Warner TV taking off its overalls

Move comes in wake of other cost-cutting measures

In another sign of the rapidly weakening entertainment economy, Warner Bros. Television is looking to make significant cuts to its roster of scribes and producers.

The AOL Time Warner-owned studio will drop at least six and perhaps as many as 10 overall deals from its extensive lineup as part of a companywide effort to reduce its budget.

Warner Bros. execs refused to confirm any specific names, but insiders said the scribes were mostly midlevel writers and producers who’ve worked on shows such as “Norm,” “Roseanne,” “Grace Under Fire” and “Ellen.”

It’s expected WBTV– home to megahits like “Friends,” “ER” and “The West Wing,” along with scribes-producers such as Chuck Lorre, Aaron Sorkin and Jerry Bruckheimer — may also seek to redefine or end its relationship with one or two nonwriting producers.

Studio insiders stressed that no deals have been settled out as yet.

Execs from WBTV will begin meeting with agents and managers to discuss various options — from paying off deals at a reduced dollar amount or writing off the deals altogether.

The studio has apparently offered to pay off deals at a rate of between 60¢ and 80¢ on the dollar.

Live up to obligations

WBTV insiders stressed that the studio would not simply walk away from its contractual obligations.

“There will be no arm-twisting,” one insider said. “Our conversations are being handled in an above-board manner. We intend to live up to our obligations.”

Move by WBTV comes in the wake of numerous other cost-cutting measures implemented by studios and nets.

Sony-owned Columbia TriStar TV is downsizing its network operations, with a formal announcement of its plans expected as early as today.

And 20th Century Fox Television, the town’s leading supplier of primetime programming, has ordered all its skeins to shave 2% from their operating budgets.

Over the summer, Michael Ovitz’s Artists Television Group imploded, leaving numerous scribes scrambling to find a new home.

WBTV execs don’t plan to order across-the-board budget cuts for their programs, but individual shows will likely face some trims.

“Like all studios in this environment, we have to look at all areas of our operation for cost-savings,” another WBTV insider said.

Industry experts said more pain is likely to be felt at studios and nets over the coming months.

With the scatter ad market showing no sign of recovery, it seems inevitable that several major nets will be forced to implement further budget cuts — and quite possibly layoffs.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” said one top agent. “If the upfronts next May are as bad as this year, we’re going to see one or two more years of this.”

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