Distributors ready for business post-strike
Though still concerned the global economy may stifle prices, the Hollywood studios are happy to at least have a full slate of pilots to show at this week’s L.A. Screenings.Coming off last year’s truncated development season, in which the Writers Guild of America strike threw the entire TV production schedule out of whack, there’s a sense of normalcy returning to the process as global buyers arrive. They’ll screen everything and vote with their checkbooks on which programs could be the next “CSI” or “Grey’s Anatomy.” But every year there are significantly more shows that fail than succeed, so it takes a keen eye — and an alignment of the TV gods — to pick a winner that could become a programming game changer for any number of international networks. The question, in these cash-strapped times, is whether nets will have the fortitude to outbid competitors for their favorite shows? “The economic situation is the economic situation, there’s no getting around that. Yet demand for content continues to be strong,” says Armando Nunez Jr., global TV topper at CBS Studios Intl. “At the end of the day, it’s more efficient to acquire U.S. content than to produce content locally.” Nunez will be offering up a pair of familiar titles, which may relieve some nervousness from shoppers. “NCIS: Los Angeles” and “Melrose Place” — a reboot of the popular Aaron Spelling series — will be on sale, the latter coming a year after Spelling’s “90210” got a second life as well. Over at Twentieth, there’s excitement over “Glee,” the high school musical hourlong from “Nip/Tuck” creator Ryan Murphy. In an unusual marketing maneuver that hopes to cash in on positive reviews and whet the appetite of viewers, Fox broadcast the pilot immediately after the penultimate episode of “American Idol.” Numbers were strong, and although there was a significant drop-off in the second half-hour, Twentieth topper Marion Edwards is feeling confident of its potential. “It’s such an unusual show that it begs to be treated differently,” she explains. “It has a great timeslot in the fall (following the “So You Think You Can Dance” results show), and people so far are thrilled with it.” As is often the case, Warner Bros. will come into the Screenings with a large slate of shows for sale. Dramas “Past Life” and “Human Target” won’t launch until midseason on Fox, but WB Intl. TV prexy Jeffrey Schlesinger says delayed gratification can play to the studio’s benefit. “Historically, that’s been a disadvantage, as they’re perceived as weaker shows, but that has changed in recent years. With Fox, possibly the best time periods to launch new series are following ‘American Idol’ on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, which happens to be in the first quarter,” Schlesinger explains. Disney is receiving attention with sci-fi skein “Flash Forward” (a phrase popularized at the end of the third season of “Lost,” whose audience the show covets). Mouse global distribution topper Ben Pyne says buyers, even in tough times, are willing to pay if they believe the content is worthy. “I think people have money to spend, but they will be careful and look for high-quality content they think can break out,” he says. And at NBC Universal, global topper Belinda Menendez is just glad 2008’s predicaments are further in the past. She is anticipating healthy sales for her shows, which include Peter Berg drama “Trauma” and “Parenthood,” from producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer. “Last season was difficult for everybody,” she says. “Given all of the problems we had, customers still believe in us as a company.”
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