Britain, Germany see bumper TV crop

O'seas buyers generally pleased with H'wood projects

Some of the top foreign buyers of programming at this week’s L.A. Screenings marathon are more upbeat about the new crop of fall primetime shows than they’ve been for several years — and that may mean that they put their money where their mouths are.

For different reasons, two of the most lucrative territories, Germany and Britain, have been difficult markets of late but that may be about to change.

“Germany is coming out of the worst of its problems — the implosion of the Kirch Group and the crash in the Neuer Markt — so we expect to see business pick up there,” Disney TV’s international prexy David Hulbert told Daily Variety.

He and others of his counterparts at the Hollywood majors also think that growing competition in the U.K. from more outlets and the aging of some iconic imported shows like “Friends,” “Frasier” and “ER” will spur normally picky British buyers to spend more money Stateside.

Although it’s still early in the Screenings event, several buyers told Daily Variety Tuesday that they’re generally pleased with what they’ve seen so far at the Hollywood studio lots.

For 10 days some 900 foreign TV station program buyers traipse from studio to studio to view the new series for the fall primetime lineups.

TeleMunchen topper Herbert Kloiber, who heads one of Germany’s major distribution entities, told Daily Variety he was “quite impressed” with the offerings he saw Tuesday.

“I just came in from Cannes, but I can say that so far it looks like a very good crop this year,” Kloiber said, having spent seven hours over at the Warner Bros. lot Tuesday watching that studio’s 16 upcoming fall hopefuls.

Kloiber’s company controls the rights to 17 or 18 hour dramas in Germany and did a number of renewals on shows last year.

“We’re likely to pick up two or three more shows this go round,” he said. “We do this meticulously. Tomorrow is Paramount, then Fox on Wednesday. Some of the other suppliers, with fewer shows this time, may bring their series over to our hotel.”

Warners, Fox and Paramount are the leading suppliers of primetime programming this go round, with Warners fielding a record 16 new shows and 14 returning ones.

Over at German broadcaster ProSiebenSat.1, the company’s head of acquisitions Rudiger Boess — who has so far seen the offerings at Warners, Fox and Paramount — was also impressed with what he saw at Warners, including the teen-targeted “Tarzan and Jane.”

However, Boess disliked the upcoming HBO period piece about a traveling circus called “Carnivale,” which he said was too dark for his taste.

“Nip/Tuck,” which is also being sold by Warners and will air on the FX cabler, is edgy and wacky but Boess queries whether it will play well internationally.

About Fox’s new offerings, Boess said he was not as impressed with what he saw, terming the David E. Kelley contender, “The Brotherhood of Poland, N.H.,” as “a really boring thing.”

“You have to think that Kelley is overrated in that this is the second year that he’s not done a playable show for us in Germany.”

As for Paramount, Boess gave higher marks, pointing in particular to the “JAG” spinoff called “NCIS” which he said should do well in the Teutonic territory. He added that the show’s star, Mark Harmon, is “a very good actor.”

Boess also thought that “It’s All Relative,” which is a Paramount sitcom, is “very well written.”

Meanwhile, Norway TV 2 veteran buyer John Ranelagh also has been pleasantly surprised by much of what he’s seen.

“After today’s screenings at Paramount there is clearly a new challenger for the best pilot on offer and it’s ‘The Handler,’ an extremely well-written, well-crafted and superbly acted hour on FBI undercover operatives,” Ranelagh said.

As first episodes go, he added, “this is a standout show, not just for this year but for several years in my memory, but I’d better shut up now or I will push the price up too high!”

During its screenings Paramount is passing out questionaires for the first time so that foreign buyers can comment on the new shows — and get their views passed back to the producers in question.

Richard Sattler, whose company RSP Intl reps a number of Euro, Aussie and U.S. stations and cablers here in L.A., said he and his clients are thrilled to see, without their prodding, the tidal wave of primetime reality shows on U.S. networks has subsided.

“That means there’s a real bonus of more scripted shows for us to choose from than we’ve had in recent years,” Sattler added.