TV SHOWS BUDGETS SOAR WITH BIG SCOPE OF SHOWS
The broadcast networks are getting an early start this year on one of the rituals of the fall: Chaos and panic on new shows.
As the 2007-08 season kicks off this week, there's already been a surprising amount of sturm and drang, production shutdowns and shouting matches around town. To paraphrase Leo Tolstoy, every unhappy show is unhappy in its own way -- but there are some common threads that explain the angst.
Call it the "Lost"-"Heroes" effect. After those shows became surprise hits (for ABC and NBC, respectively), the major nets have been encouraged to invest in ambitious sci-fi/fantasy skeins or to incorporate supernatural elements into conventional shows. Shows with a lot of moving parts (f/x, prosthetics, special film processing techniques) create many more opportunities to rack up red ink and production delays.
The larger issue is that the size and scope of high-end broadcast TV fare has grown inordinately as networks feel the pressure to make their shows stand above the plethora of options on cable. That means using miniatures, cranes, elaborate location shoots and greenscreen work. It's the movie-ization of the smallscreen -- witness the parade of film directors and producers tackling pilots these days -- yet there is a kind of pervasive denial among execs about the kind of coin that it actually takes to produce these episodes.
"The demands on shows, especially the one-hour drama, are so huge right now that it's very hard not to buckle under the expectations," says one production exec.
Production costs for a high-end scripted drama series now range from $2.7 million to $3.3 million per seg; single-camera half-hour comedies range from $1.6 million to more than $2 million, depending on cast size and the level of star salaries, according to industry sources. Budget overruns happen every year on new shows; the problem seems magnified in recent years because budgets have ballooned so quickly.
"The biggest problem studios and networks face is making sure that everybody -- execs, writers, talent -- has clear expectations of what we need to manage these kinds of productions," says a veteran studio production exec. "There are often disconnects between needs and expectations, and that's where the offscreen drama begins."
Another exec says it's essential "to set a realistic bar" on the budget.
"Otherwise, you end up spending dumb money. You spend more money reshooting, hiring other crews, adding storylines."
RESIDENT EVIL TOPS AT THE BOX OFFICE
“Resident Evil: Extinction,” the third installment of Screen Gems zombie actioner franchise, loaded up $9.2 million for the top spot at Friday’s box office.
Pic’s first Friday box office is on par with the opening day take of its 2004 sequel, “Resident Evil: Apocalypse,” and 36% higher than the first “Evil” which bowed in March 2002. “Apocalypse” went on to grab the top spot of its early September 2004 frame with $23 million and a final domestic tally of $50.7 million.
Playing in 2,828 locations, “Extinction” is pacing well ahead of the weekend’s competition for the top spot at the box office.
The Dane Cook-Jessica Alba romantic comedy “Good Luck Chuck” placed second yesterday, swooning $4.9 million from 2,612 theaters. Pic’s Friday is 17% higher than the first day of Cook’s previous fall outing, last year’s “Employee of the Month” which co-starred Jessica Simpson. That film opened at $11.4 million during the first weekend of October and “Chuck” is expected to outpace it.
The Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow drama “The Brave One” grabbed $2.2 million from 2,755 hardtops in its second Friday, 52% off from its opening day. Pic’s current cume stands at $19.9 million.
Focus Features’ wide expansion of David Cronenberg’s Russian mafia drama “Eastern Promises” took the fourth spot at the Friday box office with $1.8 million off 1,404 theaters, bringing its eight day cume to $2.6 million.
Lionsgate’s western “3:10 to Yuma” grossed $1.74 million yesterday on 2,902 for fifth, down 37% from last Friday. Since its Sept. 7 opening, the Russell Crowe-Christian Bale headliner has roped $33.3 million.
Ranking just behind “Yuma,” was U’s Amanda Bynes entry “Sydney White” with $1.73 million off 2,104.
Among other arthouse expansions in their sophomore frame, Tri-Star-Revolution’s “Across the Universe” posted $643,000 from 276 locales and a current cume of $1.6 million while Warner Independent’s “In the Valley of Elah” grossed $336,000 from 317, moving its total take to $518,000. Par Vantage’s opener “Into the Wild,” directed by Sean Penn, touted Friday’s highest screen average with $14,752 or $59,000 from four theaters.
The Brad Pitt oater “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” corralled $44,000 from 15 locations for a per screen average of $2,958.
ACTRESS ALICE GHOSTLEY DIES
Alice Ghostley, the Tony Award-winning actress best known on television for playing Esmeralda on "Bewitched" and Bernice on "Designing Women," has died. She was 81.
Ghostley died Friday at her home in Studio City after a long battle with colon cancer and a series of strokes, longtime friend Jim Pinkston said.
Ghostley made her Broadway debut in "Leonard Sillman's New Faces of 1952." She received critical acclaim for singing "The Boston Beguine," which became her signature song.
Miles Kreuger, president of the Los Angeles-based Institute of the American Musical, said part of Ghostley's charm was that she was not glamorous.
"She was rather plain and had a splendid singing voice, and the combination of the well-trained, splendid singing voice and this kind of dowdy homemaker character was so incongruous and so charming," Kreuger said.
In the 1960s, Ghostley received a Tony nomination for various characterizations in the Broadway comedy "The Beauty Part" and eventually won for best featured actress in "The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window."
From 1969 to 1972, she played the good witch and ditzy housekeeper Esmeralda on TV's "Bewitched." She played Bernice Clifton on "Designing Women" from 1987 to 1993, for which she earned an Emmy nomination in 1992.
Ghostley's film credits include "To Kill a Mockingbird," "The Graduate," "Gator" and "Grease."