Maybe Tim Allen should be the poster boy for this year's do-it-yourself development season. Nearly 10 years after the FCC repealed the fin-syn rules, the top networks are relying almost entirely on co-owned Hollywood studio counterparts for next fall's batch of comedies and dramas.
"The push continues to be, in these changing economic times, to control your destiny to the greatest extent possible as we all try to figure out what the future paradigms are for our industry," says The WB Entertainment President Jordan Levin.
Warner Bros. TV and newly minted in-house studio Turner TV are behind 15 of the 18 pilots ordered by The WB.
Disney-owned Touchstone TV is producing or co-producing all of ABC's comedies and has a piece of 21 of the 23 pilots ordered thus far.
NBC Studios is producing or has a piece of 17 of the 20 pilots that NBC has ordered.
At Fox, which hasn't picked up the majority of this season's comedies, five of 10 pilot orders so far are from News Corp. entities.
CBS is the only major network that doesn't seem to be following the trend. The Viacom-owned network, which has Paramount, Spelling, Big Ticket and others within its corporate reach, is spreading its development dollars. Only three of CBS's 15 pilot orders thus far are from CBS Productions or other Viacom studios. But insiders warn that CBS Productions may take ownership stakes in a number of the pilots later. Executives had no comment.
At UPN, the Viacom network's new President of Entertainment Dawn Tarnofsky-Ostroff gets started this week, and she's expected to make some fast decisions on development. Insiders say Tarnofsky-Ostroff, who was Lifetime's top programming executive, has been reading scripts for the past two weeks.
NBC's comedy development has a very New York flavor to it. NBC Entertainment chief Jeff Zucker, who formerly ran Today
in New York and has strong ties with the network's East Coast divisions, is looking to use Saturday Night Live
as a breeding ground for comedies. SNL
alums Chevy Chase, Norm MacDonald, Adam Sandler and Jon Lovitz and Executive Producer Lorne Michaels are all working on new comedies for NBC. So is late-night host Conan O'Brien, who at press time was negotiating a reported $7.5 million renewal of his contract with the network.
Zucker has ordered nine dramas, including Kingpin, a Spelling TV pilot said to be getting a lot of attention. It looks at life through the eyes of a Mexican drug dealer.
Struggling ABC heavied up on pilots this season; last year, it was riding high on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. The network has doubled the number of drama pilots to 14 and is expected to order 14 comedies as well. On the drama front, ABC is instructing some producers to make two-hour pilots, which can double as TV movies if they don't make the final cut. Touchstone is behind a few of the two-hour pilots, including a potential series based on the Nancy Drew
CBS has ordered the majority of its drama pilots, including a spin-off of drama hit CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. The spin-off, from Jerry Bruckheimer, will be set in Miami. Actress Andie McDowell is attached to drama Jo, the story of mother-daughter veterinarians living in North Carolina. Broadway star Nathan Lane is giving TV another shot in comedy pilot Life of the Party
, and Brillstein-Grey is behind sitcom My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
Turner TV is behind seven of The WB's pilots, including two from former WB Entertainment President Susanne Daniels, whose new company is producing a new take on The Lone Ranger
and comedy In My Opinion.
Former NBC Entertainment President Warren Littlefield's Paramount-based production company also is in the mix at The WB, co-producing comedy Do Over.
Fox is expected to order the majority of its comedy pilots over the next two weeks, but it is nearly finished on the drama side. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
creator/producer Joss Whedon's Firefly, described as a sci-fi Western series, has already been given a 13-episode commitment. The network is also developing a series based on theatrical film Save the Last Dance
and series Time Tunnel, based on the original Irwin Allen TV series of the same name.