ABC pages 'Scrubs'; NBC irked


UPDATED 7:32 p.m. PT Feb. 29, 2008

Veteran comedy "Scrubs" is caught in a tug-of-war between NBC and ABC.

ABC is in negotiations to pick up 18 episodes of the series from ABC Studios, which has produced the comedy for NBC since 2001.

NBC brass are said to have been caught off guard when broke the story Thursday.

A network insider said NBC is still in "first negotiation period" — a period of exclusive negotiations — with ABC Studios.

ABC Studios chose not to respond.

Given the history between NBC and ABC Studios, which have been at odds over the quirky medical comedy since the get-go, industry observers are preparing for an ugly battle between the two over a series considered to be on its final lap.

A broadcast series switching networks, though often discussed during contract renewals, is a rare event. Recent network jumpers include "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (WB Network to UPN) and "JAG" (NBC to CBS).

The WGA strike cut short NBC's 18-episode final season order for the Zach Braff medical series to 12 episodes. Sources said the network has been reluctant to order additional episodes for the fall, citing the fact that it already has some remaining originals in the can. NBC reportedly floated various endgame scenarios to producers, including ordering one final episode or producing the remaining episodes direct to DVD.

Details of the ABC deal are still being hammered out and negotiations are currently underway to bring back the show's cast -- including Braff, Sarah Chalke, Donald Faison, John C. McGinley and Judy Reyes (who already has a talent deal with ABC Studios).

After struggling in recent years to launch a hit comedy, ABC scored this season with freshman "Samantha Who?" The "Scrubs" pickup will give ABC another half-hour title with a built-in audience. It also makes financial sense for parent company Disney because ABC Studios produces the show.

ABC president of entertainment Steve McPherson has a history with "Scrubs," having developed the comedy during his tenure overseeing the studio when it was known as Touchstone Television. McPherson also has been vocal about his intent to pick up the show should NBC drop it.

It has been a rocky ride for "Scrubs." NBC repeatedly has shifted the critically praised but modestly rated show around its schedule. For the past two seasons, NBC also waited until the eleventh hour to pick it up with partial season orders.

Most recently, "Scrubs" has aired as part of NBC's Thursday night lineup along with "The Office," "My Name Is Earl" and "30 Rock," where the medical comedy often was the lowest-rated of the bunch.

NBC has five original episodes of "Scrubs" left, which the network plans to air starting April 10.