By Leah Hochbaum Rosner

Gene George only joined Burbank, California-based Starz Media as executive vice president, Worldwide Distribution, in January, but he already feels as if he’s been there for years. George, who previously served as president of Regent Worldwide, is participating in the L.A. Screenings in May to promote Starz’s new and existing product, as well as to see whether or not the shorter Screenings — which came about as a result of the Writers Guild of America strike in the U.S. — will be repeated next year or will fall by the wayside when things get back to business as usual. George spoke with VideoAge about Starz’s plans for the Screenings, as well as why the independents might benefit from the fact that buyers will have more time on their hands.

VideoAge International: What product is Starz bringing to the L.A. Screenings?

Gene George: We’re bringing a couple of half-hour semi-scripted comedy shows that were produced for the Starz channel in the U.S. We currently have 13 half-hours of Head Case and we greenlit another 10 episodes at MIP-TV, so we’ll have 23 half-hours. We also have eight half-hours of Hollywood Residential. Part of our initiative with our channels in the U.S. is to move into some original programming. The Starz and Encore channels had been movie destinations. But now we’re methodically and carefully exploring original programming. We’ve also partnered with Lionsgate for a series based on the movie Crash, which should debut this fall. Starz has all the U.S. rights. Lionsgate has all international rights.

VAI: How different will the Screenings be this year with fewer pilots commissioned by the networks?

GG: The Screenings will definitely be a little shortened. There’s not as much product available as there is in normal seasons. But I spoke to a number of buyers at MIP and their impression is that this could be a positive thing for a company like ours.

VAI: Do you think most indies will benefit similarly? Will this be a particularly good year for independent companies?

GG: Well, you still have to have the right product. But the Screenings will definitely not be as focused on studio product as they usually are.

VAI: Will these shortened Screenings with fewer pilots become the norm or will we go back to the way things were before?

GG: We’ll go back to the way things were before. But it really depends on how this season works out. It’s really still too early to tell.

VAI: What are your expectations for this year’s Screenings?

GG: I’m new here at Starz, so I’m eager to get time with broadcasters so they can better understand our business plan going forward. We had a great MIP and we’re looking to keep that momentum going. I’m looking forward to spending time with broadcasters in an environment that is less stressed than a MIP or a MIPCOM.

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