Int’l biz seeks hit parade

L.A. screenings draw foreign tube types to town

Will it be the heart-warming premise of “Betty the Ugly” or the heart-pounding suspense of “Traveler,” the heady take on Hollywood of “Studio 60” or the hilarity of “Big Day” that gets them buzzing?

That’s the question as 1,500 foreign TV station program buyers hit town today for the annual L.A. Screenings.

These acquisitions execs are hoping to uncover another “Lost” — or at least a few shows with sustainable premises, likeable characters and entertaining storylines.

British stations Sky, ITV, C4, Five, the BBC and Flextech, as well as the Canuck contingent, are expected to be carrying fat wallets.

The rest of the world, too, has recently found new reason to cheer Yank shows and slot them back into primetime — from “House” in Spain, “Without a Trace” in France and “Lost” in Germany to “CSI: Miami” just about everywhere.

Since the tastes of buyers and their auds are as diverse abroad as they are Stateside, it’s possible there’ll be something for everyone from among the 40-odd dramas, sitcoms and reality shows introduced at the just-concluded upfronts in New York.

Each year, the Screenings offer the international contingent its first chance to sift through — and fork out for — new primetime series from the Hollywood studios.

And to the biz, the relative importance of the 10-day event has grown.

“It started as a showcase for the Latin buyers, but now the world convenes to see what the networks have unveiled at the upfronts,” CBS Paramount Intl. TV prexy Armando Nunez said. “However, we no longer just throw pilots up on the screen for them. We analyze the competitive landscape, the story arc of each series, promotional opportunities. And they get to talk to the producers and stars of the shows.”

Buyers have to spend big bucks to secure the top shows, so it pays to make the process as appealing as possible.

CBS Par will be fielding five new shows, including a summer reality series, a couple of midseason skeins and two fall series. Nunez said the Eye-bound drama “Jericho,” a high-concept show set in a post-nuclear world, will have clear international appeal.

Because deals are becoming even more complicated — what with the possibility of brand extensions like Webisodes and mobisodes to consider — some buyers may go home and mull things over without signing on the bottom line while in L.A.

Others will simply come to town to see what they have lucked into (or have to take) through their ongoing output deals with this or that studio.

One way or another, though, the Hollywood majors will likely pocket healthy revenues from their sales of shows to TV outlets around the world this year.

That’s because the prices for the hottest dramas — the fare most sought after by overseas buyers — could easily exceed $1 million per episode. A hot sitcom could easily bring in half that amount.

Already this morning key suppliers Warners and Fox will be welcoming the first wave of buyers to their respective lots for all-day viewing sessions. (Others, including CBS Par, will start up Saturday; all will continue through next Friday, or into the Memorial Day weekend, depending on buyer interest.)

Warner Bros. Intl. TV prexy Jeffrey Schlesinger said he expects a number of his company’s new shows — he has a dozen to introduce — to click with foreign buyers.

“A number of our dramas look like they could perform well abroad,” he said, pointing to Jerry Bruckheimer’s legal procedural “Justice” and Hank Steinberg’s hostage saga “The Nine,” among others.

Fox senior VP Marion Edwards said that the foreign potential of her new fall dramas — “Primary,” “Vanished” and “Shark” — was “considerable.” Her studio has output deals in Germany, France and Italy. In Spain, however, it is playing the field, which means Edwards could license different shows to different broadcasters there or eventually settle on one key partner for a multiyear deal.

As for the hot British market, there are few true output deals, so the buyers are in town to cherry-pick on the open market.

Also exhibiting during the Screenings are a number of indie suppliers, who typically take suites at the Park Hyatt or Century Plaza in Century City and try to entice buyers on their way to or from the major studios.

The only indie distrib with a primetime network offering is Lionsgate, which for the first time is licensing its own TV shows. It has a midseason pickup for the CW called “Hidden Palms.”

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