UPDATED: After five weeks of negotiations between CBS and 20th Century Fox TV over a midseason order for CIA drama pilot Chaos, the project, once considered a shoo-in for a spot on the schedule, now appears dead after the options on the actors expired at midnight last night. There was a lot of afterhours back-and-forth last night, with CAA, which is behind the Tom Spezialy-written drama, making a last-ditch effort to bring the two sides together. But no last-minute agreement was reached in what is described a classic example of political gamesmanship between two companies that don’t trust each other.
I hear a lot of people on both sides are shell-shocked today as Chaos has been well liked at both the network and the studio and had been on the verge of a series order for so long. There is a slim chance that if a deal is made today, the project could get resurrected and the actors could be asked to come back, but the chance is indeed slim.
CBS originally was expected to make a decision on Chaos shortly after its May 19 upfront presentation so, if picked up, producing studio 20th TV could sell the drama at the LA international screenings the following week. The midseason order came on the last day of screenings, but 20th TV didn’t accept it because it was for 8 episodes as opposed to the standard 13-episode pickup, making the series hard to impossible to sell internationally through studio’s output deals. CBS also asked for reshoots on the Brett Ratner-directed pilot but didn’t agree outright to split the cost for them with the studio.
After 10 days of little movement, CBS, which didn’t feel it needed more than 8 episodes with another midseason drama, the Criminal Minds spinoff, already picked up for 13, upped the Chaos order to 13 episodes (including the pilot). But the larger order came with a lower license fee, $100,000 less per episode, and again wasn’t accepted by the studio, putting the two sides in another standoff. The license fee was eventually raised to its original level by CBS but then a new big sticking point emerged: the series’ budget. With its international window closing as many foreign buyers had already fulfilled their quotas with the slew of new drama series offered by the broadcast and cable networks this year, 20th TV indicated to CBS that it intended to produce the series at a lower budget than originally projected to offset lost international revenue. It was looking to produce Chaos out of state to take advantage of local tax incentives and considered Dallas as well as Canada’s Toronto or Vancouver, which offer more European look in line with Spezialy’s creative direction for the CIA drama (Its pilot, shot in Los Angeles, takes place in Sudan and Cambodia). Spezialy liked Toronto, but CBS had reservations over its harsh winter and lack of landscape variety, so 20th TV shifted its attention to Vancouver.
But 20th TV’s remark that they plan to produce the series more economically proved crucial in the negotiations as that raised concerns among CBS brass whether the series would keep the high quality of the pilot and truly reflect Spezialy’s vision. To assure that, CBS asked 20th TV to commit to a budget of $3.1 million an episode. (That was in line with the budget projection 20th TV submitted when Chaos was picked up to pilot but industry insiders say studios normally inflate those projections to get higher license fees from the network.) 20th TV would promise to deliver a high quality series but wouldn’t commit to the large budget as requested by the network.
With talks stalled, CBS asked to take over production of the show but was turned down by 20th TV. And while all this was going on, Spezialy lost the writers he had wanted for the series, including Reaper creators Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters who eventually joined another 20th TV series, Terra Nova.
Both sides seem passionate about Chaos and regretful that a deal could not be made. But unfortunately, over the past five weeks CBS and 20th TV never saw eye-to-eye, and in the crucial final days before the Wednesday deadline on actors’ options the matter was left in the hands of business affairs executives where things lingered until Chaos ultimately died last night – a heartbreaking result for Spezialy who wrote and produced a good pilot that became a victim of the still-fragile economics of producing primetime series and good ol’ Hollywood gamesmanship.
TV Editor Nellie Andreeva - tip her here.