L.A. Screenings’ Trinity Impeding on Salvation

By Dom Serafini

Paris Hilton has been rear-ended by drama series at these L.A. Screenings-together with her friends in the reality show and sitcom worlds. Indeed, with 35 new drama series, the genre was the big winner of the new U.S. TV season, which saw only 19 comedies and 26 unscripted new shows picked up by the networks.

Another novelty, besides the advent of a 52-week season, is that networks-ABC in particular-seem to be catering to a male appetite, prompting According to Jim star Jim Belushi to note that “It’s testosterone Tuesday” at the ABC’s upfront. Shows such as Wife Swap, although mild in content, have racy titles that will make FCC chairman Michael Powell sweat.

In other news, the L.A. Screenings has finally reached middle age. This session marks the event’s 40th year, and it is well celebrated with more than 17 parties-from cocktails to full-blown studio extravaganzas. At times, there are two per day at the 11-day market that officially began May 21 fro the U.S. studios. The indies started two days earlier and ended a few days earlier, while the studios will pause for the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

The Screenings’ more mature age has rekindled its third personality. Since 2001, the event, at one time exclusively a U.S. studios happening (then called the May Screenings), pitted the majors against the independents. This year, the independents are divided between two hotels: the Park Hyatt and the Century Plaza, thus recreating a three-way market split between the studios and the two sets of indies, with the independents losing out the most because they miss out on the critical mass that attracts more buyers.

A similar situation existed before 1995, when companies looking to supply Latin American clients gathered at the Century Plaza, while those focusing on Europe set up shop at the Westwood Marquis (now the W), at the J.W. Marriott (now the Park Hyatt) and even at the Sunset Marquis and Peninsula hotels. The Westwood Marquis has not been a factor since 1999, when some 100 companies out of a total 119 exhibited at the Century Plaza. At that time, there were 500 buyers. Today, while the number of distributors has kept its 100 average, the buyers have increased twofold: They now number over 1,000 executives. This three-pronged market continues its trend in 2000, with 89 out of 120 companies at the hotels, most of them holding court at the Century Plaza. This was also the year that the indies gained confidence and began their screenings a full two days before the studios.

In 2001, the indies switched en mass to the nearby Park Hyatt hotel, which housed 91 exhibitors and, in 2002, 84 companies. Last year the migration back to the Century Plaza began, with 26 exhibitors setting up shop there, while 54 remained at the Park Hyatt. Feelings the blow, Park Hyatt hotel management, who consider their hotel better suited for an event such as the L.A. Screenings, began implementing a series of activities to reverse the flow, such as wine tasting set to live music, low-cost lunch specials, a reduced parking fee, free limousine services, free morning coffee and all kinds of support mechanisms to facilitate distributors’ business.

Nevertheless, this year, the Park Hyatt eroded its lead, boasting 40 exhibitors to the Century Plaza’s 42. This is in spite of the fact that, even according to a few who exhibited at the Century Plaza, the park Hyatt is better suited for floor traffic, while the much larger and more impersonal Century Plaza is fine for those who rely solely on pre-set appointments. But for those distributors relying on appointments rather than floor traffic, it doesn’t matter where they exhibit. However, it is said, that it would be more advantageous to exhibit at the park Hyatt to create that critical mass necessary for new buyers to considering visiting.