Local ‘Law’ is in order for Russia

NTV inks format deal with NBC U, Wolf

Russia is finally getting its own, homegrown “Law & Order.”

Commercial station NTV will format two of the franchise installments — “Criminal Intent” and “SVU” — via an agreement with NBC Universal and producer Dick Wolf’s eponymous company.

The agreements mark the second and third international format deals for the “L&O” brand, with NTV committed to an initial 12-episode order for each series.

Wolf told Daily Variety that discussions had been held off and on for years but that a deal to reformat the original “L&O” had proved difficult.

With ‘Criminal Intent,’ you have a quirky character actor as the star, and every country has one of those,” he pointed out. Similarly, with “SVU,” he said, sex crimes are more easily translatable and universal than, say, the strict courtroom procedures of the original series.

A French version of “Criminal Intent,” unveiled in July, is currently in pre-production and slated for a spring 2007 launch on top-rated station TF1. With French going ahead with their version, the talks in Russia were newly stimulated, Wolf said.

Leslie Jones, veep of format sales at NBC U Intl. Distribution, was instrumental in putting all three deals together. She told Daily Variety that the company was starting to “drill down” on format deals in the U.K., Italy and Germany, as well as in Latin America, with multiterritory producers.

“We’re casting the net fairly wide,” Jones said, “including conversations just begun in Japan about an adaptation of one of the series.”

In the U.K., she added, it would most likely be the mother ship “Law & Order” that gets reversioned. “Just to see judges in wigs would be great,” she quipped.

The production companies involved in reshaping the two series for local Russian auds are Moscow-based 2V and Global American TV (GATV), the latter a U.S.-based outfit specializing in media development in the former Soviet Union.

These agreements mark the first time in Russian history a U.S. primetime drama series will be remade for that audience. Other Russian stations are busily formatting U.S. laffers, including Disney’s “Golden Girls,” which already airs, and “Home Improvement.” Talks about a localized Russian format of “L&O” actually began several years ago (Daily Variety, July 25).

The Russian versions of “Criminal Intent” and “SVU,” both scheduled to premiere this year, are already in pre-production in Moscow and will initially adapt the original U.S. scripts, taking into account language, culture and the local justice system.

“There’ll be differences in the versions, of course, but their legal system is nowadays not that different from ours,” he said.

In order to adapt the series, 2V’s Pavel Korchagin and GATV’s Ed Wierzbowski will consult with the “Criminal Intent” and “SVU” creative teams, including Wolf and the shows’ writers and producers. Jones will often be on the scene to make sure the formats respect the franchise’s tone and structure.

“Whatever differences may exist between Russia and the U.S., there is one area where we are united — in our strong intent to fight crime,” NTV head of programming Eugeni Kucherenko added.

Under the terms of the agreement, NBC U will retain exclusive worldwide distribution rights to the new Russian episodes. Financial details of the format deal and fees to Wolf and NBC U were not available.

NTV, with an average daily share of 16%, was founded in 1993 as a general entertainment and news channel and has a potential audience of 120 million. 2V Studios is one of Russia’s oldest TV companies, producing dramas, docs and gameshows.

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