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Global TV Sales Get Serious With L.A. Screenings

Dramas of all stripes dominate conversation

Drama is taking centerstage at this year’s L.A. Screenings.

Most of the big TV stories of the past season were about dramas old and new breaking out (to various degrees) — whether the CW’s “Arrow,” NBC’s “Revolution,” PBS’ “Downton Abbey,” AMC’s “The Walking Dead” or History miniseries “The Bible.” Networks both here and abroad are looking for ways to duplicate that success for themselves.

“The shows that work best internationally are episodic procedurals with interesting lead characters,” says Jeffrey Schlesinger, who last week was promoted to prexy of Warner Bros. Worldwide Television Distribution.

That said, with more channels to fill, international buyers are just as interested in all different sorts of shows — from broad comedy to intense action — as domestic buyers. But the drama market looks particularly fertile.

Genre dramas remain popular this season, with networks picking up several series with sci-fi or fantastical premises.

“That whole mashup of reality and fantasy seems to be really resonating with audiences right now,” says Marion Edwards, prexy of international television for 20th Century Fox.

This year, studios are offering such high-profile genre shows as 20th’s “Sleepy Hollow,” produced by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (“Fringe”); ABC’s “Once Upon a Time” spinoff entitled “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland,” Universal’s “Dracula” (starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers), which comes from NBCUniversal’s London-based Carnival Films, producer of “Downton Abbey”; and the CW’s “Vampire Diaries” spinoff “The Originals.”

Last season’s surprise success of “Revolution” on NBC caused international buyers to warm to the show after initially approaching it with hesitation, Schlesinger says.

“Last year, that show was pretty much rejected by international broadcasters,” he says. “It was looked at like all of those other post-apocalyptic serialized shows that failed, such as “Flash Forward,” “Alcatraz,” “The Event” and “Terra Nova.”

“But to everyone’s surprise, when ‘Revolution’ came on the air, it was successful. ‘Revolution’ then generated traction and moved up on everyone’s list. Now we have sold it everywhere,” he says.

Other key genre shows on networks’ slates next season included three produced or co-produced by Warner Bros.: “The 100,” about 100 juvenile delinquents who return to settle a post-apocalyptic Earth, “The Tomorrow People,” a sort of “X-Men” for the young adult set, and “Star-Crossed,” a “Romeo and Juliet” take-off about a human girl who falls in love with an alien boy.

Warner Bros. also has two new genre shows from J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot: “Almost Human,” starring Karl Urban as a cop with an android for a partner; and “Believe,” about a girl with special powers.

Next season isn’t all sci-fi and fantasy though. In the wake of House, which has been a huge international performer, anti-heroes remain a popular go-to.

Sony is offering both “Rake,” starring Greg Kinnear as a defense attorney with a lot of bad habits, and “The Blacklist,” starring James Spader as a Hannibal Lecter-like convicted criminal who will only work with one rookie federal agent to solve serious crimes.

“’The Blacklist’ is the show that’s getting the most buzz right now,” says Keith LeGoy, prexy of international distribution at Sony Pictures Television. “NBC has given it their most precious timeslot right after “The Voice” on Monday nights.”

Universal also has a new version of “Ironside,” starring Blair Underwood as the crippled and crotchety policeman that Raymond Burr first made famous.

“’Ironside’ is not about remaking that show but about telling a story with a flawed character that’s interesting in the way that House was interesting,” says Don McGregor, executive veep of NBCUniversal Intl. Television.

Even though procedurals work so well internationally, there are only a few of them in the mix next year: Universal’s “Chicago Fire” spinoff, “Chicago P.D.”, and ABC Studios and Electus’ “Killer Women,” starring Tricia Helfer and exec produced by Sofia Vergara. “The Blacklist,” “Rake” and “Ironside” also will play like procedurals, with a new case to follow each week in addition to a compelling main character.

Today’s international markets are much more about territories picking and choosing their products than just receiving a package of programming from the studios, like they once did, so shows need to play well at the L.A. Screenings.

“Buyers from international markets sometimes come here and pick up on something and turn it into a hit abroad while we limp along for a while,” says 20th’s Edwards. “International markets are having so much success with their own local programming these days that they won’t be forced into accepting programming unless they think it will work in their markets.”

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