TV broadcasts of big-screen hits are expensive
BIG-SCREEN SAVERS No broadcast nets have wrapped a deal on ”The Mummy Returns”; ”The Fast and the Furious” remains in the starting gate; and ”Tomb Raider” is still in a hole (at least as of press time). What happened to the days when networks clamored to snag the TV rights for hot movies? ”The general formula is to pay 15 percent of the box office. But look at the performance of some of these movies on TV, and they don’t justify the price,” says one net suit. Case in point: ”Armageddon” pulled in $201 million domestically but only attracted 10.8 million viewers to ABC in May, coming in fourth for the night. With TV viewers more interested in reality series than flicks, nets are wary of paying hefty fees, even for box office successes. Not that studios are slashing rates: Warner Bros. is shopping ”Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” and sources say the asking price could reach $70 million. (That’s less than the $80 million Fox paid for ”The Lost World: Jurassic Park,” which drew 21.7 million viewers in its first outing.) While some are ready to give ”Potter” a pass (”It looks like ‘David Copperfield’ on A&E,” says one exec), others aren’t ready to rebuff the boy wizard. ”Just when you think a trend is over, a big hit comes along, and you say, ‘Oh s—, I should’ve bought that,”’ says another net suit. ”It happens all the time.”
REALITY’S AD FAD If only Ginsu had known about Justin’s love of knives: Reality shows are now product-placement breeding grounds. If the ”Big Brother 2” housemates aren’t piling into a Buick Rendezvous, the amateur sleuths of Fox’s ”Murder in Small Town X” are using Nokia cell phones to investigate fictitious deaths. Fox is looking for ad opportunities in ”Temptation Island II,” ABC snagged three sponsors, including Pepsi, for the January debut of ”The Runner,” and NBC’s road-tripping ”Lost” will feature plenty of brand names. ”Advertisers have been trying to do [product placement] with the networks for years, but they wanted to do it in a way that made sense for the product,” says Laura Nathanson, ABC’s exec VP of national sales. ”’Survivor’ proved that it can be done — though some could argue that you wouldn’t find Target products on a desert island.” The same might be said of cookies on a fat farm, but that could occur on ”The Big Diet.” One of the Big Four nets is close to ordering the Dutch import that asks contestants to lose weight in 100 days — while being tempted by decadent goodies. Little Debbie, get ready for your close-up.
AND SO ON… Faster than you can say presidential pardon, four ”West Wing” actors who threatened a walkout over salary demands reported to the set this week. Producers were prepared to cease talks if Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, Bradley Whitford, and John Spencer (all of whom hired Überpublicist Pat Kingsley to do damage control) failed to show. Now talks can resume over a reported per-episode salary hike of nearly $50,000 per actor. ”We’re cautiously optimistic,” says one insider of the negotiations.