NBC should have a final agreement to buy Universal’s assets from Vivendi by the end of this month and close on the deal by the end of the first quarter of next year, NBC Entertainment President Jeffrey Zucker said last week at the Hollywood Radio and Television Society’s annual luncheon in Beverly Hills, Calif., featuring the broadcast networks’ entertainment presidents. Once Universal is part of NBC, “We’ll look to produce television shows for all the networks and not just look in-house,” Mr. Zucker said. NBC’s current production arm, NBC Studios, only produces shows for the network. Meantime, the entertainment presidents bemoaned the development cycle, saying it is flawed, since pilot season finds every network chasing the same creative talent at the same time. “It’s a sh***y system,” said WB Entertainment President Jordan Levin. UPN’s Dawn Ostroff said Madison Avenue dictates how the networks develop because it expects networks to present their new shows to advertisers every May during the upfronts. Fox has made an effort to do year-round development, as exemplified by the early start of “The O.C.,” Fox’s Gail Berman said. She said that Fox has already ordered its first two pilots for next year-a drama and a comedy. For the first time, the HRTS entertainment presidents luncheon was produced by MTV Networks, with Spike Jones Jr. directing. The luncheon co-chairs were outgoing HRTS President Kevin Reilly, president of prime-time development at NBC, and incoming HRTS President Jordan Levin, entertainment president at The WB. “Access Hollywood’s” Pat O’Brien moderated.
Greenlights were plentiful last week, as several broadcast and cable networks ordered new projects and additional seasons of existing series. Universal and NBC are partnering on a TV show inspired by yet-to-be-released film “Van Helsing,” HBO has ordered a porn documentary, ABC Family has ordered a television movie to be executive produced by Lisa Kudrow, Showtime has reupped “Dead Like Me” for a second season and Comedy Central has dialed up another season of “Reno 911.” In the most unusual deal, Universal Picture’s “Van Helsing,” which is scheduled to open in theaters in May 2004, will be the inspiration for “Transylvania,” a Universal Network Television drama series pilot for NBC. The potential series, conceived by “Van Helsing” writer-director Stephen Sommers will be executive produced by Mr. Sommers and his producing partner Bob Ducsay. Mr. Sommers will write the series’ initial episodes.“Transylvania,” which will not share any major characters or storylines with “Van Helsing,” will be produced for a potential fall 2004 debut, just months after the theatrical release of “Van Helsing.” Last week, HBO announced “Pornucopia: Going Down in the Valley,” a six-part documentary series that will examine the pornography industry in California’s San Fernando Valley. The series will be produced by Dan Chaykin and examine how adult entertainment is produced, distributed, marketed and consumed. “Pornucopia” will debut on HBO in 2004. ABC Family has ordered “Picking Up and Dropping Off,” a television movie starring Scott Wolf, Amanda Detmer and Kathy Baker, to be executive produced by Ms. Kudrow and her partner Dan Bucatinsky. The project, a contemporary love story about two single parents, is set to premiere in December as part of ABC Family’s “25 Days of Christmas.” Showtime said it has ordered the second season of the series “Dead Like Me” from MGM Television. The premium cable channel picked up 15 episodes of the series, which will go into production early next year. Season one’s finale is schedule for Friday, Sept. 26. The second season of Jersey Television’s police parody “Reno 911” will debut in summer 2004 with 13 new episodes.
Networks made lots of dates last week. “The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show” will return to CBS in November, Fox’s “The Simple Life” has a December air date and ESPN2 has pushed “Cold Pizza” to Oct. 20. “Victoria’s Secret” will air Wednesday, Nov. 19, marking the second year in a row that CBS will air the program. In the past the show garnered complaints to the Federal Communications Commission about inappropriate content for a broadcast network. This year, the show will be a tribute to Broadway, including a fashion show, musical performances and red carpet interviews. Meanwhile, Fox’s new reality series “The Simple Life,” which follows socialites Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie as they leave their lives in Los Angeles to live on a farm in Arkansas, will premiere on Tuesday, Dec. 2, from 8:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. The launch of “Cold Pizza,” ESPN2’s new live morning show, had been scheduled for Oct. 1. “We had established an aggressive timetable to launch the kind of show we envision,” said Jim Cohen, ESPN vice president for programming and production and the show’s executive producer. “Rescheduling to October 20 still allows us to meet our two primary objectives-serving our viewers with a morning show unlike any other and helping to celebrate ESPN2’s 10th anniversary.”