Screenings buyers want best for less

Global TV shoppers hunt hits, deals at L.A. mart

As the international TV community shuffles from studio to studio during this week’s L.A. Screenings, buyers are determined to get the best shows available — but less expensively.

Traditionally, the Brits eagerly buy up product as quickly as the Canadians at the Screenings, and often pay more than originally planned. Those days, however, seem long gone.

Last year there was neither a rush to buy nor many sales among the U.K. nets. That only a handful of finished pilots were available just added to the malaise.

Twentieth global TV head Marion Edwards said she’s concerned that the U.K. market, after years of high spending and bidding wars, is scaling back in a big way, especially after a weak 2008 Screenings.

“Sky buys a lot of shows, as do Channel 4 and Five, but not last year. ITV is the wildcard,” she explained. “They’ve all announced they’ll slash programming budgets and won’t buy U.S. programming. We’ll have to take the temperatures. The market has gotten very tough.”

Sarah Wright, head of acquisitions at paybox BSkyB’s flagship channel Sky1, said while watching new shows this week she’ll strongly consider how well they’ll play in America before deciding whether to purchase. She’s coming from a position of strength as Sky’s slate is performing well.

“People have to look at the risks they’re willing to take, but before I buy a show, I want to know it’s going to stick around,” she said. “We study quite heavily the timeslots in the States and how much a network is taking care of it. It’s all about eliminating risks.”

Among the shows earning buzz among buyers, “Flash Forward” — in which a group of folks can peek into their future — seems near the top of the list. Disney is seeking to tap into the “Lost” phenomenon, and the timing is not accidental. “Lost” will begin its final season in January, and global networks, which have seen their local ratings benefit from the sci-fi smash, may need a genre replacement when the show ends its six-season run.

“It’s an original idea, and the quality of the pilot is spectacular,” said Disney global topper Ben Pyne. “The journey these people take will captivate audiences.”

At Warner Bros., “Human Target,” based on a DC Comics’ graphic novel, is receiving plenty of positive attention, though buyers won’t get a sense of its ratings until January as the show begins midseason.

The series is comfortably slotted on Wednesdays behind the “American Idol” results show, which will be a tremendous lead-in, but one buyer said it concerned him slightly that Fox didn’t have enough faith to put it on the fall sked.

Latin buyers who screened NBC Universal’s entries talked up “Trauma” as a series that would serve Spanish-speaking audiences well between a steady diet of telenovelas and reality formats.

“We just have to look at what audiences want,” said Alberto Ciurana of Televisa. “American comedies are hard for us. We’re looking to pick up four to six dramas.”

“Glee,” from Twentieth, also earned generally high marks from buyers, but a few acquisitions execs have mentioned that they’re not exactly sure who the intended audience is, as the show may play too young for the 18-49 demo.

Also at Twentieth, there have been raves for laffer “Modern Family,” from veteran comedy exec producers Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd.

Buyers were quite positive on Julianna Margulies’ CBS Studios Intl. entry “The Good Wife.” That, plus the “Melrose Place” reboot and spinoff “NCIS: Los Angeles,” gave execs on the Paramount lot plenty of confidence as Screenings week carried on.