions in key territories around the globe.

Added Nunez: “I’ve rarely been to a market where something didn’t happen that I hadn’t expected — a sale in an unanticipated place, the resolution of a dispute, a new relationship. Mip should be no different.”

U.S. advantage

Several Hollywood TV toppers believe the exchange rate between the dollar and the euro will encourage continental station buyers actually to ink deals at this market.

As for which countries are primed to loosen their purse strings, Paramount Intl. TV prexy Gary Marenzi ticks off several buoyant territories, including the U.K., France and Italy as well as developing countries like Russia. Japan, he admits, is just “not there,” but things are fortunately starting to “rationalize” in Germany.

The organizers of Mip TV are shining a spotlight on China in the hopes that that territory of 1.25 billion potential viewers and 430 million TV households is finally ready to open its doors to foreign programming — and pay more for it.

Folks like MTV Networks chairman-CEO Tom Freston will be on hand as a panelist to discuss the growing opportunities for program suppliers and entire channels looking to make deals in that country.

The problem for everybody in Cannes, however, is how to stand out in the crowd, given that some 20,000 hours of new product will be vying for attention on the Palais exhibition floor.

‘You have to stand out’

“It’s a very noisy marketplace, so you have to stand out however you can. It helps to have a hit movie or a must-have reality format. Nothing creates excitement like a hit,” Fox Intl. TV exec VP Marion Edwards said.

She should know. Her company has licensed all-stars like “The Simpsons” and “The X-Files” around the world. Those series are two of the highest-grossing international TV hits.

Edwards is well aware that those heady days are unlikely to be repeated, and the challenge of placing each show — including hits like her own “24″ — with buyers abroad is ever trickier. The biz is more labor-intensive, the competition more fierce and varied, and promotion and marketing ever-more crucial to the process.

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