Peacock on ‘Studio’ beat

Sorkin, Schlamme sell behind-the-scenes drama skein

Hit-hungry NBC has recruited some heavy firepower for its comeback bid, beating out CBS to land the new series from Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme.

Peacock made a 13-episode promise to Warner Bros. TV — and agreed to a near-record license fee — in order to snag the project from the minds behind first four seasons of NBC’s “The West Wing.”

Dubbed “Studio 7 on the Sunset Strip,” Sorkin and Schlamme’s latest collaboration is an hourlong drama set behind the scenes at a long-running Los Angeles-based sketch-comedy show not unlike “Saturday Night Live” (Daily Variety, Oct. 5).

Interestingly, Endeavor is packaging both “Studio 7” and a competing project from Tina Fey — produced by Lorne Michaels — which also takes place inside a sketch laffer.

Peacock insiders said it’s too early to worry about conflicts, particularly with the Fey project said to be months away from moving forward.

As for “Studio 7,” Sorkin wrote the pilot script in advance of the sale. He’ll continue to write the series beyond the pilot, serving as exec producer with Schlamme, who’ll direct the pilot.

Deal for the project guarantees production of the pilot and calls on NBC to order 12 additional episodes. Peacock has an out, albeit an expensive one: If it doesn’t like the pilot, it can decline to make the series — and pay WBTV a mid-seven-figure penalty instead.

NBC also is on the hook for a per-episode license fee of nearly $2 million. That would make the show one of the most expensive first-year dramas in Peacock history, if not the most.

It’s believed the license fee for the pilot will be substantially higher than the per-seg cost to NBC– a common scenario for most network productions.

In addition, net has made some contractual assurances about timeslots. Skein must air between 9 and 11 p.m. on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday night.

NBC’s deal with WBTV also runs for just 4½ years, rather than the so-called perpetual seven-year deals that are all but standard these days. As a result, if “Studio 7” becomes a monster hit, WBTV will have the same sort of negotiating flexibility that allowed it to charge NBC more than $13 million an episode back in the heyday of “ER.”

Peacock entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly said Sorkin and Schlamme’s pedigrees made the project worth the gamble, calling it “their next great NBC show.”

“This project is a noisy, compelling combination of bold drama and laugh-out-loud comedy,” Reilly said in a statement released by NBC Friday.

Script for Sorkin’s project was being hotly traded around Hollywood last week. The pilot includes a role for “Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman, who serves as host of an episode of the fictional sketch laffer.

Huffman and Sorkin worked together on the latter’s half-hour ABC dramedy “Sports Night.”

“Studio 7” is one of two monster projects WBTV brought to the marketplace this month. The other — “Class,” a laffer from David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik — sold to CBS (Daily Variety, Oct. 10).

In both cases, the scribes involved wrote the pilot script for their projects before the pitching process began. That strategy helped build interest for the project among the webs and allowed WBTV to snag a premium commitment for them.

Indeed, CBS and NBC battled mightily for both “Class” and “Studio 7,” putting WBTV execs in the uncomfortable position of denying both nets a show each wanted.

Notably, neither project was given serious consideration by ABC. That’s because Alphabet reps made it clear they weren’t prepared to accept WBTV’s condition of a 4 1/2 year license fee agreement.

People familiar with ABC’s position said the network doesn’t want to set a precedent for accepting short-term deals for high-profile projects while rejecting them for other projects. What’s more, ABC doesn’t want to be put in the position of having to pay an exorbitant license fee for a show 5 years down the road, even if it’s for a hit.

Execs at CBS and NBC, however, seem willing to gamble that the benefits of a smash hit would outweight the potential financial downside that would come should WBTV be able to demand a huge license fee hike on either “Class” or “Studio 7” in the future.

There’s little doubt, however, that the studio’s dealmakers did right by the respective profit participants in each project. Both the “Class” and “Studio 7” deals are said to be among the richest commitments made by nets in recent years.

One immediate concern raised by the sale of “Studio 7” to NBC is the fact that the net is home to “SNL” and its creator, Lorne Michaels. Not surprisingly, NBC insiders said Reilly briefed Michaels on the project last week and assured him Sorkin’s fictional skein is not a clone of “SNL.”

A rep for Michaels’ Broadway Video shingle did not respond to an email request for comment.

Still, “Studio 7” promises more than a few uncomfortable moments for Peacock brass. Pilot begins with a “Network”-like moment in which the exec producer of the sketch laffer blasts the current state of the TV biz, including a reference to nets paying people “to eat worms” — a clear shot at NBC’s “Fear Factor.”

Sorkin has also written a network entertainment president character that bears a striking resemblance to former Peacock exec Jamie Tarses.

Sorkin’s entertainment topper for his fictional UBS is a woman in her 30s named Jamie McDeere, an ex-NBC exec responsible for developing shows such as “Friends” and “Mad About You.” Tarses’ married named during much of her tenure at NBC was Jamie McDermott, and she’s often credited with playing a key role in the births of both “Friends” and “Mad About You.”

“Studio 7” is Sorkin’s first stab at TV since he left “The West Wing.” Schlamme directed the pilot for ABC’s frosh drama “Invasion” and exec produced short-lived WB drama “Jack & Bobby.”

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