Acquisitions Roundup: FOX Picks Up UK Rights To ‘NCIS’ Season 11, ‘The Walking Dead’ Season 4 & More

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EXCLUSIVE: The MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival (MGEITF) 2013 is just around the corner and over the past few years the festival has increasingly been used by major broadcasters to announce their latest acquisitions (it was at last year’s MGEITF that ITV2 announced their acquisitions and UKTV announced the acquisition of TNT’s Perception). While everyone’s attention is on which new series will land with UK broadcasters (DMD’s S.H.I.E.L.D., SPT’s The Blacklist and CBSSI’s The Millers and We Are Men, are thought to be amongst the new series which are closest to scoring UK sales), TVWise continues its extensive acquisitions coverage with our broadcaster-by-broadcaster breakdown of which current shows will be coming back later this year or early next.

In this rundown (following our rundowns on Alibi, Dave, Really, TCM and Watch), we take a look at FOX UK. The channel, owned and operated by Fox International Channels – itself one of 21st Century Fox’s more profitable divisions – launched in the UK in January 2004 as FX289 and targeted a male audience with offerings of exclusive content such as NCIS. Over the years the channel acquired other series such as Life On Mars & Dexter and following a number of astute deals with the distribution arm of HBO (which insiders have said were “inexpensive compared to [deals with] bigger studios”), the channel also became home to The Wire, Eastbound & Down and True Blood and, as expected, ratings started to grow. Within a few years of its launch FOX (then FX UK) had established an identity as a fairly niche channel showing gritty dramas and the occasional comedy series. Other important series include Falling Skies, which was acquired from Turner Broadcasting, and premiered in July 2011 to 0.47 million viewers in the overnights; ranking (at the time) as one of the channel’s highest ever rated overnight audiences and was almost 700% up on the slot-average.

It was after the better part of nine years on the air, and record breaking ratings in 2012 (with an average audience of 0.1 million viewers in prime-time), that Fox International Channels decided that, in response to greater competition and changes in the market, it was time to make some changes to their UK entertainment channel. In November 2012, FIC announced that the channel would be rebranding from FX UK to FOX and in addition to the new logos and idents, the new identity would include a change in programming strategy. While recognising the channel’s successes with edgy/gritty dramas, they would also broaden into other genres to attract a growing audience, especially female viewers as the channel has, historically, been male skewed (though it should be noted that one of the channel’s most successful series NCIS has a fairly even split between male and female viewers).

Part of this new strategy included the channel’s first original commissions in a few years, with FIC reportedly looking to program 50 hours of originals on the channel in the future, while also continuing with the so called edgy/gritty dramas and acquiring broader dramas such as Monday Mornings and a number of comedy series (Louie, Men At Work) and a talk show (The Ricki Lake Show). The rebrand and this new strategy has, insiders say, had the desired effect and led to increased ratings in 2013. The channel’s four highest rated series of the past year have been The Walking Dead (1.1 million viewers), NCIS (0.84 million viewers), Falling Skies (0.58 million viewers) and True Blood (0.48 million viewers). So while more commissions will follow in the coming months, FOX will also be continuing with their current acquisitions which have all been so key to their recent successes. To that end, I’ve confirmed that FOX has picked up the UK rights, from various distributors, to American Dad season 9, Burn Notice season 7, Da Vinci’s Demons season 2, Louie season 3, NCIS season 11, True Blood season 6 and The Walking Dead season 4. Those series will all air on FOX later this year or early next year alongside more recent acquisitions Low Winter Sun, which hails from the same network behing Breaking Bad & The Walking Dead, and David E. Kelley’s most recent drama series Monday Mornings. Full details follow below…

American Dad

Created by Seth MacFarlane, Mike Barker and Matt Weitzman, American Dad revolves around Stan Smith, a CIA agent in Langley Falls, Virginia, whose main objective in life is national security. His family members, as well as a talking goldfish and a space alien who likes to play dress-up, keep Stan busy while he tries to prevent terrorist activity in the United States. The animated series is produced by 20th Century Fox Television and features the voices of Seth MacFarlane, Wendy Schaal, Rachael MacFarlane, Scott Grimes and Dee Bradley Baker. In the show’s ninth season (labelled as the eight season in the US due to an unresolved season number discrepancy), the Smiths are back with more mischief and mayhem. Roger recruits Hayley as the lounge singer for the new high-class bar he’s installing in the attic, and Stan and Roger have an entrepreneurial “eureka” moment when they think of the world’s next game-changing business opportunity. And the Smiths must say goodbye to Roger when he leaves Earth for his home planet. Guest stars for the new season include Allison Brie, Charlie Day, Nathan Fillion, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Rupert Grint, Jon Hamm and Patrick Stewart

One of the anchors of FOX’s Thursday night comedy block, American Dad has been a staple on the channel for the past several years. The UK rights to American Dad were initially bought by the BBC (they currently have a second window licensing deal with Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution), who aired the first two seasons of the series. It was in 2007 that FOX (then FX UK) acquired the first run rights to the series with the third and fourth seasons. Since its debut on the channel in 2008 American Dad has been a solid performer and has consistently ranked as the channel’s highest rated first-run comedy series. The seventh season of American Dad, which premiered in January 2012, averaged an audience of around 0.19 million viewers. Those figures were both above the slot-average and rated higher than the channel’s other first run comedy series Eastbound & Down. The eighth season of the series, which debuted in January of this year, built on the audience of season seven and delivered an average audience of around 0.24 million viewers, up nearly 26% on the previous season. Given the impressive ratings gains, and the fact that the series still rates as the channel’s highest rated comedy (above Eastbound & Down, Louie and Men At Work), FOX were keen to continue with the series and have acquired the rights to season 9 from Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution. I’m told that the ninth season of American Dad is being eyed for a January premiere.

Burn Notice

Burn Notice was created by Matt Nix and follows Michael Westen, a former CIA operative who was blacklisted (or ‘burned’) by the agency. Michael, with the assistance of his mother, ex girlfriend Fiona and his friends, Sam Axe and Jesse Porter, takes on cases as a unlicensed private investigator while he also investigates why he was burned and attempts to reclaim his position at the CIA. The drama series stars Jeffrey Donovan as Michael Westen, Sharon Gless as Madeline Westen, Gabrielle Anwar as Fiona Glenanne, Bruce Campbell as Sam Axe and Coby Bell as Jesse Porter. The show’s final season also features guest star Adrian Pasdar. In the show’s seventh and final season, viewers will uncover the details of the mysterious deal Michael struck in the sixth season finale. This situation pushes Michael into new and daunting territory and brings him face-to-face with some formidable friends and foes from his past. As the repercussions of the deal become increasingly dangerous and complex, Michael will enlist the help of Fiona, Sam and Jesse.

Burn Notice has been a fixture on the channel’s schedule for the past several years (stretching back to when the channel was known as FX UK). The series was acquired by FOX in an exclusive deal with corporate sibling Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution in 2008, with the show’s first season launching that October, over a year after the series premiered state-side on the USA Network in 2007. The channel largely stuck to the pattern of airing the series a year behind its US premiere and shifted the series to a Summer slot on their schedule with the show’s fourth season. Since its debut on the channel Burn Notice has been a fairly solid performer. The show’s fifth season, which premiered in July 2012, averaged an audience of 0.2 million viewers. While those figures are lower than series such as The Walking Dead and NCIS, they are up on the slot average. The show’s sixth season, which is currently airing on the channel, has seen some slight growth in the ratings and has, season-to-date, been averaging 0.22 million viewers. I’m told that the deal that Fox International Channels (UK) inked to acquire the series from Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution was a life-of-series deal and as such they hold the rights to the 13 episode seventh and final season of the series. I’m told that the show’s seventh season is being eyed for a Summer 2014 premiere.

Da Vinci’s Demons

Created by David S. Goyer, Da Vinci’s Demons is a historical fantasy series which tells the ‘untold’ story of the world’s greatest genius during his turbulent youth in Renaissance Florence. Brilliant and passionate, the twenty five-year old da Vinci is an artist, inventor, swordsman, lover, dreamer and idealist. As a free thinker, with intellect and talents that are almost superhuman, he struggles to live within the confines of his own reality and time. He begins to not only see the future, but invent it. The drama series stars Tom Riley (Monroe) as a Leonardo Da Vinci; Laura Haddock (Upstairs Downstairs) as Lucrezia Donati, the mistress of Lorenzo Medici and lover of Leonardo Da Vinci; Lara Pulver (Spooks/MI5) as Clarice Orsini, the wife of Lorenzo Medici; and Andrew Brooke (PhoneShop) as Grunwald.

Da Vinci’s Demons is one of only a handful of shows that have been picked up globally by FOX UK’s parent company Fox International Channels (FIC). That deal, which was inked with BBC Worldwide in August 2012, saw the series air on FIC’s entertainment channels in more than 120 countries within a week of its premiere in the U.S. on premium cable network Starz. The series debuted in the UK on FOX in April of this year, when, just as it did in the states, it launched to strong ratings. The series premiere was watched by almost 0.6 million viewers, well above the slot average and rating as the strongest debut on Fox in several years; since the premiere of The Walking Dead on the channel (then known as FX UK) in 2010. Across its run, Da Vinci’s Demons did see some drop off in the ratings, with the first season averaging an audience of just over 0.4 million viewers; making it the fifth highest rated series currently airing on FOX. Sources tell me that the deal that FOX’s parent FIC inked with BBC Worldwide also covers the show’s 10 episode second season (in fact I’m told it’s a life-of-series deal). I hear that season 2 will again air within a week of its US premiere on Starz, which is currently slated for Spring 2014.

Louie

Created by Louis CK, the off-beat comedy series puts a spotlight on CK’s everyday ordeals, his quest to find love and his pursuit of humor. Each episode features a scripted story and a mix of his stand-up comedy, which is original material for the series. The series, which was recently renewed for a fourth season, is produced by FX Productions and stars CK as a fictionalised version of himself. The series is noted for not having a large main cast and instead relying on a revolving cast of guest stars; which in the past has included Robin Williams, Melissa Leo and Ricky Gervais. Guest stars for season three include Robin Williams, Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, David Lynch, Susan Sarandon, Paul Rudd, Sarah Silverman, Chloë Sevigny and Amy Poehler.

One of their more recent acquisitions, Louie was picked up as part of the channel’s rebranding from FX UK to FOX. That rebranding included a move away from the channel’s previous identity as a home for gritty drama and towards more general entertainment, with the addition of comedy programming. The acquisition of Louie (alongside the TBS series Men At Work) was the first real push into this area and has since been added to by the channel’s first factual entertainment commissions with Man Up and Russians In The City. Louie launched on FOX in January and has been an ok performer for the channel; averaging around 0.1 million viewers, more or less in line with the slot average. The second season followed in April and following a dip in the ratings was moved from prime-time to a midnight time-slot. There had been some concern from fans that, given the ratings and the midnight time-slot, the future of Louie on FOX may be in doubt. It should be noted, however, that Louie‘s ratings have been more or less in line with those for Men At Work and Eastbound & Down (the only live-action comedy series on the channel when it was known as FX UK) and that the series enjoys strong support at FOX. Furthermore, sources say that FOX is committed to having more comedy series on their schedule alongside original commissions and drama and while neither Men At Work or Louie have been breakout hits, they are looking to “add more comedies to the schedule in 2014.” As for the show’s third season, which wrapped its run state-side last summer, I’ve confirmed that, as part of the deal to acquire the series from Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution, FOX holds the UK rights to the show’s third season. I’m also told that the current plan is to premiere season three this September, when the series will return to a prime-time slot.

Low Winter Sun

Based on the British series of the same name, Low Winter Sun has been described as a contemporary story of murder, deception, revenge and corruption in a world where the line between cops and criminals is blurred. The series tells the story of a Detroit detective who murders a fellow cop. Seemingly the perfect crime, in reality the murder activates forces that will forever alter that detective’s life and pull him into the heart of the Detroit underworld. The drama series is a co-production between AMC Studios and Endemol Studios and stars Mark Strong, Lennie James, Athena Karkanis, David Costabile, Erika Alexander, James Ransone, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Sprague Grayden. Criminal Minds‘ Chris Mundy wrote the pilot and is serving as executive producer/showrunner.

One of their more recent acquisitions, Low Winter Sun was picked up in a deal with Endemol Worldwide Distribution in January of this year following the channel’s rebrand from FX UK to FOX. While a key part of the rebrand was more of a focus on general entertainment and broader series, Low Winter Sun is said to represent the channel’s commitment to continue showing gritty dramas from the United States, with Fox International Channels UK’s Director of Broadcasting and Marketing Cecilia Beacon called it a “bold, hard-hitting, emotional drama”, which she hoped would “resonate with the FOX audience.” The acquisition was, in fact, part of larger deal inked by parent company Fox International Channels which will see the series debut globally on the company’s entertainment channels in more than 120 countries. This deal is similar to those Fox International Channels had previously struck for Dexter and Da Vinci’s Demons and will see Low Winter Sun air within a week of its US premiere on AMC –  the US basic cable network with whom FIC previously teamed to bring The Walking Dead to a global audience. The 10 episode first season of Low Winter Sun will premiere in the UK on FOX on Friday August 16th at 10pm, 5 days after its debut state-side.

Monday Mornings

Based on the book written by CNN’s chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta, Monday Mornings is set in the fictional Chelsea General Hospital in Portland, Oregon, and follows the lives of doctors as they push the limits of their abilities and confront their personal and professional failings. The title refers to the hospital’s weekly morbidity and mortality conference, when doctors gather with their peers for a confidential review of complications and errors in patient care. The drama series is produced by TNT Originals and stars Alfred Molina as Dr. Harding Hooten, the steely-eyed chief of surgery; Ving Rhames as Dr. Jorge “El Gato” Villanueva, the hospital’s trauma chief; Jamie Bamber as Dr. Tyler Wilson; Jennifer Finnigan as Dr. Tina Ridgeway; Bill Irwin as the abrasive Dr. Buck Tierney; Keong Sim as the socially challenged Dr. Sung Park; Sarayu Rao as the petite-but-formidable Dr. Sydney Napur and Emily Swallow as inquisitive resident Dr. Michelle Robidaux.

Recently cancelled by TNT in the United States after airing only one 10 episode season, Monday Mornings was one of two dramas that were acquired by FOX shortly after their rebrand earlier this year. The acquisition was part of the new strategy to acquire broader series (such as NCIS, which ranks as the channels second highest rated series) rather than purely gritty dramas (such as The Walking Dead), to make the channel less niche and attract more eyeballs. Monday Mornings was felt to fit into that strategy and, at the time of the acquisition, Fox International Channels UK’s Director of Broadcasting and Marketing Cecilia Beacon called it a “bold, hard-hitting, emotional drama”, which she hoped would “resonate with the FOX audience.” The reason for that thinking is clear: the drama hails from David E. Kelley, who was the man behind such hits as The Practice, Boston Legal & Picket Fences, and despite the cancellation of the series, I hear that it still has strong support at FOX. I’m told that the series will premiere on the channel later this year (and not, as previously reported, this Summer.)

NCIS

A spin-off of the long-running series JAG, NCIS was created by Donald P. Bellisario & Don McGill and follows a team of investigators working for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service’s (NCIS) Major Case Response Team, which is led by veteran Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs. The drama series, which was recently renewed for an eleventh season, is produced by CBS Television Studios and stars Mark Harmon, Michael Weatherly, Pauley Perrette, David McCallum, Sean Murray, Rocky Carroll and Brian Dietzen. It was recently announced that Cote de Pablo, who has been playing Mossad officer turned NCIS agent Ziva David since season three, will not be returning as a series regular for the show’s upcoming eleventh season. She will, however, appear in an (as-yet) unspecified number of episodes of the new season to wrap up Ziva’s storyline.

NCIS has the distinction of being the very first scripted series that Fox International Channels (UK) acquired way back in late 2003 ahead of the launch of their entertainment channel (then known as FX289, later FX UK, and now simply FOX) in early 2004. Word is that competition for the series, which was being shopped by CBS Studios International, was fierce, but FIC, intent on having NCIS as the flagship series for their new UK channel, beat out other interested buyers to picked up the exclusive first window and pay TV rights to the series. NCIS was then used as major draw for the new channel and was a central part of the launch campaign for FX289. Ever since its debut in 2004, the series has been a top performer for the channel and was, for several years (until the second season of The Walking Dead in 2011/2012) FOX’s highest rated series. Much like the series’ performance for CBS in the United States, NCIS has consistently grown its audience every year that it has been on the air. The show’s eight season, which premiered in October 2010, averaged an audience of 0.59 viewers; ranking as the channel’s highest rated series. The ninth season of NCIS, which followed in January 2012, saw a rise in the ratings and averaged 0.66 million viewers, up some 12% on the audience for the previous season (but lost its crown as the channel’s highest rated series to The Walking Dead and its average audience of 0.86 million viewers). The tenth season of the series, which was used a key part of the launch schedule for the rebranded channel in January of this year, was no different and again saw significant gains in the ratings; averaging 0.84 million viewers, up 0.18 million viewers or nearly 25% on last season. Given the strong ratings performance of NCIS FOX are, understandably, keen to continue with the series. I’m told that the deal inked with CBS Studios International to acquire NCIS was a life-of-series deal and as such they hold the exclusive first window rights to the show’s upcoming eleventh season. While nothing is set in stone, I’m told that season 11 is scheduled to premiere in January 2014.

True Blood

Created by Alan Ball, True Blood follows waitress and part-faerie Sookie Stackhouse, who can hear people’s thoughts, vampire Bill Compton and vampire Eric Northman as they go about their daily lives in a world where vampires and humans co-exist thanks to the invention of mass-produced synthetic blood that means they no longer need humans as a nutritional source. The drama series features a large main cast which includes Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Sam Trammell, Ryan Kwanten, Rutina Wesley, Alexander Skarsgård, Christopher Meloni, Chris Bauer, Kristin Bauer van Straten, Lauren Bowles, Valentina Cervi, Nelsan Ellis, Scott Foley, Janina Gavankar, Lucy Griffiths, Todd Lowe, Joe Manganiello, Michael McMillian, Denis O’Hare, Jim Parrack, Carrie Preston and Deborah Ann Woll. In the show’s 10 episode sixth season, The Authority is in flames and TruBlood is in short supply. As Bill comes to terms with his newfound powers after emerging reincarnated from a pool of blood, humans are in open conflict with vampires like never before. Meanwhile, Sookie and Jason must steel themselves for an encounter with their parents’ killer: the mysterious and ancient Warlow.

True Blood is one of only a number of HBO Originals that BSkyB’s Sky Atlantic didn’t poach the first window rights to as part of their five year output deal with the US premium cable network, which is said to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. True Blood has been a key series for FOX for the past several years and has long been one of their top rated series. The show’s fourth season premiered on the channel in February 2012 and averaged an audience of just over 0.5 million viewers, ranking (at the time) as the third highest rated series on the channel. Recognising the importance of True Blood to their audience, last year the channel (then FX UK), following demand from fans, moved up the premiere of the show’s fifth season to September (traditionally the new season had always aired the January/February after it had finished airing in the States – the better part of a five-six month delay). The fifth season, which premiered on September 17th 2012, registered a slight drop in ratings, with an average audience of just under 0.5 million viewers, but still ranked as the channel’s fourth highest rated series of 2012. Sources tell me that the deal that was inked to acquire True Blood was a life-of-series deal (explaining why it wasn’t covered by the BSkyB/HBO deal) and as such they hold the first window rights to any future seasons of the show. I’m told that the current plan is to premiere the show’s sixth season this September.

The Walking Dead

Based on the graphic novel series by Robert Kirkman, The Walking Dead was developed for television by Frank Darabont and follows a group of people, led by deputy Sheriff Rick Grimes, who are attempting  to survive after an outbreak has led to the rise of the undead (known colloquially as walkers). The Walking Dead is produced by AMC Studios & Valhalla Motion Pictures and stars Andrew Lincoln, Sarah Wayne Callies, Laurie Holden, Steven Yeun, Chandler Riggs, Norman Reedus, Lauren Cohan. David Morrissey and Danai Gurira.

The Walking Dead is in a unique position on FOX. Content and juggernaut ratings aside (the series is FOX’s highest rated series and was the number one scripted series of the 2012-2013 season in the US, beating every other scripted entry on the big networks including The Big Bang Theory and NCIS), the deal that FOX’s parent FIC inked with AMC for the series was (and remains) unprecedented. That deal, inked in 2010, gave FIC not only first window rights to the series in over 120 territories, but also full international distribution, VOD and home video rights to The Walking Dead outside of the United States; as well as making FIC a co-producer on the series alongside AMC. The series, much like in the United States, has been a ratings winner since it launch in the UK, growing its audience each year it has been on the air. The Walking Dead launched on the channel (then FX UK) in November 2010 to 0.7 million viewers, quickly establishing itself as a big player for the channel. Across the show’s six episode first season, the series averaged 0.57 million viewers; ranking just behind NCIS as the second highest rated series on the channel. The show’s second season kicked off on the channel in October 2011 and made some fairly substantial ratings gains. Across its 13 episode second season The Walking Dead averaged an audience of 0.86 million viewers, up almost 50% on the average for the show’s first season and outperforming NCIS to become the channel’s highest rated series. The 16 episode third season was no different, with the series averaging an audience of 1.1 million viewers, up 28% on the ratings for season 2. Under the terms of the aforementioned deal with AMC, FOX holds the first window rights for the life of the series. I’m told that they plan to air the show’s fourth season later this year, within a week of its premiere on AMC.