Elizabeth Guider Reports: CBSSI Screenings


LOS ANGELES: MacGyver is one of the plethora of new shows CBS’s international distribution team unveiled for foreign buyers on the Paramount lot yesterday.

Of that newcomer for the fall schedule, CBS screened only a 20-minute sequence for the 300-odd buyers on hand. “In the end, you’re going to believe he’s MacGyver,” is how exec producer Peter Lenkov described one of the changes he’ll be making to CBS’s upcoming reboot of the classic drama. The exec producer told World Screen Newsflash that the main character of Angus MacGyver (played by Lucas Till) would be reconstructed as “more of an adult, losing the long stringy hair and looking a little more like his dad [in the original].” There’ll also be a lot of MacGyverisms in the script. Alongside the bromance between him and co-star George Eads, there will also be a love interest for Angus that spans the season and involves “betrayal and eventual reconnection,” Lenkov said. That female role has yet to be cast.

The original MacGyver was a huge international success back in the 1980s and is among a trio of CBS properties that did big numbers abroad in previous incarnations and are, like so much this upcoming season, being re-imagined for the current generation. The others are Star Trek, which will inaugurate original production efforts on the Eye’s fledgling digital platform CBS All Access, and Twin Peaks, an update of the David Lynch-directed mystery series, which was a watercooler phenom in the early 1990s.

In short, everything old is new again. And why not, if it travels.

Lenkov, who also exec produces CBS’s rebooted Hawaii Five-0, was among the talent the studio corralled for the lunch break to glad-hand with overseas buyers and expand on their shows’ story arcs.

(Increasingly, foreign programmers eschew buying on the spot in Los Angeles and instead wait until they’re satisfied that particular series are beginning to catch on Stateside before they sign on the dotted line.)

The remake of MacGyver is one of several new hours to be scheduled this fall or at midseason on CBS, the two others being legal dramas, one starring Michael Weatherly (Bull) and the other toplining Katherine Heigl (Doubt). Both of the latter two pilots were screened Tuesday morning alongside one of CBS’s upcoming comedies, The Great Indoors, which is set in a magazine about the outdoors filled with Millennials glued to their computer screens or smart phones; and a dramedy about a mismatched couple for The CW called No Tomorrow.

Also on hand was NCIS star Michael Weatherly, whose exit from that show during its recent finale was the highest-rated episode of the hit series in the last three years.

The actor’s new starring role as Dr. Jason Bull will, he told World Screen Newsflash, “bring along many character traits” from his previous incarnation as special agent Anthony DiNozzo, but will also focus on “his compulsion to study human behavior while masking his private persona and problems.” In Bull, Weatherly plays a top-drawer jury consultant; the show will be sandwiched between NCIS and NCIS: New Orleans on Tuesday nights at 9 p.m.

As for The Great Indoors, which drew audible chuckles from the audience during its screening, writer and exec producer Mike Gibbons told World Screen Newsflash that he was inspired by his own experience dealing with the younger set on his other gigs in the business. “If you blink you find yourself out of sync with what’s happening. I asked myself, When did 40 become the new 80?”

In the sitcom, Joel McHale plays a seasoned adventure writer who is brought back from the wilds of Patagonia and the like to the dying print magazine he works for to oversee a bunch of Millennials who run all things digital. British thespian Stephen Fry plays his boss.

Per one buyer, “All the jokes seemed to land. Especially the ones with the ‘emotional support’ dog—and the bear.” (Director Andy Ackermann, a veteran of Seinfeld, helmed the pilot.)

Gibbons said he is planning to write in an animal in most episodes.

Among other off-the-cuff reactions from buyers who attended the morning’s session:

* “The good news is that the CBS schedule has great stability, if not, this time around, great sizzle. They have the luxury of nurturing things, so I’m not worried.” That from a European buyer who has a volume deal with the studio.

* “One of the noticeable trends that’s been developing of late is the charm of almost all of the shows for The CW. No Tomorrow (based on a Brazilian format) made me wish I was younger and had more tomorrows!” That from another European buyer.

* “I’d say that The Great Indoors made me laugh knowingly and Stephen Fry is an added treat.” That from a buyer from Asia.

During his remarks to the assembled clients, Armando Nuñez, president and CEO of the CBS Global Distribution Group, emphasized the fact that CBS has made a concerted effort to own a growing percentage of its content—at this point the percentage approaches 80 percent.

“With our performance as number one in 13 of the last 14 years, there is no other content machine that can provide both mass appeal (for CBS), younger-skewing, serialized shows (for The CW), groundbreaking, edgy material (for Showtime) and most recently an opportunity for original fare on our All-Access digital platform.”

And even with all the talk of the migration of audiences from broad to narrow casts of all sorts, Nuñez pointed out that CBS attracted more overall viewers this past year than in the nine previous seasons.

Later during lunch, Nuñez told World Screen Newsflash that he took the long view in dealing with the pressures and complications of the international business. “Whatever [the buyers] tell you, prices are not down everywhere. In fact, hardly anywhere. Remember that these station groups abroad, just as at home, have multiple channels to program, with different viewer profiles. Our content can fill a lot of those needs.”

Star Trek, for example, is a brand that can, in his view, perform well on both linear and digital platforms abroad. “Fifty years since its creation, and ten years since its last TV incarnation, it has a built-in fan base. We expect to do very well with it.”

During the afternoon CBS screened several other fall contenders, including its comedy Man with a Plan toplining Matt LeBlanc for CBS, Incorporated, a drama about a dystopian future from Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s Pearl Street Films (for Syfy), and I’m Dying Up Here, about stand-up comedy in the 1970s, exec produced by Jim Carrey and starring Melissa Leo (on Showtime). No word at press time on how those shows went over.