The L.A. Screenings were one of many entertainment industry traditions that were put on hold by the pandemic. After all, an event that brings a few hundred international TV buyers to Los Angeles to huddle for a week in small screening rooms is pretty much the opposite of social distancing.
This year, a smaller contingent of buyers is expected to make like swallows to Capistrano and return to Hollywood during the week of May 23. Day by day, most of the major studios will take turns hosting L.A. Screenings events, giving buyers the opportunity to sample new properties on the heels of the network upfront presentations, which were held the week of May 16 in New York.
But the first L.A. Screenings week held since 2019 will look and feel different for the content scouts for networks and platforms across Europe, Asia, Latin America and more. The biggest changes are fueled by broader industry shifts that were under way prior to the pandemic but were accelerated by nearly two years of quarantine and lockdown conditions. Perhaps the most conspicuous absence this time around will be Disney.
The company confirmed it will not host any formal events for L.A. Screenings this year. The reason is simple. Over the past three years, Disney has forcefully transitioned its focus of its television business to support Disney+, Hulu, ESPN+ and other direct-to-consumer platforms. The studio side of Disney no longer sells rerun and second-window rights to the vast majority of its content to outside buyers in the U.S. or any other market. All of the Mouse House’s output is now saved for its internal platforms.
Among Hollywood’s traditional studios, Disney has made the most significant pivot. Warner Bros. Discovery, NBCUniversal and Paramount have taken their own steps in varying degrees to move away from third-party after-market sales, but all three vertically integrated conglomerates will participate in the screenings. Sony Pictures Television and Lionsgate, not surprisingly, are eager to host visiting buyers. The smallest of Hollywood’s global studios are riding the streaming boom as “arms dealers” hoping to sell as much content.
Although deals and transactions today can be accomplished with email exchanges and video conference calls, there is no substitute for face-to-face connection, says Lisa Kramer, president of international TV licensing for Paramount Global (formerly ViacomCBS).
“We are getting ready for a robust few days of conversations,” Kramer told Variety. “Buyers are keen to engage.” For Paramount and other distributors, this year’s discussions will be more complicated than usual because the company does have a mandate to build up Paramount+ as a global streaming service.
Some of the most high-profile content produced for CBS, Showtime, Paramount Network and other channels will be held back in major markets outside the U.S. where Paramount+ has launched, including the U.K., Australia and Latin America. Warner Bros. is in a similar position with the international rollout of HBO Max. But other territories are still wide open for business. At this time of transition, the major studios are hard-pressed to turn away international buyers for content, especially in markets where they don’t have a viable streaming platform.
For Kramer, the dynamism of the market today is reflected in the number of third-party distribution deals that Paramount has picked up of late. The studio is handling international sales for MRC’s “Poker Face,” a drama series for NBC Universal’s Peacock starring Natasha Lyonne. (Disclosure: Variety parent company PMC is part of a joint venture that includes MRC.)
“We have content that we will be selling in first-windows direct to buyers everywhere,” Kramer says. “We also are looking to understand better how market windows are changing for everyone. We’re always trying to figure out ways to better monetize and support our content. That part of the job has not changed.”
Here’s a rundown of some of the buzzy properties expected to be showcased at L.A. Screenings:
“The Accused” (Sony Pictures TV): This crime anthology drama, set to premiere in the fall on Fox in the U.S., hails from “Homeland” showrunners Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa.
“A Spy Among Friends” (Sony Pictures TV): Damian Lewis and Guy Pearce star in the true story of British turncoat spy Kim Philby and his friendship with fellow MI6 sleuth Nicholas Elliott.
“Fire Country” (CBS Studios): Jerry Bruckheimer hopes to return to form with a high-octane drama (formerly “Cal Fire”) centering on convicts looking for redemption by fighting wildfires.
“Night Court” (Universal TV/ Warner Bros. TV): The hit 1980s comedy gets a refresh with “Big Bang Theory” alum Melissa Rauch taking the bench and John Larroquette reprising his role as shifty prosecutor Dan Fielding.
“Poker Face”(MRC/Paramount): The Rian Johnson mystery drama starring Natasha Lyonne and Benjamin Bratt is the rare wholly original title generating heat.
“Quantum Leap” (Universal Television): The revival of the time-traveling fantasy drama that ran on NBC from 1989 to 1993 is no surprise given the demand for established franchise IP. The original starring Scott Bakula was a big hit overseas.
“The Winchesters” (Warner Bros. TV): A prequel spinoff for “Supernatural” was a no-brainer for Warner Bros. given the long-running series’ cult following.
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