FremantleMedia stepping into drama

Company looks beyond reality fare

U.K.-based conglom FremantleMedia Enterprises, well-known for its global stable of unscripted fare, is looking to expand its footprint in the drama arena.

FremantleMedia is set to announce today at the Mip TV confab in Cannes that it has sealed first-look programming deals with U.S. producers including Mike Tollin (“Smallville”), Bob Cooper (“Mr. Woodcock”) and Irwin and David Winkler.

The company has also signed U.K. producer Paul Abbott (“Cracker”) as well as Australian producer Roger Simpson.

Company will provide overhead money for Tollin’s shingle, Cooper’s Landscape Entertainment and Winkler Films to set up TV divisions. The shingles are all in the process of hiring dedicated TV development execs.

FremantleMedia Enterprises CEO David Ellender said he would be targeting U.S. cable networks for shows that emerge from the first-look deals.

Cable TV’s financing “models are a bit more fluid than the network model,” Ellender said.

FME may also bring in foreign broadcasters to partner on the shows. FME plans to deficit-fund part of the series’ budgets, via its own funding and co-financing brought in via international co-production or foreign pre-sales, Ellender said. 

“That’s an interesting ingredient given that everybody’s looking at budgets, the cost of programming,” Ellender said. 

He added FME was looking for “probably three to four other deals with showrunners.”

FremantleMedia Enterprises has already set up several similar deals, including a first-look arrangement with U.K.-based Origin, run by David Thompson, as well as one with producer Ann Harris.

FME’s drama properties include “Merlin,” which has been sold in 113 territories. Show, which FME produces with Shine TV and BBC1, debuts in the U.S. on NBC in June.

Cooper — whose background includes both international co-productions (having come from Canada) and cable TV (having run HBO Films) — said he was intrigued by FremantleMedia’s scripted plans.

“Since I came from pay cable, I like the fact that their first interest is cable,” Cooper said. “And we’re certainly looking to use the talents of the feature people we’ve got and try to get them involved in the TV world.”

Tollin, who started his TV career in cable (having produced HBO’s “Arliss” with former partner Brian Robbins, as well as several at Nickelodeon), said he was attracted to the “enormous global clout” that FremantleMedia brings to the partnership.

Tollin said he’s already got several projects in the works, many of which he said “tap into social trends and issues on our minds.”

As for Winkler Films, this deal reps the first time the duo have developed TV dramas.

Across the Pond, Abbott said the first-look deal with FME takes in his 17-hour commitment from BBC across various titles. The BBC commitment includes one miniseries and returning series projects, he said.

Abbott, who runs the Abbott Vision shingle, said his aim is to pioneer not only U.S.-style team-writing in the U.K. but also the creation of U.K. dramas that run for 20 or more episodes per season, much like the U.S. He’s in discussions with Nicola Schindler, executive producer on “Clocking Off” and “Linda Green,” to co-showrun series.

In Australia, Simpson’s credits include “Satisfaction,” “Halifax f.p.” and “Stingers.” He’s developing a number of dramas for U.S. audiences.

Going forward, all new development deals with showrunners will be overseen by Jeff Tahler, VP of acquisitions and development, FME North America, who brokered the U.S. deals with Ellender.

Meanwhile, the fact that several of the producers signing up with FME are centered in film suggests that as equity money drains out of U.S. film finance, producers are turning to TV and Europe.

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