ABC Studios terminates nearly 30 overall deals



CORRECTED 4:06 p.m. PT Jan. 13, 2008
UPDATED 4:06 p.m. PT Jan. 13, 2008

ABC Studios has become the first TV studio to terminate overall deals under the force majeure provision in its producers' deals.

In a major housecleaning Friday, close to 30 writing and nonwriting producers who don't have active projects have been axed.

The list includes nonwriting producers Nina Wass and Gene Stein, whose company had been based at ABC Studios since its launch in 2000 and had produced series like "Less Than Perfect." (Wass had been at the studio since 1999.)

It also in¬cludes "Brothers & Sisters" creator/executive producer Jon Robin Baitz, who recently blasted ABC Studios and ABC over his ouster from the show in a widely publicized blog posting.

Also let go are "Borat" helmer Larry Charles, with whom the studio inked a multimillion-dollar deal in March, and ABC Studios-based actor-producer Taye Diggs, whose producing deal was extended for two more years in February when he signed on to star on the ABC/ABC Studios drama "Private Practice."

Also said to have received termination letters from ABC Studios are the writing teams of Joshua Sternin and Jeffrey Ventimilia ("Kitchen Confidential"), Gabe Sachs and Jeff Judah ("What About Brian"), Elisa Zuritsky and Julie Rottenberg ("Sex and the City") as well as writers Jack Kenny ("In Case of Emergency"), Bill Callahan ("Scrubs") and Ken Biller ("Smallville") and producer Sean Bailey ("Gone Baby Gone").

"The ongoing strike has had a significant detrimental impact on development and production, so we are forced to make the difficult decision to release a number of talented, respected individuals from their development deals," an ABC Studios spokeswoman said Friday.

Force majeure action by TV studios had been anticipated as the writers strike entered its third month. In the first week of the strike, the TV studios suspended all overall deals. Four to six weeks into the work stoppage, the studios were permited to terminate any of them under the force majeure (or act of God) provisions in the deals.

Still, few expected that many pacts to be axed at one studio. In the past few years, studios have scaled back from the overall deal boom of the '90s and are primarily signing overall pacts under the auspices of their successful series.

The projects for the current development cycle were set up at the networks before the WGA work stoppage, and the pilot season has been put on hold. With the delayed schedule, the scribes and producers under overall deals would be unable to get any new projects into the pipeline for about a year. To avoid paying salaries, ABC Studios adopted the force majeure option.

Warner Bros. TV will terminate about five to six overall pacts this week, insider say, with other TV studios expected to follow.