Today was the first day of a three-day “International Drama Summit”
conference that MediaXChange, in cooperation with CBS, NATPE and Fox, put
together here in L.A. A sobering fact came out of a panel discussion today with Jeff
Wachtel, head of USA Network, and David Stapf, head of programming for
CBS and Paramount. They were asked point-blank by David Zucker (who
heads Ridley Scott’s TV production company) if they would ever buy a contemporary TV
series set in Europe or South America, written and produced by
Americans and starring American actors…and they both answered with a flat-out NO.
The only exceptions Stapf and Wachtel said they would consider would be
shows set in the past (ala ROME, THE TUDORS or ROBINSON CRUSOE) or that
are science fiction (which are likely to be set on other planets,
regardless of what country they are shot in). They believe that
America audiences simply won’t accept a contemporary series set in
Europe, no matter how big the stars are. They said there hasn’t been a
successful network show set in Europe since the days of THE AVENGERS,
THE SAINT and I SPY thirty five years ago…and they were unwilling to be the ones to try to break that record.
(So, if their views reflect those of other American network chiefs, I was doomed on FAST TRACK as a series before I ever started…though the movie has quite done well internationally as a “one off” and made money)
That said, Stapf and Wachtel said they are very open to buying formats from overseas
and setting them in America…as the networks have done in a big way this season LIFE ON MARS, 11th HOUR, MYTHOLOGICAL EX, THE
TREATMENT, and NY-LON, to name a few. The key is adapting the format to what they called our “uniquely American sensibility.” A BBC exec on the panel said the biggest difference was story-telling…he said British programs tend to meander more, “though there is some pleasure to be had in meandering.”
They also talked about how immensely successful U.S. shows are in
Europe and that American studios actively consider the international sales
potential of whatever they are developing for the domestic networks.
There was also a fascinating panel of executives and content providers discussing the potential for drama on the web. Christopher Sandberg, of the Companyp in Sweden, said the key difference between TV and the web comes is how they view the relationship between content and the audiences. In the broadcast model, the important thing is getting the viewer to click his remote to your program and to stay there to watch it. In the web model, it’s not getting the audience to the content that counts, it’s what the audience does when they get there that matters…and that is what is saleable to advertisers. Passive viewing isn’t enough in the new media world. What the web provider is selling advertisers is the audience involvement, and how people are experiencing, interactin with, & utilizing the content…not simply the audience’s eyeballs.