Global buyers have plenty to choose

L.A. Screenings bazaar puts new shows up for sale

As the global TV community gathers this week for the annual buying bazaar known as the L.A. Screenings, what shows are leaving the airwaves feels just as relevant a discussion as what’s new for sale.

Gone are two of the most electrifying serials of the past decade: Disney’s “Lost” and Twentieth’s “24,” both saying goodbye after not only making millions for their respective U.S.-based nets — ABC and Fox — but for dozens of channels around the world.

On the procedural side, “Law & Order” is wrapping after 20 years (though there is speculation that Turner cabler TNT may pick up the Dick Wolf mothership), and while American courtroom shows don’t always travel well, the “Law & Order” format has performed strong enough that countries such as England and Russia began their own localized versions.

“Those are big franchises and important to viewers,” says Twentieth international TV topper Marion Edwards. “People are here looking specifically to find that type of important franchise. You pick one, invest early and hopefully watch it build.”

There are many shows to choose from, but impossible to know which will be the one that hits big. Buyers will use their own personal criteria for which programs they think could blossom into hits — U.S. timeslots, casts, exec producers and storyline.

Edwards had a stellar 2009 as “Modern Family” and “Glee” were immediate hits. This year she’s high on “Lone Star,” starring newcomer James Wolk. Set against the Texas oil industry, he plays a schemer with two identities.

“You need to be careful casting a con man,” says Edwards. “You have to be able to root for him, and this has real potential to work as a unique drama.”

At Warner Bros., global TV chieftan Jeffrey Schlesinger is high on the new series “Undercovers,” from J.J. Abrams, who’s also an exec producer for the studio’s sci-fi skein “Fringe.” Abrams directed the pilot — it’s the first TV episode he’s helmed since the premiere of “Lost” six years ago — and expectations are high.

“It’s as good a pilot as I have seen in a number or years,” says Schlesinger “It’s very ‘Hart to Hart’-ish; breezy and easy to watch. The last pilot I felt this way about was ‘The Mentalist.'”

Schlesinger expects buyers, coming off a brutal year where the global recession depressed prices, will return to L.A. with checkbooks open. Prices won’t be nearly what they were several years ago before the economy went into the tank, but for shows that last a handful seasons in the States, the studios can still make a small fortune.

NBC Universal global TV prexy Belinda Menendez agrees.

“Last year was unique as it was the worst economic period in memory,” she recalls. “Every facet of the business was tough. The ad market in a number of territories is beginning to shift now, though, and broadcaster earnings are beginning to improve. We’re hoping to translate that to dollars.”

NBCU and Warner Bros., like all studios, have volume deals with several networks that constantly fill those vacant programming timeslots around the world.

Even though they have volume deals in place, RTL in Germany, TF1 in France and Oz’s Nine are expected to be among the most active buyers at the Screenings. In the U.K., Channel 4 may buy aggressively while Sky will have the dilemma of replacing both “Lost” and “24.”

Menendez is enthusiastic about “The Event,” a highly serialized conspiracy thriller with TV vets Blair Underwood, Laura Innes and Emmy winner Zeljko Ivanek. Jason Ritter, who had a recurring role in “Parenthood,” plays the lead protagonist.

Menendez also has a wide selection of programs from the NBCU cable properties to sell. USA Network, the No. 1 cabler in the States, is premiering new drama “Covert Affairs” July 13 and will be available for purchase.

Speaking of cable, HBO is now a participant in the Screenings and will unspool drama pilot “Boardwalk Empire” — directed by Martin Scorsese and written by “Sopranos” alum Terence Winter — and Laura Dern comedy “Enlightened” at their corporate digs in Santa Monica.

Other comedies that could resonate with buyers are WB’s Chuck Lorre-penned “Mike & Molly” and Sony’s laffer ensemble “Mr. Sunshine,” starring “Friends” alum Matthew Perry as the manager of the sports arena.

“People are looking for that kind of show,” says Keith Le Goy, president of international distribution for Sony Pictures Television. “They’re saying that’s the Matthew Perry they loved.”

With “Lost” leaving Hawaii, CBS Studios Intl. is going back to the islands with a remake of classic cop show “Hawaii Five-0.” Revamp will star CBS fave Alex O’Laughlin, Scott Caan and “Lost” alum Daniel Dae Kim.

“There’s an added value because it’s a recognizable brand,” says CBS Studios Intl. president Armando Nunez. “You had a concept that was cool and innovative, and our studio waited for the right time to bring it back.”

And at Disney, after “FlashForward” failed to replace “Lost” as must-see sci-fi, the Mouse House has a lot riding on “No Ordinary Family.” Superheroes skein stars Michael Chiklis in what some are describing as a live-action version of the studio’s animated hit “The Incredibles.”

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