‘CSI: Miami’ heating up Screenings

Alliance pacts with Televisa, Televen for new skein

“CSI: Miami” is hot south of the border — despite the cash crunch that currently dogs TV stations in Latin America.

Indie distributor Alliance Atlantis, which co-owns with CBS both the Las Vegas and the Miami-set “CSI” skeins, said Monday it is already racking up deals for the newcomer spinoff of the forensic drama.

Most notably so far, Alliance Atlantis has inked a deal with Sony’s regional satcaster entertainment net, the Sony Channel, which picked up a first-window for the series toplining David Caruso.

Deals were also closed Monday with terrestrial stations Televisa in Mexico and Televen in Venezuela, both of which already have rights to the Vegas-set series.

Overseas buyers are in town this week for the annual L.A. Screenings, the first chance for buyers to get a look at upcoming fall series for the American networks.

Australia’s Channel Nine and Canada’s CTV also signed on the dotted line for “CSI: Miami,” while several Euro broadcasters are expected to close on the series by the end of the Screenings Friday.

Alliance Atlantis distrib prexy Ted Riley told Daily Variety that pricing for the new skein is “consistent” with revenue for the Vegas-set series, which was originally licensed two years ago, before the downturn in the international TV market.

The original “CSI” was film producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s first foray into television — his company will have four skeins on the air this fall — and is averaging an estimated $650,000 per episode from its sales to foreign broadcasters.

That’s a healthy price, especially given that Alliance Atlantis, unlike the majors, doesn’t have blockbuster feature films with which to package the series.

Alliance Atlantis is essentially the only indie distrib playing in the primetime series arena with the seven Hollywood majors. Because it sells “CSI” on the open market rather than through output deals, it provides a fairly clear indication of the appetite among foreign buyers for U.S. shows.

“The biz right now is feast or famine,” Riley said, explaining that for the handful of American series in demand, pricing is holding up, while everything else has gone begging.

Riley also points out that “CSI” has the advantage of being “a fresh brand” — not some hoary classic that’s being dusted off for primetime retooling.

“We come off a pre-sold brand that is actually still building in the ratings. In that respect, the timing couldn’t be better for launching the spinoff,” Riley said.

Alliance Atlantis is also sealing deals for second and third years on the Vegas-set “CSI” and for other product in its library, including film titles like Sundance fave “Dogtown and Z-Boys.”

Meanwhile, the going is tough for other indie distribs trying to pitch foreign TV buyers bleary-eyed from watching series over at the Hollywood major studios.

A number of indie distribs who are exhibiting at the Park Hyatt Hotel through Wednesday said that the economic climate was, as one put it,

“worse than terrible.”

Carlton Intl. senior sales rep Catriona MacGregor echoed a general sentiment among indie sellers that pricing is under pressure.

MacGregor said that some Latin buyers want to renegotiate payment terms and/or are doing fewer deals.

She and others at the Park Hyatt reckon that buyer attendance at this Screenings may be down as much as 20% from last year, meaning there are some 750 station execs from around the world on hand, rather than the 900 plus from past years.

Finally, over on the Fox lot Monday, buyers seemed most intrigued with that studio’s upcoming fall drama “John Doe.”

One buyer pointed out, however, that spooky special effects are now “out” in Europe and that dramas that simply play it straight are more in demand.

Several buyers are also concerned about the difficult timeslot “John Doe” will have this fall in the U.S.

“It’s hard to imagine the biggest audience is available for this show on a Friday night. That really wouldn’t be the first place you’d be likely to put such a show on a European station’s schedule,” TV2 Norway acquisitions head Nils-Ketil Andressen said.

Fox, Disney and Warner Bros. are the three studios with the most new shows on offer to overseas buyers.