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Once-bitten buyers anything but shy

Networks look to fill holes on schedule

Because of the somewhat disappointing 2006-07 season Stateside, buyers arriving at the L.A. Screenings are packing a number of holes to fill on their homegrown skeds.

For one thing, a substantial number of last year’s high-profile hopefuls — including most notably Warners’ crop of “The Nine,” “Smith” and “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” — crashed and burned. Several other series that sold reasonably well abroad, including CBS Par’s “Jericho” and Fox’s “Vanished,” also got axed.

While making no apologies for the quality of last year’s slate, Warner Bros Intl. TV prexy Jeffrey Schlesinger says the lesson learned is that audiences these days don’t want dense, dark storylines, and hence his studio has moved toward lighter, less serialized fare.

In addition, many foreign broadcasters did not come up with their own homegrown hits last year, so imports are what they’re looking for. Foreign broadcasters, like their American counterparts, have found that locally produced hits don’t grow on trees. Plus they cost a lot of money to make and to nurture. Thus, buying an import can be a very enticing proposition.

As a result, they’re likely to pay full freight for the most buzzable properties.

Take Britain, for example, where some head-spinning license fees were obtained by the major studios last year from U.K. players to secure some of the Yank series on offer.

“Admittedly a lot of broadcasters bought aggressively and saw things fizzle,” says BSkyB top buyer David Smith, asking rhetorically, “So will we all be more circumspect this go-round?”

Though some predict circumspection among the British (page A5), Smith doesn’t actually see it turning out that way.

“I think it will be just as competitive as before, and that the desire for the best U.S. shows is even stronger. A few of these shows can define a (foreign) channel. We won’t be paying less for the top ones.”

Such a view has to be music to the ears of the major Hollywood suppliers, who have seen the expectations of their bosses rise as the international TV market has boomed.

The top six Hollywood studio suppliers nowadays jointly rake in some $6 billion a year from their sales of movies and TV shows to foreign TV entities.

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