The last top player from the Jeff Zucker regime at NBC is gone. Marc Graboff, a 11-year NBC veteran, will be leaving the network. NBC chairman Bob Greenblatt broke the news to his staff in an email (below). The likable …
MIPCOM Briefs: ITV Sells NBC’s ‘Prime Suspect’ To 30 Territories; Overseas Buyers Get ‘Happily Divorced’
The international TV market got underway in Cannes this morning with a flurry of announcements. Here are a few titbits:
– ITV Studios Global Entertainment, the TV distribution arm of the Brit broadcaster, has sold the new NBC version of Prime Suspect to over 30 territories worldwide. This is despite the show teetering on the verge of cancellation in the U.S. ITV, which co-produced the remake with Universal Media Studios, has licensed the Maria Bello vehicle to broadcasters including Nine (Australia), TVNZ (New Zealand) and TV3 (Ireland). Prime Suspect drew an underwhelming 1.5 18-49 rating in its second week on NBC. My colleague Nellie Andreeva reports that NBC’s chief Bob Greenblatt is willing to give the struggling show, which got mostly positive reviews, a bit more time.
– Meanwhile Shine International, the TV distribution arm of News Corp’s Shine Group, has licensed more than 200 hours of programming to Discovery Networks Latin America/US Hispanic. It’s the biggest commission Shine has brokered with DLA/USH to date, and includes cooking competition show MasterChef, game show The Biggest Loser, and unscripted format One Born Every Minute.
EXCLUSIVE: NBC’s sibling Universal Media Studios has assembled a new top executive team under EVP Bela Bajaria, who took the reins of the studio last month. Additionally, UMS is changing its name to Universal Television, reverting to the moniker held by Universal’s TV production company, known for such series as the Law & Order franchise, prior to its 2004 merger with NBC Studios.
Bajaria’s new team includes Russell Rothberg, formerly SVP Drama Programming, NBC and UMS, who has been named head of the studio’s drama department as SVP Universal Television. Joining him in the drama area will be Erin Underhill, formerly SVP Current Programming, NBC and UMS, who now becomes SVP Universal Television, reporting to Rothberg. Additionally, former WB head of comedy Tracey Pakosta comes to Universal Television to lead the comedy department as SVP Comedy. And Showtime veteran Beth Klein, who left the pay cable network in April after 23 years, has been named SVP Casting, Universal Television. An additional comedy executive will be announced shortly.
EXCLUSIVE: After successfully adapting British workplace comedy The Office for NBC, Greg Daniels is taking on another half-hour British format for the network, this time a family comedy. I hear that NBC has put in development a U.S. version of the UK series Friday Night Dinner with Daniels at the helm. It is unclear whether Daniels will write, co-write or supervise the writing of the adaptation for UMS. Created by Robert Popper, Friday Night Dinner, which debuted on Channel 4 in February, centers on the Goodmans, a traditional but not strictly observant Jewish family, and chronicles their Shabbat dinners. Every Friday night, brothers Adam and Jonny reluctantly visit their parents — mom Jackie, who is obsessed with Masterchef, and dad Martin, who loves to walk around shirtless — for a home-cooked meal. Adding to the gallery of oddball characters is a grandmother who struts her stuff in a bikini and eccentric neighbor Jim who constantly interrupts dinner. Friday Night Dinner, which has been renewed by Channel 4 for a second season, airs in the U.S. on BBC America. The show hails from Big Talk Prods, the UK production company also behind another Channel 4 comedy series that is being remade by NBC, Free Agents. NBC’s version, starring Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn, was picked up to series and launches this fall.
EXCLUSIVE: Israeli formats continue to be a hot commodity. In a competitive situation, NBC has landed the rights to Israeli mystery drama Timrot Ashan, aka Pillars of Smoke, for Peter Traugott’s recently launched UMS-based production company to produce. Search is already underway for a writer to adapt the series created by Noah Stollman and Oded Davidoff, which is often referred to as Israel’s Lost. Described as Twin Peaks meets Northern Exposure meets Lost, the original Pillars of Smoke is an offbeat mystery series set in Israel’s remote, rural Golan Heights. When the members of a remote cult disappear leaving no traces behind, a police investigation slowly uncovers the darkest secrets of the region and its inhabitants, as well as a grander political conspiracy and environmental disaster from which the cult members are attempting to escape. Traugott will executive produce the NBC version with his development executive Rachel Kaplan. Also executive producing is Alon Aranya. Timrot Ashan, produced by Herzlia Studios, premiered in 2009 on Israeli’s Hot TV network, with a second season slated for this year.
Former Showtime executive Danielle Gelber has joined Dick Wolf’s Universal Media Studios-based Wolf Films as an executive producer and EVP. She will work closely with Wolf and Wolf Films president Peter Jankowski on all scripted development for the company. Gelber replaces Nena Rodrigue, who oversaw Wolf Films’ development for the past eight years. There had been a lot of speculation about Gelber’s next gig following her departure from Showtime at the end of last year, with her name mentioned for several network and studio positions over the past few months. Gelber’s new job at Wolf Films reunites her with NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt, who oversees UMS. Gelber had worked under Greenblatt at both Showtime and Fox.
Wolf said that he has been “a huge fan” of Gelber “since she, Bob, and I worked together on New York Undercover on Fox in the mid 1990’s.” “I look forward to her taste, intelligence and knowledge of the writing community energizing our development,” he said. Added Greenblatt, “Having worked closely with her for years at both FBC and Showtime, I don’t have higher esteem for many television executives in this business.”
Jason Ritter has signed a development deal with Universal Media Studios to star in a new hourlong drama series from Parenthood and Friday Night Lights exec producer Jason Katims. Our sister site TVLine broke the news today. That means …
EXCLUSIVE: Emmy-winning directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo have signed a two-year exclusive development deal with Universal Media Studios. The two will relocate to UMS from Sony Pictures TV, where they were under overall deals for the past four years. It will be a pretty seamless transition as the Sony TV-produced comedy Community, on which the Russo brothers directed the pilot and serve as directors/executive producers, airs on NBC. Under their pact with UMS, the two will remain executive producers on the underrated single-camera comedy, which is starting to get recognition, recently landing best comedy series nominations from the Television Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. “Our new deal with the Russo brothers shows that NBC is looking for creative producers who are both successful and not afraid to take chances,” NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt said. “Their unique vision and ingenuity should result in some very edgy content that will capture everyone’s attention.”
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.”
In Universal Media Studios’ first major pod deal under new NBC chairman Bob Greenblatt, the studio has signed a three-year overall pact with former Brillstein Entertainment Partners President of Television Peter Traugott. The agreement had been in the works for the past couple of weeks. Traugott will develop and produce scripted comedy and drama series for NBC and other networks through a newly launched production company. Joining him in the new company will be another senor BEP TV executive, EVP Rachel Kaplan. I hear Traugott, who worked with Greenblatt at Fox years ago, was the first producer Greenblatt and his new top lieutenant Jennifer Nicholson Salke approached about joining the studio. “Peter is a widely respected and successful executive and producer with a savvy instinct for exceptional television,” said Greenblatt. “I’m thrilled that he wanted to join our re-emerging studio at NBC.”
Traugott called leaving Brillstein “a very tough decision.” “I’ve been here 15 years and they have become like a second family to me,” he said. “But the chance to work with Bob and his team at NBC, and be a part of what they’re building, was too good an opportunity to pass up.” Brillstein just signed a new two-year deal with ABC Studios and tapped JoAnn Alfano as the company’s new President of Television.
EXCLUSIVE: While the fate of the on-screen boss on NBC’s flagship comedy series The Office is still in limbo, the near future of show’s behind-the-scenes boss is set: The Office showrunner/executive producer Paul Lieberstein has signed a three-year overall deal with series producer NBC Universal Studios. Under the pact, Lieberstein will continue to run the comedy, working closely with The Office developer/executive producer Greg Daniels. Later in the life of the deal, Lieberstein’s first overall, he is expected to develop new projects. But for the time being, he will be focused entirely on The Office, which is undergoing a major transition following the recent departure of original star Steve Carell. “This show has changed my life,” Lieberstien said. “As a writer I’ve never felt so creatively fulfilled, I really feel like I’m writing exactly what I’ve wanted to write in terms of exploring everyday life. And it made me an actor, which I never suspected I’d do.”
Lieberstein, who plays Human Resources Director Toby Flenderson on The Office, became an accidental actor as part of an experiment by Daniels, who felt that the writers on the show would do a better job writing for the cast if they themselves experienced what it is like to be an actor with bit guest parts on the show. Lieberstein appeared in the second episode in a stint that was never meant to go further. But when then-NBC Entertainment president Kevin Reilly saw dailies from the episode, “he thought I was funny and wanted more of me,” Lieberstein said.
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.
EXCLUSIVE: After a two-year run as an independent producer, Steve Stark has signed an overall deal with Universal Media Studios. He is already in business with the studio on the freshman UMS drama series for NBC The Event, which he brought to the network and is now executive producing. He also has a long-standing relation with NBC through the Grammnet/CBS Studios-produced Medium, on which he serves as an executive producer. The supernatural crime drama started off on NBC where it aired for 5 seasons before moving to CBS. Additionally, Stark is executive producing the upcoming USA light legal drama Fairly Legal.