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‘Escape at Dannemora,’ ‘The Rookie’ Among Scripted American TV with Universal Themes at Mipcom

There are quite a few series with American themes coming to Mipcom this year, but despite region or sentiment-specific stories, sellers feel strongly that there won’t be a barrier to entry for viewers in other countries.

“There’s a global audience in attendance and it’s an opportunity to take a high-profile project from Showtime and continue to demonstrate to the world our premium platform focus on top-level, premium content,” says Armando Nuñez, president and CEO of CBS Studios Intl. He is talking about “Escape at Dannemora,” which will premiere at Mipcom Oct. 15, a month before the limited series’ domestic premiere on Showtime.

Escape at Dannemora” centers on the real 2015 prison break in a small upstate New York town where the incarceration facility is one of the largest employers. But while it dramatizes specific events, it focuses more on the human story of the men who escaped and the woman who helped them, rather than making a political statement about the American prison system. This, Nunez says, helps it have wider appeal.

“When you get a little too deep in it, when you’ve got very American political themes, then it becomes more of a challenge,” Nunez says. “But that’s certainly not an issue in the case of ‘Dannemora.’”

The prison break drama will be joined by a slew of American series for sale at Mipcom, including NBCUniversal’s medical drama “New Amsterdam,” which explores challenges within the U.S. medical system.

“We work closely with our development teams and try to ensure that even if the story is ‘American,’ there is always a strong international relevance,” says Belinda Menendez, president and chief revenue officer for global distribution and international at NBCUniversal.

To be sure these stories translate overseas, Menendez says the key is to focus on characters and make the storytelling in each episode rewarding and easy to follow. Familiar big-city locations as settings — New York, Los Angeles, Chicago — also help when considering a global audience.

“Medical dramas travel extremely well around the world,” Menendez says. “Everyone has experienced the good and the bad of the health care system, regardless of where you are from. Although we deal with the American medical system in this series, the focus is on the patients.”

“New Amsterdam” features a cast that includes Freema Agyeman and Janet Montgomery from the U.K. and Anupam Kher from India. Menendez says they will help the show connect with international audiences, as well.

In fact, casting is key to shows from new ABC cop drama “The Rookie” to Fox’s legal drama “Proven Innocent.”

While “The Rookie’s” theme explores the universal idea of second chances, according to eOne international distribution president Stuart Baxter, its well-known star Nathan Fillion, will also help it internationally.

“He’s someone who’s been on the air in ‘Castle’ in markets around the world,” Baxter says. “The crimes involved are universal crimes. The work setting of a police station — there are cops on beats everywhere in the world — so most of the elements of the show are pretty universal.”

In the run up to Mipcom, “The Rookie” had already been sold in more than 160 territories.

“If you tell me you have a TV drama that’s very specifically about baseball without interesting talent and with a unique environment that is specific to baseball, that will be more of a challenge,” Baxter says.

Similarly, with Fox’s “Proven Innocent,” Gina Brogi, president of global distribution for Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution, says having a star such as Kelsey Grammer is a huge asset, as is Rachelle Lefevre’s roots as a native of Montreal.

“It’s particularly helpful that Rachelle Lefevre is French-speaking,” Brogi says. “To the extent we can capitalize on that in French-speaking [countries], we will. You kind of have to pull whatever levers you can to launch the show as successfully as possible.”

For National Geographic Channel’s upcoming “Valley of the Boom,” a hybrid drama-docu series about the early days of the internet in the 1990s, the sales challenge may come from its unique structure. But it, too, comes with some heavy-hitters, including showrunner Matthew Carnahan (“House of Lies”) and the team behind the “Stranger Things” score for its own soundtrack, behind it to help draw worldwide attention.

“The story itself is very broad because it’s about the internet and everybody is addicted to their apps and devices and [are] web-dependent,” says Prentiss Fraser, executive vice president and media director of content distribution for Fox Networks Group. “But the way the story is told feels very modern. At one point the actors in the show call themselves out as actors. [And] we’ve got these amazing storytellers and people who are well-equipped to tell the international audience a story and have it transcend the United States and I think that brings the show to life.”

As the sheer volume of content grows, Brogi acknowledges new challenges in selling U.S. stories overseas — not because of the American-ness of those stories but because of more “local content and the increase in the quality of local production.”

“We find ourselves as major studios not necessarily competing with each other, but competing for timeslots with local content,” she says.

In order to stay at the top of buyers’ lists, Brogi says it is imperative to tailor pitches for each show to the specific buyer. “There are things that resonate with different buyers for different shows,” she says.

But one of the things that used to be in favor that is no longer advised is changing a show’s title for foreign markets. While it can still happen — Fox’s “The Resident” became “Atlanta General” in Germany — the preference is to stick with a show’s original title because that’s what will get talked about on social media. Instead, the U.S. sellers work closely with foreign buyers and their marketing teams “to find the aspect which would be most appealing” in the individual locales, says Baxter.

Adds Brogi: “One reason why it’s so important for us to exhibit internationally as close to day-and-date as possible is to capitalize on the momentum that exists here in the United States [for a series launch]. If a show in the U.S. has a name that isn’t going to show up internationally, it’s sort of a wasted opportunity.”

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