Stewart fuels fires for inhouse comedy

The networks have a new role model: Martha Stewart.

The lifestyle guru has a piece of anything with her name on it, and has made her fortune espousing a do-it-yourself homemaking ethic; the webs are taking a page from the Stewart cookbook and are increasingly trying to control their destinies through inhouse production. The trend is most apparent in their comedy-development slates (which, coincidentally, contain three potential pilots paying humorous homage to the homemaking queen herself).

Eleven of Fox’s 28 pilots for next season are from sister production company 20th Century Fox Television. News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch has made no secret of his desire to own as much content as possible.

At the Peacock web, NBC Studios appears to have become the favorite production house: It’s down for six sitcoms and two dramas for its parent network.

Unlike Fox and ABC, NBC is not aligned with a studio, so it needs to develop a strong inhouse production arm to compete with other media giants.

ABC parent Walt Disney has more deals with the Alphabet web than last year, but isn’t approaching the level of rival webs. Currently, Disney is developing five of the web’s 19 sitcoms in the works and two of the web’s 11 dra-mas.

CBS, which like NBC is not aligned with a studio, has five comedies in development either through CBS Prods. or a co-venture with another studio. The Eye web’s inhouse production unit also has two drama pilots in the works.

NBC is the No. 1 network and theoretically has the fewest timeslots to worry about, so it’s not surprising that the web is keeping it in the family for new shows, and that it has the clout to partner with studios eager to put their product on the fall schedule.

Two-way street

The networks’ desire to produce more shows inhouse means that studios have to be more willing to give something to get something. Sony’s Columbia TriStar Television Group is co-producing two pilots with CBS and a third with NBC. Studio-produced shows that are not affiliated with a network will likely become part of its co-production venture with Procter & Gamble.

“Co-production is one of the rules of the game,” acknowledged Kim Haswell, vice president of comedy develop-ment at Columbia TriStar Television.

Inhouse development and the growth of co-productions are only one of several worries on the minds of producers as the webs figure out their fall schedules. More than 40 new shows were launched in each of the last two years, but this year there will be fewer.

“Several networks feel their schedules are stronger than they actually are,” said one studio exec.

CBS, which last year launched 10 new shows, will probably try out only six or seven this year — one will be “Family Matters,” which is moving from ABC to the Eye web this fall. On the comedy front, “Cosby” is sure to re-turn, and other freshman shows, “Everyone Loves Raymond” and “Ink,” also could be back.

Fox is developing 19 comedies for what even the most optimistic agents say are three to five slots. Fox is very drama- and reality-heavy, with sitcoms on Monday, Thursday and Sunday. Of the six sitcoms the web airs, “Married … With Children,” freshman “King of the Hill” and vet “The Simpsons” will likely all be back.

NBC also will only have a handful of comedy slots open. Freshman “Something So Right” seems to be a good shot for a second year, although it may move to a different night. The fates of other freshman comedies are up in the air.

ABC, meanwhile, will likely overhaul much of its schedule. “Roseanne” is in its final year and, with the exception of “Spin City,” none of the web’s freshman shows is a sure thing for a sophomore year.

Although there will be fewer holes for new shows, the webs are still placing heavy pilot orders, with almost 150 shows in contention among the six networks. Of course, there is a difference between what’s on a pilot list and what actually is filmed: Many shows will fall by the wayside before ever becoming a pilot.

Name branding

It appears that the networks are still seeing stars this development season, even though none of the big-star shows of this season has turned into a huge hit.

“The star package is again leading the whole development system,” said one top TV exec.

“The standup comedian is not dead, but it is tougher to find them,” added Tony Jonas, president of Warner Bros. Television.

Producers without star projects fear that their shows will not get the attention they need from the webs. “It is the little shows that won’t get on the schedule,” said another studio exec.

CBS has comedies in the works starring Tom Selleck and Bob Newhart, and dramas starring David Caruso, Danny Aiello and Ann-Margret.

“Designing Women” vet Jean Smart stars in “Style and Substance,” one of the Eye web’s two pilots centered on a character much like Stewart. (The other is titled “Simply Living.”) The Selleck comedy, which is being executive produced by “Coach” vet Barry Kemp, has Selleck playing a publishing magnate and ladies’ man.

Other CBS comedies include the Penelope Ann Miller starrer “Queens,” from MTM, about an upscale Manhattan couple that has to move to Queens. It seems similar in style to the network’s hit “The Nanny” and midseason show “Temporarily Yours”: fish-out-of-water comedy with a Noo Yawk accent.

The network also has two strong contenders for the post-“Family Matters” slot on Friday night at 8:30. “Square One” stars Gregory Hines as a dating widower with a coming-of-age son, while “Meego” stars Bronson Pinchot as an alien nanny.

NBC’s star projects include a Kirstie Alley (“Cheers”) comedy from “Friends” trio Marta Kaufman, David Crane and Kevin Bright in which Alley plays a romance adviser similar to, you guessed it, La Stewart. NBC also has big episode commitments to Tony Danza and MTV diva Jenny McCarthy.

ABC is developing a sitcom for Brian Benben (“Dream On”) in which he’ll play a city boy who inherits a Texas ranch. Chris Elliott (“Get a Life”) is developing a show for the web, as are Paul Sorvino and John Stamos.

Yen for youth

Fox’s development seems to be a mix of its successful youth-driven comedies and a few high-concept plots. Comedies in the works include “Angel” from “Cybill” creator Chuck Lorre, about a virtual reality “cyber woman” who lives with two young guys.

Other projects include an untitled reverse on “I Love Lucy,” with Damon Wayans as a blue-collar husband who wants to get into showbiz through his successful wife. Also in the works is a sitcom based on the comic strip “Dilbert” and a version of the indie film “Swingers.”

Besides the Stewart spoofs, the networks also seem to have re-discovered single and widowed fathers. Besides CBS’ “Square One,” other comedies about single fathers include ABC’s “Dads,” “Soul Man” (which premieres next month as a midseason show), a comedy from Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel about foundering fathers, and the Sorvino show, which stars the burly actor as a single dad with three daughters.

“It’s one of the few groups out there not represented on TV,” said Columbia’s Haswell.

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 0

Leave a Reply

No Comments

Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

More Scene News from Variety