A big cheese o’seas

Mouse touts hot-ticket TV fare to int'l buyers

The Mouse House kicked off its fifth annual “international upfront” presentation Sunday at the El Capitan on a newly upbeat note, touting “phenomenal” sales of three current series and a record $1 billion in foreign TV revs forecast for this year.

Some 900 TV station program buyers from overseas crowded into the theater to hear Disney execs tout their new shows for primetime and to glad-hand with the talent fronting them.

Laurie Younger, Disney’s top TV distribution exec, established the mood by offering a rundown of the biz, putting the accent on the turnaround at ABC and the newly buoyant international market.

Among thesps who came out to mingle with foreign buyers were Teri Hatcher, Dominic Monaghan, Jim Belushi, Stuart Townsend, Mandy Patinkin, Patrick Dempsey, Marcia Cross, Fred Savage, Geena Davis, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ming-Na and Kyle MacLachlan.

When the talent connected to “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost” appeared on the stage the usually phlegmatic coterie of international buyers came alive with loud applause: Those two shows have made a notable impact abroad on a number of key broadcasters.

The five other major Hollywood studios also will stage special events and screen their fall shows for buyers during the weeklong L.A. Screenings marathon. And DreamWorks is talking up its movie slate and its upcoming miniseries “Into the West,” exec produced by Steven Spielberg.

While Warners and Fox have the most new primetime product to place abroad, Disney can arguably boast the hottest current hits: “Lost” has been licensed in 183 territories worldwide — just about everywhere; “Desperate Housewives” has been snapped up in 150 territories; and “Grey’s Anatomy” is starting to gain traction abroad.

Younger’s top-billing Sunday night is another indication that Disney is now running its overseas TV operations out of Burbank rather than London, as it formerly did under successive international prexys Etienne De Villiers and David Hulbert.

During the next five days, Disney’s international sales team will try to close deals with foreign stations on 10 new primetime shows, including dramas “Commander-in-Chief” and “In Justice,” and renewals on 11 returning series.

“Our indications,” Younger said, “are that the global TV ad market will grow by a healthy 6% this year, and that similar or even higher growth is forecast in the two or three years after that.”

The really good news, she added, is that the number of hours of American movies and series airing in primetime on key broadcasters in the big five European markets has increased by 9% since 2001.

Closer to home, Younger, who is prexy of worldwide TV distribution for Buena Vista, pointed out that there’s much to celebrate in “resurgent ratings at ABC, an outstanding performance from ESPN and continued recovery from our theme parks.”

Younger also extolled the role that soon-to-be Mouse House CEO Bob Iger plays vis-a-vis the foreign market, calling him “a constant and valued ambassador for the international business.” She said Iger has set a double-digit growth target over the next five years for the international TV division.

Disney Media Networks chairman Anne Sweeney was on hand at the event — another sign of the importance top brass now places on those foreign TV clients.

Younger also singled out Mark Pedowitz and his Touchstone team for having the three most successful freshman drama series currently on U.S. TV.

“Grey’s Anatomy,” which is just starting to get buzz abroad, is “the third highest rated series of the season among the key 18-49 demo — bigger than ‘ER,’ bigger than ‘CSI: Miami,’ bigger than ‘Without a Trace,’ ” Younger said.

“These shows are now mirroring, and in some cases eclipsing, their U.S. success as they launch across the globe,” Younger told buyers.

Her remarks were followed by a video rundown of the new shows on offer and stage appearances by the actors and writers involved.

Also during the presentation, the company’s regional sales toppers were featured on a comic “Alias” video: Tom Toumazis (Europe), Steve Macallister (Asia-Pacific), Orest Olijnyk (Canada), Fernando Barbosa (Latin America) and Paul Candland (Japan).

Best quip of the evening came from Geena Davis, the star of “Commander-in-Chief.” She promised the international buyers that the show would not only be good but that it would give them “a U.S. president they could be proud of.” Loud applause followed.