Col TV plays waiting game

Despite downsizing, studio continues development

With no firm word yet from Sony officials about how quickly — or how drastically — Columbia TriStar TV will be downsized, execs at the division are trying to figure out how to proceed with the dozens of projects in the works for next season.

Under new topper Tom Mazza, CTTV is having one of its best development seasons in years. Studio has sold 30 drama scripts and 20 comedy scripts to date, with at least a half-dozen put pilot commitments to boot.

What’s more, CTTV — amazingly — is still putting together projects.

ABC and NBC, for example, are currently bidding for the rights to a script from one of the studio’s top roster scribes.

Normally, all this would be cause for celebration. But in the wake of Sony Corp. of America chairman/CEO Howard Stringer’s declaration to Daily Variety last week that the current network-studio business model “doesn’t make sense anymore,” CTTV staffers and industry execs don’t know whether to laugh or cry over their selling success.

“There are potentially 50 orphaned producers with 50 orphaned projects,” one Sony insider said.

There could also be some jobless execs: Sony insiders Tuesday said there’s a good chance a round of layoffs could hit CTTV by week’s end.

Until Sony execs make any firm decisions, however, CTTV staffers said they’re trying to proceed as normal, setting up projects and managing the studio’s current primetime assets.

CTTV staffers take some comfort in Stringer’s statement that he’s “not slamming any doors long-term” and that he wants to stay in the TV business. They believe there’s a way Sony can transform itself from a large, roster-supported studio that serves all networks into a boutique operation — turning itself into Barney’s rather than Sears.

“There’s got to be a middle ground,” said one Col TriStar exec.

Those who are in business with Sony believe the studio shouldn’t give up.

“I’ve always believed that a company can make just as much money with a $20 million roster as with $100 million,” said Gavin Polone, chairman of CTTV-based Pariah Prods. “There’s an economic model out there that makes sense.”

Polone and Pariah TV prexy Richard Feldman have about 15 projects in the works via CTTV; they’re confident any scripts picked up as pilots will get made.

Execs at Brad Grey TV and Jersey TV, also affiliated with Sony, are equally confident about the status of their projects.

Until Sony execs clarify their intentions for CTTV, however, others in the industry are operating as if the division were dead.

While networks are still taking meetings with Sony-based writers, agents with scribes who have deals at CTTV have started floating their clients to other studios and nets.

And it’s unlikely network execs will be willing to attach penalties to any CTTV scripts purchased in the next few weeks.

Sony execs complained that the timing was awkward.

Had the company signaled its intent to scale back over the summer, smarter decisions about development could have been made. If it had waited until February or March, when most pilot greenlights are set, Sony would have had more leverage with which to sell off its TV assets.

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