September/October 2014
Volume 34 No. 6

Sept Oct 2014
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Doing Lunch At The Major U.S. Studios For The L.A. Screenings

By Dom Serafini

At the 51st annual L.A. Screenings, 1,700 buyers (as confirmed by Warner Bros.) from 70 countries converged in Los Angeles at their own expense with wallets in hand to visit the Hollywood studios that sell new U.S. TV series. In return, the studios provided them with great TV content, refreshments and local transportation. Buyers were picked up at their hotels at 8 a.m., served breakfast and lunch on the lots and then brought back to their hotels, usually at 5 p.m. so they could rest before the evening’s festivities — either at the studios, in the executives’ homes or at famous restaurants for private dinners.

Although the breakfasts are sumptuous and healthy, the lunches are the highlight of the day — when the stars of the new series greet and interact with buyers.

Due to the importance of the main meals during the L.A. Screenings, VideoAge analyzed the relationship between the new series and the gastronomic offerings presented by the various studios. (The screenings at the studios take place over a span of seven days so that each buyer can visit each of the majors.)

This VideoAge reporter started on Friday, May 16 with lunch at the Fox studios in Beverly Hills, just after the indies wound down their screenings at the Century Plaza Hotel (mostly for Latin buyers). Twentieth Century Fox TV Distribution screened 15 new series, including a few sitcoms.

The complex lunch menu seemed to reflect the trend of their dramatic series like Tyrant, set against the conflicts in the Middle East, and Rush, a kind of House for rich people from Los Angeles. On the menu: a crusted chevre cheese appetizer and for the main course, a choice of pistachio-crusted cod, pan-roasted beef filet, snap peas and asparagus quinoa or shrimp with grapefruit and radish. For dessert, the selection was chocolate cake or ice cream. The wines were all Californian. The catering was provided by Fox’s in-house commissary staff, led by executive chef Robert Rubino.

The service — for 250 guests served at tables under a tent — was fast and efficient, despite the 32 degree Celsius heat. Our lunch group was made up of Latin buyers, while a group of European buyers enjoyed their meals under another tent not far away. The large number of pilots required buyers to remain on the lot for eight hours, which meant that after lunch they had to return to screening rooms.

On Sunday, lunch was at NBCUniversal in the San Fernando Valley. There were many new programs on the list, mostly dramas, but only nine pilots were screened. Greeting guests at the tables was Craig Robinson, star of the new sitcom Mr. Robinson. The comedic vibe, as well as the theme of the lunch — inspired by the newest movie in the Fast & Furious franchise — influenced the menu, making it “lively,” with New York steak, citrus salmon, grilled chicken, polenta with peas, sautéed carrots, Farro salad and Brussels sprouts. For dessert there was a choice between chocolate cake and fruit tarts. The wines were all Californian and the catering was provided by star chef Wolfgang Puck, who also prepared lunch for the Sony Pictures Television screenings.

The lunch for over 220 people was served inside Studio 28, NBCUniversal’s largest soundstage where, among others, The Phantom of the Opera was filmed in 1943. It had never before been used for a similar function.

Monday’s lunch was at CBS Studios International (CBSSI) on the Paramount lot in the heart of Hollywood, where — at the Paramount Theater — 11 new series were screened, of which only two were comedies. The large number of pilots being unveiled meant that the 280 buyers had to stay on the lot until 7 p.m. To counterbalance the dramatic series, the lunch menu, served on the lawn outside the Theater, was “fun,” consisting mainly of Mexican fare and “chic” fast food.

Among the offerings: shredded chicken, tossed salad, corn salad, rice and black beans, all prepared by the The Food Matters catering service of Jerry Baker. The fast food selection consisted of hot dogs from Pink’s, a popular Hollywood hangout since 1939, and burgers from In-N-Out, the famous food establishment opened in 1945, which also offered a carb-free version of burgers between leaves of lettuce instead of buns. Other side dishes included French fries, onion rings and couscous salad. An assortment of desserts and wines from the cellars of Francis Ford Coppola completed the menu.

Greeting guests was talent from five new series including the stars of Madam Secretary, Téa Leoni and Tim Daly, and producer Morgan Freeman. The drama follows Leoni’s character’s daily crises as the U.S. Secretary of State. Among the sitcoms was Jane The Virgin, a remake of a well-known Venezuelan telenovela about a girl who becomes pregnant through an accidental artificial insemination.

Also on Monday, at Warner Bros. International TV, studio marketing executives reported that 11 pilots were screened, including the dramas Gotham, Stalker and The Flash, as well as sitcom Selfie. Outside the screenings venue, the Steven J. Ross Theater, some 300 guests were served a buffet lunch from the Lobsta Truck, The Lime Truck, Tanks (Gastro Station), Java The Truck and Pudding Truck. They could also choose from a sushi station, a Filipino buffet, a hamburger station and cake pops for dessert. Alcohol was not served at the WB lunches.

Talent was not present at the lunches, but stars like Ioan Gruffudd (from the drama Forever), Grant Gustin (The Flash), Maggie Q (Stalker), Dylan McDermott (Stalker) and Ben McKenzie (Gotham) attended dinners along with some 80 clients Monday through Wednesday at the home of Jeff Schlesinger, president of WB Worldwide TV Distribution.

Tuesday was Sony Pictures Studios’ turn to serve lunch in Culver City. The studio had nine new series to screen, including three sitcoms and a “dramedy” (comedic drama). As in previous years, breakfast and screenings for the Latin buyers were held inside Soundstage 22, while lunch for some 200 guests was held in the nearby [Frank] Capra Park gardens.

The menu was unusual, just like the series, presented under the theme “Light It Up.” There were BBQ chicken sandwiches, short rib hamburgers, truffle macaroni and cheese, French fries and grilled vegetables. For dessert there was apple cobbler and chocolate chip cookies. Similar to Warner Bros., no alcoholic beverages were served to any of the groups, only soft drinks, water, coffee and tea.

One unusual aspect of the Screenings was that three of the series presented — the “dramedy” Mozart In The Jungle, the sitcom Transparent and the drama The After — were produced on behalf of Amazon, not for traditional TV networks. The stars from the cast of two series produced in Spanish — En la boca del lobo and Señorita Polvora — were on-hand to greet guests.

Wednesday was our final screenings and lunch at Disney in Burbank, which presented 12 new series including six sitcoms (only four were fully screened), at the studio’s Main Theatre, while the lunch was held in a reserved wing of the studio’s cafeteria. The menu was quite eclectic: pasta aglio and olio, rice, herb grilled chicken paillard and grilled skirt steak. As a side dish: spinach salad, chopped salad and baked potatoes. For dessert, there were fresh tropical fruits and an assortment of fruit tarts. The catering was prepared by Café Bon Appetite with their chef, Peter Alfaro, based on the Disney Studios lot. No alcoholic beverages were served to some 200 Latin buyers, but other buyers enjoyed wine.

Given that the theme of the event was Star Wars, guests were greeted by Darth Vader and a stormtrooper. Among the drama series screened was How To Get Away With Murder, a drama about law school students who become involved in a murder case.