LA Screenings: Comedy Takes A Backseat To Medical Dramas, Spin-Offs, Feature Film Reboots & Superheroes

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Ask any acquisitions manager and they will quietly tell you (or is some cases whisper) that the best part of the job is the LA Screenings. The marathon event sees international buyers from around the globe descend on the City of Angels where they are feted on by the major studios, who showcase the new comedies, dramas and unscripted efforts that they have to offer.

Each year is different. In the time I’ve covered the screenings, we’ve gone in with down beat moods and emerged with palpable excitement, some years the reverse was true and one year the mood I got from buyers was a collective shrug. But this year, certainly as far as UK buyers go, things do feel different. Overall buyers are excited about the slate of new shows, though some are wary that the rising level of competition in the UK will lead to a hike in license fees this year

So which shows have execs talking? And which ones will be winging their way to these shores before long? As with every LA Screenings there are a handful of standouts that impressed buyers from almost every broadcaster and, as such, they are all but guaranteed to secure UK deals in the weeks and months ahead. On the whole comedy seems to be taking a back seat to medical dramas, spin-offs, feature film reboots and superhero efforts, but down to the nitty gritty….

The PlayerThis go around red hot titles include: NBC dramas Blindspot and The Player, Criminal Minds spin-off Beyond Borders, FBI drama Quantico and feature film adaptations Minority Report and Rush Hour. WBTV based DC Comics was once again quite a force with A LOT of strong interest in both Supergirl and Arrow/The Flash spin-off DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow. Expect all of these to score UK deals and soon (possibly by GEITF).

The Muppets is arguably the only comedy title with a chance of breaking through globally, despite the fact that there was only a presentation, rather than a finished pilot to screen. This is proving to be a red hot title, with the show being on the radar of almost every major UK broadcaster including the BBC, ITV and Sky.

Along the same lines, there was a whole slew of revivals and/or reboots on offer, which are getting keen interest from UK broadcasters, despite the fact that there was nothing to screen. Top of that list is The X-Files revival, which will almost certainly be subject to a tough bidding war. Other shows driving similar levels of interest are the NBCU distributed Heroes Reborn and Coach.

Code BlackMedical drama also made a big comeback this development cycle and that seems to be filtering through to international distribution. Of the new medical shows, Code Black starring Marcia Gay Harden is the hottest, while Chicago Med is driving keen interest – most notably from Channel 5, who I’m told are considering it for 5USA, which is already home to Chicago PD. UKTV could be another potential home for one of these, as Head of Acquisitions & Co-Productions Alexandra Finlay highlighted medical dramas as a target ahead of the screenings.

On the comedy side of things, everything seems to be taking a back-seat to The Muppets. This despite the fact that several UK broadcasters, notably ITV and Comedy Central UK, went into the screenings specifically seeking new comedy gems. The only half-hours which seem to have impressed here are Rob Lowe’s The Grinder and Jane Lynch comedy Angel From Hell. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend proved to be a little divisive and its not immediately clear if it will travel well for CBS Studios International.

LimitlessRunning down the rest of the distributors’ offerings… CBSSI’s Limitless has garnered solid interest, especially given Bradley Cooper’s appearance in the pilot and his potential recurring role going forward (schedule permitting). New Summer series Zoo on the other hand failed to impress. One UK buyer, who asked not to be identified, described the show as being “marginally worse than Zero Hour”.

Disney Media Distribution had a pretty huge slate and just after their international upfront event, there was A LOT of keen interest in new Shonda Rhimes drama The Catch, especially from Universal Networks International. That seems to have cooled off in the wake of news that ABC is recasting two major roles, so buyers may take a wait and see approach on this one. The only other titles on the DMD slate driving keen interest are The Family and Wicked City, which is a perfect fit for More4.

CrowdedNBCUniversal International Television Distribution has a number of HOT titles we’ve already noted, such as Chicago Med, Coach and Heroes Reborn. Beyond that, J Lo’s Shades Of Blue is set to be a hot title, alongside medical drama Heartbreaker, and new Carrie Preston & Patrick Warburton comedy Crowded, the latter of which is understood to have caught the eye of both Channel 4 and Comedy Central UK. One of NBCU’s shows UK buyers had an interest in ahead of the screenings was Game Of Silence, but that seems to have fizzled.

Owing to the massive effects of vertical integration this season, most of the networks ordered directly from their sister studios, so an independent such as Sony Pictures Television had relatively little on offer. Their big title is The Player, which was being pitched to buyers as a perfect companion to The Blacklist (will Sky Living come to the same conclusion?). New comedy Dr Ken got an OK reception, but most were underwhelmed. The surprise hit on the comedy side for Sony was Blunt Talk, which some UK buyers are expressing strong interest in. “Essentially we’re talking about Patrick [Stewart] as a caricature of Piers [Morgan]”, one buyer noted.

BordertownTechnically speaking, Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution has already sold one of their new shows to the UK, twice. That show is animated comedy Bordertown, which launches on Fox midseason. ITV2 has taken first-window as part of their wide-ranging deal for all of Seth MacFarlane’s series, while FOX UK has secured repeat rights.

Of the studio’s other series, beyond the previously noted Minority Report and The X-Files, Ryan Murphy’s new shows Scream Queens and American Crime Story are driving huge interest (expect another bidding war or two), despite once again there being little of anything to screen. Another Fox distributed show expected to drive keen interest post-screenings is Kurt Sutter’s just picked up FX series The Bastard Executioner.

AquariusAs always, Warner Bros. International Television Distribution has a remarkably strong slate. Nearly every one of their titles had buyers talking and while that was inevitably led by Supergirl and DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow, it looks like their remaining new titles (Blindspot, Containment, Lucifer and Rush Hour) will also be big sellers on the international market. UK buyers were also taking another look at iZombie after it was picked up for a second season by The CW earlier this month.

While they command the lion’s share of the attention, the LA Screenings are not a purely studio affair, with several independents getting attention from UK buyers. The most notable titles here are Legendary TV’s The Expanse, which I’m told will likely land at Syfy UK, unless another broadcaster makes a late play for the space-opera; ITV’s David Duchovny drama Aquarius, which is being eyed by Netflix UK; and Lionsgate’s Manhattan, which some UK buyers are re-considering following the addition of CSI’s William Petersen to the main cast.