Black Monday at TV studios

Dozens of deals terminated

The force majeure ax swung wide Monday as four TV studios — CBS Paramount Network TV, Universal Media Studios, 20th Century Fox Television and Warner Bros. TV — tore up dozens of overall deals.

All four issued similarly worded statements blaming the writers strike for the terminations, which are expected to save the studios tens of millions of dollars. But none came close to the nearly 30 overall deals axed at ABC Studios on Friday. CBS Par and 20th TV each dropped half that number. UMS and WBTV stayed in the single digits, with WBTV's termination tally said to be less than five deals. Like ABC Studios, CBS Par, UMS, 20th TV and WBTV mostly went after writers, producers and directors with no active projects.

CBS Par's force majeure list includes some high-profile writing and nonwriting producers: Hugh Jackman, whose Seed Prods. inked a multiyear deal at the studio in August; "The Chronicles of Narnia" producer Mark Johnson; veteran writer-producer Rene Echevarria, who co-created CBS Par's USA Network series "The 4400" (he will continue his services as exec producer on the studio's NBC drama "Medium"); the Emmy-winning "Sopranos" writing duo of Mitchell Burgess and Robin Green; Barry Schindel ("Numbers"); and John McNamara ("Fastlane").

Scribes Jennifer Levin ("Without a Trace"), Liz Astrof ("The King of Queens") and the team of Aron Abrams and Greg Thompson ("Everybody Hates Chris") also received termination letters from CBS Par.

"Production companies in the entertainment industry continue to feel the impact of the ongoing writers strike," CBS Par TV said. "As a result of this change in development and production activity, we have made a difficult decision to discontinue overall deals with a number of writers and producers whose talents we greatly value and respect."

In a clear sign about the future of Fox's "K-Ville" and NBC's "Journeyman" — two low-rated 20th TV-produced freshman series whose ultimate fate has remained in limbo because of the strike — the studio terminated the overall deals of "K-Ville" creator/exec producer Jonathan Lisco and co-exec producer Lawrence Kaplow as well as that of "Journeyman" creator/exec producer Kevin Falls.

Also axed at 20th TV were director-producer Greg Yaitanes ("Drive"); writer-producers Chris Black ("Standoff"), Paul Redford ("The Unit"), Barbie Adler ("My Name Is Earl"), Kristin Newman ("How I Met Your Mother"); and the writing duos of Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts ("Women's Murder Club") and Matt Silverstein and Dave Jeser ("Drawn Together").

"Because of the adverse effects of the ongoing WGA strike on our business, we have been forced to terminate overall deals with a number of talented writers and producers," 20th TV said. "We regret these circumstances and wish these creative individuals the best."

Among the writers with force majeure letters from UMS were Moses Port and David Guarascio, creators/exec producers of the CW's freshman comedy "Aliens in America," which is now produced by CBS Par and WBTV after UMS dropped out after the pilot. Alex Herschlag ("Will & Grace") and Cheryl Holliday ("Still Standing") also were dropped from the studio's roster of overall deals.

"The duration of the WGA strike has significantly affected our ongoing business," UMS said. "Regretfully, due to these changed business circumstances, we've had to end some writer-producer deals."

And there was more regret in the statement from WBTV.

"As an unfortunate but direct consequence of the strike, we have been forced to release some of the valued members of our roster from their development deals," the studio said.

ABC Studios on Friday became the first TV studio to invoke the so-called force majeure provision that allows them to terminate overall deals four to six weeks into a strike.

Among the talent let go at ABC Studios are veterans Nina Wass and Gene Stein, "Brothers & Sisters" creator Jon Robin Baitz and "Borat" director Larry Charles.
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