Ovitz group seeks white knight

After laying off half its staff, Michael Ovitz's troubled Artists Television Group is in search of a potential Hollywood suitor.

The two-year-old studio, which is producing Ellen DeGeneres' new comedy at CBS this fall and reality series Lost in the U.S.A. for The WB, is said to be in talks with a number of studios and networks, including Paramount and Sony, for a potential production deal that will allow ATG to keep its doors open. Network and studio rivals have long wondered how Hollywood agent Ovitz could finance a studio with his own money and after a tough second development season, those worries appear to be true.

On Wednesday, Ovitz laid off 18 of the studios' 38 employees, including Bill Phillips, ATG's senior vice president of production. Sources say ATG executives have been looking for a strategic partner to help finance their productions for over a year without luck. Last year, in its initial development season, ATG launched four primetime series-ABC's Madigen Men, NBC's Cursed, Fox's The $treet and WB's Grosse Pointe.

All four series failed to get a second season and Ovitz took a large financial hit. As for this fall, WB and CBS executives say their shows with ATG will go on as scheduled. ATG also has a deal with The WB for midseason comedy Cedric, The Coach and its unclear if that show will be effected by the studios' financial woes. ATG executives had no comment. - Joe Schlosser