A new skirmish in the ongoing battle of the congloms has broken out, with Viacom-owned CBS asking for co-productions on many of its fall 2005 pilots — much to the chagrin of Disney-owned Touchstone and News Corp.’s 20th Century Fox TV.
CBS has told Touchstone it won’t move forward with drama projects “The Ghost Whisperer” (working title) or “Quantico” unless Touchstone agrees to produce them with Eye sister studio Paramount Network TV. Touchstone has told CBS, “No thanks.”
Production on both pilots is moving forward, with the impasse essentially being put off until May. At that point, should CBS want to order the projects to series, either Touchstone or the Eye will have to blink.
Likewise, the formal announcement of at least two 20th-produced comedy pilots is being held up, insiders said, because the studio isn’t thrilled with CBS’ request that Par come on board to produce. A similar situation played out earlier this month on the drama front, with 20th eventually agreeing to a co-prod on one drama and holding the line on another.
It’s believed 20th and Touchstone are balking because CBS wants a co-prod, even though the net isn’t bringing a major bit of talent to the table. They wonder if the Viacom net is simply trying to use its clout (and status as the No. 1 net) to artificially inflate Par’s roster.
Insiders say CBS, by contrast, believes it’s simply protecting its creative investment by ensuring it has a hand in the production of as many pilots as possible. What’s more, industry insiders say the net is also probably still gun-shy about doing business with 20th and Touchstone because of prior run-ins with the studios.
Touchstone, quite famously, bailed out of “CSI” after the show was on the schedule, while 20th asked to get out of “Joan of Arcadia” late in the development process.
Notably, both of Warner Bros. TV’s drama pilots at CBS are not co-prods. And Sony just snagged a comedy order for a pilot it’ll produce all by itself.
Co-prods more common
Co-prods had become commonplace in recent years, as studios looked to limit financial risk and networks sought to get a piece of backend profits. Often times, the co-prod requests have come in May, when webs are deciding whether to put new shows on the air.
But this year, with Paramount and CBS both under the control of Viacom co-prexy Moonves and Tellem, the net seems to be flexing its muscles — perhaps wanting to avoid any messy hold-ups come May.
One industry observer believes studios are balking at the Eye’s co-prod requests because of a change in the financial landscape.
Thanks to scripted hits like “Without a Trace,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Medium,” there’s a new sense that the network biz may not be as risky as it seemed just a few years ago. Hit dramas are fetching huge sums in off-net coin, and studios like 20th and Touchstone don’t want to have to share, some believe.
What’s more, nets like CBS increasingly feel they invest millions in marketing and license fees to launch hits, and don’t want to be left out of the backend.
There’s also the sense at some networks that a show produced by a non-aligned outlet — think Paramount producing “Medium” for NBC — won’t get the same love from a studio as a skein produced inhouse.
Not surprisingly, those who rep the creative community are concerned about the latest conglom skirmish. Some worry that good projects might die because of corporate politics.
“It’s all very scary,” one tenpercenter said.
Reps for Par, Touchstone and 20th all declined comment.