The Negotiations Continue Further: Wolf Speaks More Candidly To The NY Times Than To The Trade Variety

This is from my “I told you so” department…I find it interesting that NBC is being really candid with Variety *and* the New York Times while Wolf is reserving his juicy stuff for the Times only. Thanks to a heads up from my best friend, I can now add this article to the weird ‘negotiation posturing in the press’ file for your perusal. Given that Wolf has the green light for a new series based on the book “The Brotherhoods: The True Story of Two Cops Who Murdered for the Mafia,” by Guy Lawson and William Oldham, a cops and mafia story that will run on NBC next season and may or may not be shoved into the Law & Order brand (the full story is at http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117963289.html?categoryid=14&cs=1) to me things look just that much bleaker for CI.

Oh and I think my friend has called it beautifully when he says of Wolf in the email alerting me to the Times article that Wolf’s a “whiny egotistical sod”.

Here’s the NY Times article in question (original link at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/19/arts/television/19law.html?_r=2&ref=television&oref=slogin&oref=slogin Be sure to accept all the idiotic cookies the NY Times makes you take to read their stuff)

Crime Shows’ Last Verdict? These Are Their Stories
By BILL CARTER
Published: April 19, 2007

The future of “Law & Order,” one the most enduringly popular shows in television history, will be decided over the next few weeks as its network, NBC, and its creator, Dick Wolf, mull a wrenching decision:

Is it finally time to shut down production of a series that has churned out almost 400 episodes, fueled ratings for several cable channels with its voluminous repeats and spawned two successful spinoffs, all the while generating enormous profits for both NBC and Mr. Wolf?

The answer will come in the negotiations now going on between Mr. Wolf and NBC Universal, the corporate entity that includes the studio that produces the series. The talks involve not just the 17-year-old “Law & Order” but also its most recent offspring, “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” now in its sixth season.

At least according to NBC executives, it’s possible that either or both “Law & Order” and “Criminal Intent” will be canceled.

Cancellation of the venerable original would mean the end of a dream that Mr. Wolf has pursued openly for several years: that his series would top the pre-cable “Gunsmoke” as the longest-running entertainment series in prime-time history.

That CBS western ran for 20 seasons; “Law & Order” is now three years short of that mark. At one time it seemed possible that the crime series would finally gun down Marshal Matt Dillon. Now with even one more season in doubt, the dream may be fading.

Not to Mr. Wolf, however, whose success as a producer has always been matched only by his fierce loyalty to his shows. “Of course I want ‘L&O’ to reach 21 years,” Mr. Wolf said in a telephone interview. “How could you get this close and not want that to happen?”

Both sides easily concede the central issue in the negotiations: money. With ratings for both “Law & Order” and “Criminal Intent” having faded (the third of the franchise, “Special Victims Unit,” remains a hit and has already been renewed for another season), NBC argues that the shows are not financially viable anymore, at least at their present costs.

NBC concedes that “Law & Order” still generates more than $40 million in profits every year from sales of its episodes to the cable channel TNT and to international networks, but it argues that those profits are wiped out by the costs of the show.

Mr. Wolf was able to negotiate one of television’s richest producer deals ever in 2004, when NBC completed his contract just before it closed its deal to acquire the Universal studio that produced his shows.

Mr. Wolf does not dispute that the shows are costly. He said he was considering ways to lower costs, especially on the original “Law & Order,” perhaps by replacing some current cast members. “Creative people come up with creative solutions,” he said.

But NBC doesn’t believe any change in weekly production costs alone will resolve the financial dilemma.

Mr. Wolf said the the possible cancellations are both unfair and short-sighted. He said it was unfair because NBC moved the original “Law & Order” out of its longtime home on Wednesday nights at 10 and exiled it to a desert location Fridays at 10. He said he noticed that the shows NBC tried to replace “Law & Order” with on Wednesdays — “Heist” and “Kidnapped” — collapsed quickly.

The cancellation talk is short-sighted, he argued, because the television business is in economic upheaval, with no one understanding how the switch to running shows on multiple platforms on the Internet, instead of saving the reruns for future use — so-called back-end profits — will pay off.

Of the move toward Web-based replays of shows, Mr. Wolf said: “There is absolutely no back end. I don’t know where the money is.” He added, “There are very few ways to open new revenue streams.”

But he pointed to a new revenue stream he himself has opened recently. Mr. Wolf has begun selling the format rights to both “SVU” and “Criminal Intent” to international production companies. In Russia, for example, “SVU” and “Criminal Intent” have become top-rated series, using almost word for word translations of the scripts of the American version. A French version of “Criminal Intent” is about to start in that country.

“The revenue is a trickle right now, but it could become a steady revenue stream,” Mr. Wolf said. He also questioned how NBC was going to get by without his shows given the problems the network has on many of its nights of prime time, not to mention the heavy dependence that NBC Universal continues to have on repeats of Mr. Wolf’s shows. These fill hours of time on both the USA and Bravo cable networks, both owned by NBC Universal, as well as almost every Saturday night on NBC.

But NBC’s concerns about the ratings performance of the shows seem to trump all those considerations. For one thing, the network’s research department notes that “Law & Order” has been losing about the same number of viewers every year over the last four, a drop-off that has not been especially exacerbated by the shift to Fridays.

Marc Graboff, president of NBC’s West Coast division, said that while NBC Universal still uses repeats of the shows widely, there is no reason it needs new episodes to continue to do so. “There are enough episodes in the bank” to fulfill the needs of the USA and Bravo channels, he said.

The bottom line for NBC Universal is that it owns the “Law & Order” shows, not Mr. Wolf, and the ultimate decision of what to do with the series rests with the company, not the producer. That does not take into account the long and fruitful relationship between NBC and Mr. Wolf, however, and that will surely come into play.

It already has, with Mr. Wolf saying he continues to talk on friendly terms with the top NBC Universal executives, Mr. Graboff and the company president, Jeff Zucker.

“Jeff and I speak all the time,” Mr. Wolf said. “Marc and I speak all the time. It’s a long-term Catholic marriage. There’s some stuff being thrown around in the kitchen, but everybody’s being rational.”

What Mr. Wolf most wants is a deal that will bring back all three of his series. “Jeff knows my aim is to keep the brand as healthy as it can possibly be,” Mr. Wolf said of Mr. Zucker. “To me the health of the brand is extended when all three shows are on the network.”

How likely is that to happen? Mr. Graboff seemed to indicate that the continuation of the threesome is a long shot, with either “Law & Order” or “Criminal Intent” seemingly headed for closure between now and early next month, before NBC announces its new fall lineup.

With “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” already on that lineup, Mr. Graboff said of the others, “I’m hopeful we’ll be able to make a deal to bring one of the two shows back on the air. ”

Advertisements

The Negotiations Continue: How To Read Between The Lines

Here’s the latest move in the publicity battle being fought between NBC and Dick Wolf from Variety. My comments are enclosed in [brackets]

Original article at: http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117963370.html?categoryid=14&cs=1

‘Law & Order’ fate hangs in air
It’s looking good for ‘Criminal’
By JOSEF ADALIAN

With less than a month to go before NBC unveils its new fall sked, the fates of “Law & Order” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” remain up in the air.
For some time now, there’s been increasing buzz surrounding the venerable Dick Wolf skeins, with industry insiders suggesting that cancellation of one or both is on the table (Daily Variety, March 13).

In recent days, the word in the agency community has been that NBC wants to bring back “Criminal Intent” but say farewell to the so-called Mothership. (“SVU” has already been renewed). [*If the ultimate decision is up to NBC* ‘Criminal Intent is sufficiently profitable both now and for the forseeable future while the mothership is not…but remember that there are always at least *two* sides to a negotiation, in this case NBC’s and Wolf’s]

But people familiar with the situation insist that no final call has been made and that negotiations between NBC Universal and Wolf Films continue. Money will be the deciding factor, they say. [It is interesting though that Variety is even covering the negotiations and that any commentary beyond ‘no comment’ is being made by either Wolf or NBC.]

Wolf has been aggressive in presenting NBC plans to make the original “L&O” as financially attractive as possible. He’s come up with proposed budget cuts that would save $11 million over the course of a season, or about $500,000 per episode. As always, cast changes could be in the works should “L&O” return (including the potential departure of Fred Thompson, said to be seriously mulling a run for president). [So Wolf is apparently making some concessions of a financial nature…the way I’ve been reading the situation, the Fred Thompson departure is really more up to Thompson given his recent bout with cancer and also the Republican party’s appeal to Thompson concerning his viability as a candidate for the presidency. Still while a $500,000 per episode cut in costs could make NBC’s costs better, it’s only a cut in the range of 16.67 – 25% if you figure each episode costs $2-3 million to make. And there’s no mention of the longevity bonus NBC still has to pay to Wolf (somewhere between $100,000 to $150,000 per episode) or how much NBC would still be on the hook to Wolf for for Season 1-4 episode cost overruns. If you’re NBC it must be frustrating to not be able to control the shows’ production costs directly, even if the shows have great ratings, which as I’ve discussed before are now only great in their subsequent airings on your sister networks.]

Those savings may not be enough for NBC U brass, who may try to get Wolf to make further financial concessions, perhaps by making changes to his deal with the company. That seems unlikely, however, given Wolf’s well-documented statements regarding the sanctity of contracts. [AHA! NBC wants to renegotiate its current contract with Wolf on the mothership. Terms that were probably fine when the mothership was a top 20 rated show have really got to be painful for NBC now. But Wolf is right that unless and until the term of a contract expires, he doesn’t have to renegotiate it. NBC is being punished by Wolf for its early lack of interest and faith in the success of the mothership, but what Wolf doesn’t realize is that he might punish himself by getting the mothership and or CI cancelled…that would hurt one of his streams of revenue for sure]

Making matters even more complicated is that, while the “Law” skeins may be slipping in the ratings, they remain a huge source of syndie coin for NBC U. All three have taken in more than $1 billion over their lives. [The question is how much longer will this remain true for NBC Universal and which of the shows have the highest future profit potential…NBC Universal is definitely betting that CI can deliver in the future in syndication, but the mothership’s ratings are already suffering on TNT…the mothership may need to be taken completely off the air and given a rest for a while before it sees ratings improvements again.]

NBC execs, however, are looking to seed new hits on the net’s schedule. If the Peacock’s new pilots turn out well — always a big if at any net — execs could argue that they’d rather use the money spent on “Law” skeins to take a gamble on something new. [Variety has been running articles on how NBC is definitely future focused and looking to try new things…there is a article that came out on 04/19/07 that basically says that NBC is looking to be constantly developing *new* shows. You can read it at:http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117963480.html?categoryid=14&cs=1]

Money aside, however, there’s plenty of room on the net’s sked for new fare, even if all three “Law”-branded skeins return. If the pilots don’t turn out well, NBC may end up wanting more proven fare on its bench, even at a lower rating.[This is true and a mild point in Wolf’s favor…it’s a “better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t know” argument. But those costs NBC has to shoulder for all of Wolf’s shows are hefty compared to trying out several different new shows to get one that works. Or NBC could reair a show like “Friday Night Lights” a few times a week to see which night it works best on and get it the ratings it deserves. Or NBC could always cancel a show like the mothership or CI midseason if the ratings (and thus their profitability) don’t improve.]

Despite the behind-the-scenes drama, both NBC and the Wolf camp remain outwardly optimistic.

“We’re in discussions with Dick to explore ways to bring back one or both shows,” an NBC rep said. [I read this as being that the ball is in Wolf’s court regarding negotiations for financial concessions…but the fact that they’re ‘explor[ing]’ suggests that SVU might be the only Wolf show to return next season.]

And Wolf’s take?

“My sincerest hope is that once again all three shows will be picked up by NBC and one of the most productive business relationships in the history of television will continue unabated,” he told Daily Variety. [I read this to sound as if CI may be saddled with the albatross of the mothership and that Wolf may very well be vain enough to sacrifice CI if NBC simply won’t renew the mothership. I know that Wolf has sacrificed actors who demand too much before…read up on how Chris Noth left the mothership if you don’t believe me. I could easily see Wolf sacrificing CI in a ‘both or nothing’ gambit. I don’t see Wolf giving up much more money though, much less the prospect of breaking the ‘Gunsmoke’ record, even though the quality of the mothership has been abysmal for *years* (hence its current abysmal ratings) and the quality of CI this season has seriously suffered thanks to financial ‘concessions’ made to NBC last year.]

Anyway as long as I get DVDs for Seasons 4-6 of CI, I’ll be a happy camper. And USA and Bravo already have my viewership, and if the timing is right, my local Fox station might see me tuning in next season for reruns. So I’ll cope just fine no matter what kind of negotiation idiocy Wolf and/or NBC practice. If only the ratings for CI weren’t so bad that another network would be willing to step up and take on CI (with the original if ‘expensive’ production team of Rene Balcer) But that isn’t going to happen…no other network would want to take on those hefty production costs and Balcer and the rest of the production team have moved on with their lives so I have pretty much resigned myself to CI’s mediocrity (especially if it continues).

We shall soon see…at least this behind the scenes drama has been interesting to watch…I wish I could say the same of the actual episodes of Season 6 of CI and the mothership from about Season 8 to today!