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A bidding stand-off

A high-priced game of Russian roulette, television style, may cause three series- Frasier, Dharma & Greg and Buffy the Vampire Slayer- to move to new networks next fall, all evidence of the power of a hit show in an increasingly fragmented television universe.

NBC's exclusive negotiating period for Frasier
with Paramount Network TV came and went late last week, with both sides holding firm to their demands. Paramount wants a three-year, $5.5 million renewal, while NBC executives would rather have a two-year pact for less money.

Insiders say CBS is ready to step up to the plate for its co-owned studio and nab Frasier. ABC is facing a renewal in the area of $3 million per episode for Dharma & Greg, which is produced by 20th Century Fox, or the reality of losing its Tuesday night comedy to NBC or Fox. Negotiations for Dharma are in an early stage, and where Frasier ends up may influence ABC's decision.

Likewise, The WB CEO Jamie Kellner said last week that he has made his final offer to Buffy the Vampire Slayer producer, 20th Century Fox, and "the ball is now in their court." Buffy, in its fifth season on The WB, may wind up on rival Fox.

The WB is ready to pay $1.6 million, while the studio is believed to be asking for closer to $2 million per episode. As of this week, 20th Century Fox is able to shop the series around.

Studios sell programs to networks at a deficit, hoping to make up the difference in syndication. But Buffy is unusually expensive to produce.

"We have no idea whether Fox will decide to come down; we have made our proposal to them, and they made a proposal back to us that was not acceptable," said Kellner. "We've been pretty clear about how we get there and that we are willing to take all of the revenue that the show generates and take off the fixed costs of agency commissions and the paid media to support the show..That's as far as we will go."