After the euphoria of upfront presentations, where network executives touted their new shows with short trailers, those shows are getting their first real test at the L.A. Screenings, where international buyers watch the full pilots of all new shows. It has been a strong development season for drama, not so much for comedy, and that has made for solid screenings as high-end drama series is U.S. top TV export.
“This could be one of the best years we’ve had in 10 years,” said Jeffrey Schlesinger, President of Warner Bros Worldwide Television Distribution. “Big shows, big producers, big stars and strong concepts.” That is the case across the board this year. Warner Bros, which saw all seven of its regular hourlong pilots picked up to series, has been getting buzz for the Batman origin series Gotham, from Bruno Heller and Danny Cannon; another series based on a popular DC Comics superhero franchise, The Flash, from Greg Berlanti; and procedurals The Mysteries of Laura, also from Berlanti and directed by McG, and Forever.
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CBS TV Studios has spinoffs from two of the biggest drama franchises in the world, CSI and NCIS. Understandably, there is great interest in CSI: Cyber, starring Patricia Arquette, and NCIS; New Orleans, toplined by Scott Bakula, both by the networks that already carry the other series in the franchises and new players. Also getting a lot of buzz is new CBS drama Madam Secretary starring Tea Leoni, which had executive producer Morgan Freeman attending every screening and shaking hands with buyers; action drama Scorpion, from Alex Kurtzman, Bob Orci and Justin Lin; soapy CW drama Jane The Virgin, an adaptation of a Venezuelan telenovela; and Showtime infidelity drama The Affair. One thing that sets CBS’ screenings apart is summer series. “Last year, we spent time trying to explain the concept of summer event series, the idea of that shows like Under The Dome are not just throwaway, low-cost series,” Armando Nuñez, President and CEO of the CBS Global Distribution Group. “That made the discussion on Extant easier this year,” he added, referring to the summer sci-fi series starring Halle Berry, which has been getting strong buzz.
At NBCUniversal, Russian spy drama Allegiance, based on an Israeli format, and Traffic-like global thriller Odyssey, from Peter Horton, have been getting a lot of attention, along with another infidelity-themed cable series, USA’s Satisfaction. ABC Studios has buyers buzzing about John Ridley’s American Crime; the Shonda Rhimes-produced How to Get Away with Murder; Red Band Society, based on a Spanish series; and alien drama The Whispers. Sony TV is getting traction with straight-to-series CBS drama Battle Creek, from Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan and House creator David Shore. Twentieth TV is garnering buzz for hip-hop drama Empire, from Lee Daniels, Danny Strong and Brian Grazer, and Shine has Broadchurch remake Gracepoint.
U.S. comedy series never have traveled as well internationally as dramas, though there have been global hits like Two And A Half Men. Among the standouts at the LA Screenings this year are NBC’s Marry Me (Sony TV), ABC’s Selfie (WBTV) and Manhattan Love Story (ABC Studios) and USA’s Benched (ABCS).
The first indication of which shows would do well internationally came this morning when Canadian broadcaster CTV announced its slate of new U.S. series acquisitions. The Canadian networks traditionally are the first to view the U.S. pilots because they announce their fall schedules in early June and simulcast most U.S. series. CTV’s picks include WBTV’s Gotham, Forever and Mysteries of Laura and ABCS’s How To Get Away With Murder, American Crime, Secrets & Lies and Agent Carter. The network has Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., so getting companion Agent Carter makes sense. Ditto for WBTV’s The Flash, to go with CTV’s acquisition Arrow and CBS‘ CSI: Cyber, to join the other CSI series. CTV’s other pickups include comedies The McCarthys (Sony) and Matthew Perry’s The Odd Couple reboot (CBS). CTV rival Global likely will announce its roster of new U.S. series next week. It is expected to include NCIS: New Orleans as the network is the Canadian home of the NCIS franchise.
A major trend that has been growing over the past couple of years and is expected to be in full force this year is the rise of VOD services as Netflix and Amazon as viable international buyers. “They’re creating more competition as what we are starting to see is these companies not being content with waiting for second window, but in some cases they will jump in line and compete for first window,” said Schlesinger. For instance, the studio’s freshman CW drama The 100 was licensed to Netflix in Canada for the show’s primary run.