Yanks bank on hot series

U.S. series find renewed favor abroad

A correction was made to this article on May 22, 2005

A record 1,250 foreign TV station program buyers hit town today for the annual shopping spree known as the L.A. Screenings. Their aim: to snap up the next “CSI” or “Desperate Housewives” and do so without paying through the nose.

For 10 days overseas execs will traipse from Hollywood studio to studio in search of hot series for their stations back in Milan, Mumbai or Montevideo.

Europeans are the biggest acquirers of TV shows from the U.S. and have recently renewed their appreciation of Yank series. The erstwhile picky Brits will be out in force, as will French and German buyers.

All the Hollywood sellers — Warners, Fox, Disney, Paramount, Universal, Sony — profess to be pumped up by the hand they’ve been dealt, with Warners and Fox holding the most cards. Some 50 new primetime network shows, including midseason pickups, will be available to foreign buyers starting today.

Bulk of product

Warners will be licensing abroad an unprecedented 15 new shows on the primetime skeds; Fox has 12. Jointly they rep 60% of the new primetime offerings.

“We think we have one of the best drama lineups ever,” Warner Bros. Intl. TV prexy Jeffrey Schlesinger said. “And they encompass a wide variety of subject matter. We won’t have time to show all our pilots: There just aren’t enough hours in the day.”

Fox Intl. TV exec veep Marion Edwards said the Screenings marathon is going to be “chock-a-block” for her company as well.

“International,” she pointed out, “is a bigger biz than it’s ever been. What’s really encouraging is that Europeans are once again considering one or another hot American show for primetime on their stations.”

(In recent years, U.S. series have been relegated to off-peak abroad in favor of locally made fare.)

Lots of drama

Some two dozen dramas from the six major distribs will vie for the attention of buyers — everything from the pyrotechnics of Jerry Bruckheimer’s “E-Ring” to the sci-fi sizzle of “Threshold”; from the mysteries of “Supernatural” to the machinations of “Commander-in-Chief.”

Among the laffers on offer are sitcoms about dysfunctional American families, including “Crumbs,” and shows about young people coping with peer pressure like “Why I Married Your Mom” and “Sex, Lies & Secrets.”

Also bullish is the Mouse House’s top international TV sales exec Tom Toumazis, who is overseeing his company’s Screenings event for the first time. Disney’s ABC has had a remarkable turnaround and three returning freshmen shows from the Alphabet have caught fire with foreign buyers — not only “Desperate Housewives,” but also “Lost” and midseasoner “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Disney’s international TV sales arm will be repping eight new series, seven of them dramas. The Mouse House kicks off its sales event with a shindig Sunday at the El Capitan, featuring Disney’s top distrib exec, Laurie Younger, and talent from new shows.

“Now that we (meaning ABC) have successful shows on air to help launch new ones, foreign buyers are likely to be confident we can deliver. Also, we will have the Super Bowl this coming winter to help as a platform to launch midseason shows, another plus which foreign buyers recognize,” Toumazis said.

Meanwhile, CBS Paramount Intl. Television prexy Armando Nunez says “the diversity, the good writing and the great production values” of his new series (including “South Beach” and “Sex, Lies & Secrets”) should result in a buoyant market.

Right to be bullish

While sales execs are, whatever the circumstances, inveterate optimists, their current assessment may be close to the mark.

Foreign broadcasters have realized just how hard it is to make their own shows and to keep them fresh year after year. Having U.S.-made shows around as a backup or to fill specifically targeted slots is an essential part of a foreign programmer’s overall strategy.

Moreover, many of the key terrestrial stations abroad have begun digitizing and multiplexing their signals: They need programming for those offshoots as well.

And finally, there’s the currency advantage. With the euro, pound and yen having appreciated 30% over the past three years, now is a good time to stock up on dollar-denominated TV series.

As for reality fare, there are just three new formats coming on stream this fall, all in the inspirational mode. Universal will be licensing “Three Wishes,” DreamWorks will field “Miracle Workers” and Fremantle is offering “Martha Stewart.”

Smaller indie suppliers — Carsey-Werner, Reveille, E! Entertainment among them — will try to buttonhole buyers as they wearily make their way back from studio screenings to their hotels.