Network pays big money for 'Eleventh Hour'

Following a fierce bidding war, Warner Bros. has cut a massive, multimillion dollar deal with CBS for the rights to a Jerry Bruckheimer-produced adaptation of Brit thriller “Eleventh Hour.”

While exact financial details remain cloudy, multiple people familiar with the deal termed it “easily” the biggest TV deal to date this development season. In addition to agreeing to film a roughly $4 million pilot, buzz is that CBS has agreed to produce 13 episodes of the “X-Files”-like project and has agreed in advance to a pay-or-play license fee of roughly $1.75 million per episode.

All told, it’s believed the Eye could be on the hook for as much as $25 million to $30 million.

Project reunites the original “CSI” team of producer Bruckheimer and director Danny Cannon, adding in hot feature scribe Mick Davis (“The Invisible”). Bruckheimer TV and Granada Intl. Media are producing via Warner Bros. Television, with Jonathan Littman and Granada’s Robert Green joining Bruckheimer, Cannon and Jackson as exec producers.

Warner Bros. and Bruckheimer opted to give the show to CBS even though ABC entertainment prexy Steve McPherson had made an agressive bid for it. McPherson developed the original “CSI” franchise and spoke out against his own company when Disney chose to divest itself of the production. He was also a strong advocate of Bruckheimer TV chief Littman during the early part of Littman’s career.

Of course, CBS has also been good to Bruckheimer, greenlighting two “CSI” spinoffs and shows such as “Cold Case,” “Without a Trace” and “The Amazing Race.” But while the Eye has reaped significant financial benefit from Bruckheimer, McPherson has never been rewarded for his early support of the producer — leading to word around town that McPherson is understandably upset over Warner’s decision.

ABC is understood to have agreed to most of the same financial terms as CBS — including a nearly $4 million production penalty and a shortened 4 ½ year deal. Whether ABC was also willing to commit to a pay-or-play series production charge of 13 license fees is unclear, though insiders believe the production commitment was what tipped the deal in CBS’ favor.

However, some industry insiders argue that the Eye’s production commitment will be meaningless if the net doesn’t like the pilot. That’s because CBS could tell Warner Bros. it will produce the show, but either bury it on its sked or not air it at all — leaving the studio on the hook for a hefty production deficit.

Others, however, note that Bruckheimer’s strong international appeal would let WBTV recoup its investment overseas if CBS tried to tank the project here. Eye made another deal for a Bruckheimer project about international treasure hunters earlier this summer.

An Eye rep wouldn’t even acknowledge it’s in business with Bruckheimer and Granada. “CBS neither confirms nor denies this deal,” a spokesman said.

“Eleventh Hour” aired as a four-part miniseries in Blighty last year, with Patrick Stewart starring. Thesp played Professor Alan Hood, who’s called in by the government to investigate mysterious cases that involve matters of science — from cloning to global warming. U.S. adaptation is said to have a tone similar to “The X-Files.”

Warner Bros. won the rights to “Eleventh Hour” after an arduous four-month negotiation with Granada, a person familiar with the pact said.

ICM and CAA negotiated the deal for “Eleventh Hour,” while Julie Meldal-Johnsen of Granada negotiated the deal on the producer’s behalf.

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