EXCLUSIVE: The Office writer-producer Justin Spitzer has signed a two-year overall deal with the studio behind the NBC comedy, Universal Media Studios. Under the seven-figure deal, Spitzer’s first, he will continue on The Office while also …
After months of speculation, veteran CBS/CBS TV Studios executive Bela Bajaria has closed a deal to join NBC chairman Bob Greenblatt’s new executive team as EVP of Universal Media Studios. She will run NBC’s production arm, accelerating its re-establishment as a stand-alone entity after it was folded into the NBC network three years ago. Bajaria will take up her post in mid-August, reporting to Greenblatt. “I am delighted that we have lured an executive of Bela’s breadth and experience to run UMS with me,” Greenblatt said. “I worked with her in several capacities — most notably, she was my network executive when I produced the Elvis miniseries for CBS — and I’ve always admired her creative instincts, her unbridled enthusiasm, and her skills as both a buyer and a seller. She is the breath of fresh air we need as we start to reorganize UMS into a studio that will continue to produce series for NBC as well as the other networks.” Bajaria is the second CBS/Showtime executive to join Greenblatt at NBC since his no-poaching clause following his July 2010 exit from Showtime expired. Last week, longtime Showtime PR chief Richard Licata took over the same post at NBC.
Since NBC Universal’s TV studio Universal Media Studios spun off Universal Cable Prods in 2008, the mothership studio had been developing and producing pilots and series for NBC and occasionally for other broadcast networks, while UCP had been supplying affiliated USA Network and Syfy and, starting last year, other cable networks. But things started to change over the past few months. Like a starfish that regenerates into two whole sea stars when cut in half, UMS and UCP are each becoming a full-service TV studio supplying both broadcast and cable networks and could potentially compete with each other.
This spring, two drama projects developed by UMS that didn’t get pilot orders by NBC were taken out to cable networks by producers and agents with the studio’s permission. Both shows — a medical drama from writer Amy Holden Jones and the BermanBraun-produced 1-800-Autopsy, from writers Adam Armus & Kay Foster (Heroes) and based on a real-life guy who performs private autopsies — landed at Lifetime. But instead of handing them over to UCP, UMS kept the two dramas and plans to produce them if they go to pilot and series. “We are in the process of rebuilding the studio, and the strategy is to beef up studio operations,” one insider said. “We made projects we think we can produce for Lifetime at a good price and would have asset value for us as a third-party producer.” As an indication of the growing stature of UMS, which new NBC chairman Bob Greenblatt referred to as “our re-emerging studio” in announcing the three-year pod deal with Peter Traugott this morning, UMS is expected to get its own topper for the first time since Katherine Pope exited as part of a December 2008 executive shakeup. UMS is not at a stage of actively selling to third parties and will not seek out writers who develop specifically for cable. But if there are opportunistic projects in-house that would be right for cable and UMS can produce them in a way that would allow it to recoup its investment, the studio plans to go for it as long as the projects are first shopped to sibling networks USA and Syfy. That was done with the two medical dramas that ultimately went to Lifetime.
Had this expansion been in place two years ago, Doug Liman and Dave Bartis’ Hypnotic may have stayed at UMS, where the company had been based for five years. Back then, a couple of Hypnotic’s projects got a pass at NBC. Liman and Bartis walked the street and set them up at USA and soon moved their company from UMS to UCP. One of those projects became the USA series Covert Affairs, which just started its second season. Another Hypnotic project originally developed for NBC was I Just Want My Pants Back, which recently went to series at MTV with UCP producing, the studio’s first series for a non-NBCU network. UCP, which also has a pilot starring Carrie-Anne Moss in contention at Lifetime, has its sights on broadcast next as it is looking to become a full-service studio producing for all cable and broadcast networks. “Our original focus is on cable,” UPC co-head and USA co-president Jeff Wachtel said. “But with our expanded roster — including Hypnotic, Steve Franks, Jack Kenny, Michael Rauch, Andrew Lenchewski — we want to take shows where they have the best chance to succeed.”
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.
After lengthy negotiations, NBC has closed a deal for Jamie Foxx’s drama project Tommy’s Little Girl based on the trailer Foxx shot with Selma Blair, Paul Sorvino, Tony Sirico and James Russo. The network also has picked up Life Is Good, a comedy from Unhitched creators Chris Pappas and Mike Bernier and Hangover 2 writer Scot Armstrong. Based on Foxx’s idea, Girl is described as Le Femme Nikita meets The Sopranos and centers on a young girl (Blair) raised in a mafia family who is hidden away in an orphanage after her family is murdered by a competing mafia crime boss. She grows up to become an attorney by day, and a deadly, well trained killer by night, as she avenges her family’s murder and attempts to locate her last living relative. Jorge Zamacona has been tapped to write the script and executive produce.
I hear start of production on NBC’s new Law & Order spinoff Law & Order: Los Angeles has been pushed by a week and a half to give producers from UMS and Wolf Films more time to cast the project. The …
EXCLUSIVE: I hear Worst Week star Kyle Bornheimer is set to star in NBC’s new comedy series Perfect Couples. He is replacing Kyle Howard, who was cast in the pilot in second position to the TBS comedy series My Boys. Potential scheduling conflict in case the TBS show, whose new season premieres later this month, is renewed, prompted NBC to recast the role. The in-demand Bornheimer himself was cast in a pilot in second position earlier this year.