Studio racing to nab international buyers

With the MIPCOM market fast approaching, 20th Century Fox Television Distribution is racing to screen strike-delayed pilots for international clients.

Most of this year’s new network fare hadn’t yet been shot when international buyers made their annual late May trip to Hollywood for the L.A. Screenings.

That’s why, for the first time, 20th will conduct a series of pilot screenings for buyers overseas. The distributor will rent out theaters in London, Toronto and Sao Paulo, Brazil, to screen pilots that will finally be ready for viewing.

“Dollhouse,” from creator Joss Whedon, and the U.S. version of drama “Life on Mars” will both be shown beginning Sept. 15. The screenings will last five days in London, where Fox is anticipating an audience of approximately 400 buyers.

Marion Edwards, who heads 20th’s global TV unit, says the studio is offering both series about a month before MIPCOM, which begins Oct. 13 in Cannes, because they want to present them in a more exclusive and intimate fashion. If it waits until MIPCOM to unspool these shows, buyers will have to fit them in among a dizzying array of new shows to watch and process.

Other series 20th will screen include recent ABC pickup “Better Off Ted,” FX newcomer “Sons of Anarchy” and Fox comedy “Do Not Disturb.”

“It’s an effort to showcase what we have and keep in touch with our clients,” Edwards said. “We believe this is a business where personal conversations, and being able to ask and answer questions, are always valuable and we didn’t want to give that up. This is an expensive choice to make but we don’t have another option.”

The international TV side of 20th, as well as other studios, are coming off a strike-induced tumultuous year.

Only a handful of skeins were available at the L.A. Screenings, when buyers normally come and watch all the shows that the studios are putting up for sale. Most shows viewed at the Screenings are premiered in the U.S. in the fall, though some are saved until midseason.

20th is hoping “Dollhouse” connects with buyers as strongly as some of Whedon’s previous series, specifically “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” He followed “Buffy” with “Angel,” which ran for five seasons but didn’t fare as well with “Firefly.”

In July, Fox had some concerns with the “Dollhouse” pilot (Daily Variety, July 22), saying it was too difficult for viewers to understand. Whedon wrote another episode that will now serve as the show’s first episode — and this is the episode that will be shown in London. His original pilot will now be treated as the second episode.

Edwards said she has been working closely with the showrunners and execs on the network side to make sure all are satisfied with the finished episodes set to be screened on and around Sept. 15. “Dollhouse,” which will air on Fox, is scheduled to launch in midseason while ABC’s “Life on Mars” is set to premiere on Oct. 9.

“It’s been very challenging to get this all pulled together, but we’re glad we’ll have them,” Edwards said.

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