TV buyers go for ‘Fastlane’

Int'l execs swarm Warner for glimpse of speedy series

“Fastlane” is fast becoming one of the more talked about new fall series that foreign station buyers are circling.

Some 800 buyers from around the world are being shuttled in waves to the Warner lot on different days this week to screen that show, five other new dramas and three sitcoms from the studio during the annual L.A. Screenings bazaar.

While it’s unlikely any single new U.S. series will be the standout that all foreign buyers are eager to have on their skeds, “Fastlane,” per several who saw the pilot Tuesday, was singled out for its “fast pace, sexiness — and cool tone.”

“It’s young-appealing and fun. I don’t know where the story will go from here, but it’s very well produced,” said one Asian buyer Tuesday.

Series is exec produced by John McNamara (“Charlie’s Angels”) and toplines Peter Facinelli, Bill Bellamy and Tiffani Thiessen. Stateside it will air on Fox Wednesdays at 9 p.m.

Swedish TV buyer Robert Norman was also impressed with the series but cautioned that future installments don’t always live up to costly pilots.

(A number of overseas TV station buyers were in fact impressed with Warner Bros.’ “The Fugitive” pilot two years ago, but that series crashed and burned Stateside in its first season.)

Hard times

Moreover, these are “stressful economic times,” as Warner Bros. chairman-CEO Barry Meyer admitted to buyers Tuesday — a fact that means many overseas TV stations will wait to buy until they see how shows perform Stateside.

Warners, along with Fox and Disney, will jointly supply 60% of the primetime skeds of the six networks this fall. Universal, MGM, Paramount, CBS and a couple of indies make up the rest of the suppliers.

“We have 21 shows, or 16½ hours, on the fall primetime skeds and we’re the only distributor to have shows on all networks and on all nights except Saturday,” Warner Bros. Intl. TV prexy Jeffrey Schlesinger told buyers Tuesday morning.

Warner Bros. prexy Peter Roth predicted “Fastlane” would be “the most commercial hour of the year,” though, not surprisingly, he had positive words for all of his company’s fall hopefuls.

Several buyers said they were glad that the preponderance of new product from all the studios had shifted back to drama this year, since such shows travel much more successfully than do sitcoms.

‘Ranger’ rocks

Another show singled out by buyers on the Warners lot was, of all things, a back-door pilot about “The Lone Ranger.” Westerns have traditionally done very well on Euro TV stations, and buyers are looking not only for edgy fare (like “Fastlane”) but also for more conventional shows.

Execs from several Hollywood studios said they expect to close at least a few deals for their hottest shows over the next few days, but generally such piecemeal deals are with secondary territories.

Stations in the key overseas markets generally are committed to output deals with one or another major Hollywood supplier and hence will be getting that studio’s product no matter what.

Only exceptions: the troubled German market and the highly selective U.K. market.

In the former, the bankruptcy of the Kirch Group and other company defaults have destabilized the entire pay TV and terrestrial TV market.

Warner Bros. product, for example, has been languishing since a free TV output deal with Kinowelt went south last year.

In the latter, British buyers typically cherrypick from among the U.S. shows on offer, and typically take their time in doing so.

Without deals for shows in these two crucial foreign markets, however, it’s hard to imagine that the major Hollywood studios will make their projected numbers on any but their hottest shows.

Meanwhile, other studios also screened throughout the day Tuesday. Only a few deals trickled out.

Disney, for example, has concluded a multi-year agreement with Belgian broadcaster RTL TVI.

The multi-genre agreement includes movies like “Pearl Harbor” and “102 Dalmatians” as well as returning series “Alias.” The accord also includes a two-hour Disney timeslot branded as the Disney Club.

And Paramount is close to agreeing a multi-year output deal for its series with Australia’s Ten Network.

Ten’s chief exec David Mott told Daily Variety he was “delighted” with the upcoming series Par is screening this week, including “Hack,” which toplines Andre Braugher, as well as with output from Universal and Columbia, with which his station already has output deals.

(Eileen Tasca contributed to this report.)