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LA Screenings review: big name drama delivers on promise

Gotham_pilot_RiverFrontPier_2109r Last week’s LA Screenings saw international buyers including BBC’s director of television Danny Cohen, TV2 (Norway)’s new content chief Nina Lorgen Flemmen and BSkyB’s entertainment channels boss Stuart Murphy descend on the Hollywood studio lots with more than 50 new shows on sale.

As the week played out, the pre-market signs that it would be a great year for dramas proved true.

goth_41-robin-publicity_3330rcThe likes of TV3’s Jeff Ford and RUV’s Gudrun Helga Jonasgottir had pointed to Warner Bros.’s Batman prequel Gotham as the series to see, and the Fox drama was indeed much fancied after a strong pilot screening. Buyers pointed its strong Gothic aesthetic and performances. Robin Lord Taylor (left), who plays Oswald Cobblepot before he becomes The Penguin, was cited an inspired piece of casting by a number of sources.

Nine Network in Australia and CTV in Canada are already attached as buyers. Expect more deals to follow in coming weeks.

Warner Bros. will be pleased to hear there was also plenty of positive feedback for The CW’s Arrow sidekick The Flash; creepy procedural Stalker; Debra Messing cop drama The Mysteries of Laura; and Forever, a supernatural procedural/romantic drama hybrid that Warner is positioning as a natural successor to The Mentalist.

ScorpionCBS Studios International, meanwhile, bagged the first major deal of the Screenings by selling sci-fi drama Extant to Spanish broadcast group Atresmedia. Buyers commented on the series’ cool visual style, Halle Berry’s performance in the central role and an intriguing plot that could run for a number of seasons.

The deals are beginning to stack up, as Amazon’s Instant Prime Video service in the UK today became the latest to acquire it. Amazon’s service in US has already taken the show on, much in the same way it did with CBS-sold Under the Dome last year.

Other CBS shows catching the ‘Eye’ included Scorpion (right), which follows a crack team of problem-solving, anti-social geniuses.

The intriguing figure on which it is based, Walter O’Brien, mingled with buyers and journalists at the Paramount lot, as CBS Studios International went all out to dazzle the senses and bag the deals. Suitably impressed, the show landed one of few spontaneous rounds of applause upon the pilot’s conclusion.

The Tea Leoni-starring Madam Secretary has been shaped as ‘The Good Wife meets The West Wing’, and may well find spots with broadcasters looking for a mix of character study, plot, politics and drama. It can’t have hurt that Hollywood heavyweight Morgan Freeman was on hand to meet buyers and add his personal brand of cool to the sales pitch.

Meanwhile, the latest CSI and NCIS shows were suitably slick and will do good business.

Over at Disney Media Distribution, sources saw Shonda Rhimes’s latest effort How to Get Away With Murder as a neatly constructed soap with plenty of potential for both mainstream and younger-skewing channels, and an action-packed extended trailer of Marvel’s Agent Carter (left) caused one buyer remark it had “more potential as a series than S.H.I.E.L.D.”.

Marvel's Agent CarterHowever, it was the hard-hitting American Crime that really caught attention.

One source described the plot, pacing and style as “completely different” to most ABC Studios dramas (executive producer Michael McDonald told TBI the show had deliberately aped the elements of the strongest cable dramas from the past few years). Whether this translates into sales, or if the brutal subject is too much for international broadcasters, is yet to be seen.

Over in Universal City, buyers were keen on Allegiance, a spy drama based on an Israeli script, and Odyssey, which was singled out for Anna Friel’s (Pushing Daisies) portrayal of a female soldier caught up in an international conspiracy.

Battle CreekSony Pictures Television looks to have a hit on its hands in the shape of Vince Gilligan-David Shore procedural Battle Creek (right), which was funnier than expected – “in a good way”, as one source put it.

There was a mixed reaction to Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution’s fare, with buyers’ opinions on the merits of titles such as Backstrom varied (though Empire was considered to have considerable promise), while Shine International’s drama Gracepoint had buyers talking away from the studio lots.

If it is looking like a vintage year for US drama, its unlikely the same can be said for comedy. Comedy channel sources were unwilling to strongly back the 2014 offer, with just handful generating buzz.

Warner Bros’s Selfie (left below), which had been savaged in the global media before the Upfronts, had buyers guffawing, even though the subject matter – social media – is still niche for a broadcast network. The fact it harks back to Pygmalion and My Fair Lady (Karen Gillan’s vacuous lead is named Eliza Dooley) should get it over the line, however, with buyers, who were largely impressed.

JOHN CHO, KAREN GILLANSony’s Marry Me was a solid effort from David Caspe, whose real-life spouse Casey Wilson plays the female lead in an engagement-themed series. Elsewhere, Warner Bros.’s A to Z was received relatively positively, CBS-sold multi-cam The McCarthys had some buyers laughing out loud, and Kate Walsh was praised for her performance in NBCU’s Bad Judge.

Away from the scheduled screenings, the notable chatter among international buyers was around value for money. With US network shows no longer rating as they once did internationally, some buyers questioned whether they would look to continue their extensive – and expensive – output deals. The preferred alternative appeared to be key single titles packaged with one or two others – giving the networks the freedom to market them better and the studio some added value.

Whether that’s just talk or comes to pass remains to be seen.