Studios jockeying for bragging rights to the most shows on air next season encountered a last-minute twist when CBS Paramount usurped longtime leader Warner Bros. Television.
Warner Bros. has led the annual studio tally for producing returning shows and pickups for the past four years. But after Warner announced it had 23 shows (11 new, 12 returning) on broadcasters’ schedules last week, including reality projects, CBS Paramount added its nonfiction shows, including co-productions “Survivor” and “The Amazing Race,” to its list for the first time. That meant CBS Paramount took the lead with 24 shows (eight new, 16 returning).
Most of the new CBS Paramount shows also are co-productions, and some studio insiders accused CBS of pushing co-productions to boost its tally. But CBS spokesman Chris Ender explained the studio counted the veteran reality shows only because Warner Bros. counted reality this year.
“Reality can be a game-changer for a network, and now it can also influence a tally,” he said, joking: “Nobody ever said television networks are good at math.”
Most executives emphasized the annual tally is considered archaic and downplayed its significance even as companies touted their numbers.
“The biggest goal is to return the most shows we can,” said David Stapf, president of CBS Paramount. “We returned all but one that was predestined to go away, `King of Queens,’ and we got the additional bonus of picking up eight new ones.”
Warner Bros. had several high-profile freshman shows canceled this season, including “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” “The Nine” and “Smith.”
“We’re coming off of a challenged year and we remain completely proud of the quality we’ve delivered,” Warner Bros. President Peter Roth said. “We’ve very excited and optimistic for our returning series. Add that Warner Horizon is having a strong season and the two units are yielding satisfying results.”
Twentieth Century Fox also came in strong. The studio, traditionally one of the biggest suppliers, has 20 shows on the docket next season. Twentieth’s roster includes seven new titles, which the company touted as landing in some of the best network time slots.
Sony Pictures Television had four of its eight pilots greenlit, earning the company the right to herald the highest percentage of pickups.
“We had the highest conversion of pilots to series,” said Jamie Erlicht, co-president of programming and production at Sony Pictures Television, “which represented finding very smart network partners and allowing them to make bold choices.”
With the threat of a strike looming and networks changing strategies to combat sinking ratings, some of the studios have made adjustments this year.
Some studio chiefs said they are starting production early on certain series in case of a writers strike.
“We are trying to make sure shows are prepared to go into production as early as possible,” said 20th President Dana Walden. “We’re not trying to be overly prepared. We’re trying to be smart, but not rush things in a way that’s going to compromise our series.”
Angela Bromstad, president of NBC Universal Television, said a trio of shows started shooting early for strike protection.
Mr. Stapf said his studio also is starting early, but called it “business as usual.”
“We’re always looking to get a jump-start on next season,” he said.
Another new challenge this year has been dealing with network requests to run shows straight through or, in the case of NBC, “super-sized” season orders to maintain a more consistent presence throughout the year. The studio chiefs emphasized their willingness to work with the networks to fill their orders. They also acknowledged showrunners can feel pressured by larger season orders.
Ms. Bromstad’s company’s produces “The Office” and “Heroes,” both of which received last-minute additional episode orders.
“I’m not going to say it’s not a tremendous strain on [`Office’ showrunner Greg Daniels], but it’s a really well-run show and Greg has always been real flexible,” she said.
Another factor this year: digital.
Though media reports and upfront presentations all stressed digital bells and whistles for series content, the studio chiefs said the amount of conversation about online add-ons was about the same as last year, when digital suddenly became a significant factor.
“This year has not been very different than last year,” Ms. Walden said. “We’re all pretty sanguine with the notion that it’s important for shows to have as much exposure as possible. But beyond iTunes downloads and streaming … there really haven’t been further conversations.”