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Europe: Program potpourri

Granada leads U.K. charge as reality and movies hang For Sale sign

LONDON — All the major U.K. program sellers will be jetting to Las Vegas in hopes of cashing in on several major sales.

Heading Granada’s format lineup is reality skein “American Princess,” in which 10 girls are flown to the U.K. to learn and behave like royalty, and the highly successful “Nanny 911,” which provides a master class in child rearing and taming temper tantrums as practiced by an old-school Mary Poppins type.

When Granada merged with Carlton in February to form ITV, it inherited a thriving TV movie business, now headed by Los Angeles-based Stephen Davis.

Bowing at the National Assn. of Television Program Executives confab will be supernatural thriller “The Dead Will Tell,” starring Anne Heche, and the romantic saga “The Unexpected Journey,” featuring Mary-Louise Parker and Aidan Quinn.

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These should prove useful in the company’s presentations to Latin American TV buyers, who, according to U.K. sellers, should be one of Blighty’s best customers.

Additionally Granada will be attempting to open up revenue streams by licensing archive classics like “Jewel in the Crown” and “Upstairs Downstairs” to video-on-demand operators and high-definition TV providers.

“In the U.S. we’ve had one of our best years ever for DVD with titles like ‘Poirot’ and ‘Miss Marple,’ ” says Granada’s Caroline Torrance, senior VP Americas/Eastern Hemisphere. “Now we’re increasingly looking to the opportunities offered by new technology.

“We recently agreed to a deal with video-on-demand service Akimbo, a small, growing company that allows audiences to download shows via broadband. We’ve assembled a special package for NATPE aimed at that segment of the U.S. market.”

At the confab, Fremantle’s focus will be on reality fare. Spearheading its slate are “American Idol 4,” “The Apprentice” and “The Swan,” plus the U.S. version of dust buster series “How Clean Is Your House?”

“Agi and Kim are on the road and cleaning up America. There’s a lot more humor in the U.S. version because the characters they meet are more eccentric,” says David Ellender, managing director of Fremantle international distribution, of “How Clean Is Your House?”

Dirty laundry of a different kind is the subject of another Fremantle property, veteran London police series “The Bill,” due to launch on cable in Canada next month. Skein is close to being picked up by a U.S. channel, possibly BBC America.

Meanwhile British buyers will be out in force at NATPE attempting to grab an advantage in what is a ferociously competitive market.

Representing Blighty’s biggest commercial broadcaster, BSkyB, for the first time at NATPE will be ex-BBC topper Rebecca Seagal. “We’ve recently started to get into co-production so we’re on the look out for potential partners,” she says.

“In terms of acquisitions, we’re interested in high-end, innovative drama; factual entertainment; and nonscripted in different genres, both for Sky One and Sky Travel.”

She adds, “NATPE is a very beneficial market because it’s the beginning of the new year. Midseason is a very critical time for all the U.S. broadcasters, including cable, and it allows us to see how particular shows are developing.”

The stakes are high and hitting the jackpot is rare, but European program sellers heading for Las Vegas also will be gambling on doing brisk business in Latin America.

Signs of a partial upturn in some Latin American economies are encouraging for outfits like the BBC, FremantleMedia and Granada.

All are putting renewed muscle into getting more of their fare onto broadcasters’ schedules in Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Mexico, not to mention some of the region’s smaller and less mature TV markets.

“As far as the economy goes, the region still faces difficulties,” acknowledges Jose Sanchez, the BBC’s worldwide regional TV sales director for Latin America.

Last year, Sanchez passed on NATPE. As economic factors toughened, the pubcaster opted for a more targeted approach to selling its fare to the territories.

BBC Worldwide held a showcase market in Buenos Aries, Argentina. The Beeb is planning to switch the location to Rio de Janeiro for its Central American sales splash this fall.

Meanwhile, notwithstanding economic weaknesses, Sanchez is upbeat about the prospects for NATPE.

“We expect to be very busy, but Argentina has not recovered as quickly as everyone had hoped. However, Chile, Mexico and Brazil are looking in better shape, while smaller markets like Ecuador and Colombia have pulled through.”

“TV movies do well in Brazil, Argentina and Mexico but I don’t think anyone has cracked the format market in Latin America,” adds Granada’s Torrance. “We’re all looking for that runaway format success. It’s difficult because some of the shows are expensive to produce.”