No more Pyrrhic victories

NBC's just-completed negotiations for Frasier
put the spotlight on the new way of doing business in consolidation-happy Hollywood. But the network never wants to go through it quite this way again.

After months of speculation that Viacom's Paramount Network Television might take its prized sitcom to CBS, also a Viacom property, NBC was able to retain the popular sitcom and, at the same time, keep the status quo in Hollywood-at least for now.

NBC locked the Emmy Award-winning series through its 11th season (2003-04) in a deal that is worth roughly $375 million, or $5.2 million per episode, over the next three seasons. And with the new pact, NBC will receive more rerun rights, while Paramount and Frasier
star Kelsey Grammer have added development commitments from the network.

The Frasier
renewal had been the center of attention on both the network and studio fronts for months now, as industry insiders waited to see whether consolidation and the new alignments in Hollywood would change how the business is done. Viacom's Paramount-CBS relationship is only one of several studio-network relationships in town now. Fox has 20th Century Fox, The WB has Warner Bros., ABC has Touchstone, and even UPN has Paramount.

But NBC executives, who don't have any alignments to speak of, were faced with renewing the show or losing it to CBS in the fall. NBC had until March 1 to renew the sitcom or lose its exclusive bargaining position and face a bidding war with rival networks. Paramount extended the deadline because talks were moving forward.

NBC West Coast President Scott Sassa says this will be the last time he's faced with such a scenario because NBC originally bought Frasier
before CBS was part of Viacom. "This sort of fell through a crack. In our deals now with companies like Fox, Disney or Paramount, there is language that precludes them from being able to deal a show back to their own network. This particular deal didn't have it."

Sassa says the "language" in NBC's contracts with such studios is a lot stronger now and "basically says it can't go to an ABC or an affiliated network." The only way a show could go to a rival network, he added, would be if NBC cancels it.

Was Frasier
headed for CBS? Sassa says, "I know people will make many different claims, but we'll never know the truth."

Paramount TV Group Chairman Kerry McCluggage downplays the suggestion the studio was essentially working a way to deliver a hit comedy to its sister network. "In Frasier, there was no issue about self-dealing," he says. "It was about the market value of the programming of this particular program, and, frankly, had NBC not made the deal, I think there would have been at least two networks interested in this show because of its level of quality and performance."

The deal comes just weeks before the major networks start assembling their fall lineups and also at a time when two other shows are facing similar circumstances. A pair of 20th Century Fox series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
at The WB and Dharma & Greg
at ABC, are up for renewal and could find new homes next season. The co-owned Fox network is the likely suitor for Buffy
if The WB fails to renew it. Industry insiders say they expect both shows to stay put , too. A spokesman for 20th Century Fox TV had no comment.

Stephen McPherson, executive vice president for Touchstone Television, a unit of Disney, which owns ABC, says the day a studio takes a show off a rival network and onto its own will be a dark day in Hollywood. "I think it's going to be a damaging blow if a network at some point loses a show to a rival network because of a studio play."