U.S. broadcast networks are acquiring and planning to acquire international series on a scale not seen since the 2007/08 Writers’ Strike.
The COVID-19 global pandemic has provided a boon for global distributors, many of which have long struggled to sell content to the likes of ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and The CW.
This week, we have seen The CW pick up British comedy series Dead Pixels, produced by Succession creator Jesse Armstrong’s production company Various Artists, and Canadian procedural The Coroner and NBC has bought Canadian medical drama Transplant.
Deadline has spoken to a number of international sales execs, who are seeing unprecedented demand for English-language shows that could help plug gaps caused by the production shutdown. We have also highlighted a number of titles, finished and in the can, that may travel to the States.
However, while demand is increasing for series from neighbors from the north and across the pond, there are still challenges to finding shows that would fit traditional network schedules.
The CW President and CEO Mark Pedowitz said that there is a “fair amount of content out there” but buyers have to be careful that what they buy fits their brand.
Speaking at the reveal of the youth-skewing network’s fall and 2021 schedule, Pedowitz said, “There’s more there than you realize, we chose content that we thought was right for us. Some content we were unsuccessful in obtaining, other content we did successfully get. It’s not infinite, but there is other content out there that we’re looking at that we believe fits our profile, and we are in discussions.”
During the 2007 Writers’ Strike, there was a slew of Canadian dramas that traveled south. CBS took Flashpoint and NBC nabbed The Listener with differing results; Flashpoint aired for four seasons on CBS, while The Listener only ran for seven episodes on NBC. These shows were followed by the likes of Rookie Blue on ABC, Saving Hope on NBC and The LA Complex on The CW.
CTV’s Transplant, which is the most-watched Canadian series with total viewers this broadcast year, and CBC’s Coroner are the first Canadian shows to be picked up. These buys are helped by the fact that the accents don’t generally jar with U.S. viewers and many of the actors are familiar, in these cases the likes of Quantico’s Hamza Haq, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D’s John Hannah (a Scot, incidentally) and Serinda Swan, who featured in ABC’s Marvel drama Inhumans and HBO’s Ballers.
Many Canadian dramas often share similarity with U.S. procedurals in tone and style such as Nurses, a Toronto-set medical drama starring Tiera Skovbye, who has recurred on Riverdale and Once Upon A Time.
There are other, slightly more serialized stories, that feature well-known actors that are yet to land in the States. Global’s Departure (left), which is a conspiracy thriller that follows the disappearances of a passenger plane, The Good Wife’s Archie Panjabi, All The Money In The World’s Christopher Plummer and Claire Forlani, who recently recurred in Hawaii Five-0, is distributed in the U.S. by Starlings Television and sold globally by Red Arrow Studios International.
Many British distributors are similarly hopeful of taking advantage of gaps in the schedule to get their finished shows into the States. One exec told me they were having increased discussions with buyers that they had previously not sold to. “If we’re going to crack that market, now is the time,” he said.
Dead Pixels, which is centered around a group of gamers, is a slightly left-field choice for The CW. Distributed by BBC Studios, the series doesn’t have any stars recognizable to U.S. audiences, but its original network E4 shares a similar tone to The CW.
Previously, the ViacomCBS/Warner Bros joint venture had acquired British buddy cop drama Bulletproof, a show that has more of a traditional U.S. sensibility.
There is, however, not a huge amount of British shows that could fit on the broadcast networks – either because of the quirky nature, short runs or the fact that most of the buzziest titles are already co-produced with U.S. partners, largely in the streaming and premium cable space.
Streamers, in particular, have been keen to have a deep bench of the best of British. Peacock is working closely with its sister company Sky on shows such as David Schwimmer’s Intelligence (right) and Hitmen as well as BBC spy drama The Capture, while HBO Max picked up ITV drama White House Farm from All3Media, which also sold Channel 5 drama Penance to SundanceNow. AMC Networks-owned Acorn recently snapped up David Tennant’s Channel 4 drama Deadwater Fell.
Depending on how long the production shutdown lasts and how bare the cupboards get, the likelihood is that most of the available British titles will go to streaming or cable, which both have their own needs during the pandemic.
Recent BBC hit The Nest, a five-part mystery drama that stars Gentleman Jack’s Sophie Rundle and Line of Duty’s Martin Compston and is produced by All3Media’s Studio Lambert, in on the brink of a streaming deal.
Noughts & Crosses is another BBC drama that is ready to air. The adaptation of Malorie Blackman’s young adult novel series about a dystopian future where racism divides society has Green Book producer Participant Media and Jay Z’s Roc Nation among others involved ITV Studios distributes.
Other finished titles from the sales arm of the British commercial broadcaster include Little Birds, a period drama starring Dirty John’s Juno Temple, and The Singapore Grip. The former, which also stars Billions‘ David Costabile, Transparent’s Amy Landecker and Parenthood’s Matt Lauria, is an adaptation of Anais Nin’s infamous collection of short stories, while The Singapore Grip stars The Walking Dead’s David Morrissey and Traitors’ Luke Treadaway and is an adaptation of J.G. Farrell’s World War II novel. Both shows have finished production, but there is a holdback until they air in the UK.
Elsewhere, around the globe, it’s somewhat surprising that Patrick Dempsey’s Devils has yet to find a U.S. home. The Sky Italia original stars the ER actor as an American CEO of an international investment bank. NBCUniversal Global Distribution sells internationally.
Then there’s drama from down under. Australian production has boomed over the last few years, helped by the increasing number of antipodean actors taking over Hollywood. Netflix recently took worldwide rights to Cate Blanchett’s Stateless, Sundance bought Bad Mothers, while Hulu airs crime procedural Harrow. The latter is produced in association with ABC Studios, whose international distribution division has the rights to crime drama The Gloaming. The series, which has echoes of Starz’ The Dublin Murders, is the story of unorthodox and troubled policewoman, Molly McGee, who leads an investigation into the murder of an unidentified woman and stars Emma Booth, who featured in season seven of ABC’s Once Upon A Time.
The irony of it taking a worldwide pandemic, to open the doors to an increasing amount of international series, is not lost on producer and distributors, who will be hoping that they can sell a few more global gems Stateside before this is over.
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