H’wood dramas draw big bucks in Cannes

U.S. hits command big fees o'seas

CANNES — A clutch of Hollywood drama series were hot commodities on the Croisette as this week’s Mipcom TV trade show began to wind down late Wednesday.

While buyers in some territories are still holding fire, deals for CBS Paramount’s “Jericho,” NBC Universal’s “Heroes,” Warner’s “The Nine” and Disney’s “Ugly Betty” are almost a certainty, barring a major falloff in ratings Stateside for one or another. These shows have already been licensed in some markets where the relevant major has an ongoing output deal with a station.

The good news for the Hollywood sellers is that Yank hits are pulling in record dollars. The U.K., Germany and France are the hottest markets, accounting among them for almost half of the total per-episode price paid for series from all of international.

“There’s no doubt ‘Ugly Betty’ is the prettiest girl at the dance,” Disney’s worldwide distribution topper Laurie Younger told Daily Variety.

“It’s great to have a hit show like ‘Heroes’ to present to buyers. We will be closing some deals in the near term on it,” said NBC U distribution prexy Belinda Menendez.

Younger confirmed that pricing for top series abroad had broken the $1.5 million-per-episode barrier. “Of ours, more than one has done so,” she said.

It would not be hard to imagine the Disney exec was referring to “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives.”

Younger said that many countries were also negotiating to do localized versions of various Disney hits, including four separate “Desperate Housewives” in Latin America. “Reversioning of scripted American shows is definitely a hot trend,” she said.

In the last five years, drama series have supplanted movies as the most sought-after American product on offer at trade shows like Mipcom and its sister event Mip in the spring. However, given the proliferation of new outlets abroad, the demand for content of all sorts has mushroomed, making for a lively sales bazaar this go-round.

Fox’s sophomore hit “Prison Break” is already a huge success in France on M6 — thanks in part to efforts to localize the music for the show by including an original hit tune by a Gallic rap artist.

“Adding these localized elements really raised the awareness of the show in France,” said Fox exec VP Marion Edwards. Stars Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell were, she said, “bowled over” by the reception they got when they arrived in Cannes.

Other U.S. product that buyers were buzzing about were as diverse as the new “Thomas Crown Affair” movie from MGM — star Pierce Brosnan putting in an appearance didn’t hurt; DIC’s tween phenom “The Slumber Party Girls,” whose cast performed at a gala to celebrate the company’s 25th anni; and the Mouse House’s “High School Musical.”

But Mipcom is not just an American showcase. Europeans also come to town to sell during Mipcom and they, too, had some momentum.

Granada’s steamy “Dracula,” which in the U.K. will air on the BBC, was a hot ticket. In a departure from the usual Brit costumer look, a flyer for the show featured a blood-spattered couple getting intimate, vampire-style.

“The standard of American shows is very high right now, but buyers still look to the U.K. for blue-chip event programming like this. It is difficult to beat,” Granada Intl. managing director Nadine Nohr said.

Nohr pointed out that one-off TV movies are benefiting these days from broadcasters’ declining interest in films. “A made-for-TV film will premiere on TV. A theatrical film has been seen in so many places before it airs on free-to-air TV,” she said.

On the reality front, Granada was receiving a lot of requests for “They Shouldn’t Be Alive,” a 10-part doc featuring incredible tales of survival.

The Germans, too, brought with them some well-crafted shows, many with a historical bent.

Veteran Teutonic producer-distributor Jan Mojto is selling a number of WWII-set series or minis — mainly to other Europeans. “The best soil for drama is undoubtedly WWII,” he said. Mojto also has a “Hindenberg” project in the works and an ambitious “Schindler’s List”-type drama set during the rape of Nanking in 1937. “Those two might interest the States,” he said.

And German United Distributors talked up the remastered version of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s epic “Berlin Alexanderplatz,” which will be available next year.

Italy’s Lux Video reported plenty of interest in its docudramas “Pope John II” and “Mother Teresa.”

Off the beaten track within the Palais, the weird and wacky also seemed to be attracting foot traffic.

London-based Zeal TV is selling six one-hour episodes of a doc called “Sex Change Hospital.” Each episode follows two people undergoing a transgender operation. “The show has created a lot of buzz,” said head of sales Nick Sallon.

On a stand covered in flag-motifed wallpaper, a user-generated content outlet called Worldmadechannel.tv was showing a live broadcast of Slavic children decked out in traditional costume, giving their best shot at a folk dance.

“The idea is to give everyone their three minutes of fame,” said Nataliya Kuznetsova of the Netherlands-based channel, which, she says, is available to a potential 4 billion people via satellite and the Internet.

Mentorn is continuing to tap the reality craze with a series of “World’s Worst” formats, including “World’s Worst Pet” and “World’s Worst Hairdresser.”

And tucked away in the bowels of the overblown Palais, porn was proving a popular choice for mobile TV buyers. Producer-distrib Alain Siritzky was there formatting short porn clips for mobile television.

“Justine” and “Emmanuelle 7” were doing well, he said.

(Alison James and Liza Foreman contributed to this report.)

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