Nets set retrench

Exex eyeing talent, development coin post-Sept. 11

Already facing a tough economy, network entertainment prexys say they’ll have to make further budget cuts after the Sept. 11 terrorism.

“The economic structure of the way we develop programs was out of whack even before the economic downturn and the events of Sept. 11,” said NBC Entertainment prexy Jeff Zucker at the Intl. Radio and Television Society Foundation’s annual Newsmaker Luncheon on Wednesday at the Waldorf Astoria.

Zucker said nets need to show particular restraint in making talent deals.

“We’ve made mistakes in the number of big stars we signed,” he said. “If we don’t have the discipline to stop, we’re nuts.”

Fox Broadcasting entertainment prexy Gail Berman said that since parent company News Corp. is serious about cost-cutting, Fox is asking its producers to look at their costs more closely and, in some cases, plans to order fewer episodes of shows.

The Alphabet web also is talking to producers about finding ways to cut back. “Development is a scary place to cut back, so we have to look at other ways to be clever,” said ABC Entertainment Television Group co-chair Stu Bloomberg.

Meanwhile, the WB and UPN plan to boost their development.

“We have a low overhead structure to begin with,” UPN prexy and CEO Dean Valentine said. “If anything, we’ll probably increase development spending.”

Jordan Levin, WB prexy of entertainment, said relationships between the nets and studios will have to be re-examined.

The post-Sept. 11 climate also is affecting the industry in other ways. “I was somewhat uneasy about flying and leaving my family behind,” Berman said about her trip to attend the luncheon in Gotham. Actors also are reluctant to come to New York for press junkets. “Getting them to do press in New York has been a challenge,” Bloomberg said.

The network entertainment chiefs used the lunch to plug their respective nets’ underperforming shows.

Zucker called NBC’s “Emeril,” “a program that’s far better than the media will give it credit for,” and said that no decision has been made about whether it will be picked up for another season.

Bloomberg praised “Bob Patterson,” while Berman said she was disappointed “Pasadena” hadn’t caught on yet. David Poltrack, CBS exec VP of research and planning, said “Ellen” was the Eye’s most underappreciated show.

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