In a case of the right talent meeting the right need at the right
time, Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, the creators of the 1980s
hit show thirtysomething, have concluded a complicated new
series deal that several participants say may be the first step in a
radically changed approach to controlling escalating program costs.
The deal is unusual in several ways, beginning with the fact that
it involves four series at two networks, ABC and Fox, under the
control of two Hollywood studios, Disney and Fox. But it is the
element of who will own the rights to future sales of the shows --
should they be successful -- that places the deal at the heart of
issue roiling the entire television industry.
Under the deal, Bedford Falls, the company owned by Zwick and
Herskovitz, will create at least three new shows for ABC, all to be
produced through Buena Vista Television, the studio owned by ABC's
parent, Walt Disney. They will also create at least one new show for
the Fox network, produced through a subsidiary of Fox Television,
studio owned by the Fox Inc. unit of News Corp. Thus, in both cases
the shows will be partly owned by the companies that own the
broadcasting the shows.
Earlier this year, NBC was forced to pay the Warner Brothers unit
of Time Warner $286 million a year to retain ER, television's most
popular show. In the wake of that, numerous producers and studio
executives have said that NBC, in an apparent attempt to control
future costs, is pressing creators of programs either to cede some
the ownership rights to the network or else to sign licensing
contracts that give the network exclusive rights to the show for up
to 10 years. Executives at NBC, a unit of General Electric, deny
Still, referring to the reports about NBC, Zwick said: "This seems
to be the trend. In making this deal, we were looking for a way for
the artist to fit into this changing dynamic." Herskovitz added,
"Without a doubt, the ownership issue drove this deal."
In a change from conventional practice, Zwick and Herskovitz will
receive more than 50 percent of the syndicated rerun profits from
the shows they create under this deal.
"This deal represents what the future is going to be," said Lloyd
Braun, chairman of Buena Vista. "The system as currently constituted
Under the current system, studios pay established writers millions
of dollars in upfront fees to secure their talents to create shows.
While the studios retain the bulk of ownership rights, the writers
end up with modest profits when or if the shows are successful. …