ABC Studios and ABC have inked a third consecutive deal with director-producer Michael Fresco for him to direct and executive produce a pilot next year. Fresco just completed ABC/ABC Studios’ Jeff Lowell pilot and previously has helmed the pilots for Fox’s Raising Hope and ABC’s Better …
Blurring The Lines On Vertical Integration: Network-Affiliated Studios Aggressive In Selling To Other Broadcast Networks
On Friday, ABC Studios closed a put pilot commitment deal at CBS for Gorgeous Morons, a multi-camera comedy from Lee Eisenberg, Gene Stupnitsky and Danny Chun, which the studio only shopped to outside networks. That was ABC Studios’ first major comedy commitment at a non-Disney network in many years as the studio is pushing a mandate to produce for all networks. (The studio has some tradition on the drama side with such series as Criminal Minds and the upcoming Intelligence, both on CBS.) Now CBS TV Studios, which had been focused entirely on its sibling broadcast networks CBS and CW, made it known this summer that it too will start selling to other broadcast networks. (The studio already has been developing for cable and has TNT series King & Maxwell.) In one of its first sales to a broadcast rival, CBS Studios has set up an untitled sisters comedy project from Danielle Sanchez-Witzel at ABC. The project, which stems from Sanchez-Witzel’s studio overall deal, centers on a woman with a messy life who moves in with her younger sister. It is one of several projects CBS Studios has at ABC and Fox.
EXCLUSIVE: Michael McDonald, SVP of Drama Development at ABC Studios, has launched his own production company, Stearns Castle, which will be based at the studio. He will be succeeded in running ABC Studios’ drama department by VP drama development Nne Ebong, who is being elevated to SVP, reporting to ABC Studios EVP Patrick Moran. The changeover follows the recent executive restructuring at ABC and ABC Studios by ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee, which included Moran taking the full reins of ABC Studios and EVP Barry Jossen segueing to a producing pact with the studio, ABC head of drama Channing Dungey adding movies and miniseries to her purview and the network’s head of comedy Samie Falvey also taking on international scripted development.
McDonald has been at ABC Studios for nine years, the last two heading the drama department. He had been looking to start a production company for awhile, finally getting a green light by ABC and ABC Studios’ new regime. He will develop both comedy and drama series for network, cable and alternate platforms. Additionally, he will creatively consult on various ABC shows. “After 9 amazing years as an executive at ABC Studios, I am finally able to return to my roots as a producer and fulfill the dream of starting my own television company,” McDonald said. “When I first got to Hollywood, I would sit on my stoop on Stearns Drive and talk and dream about this day. It’s finally here. And to do it with the support of Paul, Patrick, and Channing I couldn’t ask for more.“
Barry Jossen, exec vp at ABC Studios, the guy who ran day-to-day operations at ABCS, is “returning to his career as an award-winning producer with a production deal with ABC Studios,” ABC said today. That wasn’t ABC’s headline: The headline was that ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee is promoting Channing Dungey, Samie Falvey and Patrick Moran, each to EVP. Moran, who had been SVP Drama Development, now will run ABC Studios, with all creative and production operations will report to him. He’s taking Jossen’s place. Jossen had this to say: “During the course of the past year, I have given a lot of thought about what I want to do next due to television’s changing landscape. For me, it seemed best to get out of the day-to-day operational work of overseeing ABC Studios. I plan to return to producing and am considering a number of other opportunities that have come my way. I love my colleagues at ABC Studios and have been quietly preparing them for success as they transition into their new positions.” Dungey, who was SVP Drama Development, adds movies and miniseries to her purview. Falvey, formerly SVP Comedy Development, adds international scripted development to her comedy responsibilities. Read ABC’s statement after the jump:
EXCLUSIVE: Writer-producers Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky have signed a new two-year overall deal with ABC Studios. The Office alums serve as executive producers/showrunners on two new comedy series sold under their previous deal with the studio, Trophy Wife at ABC and Hello Ladies at HBO. Additionally, Eisenberg and Stupnitsky, who wrote the 2011 feature Bad Teacher, executive produced Sony TV’s comedy pilot adaptation, which nears a midseason series order at CBS. “Lee and Gene are hugely prolific and quite possibly the hardest working comedy writers out there today,” said ABC Studios SVP Development Patrick Moran. “We are thrilled to have them attached to our new comedy Trophy Wife.”
Over the last two years, Eisenberg and Stupnitsky developed projects at ABC, FX, HBO and Comedy Central through their Quantity Entertainment. Emily Brecht, who has been with the company since 2011, is being promoted to Director of Development and will oversee day-to-day operations. She previously worked at the Department of Defense. “As a policy, we always look to hire employees who are smarter than us,” Eisenberg and Stupnitsky said. “That said, we look forward to Quantity’s next chapter as Emily becomes a principal partner and eventually ousts us.”
Despite improving its ratings in the second half of its recent midseason run and getting good marks creatively, crime drama Body Of Proof couldn’t avoid the retool curse, getting a pass from ABC on Friday after three seasons, the latest series to get cancelled after being reworked. But the show is not as cold as the corpses on Megan Hunt’s (Dana Delany) table yet. I’ve learned that producer ABC Studios is actively shopping the drama series. In addition to the usual suspects for such a character-driven procedural with a strong lead — TNT and USA Network — I hear also in the mix is Tribune’s WGN America, which is in building mode, looking to join the ranks of cable networks offering original programming. With its average of 11 million viewers and 2.0/6 in 18-49 this season, Body Of Proof would bring a sizable audience to a cable network. (It ranked as the third-most-watched ABC drama this season, behind only Dancing With The Stars-buoyed Castle and flagship Grey’s Anatomy). The prospect of WGN America is particularly intriguing as the network only signaled its intention to get in the original scripted game in March, and acquiring an existing show is the fastest way of doing that. On the superstation, Body Of Proof would fit with the current off-network drama offerings, all crime procedurals, particularly the only contemporary hourlong series Bones.
EXCLUSIVE: Criminal Minds executive producer/showrunner Erica Messer has closed a new two-year overall deal with ABC Studios. Under the pact, she is set to continue as showrunner on the studio’s veteran crime drama. Locking in Messer has been considered key to Criminal Minds‘ renewal. CBS did not pick up the show for another season along with its other series because of too many uncertainties as Messer and key cast members Thomas Gibson, Joe Mantegna, Shemar Moore, Kirsten Vangsness and A.J. Cook all had no deals beyond this season. ABC Studios and CBS are yet to lock in the actors, but Messer’s deal is expected to help the process. I hear besides money, a major holdup in the actors’ negotiations had been the fact that it was unclear who would run the show next season. Messer is very well liked among the cast and crew of Criminal Minds, so her coming back would likely help the actors commit. Of course, the studio and network also have to bridge the salary gaps between what the actors ask for and what they offer, by most accounts nominal raises.
Less than two weeks before CBS’ upfront presentation, I hear there has been little movement on the money issue, leading to speculation that CBS may come out with a best and final offer. The actors don’t negotiate together, so it is conceivable that CBS renews the show with some of the cast signed and continues negotiations with the others after the upfront. That happened two years ago when Gibson and Moore’s contracts were up. Moore closed before the upfronts, while Gibson’s deal didn’t close until late June. And if CBS, which is footing the bill on the show, decides to play hardball and not renew Criminal Minds if agreements with actors could not be reached, the series could potentially move to ABC, whose sibling ABC Studios is reaping the financial benefits of the show’s lucrative off-network deal and strong sales around the world — the way CBS took in NBC’s Medium several years ago. Most insiders stress such a nuclear option is extremely unlikely, and CBS will find a way to bring Criminal Minds for a ninth season.