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The latest news from the TV beat

The latest news from the TV beat — Longer episodes of ”Who Wants To Be a Millionaire” cut writers’ job, while mid-season shows with Ellen Degeneres, Denis Leary, and others get short shift

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Regis Giveth…
…and Regis taketh away: Although Mr. Philbin has doled out millions of dollars to trivia-obsessed know-it-alls, the guy is also responsible for putting lots of people out of work. That’s right, the presence of four-hour-long segments of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire on ABC’s fall schedule means that upwards of 80 sitcom writers will be hitting the unemployment line (the average half-hour comedy hires 10 scribes, and Millionaire will be sucking up eight half hours). That could mean an end — at least for now — to those multimillion-dollar writers’ deals since the scribe supply now exceeds demand. The one positive upshot from this? TV comedies may actually get better. ”Part of the reason sitcoms got bad was because the talent pool was diluted,” says an NBC show runner. ”Now there’s a lot of people available. There’s no panic this year that you’re going to wind up with a weak staff. The only panic is among writers looking for jobs.”

Yep, I’m Worried
From the ”And you thought you had it bad on ABC” department: CBS gave Ellen DeGeneres’ new mid-season sitcom a mere six-episode order (rather than the typical 13), which means the comedian will have little more than a month to prove her ratings mettle. She’s not alone; many of the nets’ mid-season shows — like the Denis Leary project at ABC and Kieran Culkin’s NBC comedy — also got the short shrift. ”The networks have gotten to a place where they look for instant gratification,” says one insider, citing the immediate success of Titus and Malcolm in the Middle. One network’s scheduling head simply says that ”six [episodes] will tell me what I need to know. If they’re funny, we’ll keep rolling.” Though studios like Paramount refuse to play ball because it’s harder to spread a series’ financial risk over six rather than 13 episodes, others are resigned to the nets’ money-saving trend. Says one topper: ”The networks are as conservative as ever, which is why a lot of the fall shows are being driven by established stars and show runners. The short midseason orders are just another example of that.” Oh, and let’s not forget wall-to-wall Regis.

Short Stuff
No sooner did UPN tease us with the possibility that some of its sitcoms would be mercifully shorter next season when it turned around and nixed the concept of airing 15-minute comedies (which were designed to air in back-to-back 30-minute segments next fall). The network hoped the alternative format would lure young males, who are typically turned off to entertainment programming. But have no fear: Sitcom-ettes may still have a future on the netlet. UPN Entertainment president Tom Nunan says that while the scripts weren’t good enough to pull it off this year, ”the experiment didn’t keep us from wanting to revive the possibility.” Good call — in fact, why stop at 15 minutes? How about 10?