Stocking up in Hollywood
Network program chiefs fear walkout by actors, writers in spring
By Steve McClellan -- Broadcasting & Cable, 10/29/2000 7:00:00 PM
Having actually produced shows in recent years, maybe they know something the rest of us don't. While the top network entertainment executives at all six broadcast networks say they have contingency plans ready in the event of either a writers or actors strike next spring, only two executives think there will actually be a strike: NBC's Garth Ancier and Gail Berman.
Berman produced Malcolm in the Middle before taking the top programming job at the FOX Network. Ancier developed and executive produced the syndication talker Ricki Lake. They made their predictions last week at a New York media luncheon held by the International Radio and Television Society. Questioning the executives was FOX News' Bill McCuddy.
All the executives said their plans include stocking up on additional episodes of shows where possible, although in the case of dramas it's "almost impossible" due to the time required to produce them, said Lloyd Braun, co-head of entertainment programming at ABC.
Reality shows, somewhat easier to slap together than scripted entertainment fare, would also take up larger portions of the network schedules, the executives said.
"I think we're the most disadvantaged of any network," in preparing for a strike, said Jordan Levin, co-president, entertainment, for The WB. That's because the network has relied almost totally on scripted series. But it's now beefing up its reality slate, he said.
CBS Entertainment head Nancy Tellem said a strike would come, if it does come, just as audiences are showing renewed appetite for "strong drama and comedy."
Naturally, all the executives hope to avert strikes through negotiations. The industry just put behind it a nearly six-month-long strike of actors for commercial production. If all goes according to plan, new, non-scab commercial production should resume this week.
But the networks are also trying to crank up production now for new scripted entertainment shows that aren't scheduled to debut until fall 2001. Gail Berman, FOX Network's top programmer, said the network is doing that with several series, including a new one from producer Glen Gordon Caron. "We're also doing additional episodes of as many programs as we can get our executive producers to do."
Even though Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? is already running four nights a week, Braun said it was possible the hit show could be expanded in the event of a strike. On another subject, Tellem was asked why CBS was using the Super Bowl to launch Survivor II next January, when it's almost assured of getting a monster rating on its own, if the country's reaction to Survivor this summer is any indication. Her response: "It will start off the year very well."
That's true, if understated. Others are predicting that CBS will break records for ratings and revenue in a single day for a broadcast network by combining the two huge events.
Asked if Big Brother would be back, Tellem said it would, despite negative reviews. The show's economics were good, she said. It also exposed "21 million viewers to CBS who otherwise wouldn't have tuned in." The worst thing about the show in the first go-round, she said, was the cast. That will be changed, of course.
Asked what one show they regretted passing on, the FOX hit Malcolm in Middle came up a lot.
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