The WB cancels deals in a 'Buffy' huff
The Fox and the Frog are finished.
Still haunted by last spring’s failed “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” renegotiations, the WB and 20th Century Fox TV will no longer do business together.
The Frog net has canceled all pitches from 20th Century Fox TV producers and talent, and seven scripts that had been picked up by the WB — including three projects from Imagine Television — have now been sent back to the studio.
Twentieth continues to produce the drama “Angel” and frosh laffer “Reba,” the WB’s top-rated new comedy, for the weblet. But “Reba” may rep the last new 20th series at the Frog for a long time to come. Sources say Regency Television, which is a part of Fox Television Studios, is not affected.
The spat evolved after the WB, at the start of development season, informed all suppliers that it would now seek an extra year on series deals. Having felt burned by their experience with “Buffy” — which landed at UPN after a fierce bidding war with 20th at the end of the show’s fourth season — WB execs looked to increase the net’s standard license terms to five years.
The weblet, which successfully put a second run of “Charmed” on sister cabler TNT this fall, also looked to add repurposing provisions in all new deals.
In exchange for studios (such as 20th) increasing their standard license terms with the WB to five years, the Frog was willing to build-in license fee “bumps” of about 5% annually during the first four years of a show and between 10% and 20% in a show’s fifth year.
For a new series budgeted at a $1 million per episode license fee, that would mean a fifth-year payment to the studio of around $1.5 million an episode — compared to the roughly $1.7 million to $1.8 million the WB now shells out for older hit skeins such as “Dawson’s Creek.” On the flip side, the 5% annual bumps give the studio more money upfront during the show’s first four years.
Sources said a number of studios, including 20th Century Fox, were willing to hash out these new provisions with the WB. So far, the Frog has yet to reach a new license deal with any studio — and insiders suggest sibling Warner Bros. TV has been particularly tough-minded about repurposing rights to its shows.
But industry insiders said the relationship between 20th and the WB “took a severe left turn” immediately after “Buffy” bowed to boffo Nielsen numbers on UPN earlier this month.
Frog business affairs execs suddenly began pressing 20th for an immediate agreement on a new deal structure — but didn’t extend that ultimatum to any other studio.
WB insiders argued that’s because the weblet felt it needed to protect itself with 20th Century Fox TV in light of the “Buffy” brouhaha. The netlet pointed out that it was able to renegotiate new deals last year with Columbia TriStar TV on “Dawson’s Creek,” Paramount/Spelling on “Charmed” and “7th Heaven,” and Paramount/Viacom on “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.”
“Nobody is doing ‘favored nations’ deals anymore,” one net exec said.
It’s not uncommon for studios and nets to haggle over deal points on a project right up to the moment a pilot begins shooting. Both sides negotiate in good faith, trusting that a deal will be done by the time film is shot.
In this case, however, Frog execs apparently didn’t believe they’d be able to come to terms with 20th — and thus decided to shut off the development pipeline early.
“Every relationship is unique and with vertical integration, every set of circumstances between the network and studios has grown more complex,” a WB spokesman said. “The whole industry is evolving and constantly looking at different ways to find what’s best for their business. The WB is no exception.”
When a new agreement failed to materialize, WB execs at several levels began calling their 20th counterparts to let them know the Frog pond was now closed to any new pitches or programs from the studio.
Among the orphaned projects were a family drama from Sandy Isaac (“Thieves”) and a spy caper from the Marcus brothers.
Having been singled out, 20th execs accused the weblet of holding the studio to a different set of standards than everybody else.
“We wish this situation had turned out differently,” a 20th spokesperson said. “We’ve had a great relationship with the WB on the development side for many years and feel good about the shows we’ve delivered them.”
In addition, 20th insiders said personal relations with WB execs remain cordial.
Some industry insiders questioned the Frog’s decision to simply halt its business dealings with 20th.
“I don’t think anyone every gets anywhere by closing things down completely,” one exec said. “It’s a very minor blip on the radar (for 20th). The WB isn’t exactly the first destination for their projects.”
Studio-network tiffs have become more common in this age of vertical integration. NBC and DreamWorks had a falling out in the mid-1990s; several top studios also unofficially boycotted NBC in 1998 after the Peacock issued tough ownership demands.
It’s unlikely that the WB and 20th will resolve its differences this development season, although execs on both sides said anything’s still possible.
“We have two important shows on the air with 20th, and while this will stifle development for this year, we respect 20th’s point of view and assume they do ours,” the WB spokesman said. “We hope to do business with them again in the future.”