Monday, November 17, 2008



By PETER LAURIA, New York Post

Ripples from the economic crisis have spread to television in the form of curtailed spending on new projects.

Already tight-fisted from the migration of viewers and advertising dollars to other mediums, broadcast networks are now cutting development costs in the face of perhaps the most challenging economic environment the TV industry has ever experienced.

That's resulted in fewer pilots being bought and network executives taking fewer risks at a time when television can't afford to remain stagnant.

"It's the toughest development season I've ever seen," said ICM President Chris Silbermann, referring to the June-to-November period during which networks typically buy scripts for the coming year. "Networks are being really cautious and money is really tight, so it's very difficult to get something done."

Added a producer who asked not to be named at the risk of losing the development deals he has pending at a few networks, "There's definitely a heightened scrutiny as to development at the networks that is a direct result of the economy."

The slowdown in deal flow stands in stark contrast to as recently as nine months ago, when the writers' strike ended and networks were greenlighting everything they could find to fill gaping scheduling holes due to the work stoppage.

Despite the current grim mood, though, Silbermann said his shop has sold roughly 100 pilot scripts to broadcast and cable TV networks this year.

While network executives concede that deal volume is down, they say it is more a function of adjusting to new business models than anything else.

"We're sharpening our strategy to fit a new marketplace," said Fox Entertainment President Kevin Reilly. (Fox, like The Post, is owned by News Corp.)

Reilly said moving Fox to a year-round programming schedule has allowed the network to spread out costs and focus development on fewer shows that have a better chance of succeeding.

By contrast, CBS boss Les Moonves said the overall development process at his network hasn't changed much, it's just that they are being smarter about where they are placing bets.

"We're not going to do dumb deals, and we're not going to get into bidding wars," Moonves said.

CBS typically buys 20 pilots per year, but might buy fewer this year because there aren't many slots to fill its schedule.

While cutting back on development saves money, the problem is that it also makes it harder to make money.

It's more economical, for instance, for a network to renew a show that might otherwise be canceled than spend money on a new one. But that strategy misses the potential for a new show to become a hit in favor of playing it safe with a middling old one.

"If you want the premium ad dollars, you've got to spend money and take risks," said a second producer who also asked to remain anonymous so as to not jeopardize some projects he has in network development.

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