Christmas gift for WB TV

NBC will foot bill for sitcom from 'Friends' team

In a highly unusual pact, NBC has ordered 13 episodes of Bright/Kauffman/Crane’s next comedy series, and the Peacock web has agreed to cover the entire cost of producing the show, so that Warner Bros. TV can make the series deficit-free.

Sweetening the deal even more, NBC has guaranteed to launch the sitcom next fall on one of the network’s two best nights, Tuesday or Thursday, sources say. Neither Warner Bros. TV nor NBC would confirm terms of the deal.

The series, which was created, written and executive produced by “Friends” producer Ira Ungerleider, is about a young single mother who lives with her son and two brothers, down the street from their father in the community where they grew up. The show has not yet been cast.

The project is the third NBC series from Warner Bros. TV and Bright/Kauffman/Crane Prods., the creative team behind NBC’s two Thursday sitcoms “Friends” and “Veronica’s Closet.” It’s also the first new series created under the BKC roster of writer-producers. Ungerleider will share creator and executive producer title with Kevin Bright, Marta Kauffman and David Crane.

To get a network to guarantee to put 13 episodes of a new show on the air and pay for all the license fees is a rare accomplishment. But getting NBC to cover the entire cost of producing the show before any talent is attached is virtually unprecedented, especially given that NBC will have no ownership in the new show.

Because NBC will pay a license fee and cast fees, the web could dish out more than $1 million per episode in the first season.

NBC was willing to give so much because the project sparked a bidding war between all of the networks. Negotiations for NBC’s renewal of the Thursday Warner Bros. drama “ER” also may be on the minds of the web’s executives.

The new BKC commitment signals that NBC is attempting to plan ahead for the possibility that the linchpin of its Thursday schedule, “Seinfeld,” will not return for another season or will come back for just one more year. If “Seinfeld” does agree to keep going, the pricetag NBC will face for keeping that sitcom, the drama “ER,” as well as the new BKC series, could cause a bit of sticker shock.

But the BKC series have served NBC well so far. Season-to-date, “Friends” is averaging a 17.1/28 at 8 p.m. and “Veronica’s Closet” is aver-aging an 18.2/28 at 9:30 p.m. “Veronica’s Closet” also is retaining 87% of its “Seinfeld” lead-in, the best retention in the timeslot since “Friends” aired there.

The deal for the new sitcom, still untitled, was brokered by Nancy Josephson at ICM, NBC Entertainment president Warren Littlefield and Warner Bros. TV president Tony Jonas.

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