Monday, October 30, 2006

Variety: TV costs soar, now its time to cut.

Entertainment: Serialized dramas are getting killed because of expense and the realization that just because Lost was a hit doesn't mean everyone wants to network upon network showing their own series like that.

"....To many TV executives, their business is starting to resemble the film industry, where studios invest heavily in tentpoles that have one big opening weekend to prove themselves. The irony is that the rising spending in network primetime is happening at the very moment that media congloms are making concerted efforts to keep feature film budgets under control. "I think it is some indication of either myopia, naivete or just plain brain damage on the part of the industry," says News Corp. chief operating officer Peter Chernin. "Things are interconnected in this world, and I think the significant issue is that the fundamental economics of the television business are under a real challenge right now." Network advertising sales were flat or up just slightly at this year's upfronts. Meanwhile, the costs of programming across all time periods at the four major networks rose 9% to $11.92 billion this year, from $10.97 billion in 2005, according to estimates by Kagan Researc"
"....Another cost factor, per studio execs, is the sheer size of show casts, creating additional expenses ranging from more makeup artists to more dressing room trailers. "Because it is competitive among the networks, the networks are very aggressive about stretching the deals for talent that they think can make a difference in the success of a show," says Gary Newman, president of 20th Century Fox Television. "That has always been the case, but it just feels that it is more the case than ever before." The pilot for the star-heavy "Studio 60," for instance, was said to cost more than $6 million, while sources say its price per episode hovers around $2.8 million to $3 million. "We are now shooting pilots to be three, four, five times the episodic budget," Chernin says. "In what sense is that a prototype episode? The industry is rife with beautiful, extraordinary-looking pilots that bear no resemblance to the series. That is just lack of discipline." Back in the 1970s, with familiar formulas, fewer scenes and smaller casts, shows like "Marcus Welby, M.D." or "Barnaby Jones" took six or seven days to shoot. Now a lot of dramas are taking nine or 10 days, or deploy second units. "What drives up costs are the same kind of factors that have driven up costs in the film business for years," says Barry Jossen, exec veepee of Touchstone Television. "It is the depth of the talent pool, and the competitive markets that are created for that talent pool. Costs get driven up by supply and demand." As the exec who oversees "Lost" and other Touchstone shows, Jossen gets ribbing from executives at other studios, who come up to him and say, "It's all your fault. You did 'Lost,' and that changed everything.""

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