Breaking the North American broadcast barrier

Tracy Bateman, Manager of program acquisitions, ABC Cable Networks Group
October 1, 2002

Tracy Bateman, Manager of program acquisitions, ABC Cable Networks Group

Basic elements include a strong, unique concept, great style and stories, and interesting characters. A breakthrough premise or visual style is appealing, and a project that appears to be inherently toyetic is particularly attractive. Stories also need to move along at a quick and progressive pace.

Donna Friedman, Executive VP, Kids’ WB!

Occasionally we acquire completed series, but that is more rare as it’s difficult to find the right fit for our air. It’s important that any international co-producing partners remain as invisible in the creative process as possible. To get a full license fee and a shot at the best time slot, we want to feel that the show is being tailor-made for Kids’ WB!

It’s very important that the pacing, sense of humor and story-telling are right for a U.S. audience, and more specifically, meet the expectations of the kind of high-energy, adventurous, thrill-seeking kids that are Kids’ WB!’s core viewers.

Andy Heyward, Chairman and CEO, DIC Entertainment

The U.S. market is fiercely competitive and vertically integrated, so it is difficult for any player – international or domestic – to place properties here. While a producer’s best shot is typically with something that has a track record, the secret to success with original properties is far less tangible and there is no formula.

One strategy is to hire an American writer to consult on the development. A few obvious considerations: kid-relatability and dual-gender appeal. Since there are few preschool slots, odds are better with series that skew older. Action-adventure and superhero concepts seem to travel better, while comedy can be more culture-oriented and so more difficult for international producers to hit the mark within the U.S.

Terry Kalagian, VP of programming, Cartoon Network

My strongest advice to international producers is to do their homework. Before meeting with a network, it’s vital to familiarize oneself with the channel’s on-air schedule, programming franchises, individual tone and sensibility. A thorough review of the broadcaster’s website should provide a complete schedule along with a strong indication of what the network is all about.

We look for the highest-quality comedy and action-adventure cartoons – particularly those with strong character development and universal themes (i.e. sibling rivalry, simple misunderstandings, good vs. evil). Advance screeners (in English or subtitled) are essential before meetings are scheduled, and episode loglines and character descriptions are also appreciated.

Dolores Morris, VP of family and documentary programming, HBO

If you haven’t seen HBO Family or checked out our website, you stand a good chance of pitching the wrong idea. HBO Family has a tradition of being non-traditional, which is probably the most difficult aspect to communicate to pitchers – international and North American.

A quick guide to bettering your odds: For our preschool daypart, the emphasis is on titles and/or characters that are immediately familiar to American parents and caregivers, who need to know by title alone that this programming suits their young children. Our afternoon is a tougher fit, in that tweens come home from school and turn on all screens – computer and TV – and we try to have programming that will send them back and forth between the two.

Peter Moss, VP of television programming, Corus

The North American kid audience has such a wide choice of viewing options that a channel needs to distinguish itself in the minds of its viewers. This being the case, a non-North American program hoping for a U.S. or Canadian sale needs to be very focused on the kind of broadcast home it is seeking. PBS-style programs don’t necessarily play on Cartoon Network, and shows that work on YTV don’t necessarily work on The Family Channel. The more targeted the program, the more chance of a sale. Best of all is a pre-sale in which the broadcaster’s input is solicited and the show has the potential of becoming a signature program for the channel that acquires it.

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