Studio shows off new pilots, episodes

Mouse House mavens officially kicked off the L.A. Screenings on the Disney back lot Sunday with an “Ugly Betty”-themed evening for the 1,000 foreign TV program buyers in town for the 10-day marathon.

Now in its seventh year, the Disney Intl. Upfronts reps the first chance for buyers to see that studio’s newly greenlit pilots for the fall season.

Other studios began their screenings Friday or will roll out the carpet today.

Disney is riding a wave of success abroad, starting with “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives” and continuing with “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Ugly Betty” and “Brothers & Sisters.”

Its just-announced schedule includes “Anatomy” spinoff “Private Practice,” which the newly named Disney-ABC Intl. Television operatives will be selling abroad this week. Other dramas are two hours from writer Greg Berlanti: “Eli Stone” and “Dirty Sexy Money.”

Worldwide distribution prexy Laurie Younger did the honors by introducing what she called the company’s “biggest-ever upfronts lineup — including several new primetime dramas as well as cable properties like the surprise hits ‘High School Musical’ and ‘Kyle XY.’ ”

“We’re really pleased with what got picked up,” Younger told Daily Variety, adding that the new network shows are all quite distinctive. “It’s a nice mix. There are no duplicates, and they all seem to be strong contenders.”

Reflecting on the continuing success of Yank TV shows abroad, Younger suggested that the volume of U.S. dramas on air abroad increased by as much as 20% in the last year. Younger also said that “Ugly Betty” has now been licensed to 130 international territories to date and is a bona fide hit from the U.K. to Hong Kong.

Lauding the production team at ABC Studios headed by Mark Pedowitz, Younger went on to say that Disney could boast three out of the top five scripted U.S. primetime shows in the key demos — and argued that the Mouse House studio had the most series that went for a full 22-episode season.

“I think you can see, from the breadth of our shows, certain themes that are irresistibly moving and recognizable the world over,” Younger concluded.

Point now will be to see if buyers step up — and at the same heady prices that have been the norm for the past couple of years.

For his part, Tom Toumazis, the company’s exec VP and managing director for Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Canada, talked to the 1,000-odd guests about several new initiatives.

Most significant and immediate for foreign programmers, Disney plans to get its shows to overseas markets faster than ever before.

“In English-speaking markets, we can now make content available just 48 hours after U.S. broadcast. For those markets where we dub, we’re pledging tonight that the key autumn network series can be made available a month earlier than they are now. Faster delivery helps us all reduce the threat of piracy — something we all have to compete against,” Toumazis said.

Company will be selling a so-called Premium Collection of 25 titles, which includes some movies that have never before been broadcast on free television.

About new-media opportunities, Toumazis said that Disney has boosted the number of video-on-demand agreements abroad.

“In the area of live-action series, we’ve expanded our business model to encompass a flexible monthly subscription with ProSieben in Germany and TV2 in Denmark, where content is available a week before free TV broadcast,” he said.

Toumazis also said that mini-markets for specific emerging territories would continue to be held by Disney. Back in August in Beijing, Disney hosted a mini L.A. Screenings event exclusively for mainland China customers — the first event of its kind by a U.S. studio.

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