O’seas TV lacks fame yet deserves acclaim

In “Mandrake,” a slick lawyer gets in over his head in sexcapades and drug shenanigans. The hip, and hit, Brazilian drama series, produced by Conspiracao Films and HBO Ole, indicates there’s an appetite in that huge territory for genres and styles beyond those ubiquitous telenovelas.

In Germany, viewers were lured by a meticulously crafted mini about unlikely teddy bear titan Margarete Steiff. A spunky performance by Heike Mukatsch as the disabled Steiff further boosted the Teutonic series.

These were some of the highlights at the World TV Fest, which unspooled for the second year as part of the Intl. Emmy events Nov. 18-19 in N.Y.

Most of the ink has gone to the impact U.S. dramas are making on TV screens abroad, but the truth is homegrown fare across Europe, and increasingly in Latin America, is not far behind.

As I-Academy prexy-CEO Bruce Paisner put it: “The money is there and the quality has risen. We (at the I-Emmies) have caught the wave at the right time.”

The I-Academy’s mandate is to encourage overseas broadcasters to submit the best of their output for I-Emmy consideration. Org also aims to facilitate networking, so there will be more of what Paisner calls “Ben Silverman-like successes,” referring to the U.S. producer’s savvy in latching onto a hit Colombian sudser and turning it into “Ugly Betty.”

If that kind of format finesse remains a rarity, there was still plenty of straight-ahead local fare to savor at the two-day viewing marathon, from the Swedes and the French as well as the Brazilians and Germans.

Then there’s the Brits. It is a tribute to their unflagging ability to come up with compelling stories that they copped six of the nine awards presented Nov. 20.

This time it was not the latest twists on the royal family (“The Virgin Queen” and “The Queen’s Sister,” well done though they were) but rather contempo satire that swayed the juries.

“Little Britain,” now in its third season in the U.K., nabbed the comedy trophy; it soon will be retooled to take on American pieties. “Life on Mars,” a cop show with a time-travel twist, wrested the drama I-Emmy; it’s also being reversioned for the States.

Several British and Continental producers agreed U.S. dramas have raised the bar for everyone, with Danish drama producer Sven Clausen suggesting American shows have “helped change the pacing of ours and gotten us to focus more sharply on emotional truth.”

As for the long-gestating “Life on Mars,” it wasn’t until the launch of “Lost” in England that the BBC finally agreed on a greenlight. “Suddenly such high-concept, long-arc series were back in vogue,” producers said.

The World TV Fest still needs to attract a critical mass of heavy hitters and to effectively showcase its competing programs. However, producers across borders are increasingly comparing notes.

One concern is how to pay top talent so they’ll stick out a long-running series; another is how to persuade multiple writers to collaborate on shows.

Only when problems like these are solved will local industries be in a position not just to win I-Emmies, but to occasionally beat the Americans at their own game.

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