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Networks tighten purse strings

Execs to reign in discretionary spending

In another sign the congloms are readying themselves for a long strike, the networks have started tightening their belts.

At a meeting of Fox Broadcasting brass Tuesday, execs were told to begin reigning in as much discretionary spending as possible. That includes travel expenses, transportation costs (including car services) and business-related meals.

Move followed NBC’s decision earlier this week to pull out of the TV Critics Assn. press tour. Network cited the need to be fiscally “prudent” (Daily Variety, Nov. 14).

Peacock may be weighing further cutbacks as well. And while nothing’s been announced at CBS, some Eye execs are proactively exercising financial restraint.

At Fox, the penny-pinching is being implemented early to stave off deeper cuts later if the strike doesn’t end soon. And the squeeze won’t just be felt at the network level.

“All of the Fox Entertainment Group will be looking at a variety of cost-containment initiatives, all designed to save jobs should the strike continue for months and months,” a News Corp. spokeswoman said.

Fox has a history of cutting costs in order to avoid layoffs. Network instituted similar fiscal discipline after 9/11 and avoided the deep job cuts felt by other nets.

At ABC, there have been no official mandates to cut costs, though insiders expect they’re coming. For now, assistants are being unofficially encouraged to leave early so as to not incur overtime.

Insiders said departments have also been prudently trimming back on expenses and preparing for the inevitable word that belts must be tightened.

As for word that assistants are leaving earlier than usual, not only does that cut down on overtime costs, but one insider noted that there “really isn’t much to do right now, anyway.”

Over at NBC, word is that the network is looking at a variety of cost-cutting ideas. Assuming the strike drags on, the net will likely make official decisions by year’s end.

At CBS, a rep declined to comment. But reports from Television City say department heads have been telling their staffs to be extra disciplined about travel spending and other administrative costs. No official edicts have been handed down, however.

So far, the cost-saving initiatives at the nets pale in comparison with some of the pain being felt on individual productions and at some management companies and agencies.

At Getbackinthatroom.com, a blog launched to chronicle the impact of the strike on third parties, the list of people who’ve said they’ve lost their jobs doubled in 24 hours, to nearly 120.

(Michael Schneider contributed to this report.)

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