The Negotiations Get Even Weirder: Everybody’s Beginning To Put Their Two Cents In

Okay things here are getting interesting, controversial and frankly a little faster paced than I thought they would (sweeps don’t start until April 26th). So on with today’s news:

First I learned from Newsday.com that while SVU’s been pulling 12.2 million viewers for its new episodes, CI and the mothership are pulling just a little over 9 million viewers each. This means that if you’re a CI (or a mothership) fan and want to make a difference in how the renewal fight is going, you need to get everyone you know to watch for the next couple of weeks…and you might consider getting people you don’t know to watch too. Apparently 3 million viewers makes the difference between a surefire renewal on NBC and a cliffhanging show with an uncertain future. I don’t know what the magic number will be that makes NBC think it’s worth it…right now I don’t have time to do some mathematical analysis and make guesstimates on where I think NBC will draw the line…maybe I can get to that in another post.

From the ‘other parties heard from departments’, we have the following 2 Fox News stories/gossip items:

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,267803,00.html#2

“‘Law & Order’ Chaos
It’s chaos in the world of Dick Wolf and “Law & Order.”

Last year at this time, we told you NBC was going to cancel the series after 17 seasons and countless, ceaseless reruns in syndication. But our story did the trick, and the network relented.

Now NBC is sharpening its ax again, looking at both classic “L&O” and spin-off “Criminal Intent” as prime shows to cross off its schedule for next year.

Last week, Variety and other outlets noted this situation, but there was plenty they missed and some things they could not know. The latter included the newest dilemma at NBC about Alec Baldwin and “30 Rock.”

Will the peacock’s feathers withstand one of its stars calling his 11-year-old daughter a “rude, thoughtless pig”?

Meanwhile, NBC is still dealing with the quiet demise of “Studio 60 on Sunset Strip.” That hour must be filled next season.

And then there’s all the weird stuff going on in the Wolf’s den to keep the two shows on the air. “Law & Order: SVU” has already been renewed; it’s a bona-fide hit.

Already told she’s out at “Law & Order” is producer Jamie Crowell Blank. She was a controversial presence anyway based on a still unsettled sexual harassment brought by a former staffer.

Wolf is also telling insiders that if “Law & Order” is renewed, he’s dumping Jesse L. Martin and Milena Govich, who play the cops on the show.

Wolf is coming up with a plan to cut the show’s weekly budget in half, and replacing those actors with less expensive ones would be a way to do that, sources say.

But there’s another problem on “Law & Order”: S. Epatha Merkerson, the much-admired actress who has been with the show from the start, is unhappy.

Merkerson, who plays a desk-bound cop, has been complaining for years of not having enough airtime. Lately scripts have had her out on investigations, but Merkerson’s recent raft of awards and nominations for HBO’s “Lackawanna Blues” has emboldened her to make demands and to consider leaving the show altogether.”

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,268020,00.html#2

“I told you yesterday about the turmoil at Dick Wolf’s “Law & Order” shows on NBC. Here’s a little more.

Wolf, sources say, is in a huge-cost cutting move at the moment to keep classic “L&O” and “Criminal Intent” on the air.

For the former show, he has already fired a producer and is thinking of axing the actors who play the cops. He would replace them with younger, cheaper people.

For “Criminal Intent,” it’s a different story. There is talk that Wolf has suggested eliminating long time “L&O” player Chris Noth from “CI.” Noth came on in 2006 to alternate episodes with Vincent D’Onofrio. The latter actor had become very difficult and the company required a soothing change.

But D’Onofrio, they say, has calmed down. He is also less expensive than Noth, who is such a bona-fide star that he could easily carry his own show.

On top of that, Noth has already gone through one co-star, Annabella Sciorra. Now I’m told that Julianne Nicholson, who replaced Sciorra, is already not coming back, thanks to her pregnancy.

Here’s an interesting theory about why “CI” might survive while classic “L&O” might not. Apparently, “CI” is a hit in France, where the scripts are refilmed with French actors. The French production company pays a high fee for this.

“They don’t like the original ‘Law & Order’ because their judicial system doesn’t allow for the way the show is divided between the cops and lawyers,” an observer said. “‘CI’ is much easier for them to replicate.”
Stay tuned. …”

So Kitt and Kor of apocrypha, who are both long time L&O series fans and two people who are connected to their inner workings thanks to their zine apocrypha have done a little armchair analysis for me and ferreted out a little scoop of their own (one of these two also writes from time to time for an unnamed entertainment news source so I take this more seriously than the Fox News/gossip dude)

Apocrypha’s excellent analysis and some new information

“Putting the rumor mill into high gear
For those who might have missed some recent comments by VDOVault, an excellent commenter on these boards, here’s some more links about what’s going on behind the scenes at Law & Order/Criminal Intent:

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,268020,00.html#2
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,267803,00.html#2

In summary (or, word/aka Fox’s Roger Friedman) has it:

1) Should L&O survive being axed, the lead cops will be replaced with less-expensive ones.
2) Chris Noth is likely to be axed from “Criminal Intent.”
3) His partner, Julianne Nicholson is pregnant and already out.
4) One producer (Jamie Crowell Blank) at L&O is out.
5) S. Epatha Merkerson is unhappy with a lack of camera time and has made noise about it.

***********

Bear in mind, as we’ve said before, that this is a Fox gossip columnist (he’s very in, but he’s not always accurate — Merkerson hasn’t been with the show “from the start,” as he says) and he’s talking about an NBC show.

Sources close to apocrypha spoke with Merkerson recently and she indicated that people are concerned behind the scenes about what happens next, but didn’t voice anything about trying to grab more land for herself. Other sources indicated that Noth’s salary is the issue; perception at NBC is that he might be able to carry a show on his own.

And that’s what we know, at this point.”

Then thanks to the Aussies at The Age (who threw the fangurls into a tizzy with their ‘Vincent D’Onofrio’s leaving at the end of Season 6’ article back in March) comes this little gem:

The Age’s Interview with CI Showrunner Warren Leight and Speculation on CI’s Fate

Is it out of Order?
Andrew Murfett
April 26, 2007
Andrew Murfett reports on the decline of a US TV icon.

CALL it the end of an era. After a gradual ratings descent, Dick Wolf’s once indomitable television franchise Law & Order may be cancelled.

Of the three titles in the L&O stable, only SVU has been guaranteed survival. After 17 years on air, the venerable original and the six-season-old Criminal Intent both face cancellation.

In the US this year, CI has slid a troubling 14 per cent in the ratings. In Australia, it’s posting solid figures (949,000 viewers nationally on Thursday nights).

With his show facing the axe, CI producer and head writer Warren Leight put on a brave face in New York last week.

“We’re trying to wait it out,” he said. “It’s part of the television business; your fate is not usually in your own hands. It’s a question of money.”

With CI in its sixth season, the costs are much higher than a new series that has not absorbed six years of pay rises for cast and crew. CI’s fiscal predicaments stem from its high production costs, even though L&O remains a huge source of income for NBC. According to Variety, all three series have revenue of more than $1 billion. L&O re-runs play up to 20 times daily on four US cable networks. (They screen here daily on Foxtel).

CI began in 2001, based around the travails of the Major Case Squad and the brilliant but eccentric Detective Bobby Goren (played histrionically by Vincent D’Onofrio). After D’Onofrio suffered a mini-breakdown in the fourth season, Chris Noth joined the cast, recycling his old L&O character Logan. The two split episode duties to lighten D’Onofrio’s workload.

“It was off balance at times,” Leight says of the show’s propensity to overplay Goren. “It could be argued that we overused him and neglected the other actors.”

This year Leight initiated further changes to CI’s structure, cast and visual style. Originals Jamey Sheridan (Captain Deakins) and Courtney Vance (ADA Carver) left along with Annabella Sciorra (Detective Barek). Sheridan was frustrated that his character was not more engaged in the story. Vance’s exit was more pragmatic: budget pressures.

Sciorra was replaced by Julianne Nicholson, playing Detective Logan’s (Chris Noth) umpteenth partner, Wheeler.

“Noth was unhappy to have another new partner,” Leight says. “I told him we’d write to that; that he’d underestimate her, she’d grow on him, and eventually he’d realise she’s the best partner he’d had since Lenny. It worked out beautifully.”

There was also a desire to explore more of the personal lives of the detectives. Leight was receiving feedback suggesting viewers thought of Goren as “the man who knew too much”. With D’Onofrio having completed 110 episodes as Goren, Leight fleshed out his family’s story to help keep him engaged in the role.

After several years of alluding to her, Goren’s schizophrenic mother appeared. The scenes with his mother (also undergoing chemotherapy) were poignant and helped explain where Goren comes from. Goren also has a drug-addled brother and little else. This explains his obsessiveness for closure in cases; his own life always lacked closure.

Leight says the quirks that Goren is renowned for – stuttering and stammering, leaning over during interrogation, and demonstrating odd and obscure knowledge – evolved partly from D’Onofrio himself. “Vince engages psychologically with the script the same way Goren engages psychologically with the suspects,” Leight says.

The difference in Goren’s and Logan’s episodes are conspicuous. Goren episodes typically conclude with a last scene that runs up to 10 minutes and ends with the internal motivation of the killer unveiled through a Goren confrontation. “Chris Noth doesn’t care for that manner,” Leight laughs.

Instead, Noth’s Logan is experienced and intuitive and he works as more of a traditional, street-smart cop: who, what, when, where. Logan’s not interested in why they did it; he just wants to find out who did it.

Leight and his team have also attempted to visually reinforce the narrative this season. They began making more of the fact that all L&Os are shot on location in New York (unlike shows such as CSI:NY, which purports to be set in New York but is filmed on LA sound stages).

“We really wanted to get out and show the city,” Leight says. “There’s a real look to the city we should take advantage of.”

Meantime, CI faces cancellation after enjoying arguably its strongest season. This week, a cluster of agents, lawyers and producers are crunching numbers to decide the show’s fate.

Leight is defiantly proud of the work of his team. Still, if it returns next year, expect subtle changes. For example, the medical examiner, Rogers, an L&O tyro, will get an expanded role.

For his part, the Goren character has endured a harrowing year. How can he continue? “We’ll ask what does a man who has never gotten to live his life do when he gets the chance,” Leight says. “Nothing about Goren suggests he’s a quitter.”

Okay…my turn

First of all, there is a common theme here: Money. M-O-N-E-Y.

Newsday mentions ratings which equal income

Second Fox News and this reads like a Joe Bob Briggs (the drive in movie critic) body count
The Mothership
1 fired producer
2 probably fired cops
1 possibly fired cop who wants more airtime and has an Emmy
50% budget slashing fu

CI
1 actress leaving due to pregnancy (Julianne Nicholson)
1 actor with a gossip/mainstream press fanbase and an already big salary– and boy oh boy are the fangurls *upset* that Chris Noth is making more money than VDO (I’ll come back to this in a bit) — and some issues over losing yet another acting partner which could be leveraged into a bigger salary demand
1 actor who has sent out so many coded messages about being so outta there that the topic deserves its own post not to mention presumably the gossip/mainstream press doesn’t like him (which is why we often get stories about unhappy cast and crew from them) (Vincent D’Onofrio)
No more room for really big budget slashes unless it’s all about going from hamburger to tainted pet food artistically speaking (last season’s loss of Rene Balcer and his creative team was like going from fillet mignon to hamburger)

Finally from The Age [with my analysis in blunt Tony Soprano speak in brackets]

“It’s part of the television business; your fate is not usually in your own hands. It’s a question of money.” — Warren Leight [At GE/NBC, it *really* is all about the Benjamins. F*ck the fans, f*ck the creative stuff, just f*cking pay us already, so to speak]

“Noth was unhappy to have another new partner,” Leight says. “I told him we’d write to that; that he’d underestimate her, she’d grow on him, and eventually he’d realise she’s the best partner he’d had since Lenny. It worked out beautifully.” [F*cking constant cast changes do not make for happy actors, good scripts do though]

Leight was receiving feedback suggesting viewers thought of Goren as “the man who knew too much”. With D’Onofrio having completed 110 episodes as Goren, Leight fleshed out his family’s story to help keep him engaged in the role. [*I*never said that Goren was too smart or that I needed to know everything about his personal life but then I’m a fan of that character from Day 1…the ordinary casual viewers said that and NBC just had to have bigger ratings and not a loyal viewership. So welcome to f*ck the fanbase who were willing to use their imaginations and their brains in favor of people would watch pretty much any old thing their TV clicker lands on.]

“Vince engages psychologically with the script the same way Goren engages psychologically with the suspects” [Welcome to smart people TV: take a smart script, give it to a smart actor and get the hell out of the way. Of course brain engaged TV does not equal ratings: think of ‘Homicide: Life On The Street’ or ‘100 Centre Street’. But it makes smart people (many of who have discretionary money to spend with advertisers) happy watching TV.]

“We’ll ask what does a man who has never gotten to live his life do when he gets the chance,” Leight says. “Nothing about Goren suggests he’s a quitter.” [Uh sorry but just because Goren the character is not a quitter does not equal ‘VDO will be back for a seventh season’. This is happy talk designed to keep rabid fangurls watching the show even though signs and portents abound to the contrary. In fact calling Goren ‘a man who has never gotten to live his life’ suggests a character that might not be back for a weekly TV series. Perhaps taking a page out of the Chris Noth book we’ll see CI TV movies with Goren in them. So technically Leight is covered no matter what happens, just like D’Onofrio is covered by the opposing The Age – TV Guide stories of March 2007. Misdirect and hedge all you want but if I hear VDO is gone next season I will have been neither fooled nor upset for the deception…you may have some ticked off fans and fangurls though, be warned.]

Speaking of the fangurls who are upset over VDO getting paid less than Chris Noth, well Noth played a business opportunity beautifully back in 2005. He got steady employment in a role he’s good in, Wolf and NBC got someone who could bring a fan base, VDO got some breathing space, VDO’s fans and fangurls got to continue getting their fix while Noth’s fans and fangurls got to renew their addiction all around. That was a smart move for everybody

But now most of the choices to keep CI on the air are zero-sum gain choices. For everybody who wins someone is going to lose. I say let CI go already while it’s quality is passable.

As for the French, nothing is preventing Wolf from brokering a deal for unaired CI scripts by either US or French writers, with Wolf taking a cut for the use of the CI brand…talk about an easy deal for Wolf!

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One thought on “The Negotiations Get Even Weirder: Everybody’s Beginning To Put Their Two Cents In

  1. bj2007

    Hi VDOVault,

    Nice post–this is my first time commenting. Your comments are very insightful, thoughtful. I always enjoy them, and your posts over at IMDB. Couldn’t agree with you more on the state of LOCI!

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