London shoot saves $1 million an episode

NBC Universal is saving $1 million an episode by making drama skein “The Philanthropist” in London rather than in Los Angeles, the company’s international prexy Peter Smith said Monday.

“The quality is superb here (in London),” added Smith during a Q&A session following a keynote speech at the European Media Leaders Summit.

“The Philanthropist” is due to air on NBC next year. TV production is the first the studio has based in London, where local shingle Carnival, acquired by NBC in August, is producing.

Show stars James Purefoy as renegade billionaire Terry Rist, who travels the world seeking to right wrongs. It is also lensing on location in South Africa and the Czech Republic.

In a surprisingly upbeat speech considering the state of the economy, Smith said NBC U was preparing to acquire a Russian production company as part of plans to drive more earnings from international activities but declined to give details other than to say the shingle is “an established business.”

Smith also said NBC U is keen to launch online service Hulu, co-owned with News Corp., outside the U.S. The U.K., France, Germany and Japan are all priority markets for Hulu, Smith said.

In the U.K., however, he said no progress had been made regarding a possible partnership with planned local online TV venture Kangaroo, backed by BBC Worldwide, Channel 4 and ITV.

On the broader issue of the economic downturn, Smith said press coverage of the turmoil was not helping matters and that companies needed to think carefully about changing how they operate.

“Yes, it is going to be tough,” he said. “Canceling Christmas parties is not the order of the day; We have to find smarter ways of doing business. It’s going to be a two-, three-year cycle.

“Those who make deep cuts now will come out the other end.”

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