‘Rules’ engages buyers

'Engagement' tickles foreign TV execs

HOLLYWOOD — It was a traditional sitcom that stole the show at the CBS Paramount screening session, as some 300 foreign program buyers convened Tuesday on the studio lot to see that company’s new offerings for the upcoming season.

While personal preference on the part of buyers is not always a sign of what they may acquire, laughter at the jokes in “Rules of Engagement” is a sign that interest has been piqued.

CBS Paramount is screening four new shows for fall and midseason, including dramas “Jericho” and “3 lbs” as well as a second half-hour, “The Game.”

The buyers are part of a 1,500-strong contingent of foreign TV execs in town this week for the L.A. Screenings, the first chance each year to assess, and perhaps buy, the new primetime series destined for the big five domestic networks.

As for “Rules of Engagement,” “it started out very traditional, but slowly the jokes clicked and the characters came alive. Even my Austrian colleague was laughing out loud,” said Tele Munchen’s Herbert Kloiber, one of Germany’s top buyers.

“It was a nice show to kick off the morning with,” he added.

Similarly, Marianne Boge, a buyer with Norway’s TV2, said “Rules” may work quite nicely in some territories. “You can relate to the characters,” she said. Her station has an ongoing deal with CBS Par and so is obliged to take most of that company’s output anyway.

“I’m still hopeful something will be outstanding this week, but so far I’ve seen good shows, but nothing great,” she added, after three days of viewing.

Laffer, produced by Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison and exec produced by Tom Hertz, stars Patrick Warburton as a sometimes wearily married guy who deadpans his way through the pilot.

Dominik Kaiser, head buyer for Three Plus, a soon-to-launch commercial station in Switzerland, said several sitcoms were appealing so far, including “Rules” and David Crane’s “The Class,” which Warners is licensing abroad.

“But paying a lot is not what we want to do,” Kaiser added. His station will be the only commercial free-to-air station in Switzerland, though various other signals come in from Germany and France.

Sitcoms typically sell for considerably less than dramas in the overseas markets — unless a competitive situation develops.

While deals aren’t necessarily done on the spot at the Screenings, several top markets are highly competitive. New players in Spain, Switzerland and Holland, as well as in the U.K. and Canada, should make things a tad more titillating this go round.

“We have to do things much faster now and move more quickly. We may not sign on the dotted line here, but we’ll probably make up our minds within weeks rather than months,” said Carlos Herran, a Spaniard who buys for action channel AXN in Spain and Portugal and for general entertainment web SET, just in Spain. (Both are owned by Sony.)

So far Herran has liked J.J. Abrams’ “Six Degrees” and Sony’s “Kidnapped,” thinking they may play well on SET.

Prices for U.S. shows in his market, he added, have gone up considerably since the local Fox-owned satellite channel snapped up “Lost” and two new free-to-air players bowed.

Not that the Hollywood suppliers are banking on big deals to be concluded immediately.

“This week is about putting our best foot forward,” CBS Par Intl. TV prexy Armando Nunez told Daily Variety. “We’re giving buyers all the information and tools they need to make the best decision for their stations. We’re planting seeds; the harvest comes later.”

Nunez introduced the morning session by putting the emphasis on the strength of the CBS network and “the laser focus” of the younger-skewing CW. (Three new shows are on CBS; “The Game” comes midseason on the CW.) Whether a show has staying power Stateside is crucial for foreign buyers, who don’t want to end up holding the bag on a six-episode show that immediately gets canceled in the U.S.

“We’ve got two innovative dramas and two smart, original sitcoms,” Nunez said, before pausing to reflect aloud on “how many times you may have heard that this week.” (All the buyers traipse from one studio to another during their weeklong stay in L.A., and all six major studios have new shows to tout.) “But ours really are,” he added.

Nunez also stressed the value of returning shows, of which CBS Par has an abundance — from “Dead Zone” and “The 4400” to “King of Queens,” “NCIS” and “America’s Next Top Model.”

He added that “returning shows also help boost our library,” arguably Hollywood’s largest.

The distributor’s “sizzle reel” at the beginning of the session highlighted shows from “I Love Lucy” and “Hogan’s Heroes” to “All in the Family” and “Cheers.” It got applause.

Meanwhile, the Mouse House continued to unveil deals that have been in the works for several months.

“Kicked Out,” an ABC Family reality series that follows parents looking to motivate their slacker twentysomething children, will be produced internationally for the first time, with Sky Italia creating a local version for its channel Vivo.

The Disney international arm also renewed a multiyear agreement with Viasat channels across Eastern Europe and clinched a distribution deal with Tohokushinsha in Japan.

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