Elizabeth Guider Reports: Buyers Offer Up Views on Studio Slates


PREMIUM: Elizabeth Guider speaks with a number of buyers, including ProSiebenSat.1’s Rüdiger Böss and SRF’s Stefano Semeria, about the new shows presented by the Hollywood studios this week.

"Dinosaurs are always great," is how Rudiger Böss, ProSiebenSat.1’s senior VP of group programming acquisitions, inadvertently captured the mood of the 1,250 foreign TV buyers after several days of non-stop viewing sessions looking at the new U. S. prime-time series on offer.

Yes, Böss was referring to the Steven Spielberg-backed family saga Terra Nova, which, in any case, his big German-based station group essentially has to take as part of an ongoing output deal with that show’s distributor, Fox.

Fortunately, he liked the Swiss Family Robinson meets Jurassic Park concept and said he thought Terra Nova would appeal to family auds across many of the outlets his group controls.

But, Böss also was reflecting a widespread sentiment here that the overall panoply of programs on offer—some 40 new broadcast network series and almost as many for pay and basic cable—would play effectively to mainstream audiences abroad.

This comes as something of a relief since free TV buyers overseas had over the last few years become impatient with the tendency Stateside for TV producers to turn out ever more complicated, weird cinematic concoctions that left mainstream viewers flummoxed—and flipping the dial. It’s still these free TV buyers who fork over the big bucks to acquire U.S. series, so what they think actually matters in Tinseltown.

"Last year’s Screenings was bad, but I think this year there is more attention by the studios to focus on the needs of the international free TV buyers," Böss said. "If things in a series are too complicated, well, the viewer tends to get ‘lost,’ if you know what I mean," he quipped.

This being a global mix of TV types gathered this week here in Los Angeles, and with their stations catering to disparate target auds, it isn’t surprising that viewpoints were, well, all over the map.

Still, many rang harmonious variations on Böss’s contention, pointing out that were again this year some series contenders out there that left them scratching their heads. And not wanting to open their wallets wide.

"Some of these ambitious shows may work for smaller niche players—I’m thinking Awake, Once Upon a Time and Alcatraz—but we commercial broadcasters want more straight-ahead fare: strong characters, simple, procedural plots, easier episodes to dip into and out of," another Continental European buyer suggested. He didn’t want to be quoted, he explained, because he knew how much the Hollywood studio execs were, as he put it, "excited about the shows that are trying to be more arcane than the movie Inception!"

But were he running TV production at one of the Hollywood majors, he’d simply clone House, NCIS and The Mentalist—three current U.S. series which, without being overly sophisticated, do the job effectively for foreign auds, in his view.

"The other point is, we want the shows we buy from Hollywood to last. A lot goes into launching them so the longer they can stay on the air the better," he added.

Yet another buyer, Switzerland’s SRF programming head Stefano Semeria, suggested that the overall quality of the shows he and his team had seen this go-round was "good," but not what he’d define as a banner year. His station has deals with most all the Hollywood majors, so is obliged to take home a substantial portion of those rosters.

Having spent the morning on the Fox lot Tuesday, Semeria said he and his team had responded well to two of that studio’s hopefuls, both comedies: Apartment 23 and New Girl, the latter being, he said, "fresh and different."

Others encountered there during a lunch break expressed a similarly positive response, though, as one put it, "It’s OK—but it’s not a Glee year," referring to Fox’s breakout hybrid musical series, which launched two years ago.

For her part, Fox Intl. TV president Marion Edwards pointed out that her studio has so many new network offerings that, unlike the other majors, the viewing sessions are devoted exclusively to those, with cable offerings by request. (One of the latter, Homeland, a series for paybox Showtime Stateside, is apparently getting a lot of call-ups from buyers.)

As for Edwards’ own assessment of sales prospects this week and through the summer, Edwards said she was optimistic: "Buyers have money now—and they have enthusiasm. I think it’s a really good year for us at Fox."