Uplift, empowerment and support for underdogs were themes that enthused a disparate mix of foreign program buyers at an L.A. Screenings session on the NBCUniversal lot Tuesday.
Among the upcoming pilots that buyers were quick to say would be added to their list of “to be considered” for possible purchase were three dramas, two of which will launch this fall in plumb positions (one on NBC, the other on FOX) and a third which is being held back for midseason on the Peacock.
Bluff City Law, which toplines Jimmy Smits and Caitlin McGee as a father-daughter legal team battling corruption and family dysfunction in Memphis, Tennessee, will occupy the Monday 10 p.m. time slot behind The Voice.
Not Just Me, reversioned from an Australian original, focuses on a young woman who finds out her surgeon dad fathered other children, including two half-sisters with whom she eventually bonds. That show, which toplines Brittany Snow and Timothy Hutton, will air Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on FOX, right after the unscripted megahit The Masked Singer.
The third, called Council of Dads, hails from Grey’s Anatomy alums Tony Phelan and Joan Rater and follows a group of male friends who step in to support one of their own (and his four children) when he receives a cancer diagnosis. It’s likely to air Stateside as the Peacock’s lead-out from the similarly family-themed hit This Is Us.
“I found Bluff City Law to be involving and authentic, with Jimmy Smits in his best role ever, and the family relationship very well done,” said Lanny Huang, president of Promo Group TV in Hong Kong. “Plus, our viewers back home enjoy these kinds of legal dramas. It reminded me somewhat of L.A. Law.”
Another buyer, Emma Gunn, the director of program acquisitions and content partnerships for Spafax, told World Screen she was particularly taken by Not Just Me, which she described as “positive and affecting.” Based in London, Gunn acquires product for several airlines, including British Airways and American Airlines, and tends to favor more aspirational or amusing fare, rather than darker, edgier content. (Any show that involves a plane-related accident is, for example, definitely a no-no.)
Two other programming executives on hand for the lunch break, Femi Olagaiye, the CEO of One Music Networks, and Richard Signeski, the CEO of Blue Sky Media, gave high marks to Council of Dads, which the former said struck “some very deep chords” with him and which the latter praised as being the rare show he could watch with his kids.
Several other buyers encountered during the break for lunch had similarly positive remarks to make about the shows on offer from the NBCUniversal distribution unit, one of them saying they thought that NBC’s reliance on renewals of existing shows for the fall (and thus its decision to greenlight a limited number of newcomers) might very well pay off.
“Don’t quote me,” this buyer stressed, “as we may not end up buying any of them, but nothing here (at the morning screening session) felt slap-dash. A lot went into these dramas; they feel more vetted than sometimes is the case.”
For her part, Belinda Menendez, president and chief revenue officer for global distribution and international, confirmed that buyers have so far—Tuesday being the fourth day of full viewing sessions for foreign buyers on the lot—been “generally quite positive and happy with what they’ve seen.”
The NBCU executive further pointed out that her unit is also licensing (in select markets) two other “well-received” contenders in Four Weddings and a Funeral (which will air Stateside on Hulu and whose foreign rights are split with MGM) and in The Baker and the Beauty, which is an Israeli format (which will air on ABC and some of whose rights NBCU shares with Keshet International).
Among series produced for NBC’s cable division, Menendez indicated buyers seemed intrigued by Resident Alien, based on a Dark Horse Comics series, which will air domestically on SYFY. It stars Alan Tudyk as an oddball from outer space who isn’t sure humans are worth saving. “It’s topical and funny, and it’s uplifting at the same time,” she suggested.
Asked how she was addressing buyers’ concerns about possible “hold-backs” of rights by conglomerates (like hers) that are planning to launch streaming services, Menendez said that, as of now, “We are open for business and all rights are available.”
Later during lunch, Kevin MacLellan, chairman of global distribution and international, further explained that the emphasis right now for parent Comcast was getting its domestic AVOD streaming service up and running, which he indicated would be sometime in 2020.
Any international exposures, MacLellan continued, would be based on which territories the company found “suitable” for launching therein. His group is working on that issue, he intimated. However, he added, “it won’t be a blanket international rollout of the entire world.” No timetable was mentioned.
At the NBCUniversal screenings, it was also hard to miss the fact that Comcast is actively in the process of integrating the assets and personnel of the recently acquired European satcaster Sky, since several of the latter’s European-produced shows were being highlighted on the lot by the Sky Vision team under executive Jane Millichip.
One of those properties is a Wall Street-inspired drama called Devils, which toplines Patrick Dempsey as a slick banker bent on shady dealings, and another is called Temple, which is a remake of a Nordic thriller and stars Mark Strong and Carice van Houten. (No buyer World Screen interviewed had, as yet, seen either.)
Both Menendez and MacLellan told World Screen the integration of the former Murdoch-owned satcaster would be completed by year’s end, and Menendez added that, going forward, “we should expect to see” more Comcast programming appear on various Sky channels. (The Dick Wolf-produced trilogy of Chicago Fire, Chicago Med and Chicago P.D., which is licensed by NBCU, does already air in the U.K. on Sky One.)
Also, it should not be forgotten that all the major Hollywood studios have feature film slates as well as TV series to license to their overseas customers.
This year, in keeping with the theme of TV and movie overlap, NBCUniversal’s marketing mavens cleverly decked out the studio’s Stage 3 luncheon venue with prop reminders of their upcoming movie version of Downton Abbey, including a vintage 1927 Rolls Royce and a dog that looked “uncannily” like Lord Grantham’s beloved canine, Isis. (Carnival Films in the U.K., which is wholly owned by NBCUniversal, produced the Downton Abbey TV series.) A September release is planned for the movie.
Visit WorldScreen.com’s Fall Season Grid for all the details on the new and returning shows on the U.S. broadcast networks, and a listing of pickups by studio.