Columbia TriStar Television Distribution is in tense negotiations to save its latenight comedy strip “The Newz.” Cast and crew have not been paid in months and the studio is still owed 30 episodes from Production Services Intl. (PSI), the show’s producer and subsidiary of Celebrity Entertainment Inc.

Meanwhile, more bad news for the show may be on the horizon. Locally, Chris-Craft’s KCOP is considering pulling the show from its schedule – although talks are under way that could result in the show staying on. But Chris-Craft’s WWOR New York has already decided to ax the show at the end of March.

According to several sources close to the show, Columbia TriStar Television Distribution (CTTD) can’t account for more than half a million dollars given to Celebrity Entertainment Inc. (CEI) president and CEO James McNamara for production of the show. CTTD won’t comment about the “Newz” fiasco, but sources say at least $600,000 was given to McNamara to be deposited into the Newz Prods. Co. for the show. The American Federation of Television & Radio Artists has also weighed in and has filed arbitration with the American Arbitration Assn. for back pay.

Interestingly enough, it is financial officer Bill Metzger, not McNamara, that AFTRA is going after, since he is listed as head of Newz Prods.

CTTD is working on a deal with PSI attorneys that will get the cast and crew paid, get new episodes produced and ease McNamara out of the picture. The show itself has not yet caught fire in the ratings and a second year seems unlikely. But CTTD wants the cast paid and the additional episodes for the syndication market with the show possibly going to a cable network.

Possible financial improprieties are only part of the problem. Female cast members are particularly upset with McNamara and his associates trying to get them to go on Howard Stern’s syndicated radio show and strip.

Still unclear is what will happen to Michael Gerber, former president of firstrun, international distribution and acquisitions at Viacom, who joined McNamara as executive producer of “The Newz.” Gerber could not be reached for comment.

Columbia and CEI inked a deal last April for 90 episodes of “The Newz” at a cost of about $48,000 per episode. But after 60 episodes, McNamara went back to CTTD looking for more money for the remaining episodes. CTTD was willing, sources said, but wanted a look at the books first and that is where problems escalated.

Production in limbo

“The books kept changing,” said one person close to the show. CTTD apparently noticed the same thing and said no to more funding unless McNamara, who claims to have created “The Newz,” left the show and came up with the missing funds. McNamara, who did not return repeated calls, is said to have told CTTD he would leave the show but as yet he is still there and production has been in limbo since October.

McNamara’s antics on the show were also a distraction. According to cast and crew members, McNamara wanted credit for everything and tried to keep the show’s producer and day-to-day creative chief Michael Wilson out of the limelight. When “Entertainment Tonight” came to do a segment on the series, McNamara would not allow Wilson to appear in the piece.

Wilson won’t comment on that episode but said he won’t do anymore shows if McNamara remains. “The man is not a comedy producer and I can’t deal with the angst of someone looking over my shoulder with nothing to do with the show,” he said.

Meanwhile, female cast members are still seething over the Howard Stern incident. Last November, McNamara hired Stern’s public relations firm Dan Klores Associates to publicize the show. One idea was to get the female cast members an appearance on the Stern show. What the cast did not know is that Dan Klores Associates told Stern producer Gary Dell’ Abate that the cast would strip.

According to a letter that female cast members sent McNamara and CTTD that was obtained by Daily Variety, Dell’ Abate was promised nudity by the publicists. The firm, the letter said, even went so far as to send the Stern show a photo of the cast and a note saying one of the actresses will “take her clothes off.”

The letter also alleges that stockings were also sent with a forged note by an actress promising to strip. When the female cast members and CTTD learned what was going on, the Stern appearance was canceled.

During his Nov. 17 broadcast, Stern himself talked about the photo and expressed surprise and disbelief that actresses would come on his show and strip.

McNamara’s track record in syndication was not good prior to “The Newz.” McNamara and Metzger also produced “Super Force” for Viacom in syndication. It was canceled and the limited partnership established to finance the show also ran into legal troubles.

Meanwhile CTTD, described by one “Newz” source as an innocent victim, continues to try to work itself of McNamara get the remaining episodes of the show. If a settlement can’t be reached with McNamara, CTTD will likely have to take legal action.

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