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Deadline nears on Fox-NBCU talks for ‘House’

Network, studio in last-minute negotiations

There is a distinct possibility Fox could be arriving at the May upfronts without its longtime hit drama “House.”

The network remains in last-minute negotiations with Universal Media Studios, which owns the series, in hopes of signing a new deal for an eighth season. The two sides are far apart in determining the percentage each will pay for the show’s costs.

UMS, owned by NBCUniversal, has given Fox an extension on the window of negotiation exclusivity. That ends Friday. If the two sides can’t come to an agreement, UMS will offer the show to competing networks including, of course, the Peacock, which would likely be more than happy to take the series away from Fox.

Another problem for both sides is that several cast members aren’t signed up. While UMS will exercise the options for Hugh Laurie and Olivia Wilde, castmates Robert Sean Leonard, Omar Epps and Lisa Edelstein are unsigned for a new season, and their deals would have to reupped.

Leonard has already committed to a Broadway revival of “Born Yesterday” that will coincide with the production of the new season of “House.” As with most fall shows, production is set to begin in summer, and Leonard will still be in Gotham.

Drama has been a staple of the Fox lineup for seven seasons, but ratings have been declining of late, possibly because of shifting timeslots.

One reason “House” has moved between Monday and Tuesday throughout its run is programming changes made after the writers strike. “House” has also shifted to serve as a lead-in for one-season skein “Standoff” and vacated its spot for “Hell’s Kitchen.”

It first moved back an hour from 8 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday in 2007. Then the series was moved to Monday in 2008, only to move back to Tuesday later that year — and then back to Monday in 2009.

“House” is averaging a 4.0 rating/11 share in adults 18-49 and 10.7 million viewers overall this season. Two years ago, the series was earning a 5.3/14 and 13.3 million viewers.

According to sources, UMS is looking for the same deal it has had with Fox for the show since the sides renegotiated before season five: The network pays for production plus a premium because the success of the series.

Given the falling viewer totals and the high cost of production and cast salaries — the latter is often the most expensive aspect of a series that has been on the air for seven seasons — Fox hopes to share some of those expenses with UMS.

When “House” began in 2004, Universal wasn’t affiliated with NBC, so the network didn’t have the first choice to buy it from the studio.

UMS and Fox would like to resolve the situation as soon as possible, especially with Fox entertainment topper Kevin Reilly needing to make decisions in the next week or two on pilot pickups. A schedule without “House” would clearly create difficulties that neither he nor the Fox executive team would have previously anticipated.

If a deal can get done between Fox and UMS for another season, negotiations with the actors will ensue. It could take weeks, if not months, for all parties to come to an agreement.

Also, showrunner and exec producer David Shore isn’t contractually onboard for an eighth season, and his deal would have be ironed out as well, assuming he wanted to continue. During a Friday conference call, he told reporters: “Fox wants have to have a season eight, and NBCUniversal wants them to have a season eight. I fully expect there to be a season eight, and we’re proceeding on that basis.”

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