20th outfoxes rivals

Studio dominates with record 24 fall series

NEW YORK — It wasn’t even close: With next season’s primetime skeds locked in, 20th Century Fox Television has solidified its status as the industry’s dominant supplier of network programming– landing a record 24 network series spread over all six webs.

The News Corp.-owned studio, which has ruled as TV’s top producer for three years, will add eight new scheduled series to a roster of 16 returning shows. That’s up from a total of 19 scheduled skeins last fall and surpasses the previous record of 22 series scored by 20th in 1999.

In addition, with “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Roswell” jumping to UPN, 20th now stands as the only supplier with shows on all six networks.

AOL Time Warner division Warner Bros. Television again ranked second among all suppliers, placing 14 programs in primetime on four nets.

CBS Prods. ranks third overall with a stake in 12 series. Touchstone Television, disproving naysayers who predicted the Disney-owned studio was destined to become solely an inhouse supplier to ABC once it merged with the net, also has 12 shows on four broadcast webs. Viacom division Paramount Network Television comes in with 11 scheduled series.

In a turnaround, newcomer Artists Television Group — which last year stunned the industry by placing five shows in primetime during its first season — has scaled back considerably this year.

ATG landed a reality adventure series at the WB and its Ellen DeGeneres laffer at CBS. None of its frosh series will return.

Not surprisingly, 20th toppers Dana Walden and Gary Newman were happy about landing so many spots on the Big Six skeds, crediting the accomplishment to 20th’s department heads and staffers; the support of Fox Entertainment Television Group topper Sandy Grushow and News Corp. prexy-chief operating officer Peter Chernin; and the studio’s large stable of writers and producers.

“We have the best roster of writers in the business, and these numbers are a reflection of that,” said Walden. “You have to have the best scripts in order to attract the best actors and directors so that when these pilots are delivered, they’re just undeniable (to nets).”

Newman said 20th’s strong tally “is evidence of the system working the right way.”

In addition to numerical strength, 20th landed some other big breaks. New drama “The Education of Max Bickford,” a co-production with CBS, landed the cherry 8 p.m. Sunday slot after “60 Minutes.” Net’s new laffer “Inside Schwartz,” a co-production with NBC Studios, ended up after “Friends” at 8:30 p.m. Thursday.

Studio also greatly expanded the gap separating it from other studios. With 24 series scheduled, 20th has 10 more skeins than its closest competitor, WBTV. A year ago, 20th had just one more show than its primary rival.

Co-prod explosion

Part of the studio’s luck in landing killer slots stems from the fact that many of its projects are being co-produced with other outlets, usually a network’s inhouse studio unit. Such collaborations have become increasingly common in recent seasons and exploded this development cycle.

Grushow said 20th’s overall tally is evidence that the studio has been able to maintain solid relations with its fellow vertically integrated competitors.

“You don’t get to 24 (series) by acting as an inhouse supplier,” he said, praising Newman and Walden for an “extraordinary” selling season. “We achieved our goal of being the dominant supplier to FBC while being in business with all other networks.”

Still, size isn’t everything when measuring a successful TV company.

“I don’t think there’s an exec on our team that looked at the tally as a goal,” Walden said. “The mandate here is not to be No. 1 but to develop successful shows.”

Sorkin to ya

Warner Bros. TV topper Peter Roth echoed that view, citing the studio’s profits from skeins like “ER,” “Friends” and “The Drew Carey Show” as leading indicators of his studio’s success. With WBTV scribes such as Aaron Sorkin readying ideas for new 2002-03 series, Roth believes the studio’s future prospects are bright.

“We’re well on track with our three-year strategy,” he said. “Having Aaron Sorkin leading the slate in drama development allows me to sleep well at night.”

Over at Touchstone, topper Steve McPherson said that his studio’s close ties with ABC don’t prevent him from taking projects to other nets if the material seems right. That’s what happened with the much buzzed-about Suzanne Martin laffer “Maybe I’m Adopted.”

“When we saw the script, we saw it as a slam dunk for the WB,” he said. “An important part of our success is being able to supply other networks.”

Looking beyond the tally’s top five, NBC Studios had another solid synergistic season under prexy Ted Harbert and now has eight shows on the air.

Col tops among unaligned

Leading unaligned supplier Columbia TriStar Television had a strong first year under new topper Tom Mazza: Studio went from just four shows on the air to seven next season. CTTV also wrapped up a key two-year renewal to keep “Dawson’s Creek” on the WB for two more years, as well as renewals for “Family Law” and “Joan.”

Studios USA lost two frosh series but returned “The District,” a co-production with CBS Prods. Add in its two new series (“The Agency” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent”), and the David Kissinger-led banner again will have five series in primetime.

DreamWorks TV will have its strongest season in more than five years, upping its output to four series under prexy Dan McDermott.

Regency TV, in its first year under new topper Pete Aronson, will have five series on the air. Big Ticket Television lost staple “Moesha” but added two new shows on CBS for an overall tally of three primetime skeins for topper Larry Lyttle.

Finally, syndie powerhouse Telepictures returns to primetime with “Elimidate Deluxe.” It’s the studio’s first primetime skein since the CBS series “How’d They’d Do That.”

Vertical credit clamor

With vertical integration leaving few truly independent production studios, and co-productions increasingly common, trying to figure out who gets credit for which shows has become a challenge.

For example, while Paramount Network Television is credited with 11 primetime shows, the division is a part of the Paramount Television Group led by topper Kerry McCluggage. That group also includes Big Ticket (three series), Viacom Prods. (two) and Spelling Television (two) — putting a total of 18 shows under the Par banner.

Similarly, Fox TV Studios — a News Corp. unit headed by David Grant — encompasses Regency Television (five) and Greenblatt-Janollari, which has one show produced under the FTVS banner and one produced for Paramount.

(Michael Schneider contributed to this report.)