Remakes and reboots dominated the broadcast networks’ new series orders this season, and not surprisingly, they have been among the hottest properties for the 1,500-1,600 international buyers at the LA Screenings held this week by U.S. TV studios’ international distribution arms. They include traditional broadcasters as well as emerging SVOD players, making the marketplace more competitive than ever.
“I have been doing this for 20 years, and I don’t think we’ve ever had a reaction as strong as we are getting for Fox’s Lethal Weapon,” said Jeffrey Schlesinger, President of Warner Bros. Worldwide TV Distribution. “It’s our best received show in 5-10 years, it’s been overwhelming in each territory. It’s a perfect mix of action, comedy and heart, and it doesn’t hurt to start with a well-known franchise.” Schlesinger noted strong reaction to two other WBTV movie reboots, the CW drama series Frequency, which he said is “a broader show than the CW normally does,” and CBS’ Training Day, which is “gritty but well known and features Bill Paxton’s return to TV.” The Archie Comics-themed Riverdale has been “a little bit narrower taste, targeted by SVOD, pay TV and youth-oriented networks.”
Will the international appeal of remakes encourage studios to eschew original drama concepts for even more reboots? “Yes and no,” Schlesinger said. “You are taking on the daunting task to do a remake, so people are really disappointed if you don’t get it right.” He noted that last year, the studio got the strongest reaction with an original drama, Blindspot. Elsewhere this year, he acknowledged “a surprisingly strong reaction” to comedy Trial & Error. “Comedies don’t travel as well, but for three days running, the pilot has been getting a big applause.”
The proliferation of reboots this year was “maybe inspired by the success of The X-Files” last year, said Marion Edwards, President of International for 20th TV Distribution, which sold The X-Files limited series a year ago. She admitted that “having title awareness” is attractive for networks who “only have so much marketing budget,” especially “titles with a lot of good will to them.”
Not surprisingly, 24: Legacy, marking “the return of a very well known brand,” has been welcomed by international buyers, with the Prison Break followup limited series “highly anticipated” and The Exorcist, another familiar brand, also clicking with buyers for 20th, which has the largest portfolio of new broadcast series to sell internationally this year with 12 shows.
Then there is 20th TV’s NBC ensemble dramedy This Is Us whose trailer has been breaking Facebook viewership records. “There has been a big emotional response to this,” Edwards said. “It surprised people, and there was not a dry eye in the screening room.” There is a lot of curiosity about Lee Daniels’ new musical drama Star, while new half-hour series The Mick is translating well and getting big laughs because of of the amount of physical comedy in it, Edwards said.
If anyone was wondering why CBS picked up MacGyver to series with no pilot (the current one is being discarded) and no cast beyond the two leads, the reaction from international buyers should provide the answer. A 20-minute cut-down of the original pilot screened by CBS Studios International has been well received based on an appetite for procedurals and the popularity of the title. Speaking of procedurals, the studio’s new procedural Bull starring NCIS’ Michael Weatherly also is doing well. And just like Jane the Virgin was an unexpected breakout two years ago, new CW dramedy from the same auspices No Tomorrow also has been a standout for foreign buyers. Underscoring the power of a beloved brand, CBS Studios is getting buyers lined up for the new CBS All Access Star Trek series based on a 50-second concept teaser and a logo (plus established creative auspices).
While comedies are not an easy sell internationally, star vehicles have a little easier time, with CBS Studios’ Matt LeBlanc sitcom Man with a Plan and Sony Pictures TV International Distribution’s Kevin James starrer Kevin Can Wait and the Jenna Elfman series Imaginary Mary getting solid reception. For the last two, the shows mark the two actors’ returns to the networks where they became stars, CBS (with The King of Queens) and ABC (with Dharma & Greg), respectively.
Keith Le Goy, president, international distribution for SPT, noted that the studio’s hottest fall broadcast drama series, Timeless on NBC and Notorious on ABC, both come with great time slots, after The Voice on Monday and after Grey’s Anatomy, respectively. “Buyers are looking carefully, not only at what shows are good, but for any possible indications of success based on the commitment by the broadcast network,” he said. A high-profile time slot helps make a show “a good bet to be a hit worth investing in.”
What are buyers looking for? With marquee older franchises like CSI out of the picture,”The big important, traditional broadcasters are very much on the hunt for the next big procedural” with closed-ended episodes and longer story arcs that keep viewers engaged, Le Goy said, pointing to Sony’s The Blacklist. Not surprisingly, there is interest in its spinoff series The Blacklist: Redemption on NBC.
The out-of-left-field hot offering for the studio has been the upcoming edgy Crackle series StartUp, which has been very popular with premium/digital platforms.
Dick Wolf’s Chicago franchise already is a big international seller for NBCUniversal, so the newest installment Chicago Justice has buyers’ attention. And, in line with the strong reception for movie reboots this year, NBCUniversal International Television’s Taken, a prequel to the hit movie franchise, also has been generating buzz. It is a 50-50 co-production with EuropaCorp TV Studios, which is distributing in France, as well as domestically.
At ABC Studios, buyers have been gravitating toward new drama Still Star-Crossed, drawn by the track record of producer Shonda Rhimes, the marketable Romeo & Juliet theme, and an international cast and filming location (Spain).
Entertainment One had its biggest LA Screenings ever this year, presenting the first series from indie studio Mark Gordon Co., its co-venture with producer Mark Gordon, which eOne is distributing internationally. After making a splash at the ABC upfront presentation, the new MGC drama Designated Survivor starring Kiefer Sutherland also generated strong buzz among international buyers, with new legal procedural Conviction also getting multiple bidders.