It's nail-biting time in network suites, as execs await the outcome of negotiations and soul-searching career choices.
One deal resolved Wednesday: ER. NBC managed to preempt a bidding war and float enough money producers' way (try nearly $1 billion), ensuring that the Emmy-winning, top-rated medical drama will remain in the network fold through the 2000-2001 season. According to early reports, NBC will pay up to $13 million an episode for the series during the next three seasons. That's up from the $10 million-an-episode deal ER's studio was originally said to be seeking. (The network currently pays $2 million per episode for a 22-show season.)
It was widely speculated that the impending departure of Seinfeld--and now, pro football--from NBC's schedule would make ER even more valuable to the network and drive up its asking price. In this case, speculation proved on target.
In other TV news: Tim Allen gave ABC cause for celebration Tuesday, announcing that he will return for season No. 8 of Home Improvement. Mad About You's Reiser and Hunt, meanwhile, remain uncommitted to reprising season No. 7 of their NBC marital comedy, today's Los Angeles Times reports.
Allen, for one, said he wasn't ready to walk out on his prime-time gig. "The cast members, the crew and the staff of Home Improvement are like a second family to me...," he said, in a statement.
The comic had been dithering on signing a new contract worth a reported $1.25 million an episode. Costar Richard Karn said Allen wanted assurances that the comedy series would be offered a stronger, or better protected, timeslot next fall. Battling NBC's Frasier Tuesday nights at 9, the once top-rated sitcom has slipped out of the top 10--No. 14 in the most recent ratings' tally.
There was no word what assurances, if any, ABC gave Allen regarding Home Improvement's future on its schedule.
As Allen (and Jerry Seinfeld before him) said money didn't factor into the decision-making process, so Reiser and Hunt say their paychecks aren't factors in their current Hamlet-esque mode.
"It comes down to Helen and I going in a room and saying, 'What do you think?,'" Reiser tells the Times.
In the article, Hunt, a double-Golden Globe nominee this weekend and odds-on favorite for an Oscar nod for As Good As It Gets, describes herself as "split right down the middle." She likes the show, doesn't feel it's hampered her film career but can't get away from a desire to "downshift a little bit."
"If we sit down and go, 'Let's be honest, we did it.' I think we'll go home," Hunt says, in the newspaper. "If we sit down and say, 'Yeah, but next year there's this to work on,' then I'll want to be back."
NBC would be advised to pray that the latter conversation takes place. Prior to today's ER deal, the still top-rated network was taking on water faster than the Titanic. Its latest hit: the much-hyped Jenny McCarthy sitcom. The network has conceded defeat, pulling the freshman show from the schedule, effective next week.