U.S. sellers play catch-up in wake of writers strike
The ramifications of the Writers Guild of America strike that began on U.S. soil nearly a year ago continue to be felt half a world away.
As the Mipcom confab begins Oct. 13 and the Hollywood studios arrive in Cannes to sell their newest and shiniest TV wares, this year’s edition has a distinctive theme. Call it the Bazaar of Late Arrivals.
A handful of skeins up for sale were only recently viewed by global buyers trying to fill their networks’ pipelines. Usually, those folks coming to Mipcom have been to the L.A. Screenings in May, where they see everything and then have a few months to make decisions on what to purchase.
This time around, however, buyers have only recently viewed pilots in rented screening rooms in Toronto, Buenos Aires, London, Hong Kong and other cities and continue to play catch-up. With so many shows behind schedule in production, a few studios — most noticeably NBC Universal and Twentieth Century Fox — are treading in unfamiliar territory.
The dearth of pilots has led to alternative ways of getting the word out.
“It’s about the art of selling,” says NBC U global TV topper Belinda Menendez, who didn’t have “Knight Rider,” “My Own Worst Enemy,”
“Kath & Kim” or “Kings” to showcase. “We had material available, though, including scripts and on-air programming. We have enough in order to give our customers confidence.”
Fox screened Joss Whedon’s “Dollhouse” and “Life on Mars” for the first time last month, and will have those ready to go at Mipcom as well.
It’s been tumultuous at Fox this fall, as Whedon ended up transforming his “Dollhouse” pilot into the series’ second episode to address network concerns. Also, “The Ex List” showrunner Diane Ruggiero recently departed over creative differences.
Yet Fox’s Marion Edwards says she believes that when all the dust has settled, Stateside product, which has historically proved to be a wise investment, will be no different this year in terms of interest to buyers.
“Buying U.S. programming is attractive financially,” she says. “The shows cost us $2 million-$3 million, and they can buy it for a relatively insignificant amount. Acquiring some portion of your schedule makes sense for your bottom line.”
WB laces ‘Fringe’
Over at Warner Bros., there was little of the sturm und drang experienced by other studios that didn’t have completed pilots. Most everything was available at the L.A. Screenings. Its most buzzworthy property, “Fringe,” has already been bought by Sky One in the U.K. and CTV in Canada.
Except for those two territories — where there is always plenty of competish for new skeins — much of WB’s programming is purchased in volume deals, including TF1 in France, ProSieben in Germany, Nine in Oz and TVN in Poland.
“Fringe” opened in the States on Fox with solid but far from spectacular ratings, something of a disappointment considering the J.J. Abrams association and a massive promotional push by the network. Yet, the second episode and others that followed, when slotted behind “House,” have fared much better and Fox just ordered a back nine for the series.
WB international TV prexy Jeffrey Schlesinger says “Fringe” can be a global hit as long as viewers don’t feel obligated to watch every hour, every week.
“Buyers are hoping that it doesn’t have a deep mythological background and that there’s not a need for viewing every episode,” Schlesinger says. “We have a lot of faith in J.J. This is his sweet spot.”
Disney doesn’t have as much for sale that’s debuting on the broadcast nets this fall — laffer “Gary Unmarried” appears on CBS — but the Mouse House seems to have hit it big with cabler “Raising the Bar” from producer Steven Bochco. Legal drama connected on its opening night on TNT with 7.7 million viewers tuning in.
Ben Pyne, head of Disney’s global TV arm, says the studio is looking for its programming to break into burgeoning territories, such as the Middle East and central Europe, as well as making more of a presence in spots that traditionally have a liking for U.S. skeins.
“We’ve been blessed that American content has both cachet and demand around the world,” Pyne says. “We don’t see that diminishing.”
‘90210’ adds up
Folks at CBS Paramount were excited to see the strong numbers for “90210,” which was a welcome relief to the execs at the CW net as well. It’s always difficult to predict how a remake of a hit show will play — especially one that wasn’t screened for critics — but the skein certainly reached a substantial fanbase.
“90210,” which is airing on Global TV in Canada and Ten in Australia but has yet to find a home in the U.K., looks to have held up the legacy of the original particularly well. CBS Paramount Intl. prexy Armando Nunez isn’t surprised.
“It’s one of those projects that had high visibility,” he says. “I’ve always had faith in it. We reinvented a show for the 21st century. There are not that many shows like that out there.”
As it has in the past, MGM brings its “Stargate” franchise to market, and TV prexy Gary Marenzi says the popularity of the genre continues to grow.
“Sci-fi is becoming more popular around the world, and the development of digital media and the Internet only fuels the demand,” he says.
With American politics capturing headlines globally, MTV Networks Intl. will be offering a comedic look at the presidential race and beyond by packaging global editions of “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report.”
“There’s so much interest,” says senior VP of sales Debbie Back. “We’ll recap them, use the biggest clips and do a best-of version. People are wanting it.”
Among the keynote speakers at this year’s Mipcom are former Disney chief Michael Eisner (who now heads the Tornante Co., an “incubator” of online shows) and Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman. A “green TV” keynote will be given by Discovery chief David Zaslav.
At Mipcom Jr., Nickelodeon topper Cyma Zarghami will speak.