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On The Air

The latest news from the TV beat

Fox’s Drama Trauma

Fox hasn’t launched a hit drama since 1997’s Ally McBeal, which is why it’s now racing to persuade key players in aging series like Beverly Hills, 90210, Party of Five, and The X-Files to re-up for next season. As for The X-Files, Gillian Anderson is a go (her contract is through 2001), but, for now, creator Chris Carter won’t proceed without David Duchovny, whose deal is up in May. It’ll come down to money: Duchovny makes about $200,000 an episode, whereas the leads on, say, ER make over $400,000. Duchovny will also likely seek a resolution to his lawsuit (he alleges that Twentieth Century Fox TV cheated him out of syndication profits).

Fox TV chairman ”Sandy Grushow will knock himself out to save X-Files,” says United Talent Agency’s Jay Sures. ”Losing this show is the loss of a brand, of promoting other shows, and of critical ratings.”

Doing the Right Thing

NBC and ABC dodged boycotts last week by devising NAACP-friendly goals to create opportunities for minorities (CBS and Fox had yet to announce their plans at press time). Besides promising to patronize more minority-owned production companies and ad agencies, and instituting diversity training, both nets will offer fellowships and internships for college grads. NBC also plans to pick up the tab for adding a minority writer to each series that sees a second season (amounting to three to five jobs a year). That translates to ”a couple hundred thousand” dollars per series, says West Coast president Scott Sassa. (ABC says it’s already mentoring minority writers.)

Of course, NBC has already made provisions to recoup some of those dollars. If a show with a minority writer goes into syndication, the net will get reimbursement from the studio for half the scribe’s salary. What’s more, the net’s proposed job funding is just a goal, not an ironclad promise. Still, Sassa, who admits he was ”shocked” by how few minority writers worked on NBC shows, says he and the studios are committed to change. ”The producers we deal with are pretty liberal,” says Sassa. ”They want to do this.”

Better ‘Angels’?

No sooner does Steven Bochco flout TV convention by cocreating the African-American-dominated hospital drama City of Angels than people complain that it’s still not diverse enough. CBS sources say even all-black focus groups have questioned whether Angels features enough white, Latino, and Asian characters. ”One thing about viewers,” says one rival network exec, ”[they] watch a show because it feels real. If it’s not real, they won’t watch it.” Replies Bochco: ”I don’t put a whole lot of stock in testing. The bottom line is, my creative choice from day one was to make a fundamentally black drama set in an inner-city hospital. To the degree it does or does not conform to an arbitrary demographic profile, I don’t know and candidly I don’t care.”