House alum Omar Epps, Kurtwood Smith and youngster Landon Gimenez round out the cast of ABC drama pilot The Returned, from Brillstein Entertainment, Brad Pitt’s Plan B and ABC Studios. The three are set for lead roles in the project, written by Aaron Zelman and directed by Charles McDougall. It chronicles how the lives of the people in Arcadia are forever changed when their deceased loved ones return. WME-repped Epps plays Martin Bellamy, an agent with the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Smith plays Harold (Smith) whose dead son Jacob (Gimenez) is among the returned.
EXCLUSIVE: I hear that House co-stars Robert Sean Leonard and Omar Epps have closed deals to return for the series’ upcoming eighth (and likely final) season, which is inches away from reality as a renewal agreement between Fox and House producer Universal Media Studios is being finalized tonight. Leonard, Epps and Lisa Edelstein are the three original cast members whose current deals expire at the end of this season. Edelstein’s deal is still not done, with the process delayed by the fact that she has been overseas. However, she is expected to close. Star Hugh Laurie has one more year on his three-year contract, and newer cast members, such as Olivia Wilde, also have more time on their deals.
With the Bones pickup out of the way, attention focuses on the other Fox drama embroiled in a renewal drama, House. After a string of deadlines came and went, including one last Friday and another one this Monday, there is still no deal but I hear the hope is to wrap the renewal up by early next week when Fox brass will start piecing together the network’s schedule for next season. It won’t be an easy task as Fox and House producer Universal Media Studios are still apart on the license fee by about 20%. That’s by how much I hear Fox wants to cut the series’ current license fee to about $5 million per episode next season. At this point in a series’ run (House will be entering its 8th season in the fall), the network license fee normally covers the cost of production. But I hear UMS cannot produce House in its current form for $5 million an episode, so it has been unwilling to accept a reduced license fee as it faces the possibility to have to deficit finance a show in its eighth season, something studios rarely do. But then, House is not a typical show as it is estimated to gross some $1 billion for its run from Fox license fees, off-network syndication and international sales as well as auxiliary markets. The network is not budging either, and it got fresh ammunition this week when House hit a new season low with a 2.9/8 in adults 18-49. “Both sides have drawn hard lines and are sticking to them,” one person close to the situation said. “Middle ground is incredibly small, it is a very tiny dot.”
To help bridge the gap, UMS has been crunching numbers as it tries to reduce the budget of the show for next season so it gets closer to the $5 million per-episode license fee offered by Fox. The focus has been on cutting above-the-line costs, including cast compensation. The studio is negotiating with House co-stars Robert Sean Leonard, Omar Epps and Lisa Edelstein, whose deals are up at the end of this season. I hear all three, who are at about $175,000 an episode, have been asked to agree to both doing fewer episodes next season (from 24 to 18 is a scenario I hear) and getting a salary reduction.