Canadians busy at Screenings

Brits and Oz shoppers also looking for winning TV series

The Canadians, always the first to buy at the L.A. Screenings, have headed back to the Great White North with a shopping bag full of shows.

In doing so, the Canucks defied early expectations of an austere buying season.

Global purchased reboot “Hawaii Five-0” from CBS Studios Intl., while also taking home the J.J. Abrams drama “Undercovers” from Warner Bros. at the annual event where TV programming execs from around the globe come to Los Angeles to pick up just-announced series.

It also acquired Twentieth’s Texas oil drama “Lonestar” and “Ride-Along” from creator Shawn Ryan, as well as sitcom “Raising Hope.” Laffer is the brainchild of “My Name Is Earl” exec producer Greg Garcia.

Rogers, which owns the City-TV stations, opened its checkbooks for NBC Universal’s “The Event,” starring Jason Ritter and Blair Underwood.

CTV’s new programming slate includes a mix from several studios. Tom Selleck starrer “Blue Bloods” and “The Defenders,” with Jim Belushi and Jerry O’Connell — two of the three dramas the network picked up — are from CBS Studios Intl. “Law & Order: Los Angeles” was bought to replace the “Law & Order” mothership that was a CTV staple but canceled by NBC last Monday. CTV also is facing the loss of “Lost.”

On the comedy side, CTV bought “$#*! My Dad Says” and “Mike & Molly” from Warner Bros., and “Mr. Sunshine,” starring Matthew Perry as the manager of a sports arena, from Sony.

All three nets will announce their new lineup at the Canadian upfronts next week.

CTV topper Susanne Boyce said she wasn’t tied to a particular genre, just as long as the show is well-executed and has a chance to build an audience.

“What works best is telling a good story, whether it’s comedy, drama or reality,” Boyce said.

Before the Screenings, toppers from all three Canuck nets promised to be more frugal than usual. The Canadian channels have taken a brutal beating on the balance sheet in the past few years and publicly stated they couldn’t afford to spend as they have in the past.

According to insiders, however, it didn’t turn out that way. Canucks spent vigorously on what they had their sights on, but not everything was bought. Some skeins are without a Canuck home.

“The crop of new shows was pretty extraordinary and the networks conducted themselves accordingly,” said an insider familiar with who bought what and for how much. “In any economy, the value of American programming to Canadian customers is through the roof. They rely on American programming and recognize some value in American programs.”

Just settling in to the Screenings, however, are reps from the U.K. and Oz — English-language speaking territories where shows may also move off the studio shelves at a brisk pace.

Execs at Brit’s Channel 4 are expected to be busy. Net is looking to replace reality behemoth “Big Brother.”

“You can’t underestimate Four,” said Sarah Wright, head of acquisitions at rival pay channel Sky One. “Last year, Four bought ‘The Good Wife’ and ‘Hung’ at the Screenings, and I’ll be surprised if they return empty-handed this time. When other broadcasters plead poverty, I am always skeptical. Channel 4 has cash to spend.”

Sky is faced with the difficult scenario of trying to replace “Lost” and “24,” which are ending their U.S. runs.

Stuart Murphy, Sky One’s director of programs, will be scouting for “epic drama” and “smart American comedy” in filling the programming pipeline.

Over at biggest private terrestrial broadcaster ITV, which is reinventing itself under the new management of CEO Adam Crozier and Zai Bennett, director of digital channels and acquisition, execs needs no reminding that digital web ITV2 relies on U.S. shows to keep auds coming back. Current star performers include “American Idol,” “The Vampire Diaries” and “Gossip Girl.”

Bennett, who leads a seven-strong buying team in L.A., said this year’s Screenings will be very competitive because Channel 4 and Sky have a lot of slots to fill.

Traditionally, flagship net ITV1 picks up very few U.S. series at the Screenings. Will this go-around be an exception?

“We’re looking for shows and the door is open,” Bennett explained. “We want to buy, but the show has to be right. There are potential slots on ITV1, but our focus is on ITV2 and ITV4.”

The BBC, fearful of feeling the political heat from the new Conservative-led coalition government, declared earlier this year that it intended to cut its acquisitions budget by about a quarter. That still leaves about £75 million ($108 million) to bankroll imports, including Hollywood movies.

For Oz execs, coming to the Screenings is more about getting a preview of what they’ve already bought rather than engaging in bidding wars for buzzworthy shows. With output deals already in place — 10 acquired shows from Twentieth and CBS Studios, seven from Disney and NBC, and nine from Warner Bros. and Sony — it’s just a matter of hoping what they bought has the look of a winner.

“When you align yourself with a studio, you’re backing that horse,” said Beverley McGarvey, the head of programming for Ten. Net had a stellar 2009 Screenings when it acquired “Modern Family” and “Glee” from Twentieth, and “NCIS: Los Angeles” from CBS Studios. It is looking for a repeat performance.

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