Canucks flash cash

Int'l buyers see strong Screenings selection

As the L.A. Screenings winds down this weekend, weary foreign buyers said they’re likely to whip out their wallets for one or more of the upcoming fall primetime series.

For the first time in several years, buyers were enthusiastic about the shows on offer — from Fox’s “Tru Calling” to Warners’ “Tarzan and Jane” and Paramount’s “The Handler.”

Even the normally picky Brits were upbeat about the Yank product.

“In past years we came to the Screenings looking for ‘Hunks and Trunks’ — this year we want to raise the expectations of our audience,” said Dawn Airey, managing director of Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Networks.

“We are very pleased with the consistently good quality of the studio product and consider this a vintage year for U.S. drama — with real points of view which are highly promotable internationally,” Airey continued.

Airey added that the U.K. satcaster was in negotiations for shows with several Hollywood studios but that nothing has yet been signed.

Meanwhile, the Canadians were busily divvying up various series among themselves Thursday night at the Beverly Hills and Peninsula Hotels.

Global buys U trio

Global TV snapped up three Universal skeins — “Karen Sisco,” “Coupling” and the cable series “Traffic.”

Chum TV landed Paramount’s “10-8” and “Jake 2.0,” Warners’ “Fearless” and sophomore contender “Everwood” and renewed reality hit “The Bachelor,” also from Warners.

Calgary-based Craig Media, which is launching in Toronto this fall, picked up five syndie strips from Warner Bros., including newcomer gabbers featuring Sharon Osbourne and Ellen DeGeneres.

The 10-day bazaar attracted some 900 overseas execs whose job it is to acquire movies and TV shows for their stations back home. In recent years the market for American shows abroad has leveled off as foreign broadcasters have turned more to inhouse product to fill prime slots.

Still, the seven Hollywood majors pocketed a stunning $5.4 billion in 2002 from sales of their movies and TV shows to all foreign station outlets, pay and free.

Other shows that drew high marks from a wide variety of buyers queried by Daily Variety were Universal’s “Karen Sisco,” Sony’s “Joan of Arcadia,” Disney’s “Line of Fire” and MGM’s “Las Vegas.”

‘Something for everyone’

Several execs said there seemed to be “something for everyone,” at least among the 23 new fall and midseason dramas. Sitcoms are typically a harder play abroad, but even so, buyers pointed to a few they thought had potential, including Par’s “It’s All Relative,” Fox’s dramedy “Miss Match” and Disney’s “Hope and Faith.”

Channel Four’s top buyer June Dromgoole gave high marks to Carsey-Werner-Mandabach’s sitcoms “Whoopi” and “The Tracy Morgan Show,” both of which she said were “excellent” and would work in the U.K.

Similarly, Gudmundur Kristjansson, a buyer for Iceland’s RUV who liked “Hope and Faith,” said, “People in Iceland can relate to many things in American sitcoms. Getting U.S. humor is challenging but most people in Iceland speak English, which may explain why sitcoms with subtitles work.”

Still, not everyone gave this year’s crop of primetime hopefuls unconditional raves.

Britain’s Jeremy Boulton, ITV’s top buyer, felt that a lot of series had a 9/11 tenor that reflected “very American concerns.” Boulton said he would have liked to see more relationship-oriented drama.

Like Boulton, Kristjansson termed the product overall “reasonably good” but “nothing sensational.” His station has just renewed “West Wing,” “ER” and “Alias.”

Bart Soepnel, chief buyer for the Pan-Euro station group SBS, said he was generally pleased with the offerings, especially Warners’ “great slate.”

Soepnel will be huddling here with his team of seven buyers from stations scattered across Europe to decide which if any of the series they’re interested in need to be acquired immediately.

“Sometimes, for competitive reasons, we need to take action; otherwise we’ll re-evaluate once we’re back home,” Soepnel told Daily Variety.

Several Scandi execs were particularly struck by what they think is the influence of HBO’s latest hit “Six Feet Under” on the new crop of primetime shows.

They pointed to the offbeat tone of Fox’s “Tru Calling,” which, as one exec put it, “tries to do something different” and draws on both the HBO series and now canceled series “Early Edition.”

TV 2 Denmark buyer Feline Munde said her station execs liked and would probably buy David E. Kelley’s “The Brotherhood of Poland, N.H.” because it deals with some tough issues and “the writing is so good.”

Michael Schlagman, a British sales rep, pointed to the unusual number of series that have God as a character.

“I thought that God was off-limits, but with Sony’s interesting ‘Joan of Arcadia,’ you have the lead character who meets the deity in different guises,” he said.

Major distributors were also quick to point to other product lines that are attracting buyer interest.

Universal Intl. TV prexy Belinda Menendez noted that shows like “Monk” had changed buyers’ perceptions of made-for-cable series. “Peacemakers,” a show for USA Network that U is distributing, got some heat at the Screenings, she said.

As for deals, most of the major distributors confirmed late Thursday that they had offers on various shows but had not moved to close on anything as they wanted to give all clients a chance to assess the product.

MGM exec VP Simon Sutton told Daily Variety that the Lion has had concrete offers on several new shows but that no deals have been sealed.

Euro TV ‘healthy’

“European TV is definitely healthy,” he told Daily Variety, “with ‘Boomtown’ having racked up various deals over the last year.” (MGM distributes series produced by NBC and by DreamWorks as well as its own cable series and movie slate.)

Sutton and his team will be screening for all the British buyers on Friday and will host 50 clients from Italy, Iceland, the Netherlands, Russia and the Czech Republic Tuesday.

Several other studios also confirmed they’d be seeing select buyers through Tuesday and would evaluate offers thereafter.

Sony Pictures TV Intl. prexy Michael Grindon cautioned against overstating the changes in what’s taking place this go-round.

Buyers burned in past

“Generally, buyers expressed that they’re seeing some good stuff, but there’s no frenzy. People like to see how a show develops before committing,” he said, pointing out that buyers had been burned in past years by overhyped shows that didn’t live up to their original buzz.

(Brendan Kelley in Montreal contributed to this report.)

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