Canucks pluck TV series

Chum's aggressive stance leads to more spending

So exactly how did the 800 overseas TV program buyers finally rate the upcoming fall network series — and did they actually buy any of them?

On the one hand, a number of key Euro buyers, the ones who spend the really big bucks, claimed they were underwhelmed by the shows on offer during the 10-day screening marathon.

But a substantial number of secondary territory buyers had a more positive response, praising the more wholesome, nostalgic tone and the conventional structure of the series on offer.

The Brits in particular are notoriously picky when it comes to choosing American shows for their skeds, partly because they have such a thriving local TV industry and don’t need many imports.

Britain’s Channel Five buyer Jeff Ford said he’d seen nothing this go-round that could compare with Fox’s drama “24,” which launched last year and was eventually purchased by the BBC in Britain.

“So far, I’m underwhelmed,” he told Daily Variety.

But Euro TV consultant Richard Sattler doesn’t agree that most buyers were “under-enthused.”

He said such statements are more likely a negotiating ploy with sellers or an attempt to impress their bosses back home with their frugal dealmaking.

Another L.A.-based consultant told Daily Variety that some overseas buyers are “heavy into wishful thinking,” hoping that nothing this go-round in L.A. catches fire because they still have so much American product stockpiled back home.

“I predict several shows we have seen during this Screenings will run for years on U.S. TV,” Sattler contended, citing “Everwood” and “8 Simple Rules” as examples of promising shows.

Like many of the Euro bigwigs, the Canadians too said the majority of primetime series on offer were ho-hum.

Nonetheless, Canucks always do a lot of buying in May in L.A. because their skeds are by necessity chock-full of Hollywood fare.

And, in spite of their lack of enthusiasm, they spent a little more than usual thanks to the more aggressive stance of Chum TV.

“It was a breakout year for us,” Toronto-based Chum TV prexy Jay Switzer said.

Chum had a more voracious appetite because it has new stations in Vancouver and Victoria, B.C., and is pursuing more shows for its New Net stations in Ontario.

For the New Net stations, Switzer and his colleagues acquired femme crime-fighters series “Birds of Prey” and “Twilight Zone,” both from Warner Bros.

Chum stalks ‘Doe’

Chum also nabbed the much-sought-after Fox drama “John Doe” and Universal’s “RHD/LA,” a cop series from Michael Mann starring Tom Sizemore.

The New Net stations will simulcast “John Doe” at 9 Friday nights, at the same time as Fox, and will also simulcast “RHD/L.A.” at 10 p.m. Fridays. (When Canadian stations air shows at the same time as U.S. border stations seen in Canada, the Canuck station is allowed to bump the U.S. signal and occupy both channel positions for the duration of the show.)

In addition, Chum is going back north with Paramount’s series “Haunted” and U’s “Monk,” and it has renewed rights to reality series “”The Bachelor.” In addition, Chum took Canadian rights to “Smallville,” which aired north of the border last year on rival Global Network. Chum will air the young-Superman series on City-tv in Toronto and on CKVU in Vancouver.

CanWest joins spree

CanWest Global was also buying with brio given that the Winnipeg-based company has two nets to feed: the Global Network and the smaller CH netlet, which has stations in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.

Doug Hoover, senior VP of programming at Global, said the company acquired a number of sitcoms that air immediately after hit Global shows.

Global will simulcast all these sitcoms in tandem with the U.S. broadcasts.

The laffers acquired by Global include “Hidden Hills,” which will air Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. right after “Frasier” on Global; “Still Standing,” to follow “Everybody Loves Raymond” on Mondays at 9:30 p.m. on Global; “Good Morning Miami,” to air after “Will & Grace”; and “The Grubbs,” to come right after “Malcolm in the Middle” at 9:30 on Sundays.

“We strategically bought sitcoms that follow our hit shows,” Hoover said. “It completes the hour for us in each case.”

Batch of dramas

Global also nabbed a number of dramas — MGM’s “American Dreams”; John Wells’ medical series “Presidio Med,” distributed by Warners; David E. Kelley’s “Girls Club” (which will take the place of “Ally McBeal” on Fox Monday nights); and “Firefly,” both airing on Fox and both distribbed by that studio.

Hoover was also pleased to renew Fox’s “24,” which performed better in Canada than in the U.S. and was an important show for the fledgling CH netlet.

CTV, in contrast, tightened its purse strings and only bought a couple of new shows: Alliance Atlantis’ “CSI: Miami,” MGM’s “Boomtown” and Disney’s sitcom “8 Simple Rules.”

The net also bolstered its “Law & Order” franchise, picking up the latest installment of the Dick Wolf skein from U called “Crime & Punishment.”

“We spent less, but there was less to spend on,” CTV programming prexy Susanne Boyce said. “It was a very safe year at the Screenings. There was a lot of ‘We’ve seen this before.’ ”

Canuck buying aside, most major station reps from Europe were adamant that buyer-take-all output deals are on their way out.

GianCarlo Leone, a top exec at Italy’s pubcaster RAI, joined a growing chorus of Continental TV buyers by suggesting that output and volume deals are becoming “too costly and problematic” — especially since Hollywood studios now split rights on movies with indie distribs. That means foreign buyers don’t always get the movies they bargained for.

Leone said the Italo pubcaster will end up buying less American product in the future.

Similarly, Gabriela Ballabio, a top buyer for RAI’s only rival Mediatrade, said her three networks hadn’t closed any deals at the Screenings for years.

Mediaset still has an output deal with Universal, among others, and Ballabio did say she was glad to see that that studio had gone back to “its old production philosophy” with its new series.

While she enjoyed U’s “Monk” very much, she cautioned: “It’s important to see how series develop since great pilots don’t tell you anything about how the series is going to be.”

In any case, both Mediatrade’s Ballabio and RAI’s Leone intend to cherrypick in the future. They also suggested that output deals that are expiring at the end of this year — Mediatrade’s with Universal and RAI’s with Disney — may not be renewed.

(Eileen Tasca in Los Angeles contributed to this report.)