International Insider: Quiet Cannes; HBO Max Spending Spree; More Covid Chaos; NBCU Bombshell

Jake Kanter
·8 min read

Hello, Jake Kanter here, and welcome to the latest edition of International Insider. This week, we ponder Mipcom’s slim pickings and examine the problems of production in a pandemic. Scroll on for news and analysis.

A Quiet Cannes

Cannes
Cannes

Modest Mip: And so, we have reached the end of perhaps the strangest Mipcom market ever. There is no doubt that coronavirus killed the buzz of this year’s Cannes gathering, despite the best efforts of organizer Reed Midem to capture the spirit of the market online. While there were some impressive speakers (special nod to a news-stuffed Q&A with Netflix’s Ted Sarandos) and some smart ways to interact via the Mipcom Online+ platform, it was clear that nothing can replicate the heat and light of a physical event.

Slow news week: One way of measuring the success of Mipcom is by the strength of news and gossip emanating from the market. This year’s event emitted a low hum of middle-to-low ranking deal news, with none of the word-of-mouth excitement about ambitious new shows that spring from nowhere to become market-definers. Unsurprisingly, it was high-end drama that led the charge, with eye-catching agreements including Sony swooping for the remake rights to hit Italian series Doc, and Nordic Entertainment Group announcing an Anna Friel series.

Mipcom is becoming fragmented: The pandemic has forced studios to change the way they do business, which has inevitably accelerated Mipcom’s evolution. I spoke to 10 sales chiefs ahead of the market and most said video call tech means they are meeting buyers more regularly than ever before, while deal-making is becoming an increasingly year-round affair. Studios are also launching their own content showcases, skipping the middle-man. All of this is chipping away at the Mipcom model.

But but but: Mip will be back. Mip TV may come too soon, but all eyes are on Mipcom 2021 for a grand reunion. It will be different, and studios will be far less reliant on the market for generating sales, but optimists see it as a vital moment to renew old bonds, open new doors, and inject some collective heat back into the market.

HBO To The Max

Adult Material
Adult Material

HBO Max’s aggressive acquisitions: If there was one theme that emerged from Mipcom this year, it was the rise of HBO Max as a real force in the international market. The WarnerMedia streamer has had a busy few days hoovering up some big shows that have, until now, been without a U.S. home. Here’s its recent spending spree:

  • Adult Material: Channel 4 series about a pornstar mother, starring Hayley Squires (pictured)

  • I Hate Suzie: Sky phone hack drama from Succession’s Lucy Prebble and actress Billie Piper

  • Possessions: Studiocanal’s French/Israeli series, in which a bride is charged with murdering her husband

  • Valley Of Tears: Israel’s biggest-budget TV series ever made depicting the 1973 Yom Kippur War

  • The Bridge: Banijay/Channel 4 reality show, in which contestants build a bridge to an island

This was foreshadowed: Jeniffer Kim, HBO Max’s international originals chief, hinted at more “co-productions, pre-buys and originally commissioned content” in the global market during an Edinburgh TV Fest interview with Deadline’s Peter White back in August. She’s certainly made good on her word.

Why it matters: The race for international content just got even more intense, which is great news if you’re a producer looking for a U.S. partner. And it could just be the start for HBO Max, which is planning to further tread on Netflix’s toes when it begins its global expansion, starting with Latin America next year. Hulu’s former international chief Johannes Larcher is leading the international charge.

Covid Chaos Continues

Britain's Got Talent
Britain's Got Talent

No respect: As the UK is flooded by a second wave of coronavirus, the problems for producers are stacking up. Deadline revealed this week that Syco Entertainment and Fremantle shut down the Britain’s Got Talent (pictured) Christmas special after three crew members tested positive, while a similar outbreak on BBC One’s Little Mix The Search has forced the singing competition series off-air this weekend. The virus’ lack of respect for even the most stringent of safety protocols shows that producers will always need a plan-B, or — at the very worst — be braced for cancelation. Good news then, that the UK government’s insurance scheme is finally open for business.

And it’s not just on-set outbreaks: Covid is rearing its ugly head even before cameras are rolling. We revealed this week that Apple halted pre-production on See-Saw Films’ The Essex Serpent after Keira Knightley dramatically dropped out of the lead role, citing childcare concerns amid the pandemic. The show will now not go into production until next year — presumably with a new lead actress.

Carrying on regardless: The UK’s government’s regional lockdown measures have not halted filming on Warner Bros’ The Batman in Liverpool, one of the worst affected areas of the country. Robert Pattinson was snapped on set after overcoming his own battle with coronavirus. The Batman filming could provide hope that other shoots can continue, even if there is another UK-wide lockdown.

NBCU Bombshell

Jeff Wachtel
Jeff Wachtel

Wachtel out: My editor Nellie Andreeva broke the news Friday of Jeff Wachtel’s abrupt departure as president of NBCUniversal International Studios. The 20-year NBCU vet has been ousted after internal complaints about his management style, though the company is being tight-lipped about exactly what went down.

The context: There is a big cultural clean-up going on at NBC and its affiliates right now. It follows an internal investigation into allegations of professional misconduct against former NBC entertainment president Paul Telegdy. Meredith Ahr, president of NBC Entertainment’s Alternative and Reality Group, was another sudden departure earlier this week.

Why it matters: London-based Wachtel oversaw a global empire that includes Downton Abbey producer Carnival Films, Hanna producer Working Title and Matchbox Pictures, the Aussie indie behind Netflix’s Cate Blanchett refugee drama Stateless. NBCU insiders say a search for Wachtel’s replacement will begin soon. One industry source put it this way: “It’s good that they are genuinely trying to change the culture. It’s been a long time coming.”

London Calling

Ava DuVernay
Ava DuVernay

The lowdown on LFF: The BFI London Film Festival ran throughout this week, primarily in a digital format, as is the norm right now. Industry activity saw a collection of high-profile names gather on Zoom to debate the future of the biz. Deadline sat in on a talk with Ava DuVernay, who used the platform to call out the film industry for being “mediocre”. Sessions also took place with TV supremo Jane Tranter, who discussed A Discovery Of Witches having to pause filming due to a positive Covid test, and how Bad Wolf has been coping with the pandemic. Elsewhere, producer Ted Hope lived up to his name, providing a rare voice of positivity during these tough pandemic times. He said coronavirus disruption and tearing up of the rulebook could mean we are “on the verge of the best time we’ve ever had for filmmakers in my 35 years.”

The Essentials

Netflix Crown Diana Wedding Dress Season 4
Netflix Crown Diana Wedding Dress Season 4

🌶️ Hot one of the week: With more than a hint of Succession, ITV is planning to tell the story of how a wealthy Black family in New York and London responds to a patriarchal stroke. How To Get Away With Murder writer Abby Ajayi is penning Riches. We had the scoop.

🍿 International box office: IMAX has had a strong run with Tenet with a $30.1M offshore cume, representing 11% of the total on Christopher Nolan’s time-twister blockbuster. Nancy Tartaglione has the details.

🚚 On the move: Fremantle has promoted former Sundance executive Christian Vesper to president of global drama following the departure of Sarah Doole in August. Full story.

🏆 Awards news: Warner Bros’ Swedish drama Partisan has been named best series at the 2020 Canneseries, the screenings festival that has run alongside the virtual Mipcom. More here.

📅 Diary date: Wildscreen kicks off next week, with the star attraction being a conversation with James Cameron. The Avatar director takes center stage on Wednesday, 21 October, at 7PM UK time.

🎦 Trailer dash: Netflix dropped a stunning new trailer for Season 4 of The Crown (pictured above) on Tuesday, teasing all the turmoil to come for Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Watch here.

📺 One to watch: The BBC and PBS’s political drama Roadkill, starring Helen McCrory and Hugh Laurie, gets underway in the UK on October 18. Images and a trailer for the David Hare series are here.

And Finally…

The Pursuit Of Love
The Pursuit Of Love

Getting more than they bargained for: The Pursuit Of Love was one of the splashiest shows on display at Mipcom, with producers giving buyers a taste of a glossy, star-studded series that subverts the period drama genre with all the gusto of Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. What the BBC and Amazon hadn’t bargained on, however, was a dramatic sub-plot emerging during the same week the show was shop-windowed. British tabloids buzzed with excitement after getting hold of snaps of The Pursuit Of Love stars Lily James and Dominic West seemingly embroiled in a sunny tryst on the streets of Rome. Then, just a day later, the sub-plot thickened when West emerged from his home with his wife and declared to the waiting press that “our marriage is strong.” One suspects that it all bodes rather well for the drama’s pursuit of publicity when the premiere rolls around.

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