After “Heroes” preemed a couple of years ago to solid numbers in the States, the show’s ratings began to fade.
Although there was talk about confusing storylines and a too-deliberate pace as reasons for the decline, numbers seemed to indicate that the skein’s hardcore viewers left the country.
But the fact is while “Heroes” may have a hard time still finding traction in America, that’s not the case around the globe. The NBC Universal sci-fi series has been the most-watched show on BBC3 in the U.K. since 2004, the No. 1 American series on Seven in Australia and the No. 1 series on RTL2 in Germany.
And it’s not just “Heroes” that has done well internationally. There are a slew of American shows that have a worldwide audience glued to their TVs. NBC U’s “House,” the “CSI” franchise (CBS Paramount), “Desperate Housewives” (Disney), “Without a Trace” (Warner Bros.) and “24” (Fox) are just a handful of shows that make huge inroads against local television across the globe.
There’s no tried-and-true formula to explain why American shows fare well internationally. Sometimes it’s the charisma of a star — think Wentworth Miller in “Prison Break,” Hugh Laurie in “House” or Matthew Fox in “Lost”; other times a cast can be relatively unknown, but the concept resonates.
“It’s like a recipe for a cake. You need multiple ingredients,” says Belinda Menendez, topper at NBC U Intl. TV. “With American productions, it’s a combination of a lot of elements, including production values and the way the stories are shot. But the story is critical.”
Cases can be made for both drama procedurals as well as episodic series. “CSI: NY” is the No. 1 show in all of France and a huge hit in Spain, while “CSI: Miami” is a huge hit in the Czech Republic and Germany. “House” rocks Italy, Australia and Mexico, and “Grey’s Anatomy” is big in Japan and New Zealand.
David Ozer, CEO of Highroad Entertainment, says concepts that are universal in nature — health, relationships, work — will play best outside the States.
“People date in Germany and France. You just need strong scripts and concepts,” Ozer says.
“There’s a great fascination for the way the crime-solving process works,” adds Armando Nunez, prexy at CBS Paramount Intl., in examining why the “CSI” franchise generates a huge cash flow for the company. “Plus, there’s a huge appetite for Americana, and each of the ‘CSI’ shows (Las Vegas, New York and Miami) … are unique.”
Over at Sony Intl., Glenn Close brought movie-star fame to “Damages,” which received a two-season pickup by cabler FX. Keith Le Goy, exec VP of distribution, says while Close’s bigscreen celebrity helps brings viewers to a show, in the case of “Damages,” it’s FX’s standing as a home for edgy material that helps sell the series overseas.
“FX has grown a reputation as the place where great shows come out of, and has managed to get itself that kind of brand position,” Le Goy says. “International broadcasters look at the network where the shows are coming from. HBO was the first outlet that really started that type of cachet.”
While dramas have traditionally made an easier transition overseas than comedies — humor can be harder to translate when dubbed — the increase of comedy-only channels is giving sitcoms a chance to thrive as well.
But most broadcasters are looking for a potpourri of genres, and leaning one way in either comedy or drama can prove detrimental to finding a well-rounded audience.
“If you’re running a network, you’re looking for different types of shows,” Menendez says. “You need balance on your schedule.”
Matthew Frank, managing director of RDF rights, offers that a show’s genre isn’t as important as whether it succeeds in the States. As Liza Minnelli and Frank Sinatra famously sang — substituting the U.S. for Gotham — if they can make it here, they can make it anywhere.
“If it hits in America, it tends to work internationally,” he says. “When America does something, everyone follows suit. That’s true for entertainment.”