With some justification, Twentieth Century Fox can claim to be the cool kid around town, especially during L.A. Screenings week.
For one thing, the studio is being courted by not just one other major player in the business—a $52.4 billion bid from rival Disney—but as of Tuesday, the Mouse House’s overture has been challenged by another (and newly aggressive) player in the global business: Comcast Corporation.
For another, by general consensus from a handful of different overseas program buyers, The Cool Kids has emerged as the hottest new show on the Century City lot and one of the best among the three dozen or so on offer overall by the major studio suppliers for the upcoming season. It’s a multi-camera comedy featuring a foursome of old-timers in a retirement setting who are not about to give up on living large. It will fill the 8:30 p.m. slot on FOX behind a revived comedy that is new to the network (having previously aired on ABC) called Last Man Standing on Friday nights starting in the fall.
Thirdly, Fox’s overall coolness as a provider of hip programming has been enhanced in the last couple of years by the aura around its sibling cable outlet, FX, which boasts the other much-talked-about show from the Century City-based major, What We Do in the Shadows, not to mention other quirky or edgy FX productions from previous years that are widely admired (if not always acquired) by international clients (think Snowfall, Atlanta, The Americans and Fargo, to name only a few.) Shadows, which has a ten-episode order, is based on the eponymous cult movie of 2014 and, like the film, was created and directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi.
In speaking with a few buyers on the lot Wednesday or reached by email thereafter, it was clear that the aforementioned The Cool Kids had gotten fairly widespread high marks from foreign programmers, whether they would be acquiring it through their ongoing volume deals or whether they were just there to see what their competitors would be getting in any given territory.
“I liked the concept, I thought the acting was spot-on, and the dialogue was witty,” said veteran buyer Thomas Weymar, CEO of Germany’s Telepool, speaking about The Cool Kids. Similarly, Michael Schmidl, his compatriot from SWR, a station in the pubcaster ARD network, suggested that the show was a standout, however traditional in style, noting that it’s difficult to get comic timing right in the very first episode. The four leads in the ensemble are played with panache by David Alan Grier, Leslie Jordan, Martin Mull and Vicki Lawrence.
“From what I saw, I think the series could work well in Germany,” Weymar and Schmidl both suggested. (Along with an unspecified number of other new Fox shows, The Cool Kids will be among the pickups by the German station group ProSiebenSat.1, which has an ongoing volume deal with Fox.)
A couple of other Fox shows were mentioned as above-average by disparate buyers reached by phone or email who had already screened that company’s product earlier in the week: several said they had been hoping to find “a high-concept show whose storyline could still be believable,” and in that regard pointed to The Passage, a thriller centering on an experimental virus and a little girl who is sought as a guinea pig. “It’s fast-paced and suspenseful, but it also has an affecting relationship at its core,” said another buyer, who did not want to be named because he hasn’t yet decided which shows his team might go after. The Passage, which boasts filmmaker Ridley Scott as an exec producer, goes to air on FOX at midseason.
As for the contenders on view from FX, What We Do in the Shadows had by Wednesday matched, if not overtaken, the other “out there” contender from the cabler—producer Ryan Murphy’s take on transgender lifestyle, called Pose—as the hippest piece on offer, if not necessarily the easiest to program.
“The style [of Shadows] is innovative and it’s quite funny—I’d call it an updated version of The Addams Family,” SWR’s Schmidl opined. (The plot revolves around centuries’-old vampires living on Staten Island.)
Asked to comment on the overall portfolio on offer to foreign buyers this go-round, Gina Brogi, president of global distribution at Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution, put the accent on her company’s “distinctiveness.”
“We’re not cookie-cutter in our approach to programming. We break down barriers, be it with multi-camera comedies or crime procedurals—or by focusing on vampires on Staten Island. There are so many viewer tastes to respond to, around the world as well as here at home…. It’s an exciting time to be in this business,” she told World Screen Newsflash before heading off to another meeting with key buyers Wednesday afternoon.
As for her take on a potential combination of Fox assets with either Disney or Comcast, Brogi offered a broader perspective: “There’s not one major Hollywood studio that isn’t affected by all these potential changes. There’s uncertainty everywhere and we don’t have any answers right now” as to what deals will or won’t get made. Still, she insisted, management energy is being spent on “keeping everyone engaged and focused. I don’t see [these potential mergers] affecting our business here at the Screenings, where everyone is doing what they always do.”
One thing that is clear is that the number and types of clients, especially on-demand program buyers, have proliferated around the world. Not to mention that deals are increasingly layered and complicated—and a lot of money is at stake.
Thus, Brogi told World Screen Newsflash, the L.A. Screenings are no longer the primary place where deals get put together and closed. Fox, for example, is holding simultaneous strategic screening sessions in London for an expanded group of executives at each of the major U.K. broadcasters. “That’s so that a wider swathe of opinion can come to bear on the prospects for particular programming assets before decisions are made.” Such sessions are to take place in other major territories as well.
“The aim,” she explained, “is to use our resources to make the most forward-looking deals. For one thing, we’re using more data and more efforts are going into keeping our global team aligned on strategy and on changes in the market.”