The LA Screenings, the annual shopping trip for foreign TV buyers, is currently in full swing with hundreds of global broadcasters and SVOD services moving between the Hollywood studios to hunt down the next breakout network hit and, hopefully, pick up an In ‘N’ Out Burger along the way.
Deadline looks at which of the 35 network shows, including The CW, are interesting the 1,500 international buyers in town and explores how the now-nearly-two-week event, which takes places on the back of the Upfronts in New York, has changed over the last few years.
Ever since the launch of Lost at the LA Screenings in 2004, buyers have been clamoring for the next iteration of the high-concept smash.
In the same ballpark as J.J Abrams’ ABC island drama is Manifest, which one buyer called “Lost-meets-This Is Us”. The NBC series, which is distributed by Warner Bros International Television Distribution, follows people on a plane, which disappears and returns five years later, although no time has passed for those on the plane. Fronted by Melissa Roxburgh and Josh Dallas, Manifest is exec produced by Back To The Future director Robert Zemeckis, giving buyers hope of a safe landing.
Similarly, with A-list auspices, is The Passage from Ridley Scott. The series, which is being distributed by Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution, follows Mark-Paul Gosselaar’s Brad Wolgast as he tries to protect a 10-year old girl, played by Roots’ Saniyya Sidney, who is chosen to be a test subject in order to wipe out a deadly zombie virus that could cause the downfall of the human race.
Described by one buyer as “OJ: Made In America-meets-The Mentalist”, The Fix is high on buyers’ wishlists, particularly as the ABC drama seems to mix serialized storytelling into a slightly more traditional box. The Disney Media Distribution show, led by Robin Tunney, co-star of Simon Baker’s CBS drama, is exec produced by Marcia Clark, and tells the story of a prosecutor who returns to LA eight years after suffering a devastating legal defeat in order to confront the same man on a separate murder charge.
Bill Lawrence’s hour-long move into the world of the FBI and CIA, Whiskey Cavalier, may have drawn some sniggers from buyers for its title, but the Warner Bros-distributed show, which follows the adventures of FBI agent Will Chase, played by Scott Foley and CIA operative Frankie Trowbridge, played by The Walking Dead’s Lauren Cohan, is the type of funny-but-full-of-action hour that plays incredibly well on linear television around the world.
But it’s Dick Wolf’s F.B.I that is really exciting the global crowd. While procedurals don’t get the same critical acclaim that premium cable and SVOD dramas attract, but they sell far wider and rate around the world. The series, which is a co-production between Universal Television and CBS TV Studios, stars Missy Peregrym and Jeremy Sisto and chronicles the inner workings of the New York office of the FBI.
CBS Studios International President and CEO Armando Nuñez told Deadline that he was pleased to get the “legendary” producer out of Chicago. “When you have a legendary producer in the form of Dick Wolf, coming to CBS for the first time after producing so much for NBC, he’s obviously renowned around the world, having his name attached gives the project instant credibility. When you see the pilot, it’s incredibly impressive, well executed and just as important when the pilot ends, you can see the series going six, seven years, there’s so much material.”
The other hot procedural on the table is Nathan Fillion’s The Rookie. While distributor eOne, which co-produces alongside ABC Studios, has been discussing the series with buyers for the last few months after receiving a straight-to-series order, around 600 buyers showed up to screen the pilot in LA and hear from the team behind the show including recently installed creative chief Mark Gordon.
“The Rookie has some of the nostalgia and retro elements of Hill Street Blues and some of the soapy qualities of Grey’s Anatomy,” eOne’s President, International Distribution Stuart Baxter told Deadline. “What [a straight to series order] means for the international market is that we’re probably a little bit more developed, ahead of where some of the genuine pilots are.”
Baxter adds that the series is still available, despite interest from a number of global SVOD services, a smart move given that many buyers have previously complained about sitting through screenings of shows that have already been surreptitiously picked up by the likes of Netflix. “We’ve had a number of approaches but there’s no point showing it to all of the broadcasters if you’ve already sold if beforehand. It’s genuinely up for grabs. There’s some markets where there’s significant heat in and we’re hoping by the end of next week, we’ll have done two, three, four significant deals in some of the big markets.”
It’s rare that deals are done that quickly these days, other than in Canada, where the broadcasters tend to announce their pickups this week. In fact, the broadcasters north of the border have a gentleman’s agreement, where no one does deals ahead of the market or before the U.S. schedules are revealed and the second Tuesday of the LA Screenings, in this case May 22, is “Canada deal day”, where having seen all of the shows, pecking orders are drawn up and offers are made.
Comedy is notoriously a much harder sell around the world, and other than the likes of The Big Bang Theory and a handful of other titles, the slew of relatively parochial multi-camera comedies that have tended to dominate the schedules of the big four networks don’t start any bidding wars globally. However, there may be a few exceptions this year.
NBCU is hot on Abby’s, which, given its bar setting and Mike Schur involvement, reads like a Cheers-meets-Parks and Recreation. Belinda Menendez, president of NBC Universal International Distribution, which is also distributing Amy Poehler-produced I Feel Bad, said having “two comedies from some of the biggest names in their field” was a boon. “Overall, we think that the international market for comedy is expanding overall,” she added.
Meanwhile, Sony has high hopes that The Goldbergs spin-off Schooled can sell as well as its parent show. Sony Pictures Television distribution chief Keith LeGoy told Deadline that The Goldbergs has “been a very successful show for us”. “It’s worked very well for a lot of the networks that we’ve sold it to, so it’s natural that we’ll go back to them because it’s likely that they’ll be the most eager for Schooled. If we were to find ourselves in a position where the network that bought The Goldbergs didn’t want to make the investment in Schooled, we’d look for alternative partners and we know we’ll have plenty of them,” he added.
One comedy that has got a number of buyers hot under the collar, particularly in the UK, is CBS Studios International’s Happy Together, the Harry Styles-exec produced show that ostensibly tells the story of the One Direction star during the time he moved in with The Late Late Show with James Corden producer Ben Winston and his wife. “In recent years, we’ve shied away from multi-camera comedies but the idea of having Harry involved in a show on the channel is quite appealing. The marketing team are already getting excited,” said one buyer.
Elsewhere, the trend of rebooting classic series and adapting well-known properties continues to interest international buyers. 1980s series Magnum P.I. aired around the world and foreign buyers are keen to see whether Jay Hernandez can live up to Tom Selleck’s character in the original. Series such as MacGyver and Lethal Weapon sold well on their return and NBC Universal International Distribution is confident that Magnum P.I. will too.
Charmed has also had a positive reception with one European buyer telling Deadline that the pilot was “incredibly fun”. The CW’s witch reboot, starring Madeleine Mantock, Melonie Diaz, Sara Jeffrey in place of the likes of Shannen Doherty, Alyssa Milano and Rose McGowan, is distributed by CBS Studios International. Nuñez said the original always worked well internationally but it had been waiting for the right creatives to bring it back. “We obviously have a television library that is rich in both history and IP and Charmed was one of those titles that over the years we would chat about internally with our studio colleagues and discuss the right timing and the right talent pool of producers, showrunners, writers to be able to execute on the concept. When you do these reboots and we’ve done enough of them it’s tricky because you want to be respectful of the legacy of the original but you have to realize there’s a certain percentage of the audience that isn’t aware it existed before,” he added.
The CW shows tend to work well for global SVOD platforms, so the other title that could head out digitally is Legacies, the Julie Plec-produced story of the next generation of supernatural beings at The Salvatore School for the Young and Gifted. While Netflix and Amazon, will be popular this week with sales teams, there are also a number of fledgling local SVOD services, platforms such as Stan in Australia, Viaplay in Scandinavia and Viu and iFlix in Asia, that will be present and looking to take on their global rivals.
The LA Screenings used to be a relative boondoggle for buyers, many of which had output deals and would only come in to town to watch what they had already bought. There are relatively few of these arrangements left, even in countries such as Australia, where they were prevalent. More and more buyers from the major markets now coming to LA earlier to start deeper conversations around co-productions and originations, while also looking to bag broadcast hits.
Big-budget sci-fi drama Electric Dreams, the Philip K. Dick adaptation, which was originally commissioned by Channel 4 in the UK before Amazon came on board in the U.S. along with a number of international networks, emerged from the LA Screenings. A few years ago, while on the Sony lot, former C4 content boss Jay Hunt, who is now at Apple, had lamented that there were no dramas that she wanted to buy and instead started a conversation with the studio chiefs that led to the Sony-produced drama.
Sony’s LeGoy said it speaks to the fact that the business is becoming more global. “The power of Hollywood story telling is incredibly strong around the world, so much so that broadcasters are looking to partner with us in very varied ways to access the power of that story telling rather than just acquiring the shows that we’re making for the U.S. Yes, of course, there’s the traditional buying and selling of U.S. programming at the LA Screenings, but there’s much more opportunity for partnerships around the world,” he added.
NBC Universal’s Menendez agrees, “We do see some of our partners moving to acquire product earlier in the production cycle and we are very open to those conversations. Although we’ve already been talking to many customers about this in local markets, LA Screenings is a great venue to continue finding new ways to partner together.”
The studios are harnessing this in different ways; Disney has been tying up with international broadcasters on originations such as a crime drama featuring and executive produced by Unforgettable star Poppy Montgomery for French broadcaster M6 and Ioan Gruffudd’s drama Harrow for Australia’s ABC, while last year CBS hired Meghan Lyvers to oversee international co-pros based in Amsterdam.
eOne’s Baxter agrees that this leads to different conversations at the LA Screenings. “Now the team that comes includes senior management to talk about what they want going forward as well as what they want from this market so more conversations about co-productions and more strategic discussions.”
It may no longer be a full boondoggle – gone are the days of Warner Bros’ distribution chief Jeffrey Schlesinger arriving into a party on the lot on top of an elephant or The Big Bang Theory studio burning a giant 18-foot voodoo doll – but there is some socializing. CBS Studios International’s Nunez entertains a number of clients at a BBQ at his house over the weekend, while Disney once again had its traditional “International Upfronts” gala on Sunday night. Later this week, Miramax is entertaining buyers with a cocktail and Sony also has a drinks event – albeit one slightly more low-key than before.
Paramount Television is also hosting around 100 clients on Tuesday night at the home of President, Worldwide Television Licensing Dan Cohen, who lives “walking distance” from the studio. The company will be hoping to close sales on Taylor Sheridan’s Kevin Costner-fronted western Yellowstone, which launches next month on the Paramount Network, and George Clooney’s remake of Catch-22. Cohen said that he believes Yellowstone, with “one of the world’s biggest film stars doing his first TV series” will be transformative for the former Spike TV. “Kevin Costner and George Clooney are both really invested in these shows. As the international licensing guy, I couldn’t ask for better spokespersons,” Cohen said.
Paramount is one of a number of companies outside of the traditional big six studios that will be looking to lure buyer eyeballs away from the traditional broadcast network fare with cable and SVOD titles. Others include MGM, which is distributing Condor and The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair, and even British distributor Sky Vision, which held a screenings event for around 150 buyers to showcase sales on Sky and Showtime Benedict Cumberbatch-fronted co-pro Patrick Melrose and fantasy drama A Discovery of Witches. Sky Vision MD Jane Millichip said it held its own event as a result of the timing of these big-budget titles.
“It’s great to turn up in LA while Patrick Melrose is on air on Showtime. We’re revealing it to the international buyers for the first time in the midst of all of these excellent reviews. A Discovery of Witches is also delivering just ahead of screenings so the timing works. We wouldn’t have done this with a two-part urban British drama,” she added.
We’ll soon see whether all of this international focus pays off and leads to healthy sales. CBS Studios International’s Nunez said, “There’s no question about the importance of international revenue, I’ve seen us when we were an afterthought to now an important part of to how programming gets made, it’s nice to see that transition.”