Big appetites drive feeding frenzy

U.S. production values impress foreign auds

A plethora of dramas featuring everything from a female crime-solving team (“Women’s Murder Club”) to private eyes who are really vampires (“Moonlight”) to wife-swappers in the ’70s (“Swingtown”) is up for grabs. So too is the spinoff of an already established international hit, “Grey’s Anatomy,” and the pseudo-spinoff of another, “Heroes.”

With U.S. hours riding a tidal wave of international success, a likely record number of foreign TV station program buyers — as well as newcomer telco, mobile and broadband reps — have hit town for the 10-day annual marathon known as the L.A. Screenings.

Several other shows — Warners’ “Pushing Daisies,” Disney’s “Dirty, Sexy Money” and NBC U’s “Lipstick Jungle” — also got high initial marks from foreign buyers who flew in early to attend the domestic upfronts in New York last week.

The Screenings is the first opportunity each year for broadcasters, niche cable purveyors and, lately, foreign online and mobile companies to get a look at new American programming and indeed lock up rights to what they think will work for them back home.

Judging from the buoyancy of the recent Mip TV sales market in Cannes, few buyers should show any signs of fatigue when it comes to appreciation of Yank shows or move to tighten their pursestrings.

“So long as the U.S. networks continue to program such quality writing and storylines, and as long as local production abroad doesn’t catch up in financial investment with what’s being done Stateside, I think the wave of Yank successes abroad will continue,” says Disney’s top sales exec, Tom Toumazis.

Although financials are notoriously hard to pin down, it’s reckoned that license fees per episode for the dozen biggest American hits have escalated dramatically in most markets in the past three years. Britain, Spain, Russia and Canada have seen some of the biggest increases.

The Hollywood studios, which are responsible for distributing virtually the entirety of the five U.S. networks’ fall primetime schedules, are already rolling out the red carpet — and rolling up their sleeves in hopes of getting buyers to sign up for their new offerings.

In a largely amorphous gathering that sees buyers traipse from one studio to another in herds of multiterritory groupings, it’s notoriously difficult to gauge the level of business being accomplished during the event. Only the Canadians are obligated to fill their bags with product immediately, as the major networks in the Great White North announce their own fall skeds two weeks later and hence must have their Yank entries already lined up.

Barring a few last-minute changes to the skeds and discounting midseason orders, it looks as though Warner Bros. will have the most hour series to sell overseas. The studio, which is unaligned with a major network, also has managed to place one or more shows on each of the domestic nets. In most cases, vertical integration now means the bulk of each network’s primetime schedule is provided by its sister production unit.

For the sixth year, Disney kicks off its selling event with its Sunday evening “International Upfronts” at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood. The Mouse House has been on a roll for three years, with its trio of “Lost,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” and more recently “Ugly Betty” and “Brothers and Sisters.”

Interest in the “Anatomy” spinoff, “Private Practice,” toplining Kate Walsh, is likely to be considerable. Toumazis says a two-minute promo is all that is available to show buyers at this point; he thinks next October’s Mipcom will be its major launchpad.

NBC U also looks to have a strong slate, adding to its “House” and “Heroes” trump suits (with the latter weaving in six prequel episodes under the banner “Heroes: Origins”). Distrib boasts an updated “Bionic Woman” and “Lipstick Jungle,” the “Sex and the City”-inspired series from Candace Bushnell.

“We’ve landed several really cool series on the NBC sked,” says NBC U Intl. distribution prexy Belinda Menendez.

Sony TV comes to market with three dramas, including “Viva Laughlin,” which is a format of a British musical drama starring and exec produced by Hugh Jackman.

Foreign buyers will be happy that network bosses at last week’s upfront sessions in New York signaled they were ordering more episodes of series and vowing to let them run their courses uninterrupted — a response to the often stumbling performance of shows this past season.

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