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Fremantle Freewheeling In Asia’s Largest Tv Market

Fremantle Corp., the global distributor of shows as varied as “Baywatch,” “Grace Under Fire” and “Prime Suspect,” locked up or advanced a number of programming deals with Chinese broadcasters during the recent Shanghai TV Festival and the Mip Asia TV market in Hong Kong.

The deals, representing 197 hours of programming, suggest the complexity and quirkiness of doing business in the world’s largest, if not yet lucrative, TV market, Fremantle president Paul Talbot said.

Among the more unusual: An arrangement with Canton TV whereby Fremantle will produce news segments about life in America for the broadcaster’s Mandarin-lingo newsmagazine in exchange for the right to set up shop in Canton and produce local-lingo programming. First project, Talbot said, is to take a Latin American telenovela and refashion it for the Mandarin market.

That deal was facilitated by Fremantle’s latest hire, Dianbo Xie, a Chinese-born executive who formerly worked at Canton TV-he bought Chinese rights to “Charlie’s Angels”-and now oversees that market for Fremantle out of New York.

Fremantle also is pushing ahead with plans to get “Bay-watch” up and running across China’s 30-odd regional broadcasters. The company is talking to ad agency conglom Saatchi & Saatchi about selling airtime in a countrywide barter arrangement being pieced together with the various provincial broadcasters.

What takes time, Talbot said, is working out a proper barter deal in each of the provinces: pinning down the relative worth of airtime in each province. “Baywatch” already has been passed by the Chinese censors, though that process took a year, Talbot said.

While working on these more complicated arrangements, Fremantle managed to close a number of deals for cash with various regional and city TV stations in China.

In particular, the company inked deals repping 70 hours of programming from British-based Granada LWT Intl. (Fremantle recently replaced Hong Kong-based Evans Communications as Granada LWT Intl.’s Far East distributor.)

Hunan TV bought all four series of Granada’s Emmy-winning cop show “Prime Suspect, ” including the three feature-length films in production; Beijing TV opted for LWT’s mystery series “Poirot.”

Canton TV concluded deals for Granada features “Criminal Justice,” “Pied Piper” and “Heat of the Day” and LWT dramas “Piece of Cake” and “A Perfect Hero.”

Fremantle also sold a package of TV movies, including several from the catalogue of its Canadian client, Atlantis TV, for cash to several Chinese broadcasters.

One show that did not pass muster with the Chinese was “Grace Under Fire.” A national censor viewed one episode of the hit U.S. network series during the Shanghai TV fest and gave it the thumbs-down for the entire country. No reason was given for the nix.

According to figures made available by Mip Asia TV market organizers, China boasts about 900 million viewers in 230 million TV homes. Peaktime shows can reach audiences of 184 million, though prices paid for shows still are extremely low.

-Steve Clark contributed to this story.

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