Television is where it’s at. That’s a refrain that I’ve heard not only – and not surprisingly – from the TV execs on the ground here in Cannes as Mipcom revs up, but also one I heard from movie execs when I was in Los Angeles last week. With fewer mid-range budget pictures being made by the studios and tentpoles trying to establish the stars of tomorrow from a well of unknowns, marquee names are increasingly looking to the small screen for traction in global event-style programming. Even Cannes Film Festival fixture Harvey Weinstein will grace the Croisette again this year when he unveils The Weinstein Co’s new TV slate on Tuesday. In the meantime, minis and limited series are all the rage. In just the past week, NBC picked up The Slap, an eight-episode limited series from Brothers & Sisters’ Jon Robin Baitz and Universal TV-based Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald based on the award-winning Australian short-form. And, Fox and FX Networks moved into the long-form event programming arena, teaming for a new production unit that will supply the sibling networks with high-profile limited and miniseries.
NBC this summer announced its plans for a live broadcast of The Sound Of Music from Smash executive producers (and Oscar show producers) Craig Zadan and Neil Meron. In a TV universe steadily taken over by time-shifted viewing, sports and event programming’s importance is on the rise. A U.S. TV exec told me on Sunday they wouldn’t be surprised if star-studded primetime event TV started to resemble the days of yore with miniseries becoming the must-see appointment, non-DVR wave of the future.
A movie exec in LA lamented to me last week the lack of film roles for serious actors who are mid-career. But Kevin Costner’s Emmy-winning turn in hit History miniseries Hatfields & McCoys had the knock-on effect of reinvigorating the star’s career, scoring him some key roles in major Hollywood features. “Everyone wants miniseries from networks to cable companies. You can drop a star into a mini giving them back-end potential… and there’s less pressure than with a feature if it doesn’t open at $30M,” a TV exec says. Not so coincidentally, A+E Networks’ president of entertainment and media Nancy Dubuc, riding high after Hatfields & McCoys, is in Cannes this week to deliver a keynote address.
That’s not to say that people believe the cash cow of reality TV is going away soon. Fremantle just announced its Got Talent format now has 50 local versions on air around the world. The giants like Fremantle and Endemol are still serious players, but big-ticket original scripted series clearly have execs excited. With upcoming globally-financed projects including Tandem’s Crossing Lines with William Fichtner and Donald Sutherland, Starz-BBC Worldwide co-production Da Vinci’s Demons, Gaumont’s Barbarella, Sundance-BBC Worldwide mini Top Of The Lake, Red Arrow International’s English-language Jean Reno cop vehicle Jo and Michelle Dockery-starrer Restless for The Sundance Channel and BBC One, the whole world’s a TV stage. On the other hand, and although the studios are getting in on the game, one exec opines that the big output deals the studios have in place will “start to go away.” Broadcasters, this person says, “are overpaying for stuff they can’t use” and will eventually prefer to “cherry pick great ideas. It’s all about content.”
Of course you can’t talk about today’s TV landscape without mentioning Netflix. Hell, I couldn’t sit for three minutes in the Martinez Hotel lobby Sunday evening without overhearing the name uttered by people taking meetings around me. “Everyone is freaked out by Netflix,” says an exec on the ground. The streaming company which is moving into scripted originals with House Of Cards – and is bringing back Arrested Development – has deep pockets despite some missteps in the past year and, equally importantly, deep relationships. Broadcasters are starting to shiver internationally in the territories where Netflix exists because the competition is tough. Companies can sell two-pronged rights to product but the broadcaster will be hamstrung by Netflix’s proliferation and anytime access. In response, many are setting up their own SVOD services but with Netflix expanding – it’s currently in North and Latin America, the Nordic countries and the UK and Ireland with more territories expected – only comers like Amazon and its LoveFilm have really stepped up as international rivals.
If the star and exec power at Mipcom is an indicator, then the folks who believe TV is where it’s at are onto something. Over the past few of these important international TV markets – Mipcom runs in October and its sister market Mip-TV takes place in April – a bevy of well-known faces one wouldn’t traditionally expect at a trade fair have visited the Croisette including Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss and Robert Redford. The Mad Men stars were here hawking their hit series in 2010 and Redford was here in support of The Sundance Channel. This go-round includes such names as Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright – in support of House Of Cards – along with Matthew Modine, here for Muse Entertainment’s four-hour end-of-the-world miniseries CAT.8; Gillian Anderson for the BBC Two crime series The Fall; producer Gale Anne Hurd for The Walking Dead; former CW chief Dawn Ostroff who’s now heading Condé Nast Entertainment; Warner Bros.’ Bruce Rosenblum; Hulu’s Jason Kilar; Jane Campion presenting Top Of The Lake; Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys for The Americans, sold internationally by 20th Century Fox Television Distribution and Matthew Macfadyen and Jerome Flynn for Ripper Street, the period crime drama produced by Tiger Aspect and Lookout Point which BBC Worldwide is selling. Still, as one person put it to me, Harvey Weinstein’s keynote is likely to be the most-attended event at this Mipcom.