Top Canadian b'casters make dramatic maneuvers

The Canadians have done their thing, making the most of their series purchases late Thursday during intense negotiations with the Hollywood majors. Canucks traditionally buy on the spot during the screenings because they unveil their own schedules two weeks later.

CTV scooped up Disney’s “Criminal Minds,” “The Night Stalker,” “Commander-in-Chief,” “Ghost Whisperer” “What About Brian,” “Crumbs” and “Inconceivable” as well as Warner’s “Invasion,” “Close to Home” and “The Evidence.”

CanWest picked up 11 dramas, including Fox’s “Prison Break” and “Bones,” Warner’s “E Ring” and “Reunion,” NBC Universal’s “Fathom” and Paramount’s “Threshold.” Among the nine new comedies it bought are Fox’s “My Name Is Earl,” Warner’s “War at Home” and Par’s “Out of Practice.”

Essentially the two main Canuck broadcasters split most of the high-profile shows on offer at the Screenings, though it’s never clear til they launch just how they’ll do.

The pressure was on CanWest, which has slipped to a distant second to archrival CTV. Latter boasted 18 of the top 20 shows over the course of the past season.

CanWest has lost many of its top-rated shows — think “Frasier,” “Friends” and “Everybody Loves Raymond” — while CTV has nabbed hot series like “CSI,” “Law & Order” and “American Idol.”

The Canadian network buyers were still holed up in their situation rooms at their various Hollywood hotels wheeling and dealing until about 7:30 p.m. on Thursday.

Last year, the CanWest Global execs stayed up most of the night on deal day before finalizing their buys.

Chum change

Adding to the drama, Chum has stepped up its spending and for the first time went head-to-head with CanWest and CTV for a few A-list shows. Its hottest pickup was the buzzed-about Chris Rock comedy from Paramount “I Hate Chris,” but it also snapped up Warner’s drama “Supernatural” and Universal’s reality show “Three Wishes.”

In the past, Chum focused on younger niche fare. Now it’s morphing into a truly national network with the acquisition of Craig Media stations in Alberta and Manitoba.

“The Chris Rock sitcom is the kind of show we want to help brand our network going forward,” Chum VP of programming Ellen Baine said.

Stephen Greenberg from Montreal-based Incendo Media said the Canadian buyers liked what they saw this year, particularly the renewed emphasis on drama series.

“This is a much more positive Screenings than it’s been for a couple of years,” said Greenberg, whose company runs a joint venture with Fox to distribute that studio’s programming in Canada.

“The real buzz is that the Canadians are pleased with the quality of what they’re seeing,” he said.

Added CTV programming topper Susanne Boyce: “I think it’s a very creative year.”

Indeed, the general consensus among the 1,500 foreign buyers at the L.A. Screenings — wearied though they sounded after a week of almost nonstop viewing — was that the money is mostly on the screen in this latest batch of American shows.

Dirk Schweitzer, head buyer for Germany’s powerhouse station RTL, told Daily Variety that he was encouraged by the quality of what his team had seen — even though, he added, no deals had been concluded by RTL. He will screen series through Saturday and will likely choose a few from his ongoing volume deals with Sony and NBC U.

“I think the success of shows like ‘Desperate Housewives’ and ‘Lost’ has encouraged the American networks to invest more in their scripted shows than in those reality formats. That’s a good thing,” he said.

‘Deep into dealmaking’

Over at the six Hollywood studios late Thursday, all of the international distribution chieftains stressed that they were “deep into dealmaking” but that few contracts had been signed, sealed and delivered. In most cases, they shy away from announcing deals, preferring to leave the trumpet-blowing to the buyers.

Only big deal “announced” so far at the Screenings was British satcaster BSkyB’s purchase of Paramount’s new drama “Threshold” for its flagship SkyOne, which was unveiled on Wednesday.

Fox Intl. TV exec veep Marion Edwards pointed out what may not be obvious to the uninitiated: “When you have a lot of interest in a show from multiple prospective buyers, it actually takes longer to close a deal as you have to consider all the proposals on the table.”

Fox and Warner between them have 30 new primetime series on the six network schedules in the fall and have had nonstop screening sessions throughout the week.

The Screenings are the first opportunity each year for foreign TV station program buyers to sift through and buy American shows for their stations back home.

Edwards pointed to four Fox-distribbed series that so far seem to be standouts with buyers: dramas “Prison Break,” “Head Cases” and “The Inside” and the comedy “My Name Is Earl.”

Universal Intl. TV prexy Belinda Menendez also told Daily Variety that while the economics of the business have improved, they are not the only reason buyers seem so upbeat. Rather, she added, “They really like what they see here.” Her hot show is the underwater drama “Fathom.”

Finally, Disney, which is enjoying accolades for its current ABC hits, took the wraps off a number of deals during the week.

Its Asia Pacific sales team, headed by Steve Macallister, licensed “The Amazing Race” to China’s state-run broadcaster CCTV.

“This agreement illustrates not only the growing popularity of the show but also the importance of the unscripted genre in the Chinese marketplace,” Macallister said.

The Mouse House also inked with the Philippines’ ABS-CBN for this past season’s Disney-ABC hits “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost” and for a package of movies including “Signs” and “Sweet Home Alabama.” Product will air on the broadcaster’s UHF channel, called Studio 23.

“Studio 23 has been on the cutting edge of programming, and Disney has been a strong supporter of our various efforts, so this deal was a no-brainer,” said Studio 23 managing director Leo Katigbak.

The Screenings wind down today, though some foreign buyers may stay through the weekend to complete business.

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