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LA Screenings Preview: International Sales Market Has Foreign Flair

The LA Screenings are not just for programs born in the USA anymore.

The annual market that follows close on the heels of the broadcast upfronts has traditionally focused on showcasing the pilots that have just landed precious real estate on the fall schedules of ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and the CW.

It’s become a tradition for more than 1,500 buyers from around the world to gather in L.A. to screen the hot network properties. Buyers hop from studio to studio, spending hours in screening rooms and pressing the flesh with actors and showrunners.

But in recent years, many of the major studios have expanded the scope of their TV production operations well beyond the U.S. Fox, NBCUniversal, Warner Bros., and Sony have invested in production capabilities in London and other hubs. That means more high-profile series projects are originating with networks outside the U.S., and some of those shows are now on display at the LA Screenings.

For example, Sony Pictures TV’s “Houdini & Doyle,” the period drama from seasoned showrunner David Shore, was set up at ITV before it found a U.S. home on Fox.
Sony TV just this month assembled a high-profile project in “Electric Dreams: The World of Philip K. Dick,” an anthology series based on the work of the famed science-fiction writer, for the U.K.’s Channel 4.

The show — which will soon be shopped to domestic outlets (although nothing will be ready to show at this year’s LA Screenings) — has an A-list pedigree in “Outlander” showrunner Ronald D. Moore; six-time Emmy winner Bryan Cranston is attached to produce and appear in some episodes. The project likely would have set off a bidding war among U.S. outlets, given the auspices and Dick’s cult-fave status, but teaming with Channel 4 first allows Sony to wield more clout and retain more rights when it sets up the project stateside.

AMC Networks and BBC Worldwide have been frequent production partners on high-end drama including the sci-fi serial “Humans” and the Tom Hiddleston/Hugh Laurie limited series “The Night Manager.”

“We’re living in a world that is becoming more blurred than ever before. Some of that blurring is between what is a great cable show, what is a great network show, and now what is a great U.S. show and non-U.S. show,” says Keith Le Goy, president of international distribution for Sony Pictures Television. “A great show can have many homes and many origins. Producing with multiple partners around the world allows us to leverage the relationships and the talent we have to produce stories with strong global appeal.”

One such project Sony will be teasing for buyers at LA Screenings is “Halcyon Hotel,” from U.K.-based production imprint Left Bank Pictures. It’s set among the residents of a five-star hotel in London during World War II. Sony will show footage from the eight-episode series but won’t launch a full-blown sales pitch until Mipcom in October.

In that context, the LA Screenings are becoming another stop in the year-round cycle of sales and development of fresh programming. The voracious appetite of cable and SVOD buyers has made it impossible for major studios to confine their international activities to one or two times a year.

Still, the LA Screenings are a key point on the calendar because the studios need to gauge the level of international interest in a series to help determine how much can be invested in production over the long-term.

This year, with the networks’ emphasis on remakes and reboots of branded titles such as “Lethal Weapon” and “Prison Break,” buyers will have their share of high-octane projects to peruse. The return of Kiefer Sutherland in ABC’s political thriller “Designated Survivor,” distributed by eOne, should pique interest given the actor’s global renown as “24” hero Jack Bauer.

CBS will whet appetites for the upcoming “Star Trek” series bound for the CBS All Access SVOD service in January. There’s no footage to show yet — casting is still in progress — but a franchise with that kind of pedigree doesn’t need a hard sell.

And if ever there was an action-adventure drama destined to connect with international buyers, it’s “MacGyver,” says Armando Nuñez, president-CEO of CBS Global Distribution Group. “This show has built-in brand awareness on a global basis.”

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