On the Air
The latest news from the TV beat
Who says Hollywood avoided an actors’ strike? After four ”West Wing” actors threatened a walkout over salary demands, several other prime-time stars did go AWOL to boost their paychecks. The entire supporting cast of Ted Danson’s ”Becker” staged a one-day sick-out on Aug. 1, while ”Judging Amy” costar Tyne Daly missed several days of work due to a back injury — yet simultaneously asked for more dough. Actors traditionally get raises when a show hits a third season and is syndication-ready, but the studios aren’t feeling particularly generous these days, what with slumping ad sales at the nets. ”In any given year, the studios will use whatever economic reasons they have to say they cannot afford raises,” says attorney Peter Nelson, who represented ”The West Wing”’s Richard Schiff, Allison Janney, John Spencer, and Bradley Whitford in negotiations. ”Part of it is studio ego. No studio wants to have it look like they are succumbing to pressure.” That said, Warner Bros. did agree to more than double the ”West Wing”-ers’ salaries, while CBS is close to a settlement with Daly. (The ”Becker” cast, who are back at work, are still in talks.) So does the walkout strategy work? ”You take it on a case-by-case basis,” says one network suit. ”You treat it like you’re negotiating with a terrorist. If they walk, you can’t negotiate.”
It’s far from a ”Survivor” vs. ”Friends” matchup, but NBC and CBS are still anticipating a battle when their race-for-home reality shows debut on Wednesdays this fall. Insiders at the Eye believe that the Peacock rushed to debut ”Lost,” a Conan O’Brien-produced series, on Sept. 5 — the same evening that Jerry Bruckheimer’s ”The Amazing Race” premieres on CBS. While ”Lost” airs at 8 p.m. and ”Amazing” at 9 p.m., both shows feature contestants racing home from far-flung locales. ”We were willing to let them go first,” argues NBC Entertainment president Jeff Zucker. ”’The Amazing Race’ was going to be a summer show. It’s not like we moved ‘Lost’ to screw them — they are the ones who pushed it back.” NBC’s primary goal with ”Lost,” adds Zucker, is to give ”Ed” an October debut, thereby limiting reruns during the season. CBS insiders aren’t buying it. Says one, ”They are so flush with success with realities this summer, maybe they thought they needed to jam one more in — especially if it meant stealing some of our thunder.” Meow!
AND SO ON… ”Ally McBeal”’s tradition of offbeat guest stars continues. Barry Humphries (a.k.a. Dame Edna) will grace this season’s second episode in character — sort of. Although cross-dressed as Dame Edna, he’ll actually appear as a female plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against a phone company. In other words, Humphries is playing Dame Edna playing someone else, and Dame Edna, not Humphries, will be listed in the credits. Got it?