World Buyers Hunger for More Drama, Less Comedy at L.A. Screenings

For international TV buyers headed to the L.A. Screenings this week, the range of selections couldn’t be broader, including everything from ever-popular procedurals, event dramas, complex genre series and, to a lesser extent, comedies.

Now that the upfronts are over, the studios’ international divisions pick up the road show at the L.A. Screenings, which started on May 13 and run through May 23.

Just as in the U.S., procedurals remain the bread-and-butter of TV networks around the world. Last season, Sony Pictures Television’s “The Blacklist” was one of the top new dramas internationally, launching almost simultaneously with its U.S. premiere.

This season, buyers have several new procedurals to choose from, including two spinoffs of CBS’ strong franchises, “CSI: Cyber” and “NCIS: New Orleans.”

“I can’t articulate enough how big all of these franchises are all over the world,” says Armando Nunez, president and CEO, CBS Global Distribution Group. “Having spinoffs to show at the screenings is absolutely huge for us.”

CBS’ procedurals remain the world’s most watched. Each year at the Monte Carlo TV Festival in June, international analytics firm Mediametrie gives awards for the most-viewed dramas, comedies and telenovelas. This year, the globe’s most-watched shows are “CSI,” “NCIS” and “Under the Dome,” all of which come from the Eye network.

Besides those well known brands, buyers also will look at Sony Pictures Television’s “Battle Creek” from showrunners David Shore and Vince Gilligan; Warner Bros.’ supernatural procedural “Forever”; CBS Studios Intl.’s “Scorpion”; and NBCUniversal’s “State of Affairs.”

“Procedural is a big driver for us, but we are also seeing a lot of interest in shows with an international component to them, with international locations and lots of intrigue,” says Belinda Menendez, president, NBCUniversal Intl. Television Distribution & Universal Networks Intl. “State of Affairs,” starring Katherine Heigl as a CIA agent, will debut on NBC on Monday nights this November while last season’s biggest new hit, “The Blacklist,” rests. NBCU also has international thriller “Odyssey” on the slate, as well as “Allegiance,” another CIA drama.

“Audiences have become used to watching amazing characters, such as ‘Breaking Bad’s’ Walter White or ‘The Blacklist’s’ Red Reddington,” says Keith LeGoy, president of distribution at Sony Pictures Television Intl. “That’s why ‘Battle Creek’ is such a fascinating show to buyers: It’s a classic CBS buddy-cop police procedural.”

In general, drama is hot right now, both here and abroad. So much so in fact, that comedy is on the wane, with the Big Three broadcast networks eliminating three hours of comedy in primetime come fall. In general, comedy is a harder sell internationally than drama, with jokes often unable to make the cultural leap.

“People don’t realize the challenges of comedy development,” says Nunez. “It’s a hard process.”

Series based on comic mythologies continue to be popular, with Warner Bros.’ DC Comics-based “Gotham” earning tons of buzz right out of the gate.

“‘Gotham’ is one of the best pilots we’ve done in 10 years,” says Jeffrey Schlesinger, president of Warner Bros. Worldwide Television Distribution. “The foreshadowing of the villains who will become iconic is absolutely brilliant.”

Warner Bros. also is spinning “Flash” out of DC-based “Arrow,” which has been a buzzy show for the network this year, while Disney-ABC is adding another Marvel-branded series to its schedule, “Marvel’s Agent Carter.”

“Marvel has always been a strong brand but it has been built dramatically over the past couple of years with how we as a company have enhanced and built that franchise,” says Ben Pyne, president of global distribution at Disney Media Networks.

ABC is tripling down on soapy series from Shonda Rhimes, turning over its entire Thursday night line-up to her with “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal” and the new “How to Get Away With Murder.” It’s also got a gritty crime drama on tap for midseason, “American Crime,” from screenwriter John Ridley.

With more and more of studios’ revenue based on international sales, “the L.A. Screenings has really evolved into the most important event of the year for us,” says Nunez.

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