EXCLUSIVE: Back in September, USA Network announced the green light for its first two half-hour comedy pilots in more than a decade, including Michael Feldman’s Paging Dr. Freed. Four months later, Paging Dr. Freed is hanging by a thread as it still doesn’t have a closed license fee deal between USA and the project’s producer Fox 21. Negotiations between networks and studios are always contentious but they are particularly difficult between vertically-integrated companies owned by different congloms. That is the case with Paging Dr. Freed, which involves NBCUniversal’s USA and Fox21, a division of Fox’s 20th Century Fox TV, which haven’t done business together before. Complicating things is the fact that USA has to create a deal template as it enters a new genre, half-hour comedy. I hear that the sticking point in the negotiations has been the issue of SVOD (subscription VOD) rights, involving subscription streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. Given the fact that comedy series have very little value internationally and a domestic syndication windfall for a basic cable comedy series is a very long shot, 20th TV has been trying to retain SVOD rights so it could sell the series for streaming to offset some of its sizable deficit financing costs. But such a scenario has been met with resistance by NBCU as it believes making an USA series available by a third-party online streaming service would diminish the series’ repeatability on USA. The idea also is getting disapproval by USA affiliates — cable and satellite providers — who claim the move would make it harder for them to ask subscribers to pay for programming that is available elsewhere. After working hard to reach a compromise, I hear that the two sides are now at impasse. But instead of pulling the plug, I hear USA is tabling the issue for a month or so before taking one more stab at resolving it. The decision is tied to the current timing. When Paging Dr. Freed was greenlighted in September, the goal was to cast it way ahead of the broadcast pilot season. But the delay in the deal-making has moved the process to smack in the middle of the traditional pilot season when it would have to compete with some 40-50 broadcast comedy pilots. USA’s other half-hour comedy pilot, the untitled Nathan Lane project, which is produced by USA’s sibling studio Universal Cable Prods., was cast in the fall as scheduled. Paging Dr. Freed centers on two brothers who take over the reins of their father’s medical practice after his untimely death. Michael Feldman (That’s so Raven) wrote the script and is executive producing, with Katy McCaffrey and Brad Johnson serving as producers.
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