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.
EXCLUSIVE: Despite crossing over to features in a big way recently, Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol co-writers Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec are also staying in touch with their TV roots through a pod deal at 20th Century Fox TV’s cable and reality division Fox21. Under the one-year pact, the two will write, supervise and produce projects targeted for cable. Fox21 president Bert Salke, who took the reins of the division exactly a year ago, said that the deal is indicative of his talent strategy. “We’re going to change the types of people we work with and the types of deals we make,” he said. That would often mean writers like Appelbaum and Nemec “that any network would want.” As for Fox21′s deals themselves, while they understandably pay less than network pacts, they are also far less restrictive than the exclusive broadcast deals. “I think that will be the future,” Salke said. For instance, Appelbaum and Nemec’s deal is exclusive in cable, but the two are free to shop broadcast projects on their own. And cable’s year-round development model allows writers who are busy in features like Appelbaum and Nemec the flexibility to pitch whenever they have time. Additionally, “the lines between broadcast and cable are really blurred now,” Salke said, pointing to 20th TV-based producer Ryan Murphy who has both a broadcast series, Fox’s Glee, and a cable one, FX’s upcoming American Horror Story. At Fox21, which produces FX’s Sons of Anarchy, A&E’s Breakout Kings and Showtime’s upcoming Homeland, Salke said he is in a roster-building mode, signing “tons of writer deals.”
In its first major development decision since taking the programming reins at Showtime as entertainment president, David Nevins is close to greenlighting his first pilot, a psychological thriller, from former 24 executive producer/showrunner Howard Gordon. Ben Affleck, hot off the No.1 opening of his crime caper The Town, is circling to direct. He has read the script and is very interested contingent on availability. If dates could be worked out, this would mark Affleck’s TV directorial debut.
EXCLUSIVE: Veteran TV producer Bert Salke has been tapped as president of Fox21, the cable/unscripted production arm of 20th Century Fox TV. He replaces Chris Carlisle who is exiting after a year-and-a-half stint. Salke, who is expected to start in mid-August, will report to 20th TV chairmen Dana Walden and Gary Newman.
For the past 13 years, Salke had been partnered with producer Chris Brancato in Brancato/Salke. The company was based at 20th TV from 2003-2005 before moving to ABC Studios (then Touchstone TV) where the two had been based until their most recent deal expired in mid-June. But Salke started off as an executive before segueing to producing, holding gigs at Twentieth Century Fox under Scott Rudin and at Lorimar and FBC under Peter Chernin. Because of that background, Salke had been approached for executive jobs before but said “the right one never came along” until he was asked to run Fox21.
Newman and Walden launched Fox21 in 2004 as a division for alternative and lower-cost scripted series. “I think it’s a different world today than when it was created,” Salke said. “They are now a prime supplier of prime cable programming but I think the company has not reached its potential, and there are branding questions. We’re going to aim high for event-type attention-grabbing programming.” The model would be parent studio 20th TV, which has shows like Glee and Modern Family, he said. Salke said happy with the 3 series on Fox21’s current slate, Sons of Anarchy, his favorite series on TV, and the …
There is no deal yet, but A&E is in final negotiations with 20th Century Fox TV to pick up the Fox pilot Breakout Kings to series with a 13-episode order. The show, about a team of U.S. marshals and a group of convicts who race against the clock to apprehend escaped prisoners, will now be produced by 20th TV’s cable division Fox21, along with Chernin Entertainment, which co-produced the pilot for Fox with 20th TV. Of the pilot’s original cast, Laz Alonso, Domenick Lombardozzi, Malcolm Goodwin, Jimmi Simpson, Brooke Nevin and Nicole Steinwedell, all will continue on the series with the exception of Steinwedell, whose role will be recast. Production on Breakout Kings is slated to start in the fall in Toronto for a 2011 premiere on A&E. At the cable network, the project was championed by president Bob DeBitetto who came to Los Angeles last week to work on the deal with executives from 20th TV and Chernin Entertainment.
The pilot for Breakout Kings, written by Matt Olmstead and Nick Santora and directed by Gavin Hood, beat the odds by finding life after being passed on by a broadcast network, a feat many busted pilots aspire to but rare few actually accomplish. However, Breakout Kings wasn’t your average pilot. It was a sentimental favorite of many industry insiders this development season and became a hot commodity after a great early studio testing. It was one of Fox’s top …