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Canucks on show patrol

Canadian buyers divvy up Stateside series

After a week of marathon viewing sessions, interest among international TV program buyers began Thursday to coalesce around several dramas and sitcoms, that, if not standouts, did at least hold promise for their skeds back home.

But the only buyers who, because of spillover broadcast signals from the U.S., have to settle on their series picks immediately are the Canadians.

And true to form, the big three Canuck commercial players — CTV, Global and Chum — divvied up the 40-odd new U.S. primetime series between them, concluding their deals late Thursday.

Global, in the No. 2 spot in the ratings in Canada, opened up its pocket-book to grab whatever it could among the more talked-about offerings. At the same time, CTV didn’t sit idle, picking up top-tier fare to try to stay on top. Chum, which used to be more of a niche player, stepped up to the plate and snared several high-profile shows as well.

Global locked up dramas “Shark,” “Brothers & Sisters,” “The Black Donnellys,” “Kidnapped,” “Vanished,” “Day Break,” “Runaway,” “Six Degrees,” “Friday Night Lights,” “Heroes” and “Raines.” It also forked out for sitcoms, its former staple, including “‘Til Death,” “Talk Show with Spike Feresten,”  “Help Me Help You,”  “Big Day” and “The Winner.”

“We came to Los Angeles with an agenda in mind and we got loads of top-notch drama,” said Global SVP Barbara Williams. “We’ve got a diverse schedule that should take us a giant step toward getting back to the prominent position we feel Global should have.”

CTV bought more selectively because the Bell Globemedia-owned web already has way more hits than Global, including the “CSI” and “Law&Order” franchises. It secured several highly touted dramas from Warners –“Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” “Justice,” and “Smith” — and the sitcoms “30 Rock” and “Let’s Rob.”

“We bought to balance the schedule,” said CTV programming prexy Susanne Boyce. “”We don’t buy volume.”

Chum grabbed the new Simon Cowell reality show “Duets,” from Fox, drama “Jericho” from CBS Par — and the telenovela-inspired series “Betty the Ugly.”

About the latter, Chum VP Ellen Baine said: “It’s just so different, it’s so us, so City-tv.” Chum also snared “3 lbs.” from CBS Par as well as Lionsgate’s “Hidden Palms.”

Leaving aside the Canucks and their acquisitions, other foreign buyers are still noodling over their decisions — how long they do so depends on just how competitive their own local market is.

Among those drama series most often cited as high on shopping lists were Warners’ “The Nine” and “Smith,” Fox’s “Vanished,” Sony’s “Kidnapped,” NBC U’s “Heroes” and Disney’s “Six Degrees.”

Despite the greater difficulty of translating Yank laffers to foreign climes, a few sitcoms also sat well with buyers, with CBS Par’s “Rules of Engagement,” Sony’s “Til Death” and Warners’ “The Class” getting thumbs-up from a variety of international clients.

The BBC’s chief buyer George MacGhee told Daily Variety what he had seen so far in L.A. was “well-made” but perhaps this year’s development didn’t result in a “historic” batch of newcomers. (He cautioned that he had not yet seen the output from Warners, which has 11 new series on offer.)

“I’d like to think we’ll buy a drama for BBC2, and I did like several sitcoms. It’s just that we don’t easily have slots for U.S. laffers, since we make so many comedies of our own.”

Though the BBC is particularly picky given its own enormous local output, other buyers in the U.K. are likely to fork out before leaving town.

Sky One buyer David Smith told Daily Variety that no deals were yet signed but that his Brit team was in talks with several major distributors. He would not be more specific about which shows were in contention, but did say that overall he thought the new Hollywood output was “quite strong.”

Over in Ireland newcomer station Channel Six has already put offers on the table for several series at different studios.

“The interesting thing this year is that quantity is down but quality is up. We expect to nail down several dramas and I’d love to find a great comedy,” programming director Michael Murphy said. (Six has yet to screen the Warner product.)

Buyers in other Euro territories seemed even more gung-ho. New players in Holland, Spain and Ireland have made for a quickened pace among rivals in those territories.

“For one thing, buyers no longer hit the fast-forward button,” said Fox Intl TV exec VP Marion Edwards. “They want to screen everything from every studio all the way through before making up their minds.”

The six Hollywood majors all concurred that 2006 should see sales of TV shows abroad continue to expand.

There are in fact now more American shows in primetime slots overseas than at any time in the last eight years. That in turn means the prices being paid for these shows, at least the half-dozen most sought-after ones, are rising at a 5%-10% clip year on year.

“The overall quality of the shows this year is getting tremendous recognition by foreign buyers,” Disney’s worldwide TV distribution prexy Laurie Younger told Daily Variety.

Lionsgate, the only indie distributor this week with a new primetime show to license abroad, reported being close to clinching deals for “Hidden Palms,” with France 2 in Gaul and Quattro in Spain, among others.

“I’d say broadcasters’ appetite for something different has not waned, and judging by how many made the effort to come screen our shows, they definitely want more than just the same ole procedurals,” said Lionsgate sales VP Craig Cegielski.

The LA Screenings event is the first chance each year for foreign program buyers to assess the U.S. series that will debut this fall on the five broadcast networks.

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