International broadcasters are desperate for American procedurals, and this year the Hollywood studios believe they’ve got the supply to satisfy demand. Jesse Whittock reports from LA
Major international networks have been demanding more procedurals from the US studios for years. The ratings stability the format offers is not matched on a consistent basis by the edgier, serialised cable fare that has become a staple of schedules in recent times.
While some recent years haven’t necessarily been rich pickings in terms of procedurals, it is right to acknowledge the number of new closed episode shows lined up for the 2017/18 broadcast season.
“We have an unparalleled record in edgy shows, but we are aware people need that event programming that gives someone a reason to tune in on a specific evening,” says Sony Pictures Television (SPT) president of international distribution Keith Le Goy.
“As broadcasters fly in from around the world, we can say, ‘we heard you’, and that we did not forget these kinds of shows.”
“We heard the message loud and clear,” confirms Mark Endemano, senior VP and general manager of Disney Media Distribution (DMD) EMEA. “The free TV networks across Europe especially have had a strong demand for this type of programming.”
Those heading to Sony’s Culver City studio will find SWAT, which follows a group of elite police agents and stars Shemar Moore (Criminal Minds). “It’s a ‘supercop’ show with a super cast and a super-evolved level of action,” says Le Goy.
Disney is offering series such as The Gospel of Kevin (“a light comedy-drama procedural centering on a callous and self-serving man who is visited by an angel that wants him save the world”, Endemano says), and new Shonda Rhimes series For the People, which follows young New York lawyers (billed as “pure play procedural”).
Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution (TCFTVD) will be screening The Resident (above), which follows a trio of young doctors who are exposed to the harsh realities of life in the hospital by a brilliant but difficult senior. “It is terrific,” says TCFTVD’s senior VP and managing director of EMEA, David Smyth.
“It’s just a wonderful, fast-paced and compelling medical procedural about the business of medicine and the choices doctors have to make in very stressful conditions.”
NBCUniversal International Distribution & Networks president Belinda Menendez says NBC has taken a slightly different approach. “We have quite a focus on procedural shows with a serialised narrative – what we would call ‘hybrid’ shows,” she says.
“We had this several years back with House and are extremely excited to have this with The Brave and Reverie. What is nice about these shows is that they can play well on both linear and SVOD platforms.”
CBS Studios International (CBSSI) president and CEO Armando Nuñez claims that while other studios have focused on “super-serliased fare that’s incredible well done, but is difficult for linear players” in recent years, “The truth is CBS never went off that procedural track”.
CBSSI will be pushing David Boreanaz-fronted procedural SEAL Team (pictured top), which is one of a number of military- or elite operations-themed series in LA this year. “This is a big budget, movie-in-looks drama,” he says.
“So much of television is cyclical,” Nuñez adds. “SEAL Team just provides great stories that can be told through the eyes of a military operative, and that doesn’t necessarily make it American-centric. Don’t forget NCIS has military roots.”
This season will also be remembered as one of vertical integration. Warner Bros. Worldwide Television Distribution president Jeffrey Schlesinger reels off stats showing that of the 34 shows the four top-rated networks (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) ordered, only nine went to non-affiliated networks. “NBC gave 100% of commissions to its affiliate studio; Fox, 100%. At ABC, it was 58% and CBS was 50%,” he says.
Warner has five new shows on those channels, however. Among the buzziest pre-market titles is Young Sheldon (above), which follows the Sheldon Cooper character from CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory, while other notable comedies include Fox’s LA to Vegas, Disney’s The Mayor, CBSSI’s 9JKL, NBCU’s Will & Grace reboot and Sony’s Alex, Inc.
From Warner’s shows for The CW, Schlesinger predicts networks and services with younger-skewing audiences will go for Life Sentence, which harks back to the period before superheroes when Pretty Little Liars drove the channel almost on its own.
“The SVOD buyers are now all over the place – Riverdale is a Netflix exclusive in many territories” says says. “That show is a bit narrow for ProSieben or ITV, but it is the sweet spot for SVOD. Those services should be interested in [Pretty Little Liars alum] Lucy Hale and Life Sentence.”
Menendez says crime shows that linear channels normally search out are, in fact, also interesting to subscription video services. “We see these types of shows being valuable to SVOD services, often in the second window,” she adds.
Fox’s Smyth contends vertical integration isn’t necessarily a trend. “Fox has the top rated show on six networks in the US, including Modern Family on ABC, This is Us on NBC and American Horror Story on FX. It’s a demonstration that we make shows for everybody.”
He also acknowledges the number of orders is down across the board. “This year there are a lot of shows coming back,” he says. “There are some years where it is like that and some years where there are more new ones.”
Each studio chief independently makes the point that finding “the right buyer” for their new shows is now crucial – a deal with the wrong network can mean a series disappearing without a trace and losing back-end value. With CBS Corp. CEO Les Moonves recently saying advertising revenues had fallen below 50% for the first time, controlling rights and properly exploiting them is a more pressing concern than ever.
“This year we have more drama than comedy, but the main point is we have a very varied portfolio of content so we can work with buyers across the gamut,” says Disney’s Endemano. “We have also wanted to make sure the shows are with the right broadcasters and reach the right audiences.”
Ultimately, it’s a good time to be in the distribution business, even if the networks see an uncertain future ahead. “For networks fragmentation is a bad thing, but for distributors it is great, because there’s an interested buyer for almost all genres of programming,” says Warner Bros. sales chief Schlesinger.
SPT’s Le Goy says this all means there is one winner – the consumer. “It is a fantastic time to be a TV viewer,” he says. “People talk about the golden age of TV production, but it’s a golden age of TV viewing.”
INSIDE THE STUDIO: SONY
Sony Pictures Television has a pair of new broadcast dramas and a comedy on offer for buyers in LA this year. Though the figure is lower than the Culver City studio’s best years, the number should be seen in context of the high volume of vertical integration.
SPT president of international distribution Keith Le Goy is upbeat about the chances of ABC comedy Alex, Inc. (above), David Shore medical drama The Good Doctor and CBS show S.W.A.T.
He recognises that there is a need for the broad style the three shows have at their core. “That’s what we’re doing with these shows,” he says. “They will be hits and they have to be in order for us to get in front of the networks’ studios sisters..”
Alex, Inc. is Zack Braff’s return to broadcast television, with the Scrubs star playing a father who launches his own company, attempting to live his dream and simultaneously balance the needs of his family.
“Zack Braff is a massive and hugely beloved international star,” says Le Goy. “People have been waiting for his return, and here we go.”
The Good Doctor (left), meanwhile, also marks a return – this time of House creator David Shore to medical procedural programming. Instead of Hugh Laurie’s curmudgeonly genius, the new season show stars Freddie Highmore (Bates Motel) as a medical savant and talented doctor who has autism.
“Like Hugh Laurie’s House, Freddie Highmore’s character has a very specific condition,” says LeGoy. “Freddie’s portrayal will give the condition a platform. This is a fantastic opportunity tell stories that raise issues around autism and how we look at the condition around the world.”
S.W.A.T., a coproduction with CBS Television Studios and Perfect Storm Entertainment, is inspired by a 2003 movie that was itself a reworking of the 1975 series of the same name, with ex-Criminal Minds star Shemar Moore starring as part of an elite police team.
“Last year we had Kevin Can Wait, and every knew exactly what they were getting from Kevin James and what that show was going to be: physical comedy and big laughs,” says Le Goy. “This is the same thing: it is Shemar in exactly the role you want to see him in – action from minute one to minute 48.”
INSIDE THE STUDIO: DISNEY
After a relatively quiet year in the 2016/17 season, Disney Media Distribution (DMD) is restocked and ready to go this time around.
“We are very happy to be back in full effect this year,” says DMD’s senior VP and general manager for EMEA, Mark Endemano.
The pipeline of Marvel Universe series also continues this year with Marvel’s Inhumans, which is literally getting the biggest launch of any broadcast network series this year.
An innovative launch set up will see the first two, extended episodes of the show debuting on giant IMAX screens in the US before the episodes go out on the Alphabet network.
“Inhumans will be like nothing we’ve ever seen before,” says Endemano. “The scale and ambition is supported by the fact we’re working with IMAX.”
The series follows an alien royal family who are forced to flee to Hawaii after a military coup on their homeworld. Anson Mount plays the lead character, Black Bolt.
Elsewhere, ABC Studios’ relationship with Shonda Rhimes has once again come to the fore, with the Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder creator behind two new series.
The first is legal drama For the People, which young, ambitious prosecutors in the New York high court work to win cases. “This is pure play procedural,” says Endemano. “You get a serialised arc around the young lawyers, but this is really a case-of-the-week, ripped-from-the-headlines format.”
Like For the People, the second series is also for ABC. It is another spin-off of medical drama Grey’s Anatomy, coming after Private Practice, which ran between 2007 and 2013, but is set in a Seattle fire station.
The series will launch as a backdoor pilot within the latest season of its progenitor. “Grey’s has been such a hit for us that it is great to be able to offer more related content,” says Endemano.
INSIDE THE STUDIO: CBS
While it’s true CBS has had bigger broadcast scripted slates in the past, distribution chief Armando Nuñez says this represents the US channel’s settled schedule, and numerous returning series.
“We don’t have as many holes in the schedule as the other networks,” says Nuñez, CEO and president of CBS Studios International. “We still always bring in new shows, and have strength and stability to market new shows with. Plus, we have stuff sitting on the sidelines such as Elementary that can slot in where there is weakness in the schedule.”
One highlight of the new schedule is Mark Feuerstein’s 9JKL, which Nuñez compares to Everbody Loves Raymond. “There’s lots of physical humour,” he adds, noting that the fact it follows The Big Bang Theory on Monday night shows CBS is placing a high degree of faith in the series.
Warner Bros has secured CBS’s other comedy slots, but on the drama side CBSSI is offering Alan Cummings vehicle Instinct (above), David Boreanaz action series SEAL Team and Wisdom of the Crowd, which is based on an Israeli format.
Instinct sees Cummings, well known on the network from The Good Wife, playing a former CIA operative who returns to duty to track down a serial killer. Like former summer series effort Zoo, Nuñez notes, adding: “Alan is very engaging.”
SEAL Team, which comes from writer Ben Cavell, is one a number of similar-themed dramas on the market this year, and is believed to be loosely based on the unit team killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011.
“There is plenty of action, but the story has to be believable,” says Nuñez. “While the SEALs are fighting and engaging in missions around the world, this is still all about their families and the challenges of trying to lead a normal life back home. That makes it incredible.”
Wisdom of the Crowd (left), meanwhile, stars Jeremy Piven (Entourage, Mr Selfridge) as an innovative Silicon Valley tech innovator who creates a crowd-sourcing hub in order to find his daughter’s killer, and then assembles a team of crime-fighting experts who can use the platform to fight all crimes. “This is bread and butter for CBS: an old-fashioned procedural of solving crimes, with the difference being he uses social media to help him,” says Nuñez.
INSIDE THE STUDIO: NBCUNIVERSAL
NBCUniversal International Distribution’s entire slate comprises shows for the NBC network this year, and studio sales chief Belinda Menendez says buyers will find everything from ‘hybrid’ serial-cum-procedurals to anthology series.
For the latter, she points to Law & Order True Crime – The Menendez Murders (above), which follows the gripping true-life case of a pair of brothers who were tried for brutally killing their parents.
“Crime is hot right now, and no story is more compelling than this Dick Wolf drama,” says Menendez, NBCUniversal International Distribution & Networks president.
On the procedural-hybrid front comes The Brave, which is one of two series Keshet Studios has landed on major broadcast networks in its first year of operation.
The drama, about a Defence Intelligence Agency surveillance team, stars Anne Heche, and, according to Menendez, is “a true procedural with a hybrid component to keep viewers hooked. The cases and villains are relevant to the challenges and threats we face today”.
She describes virtual reality-inspired drama Reverie as “a fresh take on the procedural with a modern twist around dreams”. It comes from Extant creator Mickey Fisher, and stars Dennis Haysberg (The Unit).
NBCU’s noisiest comedy is, of course, is Will and Grace, which was taken straight-to-series after Universal Television convinced the network to reboot the groundbreaking LGBT-themed sitcom.
Menendez notes the new season, which comes a decade after the last went off air, will reunite the main cast (Debra Messing, Eric McCormack, Megan Mullaly and Sean Hayes) and anchors the return of NBC’s ‘Must See TV’ Thursday nights.
Also on the big ticket comedy front is A.P. Bio, which comes from Saturday Night Live chief Lorne Michaels and Seth Meyers. The series is about a philosophy teacher who uses honour students from the high school where he works to get back at his job-stealing nemesis, who made him lose his dream job.
“It’s smart, and with universally relatable characters,” says Menendez.
INSIDE THE STUDIO: FOX
Similar to NBCUniversal, Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution (TCFTVD)’s broadcast slate is entirely comprised of shows for its own network. “What matters is the quality and we have that in spades,” says David Smyth, senior VP and managing director of Europe at TCFTVD.
Probably the most notable series is The Gifted (above), which is a Marvel Television series, and has Burn Notice creator Matt Nix and Hollywood director Bryan Singer attached. The X Men-like show follows two ordinary parents, one of whom is a district attorney who prosecutes mutants, who are forced to go on the run with their children after they begin displaying incredible abilities.
Smyth says the family unit is a “compelling way into the Marvel Universe”, adding: “Matt Nix and Bryan Singer are known for being able to create amazing worlds, so to get them together gives you a clear sense of how this world will play out.”
Also on the dramatic front is The Resident, one of a number of medical procedurals coming out of the studios for the new season. Manish Dayal (Halt and Catch Fire) stars as a young, idealistic doctor who are exposed to the good and bad of medicine by a tough but brilliant senior resident, with every decision potentially shattering.
Smyth notes the reaction has been “really hot”, with those that have seen it commenting on a “tremendous energy”.
“It is a terrific, wonderful, fast-paced and compelling medical procedural about the business of medicine and the choices doctors have to make in very stressful conditions,” he says.
Comedies come in the shape of Seth MacFarlane’s sci-fi comedy-drama The Orville (right), US airline spoof LA to Vegas and extraterrestrial buddy comedy Ghosted.
The Orville follows South Park creator MacFarlane as the new captain of a star ship 400 years in the future. “It’s a love letter to shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation and Buck Rodgers,” says Smyth. “However, certain shows defy little genre boxes and this is one of those. People will pick that up right away.”
LA to Vegas is an ensemble comedy about the ensemble crew of a Calfornia-Nevada shuttle that has Will Ferrell as an executive producing. Modern Family’s Steve Levitan directed the pilot, while Dylan McDermott (The Practice, Stalker) has, according to Smyth, a “wonderful star turn” as a Ron Burgandy-type pilot.
Ghosted, meanwhile, stars Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation) and Craig Robinson (The American Office) as a pair of unwitting heroes, who are whisked away from their mundane lives to work for as supernatural investigators. “If you’re a fan of Ghostbusters or Men in Black you’ll want to see this,” says Smyth.