Stars shine at stripped-down Mip TV mart

Big names showing less presence this year

CANNES — Laid-back is not a word usually associated with industry markets, but there was no escaping the relaxed vibe on the Croisette at Mip TV as execs enjoyed an early taste of summer.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, returning to Cannes to launch his new 52-part toon “The Governator,” would have been forgiven for thinking he was home in Southern California, such was the ambience tempting marketgoers out of the Palais des Festivals and on to the sun-soaked terraces overlooking the Mediterranean.

“It does seem quiet, but we have had back-to-back meetings,” says BSkyB’s head of acquisitions Sarah Wright. “Mipcom in the fall was buzzier, but Mip TV has been interesting. I’ve had useful conversations with Sony, NBC-Universal and CBS about a range of projects across drama, comedy and formats.”

Among the missing was Fox, while Disney and Warners reduced their presence. But as Mip TV falls between NATPE and the L.A. Screenings, “the timing is not good for them,” Wright adds.

For MTV Networks Intl. sales maven Caroline Beaton, though, the confab was essential. “We have to be here, she says. A lot of our budget is achieved because of meetings held at Mip TV.”

With the U.S. studios keeping low profiles, there was an opportunity for cable to shine at the four-day mart, which wrapped April 7.

“It was a very different Mip TV than in previous years, because of the absence of some U.S. studios, which made room for more independent companies,” says Aline Marrache-Tesseraud, head of foreign fiction acquisitions at Canal Plus.

Still, without a full studio presence, Marrache-Tesseraud believes Mip TV has become a secondary market, compared with Mipcom.

“Many companies send less people than they used to,” says the Canal Plus exec. “(And) while in past years we were sometimes able to obtain clues about whether pilots had been picked up or not by networks ahead of the L.A. Screenings, this year it wasn’t possible.”

But a studio pullback didn’t mean there were no actors on hand at the mart. The Starz-BBC Worldwide co-production “Torchwood: Miracle Day” got a big push, with cast members John Barrowman and Bill Pullman in Cannes to promote the show. Also present on the Croisette were Eva Green, Jamie Campbell Bower and Joseph Fiennes, stars of Gk-TV’s “Camelot,” another Starz commission.

Mindful of the international success of Showtime’s sexed-up take on the court of Henry VIII, “The Tudors,” bodice rippers were much to the fore.

Two rival minis about Italy’s corrupt medieval family, the Borgias, were available to the 4,000 or so buyers organizers Reed Midem said were present in Cannes.

CBS Intl. topper Armando Nunez predicted that the Jeremy Irons-starring version, “The Borgias,” which airs on Showtime and has already made its way across most of Europe, could outsell “The Tudors” and end up in as many as 200 territories.

He did not think “Borgia,” produced by Atlantique Prods. in association with Germany’s EOS Entertainment and Gaul’s Canal Plus, would have much impact on Showtime’s version “other than causing confusion.”

Two dramas about the doomed oceanliner Titanic were vying for buyers’ attention as well; the ITV-led four-part co-production, “Titanic,” scripted by Julian Fellowes, which costs more than $16 million, and Italian pubcaster RAI’s “Titanic: The Untold Story.”

Expect a surfeit of docus as the biz gears up for the centenary of the liner’s tragic maiden voyage next April.

“We saw a lot more ambitious fiction projects launched by independent companies than in previous years at Mip TV,” says Alexandre Piel, Zodiak Rights’ Paris-based head of fiction and documentary acquisitions and co-production. “The big trend is the historical miniseries. It’s always been a popular genre, but it’s proving particularly in vogue at this year’s Mip TV.”

Piel also noted plenty of formats on offer, but fewer new animated shows and documentaries, though the docs being marketed were of better quality, he says.

New York-based Jules Borkent, who heads Nickelodeon’s buying team, felt there were more shows for children than in any other genre. But “most of what I’ve seen here, we already know about,” he says. “A lot of distributors are saving their shows for Mipcom.”

Borkent was looking forward to checking out “The Governator,” — the result of a pact between comic icon Stan Lee, A Squared Entertainment, Archie Comics and Schwarzenegger. The project will kick off with a toon series featuring Schwarzenegger’s CGI likeness and voice, and segue into a 3D movie.

But Borkent warned that having Schwarzenegger’s name attached to the project was no guarantee of global success.

“It is not about him, it is about the show,” he says. “If the show is good, it will succeed. Stan Lee has a long history of creating good shows, but celebrities don’t make a show in the kids’ world.”

But they do help raise a market’s profile — and with the jury still out on which U.S. studios will attend next year’s Mip TV, having some famous folk milling among the crowd at the Majestic is more important than ever.

So will CBS Intl. be back next spring?

“It is too early to tell,” says Nunez. “Mip TV is part of an ongoing, year-long process. With the Screenings a month or so away, the timing is not ideal, but that is something we’ve all had to live with for a long time.”

Elsa Keslassy contributed to this report

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