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Familiarity makes for fine frenemies

Biz associates NBC, Turner find lots to spat about

NBC and Turner probably ought to install a pair of red phones.

Such a hotline might have helped over the past year, as the two sides found themselves locked in a number of showdowns.

Most recently, the Peacock and Turner negotiated a deal that will allow “America’s Got Talent” judge Piers Morgan an opportunity to host a new talker for CNN.

Before that, NBC attempted to borrow TBS’ “My Boys” star Jordana Spiro for the new Peacock anthology hour “Love Bites.” Turner said no.

Back in May, as NBC and Dick Wolf attempted to squeeze a 21st season out of “Law and Order,” the decision hinged on Turner’s desire to buy those extra episodes in syndication.

Turner, which held exclusivity over those off-net episodes, said no. And it wasn’t interested in making a deal for original episodes either. “Law and Order” wound up canceled.

That came at the same time Turner, which had made a deal with ex-NBC host Conan O’Brien to front a new nighttime yakker, had begun taunting the Peacock over the deal. At the upfronts, Turner execs sarcastically thanked NBC for triggering the events that led to its deal with O’Brien.

Turner even took out Emmy “for your consideration” ads promoting a nomination for NBC’s O’Brien “Tonight Show” — when NBC did not. Peacock execs were not amused.

O’Brien wasn’t even the first NBC franchise Turner swooped in to buy: Turner had just started airing new episodes of “Southland,” the gritty cop drama NBC had canceled.

“It’s oddly coincidental that we’ve had this much contact with that organization in the last year,” says one Peacock insider. “We haven’t had nearly the same kind of contact with Fox or Disney or CBS the way we do with the Turner organization.”

Indeed, no one’s accusing Turner or NBC of making it personal. But consider it Hollywood’s version of “frenemies.”

The Turner/NBC smackdowns are a reminder that these days, everyone seems to be in everyone else’s businesses. And in Hollywood, even the biggest of rivals might find themselves having to collaborate — and play nice — on ?other fronts.

“There’s a bit of an element of ‘mutual assured destruction,'” one NBC exec says. “We both need each other in the business. It ensures good behavior. Turner is a hugeclient for us in off-net sales. And we bring them a lot of business.

We need them to be nice to us, and we need to be nice to them.”

That’s not to say that these frenemies don’t enjoy poking each other with a sharp stick. Turner Entertainment Networks topper Steve Koonin, for example, has been known to tweak the broadcast networks — and NBC in particular.

At one upfront presentation, Koonin laid out a list of Turner shows next to a list of cheesy NBC shows — and asked the audience to choose which roster came from a real network. Ouch.

Hollywood frenemies are nothing new, of course, as the congloms will regularly play nice on one front while battle to the death on another.

Other rivalries that have popped up in recent years include CBS and Warner Bros., which are in business on so many different fronts that tensions inevitably arise. And some of those rivalries have gotten much more personal than the pretty harmless NBC v. Turner battle.

The congloms generally find ways to still work together despite heated competition. But that doesn’t mean things work out to the satisfaction of both.

Spiro, after all, won’t be starring in “Love Bites” due to Turner’s objections. And NBC didn’t let Morgan moonlight with CNN out of the kindness of its heart; it first made sure he was in position with the Peacock.

Turner, of course, loves to pick on NBC partly because it’s engaged in a heated rivalry with NBC cable behemoth USA.

“They’ve been nice to us as well,” a Peacock exec said of Turner, noting the number of off-net deals between the two, including “Law and Order” and “The Office.”

“Their blows are not any lower than others,” one exec says.

Turner and NBC, meanwhile, will have to keep that hotline open for the foreseeable future. As O’Brien’s Turner yakker launches, the cabler may need to call in some favors in order to use intellectual property that NBC believes it owns from 17 years of “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” and seven months of O’Brien’s “Tonight Show.”

And on the flip side, if NBC’s lucky, it will have a new crop of series to soon sell into the marketplace — from “Parks and Recreation” to “Law and Order: Los Angeles.” Among the most logical buyers from the cable world? Turner.

Frenemies, indeed.

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