WBTV lightens new load

'Underbelly,' 'Trees' receive renewals

Warner Bros. Television is lightening up a bit this year on the drama side, studio brass told a clutch of international TV buyers on Monday as Warners kicked off its L.A. Screenings events.

Studio is seeking homes abroad for the new skeins Warner landed on the major broadcast webs’ 2007-08 primetime skeds. It’s coming off a tough year when only two of the 10 new scripted series it fielded for the 2006-07 campaign, the ABC comedy “Notes From the Underbelly” and drama “Men in Trees,” earned second-season renewals domestically.

Warner Bros. chairman-CEO Barry Meyer, Warner Bros. Intl. TV prexy Jeffrey Schlesinger and Warner Bros. TV prexy Peter Roth assured the more than 450 international buyers who gathered for a day of screenings at the Steven J. Ross Theater on the Burbank lot that the studio is determined to improve its batting average this year.

“Lighter, brighter, breezier and easier to watch as self-contained episodes” is how Schlesinger described Warner’s ’07-’08 drama slate to Daily Variety.

Roth acknowledged to buyers that the studio may have gone overboard on dark, intense serialized dramas last year with such entries as ABC’s “The Nine” and CBS’ “Smith.” Those and other WBTV frosh from last year, even those that were well received by critics such as “Nine” and NBC’s “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” were not embraced by domestic auds, which means that many were canceled by the time the episodes began airing in overseas markets.

“While we’re proud of the quality of last year’s fare, it’s no secret that our first-year series yielded disappointing ratings results,” Roth said. “We are well aware of that and have re-evaluated, reinvigorated and reapplied ourselves in the most aggressive manner possible.”

Roth pointed to new hours including ABC’s “Pushing Daisies,” about a man with the ability to bring dead things back to life, and NBC’s “Chuck,” a comedic spy thriller about a computer geek, as examples of the studio’s effort to put more humor in its hourlong development this year.

“Our dramas are more multidimensional, and in many cases, offer humor to break the relentless tension of those dramas,” Roth said. “Our storytelling is far more self-contained and less reliant on the serialized form.”

Buyers in attendance at Warners on Monday included Canada’s CTV, Australia’s Nine Network, the U.K.’s Channel 5, Germany’s ProSieben and Mexico’s Television. The L.A. Screenings is an annual post-upfronts ritual, in which Hollywood’s majors show off their new wares to foreign buyers. The screenings kicked off in earnest last week; Disney held a red-carpet event for 1,000 buyers Sunday evening on the Mouse House lot (Daily Variety, May 21).

Warners’ new slate for the coming season also includes the “Terminator”-themed Fox drama “The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” which aims to pick up where the second “Terminator” feature film left off; CBS’ “Moonlight,” about a vampire who works as a detective; and comedy “The Big Bang Theory,” from “Two and a Half Men” co-creator Chuck Lorre, about two genius-geeks at Caltech who try to establish a friendship with a bombshell blonde waitress who moves in next door.

“We have such a diverse slate this year that rather than one show emerging as ‘the’ show, different shows are emerging for different (buyers),” Schlesinger said.

The offbeat drama “Daisies” has generated strong buzz for its unique look and feel, he said, while comedy “Big Bang Theory” got a good response “across-the-board.”

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