NBC toasts Lane with prime night

Star of 'Birdcage,' 'Mouse Hunt' gets commitment on sitcom

It’s sure to be a Merry Christmas for actor Nathan Lane. On the eve of his first feature film debut since “The Birdcage,” Lane received a huge commitment from NBC to air his new sitcom from the producers of “Frasier” next fall.

NBC on Friday handed the star of DreamWorks’ new pic “Mouse Hunt” a 13-episode commitment and a launch on one of its two highest-rated nights, Tuesday or Thursday. The Peacock web also guaranteed to pay producer Paramount Domestic TV license fees worth about $900,000 each for all 13 episodes, regardless of the show’s performance.

NBC and Par would not comment on terms of the deal, but the massive commitment is the second such deal NBC has made this month. Two weeks ago, NBC ordered 13 episodes of a new Warner Bros. TV series from Bright/Kauffman/Crane, the company behind “Friends.” In that deal too, NBC agreed to cover the entire production budget for the show and guaranteed a Tuesday or Thursday launch, even though no star is yet attached (Daily Variety, Dec. 8).

The new Par sitcom, which features Lane as a former opera singer who moves to California’s Napa Valley to help run the family vineyard, will be executive produced by the team behind NBC’s Tuesday hit “Frasier”: David Angell, Peter Casey and David Lee of Grub Street Prods. (Daily Variety, Oct. 24).

Also executive producing the project, their first under an overall deal at Par, are “Frasier” supervising producers Anne Flett-Giordano and Chuck Ranberg, who will write the pilot for the new series.

NBC in many ways has upped the ante for securing top-notch programs in development, and the web has started to do what its executives have said they would never do again — give away timeslots. Although NBC only promises to launch the new sitcoms on Tuesday or Thursday, not keep them there if they tank, the web is still giving away prime real estate before it even sees a pilot.

If “Seinfeld” returns next season, NBC’s sweetest slots for new projects are quickly running out — that is, unless the web makes wholesale changes on Tues-day and Thursday nights.

“They’ve given away the store twice,” said one competing network executive, who tried to get the Lane show.

To NBC’s credit, their real estate carries tremendous value and holds unsurpassed leverage. That’s because its Thursday schedule is still the most dominant night of TV on any network, and its Tuesday sked is rising rapidly and has unsettled ABC’s longtime dominance there. While paying a lot for them, NBC has snagged the two most-coveted projects on the market so far this season.

Even so, the size of NBC’s recent commitments indicates that the network may be nervous about protecting the two nights on TV that help it cling to the top spot on the network heap.

Making a large commitment, though, is no guarantee of success. Some of the biggest deals this season have flopped, including NBC’s now-canceled sitcom with Tony Danza, and the struggling Jenny McCarthy starrer.

The Lane project seems like a slam-dunk, though, given that it pairs an acclaimed stage and film actor with the writers behind the four-time Emmy Award-winning comedy “Frasier.”

Lane is perhaps best known for his role as Robin Williams’ drag queen significant other in “The Birdcage.” He won a Tony Award for his performance in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” and he has appeared in several other Broadway productions, including “Guys and Dolls” and “Love! Valour! Compassion!”

His film credits include “Jeffrey,” “Frankie & Johnny” and “The Lion King.”

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