Five bets on Yank fare

Web scaling down feature films in primetime

LONDON — Five, the U.K. web now wholly owned by RTL, has signaled its intention to invest more coin in top-flight U.S. shows but acquire fewer Hollywood movies.

Speaking at a scribes lunch hosted by the Broadcasting Press Guild, Five’s program topper Dan Chambers disclosed he is scaling down the number of feature films played in primetime, and said acquired shows like the “CSI” franchise, “House” and “Friends” spinoff “Joey” were more effective at building his brand than “middle-ranking movies.”

“We used to play five or six Hollywood movies a week in peak time,” Chambers said. “That’s now down to three a week, and from next year it will be two a week.”

Commercially, Five is better off running acquired series than feature films because of European Commission restrictions that prohibit the number of commercial breaks allowed during flicks — and because skeins help bolster the station’s brand.

“U.S. series work better for us than middle-ranking movies,” explained Chambers. “Movies are fantastic, but you cannot build a brand just on movies because everyone else shows them. In the future we are likely to buy fewer but better quality movies.”

While Chambers intends to up the amount of homegrown fare on Five’s schedule, a budget hike that will increase program spending from the present £190 million ($342 million) to “substantially more than £200 million” ($360 million) in 2006 would mean more coin available for U.S. series.

Five’s top shows all are based on the “CSI” franchise. At this year’s L.A. Screenings, the web was a big spender, acquiring rights to several shows, including “Prison Break” and “South Beach.”

Chambers has had mixed fortunes with reality shows at Five, and says he believed reality is now a spent force.

He predicts a revival of TV drama in the U.K., mirroring the trend across the Atlantic.

” ‘Big Brother” (aired by rival Channel 4) has peaked and feels stale,” he opined.

Comedy, too, is earmarked for expansion. New fare includes “Suburban Shoot Out” — described as a cross between “Kill Bill” and “Desperate Housewives” — and “Respectable,” a sitcom set in a brothel whose central character falls in love with one of the hookers.

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