Green screenings

Despite qualms, Yank shows are hot, hot, hot

HOLLYWOOD — They may not have uncovered the next “Lost,” but international program buyers left Los Angeles over the weekend with a number of prospects in their heads, if not deals on paper.

What impressed them most about the 40-odd primetime series the five U.S. networks will launch in the fall were their movielike production qualities.

What most worried them was a suspicion that many of the storylines were too implausible or hard to pull off.

As one of the 1,500-strong contingent of foreign TV program buyers put it: “It’s as though everyone is trying too hard to grab the viewer’s attention. A lot of money is being thrown at the screen, and that’s great, but I wonder if enough attention is being given to the stories that have to unfold thereafter.”

The distributors, in fact, made sure the story arcs were being outlined in person by producers on the lot in order to lessen those concerns. Paul Haggis, exec producer of “The Black Donnellys,” described the development of his series to buyers on the U lot; Jon Turteltaub did the same via video for “Jericho” on the CBS Par lot.

Time will tell if the buyers’ qualms are justified, or if they are just a negotiating tactic.

Fact is, a dozen current American series are hot, hot, hot abroad, and some buyers, whatever their reservations, likely will come around to making purchases during the summer months. (An American series costs them much less than making their own shows.)

The Hollywood majors pocket almost $6 billion a year from their sales of series and feature films to TV outlets abroad, both pay and free.

The L.A. Screenings is, however, no longer about each studio’s movie slate: Nowadays it’s series, not some 3-year-old theatrical, that can transform a network into a must-see outlet.

Disney’s top European salesman, Tom Toumazis, had this astonishing stat: In the top five Euro markets, the number of U.S. series playing in primetime has risen by 42% over the past five years.

His own company has been flying high with three bona fide global hits — “Lost,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Grey’s Anatomy” — and is flogging seven newcomers.

Several other factors are stimulating the foreign market:

  • With the merger of the WB and UPN, there are five rather than six full-fledged U.S. networks and hence fewer shows filling those fewer timeslots.

  • New players have emerged in several key territories abroad, including Ireland, Holland and, particularly, Spain. That means more competition for the better shows.

  • A strong euro and pound means buyers in key territories have more money to spend on U.S. series.

“With American shows doing so well abroad, and fewer shows being pitched to buyers, the interest level seems to have gone up,” says Sony Intl. TV exec VP Keith LeGoy.

Like his counterparts at the other five major distribs, LeGoy could point to at least a couple of series that buyers were coalescing around. Among his were drama “Kidnapped” and sitcom “‘Til Death.”

But every distributor insisted his output was the most compelling overall.

Warners was for the fourth year in a row the No. 1 supplier to the U.S. networks, with 11 new and 16 returning shows. Screening sessions at Warners were all-day affairs.

An informal survey of two dozen buyers from different countries suggested that clients were, if not ecstatic, at least pleased with the general quality of what is for sale.

Among the drama series that got repeat mention as “appealing” or “workable” were Warners’ “The Nine,” Disney’s “Six Degrees,” Fox’s “Vanished,” NBC U’s “Raines” and CBS Par’s “3 lbs.” as well as Sony’s “Kidnapped.”

Laughter could be heard in a number of screening rooms last week — as comedies, which traditionally do not travel as well as dramas, seemed to go over surprisingly well. Among the brighter laffer prospects were Warner’s “The Class,” NBC U’s “30 Rock” and Disney’s “Let’s Rob … .”

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