Buyers make L.A. Screenings trek

American dramas hot overseas

Will they pluck “Daisies,” fork out for “Dirty Sexy Money” or take to the “Lipstick Jungle?” And how excited will they be about spinoffs of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Heroes”?

Those are the multimillion-dollar questions hanging over Hollywood today as a record number of foreign TV station program buyers fly in for the annual sales bazaar known as the L.A. Screenings.

Yank dramas are the hot commodity right now in the international market, more even than movies, with top titles like “Heroes” and “House,” as well as “CSI” and “Lost,” pulling in megabucks from foreign broadcasters.

Event is the first opportunity every year for overseas broadcasters, niche cablers, satellite channels and, increasingly, broadband and mobile providers to sift through — and perhaps purchase — the new primetime series debuting on the U.S. nets next September.

The networks have picked up 23 new dramas for their 2007-08 skeds, 18 of which will bow in the fall; plus 10 comedies (seven for fall) and a smattering of gameshows and reality formats.

The preponderance of dramas is generally a good thing for the foreign market as hourlong shows tend to perform better abroad than American laffers.

Warners Bros. and Fox are rolling out the red carpet today in order to welcome the first wave of buyers. Other studios will open their gates over the weekend, with everything coming to a head by the end of next week.

CBS Paramount entertained some 100 early-bird foreign buyers during the CBS satellite hook-up presentation of the upfront Tuesday. International division prexy Armando Nunez told Daily Variety that reality format “Kid Nation” and user-generated-content show “Online Nation” sparked “a lot of discussion” among the foreign clients after the presentation.

He is distributing those two along with three family-centered dramas: the provocative “Swingtown”; the Latino-set “Cane,” with Jimmy Smits; and the South-African set “Life is Wild,” which is a format of a British series.

Canadians, who set their homegrown skeds in two weeks, will actually have to sign on the bottom line for U.S. series while in Los Angeles; everyone else can wait until the fall unless competition heats up.

Warners boasts the largest number of overall pickups and will be selling six dramas to foreign buyers, as well as several sitcoms and reality shows.

Despite the current enthusiasm for the pickups, not everything has gone swimmingly over the past year.

A large number of dramas were canceled Stateside, including most of Warner Bros.’ hefty slate. Fox saw “Vanished” vanish early, and CBS Par’s “Jericho” got the ax earlier this week. Such cancellations have left holes in foreign skeds that buyers are hoping to plug with, well, more American imports — preferably ones that don’t falter out of the gate.

“No excuses, and no apologies,” Warner Bros. Intl TV prexy Jeffrey Schlesinger told Daily Variety. “Every one of the studios was, I think, somewhat out of sync with current audience taste.” This season, he said, Warners is taking a different tack: fewer dense, dark series and fewer serialized shows.

He is particularly pumped about “Pushing Daisies,” which he said could play successfully on many a foreign broadcaster. In addition to the forensic fantasy, Schlesinger thinks the more straight-ahead actioner “Sarah Connor Chronicles” will attract a lot of buyer interest.

Similarly, Fox Intl. TV prexy Marion Edwards said she thought the crop of new shows would have fewer complex storylines and be more procedural in form. She’s bullish about “Journeyman,” with Kevin McKidd, which she thinks will have strong appeal in overseas markets.

“The big question, though, is whether there is anything as fresh and innovative as what’s been out there in foreign for four or five years,” Edwards said. “Is there, in short, another ‘CSI’ or ‘24′ ?”

As this week’s upfront presentations in New York made clear once and for all, the six Hollywood majors now have a virtual lock on the primetime skeds of the five broadcast networks. And vertical integration means that in the majority of cases, Disney product is ending up on ABC, Universal’s on NBC and so on. (Warners and Sony are unaligned with a major broadcaster.)

Warner Bros. will make a point of this reality at its all-day screenings sessions, suggesting to foreign buyers that its shows have to be “a cut above” in order to land slots on the major networks. Studio, in fact, did manage to land one or more series on each network, as well as on CW, which it half owns.

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