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September 10, 1998 - Image 10

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The Michigan Daily, 1998-09-10

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10A - The Michigan Dail - Thursday, September 10, 1998

Networks cut workers for better shows

Los Ang&. Times
HOLLY WOOD -- In addition to bar-
becues and beach parties, many employ-
ees of the major television networks
spent Labor Day wondering whether
they will still have jobs come
Thanksgiving.
Reacting to declining ratings, rising
programming costs and flat advertising
revenue, all the networks are pursuing
what's euphemistically known as "belt

tightening" - a term that usually
implies shedding workers as opposed to
pounds.
Certain NBC staffers have received
memos asking them to describe and jus-
tify their positions, presumably in
advance of potential layoffs. ABC has
gradually sought to reduce staff and
slash overhead.
CBS recently told financial analysts of
plans to implement a major cost-cutting

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initiative. Without specifying how many
positions will be eliminated, CBS Corp.
President Mel Karmazin said that $70
million was being set aside to cover sev-
erance packages. Such announcements
traditionally play well in those circles,
and CBS' stock price benefited accord-
ingly.
Some observers have attributed these
reductions to huge programming com-
mitments made in the last year, among
them CBS' $4 billion deal to televise
National Football League games, NBC's
$850 million health-care bill to keep
"ER" three more seasons and the more
than $32 million that "Home
Improvement" star Tim Allen will
receive for what's expected to be that
ABC comedy's final season.
Focusing on those agreements, how-
ever, overlooks the importance of such
programming to the networks' survival.
It also doesn't address less-justifiable
expenditures in which networks indulge
while firing low-paid assistants or cut-
ting back on messenger deliveries,
Football and "ER" have at least
demonstrated their ability to deliver rat-
ings. What should most aggravate those
who fear losing their jobs, rather, is the
money that networks and studios squan-
der on unproductive deals - investing

millions on programs that never air or
engaging in expensive bidding wars to
secure the services of writers who
worked on popular series but haven't
created one.
Driven by ego or fear of losing out to
competitors, executives fall victim to
feeding frenzies over witers or actors
who become the "must get" star of the
moment, despite the fact that such acqui-
sitions rarely yield dividends over the
long haul.
The Hollywood trade papers regularly
trumpet the astounding figures com-
manded by such talent, such as CBS' $15
million agreement for future series from
the creator of "The Single Guy" or the
DreamWorks studio committing slightly
more to a writer whose credits include
working on "The Cable Guy" (Jim
Carrey's lone box-office flop) and "The
Ben Stiller Show," a series that didn't last
long on Fox.
Granted, the latter fellow worked on
"The Larry Sanders Show" as well, but,
based on the number of writers who
came and went on that series, one might
conclude that its co-creator, producer
and star, Garry Shandling, was the key
ingredient in its creative artistry. In the
thrill of the hunt, TV executives can for-
get to engage in such calculations, clam-

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Is' _A'

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courtesy of NBC
The cast of "ER" have proven their salaries are worth the cost with high ratings.

L/& \,

We offer jobs that:
are on campus,
pay well.
look good on a resume
have flexible hours.
are fun and exciting!

17,, 'n r ,
(tr, , 'T ,y.
G. A en

oring to land hot writing prospects from
"Friends" or "Frasier" without discern-
ing until too late where their contribu-
tions begin and end.
Beyond what's spent on those deals,
each year several projects announced
with great fanfare never get off the
ground. Every network can tell stories of
ordering shows and then burying them in
the summer, while Fox has twice pro-
duced multiple episodes of series before
deciding not to broadcast them at all.
In extending sight-unseen commit-
ments to talent, networks also agree to
what are known as "penalty payments"
- requiring them, in essence, to pay
those involved for not putting their
shows on the air,
Compared to that kind of largess, the
high fees doled out to established pro-
grams and stars don't look quite so bad,
offering an almost certain return on the
investment. Allen and "Frasier's" Kelsey
Grammer make a lot of money, yes, but
in those vehicles they happen to attract
viewers, in the same way Shaquille
O'Neal and Mark McGwire fill arena
and stadium seats.
The same can hardly be said of
shelling out big bucks for the privilege of
producing a new series pilot with some-
one who hasn't created one before or,
having already made millions, has little
desire to do so again. The savviest exec-

utives recognize this, but that didn't pre-
vent many from tripping over themselves
to sign members of "Seinfeld's" writing
staff to exclusive contracts, prayin at
the show's success will somehow ruff.
Of course, developing TV programs
can't be an exact science. After creating
the marginally popular HBO series
"Dream On," producers Marta
Kauffman and David Crane dreamed up
"Family Album,' a CBS series that came
and went without notice. Their next
show, NBC's "Friends," became the sort
of hit that practically obliterates th
memory of failure. 9
What networks and studios must do i,
take stock of their own business prac
tices and where they place their bets
Laying off middle-level managers
always impresses Wall Street, but sayin4
"No" when asked to commit millions o
a writer with some noteworthy credits
but perhaps not the requisite chops t
create another "Friends" - require.
considerably more backbone.
Because of that dynamic, those es
perate to succeed will surely conti 't
chase talent with near-drunken abandon
even as CBS' Karmazin begins sawin
away at the network's "dead wood" as i
the company were a massive old oak. Ye
wouldn't it be refreshing, just once, if
guy like that started by taking a look a
the branch he's sitting on?

Stop by and find out what we have to offer!
Friday, September 11, 1998
10:00 a.m.- 4:00 p.m.
S.A.B. Atrium

EMMY
Continued from Page 9A

RESUMES: $40
SUIT: $2o

MORE

RES

UME

S

40

Courtesy of Amblin Enterh'me
Humorous speeches, such as Michael
J. Fox's Emmy acceptance speech,
could break the award show humdrum
that one telecast, scheduled for th
standard three hours, ran over by 4
minutes.)
For a show that now seems s
uncontainable, the Emmy Award
began in very modest fashion o
Jan. 25, 1949, honoring the 194
shows. At first; Mischer said, Wet
tured six awards and was broa ca
only in Los Angeles. (The ceremon
went national in 1955.) The awar
categories have grown since the
and taken on odd forms along th
way - one 1950 category was f
the Most Outstanding Ma
Performer Seen Only in Los Angel
Except for Occasional Guest Sh
Appearances Elsewhere. A
The program will use the andie
sary and extra time to look back
television itself, as well as t
Emmys.
Ten television milestones, select
through a survey ofjournalists, will
spotlighted throughout the show.
In the aftermath of "Seinfeld's" lo
good-bye, shows that had long runs a
emotional farewells will be recalled.
Current stars will recall the T
personalities who inspired the
Look for a montage of TV pr a
ming mistakes -this could mean cli
from "Manimal!"- plus a short fil
tracing the growth of the medium.
Perhaps the most ambitious pr
ject is a series of shorts from fil
makers James Moll and June Beal
who toured the country aski
Americans to describe televisio
impact upon their lives.
Moll and Bealer "were
mended by Steven Spielberg," sa
Mischer. "We're going to go out
workers on drilling platforms in t
Gulf of Mexico, up to Alaska,
over the place."
It figures to be an evening rich
nnctalia for viewers with livpe

Wre

'I-

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