Gina Brogi, the president of global distribution for Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution, oversees sales teams around the world that offer broadcasters, pay-TV services and nonlinear platforms a wide variety of programming, including feature films, TV programs and entertainment content. From shows produced by Twentieth Century Fox Television—such as the recent breakout hit of the 2016-17 season This Is Us and ongoing franchises 24, The X-Files and Prison Break—to cable fare from Fox 21 Television Studios like Homeland and FEUD: Bette and Joan, Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution caters to all viewer tastes and demographics. Brogi, who has built up considerable expertise selling to digital outlets and windowing product across multiple platforms, tells World Screen that among her priorities, she wants to ensure that her shows are successful, and so are her clients.
WS: You distribute a broad range of shows. What has been well received by buyers lately?
BROGI: First of all, we have an embarrassment of riches this year. We have two of the top three new dramas in the U.S. with This Is Us and 24: Legacy. This Is Us speaks for itself. I have not met one person who isn’t madly in love with it. It’s such a great antidote to the world that we’re living in and the political environment. It’s entertainment escapism at its absolute best. And of course 24: Legacy is a huge franchise for us, and it just continues to perform globally. The studio took a risk by bringing it back in a different way and from our perspective, it’s paying off. Both are broad-reaching shows. Then we have FEUD: Bette and Joan, brought to us by the very talented Ryan Murphy, which is a new genre that we talk about a lot: this idea of historical fiction, where so much of the show is based on events that really happened. As I watched FEUD this season I did a lot of Googling—that’s probably some sort of phenomenon that we should try to coin a phrase for! The season really shows how even way back then, women were dealing with some of the same things that they’re dealing with now, whether it’s ageism or sexism. It’s incredibly fulfilling to watch this type of television. And then finally, one of my personal favorite half-hours is Better Things on FX, from Pamela Adlon. It’s one of those shows that speaks to everyone, but I think it especially speaks to mothers and career women—the women who are trying to do it all. It is so heartfelt and emotional, but also incredibly funny at times. I was disappointed when the season ended and I’m dying for it to come back. So we have a lot of wonderful shows, and it’s been a pleasure to talk to our clients about them; there’s no shortage of demand, which is wonderful.
WS: I hear from many international buyers who are looking for procedurals.
BROGI: It’s true. There is a huge demand internationally for procedurals. And we are certainly doing our best to meet the demand, though also with an eye toward great storytelling and characters. Our production studios [are committed to] great storytelling first and foremost, and we’ve certainly communicated that there’s desire for procedurals in the international community. They always come back to [great storytelling] and [the show] has to make sense for them. We really appreciate and trust that.
WS: International buyers say they want as many rights as possible because viewers watch programming in many different ways, no longer just on the TV set. Would you give your perspective on rights?
BROGI: It’s a hugely complex problem, or opportunity, depending on your perspective. We always try to do what’s best for the show in a given marketplace, and we try to be as flexible as we can with our clients, with the idea that we’re both working toward the same goal of promoting a show. If we’re granting rights just for granting rights’ sake, that doesn’t make nearly as much sense to us as when a client comes to us with a plan. And we’re also committed to making sure that our shows are successful and that our clients are successful. There’s an enormous amount of competition coming from all different angles. So if there’s a way for us to figure out how to use our content to allow our clients to be successful, we’re going to pursue that. We don’t have a magic wand, though; we don’t have the perfect answer. I think what we’re realizing is that every situation is different and we are trying to encourage creativity and flexibility among our licensing executives to come up with new ways in which to [sell our programming].
WS: I imagine there is no one-size-fits-all solution—every single deal is different, right?
BROGI: It’s true. And with the amount of content that we have, we’re doing a higher volume of deals—so gone are the days when you’re selling all of your content to one client in a particular market. Together with the creativity that comes to us from our production studios, we have to have similar creativity in our deal-making.
WS: How do you work with Fox Television Group Chairmen and CEOs Dana Walden and Gary Newman and their teams? I imagine there’s a lot of collaboration between you and them.
BROGI: There’s a lot, and it’s increased over the years. They’re very interested in how their content is received internationally. They’re invested in making sure that the content gets to the right place and that it manages to make it to the right audience internationally. We talk to them not just during the development season, but throughout the year, and we’re trying to provide a constant feedback loop with them and their teams, and of course with John Landgraf [the CEO of FX Networks and FX Productions] and his team. They’re all hugely interested in what happens in the international marketplace, and we work together quite a lot.
WS: You have considerable experience selling to digital platforms.
BROGI: My first role at Fox was actually in a finance capacity; I’m sort of a finance person at heart. After working for a short time in the finance organization, I worked in the pay-television distribution division for Peter Levinsohn at the time. Of course, pay television and subscription television evolved into subscription video on demand. Our division focused on both licensing to premium pay-television outlets and subscription-video-on-demand outlets, with the idea being that both have a subscription element as the primary consumer proposition. I have been at the studio since SVOD was born and have seen it evolve into where it is now.
WS: Do SVOD platforms look for different types of series than free-TV broadcasters? Or are they open to all content?
BROGI: It’s a different viewing experience, and I think consumers have come to expect the ability to binge on an SVOD service. As a result, SVOD services are drawn more toward those serialized shows that really feed the binge. Free-to-air clients have traditionally catered to a viewer who just wants to check in week after week—or however it is that they watch—so logic tells us that [that type of viewing] lends itself more to procedurals. As more free-to-air or ad-supported services, which historically have been linear-focused, offer on-demand experiences to their customers, these [programming differentiations] become less and less clear. Do SVOD services buy procedurals, and do free-to-air services buy serialized shows? Yes, to both. Do they lean toward one or the other? Yes, they do that as well, as we would expect. But the lines are blurring.
WS: Are limited series being well received? Prison Break is back!
BROGI: It’s very exciting, isn’t it? Limited series are a relatively new thing for the U.S. It’s interesting to note that limited series aren’t that new for Europe, and for the U.K. in particular. A lot is made of the whole limited-series concept, but it’s one that is not altogether unfamiliar to the international community. And they’ve been fun for us to play with. I know that for our production studios, limited series give them enormous freedom, especially with casting and with talent altogether. I think it allows the creative people to explore [a programming genre] that previously hasn’t been able to be explored in a television environment.
WS: A lot of attention is given to scripted series, but you also sell scripts of some of your library shows so broadcasters can make local adaptations.
BROGI: Yes, it’s something that we’ve been working on developing for several years. We recently hired a very talented executive, Dorothy Crompton, who has 20 years of experience and more passion in one person about this business than anyone I’ve met in a long time! [Laughs] It’s such an interesting business, and I believe it’s going to be a huge component of our future, as more and more international audiences gravitate toward content that is custom-tailored to their regions. We have these built-in, terrific story lines and characters that could be easily converted into something that has a little bit more of a local appeal. Our content has been very well received, and we’re constantly adding more and more scripted formats to our catalog. We’ve had some great successes recently. The Secret of Elise in France was, for a time, TF1’s number one show. It is based on a scripted format of ours, and a pilot of ours, called The Oaks. We loved the pilot of The Oaks, but it just didn’t have all of the makings of something that was going to get picked up in the U.S. So even when we have pilots that don’t end up getting picked up [by U.S. broadcast or cable networks], sometimes the stories themselves are so powerful that we can turn them into something that will work well internationally. We’ve had some success also in the U.K. with Marchlands, which is the same format. 24 is also a big and meaningful format for us, with its real-time storytelling technique. 24 in India has won several Indian Television Academy Awards. It’s going into its third season and has been met with a lot of success. Anil Kapoor is attached to it.
WS: I imagine the returning series business is also very important, and Bones has done extraordinarily well internationally.
BROGI: It does do extraordinarily well, and it will continue to do extraordinarily well for us. It’s one of those shows that has legs. As fans of the show we all wish it would continue forever and ever! [Laughs] So the end of the series this year was a bit bittersweet. But yes, we have a terrific library, and we are relicensing our content all the time. We still license M*A*S*H in a number of different countries. We have a wonderful library that we pull from all the time.
WS: Are there any new shows you can talk about that you will be showing buyers at the Screenings?
BROGI: We are super excited about the development slate this year. There’s only one show that we know for certain has been picked up—it was picked up direct-to-series—and that’s Seth MacFarlane’s [tentatively titled] Starship Orville. It’s a one-hour, live-action, sci-fi drama series starring Seth MacFarlane and written by Seth MacFarlane, and the pilot is directed by Jon Favreau. It takes place 400 years in the future when the Earth is a Utopia, and it’s as much a comedy as it is a drama.
WS: Are shows like Empire and Star, both from Lee Daniels, finding niche audiences around the world?
BROGI: They do. And because they appeal to a niche audience, it allows us to play with them a little bit more, which is also part of the fun of the job. We’re not just selling cans of cola; we’re selling these different types of products where success is defined as something different for all of them—and it’s hugely gratifying.