Simulcasting makes Canuck nets pick early

TORONTO — In one of the first big deals to be confirmed out of this year’s L.A. Screenings, Canada’s CanWest MediaWorks has filled its shopping cart with new series pickups including the Jimmy Smits-led Latino family drama “Cane,” the Kelsey Grammer-Patricia Heaton sitcom “Back to You,” the return of “Bionic Woman” and the femme ensembler “Cashmere Mafia.”

Unlike buyers elsewhere, who can wait until the fall to make their purchases, the Canadian nets have to make their picks early because of U.S. simulcasting. The CanWest pickups will be skedded in about two weeks on its Global and newly rebranded E! (formerly CH) networks.

CanWest execs headed to L.A. knowing that the market has soured on serialized drama after offerings last year such as “Kidnapped” and “Vanished” failed to replicate the success of “Lost.” So episodic programming with simpler storylines was expected to step up to the plate.

Instead, according to CanWest senior VP programming and production Barb Williams, the studios have come up with a new hybrid of the two, “a blend of a strong episodic that a viewer could get in and out of cleanly with an added story arc that keeps bringing them back week after week.”

Fitting that mold are pickups like CBS Paramount Intl. TV’s “Cane,” about a Cuban-American family in the rum and sugar business in Miami that has generated strong buzz in numerous territories; NBC Universal Intl. TV’s “Life,” in which an offbeat detective returns to the force after serving time for a crime he didn’t commit, directed by “Studio 60’s” David Semel; and 20th Century Fox TV’s romantic time-travel mystery “Journeyman.”

CanWest has also picked up “Bionic Woman,” starring Michelle Ryan, from NBC U; and Sony Pictures Intl. TV’s Hugh Jackman, Lloyd Owen and Melanie Griffith starrer “Viva Laughlin,” a Vegas-inspired musical drama about the frenetic life of a casino owner, based on Blighty’s “Viva Blackpool.”

Sony’s legal drama “Canterbury’s Law,” starring Julianna Margulies, is a midseason pickup, and “Cashmere Mafia,” billed as “the female mind revealed,” arrives after “Dancing With the Stars” wraps in November.

CanWest is giving top billing to the 20th Century Fox sitcom “Back to You,” about a pair of battling local news anchors who reunite years after one of them moved up to the big time but then fell from grace.

Williams expects five or six of the pickups to go to Global and another six or so to air on E!. She noted that NBC U’s “Heroes” and House” are prime lead-ins at 9 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, “and we’ll be able to launch in behind those some brand new ones that will really capitalize on the power of those shows.”

Rival CTV is breaking from tradition this year and for the time remaining mum about its purchases until its upfront presentation on June 4.

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