Dick Wolf, HBO team up for 'Wounded Knee' film By Kimberly Nordyke
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - In their first collaboration, "Law & Order" mastermind Dick Wolf has teamed up with cable TV network HBO to develop a movie about the plight of American Indians during the 19th century.
The HBO Films project is based on the best-selling book "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West," by Dee Brown.
The nonfiction book, first published in 1970, is an account of how the American Indians were displaced as the United States expanded west.
Specifically, the book uses council records, firsthand accounts and other resources to tell the story of "the systematic destruction of the American Indian" during the latter half of the 19th century, including "the battles, massacres and broken treaties that left them demoralized and defeated."
Wolf is executive producing "Wounded Knee" with Tom Thayer, whose previous credits include the A&E Network movie "Faith of My Fathers" and the USA Network series "Kojak."
Yves Simoneau, who earned an Emmy nomination for producing the pilot of USA's "The 4400," is attached to direct "Wounded Knee," while Daniel Giat, an Emmy nominee for writing HBO's "Path to War," will pen Wolf's screenplay.
A spokeswoman for Wolf Films said the company doesn't comment on projects in development.
Wolf's "Law & Order," which debuted on NBC in 1990, has received 11 Emmy nominations as best drama series, taking home the award in 1997. He also was nominated for an Emmy for drama series writing for NBC's "Hill Street Blues."
LOS ANGELES - Sean "Diddy" Combs, rock disc jockey Rodney Bingenheimer and Barbara Walters have something in common: They will receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Recipients for 2007 were announced Friday by Walk of Fame committee chairman Johnny Grant. "It's a privilege to honor these performers," he said.
The committee said it had reviewed more than 200 nominations to select next year's 23 honorees.
The list of recipients, as ratified by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce board of directors, also includes Michael Caine, Matt Damon, Lauren Shuler Donner, Jamie Foxx, John Goodman, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert Altman, Erik Estrada, Kiefer Sutherland, Jerry Stiller, Dick Wolf, Mariah Carey, The Doors, Crystal Gayle, Tim McGraw, LeAnn Rimes, Shania Twain, Tim Rice, Lily Tomlin and Stu Nahan.
Film director Steven Spielberg was the world's highest-earning celebrity last year, according to Forbes magazine. The man behind ET and Jurassic Park had an estimated income of £180 million in 2005, or £342 per minute. DJ Howard Stern is in second place on the list at £163 million, with Star Wars director George Lucas third on £127 million, the magazine calculates. JK Rowling was the highest-ranked non-American, with Harry Potter earning her £41 million, or £78 per minute. The author was responsible for the biggest-selling book in the US in 2005. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which was published in July, sold 7.2 million copies there. And the entire series has resulted in sales of about 300 million around the world. Jerry Seinfeld was in fifth place, even though his TV show - which was famously "about nothing" - ended in 1998. The release of each series on DVD, which began at the end of 2004, will have been a factor in his income for last year. Golfer Tiger Woods was the top sporting figure, with an estimated income of £49 million. Last year he won two major tournaments - the Open and the Masters. Dan Brown, author of controversial religious novel The Da Vinci Code, generated £48 million. Executive producer of the three CSI television programmes and producer of the Pirates of the Caribbean films, Jerry Bruckheimer, was in eighth place. And another figure associated with the creation of a hit TV franchise - Dick Wolf, who was behind crime series Law and Order - comes tenth on £38 million.
1. Steven Spielberg - £180m 2. Howard Stern - £163m 3. George Lucas - £127m 4. Oprah Winfrey - £122m 5. Jerry Seinfeld - £54m 6. Tiger Woods - £49m 7. Dan Brown - £48m 8. Jerry Bruckheimer - £45m 9. JK Rowling - £41m 10. Dick Wolf - £38m Source: Forbes magazine
LOS ANGELES, Sept. 17 (UPI) -- Film and TV producers in Hollywood have begun to take on inflated salaries and attitudes toward their stars.
Paramount's recent dismissal of box-office star Tom Cruise represents a new trend in Hollywood toward limiting a star's salary and outspokenness, Daily Variety reported, but most in the industry say little if anything will truly change.
TV mogul Dick Wolf said that while television used to be mild in comparison to movies when it came to actors' salaries, hit shows have redefined the market and increased competition to land or keep big name stars.
"I can't say that television has really done any better job of holding things in line," Wolf said. "The beginning of the end was the first 'Friends' renegotiation."
Stars of the long-running comedy withheld their services one season until producers renegotiated the deals, giving them substantial pay raises.
Many producers have canceled productions with overblown budgets, Variety said. But Wolf said both industries still tend to rely on spending to get a hit.
"We've allowed the costs of production to get away from us," Wolf said. "Everyone is chasing those big hits, and we've lost our discipline. The risks we're taking don't feel appropriate for the return."
The newest characters on TV shows: Product plugs By Gary Levin
Today's TV shows aren't just about the characters — they're also about the products sitcoms and dramas blatantly plug.
excerpt: Law & Order producer Dick Wolf says some shows lend themselves to product plugs — just not his. "If somebody wanted to integrate a product into (our) story, I would find that risible," he says, just as he would if former Law star Jill Hennessy, now on Crossing Jordan, "all of a sudden started to wear Kmart clothes and everybody in the Boston coroner's office wears them because they absorb formaldehyde better. When it's ham-fisted, it's counterproductive."
Wolf calls for laughs 'L&O' vet sets up 2 sitcoms at NBC By MICHAEL SCHNEIDER[/i]
"Law & Order" maven Dick Wolf is looking to take another stab at the comedy biz, lining up two scripts at NBC.
Cheryl Holliday is behind an untitled political-themed laffer about a bumbling congressman, while Teri Schaffer Hicks is exec producing a medical sitcom revolving around emergency medical technicians and paramedics. NBC Universal TV Studios is attached to both projects alongside Wolf Films.
Having long since conquered the drama world, Wolf has made getting a comedy on the air one of his priorities in recent years -- a task that Wolf Films head of development Nena Rodrigue has spearheaded. Wolf and Rodrigue will exec produce both projects, along with Wolf Films prexy/chief operating officer Peter Jankowski.
Holliday's laffer centers on the congressman and the staffers trying to handle him; show is being developed as a single-camera half-hour.
Holliday most recently was a co-exec producer on "Still Standing"; her credits also include "Father of the Pride," "King of the Hill," "Norm," "Martin" and "Costello."
As for the medical comedy, Hicks ("Bernie Mac") is on board to pen the script, which was first pitched to the shingle by Wolf Films staffers Jonathan Hludzinski and Matt Roberts. Project is loosely based on Roberts past experience as a paramedic.
UC Santa Barbara Center for Film, Television, and New Media Named for Emmy Winners Marcy Carsey and Dick Wolf
October 10, 2006
(Santa Barbara, Calif.) – UC Santa Barbara's Center for Film, Television, and New Media will be named for Emmy Award-winning television producers Marcy Carsey and Dick Wolf in recognition of their generous contributions toward the construction of a new instructional and research facility for the innovative interdisciplinary center.
The Carsey-Wolf Center for Film, Television, and New Media will include a public film theater, production facilities, screening rooms, computer labs, archives, and meeting rooms for scholars, students and visiting fellows from related industries. Through the center, UCSB faculty from the arts, humanities, and sciences collaboratively teach and conduct research on all forms of mass media from a variety of cultural, historical, and social perspectives.
"My family and I are proud to be associated with UC Santa Barbara's Center For Film, Television, and New Media," said Carsey, whose two children are UCSB alumni. "UC Santa Barbara will soon have premier facilities equal to the reputation of this pioneering program, which is becoming widely known for its interdisciplinary and highly creative approach to teaching and research."
Wolf said he was "honored to be part of UCSB's cutting edge program. This center at UC Santa Barbara will help shape the future of film, television, and new media by educating the best and the brightest on an interdisciplinary level," he said.
The center brings together students and scholars from UCSB's nationally renowned departments of film and media studies and communication, as well as 15 other departments who now teach and conduct research at various campus locations. Major projects underway at the center include an environmental media initiative, a media ownership project, and a student internship program.
"UC Santa Barbara is extremely grateful to Marcy Carsey and Dick Wolf for their guidance, leadership, and extraordinary commitment to our campus and this landmark project," said UCSB Chancellor Henry T. Yang. "We applaud them for their bold vision, and are honored and proud to have two of the most creative forces in the history of television permanently associated with our campus in this significant way."
Thus far, nearly $10-million in philanthropic support has been contributed to the innovative interdisciplinary media center and its new home. Carsey and Wolf were the lead donors for the project.
The new facility will be part of a state-funded academic building complex that is scheduled to break ground in early 2007. Carsey and Wolf serve on the center's distinguished advisory board. Carsey is also a trustee of The UCSB Foundation, and a longtime benefactor of the campus.
David Marshall, dean of humanities and fine arts and executive dean of the College of Letters and Science, thanked Carsey and Wolf for their "support of UC Santa Barbara's interdisciplinary and liberal arts-based approach to the study of media, as well as their understanding of the center's contributions to public policy."
Other major gifts for the Carsey-Wolf Center included $2-million from Joseph and Helene Pollock and their family; $1-million from Academy Award winner Michael Douglas, a UCSB alumnus; and a $1-million grant from the Annenberg Foundation. Joseph Pollock, Douglas, and Wallis Annenberg, vice president of the Annenberg Foundation, are also members of the center's advisory board.
UCSB is seeking an additional $10-million in private funds for equipment and programmatic endowment support for the center.
The Carsey-Wolf Center for Film, Television, and New Media, with 15,600 square feet of space, has been designed by the architectural firm of Kallmann, McKinnell and Wood of Boston.
About the Donors
Marcy L. Carsey
Named one of the 50 greatest women in radio and television, Emmy-winner Marcy Carsey is partner and co-founder of one of the most successful independent studios in television history, Carsey-Werner Productions. For over 20 years Carsey-Werner has been one of the leading suppliers and distributors of television throughout the world.
Their productions include "The Cosby Show," "Roseanne," "3rd Rock from the Sun," "That 70's Show," and "Grounded for Life." In addition, Carsey-Werner joined forces with Geraldine Laybourne, former head of Nickelodeon, and talk show host and magazine publisher Oprah Winfrey to create Oxygen, a multimedia company with a new television network and interactive Internet site for women.
Carsey and her partner have been inducted into the halls of fame of the Academy of Television Arts And Sciences and "Broadcasting and Cable Magazine." She has received the Emmy Award, the Peabody Award, the Humanitas Prize, the NAACP Image Award, the David Susskind Lifetime Achievement Award from the Producer's Guild of America, the Publicist's Guild's Showman of The Year Award, and the Lucy Award from Women In Film. In 1999, she was given the Golden Plate Award from the American Academy of Achievement, placing her in the Museum of the American Dream as one of the 20th century's most extraordinary achievers.
Carsey is a native of Weymouth, Massachusetts, and a cum laude graduate in English literature from the University of New Hampshire.
At UC Santa Barbara, she serves as a trustee of The UCSB Foundation, co-chair of the advisory board for the Carsey-Wolf Center, and is a leading benefactor. Her additional gifts to the campus include founding support for the "Critical Issues in America" program that examines a specific social issue each year through public lectures, panel discussions, and undergraduate courses, as well as support for the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education. She is also an Honorary Alumna of UCSB. Her two children are UCSB graduates.
Dick Wolf is one of television's most respected drama series creators and an Emmy Award-winning producer who has been a creative force in television for more than 25 years.
A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Wolf started his career in advertising then went on to become one of television's most prolific producer/writers. He is the architect of one of the most successful brands in the history of television – "Law & Order." He serves as creator and executive producer of the three "Law & Order"-branded drama series from Wolf Films and NBC Universal Television. Wolf's company also produced "Twin Towers," the 2003 Academy Award-winning Short Documentary.
Wolf's "Law & Order," now in its 17th season on NBC, is the longest-running current drama series on television. It has received 11 consecutive Outstanding Drama Series Emmy nominations and has tied the record for the most consecutive series Emmy nominations in the history of television (with "Cheers" and "M*A*S*H"). "Law & Order" won the coveted Emmy in that category in 1997. "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" is in its eighth successful season on NBC, and "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" is enjoying a ratings surge in its sixth season on NBC.
Wolf began his film career as a writer, and earned acclaim for his screenplay of the Paramount theatrical release "School Ties." He was nominated for an Emmy as a writer for "Hill Street Blues." Wolf's other projects include the films "Masquerade" and the television series "New York Undercover," "Crime & Punishment," "Miami Vice," "Players," and "L.A. Dragnet."
Wolf's personal honors include the Award of Excellence from the Banff Television Festival; the 2002 Creative Achievement Award from NATPE; the Leadership and Inspiration Award from the Entertainment Industries Council; the Governor's Award by the New York Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences; the 1997 achievement award from the Caucus for Producers, Writers, and Directors; and the 2002 Tribute from the Museum of Television and Radio.
At UC Santa Barbara, Wolf serves on the advisory board for the Carsey-Wolf Center, and is a generous campus donor.
'Law & Order' boss Dick Wolf ponders future of TV ads By Brian Steinberg, The Wall Street Journal
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Long before he created the popular crime-solving TV series "Law & Order," Dick Wolf was an ad man working for Benton & Bowles and other agencies. One of his big accomplishments was helping to devise the slogan "You can't beat Crest for fighting cavities" for the Procter & Gamble toothpaste. When working with P&G, Mr. Wolf says, "the sacred mantra was brand extension, and the biggest negative was a brand extension which would hurt the brand. That was to be avoided like the plague."
He took P&G's lesson to heart when building "Law & Order" and its critically-acclaimed spinoffs, which are broadcast so frequently on NBC and cable stations that their familiar "doink, doink" sound effects between scenes seem ubiquitious. Mr. Wolf gives P&G full credit. "There are some tips you never forget," he says.
These days, however, even the most successful TV producers face an uncertain new world. Consumers can watch entertainment programming whenever they please, on venues other than traditional television, and speed through the commercials. Mr. Wolf, 59, recently spoke with The Wall Street Journal about the changing relationship between advertisers and television. Excerpts:
The Wall Street Journal: We see producers trying to come up with ideas that will play well on mobile phones or the Web. Are these ventures worthwhile?
Mr. Wolf: I'm feeling that maybe I'm totally out of touch. I've been pitched Webisodes. I've been pitched everything. ... C'mon. Please, you think ringtones are going to be a major revenue stream for studios or networks? ... Unfortunately, the business model is irreparably broken, and people are going to have to figure out something new. ... I'm 59 years old. I don't think the world is going to come crashing down in five to six years, but I guarantee you, if anyone tells you what the television business is going to look like a decade out, they are on drugs.
WSJ: The CW recently unveiled two-minute-long themed ad breaks known as "Content Wraps." They're meant to be as entertaining as the programs they interrupt. As a producer, how would you feel if an advertiser ran something they hoped was as compelling as one of your programs during one of your programs?
Mr. Wolf: I'd love nothing better than to have people be watching interstitial moments in the show, so they didn't go channel surfing. In reality, I think it's an absolute pipe dream. Look, the bottom line is Americans don't like commercials. ... I don't think anybody wants to watch two-minute spots, but the wonderful thing about show business, television and advertising is nobody knows nothing. ... When I got into the advertising business, they still sold 60 (second commercials). Then it went to 30s. ... The idea that people in their chairs want to watch something six times as long as that, I don't buy it.
WSJ: Decades ago, many programs were sponsored by a single advertiser, who often got to showcase their products during the show itself. Would you want to work with an advertiser in the early stages of coming up with scripts?
Mr. Wolf: In the old days, that was one of the only ways shows were done. Basically, networks were leasing systems. They leased their air to the advertisers. Kraft would come in and say, 'We want Saturday at 10 this week, and we'll pay for it,' and it was Kraft's television. This is very, very old wine in new bottles.
I've had the talks for the last decade with most of the major advertisers in terms of trying to get advertiser-supported television. ... If there is a way to integrate (an advertiser) positively and seamlessly, I would have absolutely no objection to anybody who is willing to shoulder some of the cost of a program in a significant way. I'd be more than delighted to talk to them. It's very hard to do it correctly, and it's one of those things where there is a tipping point (of advertiser exposure in the program), and as soon as you hit the tipping point, the audience goes away.
WSJ: Your programs are known for hewing to pretty basic storylines -- a crime is committed, the cops solve it and the legal system tries the perpetrator. So do the 'CSI' series. Would you consider adding more elements of the detectives' personal lives to the L&O series, for example, if advertisers demanded it?
Mr. Wolf: There is a method to ('CSI' executive producer) Jerry Bruckheimer's and my madness, and it's an interest in stand-alone episodes and very little serializing, and very few personal things that are continued over multiple episodes. You can't expect people to make appointment television for off-network viewing five days a week if you script a show and you have to go to people who miss Tuesday and Thursday. It's going to be a continuing problem going forward and the bottom line is the audience is continuing to erode every day. ... I've never heard of advertisers demanding creative changes. They just want ratings.
WSJ: What do you think of 'CSI,' which has sort of grown up into a rival to the Law & Order empire?
Mr. Wolf: 'CSI' is a franchise. It is like the Palm restaurant. You can go to Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles. You want a great steak? You go to the Palm. ... That's what 'CSI' is. It's a great hour of television set in New York, Miami or Las Vegas. 'Law & Order,' I've developed it as a brand. It is more like a Mercedes. There are a lot of models, but you'll get a good car. If you go back to my advertising days, it's more like Crest. When I started on Crest, it was essentially one flavor. Then they brought out mint. Now they have a gel. They've got different flavors. They've got every permutation of various kinds of toothpaste delivery systems that have been invented. What that means is they are different, but if you want toothpaste, you grab Crest.
WSJ: What's the outlook for the rerun value of programs like yours, given DVDs and other new technologies?
Mr. Wolf: DVDs are already a mature business. The serialized dramas do better on DVD than procedurals (shows where the procedure, or police work, is more important than the characters), which are more commonly available in reruns. ... Notwithstanding, the economic model is getting further fractured and the real place where the rubber is going to meet the road is downloads. I don't know if USA or TNT is going to pay top dollar for shows that have been downloaded for six months, nine months, before the DVDs even come out, which means the hard-core fans of the show have probably got a permanent copy on their hard drives.
WSJ: 'Law & Order' has been on the air for almost 17 years, while the spinoffs are a little younger. How long can they last?
Mr. Wolf: They should last as long as the ratings stay at the level they have been. ... At a certain point, the numbers will not support the expense of making the shows, and at that point, they will be canceled. ... I have often stated my goal, which is to beat 'Gunsmoke,' and to become the longest-running scripted hour in history. ('Gunsmoke' aired for 20 years). That would be great.
WSJ: With the three shows on NBC and cable channels USA and TNT and sometimes elsewhere, isn't there a concern about oversaturation?
Mr. Wolf: The best way to answer the question is USA. If there was a problem about that, I don't think it would be (a significant part) of their prime-time schedule. ... Nothing would make me happier than total ubiquity, (if people could) at some point get one of the branded episodes 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It would be fine with me.
WSJ: You tried to launch a fourth L&O series and another legal drama, 'Conviction.' Can you take this thing any further? What other ideas would you try?
Mr. Wolf: We've got eight projects in development for next fall. Two of them are comedies. I would love to be in the comedy business. I would love to be in a situation to get another drama that could run 17 years. It's not very likely, but hope springs eternal. ... Is there going to be another legal drama? Sure. Most of the ones that have been put on in the past 21/2 years haven't worked, but one of the reasons is that are some pretty good ones still on. You have to beat that benchmark. I'm not sniping at other shows, but if you are going to do a show about a prosecutor, such as 'Shark,' you'd better do better stories than we are doing on 'Law & Order.' If you are going to do a forensic show, you'd better do it better than 'CSI.'
WSJ: Do you think that if you were entering the business today that you'd be able to have as much success as you've had?
Mr. Wolf: No. The business has changed so massively. ... You will never have the market forces again that, how do I put this, that allow people to get rich. ... The reality is you will never have the licensing fees negotiated again that resulted in 'ER' getting (millions of dollars) an episode, and that's where a lot of people made what many would probably insist is an unconscionable amount of money. ... The upside home runs for shows have been sort of flattened out by the new economic models of how shows are produced.
Scribes in no rush to talk WGA, producers at odds By DAVE MCNARY[/i]
The Writers Guild of America is going to make Hollywood worry about a strike for the next year. In a move underlining the souring relationship between the WGA and industry toppers, the guild's leaders have spurned an industry proposal to launch negotiations in January. Instead, they've insisted they won't be ready to start until September -- less than two months before the Oct. 31 expiration of the current contract.
"I'm very disappointed," said Nick Counter, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers. "It's in the best interests of all concerned to get this resolved as soon as possible."
On the film side, the delay means an acceleration of production and stockpiling of scripts, followed by a "de facto strike" next summer as studios stop launching film production once they can no longer be wrapped by Oct. 31. In TV, the prospect of a work stoppage means studios and networks will try to shoot more episodes of scripted series and will be less inclined to launch series while planning for more reality, news and sports programming.
Counter went public Monday with his frustration over the guild's refusal to start talks sooner. That prompted a statement by WGA West exec director David Young.
"The WGA will be prepared to commence negotiations in the summer of 2007, well in advance of the November contract expiration," he said. "We are currently meeting with our members on contract issues, as well as continuing our dialogue with sister guilds in Hollywood. The WGA has always worked with the companies to make sure that all writers are covered by a guild agreement with proper compensation and residuals for their work. We fully expect that a fair agreement will be reached in our upcoming negotiation," Young said.
Counter said his disappointment with the WGA stems partly from the mixed signals sent by Young in recent weeks as to scheduling the negotiations.
The AMPTP, the bargaining arm for studios and nets, had asked Young to start bargaining as soon as possible, according to Counter. Young responded in October with a letter to Counter proposing that negotiations start in January; Counter proposed to Young that the second and fourth weeks of that month be set aside for bargaining.
But Young notified Counter on Nov. 17 that the WGA West board had decided at a recent meeting it was not prepared to start negotiations until September.
Counter said Young wouldn't explain the board's reasons for the delay. And when he pressed Young on whether it would be possible to go earlier, Young said it was possible but did not elaborate.
Some execs attributed the WGA's move to simple gamesmanship, designed to show studios and networks that the scribes are serious about getting a bigger slice of the pie.
"It's like a batter stepping out of the box with the bases loaded, just to rattle the pitcher," one top agent said.
Other speculation for the delay centered on the WGA betting that the extra time will clarify the now-murky outlook on which digital delivery platform will become dominant in coming years.
But for now, pushing back the start of negotiations represents one more big step in convincing studios and networks that a strike is coming, according to "Law & Order" producer Dick Wolf.
"The guild seems determined to ratchet up the likelihood of a strike," he told Daily Variety. "It's a Neolithic tactic, but it's a clear message that they want to have a work stoppage. I don't have to be the Delphic oracle to have seen this coming."
But Wolf asserted that both sides appear to have forgotten the economic damage inflicted during the 1988 writers strike, which lasted five months.
"Network viewership has declined every year since then," Wolf said. "Everyone loses during a strike. They should be negotiating now."
Wolf said he won't lose personally in a strike since his shows are already syndicated. He added WGA leaders appear to be overestimating the potential revenues from downloads of TV shows.
"I'm telling everyone who will listen, this isn't the 1950s when TV was growing," Wolf said. "A strike is like shooting arrows into a stumbling animal."
WGA leaders have been attempting to quell doom-and-gloom predictions of a strike for the past year. "A strike is a possibility -- no more and no less," WGA West prexy Patric Verrone said earlier this year. "The industry should be doing everything in its power to prevent it by accommodating the talent community and its demands."
Counter said Monday the key issues at the contract talks probably will include producer contributions to pension and health plans and sorting out how much writers should be paid for digital downloads and their work on new-media platforms.
"Everyone is struggling with the new-media issue -- keeping series on the air and both building and retaining audiences," Counter said. "New delivery systems are vital to both. The world's changing, and the sooner we get to the bargaining table, the better."
Counter often has engaged in pre-negotiations posturing to paint the WGA as overly aggressive and unrealistic. But he's been particularly perturbed by the conduct of Verrone and Young with regard to the campaign to seek increased revs from product placement for writers on TV shows; the guild's attempts to organize reality TV writers; its sponsorship of lawsuits by reality-show writers alleging wage and overtime violations; and its denunciations of ABC Disney's decision to pay iPod residuals at the lower homevideo rate.
Young assumed the top WGA West slot on an interim basis in September 2005, after the board fired John McLean. That move came after Verrone's slate swept to an overwhelming victory following a campaign promising the guild would beef up organizing efforts to the tune of 30% of its budget.
Meanwhile, Hollywood's got another headache in the form of the Screen Actors Guild, where control of the boardroom shifted last fall to a more assertive faction. A writers strike might push SAG into hard-line bargaining followed by a work stoppage when the current film-TV contract expires in June 2008.
SAG president Alan Rosenberg declined to comment Monday about the WGA negotiations.
The issue of when to negotiate is a divisive one among Hollywood unions. The DGA and IATSE wrap up deals at least six months prior to expiration, while the WGA's current contract was negotiated five months after the previous contract had expired.
Advocates of early talks contend that employers are willing to make a better deal because it's easier to achieve objectives without a looming deadline and unions can obtain a premium in exchange for labor peace. Opponents believe going early undermines a union's negotiating position by removing the strike threat.
Compelling characters, fresh infusions of new stars also keep shows fresh Updated: 10:22 a.m. PT Dec 13, 2006
LOS ANGELES - “Ugly Betty,” “Heroes” and other shiny new TV series are showered with magazine covers, network promotional campaigns and enviable buzz.
But there are shows with something these babes-in-arms can only dream of: A track record stretching over years and hundreds of episodes, and the enduring loyalty of viewers.
How do 20th-century shows like “ER,” now in its 13th season, and “Law & Order,” which first aired in 1990, keep going?
“The most important thing — and it doesn’t matter if it’s season 17 or the first season — it’s the writing, stupid,” said “Law & Order” impresario Dick Wolf.
Wolf is the creator and executive producer of the original series and its younger, also impressively durable siblings, “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (eight seasons) and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” (six seasons).
Given that the majority of shows quickly crash and burn, survival demands more than reliable storytelling. Legal and medical shows have a better shot at longevity as a parade of criminals and patients help keep staleness at bay.
That also helps ratings stay at respectable if not blockbuster levels. “Law & Order” (10 p.m. EST Friday) is averaging about 10.5 million viewers this season, compared to a top-rated show like “Grey’s Anatomy” and its nearly 21.5 million weekly viewers.
Character- and issue-driven vehicles have a shorter shelf life than formula shows, said David E. Kelley, whose mastery of the perishable genres was on display in “Picket Fences” and the lovelorn-lawyers series “Ally McBeal.”
The latter’s focus was “gender politics and the romantic lives of our characters that we would explore through legal cases,” Kelley said. “But every show revolved around that romantic nucleus, and I didn’t see 100 (episodes) of those at all at the beginning.”
Knowing when to say when He believes “Ally McBeal” should have ended in its fourth year with a wedding between Ally (Calista Flockhart) and a beau played by Robert Downey Jr., but it didn’t pan out; efforts to revitalize the show in year five went awry with a flood of new characters.
“It just wasn’t the same show,” Kelley said. “When you have a character-based series, the audience really wants to be with those characters. It’s not that you can’t introduce new ones. In fact, it’s a good thing. But you have to introduce them almost as a garnish to the meal and not change the meal.”
There is a delicate balance of familiarity and freshness that has to be maintained to keep the support of viewers and thus the network, the producers say — and Wolf offers his own food metaphor.
“Any successful show is a souffle, and if you change the recipe it may not rise the same in the oven. Having said that, there are certain things that can get tweaked that keep the essential architecture there but make it seem fresh.”
NBC’s “Law & Order” and “ER” both have undergone regular, substantial cast changes. “ER” lost George Clooney, along with the rest of its original stars, and lived to tell the tale. “Law & Order” is famous for the revolving door that brings in new prosecutors and police.
“Losing cast members is a painful thing for the audience and for the show and it worries you,” said David Zabel, executive producer for “ER.” But it can also be a boon for a drama that relies as much on character arcs as medicine, he said.
“As good as the actors were that we’ve lost, we’ve been able to add really strong actors and develop new kinds of characters and story lines,” he said. “That helps avoid stagnancy and keeps the audience energized and feeling like they’re getting something new and not the same repetitive thing over and over.”
John Stamos (“Jake in Progress,” “Full House”) is the latest addition to “ER,” joining as a series regular this season.
“In John’s case, what we saw was an actor who brought a real sense of play to the workplace of the show and had a lightness that is good for the show’s balance,” Zabel said. “But he’s also a really talented actor and people weren’t completely aware of that.”
The key to shaking up a cast is a really fresh face.
“You have to make sure that when you switch a regular you come up with a different character — this is not a situation where ‘Tonight Hamlet will be played by ....”’ Wolf said.
S. Epatha Merkerson and her police lieutenant on “Law & Order” are “vastly different” than her predecessor, Dann Florek and the part he played, Wolf said. (Florek now runs the precinct on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”)
Sometimes a cast change is so right it warrants a whole different direction — another series.
Entering its eighth year, Kelley’s “The Practice” had run out of steam and into budget cuts. Kelley decided on a cast shakeup for what was expected to be its final season.
Exit Dylan McDermott and a number of other stars and enter James Spader as slick, unconventional attorney Alan Shore, a sharp contrast to the original hardscrabble crew on “The Practice.”
“The liberating thing for me was, OK, we can bring in a character that does not have to be redeeming in perpetuity,” Kelley said. “It can be someone who just burns out after a year. ... He could either die or get disbarred and I can just let him walk the plank.”
The creative license had the effect of boosting the show’s ratings enough to earn ABC’s nod for renewal. But Kelley, facing what he called a tough decision, decided “The Practice” had turned in Shore’s direction, and so had the future: “Boston Legal” (10 p.m. EST Tuesday), starring Spader and William Shatner, debuted in 2004.
But a series that’s started to founder can be saved. It happened with “ER,” said executive producer Zabel, who’s worked on the show six years.
“I think there was a period when we lost the balance of comedy, drama, the quirkiness, the sort of social realism of the show, the romance,” Zabel said. “What we’ve done is rediscover the chemistry that was there in the early years of the show.”
Audiences seem to be responding. Despite lead-in shows struggling in a crowded field, “ER” is dominant among advertiser-favored young adults at 10 p.m. EST Thursday and is competitive in total viewers.
In season No. 13, an average 13.7 million viewers weekly is nothing to sneeze at.
Last Edit: Dec 13, 2006 19:31:37 GMT -5 by NikkiGreen
"Let me not grope in vain in the dark but keep my mind still in the faith that the day will break and truth will appear in its simplicity." ~~~R. Tagore, Whisperings~~~
Dick Wolf Makes Time for 'Wounded Knee' By Lisa de Moraes
PASADENA, Calif., Jan. 12 Dick Wolf, the network-saving, moneymaking machine, is doing his first work for HBO, an upcoming 2 1/2 -hour adaptation of the early 1970s book "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee," which documented the subjugation of Native Americans during the latter half of the 19th century.
"I'd do anything HBO wants me to, given the strictures I'm under contractually," Wolf, the brain trust behind NBC's "Law & Order," told the media at Winter TV Press Tour 2007. Wolf's production house is set up at NBC Universal, which doesn't leave him a lot of time to do work elsewhere.
Working with HBO was "an amazing experience. I'd love to send some network people to intern there for a while," he said, getting a laugh from the crowd.
One critic wanted to know what the broadcast network interns would learn. He admitted he'd been flip, adding, "It's a little unfair -- they're two completely different business models."
He said: "The attention to detail on every level at HBO is different than a network, but a network has 22 hours to be filled every week. It's a completely different set of parameters. But I can say it's wonderful to be with people whose only aim is to get on the screen the best possible film they can get up there.
"The networks have a tendency -- they're in the numbers game, the daily numbers game. . . . It leads to decisions that are not necessarily artistic."
HBO isn't nearly as rushed to get product on-screen as are the broadcasters, he said, noting that this project was five years in the making.
"I'm not kidding. I think this picture was fast-tracked at HBO." HBO, he said, is "famous and notorious for taking a great deal of time between the first meeting and [my being] up here talking to all of you. The reality is, they end up doing it right. Sometimes it's way too expensive, like 'Rome,' but 'Rome' was one of the most awesome TV [projects] in the last 20 years. You look at it and say, 'Wow, they really didn't care how much it cost!' "
"Wounded Knee" is scheduled for a May premiere on HBO. It stars Aidan Quinn, Adam Beach, August Schellenberg and -- as President Ulysses S. Grant -- former Republican senator and "Law & Order" regular Fred Thompson.
Wolf said he hopes "Wounded Knee" not only "affects people's way of thinking about this part of our history" but also gives them pause when thinking about "other things this nation becomes involved with."
One TV critic asked him if he was referring to Iraq. "If Iraq was the only thing you could reference, maybe," he said. "When any society says to another group, whether indigenous, offshore, next-door, that our way of life will be better for you and we have a better way than you have, you get into real trouble. That's why the world is multicultural and multicolored. What works here is not necessarily going to work there."
The attention to detail on every level at HBO is different than a network, but a network has 22 hours to be filled every week. It's a completely different set of parameters. But I can say it's wonderful to be with people whose only aim is to get on the screen the best possible film they can get up there.
Please, Mr. Wolf. Move our beloved CI over to HBO, where it can grow & flourish
When any society says to another group, whether indigenous, offshore, next-door, that our way of life will be better for you and we have a better way than you have, you get into real trouble. That's why the world is multicultural and multicolored.
Well, I'm a little surprised to hear this comment coming from a white, conservative, middle aged millionaire. Always imagined him being a little in Bush' camp. Looks are deceiving.
A New Boss at NBC, and Even Newer Issues By BILL CARTER
When Jeff Zucker is named the new chief executive of NBC Universal today, succeeding Bob Wright, he will be completing one of the most spectacular ascents of any recent media executive: from part-time sports researcher in 1986 to corporate C.E.O two decades later.
And now for the hard part.
According to NBC executives, Hollywood producers and agents, and many of the financial analysts who follow NBC, Mr. Zucker, 41, faces many pressing issues. Foremost among them: how he will deal with the rapid technological and financial changes that are throwing many traditional media businesses into upheaval. He will also have to choose a team of executives to back his efforts as he sets a new direction for the company.
Mr. Zucker will answer questions about his supporting cast today shortly after he is formally named C.E.O., a senior NBC executive said yesterday.
Mr. Zucker is leaving the job he currently holds, president of the NBC Universal Television Group, but no one will be named to fill that job, the NBC executive said.
But Mr. Zucker is expected to elevate three other senior NBC executives, effectively dividing many of his current responsibilities among them.
Marc Graboff, who is now president of NBC Universal Television West Coast, will be given added supervisory duties over NBC’s entertainment division in California. Beth Comstock, who is president of NBC’s digital and marketing division, and Jeff Gaspin, who heads up the company’s cable operations, will also take on new responsibilities.
Another important NBC West Coast executive, Kevin Reilly, is in talks to extend his contract as president of NBC’s entertainment division.
The most urgent questions facing Mr. Zucker relate to the digital revolution now roiling the media marketplace.
Bill Simon, senior client partner for the global entertainment division of Korn/Ferry International, an executive search firm, said the arrival of digital outlets for television programs had made what was formerly a simple equation for NBC much harder.
“It comes down to this,” Mr. Simon said. “He has to figure out how to grab an audience, how to hold an audience and how to monetize an audience.”
All three jobs will be harder with the advent of Internet sites like YouTube that offer television programming, including shows from NBC, with little financial gain for the networks.
Nicholas P. Heymann, an analyst at Prudential Securities who follows General Electric, NBC’s parent company, said that Mr. Zucker’s task is threefold: he has to continue to create successful programming while also cutting costs in the TV business and elsewhere.
At the same time, Mr. Zucker is charged with trying to figure out what the next disruptive digital media outlet like YouTube will be, and how the company can capitalize on it.
Given the complexity of the task, Mr. Heymann said it made sense for Jeffrey R. Immelt, the chairman of G.E., to select as Mr. Wright’s successor someone who was brought up in the G.E. management ranks. Mr. Zucker has some blemishes on his track record — NBC’s slide in prime time among them — but he has shown recent success.
Compared with hiring an executive from the outside, Mr. Heymann described Mr. Zucker’s hiring as having “the potential to be the lowest-risk alternative with the most potential for upside and success.”
In the near term, Mr. Heymann said, G.E.’s challenge is to return NBC Universal’s earnings to the peak levels they achieved in 2003.
The media company recently reported an increase in earnings for the quarter ended Dec. 31 to $841 million, from $801 million the previous year. It was the first year-over-year profit increase for NBC Universal in five quarters.
The challenges facing Mr. Zucker have little to do with the current state of NBC, which, some detractors notwithstanding, is mainly solid across almost all of its divisions.
Under Mr. Wright, the company has expanded with great success in recent years, adding the Universal movie studio and highly profitable cable channels like USA and Bravo. Until the last couple of years, NBC under Mr. Wright was among the most profitable divisions of G.E.
NBC has been the network leader in news and late-night programs, but trails the other networks in prime time.
One of the downturns for the company occurred on Mr. Zucker’s watch when he ran the network’s entertainment division in California. NBC fell from first place to last in prime time in 2004, just after Mr. Zucker finished his run as president of NBC Entertainment.
Some of collapse of the network’s prime-time fortunes had to do with NBC’s long-term failure to develop new programs. Mr. Zucker was credited with maintaining NBC’s success much longer than might have been expected, given the dearth of hits, because of his ability to manage NBC’s remaining assets, like the comedy “Friends.”
Twice he managed to keep that show on the air (in high-cost negotiations) when it was expected to finish production.
But competitors in Hollywood — and some critics in the press — have pointed to those struggles and asked why Mr. Zucker was not held more responsible for them. Mr. Zucker mainly put his head down, focused on NBC’s more successful cable channels and tried to change the momentum at the network.
Now, thanks to new hits like “The Office” and “Heroes,” NBC’s prime-time lineup has begun to show some improvement.
Longer term, NBC will have to show that it can continue to create hit entertainment content, its chief source of profit. Recent signs have been favorable in that area, according to some of NBC’s most prominent producers, and Mr. Zucker’s relationship with the Hollywood community, once thought to be strained, has been shored up.
Dick Wolf, who has been NBC Universal’s most important producer for a generation because of his “Law & Order” dramas, said in a telephone interview, “I think Jeff will get a very strong endorsement from the community.”
He said misperceptions of NBC had been rife in recent years. “You would think from reading some accounts that this was a company literally going down the tubes,” Mr. Wolf said. “For a company going out of business, it seems to me NBC is generating a lot of cash.”
He said he favored the selection of Mr. Zucker not just because of their friendship but also because “he’s just a really smart guy, and people know I like really smart guys.”
That view was echoed by Ben Silverman, who has become one of NBC’s biggest suppliers of programs, with shows like “The Office” and “The Biggest Loser.” Yesterday NBC announced it had signed a new deal with Mr. Silverman that will give the company first access to all the programs his company develops.
Mr. Silverman noted that Mr. Zucker took pains to make sure the deal was announced as his personal decision, to underscore his Hollywood credentials.
“The guy makes decisions,” Mr. Silverman said. “Sometimes that ruffles feathers in an industry that likes to be coddled, but as a producer I like that kind of transparency.”