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NBC, CBS Mull Sitcom Spinoffs

Jul 28, 2003  •  Post A Comment

NBC still has a “Friend” and CBS is considering “Everybody Loving Raymond’s” family.
Matt LeBlanc will continue to play Joey Tribbiani in a new “Friends” spinoff called “Joey” to debut in fall 2004, giving NBC a time slot successor to hit sitcom “Friends.” The move was expected. (TelevisionWeek, July 21.)
NBC ordered 22 episodes of the show and has already given it the 8 p.m. (ET) Thursday time slot.
While no one would have predicted nine years ago that Mr. LeBlanc would be the star of his own show, “Joey has emerged as the character America roots for and loves,” NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker said at the Television Critics Association Press Tour in Hollywood last week. “Matt is the one who has emerged as the crowd favorite.”
At CBS’s portion of the press tour, CBS Chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves said he hopes “Everybody Loves Raymond” will be back for the 2004-05 season, but this could be the last year. While the supporting cast is signed for two more years, star Ray Romano and creator Phil Rosenthal have indicated that this season will be the show’s last.
“The rest of the cast is dying to come back,” Mr. Moonves said.
If Mr. Romano does not come back, there is still a chance CBS will do the show without him or develop a spinoff based on some of the supporting cast, Mr. Moonves said. Some speculate that a spinoff could focus on Brad Garrett, who plays Ray’s brother, who just got married on the show.
The lengths to which these networks are willing to go to hold onto their signature comedies or anything related to them are the latest indication of just how elusive hit comedies now are.
“Friends” creator and executive producer Kevin Bright and “Friends” executive producers Scott Silveri and Shana Goldberg-Meehan will executive produce NBC’s “Joey.” The spinoff will be produced by Warner Bros. Television, which produces “Friends.”
“Friends” creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane will not be involved in the spinoff but have given their blessing to go ahead with the series, Mr. Zucker said.
Mr. Zucker would not discuss whether Mr. LeBlanc would be taking a pay cut from the $1 million an episode he currently receives, but Mr. LeBlanc’s deal also calls for him to star in two feature films for Warner Bros. Pictures.
While there is an idea for the plot of “Joey,” Mr. Zucker wouldn’t go into any details. He did say it could be difficult to explain why Joey no longer talks to his old friends if his character stays in New York. One popular bit of speculation is that soap actor Joey will get a better acting job and move to Los Angeles.
NBC has only 18 original episodes of “Friends” to air this season, compared with the usual 24. The season premiere episode will be supersized. NBC will fill some of those holes by letting viewers choose their favorite six episodes online and then airing those as a countdown to the end of “Friends” later in the season. “It’s 18 and the next best thing,” Mr. Zucker said.
At CBS, Mr. Moonves said money could make a difference in getting Mr. Romano to return. “Ray is making a lot of money,” he said. “I would think money should have an effect when you look at those kinds of numbers. It’s very hard to walk away from that. We’re working on Ray’s wife and kids as well.”
Network-by-network highlights of last week’s press tour follow:
NBC
Mr. Zucker said NBC’s strategy of airing original reality programming in the summer “clearly is best for us.” NBC has won the first eight weeks of summer in adults 18 to 49. He said this strategy has added $30 million to $40 million to the bottom line this summer.
“We will employ exactly the same strategy next summer,” he said.
While Mr. Zucker said last year that he wanted to air scripted series in the summer, he said last week that he has changed his mind. Viewers are conditioned to believe scripted series are shows the network doesn’t care about and is just burning off, he said. “We’re not convinced the audience is ready for original scripted programming” in the summer, he said. “It’s not something we believe in yet.”
Following creator Aaron Sorkin’s departure, John Wells wrote the first two episodes of the season for “The West Wing.” Mr. Zucker said he doesn’t think the audience will notice a huge difference with non-Sorkin-penned scripts. The biggest difference is not as much walking and talking banter as before. Mr. Wells has injected more emotional moments and character development into the show, Mr. Zucker said.
John Goodman, whose character became president of the United States at the end of last season, will appear in at least the first two episodes of the season. Annabeth Gish and Steven Eckholdt are joining the cast as recurring characters playing President Bartlet’s older daughter and her husband.
“The West Wing’s” revamped writing staff consists of Eli Attie, Debora Cahn, Carol Flint, Mark Goffman, Alexa Junge, Peter Noah, Lawrence O’Donnell, Paul Redford, Josh Singer and John Sacret Young.
NBC will premiere its fall schedule during the week of Sept. 22, with the exception of “Las Vegas,” “Scrubs” and “Good Morning, Miami,” which will debut the following week.
UPN
Negotiations between UPN and News Corp. for a group of Fox stations to renew their affiliation agreements with UPN are going “extremely well,” Mr. Moonves said.
“We expect to have a new deal with the Fox stations,” he said, adding that he doesn’t expect any problems despite the fact that Fox Television Stations filed a $108 million lawsuit against Viacom Television Stations, saying some of the Fox-acquired stations had not been paid compensation they were due. “I speak to [Fox Television Stations head] Mitch Stern regularly,” Mr. Moonves said. “They’re very supportive of our programs. They want to be there.”
Mr. Moonves and UPN Entertainment President Dawn Ostroff delivered the message that UPN has improved its schedule flow and will be a much stronger network this year. Ms. Ostroff pointed to the success of reality series “America’s Next Top Model” as an indication that with the right programming, targeting the 18 to 34 demo can work for the network.
“Top Model” has already been renewed for a second edition and could be ready in time for November sweeps, Ms. Ostroff said.
However, some critics questioned how much the schedule will really improve is this fall, since it is still hampered by wrestling, which interrupts the week on Thursday, and two hours devoted to a Friday movie.
Mr. Moonves said it would have been “dumb” to get rid of the Friday movie and launch more new shows, because UPN is already launching five new shows in its 10 hours of prime time. When CBS gained full control of UPN, it inherited a schedule that includes a successful wrestling franchise that makes it necessary to work around it.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” Mr. Moonves said. “We inherited a schedule, a five-night schedule that had wrestling, that had a movie on Friday, that had the Monday night comedy block, and we’re trying to evolve into a network. Anybody who thinks that they can overturn a network in one year only has to look at ABC.”
“All of Us,” executive produced by Will Smith and his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, tested so well with audiences that a CBS executive suggested it could air on CBS. Mr. Moonves said that while the notion was discussed, “It’s a UPN show. It deserves to be on UPN.” The show was developed by UPN, where Ms. Pinkett Smith said the producers chose to go because UPN was the most excited about the show of all the networks they pitched.
UPN will kick off its new season Wednesday, Sept. 10, before the traditional broadcast network premiere week, with the premieres of “Enterprise” and “Jake 2.0.” On Thursday, Sept. 11, UPN will try to capitalize on the “WWE Smackdown!” audience by running the series premiere of “The Mullets” after a 90-minute “Smackdown!” The Monday, Tuesday and Friday night lineups premiere during the week of Sept. 15.
CBS
Mr. Moonves drove home the point to TV critics that the 18 to 49 demographic
isn’t the only one that should matter. He said upfront ad revenue for CBS-which has more total viewers than any other network-hit $2.2 billion, which proves “there’s more to life than 18 to 49.”
“You don’t have to be No. 1 in 18 to 49 to still make money,” he said.
CBS released a media-buying study last week that concluded the adults 25 to 54 demographic is actually the leading buying demo among advertisers and media buyers. CBS may have crossed the line when it tried to land an exclusive interview with Jessica Lynch, the American soldier who was captured and rescued during the war in Iraq, Mr. Moonves said. When asking for the interview, CBS News executives suggested the possibility that she could take advantage of other deals within Viacom, such as a book deal and a movie of the week. If the network had it to do over again, Mr. Moonves said, it would not have included a movie of the week as a possibility. “Maybe that went over the line,” he said. “That was not respecting, possibly, the sanctity of CBS News.”
CBS will launch its fall season Thursday, Sept. 18, with “Survivor: Pearl Islands” from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. The rest of the fall schedule except for “Becker” will premiere the next week, starting Monday, Sept. 22. “King of Queens” will debut with a one-hour episode Wednesday, Sept. 24, bumping “Becker’s” season premiere to Wednesday, Oct. 1.