TV biz dives into international waters

New financing, production opportunities intrigue top creatives

The Emmy party swirl of the past week provided a cocktail-fueled opportunity to take an unscientific survey of pressing issues of the day for TV bizzers.

I was struck by how many people were talking about the new world of financing and production opportunities for TV skeins. When big-time showrunners like Frank Spotnitz, Ed Bernero, Rene Balcer, Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson are heading overseas to get series up and running with Euro and U.K. funding and firm episode orders, others are going to pay attention.

I chatted with an Emmy-winning helmer-producer who has a studio overall deal but is still pursuing a project with offshore origins, just for the sake of ensuring that it won’t get stuck in pilot development hell. If a name-brand creative has a passion project with any kind of international appeal, there are a clutch of indie companies ready to waltz it around the floor at Mipcom. Think Cineflix Studios (the Canuck outfit behind BBC America’s “Copper,” from Fontana/Levinson), EOne, Gaumont Intl. TV and Endemol.

But the international influence in the domestic TV business goes beyond funding. The two-way traffic in intellectual property and talent is getting to be as thick as the 405 at 6 o’clock on a weeknight.

Case in point: “Homeland,” the big winner on Sunday night, which is based on Israeli TV series “Prisoners of War.”

Exec producer Alex Gansa made the point on Friday at Variety’s showrunners powwow that the relationship between the U.S. production team and their Israeli counterparts is very productive. In developing the Showtime rendition, Gansa and exec producer Howard Gordon spent a lot of time with “Prisoners” creator Gideon Raff discussing what worked and what didn’t in his first season.

Fast forward about 18 months, and Raff is now taking some pointers from the “Homeland” team, as the second season of the U.S. series is bowing on Showtime (on Sunday) before the soph season of “Prisoners” hits Israel’s airwaves. (And just to make things more meta, the Israeli show is now available to U.S. viewers via Hulu.)

In reflecting Monday ayem on what “Homeland’s” win for best drama series means for Showtime, entertainment prexy David Nevins cited WME’s Rick Rosen as an unsung hero in bringing the show to U.S. auds. Rosen reps Keshet Broadcasting, the Israeli broadcaster behind “Prisoner” that has been active in setting up format deals in the U.S. in recent years.

Rosen saw the potential in “Prisoner” and brought the property to his clients, drama vets Gansa and Howard Gordon, to tackle as a spec script for 20th Century Fox TV. And when that spec drew offers from a range of networks, Rosen was “steadfast,” according to Nevins, in championing Showtime in order to give the show the prestige pay-cable treatment. That path was also embraced by 20th TV toppers Gary Newman and Dana Walden and Bert Salke of the Fox 21 banner, despite the fact that producing for pay cable was new territory for the studio.

For Nevins, the arc of “Homeland” has mirrored his own experience since the former Imagine TV prexy took the reins of Showtime programming in mid-2010.

“I started here on a Monday. On Friday of that week I read the (‘Homeland’) script and we ordered it that next Monday,” Nevins recalls.

It’s hard to overstate how “Homeland’s” success is shaping the direction of Showtime. The pay cabler hopes to capitalize on its momentum with “Homeland,” as well as “Shameless” and “House of Lies,” with two new drama series on deck for next year, “Masters of Sex” and “Ray Donovan.” Nevins hinted that one or both may wait until this time next year in order to get the promo boost of premiering alongside “Homeland” or “Dexter.”

* * *

The Emmy red carpet, as with all major awards fetes in the post-9/11 world, was packed with the LAPD’s finest. Seeing all of the men and women in blue made me mad all over again that TNT’s “Southland” has been largely ignored by Emmy voters. TV Academy members should make a point of fighting this crime next year.

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