NBCU, SPT, Entertainment One Slates


PREMIUM: Buyers got to sample a full plate of new series over at the NBCUniversal studio lot during the week, with considerable enthusiasm for a new medical drama based on a bestseller about New York’s Bellevue hospital called New Amsterdam.

NBC, which is coming off a very good ratings season, ordered eight new scripted contenders for the coming fall or midseason and is returning about a dozen. (It did, however, cancel several of its most-talked-about new dramas from last season in Jason Katims’ Rise and Chris Ord’s military entry The Brave.)

The network will also once again be devoting prime real estate to a couple of live musical events this coming season, including Hair, and to more non-scripted fare. Like its rivals, almost all of its new scripted greenlights are for content produced in-house. (Its biggest hit, This Is Us, however, hails from 20th Century Fox and is licensed by that studio.)

Buyers encountered Thursday on the Universal lot during their lunch break were bleary-eyed but talkative as they began to wrap up their week-long viewing marathon at the various Hollywood studios. Overall, they gave decent marks to a handful of new series, highlighting one or two from each of the major suppliers.

“It’s been a solid, if not a stellar, year,” opined Sasha Breslau, ITV’s head of acquired series, who, along with her team from the British commercial network, had by Thursday evening wrapped up visits to all the key suppliers of product. “We typically do not buy on the spot in Los Angeles. Do keep in mind that in the U.K. there are fewer big U.S. shows on air [than some years ago] and they’re generally in less high-profile slots. However, there are a few new U.S. shows this time we’ll be keeping tabs on.” (ITV’s last big U.S. pickup was Warner Bros.’s Lethal Weapon two seasons ago.)

Similarly, Sofie Schütt, head of acquisitions at Sweden’s TV4, said her company would not be making any bids here in Los Angeles. “I predict discussions over the summer for a handful of titles and a quicker turnaround for those that launch this summer [like Warner Bros.’s Castle Rock, for example] and The First. Aside from ones like that, I don’t predict a rush.”

Comments Thursday from half-a-dozen disparate buyers about the offerings from NBCUniversal specifically were generally complimentary. And, it helps when “the associated networks we buy from are stable and their ratings are on an uptick, rather than the other way round,” one buyer told World Screen Newsflash.

Another buyer, Thomas Weymar, CEO of Germany’s Telepool, lauded the qualities of New Amsterdam in particular. “It’s something we haven’t managed to do with our own medical shows back home,” he said. “The characters in this show are beautifully drawn, the different plot elements are engaging, and there is so much human warmth to the story.”

For her part, Belinda Menendez, president and chief revenue officer of global distribution and international at NBCUniversal, told World Screen Newsflash that, to her mind, the current batch of shows her team is licensing abroad have “both breadth and scale, not to mention great production values and splendid casts.” She went on to say that it’s a testament to the staying power of American programming overseas that, despite all the changes in the business and the surge in local production everywhere, the number of foreign-based buyers who come to Los Angeles for the Screenings only grows year upon year.

From her perspective and from her discussions with key clients, which started last Thursday and will wrap up this Friday, several other shows (besides New Amsterdam) struck a chord with potential acquirers, including dramas The Village (which buyers have dubbed This Is Us, but in Brooklyn) and The Enemy Within as well as the sitcom Abby’s, which is set in a bar but shot outside in front of a live audience.

As the business becomes more complex, the NBCUniversal exec views her job as one of “optimizing the value and placement of every single show in our portfolio, in every territory, for all relevant platforms.” (In addition to the pilots for NBC, her team handles content produced within the corporate fold for USA Network, Syfy, Bravo and other Comcast-owned outlets as well as the output from DreamWorks Animation, which the conglomerate acquired a couple of years ago.)

When asked about the British buyers, who traditionally cherry-pick from among U.S. offerings, she confirmed that they do typically take their time in making deals. She did note that the revival of Will & Grace was eventually picked up by Channel 5, the original having done quite well in the U.K.

Also on hand to huddle with key buyers, an upbeat Kevin MacLellan, the chairman of global distribution and international at NBCUniversal, told World Screen Newsflash that he reckons the response this week to NBC content was “the most positive in my experience at the studio.” While he was speaking, a line of buyers formed over in the corner in front of the Magnum P.I. stand to have their photos taken with stars Jay Hernandez, Zachary Knighton and Stephen Hill—and with the iconic red Ferrari.

More than ever before, the Hollywood studios are pulling out all the stops when it comes to hiring top producers and stars—and to parading them out so that the buyers get a chance not only to get a photo op but to hear their perspective on how a given show will unfold. In addition to cast members from the Magnum P.I. reboot, NBCUniversal brought out Warren Christie and Michaela McManus of The Village and Tyler Labine and Jocko Sims of New Amsterdam to glad-hand with the overseas clients.

Meanwhile, across town on the Sony lot in Culver City, buyers trickled out of screenings for that studio’s recently passed-over but just revived pilot for L.A.’s Finest, a cop show which toplines Jessica Alba and Gabrielle Union. (Several buyers had mentioned to World Screen Newsflash that it was “on their list of favorites.”) Sony is also fielding Schooled, a spin-off of its ’80-set and semi-autobiographical comedy The Goldbergs this week, and can also boast it’s responsible for the only breakout hit of the just wrapped season in The Good Doctor.

Regarding the resurfacing of L.A.’s Finest, Keith Le Goy, the president of worldwide distribution at Sony Pictures Entertainment, stressed that he and his team had gotten “a fantastic response” from buyers once it was clear the show was back in contention.

“We’re making it, we’re screening it, and we’re selling it,” he told World Screen Newsflash, stressing that the cop show definitely has acquired “a new lease on life: we wouldn’t be screening it otherwise.” Nonetheless, he emphasized that he wasn’t at liberty to say what entity had stepped in to fund or to air it domestically. That would be up to them, he explained.

He did say that he believed the show is the only one among all the newcomers for fall that boasts two such A-list actresses in lead roles: “It’s a procedural that is fun and beautifully executed.” (It hails from the Jerry Bruckheimer fold.)

As to the larger issue of the challenges facing independent distributors in an ever more consolidated and vertically integrated business, Le Goy was characteristically positive. “We’ve never had volume here at Sony,” Le Goy pointed out, “but it’s truer now than ever that buyers don’t want or need to take 20 shows from a supplier when all they can utilize is maybe one or two. They want two or three things that they can depend on, and they want a range of suppliers to choose among.”

However, Le Goy is not a romantic: the content from an indie seller has to be really, really good. “As my mother used to say in a different context, you have to work twice as hard, and be twice as good.”

Sony was not the only indie supplier attracting attention this week. Entertainment One (eOne), the company behind the Kiefer Sutherland political suspenser Designated Survivor, is fielding another well-regarded drama contender for the coming fall. The Rookie, which will air on ABC, features Castle alum Nathan Fillion as a 40-year-old cop recruit. It, too, has received a number of positive comments from buyers this week.

“There are fewer output deals in the international market these days,” Stuart Baxter, president of international distribution at eOne, told World Screen Newsflash Thursday and thus, “there’s more buying on the open market.” He said that 500 buyers showed up last Saturday for the first screening of The Rookie in a Beverly Hills screening locale.

“As an indie, we do have to work harder. And our shows have to be of exceptional quality and of relevance to any given buyer’s audience.” Baxter added that he did have offers from different territories for that show but did not confirm any closed deals.

Regarding the company’s other top-ticket show, Designated Survivor, Baxter would not be drawn on its ultimate fate after its two-season run on ABC. (Several buyers during the week said they understood that it was being shopped around for another backer in the wake of its cancellation, but that claim could not be confirmed as of Thursday night.)