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Sony dives into TV talent pool

Co. signs at least a dozen writers to roster

In a carefully orchestrated post-strike raid on the TV talent pool, Sony Pictures Television has quietly signed at least a dozen scribes to its roster in the last month — many of whom were dropped by other studios during the WGA walkout.

Pacts are of varying lengths and terms, ranging from blind, two-script commitments to multiyear overall deals in which writers will develop projects and be staffed on existing Sony skeins.

Among the scribes-showrunners signing on with Sony: Graham Yost (“Boomtown”); Kevin Falls (“Journeyman”); David Guarascio and Moses Port (“Aliens in America”); Josh Berman (“Vanished”); Jenny Bicks (“Men in Trees”); Bill Martin and Mike Schiff (“Cavemen”); and Will Gluck (“The Loop”).

“We had a hit list of names we wanted to be in business with,” said Jamie Erlicht, co-prexy of programming and production at Sony. “The moment the strike was over, we got on the phone and started making deals.”

Zack Van Amburg, who also serves as co-prexy of the division, told Daily Variety the level of talent on the market in the wake of the strike demanded the studio “be aggressive and opportunistic in making deals.

“If you want to do something right, you have to do it right away,” he said. “We went out into the marketplace early and I think we were able to secure a roster … with a select group of writers and producers whose work we value.”

Sony’s aggressiveness comes as most other studios — while still making multiscript deals — have taken a more cautious approach to overall deals in the wake of the strike. One top exec at a rival studio argued that some of Sony’s deals were unnecessary in the current climate.

Execs at the Culver City studio, however, believe the newly strengthened lineup will give them a leg up at a time when bigger studios are downsizing their rosters, while networks are cutting back development budgets. As Sony brass see it, the latter development means nets will be more likely to greenlight projects from well-known entities rather than taking a risk on less-tested writer-producers.

“There are potentially fewer slots at the networks, and we think those slots are going to be filled by people with track records,” Van Amburg said. “We’re being pro-active and pre-emptive.”

Erlicht and Van Amburg were quick to note that Sony’s scribe snatching does not mark a shift away from its recent strategy of focused development.

“Nothing has changed about the economics we’re following at Sony,” Erlicht said. “We’re not going back to the free-spending, freewheeling days of multimillion overall deals for everybody.”

Indeed, studio remains committed to a portfolio approach to development, balancing overall deals with one- and two-script pacts with scribes targeted to produce specific kinds of shows for specific networks, across both broadcast and cable.

Sony’s overall roster of writers also remains small compared with rivals such as 20th Century Fox TV or Warner Bros. TV, which have much larger production slates that need servicing. Indeed, Sony was the only major not to terminate any overall deals during the strike.

“We live in a different world than a lot of our competitors,” Erlicht said. “We don’t have a slate of overall deals numbering in the dozens. And when the strike occurred, we looked down at those deals we did have and they were still the right people for us to be in business with.”

That said, Sony wasn’t able to pick up its new scribe tribe at fire-sale prices. In the case of Guarascio and Port, at least two other studios are known to have made aggressive bids for the scribes’ services before Sony struck its deal.

While the overall deal market as a whole remains depressed in TV land (Daily Variety, March 25), industry insiders have said all along that in-demand talent would continue to fetch a premium (though prices even for top talent are down compared with five years ago).

Scribes shifting to the Sony lot:

n Guarascio and Port come to Sony from UMS, following the termination of their overall deal in January. Duo created the CW’s frosh laffer “Aliens in America,” which has struggled in the ratings despite some of the best comedy reviews of the new season.

Scribes previously created the NBC comedy “Happy Family” and spent several seasons on “Just Shoot Me.”

  • Bicks, who created and serves as showrunner on “Men in Trees,” has been working at Warner Bros. TV. She first broke through as a scribe-producer on “Sex and the City” and then moved on to write features such as “The Nanny Diaries” and “Never Been Kissed.”

  • Yost, who most recently exec produced the NBC drama “Raines,” had been based at Universal Media Studios. In addition to “Boomtown,” he wrote the original “Speed” and is working on HBO’s upcoming mega-mini “The Pacific.” He also penned segs of “From the Earth to the Moon.”

  • Berman comes to Sony from 20th Century Fox TV, where he created two Fox dramas in two years: “Killer Instinct” and “Vanished.” Scribe broke through on “CSI,” rising to exec producer. He is a consulting producer on “Bones.” His overall deal was terminated during the strike.

  • Falls, who was at 20th until the strike ended his deal, was showrunner on the just-wrapped NBC drama “Journeyman.” He previously wrote on “The West Wing” and “Arli$$,” and his feature credits include “The Temp” and “Summer Catch.”

  • Martin and Schiff, who most recently created Alphabet’s “Cavemen,” were at ABC Studios until their deal was scratched during the strike. Duo spent several seasons on “3rd Rock From the Sun” before creating Fox’s “Grounded for Life” in 2000.

  • Gluck, who was showrunner on the Fox laffer “The Loop,” was based at CBS Paramount Network Television until his deal was axed during the strike. His other credits include “Luis” and “Method & Red.” He’s set to direct the upcoming Screen Gems feature “Fired Up!”