Paging Dr. Green
Breaking news: ER takes pay cut from NBC; Anthony Edwards forced to moonlight! Just joshing, but the Peacock did score a bargain by picking up ER through 2004 for $9 million an episode, down from $13 million the last two seasons when NBC—still shaken by the loss of Seinfeld—paid top dollar to keep the drama. (Even at the reduced cost, ER still ranks as prime time’s costliest show.) But don’t feel sorry for ER producer Warner Bros. Insiders say it costs the studio only $3-4 million to produce an episode of the show, which also generates a reported $1.2 million per episode in syndication. ”We made a lot of money on this deal,” says one Warner Bros. insider. So how about sharing it with some Friends?
What a difference a call from Kweisi Mfume can make. Last spring, you could count on one hand the number of potential fall TV shows that featured black leads or ensemble casts. Now that NAACP prez Mfume has put the industry on notice, more than half of the 120-plus pilots for next season feature black, Latino, or Asian leads. And unlike last year—when Steven Bochco’s City of Angels was the only series to tout a minority cast—several pilots were developed with diversity in mind: Damon Wayans plays a patriarch in ABC’s Wife and Kids, Gregory Nava (Mi Familia) is executive-producing a Hispanic clan drama at CBS, and For Your Love creator Yvette Lee Bowser is behind NBC’s The Thing About Family, which focuses on a multi-ethnic household. ”It was a good year to be a minority,” says John Kimble, head of TV talent for the William Morris Agency. ”The industry saw a flaw and fought very hard to correct it.” It doesn’t hurt that the NAACP is reserving the right to boycott a network if its demands aren’t met. The true test comes the week of May 15, when the six nets’ fall schedules get set in stone (for a few weeks, anyway). Then we’ll really see how many diverse pilots make the cut.
For once, it’s not just NBC’s Must-See lineup that has rivals in a scheduling quandary for fall. All eyes are on ABC, which may extend Who Wants to Be a Millionaire beyond three nights a week. Although the Alphabet doesn’t want to be seen as the Regis Philbin network, says one Big Four exec, ”you can’t beat it as a promotional tool to help launch other shows. They’re printing money with Millionaire. Why be apologetic?” ABC certainly isn’t during May sweeps—it’s added an additional episode on Wednesdays, plus a behind-the-scenes show May 18. But Millionaire exec producer Michael Davies says more nights are unlikely. ”From the outside it may look easy to produce, but there is a limit,” he says. ”Forget about Regis’ health. I’m ready to die over this whole thing.”