Studios USA sez no to ‘Stars’

WB still expected to shop show

Studios USA has decided not to produce the Harry Hamlin comedy “Movie Stars,” which the WB netlet has ordered for midseason, the studio confirmed Thursday.

Because the WB is still behind “Movie Stars,” executive producers Jonathan Axelrod and James Widdoes are expected to shop the show to other studios. Columbia TriStar TV made a similar move with the WB’s short-lived comedy “Kelly, Kelly,” handing the show over to Warner Bros. TV.

Warner Bros. TV, however, doesn’t want to produce the show this time around, and while sources said two other studios have expressed interest in adopting the series, it’s unclear whether an agreement will be reached and if the show will go forward.

“Basically they had problems with the show,” Axelrod said. “I don’t know if they are creative or financial — probably a little bit of both.”

A spokesman for Studios USA said the company is giving up ownership of the series because of “creative differences,” and the studio looks forward to working with Axelrod and Widdoes on the upcoming ABC comedy “Brother’s Keeper.”

“Movie Stars,” which was created, written and co-executive produced by Wayne Lemon, is the second project from Axelrod and Widdoes that Studios USA has nipped in the bud. Earlier this year, the studio turned down a UPN pilot order on the comedy “The Brennans” in order to develop just a script at ABC instead.

Industry sources were buzzing Thursday that the move may be the strongest indication yet that Barry Diller, chairman of USA Networks Inc., wants to scale back the studio’s network production plans.

Sources say Diller only wants to deficit finance projects that he really believes are “sure things” in terms of long-term success and profitability. Because the WB has had far more success launching dramas than comedies, Studios USA may be hedging its bets.

“We are going to pick our targets,” said Ken Solomon, president of Studios USA TV. “We’re not in it for quantity.”

Given that philosophy, some Hollywood agents are speculating that Studios USA could have a tough time attracting and holding onto writer/producers, their biggest being Dick Wolf (“Law & Order”). Solomon, however, said the studio is now pursuing several new writer deals, albeit smaller than the typical megabucks deals being signed at network-aligned studios like Disney and 20th Century Fox.

Axelrod and Widdoes have one year left on their deal at Studios USA, and Axelrod said they have no plans to try to get out of the deal early.

“It saddens me, but I’m not running around hating the studio,” Axelrod said. “This came very much out of the blue, but they were very caring.”

In terms of the fate of “Movie Stars,” Axelrod said, “We made what I think is a great pilot. We have a new daughter played by Marnie Patterson (‘Something So Right’). The show is in fantastic shape, and the WB is incredibly supportive. We are now in discussions over what to do next.”