No standouts in fall pilot crop

Screenings, output deals vie as German market eyed

No single drama or sitcom has bowled over the 800 foreign TV station buyers at this week’s annual L.A. Screenings bazaar, but a handful are getting widespread thumbs-ups.

Overseas buyers say they like the range and the quality of this year’s crop of U.S. primetime hopefuls more than in the past several years — a fact that should buoy Hollywood suppliers as they try to make sales or, even more arduously, renegotiate output deals with key foreign clients.

One contingent expected to push for a lot of tinkering with deals is the Germans. Germany has been the most lucrative foreign market for U.S. shows, but that ranking may change.

Rudiger Boess, head of acquisitions at Germany’s ProSiebenSat 1, told Daily Variety, “It’s become more difficult for us to program American shows in primetime slots — which we must do if we are to earn our money back on what we pay for them.

“There is a lot of American product available on the market in Germany. Output deals are going to be a thing of the past. In the coming months, you will see more package deals and cherry-picking.”

Boess’ main competitor in Germany, RTL topper Gerhard Zeiler, put it even more bluntly: “The output deal is one of the few non-words in Germany today.” Of course, Zeiler added, some deals are still running their course, but in the future he expects buying will concentrate on a few top shows and very little else.

On the plus side, Boess singled out Warner’s “Fast Lane” as “good for a young channel like ProSieben,” but thought Warner’s “Everwood,” while beautifully done, was “difficult to program in Germany because it’s slow-paced and too family-oriented.” He had not seen the product from several other studios.

Despite the insolvency of KirchMedia and the ongoing legal wrangling between KirchMedia and Paramount over their free TV output deal, Boess said his station still was getting Par’s shows through the KirchMedia funnel.

While he liked what he has seen this week of Par’s upcoming primetime shows, he, like many big Euro station bosses, can’t absorb so much product. “Paramount just has too much product, including 20 animated series. Who needs all that crap!” Boess complained.

Meanwhile, several other dramas also got accolades this week, including “CSI: Miami,” which is being sold by indie distrib Alliance Atlantis, and MGM’s “American Dreams,” which Euros think could play to younger auds.

As for Zeiler, he thought Universal’s “The Monk,” a series made for its sister cabler USA Networks, holds promise.

That’s probably a good thing, because Zeiler’s RTL may be obligated to take Universal product as part of a long-term output deal. The accent here is on “may,” because RTL has sued U over the terms of that deal.

Several sitcoms, typically a harder sell abroad, are getting high marks from buyers. Richard Sattler, a consultant to a handful of Euro stations, said his clients were quite taken with Disney’s “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter” as well as Fox’s “Still Standing.

An Icelandic buyer, RUV’s Laufey Gudjonsdottir, even found midseason sitcom “O’Keefe’s,” shown at the end of a long nine-hour day at Warner Bros., “nicely surprising.”

As for what they didn’t like, buyers as a rule are more circumspect.

A few execs said they were concerned about the duplication of themes in the two female-friendly HMO-centered medical dramas, “Meds” and “Presidio Med,” as well as by similar themes and tones in Warner’s “Without a Trace” and Fox’s “John Doe.”

Several said they were not thrilled that Fox had no pilots for two of its upcoming dramas, the new David E. Kelley project “Girls Club” and Joss Whedon’s “Firefly.”

And some thought more razzmatazz would nicely offset the tedium of so many long screenings.

TV2 Norway acquisitions vet John Ranelagh said that having been to various New York upfronts in the past, he thought the studios should consider “showing us more of the ritzy, glitzy stuff they put on for advertisers each May. A lot of buyers would love to see inserts here in L.A. in between the pilots for light relief.”

Canadian buyers finalize most of their deals for U.S. shows today before heading home for their upfront presentations in the coming days.