[09/14/04 - 12:00 AM]
Various Issues Holding Up New Seasons of FOX's 'Tru Calling,' USA's 'The 4,400'
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

LOS ANGELES (thefutoncritic.com) -- Sometime during 2005 both FOX's "Tru Calling" and USA's "The 4,400" are expected to return for second seasons. The paths both series are facing to get there however are widely different.

"The 4,400's" first season averaged nearly 6 million viewers for USA, breaking all sorts of records for the cable channel and basic cable itself, making a second season a near guarantee. Producer Paramount Network Television and USA network owner NBC Universal however are haggling over several key issues in regards to the show's return. NBC Universal reportedly wants to include the right to repurpose the series on any of its networks (most likely NBC itself) for a nominal fee as part of a second season renewal.

Paramount, which is now under the watch of Viacom Co-COO Les Moonves (whose domain includes CBS and UPN), is scoffing at the idea as undoubtedly they don't want to give NBC the option of plugging "The 4,400" in its lineup against CBS should any of the Peacock's series falter.

NBC Universal nevertheless says said exposure would no doubt benefit "The 4,400's" numbers (a la the Peacock's repurposing of Bravo's "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy") and points to the show's original success being partly due to the sci-fi drama's cross-platform promotion across all of the company's properties (including ads on NBC). The newfound strategy is being applied across the board as virtually all of the license fees for its new cable properties now include the provision to repurpose on other channels under its corporate umbrella. Viacom in any case points to the fact that "The 4,400's" deal with USA was signed well before the Peacock's merger with the channel's owner and should be treated as such.

Making things even more complicated for Paramount is that producers didn't have an option for the cast beyond its original six-hours, forcing production costs to rise past $1.5 million per episode as all involved demanded raises to return.

In any case, should a deal not be worked out between Paramount and NBC Universal, USA has the option to shop the series elsewhere, including NBCU's own NBC Universal Television Studios. Producers are hoping some sort of deal will be hammered out in time for production on 13 new episodes of "The 4,400" to begin in February for a summer 2005 premiere on USA.

Meanwhile as for "Tru Calling," the decision by FOX yesterday to postpone the show's second season launch on November 4 has exposed some serious issues about the series' future. Originally given a 13-episode order for its second season, industry insiders say the network may halt production once work completes on its sixth episode. The reason however isn't a creative one (FOX reportedly likes the direction the show is taking for its new season), but rather like most TV-related decisions, an economic one.

With a hefty midseason roster that includes over a dozen series - such as dramas "Athens," "The Inside," "Point Pleasant," "Jonny Zero" and season four of "24"; comedies "American Dad," "Related by Family" and "The Sketch Show"; new reality projects "Hell's Kitchen" and "Nanny 911" not to mention fresh seasons of "American Idol" and "The Simple Life" - the network is undoubtedly looking to cut back on some of its commitments. And with "Tru" being at best a modest success for FOX, the odds are much higher for one of its new dramatic entries to succeed than to go to bat again with the middling "Tru."

No formal decision has been made about rolling back the show's 13-episode order nor has producer 20th Century Fox Television or Original Television commented on the possibility. The pair are also behind "Point Pleasant" on the network.

  [september 2004]  

· 24 (FOX)
· 4400, THE (USA)

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