Tube turf wars waged

Frog, Fox play chicken over skeins

Emotions always run high in the days leading up to the network upfronts, but this weekend saw an unusual degree of behind-the-scenes drama play out in the TV biz.

The up-and-down relationship between the WB Network and 20th Century Fox TV took a turn for the worse Friday as the network and studio all but came to blows over a new license fee agreement for the fifth season of “Reba,” the hit Friday laffer 20th produces for the Frog. At one point, it seemed as if “Reba” were dead and that one or two 20th-produced pilots — a drama starring Rebecca Romijn and a comedy toplined by Jane Leeves — were going to end up as collateral damage.

Late Sunday, 20th and the Frog seemed to be edging closer to a deal. The two parties seemed to have found agreement on a new license fee for “Reba,” though there were still some sticking points related to the Leeves laffer.

Out of ‘Order’

Meanwhile, NBC’s decision to cancel Dick Wolf’s “Law & Order: Trial by Jury” left Wolf predictably puzzled (Daily Variety, May 13).

Producer told Daily Variety that he’s “extremely upset and disappointed” about NBC’s move, praising “the phenomenal work of people like Walon Green and his writers.”

“I find the decision inexplicable, and frankly, inconceivable,” Wolf said Friday, working on the assumption that the fourth flavor of his “L&O” brand was dead.

Peacock brass still weren’t saying anything about the show Sunday.

Wolf said he was “enormously proud” of “TBJ,” noting that the casting of thesps such as Candice Bergen, Annabella Sciorra and Lorraine Bracco made the skein “A-level television.”

“It was a good show. It was the exact formula that made the brand so valuable,” he said.

While there’s no doubt “TBJ” was far from an instant hit, it’s worth noting that all of the “L&O”-branded skeins have been relatively slow starters. It didn’t help “TBJ” that the latest installment of “Law & Order” launched at a time when NBC had fallen into fourth place in primetime and had opted to sked a record-breaking dozen hours of various “L&O” skeins per week.

And even if “Trial by Jury” had remained a modest performer, it still might have made NUTS millions in syndie coin given the ravenous appetites cablers such as USA and TNT have for the franchise.

Fee fight

On the 20th/WB Network front, 20th was seeking to raise its license fee for “Reba” to a sum in the neighborhood of $1.5 million, industry insiders said. Frog appeared insistent on paying no more than about $1.1 million per half-hour; what’s more, it wanted the right to multiple reruns of the show, including a repeat window Sundays from 6-7 p.m.

It was not immediately clear where the two sides ended up financially.

As for potential civilian casualties, Frog has given 20th pilot “Pepper Dennis” an order for midseason. But execs at 20th seemed ready to say no to the offer unless a deal for “Reba” was hammered out, fearing a repeat of the “Reba” crisis four years from now.

Another 20th project, laffer “Misconceptions,” is also said to be a contender for the Frog’s fall or midseason skeds, but the studio had indicated it would turn down an order for that show as well. By late Sunday, 20th and the WB were haggling over a six episode order for “Misperceptions” vs. a traditional 13-seg order. 

Could upset talent

Even the idea of linking the pilots with “Reba” was enough to send producers (and their agents) into a tizzy. Execs at 20th seemed willing to risk enraging important talent — Romijn and helmer Shawn Levy for “Pepper” and Leeves, French Stewart and Imagine Television for “Misconceptions” — by turning down the WB’s offer to pick up the projects to series.

The row over “Reba” reps the latest example of 20th and the WB doing battle over money.

Studio opted to set up the fifth and six seasons of WB signature skein “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” at UPN rather than accept the coin the Frog was offering for the show. Net and studio also couldn’t figure out a way to keep “Buffy” spinoff “Angel” on the air more than five seasons, though that was largely because series co-creator Joss Whedon needed an early decision from the Frog.

Difference this time: Many of the top execs involved in the prior battles are gone. New exec teams all seem to have strong personal relationships, leading some to believe all along that a deal would ultimately get done, making this weekend’s fireworks nothing more than a classic tale of Hollywood brinkmanship.

In the end, it seems that theory proved correct, with a happy ending to boot.