Dan Chambers on Broadcasting

Poker game, auction, bloodbath - welcome to the LA screenings
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The Independent Online

Last week saw myself, the Five acquisitions team and executives from every other UK broadcaster transported to Los Angeles for the annual merry-go-round that is the LA Screenings.

Every May we all decamp to the Hollywood hills for an event that is one part cattle auction, one part poker game and one part showbiz schmooze. Rather than topping up the tan by the hotel pool, sipping colourful cocktails and trying to spot film stars, the week is instead spent in dark, airless viewing theatres full of sweaty TV executives watching new show after new show.

These are the series that American broadcasters are pinning their hopes on to be the big hits of the fall season.Each year British broadcasters come out to play a cagey game of cat and mouse where interest in shows is played down; competitors are bluffed, double bluffed and misinformation is spread.

This year competition is keener than ever with the terrestrial broadcasters looking to fill their digital spin-offs and big spenders such as ITV more ready to splash the cash than ever before.

At Five we've enjoyed a pretty good track record over the years picking up American series that have struck a chord with the British viewing public.

The original Las Vegas-set CSI is the most popular Stateside show in the UK and is the icing on the cake of our acquired roster that also includes the two other CSI franchises; Law & Order and its two spin-off series; The Shield; Prison Break; House and Grey's Anatomy.

All the studios and broadcasters try to identify the next big thing but as the herd mentality can dominate, it means distinct and identifiable trends tend to appear. Last year was very masculine with lots of sci-fi and high-concept potboilers such as Invasion and Threshold following in the wake of previously successful series such as 24 and Lost.

And there's still some of that with new shows like Jericho, where the residents of a small American town come to terms with the aftermath of a terrorist-induced nuclear disaster.

But this year the studios seem to have got in touch with their feminine side with a confetti-like blizzard of wedding shows.

There are no less than five comedies or dramas: The Wedding Album; The Singles' Table; Big Day; Til Death and Rules of Engagement, all devoted to either nuptials or newly weds. Equally, musical trends appear throughout many shows. A couple of years ago you couldn't watch a show without Coldplay popping up. This year it's James Blunt with "You're Beautiful" plonking away in the background of every other pilot.

So far what has stopped this year's Screenings being the bloodbath predicted is the lack of a stand-out show that everybody is desperate to get their hands on. There are interesting series such as Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, the latest project from West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin which stars Friends' alumnus Matthew Perry, but nothing UK execs are ready to sell their grandmothers for. Then again, with everyone keeping their cards so close to their chest it's hard to predict what hands UK TV bosses will play when deals are done in the weeks ahead.

Searching for the holy grail of ABCs

The best thing about being the new terrestrial home of cricket, other than the Five hospitality box at Lord's, is the type of TV audience the game attracts.

For commercial broadcasters the Holy Grail is both 16- to 34-year-olds and upmarket ABC1s - and cricket delivers posh men in spades.

This week's ratings for our 7.15pm highlights, produced by Sunset + Vine, saw an average of more than 600,000 viewers tuning in every night.

And more than half of those watching Mark Nicholas, Geoffrey Boycott and Simon Hughes's astute dissection of the day's play were ABC1 Adults.

With Channel 4's weekly schedule of nearly 40 hours of Big Brother and the likes of ITV's Soccer Aid, X-Factor: Battle of the Stars and Love Island, it makes sense to give disenfranchised upmarket viewers an alternative.

That's why Five's summer schedule features a host of series designed to appeal to this cultured and cash-rich audience.

Hidden Treasure Houses returns this Thursday andBuildings That Shaped Britain, which looks at the evolution of British architecture, begins on Friday.

The week after The Singing Estate follows conductor and choral scholar Ivor Setterfield's attempts to transform 40 residents of an Oxford housing estate into a classical choir.

Meanwhile our resident art expert, Tim Marlow, is guiding viewers round the Tate Modern, making Five the only channel where you'll find Kevin Pietersen and Kandinsky this summer.

Dan Chambers is Director of programmes at Five

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