LA Screenings: UK Broadcasters Confronted With Spin-Off & Remake Question

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While all attention is being paid to the upfronts occurring in New York City, another key industry event is taking place next week in Los Angeles.

I refer of course to the LA Screenings (which kick off on Thursday), where the major studios and numerous other distributors host content buyers from around the world, screen for them their newest content, all with the hope of landing those lucrative international sales.

The annual event (which one former acquisitions executive once told me was the favourite part of his job) kicks off on May 16th and representatives from numerous UK broadcasters will be in attendance. Unlike the way things work with most countries across Europe, it is only HBO Originals that has an output agreement with a UK broadcaster (BSkyB’s Sky Atlantic) and as such every new show which has been picked up over the past few days will be available to UK buyers on a piecemeal basis (expect this, and the buzz, to lead to HEAVY bidding for ABC’s S.H.I.E.L.D.). Beyond S.H.I.E.L.D., there are few standouts that UK acquisitions executives already have in their sights ahead of the screenings, but with a rising trend of spin-offs and remakes of British shows this development cycle, some such executives are confronted with the question of whether or not to pick up spin-offs of series they already air and remakes of British show’s that originally aired on their channels.

What shows am I talking about? There are numerous ones, such as the Once Upon A Time spin-off Once Upon A Time In Wonderland, Vampire Diaries spin-off The Originals, ABC’s adaptation of the BBC’s The Syndicate titled Lucky 7, Chicago Fire spin-off Chicago PD and Fox’s adaptation of BBC Three’s Gavin & Stacey titled Us & Them. Add to which the fact that CBS is not quite done with series pick ups and NCIS: Los Angeles spin-off NCIS: Red could well be added to that list.

If anything, those attending the screenings are looking more closely at spin-offs than remakes. From what I hear at least three UK broadcasters are intrigued enough by what their US counterparts are doing with these spin-offs. Two of those spin-offs (and possibly a third if NCIS: Red gets tossed into the mix) are already being talked about quite seriously by acquisitions executives. Why? Because they’ve already seen the pilot episodes as they aired as episodes of their parent series’. Those two are Vampire Diaries spin-off The Originals and Chicago Fire spin-off Chicago PD. I reported last week that ITV insiders had admitted to me that while they wouldn’t make a final decision until the screenings were behind them, The Originals is firmly on Angela Jain’s radar. And I’m now told that the same is true for the Chicago Fire spin-off at Sky Living. I also reported last week that Channel 5 was unlikely to acquire much out of the screenings, with one insider saying they’d pick up only “one or two” series. Will the Once Upon A Time spin-off be one of them? Maybe. “Once Upon A Time is big for us”, a source tells me, “but we wouldn’t jump in blind. If the spin-off feels like something that would work for us, then we’d look at our options. But that’s Ben’s [Frow, Channel 5’s Director of Programmes] call.”

Our readers should also bear in mind that just because the US network orders a spin-off, that does not mean that it will air on the UK channel that airs the parent series. As noted above, the UK market works on a one-by-one piecemeal basis. If that UK channel doesn’t bid, or is out bid for a show, it won’t appear on the same channel. The best, and a well known, example of this is the JAG/NCIS franchise. Back in the day, first window rights to JAG were held by Sky1, when the spin-off NCIS was announced they went after the rights, however, Fox International Channels, intent on having the series as the flagship show for the entertainment channel they were about to launch (then FX 289, now simply FOX UK), beat out Sky to pick up the rights with a life-of-series deal. Then, when NCIS: Los Angeles went out on the market, I understand that FIC did bid on it, but in a reversal, lost out to BSkyB (maybe we should expect a re-match if NCIS: Red gets a pick up).

So while these shows are on their minds, no one is heading to LA with their minds made up. As for adaptations of British series, as history shows us (with NBC’s 2011 remake of Free Agents for example), there is nothing guaranteeing that a remake of a British series will even land a UK sale. And certainly there seems to be little interest from the originating channels at present. The BBC is in talks with NBCUniversal to pick up the remaining seasons of NBC’s Parks and Recreation and one source tells me that they have little interest in Lucky 7 (based on BBC One’s The Syndicate, which I’m told is unlikely to make it to a third season). Fox’s Us & Them is more interesting. That same source said that they reserve judgement on the remake of BBC Three’s Gavin & Stacey until viewing it, but noted any substantial acquisitions from the United States was unlikely. The real question (and I have no solid information on this front) is whether Sky will go after Us & Them. After all it was Sky Entertainment boss Stuart Murphy who commissioned Gavin & Stacey when he was Controller of BBC Three and then brought over Gavin & Stacey co-creator and star Ruth Jones (who is an EP on Us & Them) to Sky to launch her own series Stella a couple of years ago.