Fox, WB tie as top TV suppliers

CBS Prods. ties with Columbia TriStar TV for No. 2

NEW YORK — For the first time in more than a decade, 20th Century Fox TV has tied Warner Bros. TV as the top supplier of primetime network programming.

In another milestone, a broadcast network’s inhouse production arm, CBS Prods., tied with Columbia TriStar TV as the No. 2 network TV supplier for the first time in recent history.

Warner Bros. has produced the most primetime TV series each fall for a record-breaking 12 consecutive seasons, and the studio, led by president Tony Jonas, remained at the top of the pack again this year with 15 series, including the most new shows for fall, seven.

Twentieth Century Fox TV, led by president Sandy Grushow, tied Warner Bros. with 15 series and also had the most hours of programming, 11.5, and the most returning shows, 12 — four more than its closest competitor. Twentieth tied for fourth place in terms of new fall shows, with three. (Both Warner Bros. and 20th received three midseason pickups as well.)

“Bringing back 12 series is what we feel really good about,” Grushow told Daily Variety. “The whole issue of volume really is irrelevent. The only thing that matters is profit, and to achieve that, we’ve got to keep our shows on the air.”

Warner Bros., which retired longtime staples “Murphy Brown,” “Family Matters” and “Step By Step,” placed second in terms of returning series, with eight.

“There’s no question returning shows are important, but we had three shows go the 9-to-10-year distance, and it’s our job to replenish them,” Jonas said. “I’m most proud of the fact that we got seven new shows and new shows in powerful timeslots. It feels like a strong victory in a long, hard season.”

Last season Warner Bros. also had 15 series on the fall schedule, 11 of them returning, while 20th had 12 shows, seven returning.

Columbia TriStar TV and CBS Prods. each will produce 12 shows this fall, including six new series each. That places them ahead of Paramount Network TV, which produces nine series (11 if you count the two shows from Viacom Prods.), including four new ones. Three of Par’s four new series will air on its own network, UPN.

Disney and NBC Studios tied for fourth place in the total show tally with eight series each, followed by Spelling TV, which has six.

This is the first time in recent memory the broadcast networks have broken into the ranks of the top suppliers. Last year NBC Studios was the sixth largest supplier and CBS Prods. was seventh.

Ironically, CBS TV CEO Leslie Moonves was the largest supplier of network primetime programming for nearly a decade when he ran Warner Bros. TV (and Lorimar), and with six of the Eye web’s new series co-produced inhouse, his CBS Prods. is now climbing back toward the top.

“That’s pretty cool,” Moonves said. “I want to stress that the better shows got on the schedule. We have very good development executives who are very active in the process.”

In fact, Moonves hired away three former colleagues from Warner Bros. TV to help beef up CBS Prods.: Nancy Tellem, now executive VP of CBS Prods.; Nina Tassler, senior VP of drama; and Maria Rastatter, senior VP of comedy.

Studios USA (formerly Universal) will have three series on the fall schedule, one returning series and two new ones. Studios USA also sold two midseason series.

Some newer entrants had respectable opening selling seasons. In its first year, the newly formed Greenblatt Janollari Studio sold three new series, and Imagine TV sold two new series for fall and a couple of midseason entries. Mandalay also has two series on the air and Atlantis Films sold its first network primetime series in the United States.

A few production companies struck out in terms of selling any new series for the fall schedule, including DreamWorks, Brillstein-Grey, Viacom Prods. and Rysher, although DreamWorks received a midseason comedy order from ABC.

On all six networks, a total of 37 new comedy and drama series are debuting this fall, down from last season’s 39 new shows.

There were more co-productions this year than ever before. Of CBS Prods.’ 12 primetime series, eight are co-productions with studios. Of the studios, Sony has the most co-productions (five) followed by 20th Century Fox (four).

In terms of network ownership of their primetime schedules, including newsmagazines, but excluding movies, CBS now owns a larger percentage of the shows its airs than any of the networks partnered with studios. CBS produces or co-produces 54.6% of the shows on its air, while Fox is second with a little more than 47%, down from 69% last year. UPN is third with nearly 46%, NBC fourth with nearly 41%.

Ironically, ABC and the WB, which are owned by two of the largest studios in Hollywood, have the smallest percentages of inhouse productions and co-productions, about 29%.