Studio fares built for o'seas travel

“Invasion” and “Reunion” drew thumbs up from an assortment of international program buyers Monday as Warner Bros. unleashed its 16 new primetime series on the global TV market. Other dramas on the studio’s upcoming roster, including Jerry Bruckheimer’s “Close to Home” and “E-Ring,” also got high initial marks from foreign buyers.

Whether that means execs will actually buy these shows for their stations back home — and how much they’re going to pay for them — is a mystery. At least until the end of the week.

Some 400 execs traipsed to the Warner lot for an all-day session in which they viewed pilots or presentations of all the new shows the Hollywood major is fielding on the Big Six primetime skeds this fall. By Friday, 1,450 buyers will have sifted through the studio’s fare — and, per Warner brass, many of them will close deals before leaving town.

“This is the third year we are the No. 1 supplier to the networks,” Warner Bros. chairman-CEO Barry Meyer told the buyers in opening remarks. That’s why, he quipped, “there’ll be cots in the back, no meals and only two bathroom breaks.”

‘Global perspective’

Joking aside, Meyer stressed that the studio purposefully tries to produce programs that have “global perspective and appeal” and that “partnerships” with foreign broadcasters are fundamental to the company’s production prowess.

No official figures are available, but Daily Variety estimates Warners raked in $1.5 billion in revenues from its sales of series and movies to foreign broadcasters last year.

Warner Bros. TV Group exec VP Bruce Rosenblum told Daily Variety that foreign TV was “a material part of Warners’ overall financial picture,” adding that the company tries to hold onto international rights to its tentpole movies and work with producers, such as John Wells and Bruckheimer, who “travel well.”

“This is the single best slate we’ve ever offered,” added Peter Roth, president of Warner Bros. TV Production and the man responsible for delivering the lineup to the studio. He briefly went through the entire slate, singling out particular elements of each show and praising the talents of showrunners including Bruckheimer, Wells and Shaun Cassidy.

These writer-producers are as well-known abroad by the international broadcast cognoscenti as they are Stateside.

“The new shows here (at Warners) really do look great,” Bernd Schloetterer, managing director of Germany’s TeleMunchen, told Daily Variety after the morning screening session. The Teutonic station group has a multiyear deal with Warners and either uses the studio’s fare for its own stations or sells product on to others.

“Reunion” (from Jon Feldman and Andrew Plotkin) was variously described by buyers as “The Big Chill” meets “24,” and “Invasion” (from Cassidy and Thomas Schlamme) as a cross between “Lost” and “The X-Files.” Latter show, in fact, will air on ABC at 10 p.m. right after “Lost.”

Fox trots shows

Others of the 1,500 buyers in town for the annual L.A. Screenings heard similar pitches at other studios Monday, but only Fox comes close to matching the number of new and returning shows that Warners is fielding. (Fox does not allow journalists to attend its L.A. Screenings functions.)

Several buyers said they also liked what they had seen in presentations at Fox and at Disney. Most buyers won’t have seen everything until Thursday or Friday.

Warners and Fox jointly are providing 60% of the networks’ schedules, so buyers said they were particularly interested in seeing the product of those two companies as early as possible.

Given the improved advertising economies in most countries, a renewed enthusiasm for U.S. shows abroad and a weak dollar, it’s likely that buyers will commit to particular shows, or packages of shows, before they leave Los Angeles on the weekend.

Among the key buyers present for the Warner Bros. opening day were Australia’s Nine Network, Canada’s CTV, Britain’s Channel 4, Italy’s Mediaset and France’s AB Sat.

Buyers in most of these territories are quite competitive, and generally keep their notes to themselves until they’ve huddled with their entire team.

Most declined to go on the record, though several said they particularly liked “the characters and the storylines” in this latest batch of Warner dramas. (Several more dramas and comedies were screened in the afternoon, the session ending at 7:15 p.m.)

Buyer’s remorse

A few buyers were burned in past years, however, by having bought flashy-looking series such as “The Fugitive,” “Fast Lane” and “Tarzan” (all Warner shows) only to see them canceled Stateside in their first season.

“We have to consider the entire story arc before we make a decision,” one buyer said. “Only this year,” he added, “we probably won’t be able to take so much time, if others (of our competitors) are also interested.”

Roth and Rosenblum said the new Warner shows overall boast “exceptional time periods”: Foreign buyers not only have to like a show; they need to be convinced that it will go the distance Stateside.

In addition to foreign TV program buyers, some 80 homevideo retailers, domestic and international, are attending the Screenings at Warners — a sign of the increasing importance of the DVD TV window worldwide.

Warner Bros. Intl TV prexy Jeffrey Schlesinger has brought in his entire worldwide sales staff to assist at the Screenings, with each of them sitting at lunch with their respective clients.

“Any one of the five dramas we screened this morning could have been our No. 1 show any other year,” Schlesinger said. “That’s how strong the lineup is. We’ll clearly close a lot of deals this week.”

Meanwhile, over at Disney, Britain’s Flextech inked a deal for “The Amazing Race,” “Tilt” and “The Ultimate Love Test” for its various channels, including Livingtv, gameshow channel Challenge and youth net Trouble.

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