Studios say nets must spend to save

Majors convinced b'casters have needs to fill

The economy is in shambles, but the Hollywood majors arriving on the Croisette take small comfort in knowing that many global viewers are trying to escape their dire financial situations by staying home and watching TV instead of absorbing the cost of spending a night out.

Much of what audiences around the world are eyeballing is American programming, and studio toppers are convinced that quality shows can make a profit even in tough times. As sales teams come to the 46th annual Mip confab, held March 30-April 3 in Cannes, they’re putting their best pitch forward.

“It all depends on the customer and the territory, but we go to Mip with a sense of opportunity,” says Belinda Menendez, NBC Universal’s international TV topper.

Adds Twentieth’s Marion Edwards: “As people look at their budgets, they realize acquisitions are a traditionally much less expensive way to fill your schedule.”

Disney’s Ben Pyne affirms: “Is there softness in the market? Absolutely. But there’s still interest in quality programming and brands. We haven’t seen a fall off the end of the Earth.”

If the cast and creatives behind the shows aren’t enough to sway global broadcasters, studios are looking at various other ways to convince buyers to open their wallets. Twentieth is sending Charlie Hunnam, star of FX motorcycle-gang skein “Sons of Anarchy” to meet and greet the assembled, while William Petersen will be arriving from the States to tubthump the “CSI” franchises.

But, ultimately, it’s the quality of the series that matters most, and with several midseason skeins already launched or about to preem in the States, there’s plenty of product available.

Dramas traditionally have had much higher success rates than comedies in traveling globally, and CBS Paramount offers up mystery “Harper’s Island” while Twentieth has Tim Roth starrer “Lie to Me,” which began in January and is performing solidly for Fox. For fans of HBO’s “Deadwood,” Ian McShane stars in the NBC Universal skein “Kings,” but ratings out of the gate have been disappointing.

Sony has the compelling Patrick Swayze FBI procedural “The Beast,” while Warner Bros. will certainly be anxious to see how the new John Wells drama “Southland” fares when it premieres in the “ER” timeslot after the medical marvel signs off on April 2.

Warner Bros. comes to Mip with a solid lineup of shows already performing well in the States, including “The Mentalist” and “Fringe.”

There also are interesting new comedies that could pique the interest of buyers. NBC Universal is offering up the new Amy Poehler series “Parks and Recreation” from the creators of “The Office”; CBS Par will be selling “Nurse Jackie,” with Edie Falco in her first post-“Sopranos” project; and Disney has laffer “In the Motherhood.”

As the 10 p.m. scripted slot ends on NBC this fall with Jay Leno moving in, the net might slow production on one of the “Law and Order” skeins, yet the franchise marches on. “Law and Order: U.K.” preemed on ITV in February.

More local incarnations could be coming if one of the American versions goes away.

“(Creator) Dick Wolf says the sun should never set on ‘Law and Order,’ ” Menendez jokes.

While TV fare dominates the market, MGM will offer the latest James Bond pic in “Quantum of Solace” plus Tom Cruise’s “Valkyrie” and the recently released sequel “Pink Panther 2.”

Indie sellers will be aplenty, including Echo Bridge Entertainment, which bought out Alliance Atlantis Intl. Distribution last year, and E1 Entertainment, with a hefty TV, film and music library.

Twentieth’s Edwards says buyers, even in this economic maelstrom, will pony up if they think they can purchase a show that will replace a costlier one.

“You can lower costs by dumping shows that are expensive and buying new shows,” she explains.

As for the studios’ perspective, their profit margins are becoming thinner all the time.

“One thing that’s absolutely true,” Edwards says, “is that it’s not getting less expensive to produce these shows.”

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