L.A. Screenings: United Kingdom

New Blighty toppers test waters as rivalry ratchets up

LONDON — Reputations are on the line as British buyers head out to the L.A. Screenings with arguably more to gain, or lose, than ever before.

All eyes will be on how two new toppers take to their new jobs as the rivalry between Blighty’s webheads for the rights to the next “Lost” or “Desperate Housewives” reaches a fever pitch.

The execs in question are ITV’s new acquisitions honcho, Jay Kandola, poached last fall from Five, and Sky One supremo Richard Woolfe, parachuted in from Flextech four months ago and briefed to reinvent a channel facing increased competition.

“It would be great to come away from the Screenings with a brand-defining show for each channel,” reckons Kandola, referring to ITV’s newly extended portfolio of ITV1, 2, 3 and 4.

Kandola was handpicked by ITV’s new director of television, Simon Shaps, with a mission to make life hell for Channels 4 and Five, traditionally the most active U.K. buyers at the Screenings.

Kandola earned her reputation during a lengthy stint at C4, where she helped the web to score thanks to a hit list featuring “Sex and the City,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost.”

“You’ve got to be discriminate when you go to the Screenings,” she adds. “If there are good shows, you should buy them.

“I don’t think people should bleat about prices getting too high. You should pay what you think a show is worth. If it’s a lot of money, then it must be for the right reason.”

Woolfe, meanwhile, joined Sky with a good pedigree in acquisitions, having bought “Will & Grace,” “Charmed” and “Grey’s Anatomy” while at Living. He has already axed two high-profile homegrown Sky shows, “Hex,” described as “the British Buffy” and co-produced with Sony Pictures Television Intl., and veteran soccer soap “Dream Team.”

But whether Woolfe will pay the top dollar necessary to nail any hot shows at the Screenings is a moot point.

“There’s a lot of scaremongering going down about how much people are prepared to pay for the handful of iconic shows that we are likely to see,” observed one veteran U.K. buyer.

In all this, the certain winners are the studios because they know they can call the shots in what remains a sellers’ market.

“It’s going to be a very tough Screenings for us Brits,” says Channel 4 CEO Andy Duncan. “There’s superinflation in the acquisitions market, so everyone will be watching their backs.”

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