CBSSI Presents Broad Slate


The new shows on offer from CBS Studios International (CBSSI) are all solid and reassuringly broad in appeal, buyers indicated at the studio’s screening sessions, something they’ve come to bank on from the supplier of top global performers like NCIS, Blue Bloods, Hawaii Five-0 and Bull.

As one buyer quipped Tuesday about CBS Studios International’s upcoming offerings, CBS typically boasts “a million little things” to like about its slates, starting this go-round with the show that a random sample of attendees noticeably sparked to: a drama destined for ABC this fall that is called, in fact, A Million Little Things.

From comments after the morning session on the Paramount lot, that series appeared to engage both male and female viewers from territories as diverse as Japan, Finland, Singapore, Sweden and India. Those buyers were among a dozen or so that World Screen chatted with during the various breaks in the day-long viewing marathon.

“It showed men in a different, somewhat more sympathetic light than they’ve been in this past year, you know, with all the problems which have come out in the press,” one female buyer, who declined to be identified, said. “I felt also that the back stories of their lives will be interesting, and they were set up well.”

Several other shows screened during CBSSI’s morning session also got thumbs-up, including the latest cop procedural, this one from über-producer Dick Wolf, called FBI, as well as two comedies, one starring Damon Wayans Jr. (Happy Together) and the other featuring Cedric the Entertainer (The Neighborhood). The latter two both got laughs from the audience of approximately 200 who showed up on the third day of the studio’s screenings.

“I felt that both A Million Little Things and FBI reflect the stability of the CBS schedule and would be workable in most places abroad,” said Jeffrey Shimamoto of the U-Next group in Japan. “What we end up buying is a different matter, but I was not disappointed with what I saw here this morning.”

Similarly, buyers from territories as diverse as Singapore, Australia and Scandinavia (and outlets as diverse as pubcasters and localized SVOD streamers) also warmed to the pilot of A Million Little Things, which hails from exec producer Aaron Kaplan and features an ensemble cast that includes David Giuntoli (Grimm) and James Roday (Psych).

“We wanted to show how friendship—especially among men, who often have more trouble expressing their feelings than do women—can help get people through tough times,” another of the show’s producers, Dana Honor, told World Screen during the lunch break. She went on to say that the show has definite echoes of both The Big Chill and Big Little Lies.

However, what is increasingly clear from discussions with a plethora of buyers is that their tastes, or rather the tastes of their audiences, are becoming more and more diverse and measurable, so much so that it’s possible to find at least a few proponents of almost every show on offer at the Screenings.

“What we have to do here is find the right mix of shows to fit our specific needs, and then hopefully settle on them before they get licensed to someone else,” a buyer from Eastern Europe said.

To a degree, the opinions of buyers at the CBS screening were in sync with remarks made by Armando Nuñez, president and CEO of CBS Studios International, who suggested to the assembled that among the current 68 series on air Stateside that his company controls the rights to, “there is something for everyone.”

“Not only are we the most watched network in 15 of the last 16 seasons, but we have more returning series than any other web, including the highest-rated freshman drama in SEAL Team.”

Nuñez also pointed to the expanding roster of creative talent that is delivering content to Eye outlets, be it to broad-appeal CBS, young-skewing The CW (co-owned with Warner Bros.), premium paybox Showtime, or to the fledgling streamer CBS All Access, including the afore-mentioned Dick Wolf (FBI for Tuesdays on CBS), Ben Stiller (Escape at Dannemora for Showtime and In the Dark for The CW) and Jordan Peele (the Twilight Zone reboot for CBS All Access). The distribution chieftain also singled out the remarkable uptick in ratings for CBS’s female-skewing Madam Secretary toplining Téa Leoni, which saw a 32-percent increase in its just-ended fourth season on Sunday nights.

Speaking with World Screen, Nuñez talked about the evolution that is taking place at CBS All Access, suggesting that the branding of the two-year-old streaming service, which started out with two highly different shows in The Good Fight and Star Trek: Discovery, is still a work in progress. That diversity of approach continues with several upcoming series, which the CBSSI sales team unveiled to overseas buyers in the afternoon session. One is an off-kilter reimagining of The Twilight Zone, and another is a head-spinning drama about science that goes sick, called Strange Angel, from exec producers Ridley Scott and David Zucker.

The afternoon at the Paramount Theatre also featured more new product for CBS and The CW, including a midseason drama called The Code from Craig Sweeny and Sarah Timberman, which one buyer who saw it described as “a darker, more intense version of JAG,” the drama about Navy prosecutors that ended its long run on CBS in 2005. And, over at the nearby Sherry Lansing Theatre, new shows for Showtime were screened exclusively for the pay cabler’s output partners around the world. In addition to Escape at Dannemora, the other top Showtime draw seemed to be City on a Hill, a crime series set in 1990s Boston starring Kevin Bacon and exec produced by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.

Further afield on the same lot, World Screen spoke with Dan Cohen, the president of worldwide television licensing at Paramount, and who is meeting with key buyers in town for the Screenings. He pointed out that in just five years the boutique TV division, which is run by Amy Powell, is coming into its own, and is on track to rake in $400 million in revenues in 2018.

Among the more high-profile shows Cohen and company are pitching to overseas buyers are the George Clooney-backed Catch-22, which will air on Hulu domestically and is close to racking up additional deals in Europe and beyond, and Yellowstone, a modern Western-inflected drama which stars Kevin Costner.

“Of course, we’re a major player in the film business, with a 2,500-title library and 15 to 18 new releases planned for next year, but we want to grow the TV side as well,” Cohen said. His team will be hosting screenings of Yellowstone on Wednesday, targeting a few key buyers, for example.

As for the looming question on the studio lot—will CBS and Viacom stop bickering long enough to actually merge and what would that re-combination portend for everyone who works there?—neither CBS’s Nuñez nor Paramount’s Cohen wished to elaborate on the subject. In essence, both indicated that their mandates were to keep their divisions on course and doing deals.

Overseas TV buyers, too, seem so far to be shrugging off the question of a CBS-Viacom rapprochement; if anything, they indicate they’re more concerned about what an eventual Disney/Fox tie-up would mean if that combo were to go completely toward a worldwide OTT distribution system. “Such a move could mean all that product would be hoovered out of all of our international deals—it could mean goodbye to everything from Modern Family to The Simpsons to whatever new is coming down the pike from those two,” one buyer opined, before saying he didn’t want to dwell on it. “I like to think positively, especially while here at the Screenings,” he added.

For more on the U.S. network and studio lineups, visit World Screen’s Fall Season Grid here.