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Foreign exchange

New NBC U unit to format fare o'seas

Imagine localized versions of “Law & Order” or “Meet My Folks” dotting the foreign landscape. The already-formatted “Queer Eyes,” another NBC Universal-backed show, airs in 15 territories abroad.

To enhance this traffic in localized content, NBC U is setting up an original content unit that will partner with media players abroad.

The division will format shows from the Universal stable, current and classic, and import concepts or finished product made with partners abroad whenever appropriate.

Initiative was unveiled Wednesday by Frederick Huntsberry, exec VP of NBC Universal Television Distribution.

Move comes as the international biz becomes ever more dependent on — and comfortable with — ideas from wherever. On the reality front, in particular, shows have become routinely trans-Atlantic, and producers on both sides of the pond have found working together increasingly, well, productive.

Initiative also comes as the Hollywood congloms strive to supplement their license fees for U.S shows — a revenue stream no longer growing exponentially.

Effort will be headed by New York-based Leslie Jones, veepee of international sales and format production for NBC U TV Distribution. The job is, in essence, a more ambitious version of what she’s already been doing for the company for the last five years.

Indeed, the idea behind the initiative is not new either, though it’s implemented differently elsewhere in Hollywood.

Sony Pictures TV Intl. spearheaded local production efforts abroad a decade ago and now makes money churning out shows in India and Latin America as well as in Europe. Fox World, a local production unit at News Corp., has a mandate to produce formats like “Temptation Island” abroad.

Not just program sales

“We at NBC Universal recognize that our clients have diverse programming needs, and we’re committed to providing them with complete programming solutions that go beyond just traditional program licensing,” Huntsberry said. 

The new unit, Jones told Daily Variety, will exploit NBC U’s assets through scripted and nonscripted format sales as well as new local content outside the U.S. 

Initial emphasis will likely be on formatting product created by companies like Wolf Films, Nash Entertainment and Scout Prods. — all of which have shows on the air with Peacock outlets.

On the foreign side, Jones said the initiative means partnering with local writers and producers to make shows for local markets, and potentially for the States as well.

She said, for example, she’d like to see interested foreign producers go through “a ‘Law & Order’ boot camp” at Dick Wolf’s company in order to mount their own procedural drama.

Prime territory

Western Europe will likely be the initial focus.

To begin with, Jones will call upon her skeleton staff of four and rely on the conglom’s international sales staff for “global market intelligence.”

Jones also will work closely with NBC Universal’s U.K.-based Working Title TV as an international scripted development and production arm.

In addition to airing in the market for which it was produced, this new content could be offered on a worldwide basis, providing more European and regional content for broadcasters to license. 

The international production unit will scour for foreign programs and formats for adaptation by U.S.-based divisions of NBC Universal.

“Leslie’s proven track record and relationships in the international television community make her ideally suited to lead NBC Universal’s efforts in this new frontier,” said Jerry Petry, exec VP of business operations and sales strategy for the NBC U TV distribution unit.

Jones will report to Petry.

Opening wallet

No figure was available for what NBC U is prepared to invest in this long-term initiative, but Petry said, “The company is supportive, and we’ll get the resources that we need.”

Jones was recently responsible for a raft of format deals abroad for Bravo’s “Queer Eye.” Previously, she handled nonscripted format sales and international program sales for NBC News, NBC Sports and NBC latenight programming as well as reality series and docs. 

Moving forward, the finished product created by the new unit will be licensed outside its territory of origin by NBC U’s global TV sales team, led by Belinda Menendez, prexy of NBC Universal Intl. Television Distribution.

Jones began her career at NBC U in New York in 1994, working with NBC Sports. She moved on to several positions within the Peacock’s marketing department, working on network, sports and affiliate business-to-business and consumer marketing.

In 1998, Jones joined the NBC Enterprises department in Los Angeles. She moved back to New York in 2001 to lead the division as director of international sales.

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