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Networks could see the light

Sep 24, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Previously hamstrung by a slowing ad economy, the recent terrorist attacks may alter the series development process for the 2002-03 season.
Development executives, who are trying to wrap up drama script commitments and put comedy development in full swing for next season, are expecting major shifts in development toward lighter-hearted series fare.
As the new season begins today, the networks will be looking closely to see if viewers are turned off by crime-fighting anti-terrorist-themed dramas or if they are gravitating toward uplifting, family-oriented shows.
“It’s a bit early in the process to say it has changed the tone of development,” said Mitch Metcalf, NBC’s senior VP of program planning and scheduling. “Tastes could change on the genre level or on a program-by-program basis, so we’re going to have to look at our premiere week as the first gauge on [whether] the national mood has changed or will change.”
“Of the network development people I have spoken to, they said recent events haven’t shifted their mandates, but they also acknowledged there could be some more subtle tonal changes in what they develop,” said Mark Hoebich, president and CEO of TVtracker.com, an Internet-based database.
Jay Sures, co-head of the TV department and partner at United Talent Agency, said he thinks the networks will markedly increase their comedy buys for next season. “We’ve already seen the networks toning down some of the drama scripts,” he said. “[They] are being told to remove any war analogies from their dialogue.”
Toning down also applies to this season’s new shows. A Fox spokesman confirmed last week that the network is editing out a terrorist-caused plane explosion in “24.” The spokesman said the deleted scene is not of “any vital nature” to maintain the “integrity and relevance” of “24’s” story arc about an assassination plot against a presidential candidate.
“In view of what has happened domestically and internationally, content is something the networks are cognizant of, so there [are] going to be no series or movies-of-the-week that we’re going to see for a while with plane crashes or terrorist bombings,” said one Hollywood agency TV department head who requested anonymity. “The networks will still develop police shows, but you’re going to see them steer from terrorist actions and other disasters for the time being. People are extremely affected, and they will want light-hearted escapism and comedy, not Navy SEALs landing on the beaches-that’s something they’ll probably be seeing in the news.”
Mr. Hoebich said the networks had already been placing a heavier emphasis on developing westerns, sci-fi projects and “uplifting” family dramas prior to the Sept. 11 attacks.
Agency and studio sources also expect the networks to lean heavily toward comedy development. According to TVtracker.com about 60 comedy script commitments have already been made by the six networks, with more expected to come. The WB leads in early comedy development with 15 script and pilot commitments, and NBC is expected to develop upwards of 20 sitcoms, sources say.