Nets bet inhouse for ’97-’98 shows

As the networks finish unveiling their 1997-98 development slates to media buyers this week, the biggest trend studio execs are watching may be the high level of inhouse production, especially at Fox and NBC.

For example, of Fox’s 28 projects, five of the comedies and six of the dramas are from sister production company 20th Century Fox Television. News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch has made no secret of his desire for the media giant to own as much product as possible.

NBC Studios, the production arm of NBC, is also becoming one of the Peacock web’s favorite producers. On the comedy front, of the network’s 16 shows in development, NBC Studios is down for six sitcoms and is partnered with Sony’s Columbia TriStar Television on a seventh show. NBC Studios is also involved in two of the network’s seven drama pilots.

Since NBC is the No. 1 network with, in theory, the fewest time periods to worry about, it is not surprising that the network would look inhouse for new programs as well as have the clout to partner with studios who want their shows on the top-rated web. Also, unlike Fox and ABC, NBC is not aligned with a studio and hence wants to develop a strong inhouse production arm to compete with the other media giants.

Of course, given the rapid changes that occur in every development season, numbers and commitments are often in flux.

It is a different story at ABC. While parent Walt Disney certainly would like to program much of the ABC lineup, the Alphabet web only has a handful of projects in development from Walt Disney Television.

Currently, Disney is developing two of ABC’s 11 drama pilots and five of the web’s 17 in-the-works comedies.

CBS, which like NBC is not aligned with a studio, has five comedies in development either through CBS Prods. or a co-venture between CBS Prods. and another studio. The network has about 16 comedies in development, although, as is always the case, some shows that make the rounds on agency and studio pickup lists are already considered very long shots.

Of the Eye web’s 14 dramas, CBS Prods. is only involved in two projects.

The level of inhouse development is always of concern to studios. Even co-productions, while obviously better than having no involvement in a show, means that the potential backend from a success will be shared.

“You have to scramble more for fewer opportunities,” one studio exec acknowledged.

Interestingly, the two netlets that were basically created out of fear of networks producing for themselves, Viacom and Chris-Craft’s United Paramount Network and Time Warner and Tribune’s WB Network, are not yet as active in getting product from their parent studios.

UPN, which is not developing any dramas for next season, has just one comedy in the works from Paramount. However, another is from Viacom-owned Spelling Entertainment’s Big Ticket Television and a third is from Viacom. Of the WB’s seven comedies in development, only one is from Warner Bros., which also has one of the netlet’s four dramas in the works for next season.

Fox’s development slate, released Wednesday, seems to be a mix of the network’s tried-and-true youth-oriented comedies as well as a few high-concept pilot plots. The more high-profile comedies in the works includes “A.N.G.E.L.,” from “Cybill” creator Chuck Lorre through 20th Century Fox Television, about a virtual reality “cyber woman” who lives with two young guys. Other shows include an untitled Damon Wayans show that is a reverse of “I Love Lucy”: A blue-collar husband wants to get into showbiz through his successful wife. Back from last year’s development slate is “Between Brothers,” which stars Kadeem Hardison and Tommy Davidson. Other prospects include a sitcom based on the comic strip “Dilbert” and a version of the indie film sensation “Swingers.”

Fox’s drama front includes a mix of the paranormal and the paranoid. “The Notorious” is from “The X-Files” writer-producers Glen Morgan and James Wong. It’s about a dark city ruled by seven crime families, each representing one of the seven deadly sins. From “Independence Day” creators Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin comes “The Visitor,” about a man abducted by aliens and then returned to the human race.

Fox is also high on a legal drama from David E. Kelley (“Picket Fences,” “The Practice”) titled “Ally McBeal.” On the historical front, the network has a 13-episode commitment for “Roar,” described as “Braveheart — the Movie,” from Universal Television.

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