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:

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

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:]

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!


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