More global flair for NBC drama

London unit will handle production on midseason 'Philanthropist'

"The Philanthropist" is headed to London. As part of NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker's plan for expanding international operations and curbing costs of scripted series, production of the midseason NBC drama has been moved to NBC Uni's London-based international TV production unit run by Angela Bromstad. Filming of the long-in-the-works series starring James Purefoy is slated to begin shortly in South Africa and the Czech Republic under the supervision of Bromstad, who called the timing "perfect" as her unit recently acquired U.K. production company Carnival Film & Television.

With the move, "we can reap benefits both on the creative and the financial side," NBC exec vp Teri Weinberg said.

"Philanthropist," a pet project of NBC co-chairman Ben Silverman, stars Purefoy as a renegade billionaire who uses his wealth, connections and power to help people in need around the world.

Bringing a global flair to a U.S.-based production had proved economically challenging. But with tax incentives in South Africa and the Czech Republic as well as local filming and postproduction crews, the price tag for "Philanthropist" is expected to drop from about $3.7 million to $2.5 million an episode. And making London a production base for the show helped lock in the British Purefoy as the lead. The writing team will be based at Los Angeles' Universal Media Studios, which will continue to deficit finance.

Zucker talked about the "Philanthropist" production handover during a keynote address before the elite of the U.K.'s broadcast and policy executives at the annual Royal Television Society conference in London on Friday.

"We have to get the cost model under control" through new methods, including outsourcing production to new territories, he said.

Pointing to such shows as "Kath & Kim" and "My Own Worst Enemy," which went straight to series, Zucker said NBC will continue skipping the costly pilot process.

Zucker also reiterated the strength of parent GE's commitment to the media company, calling it "profound" despite the recent financial turmoil and the profit warning issued Thursday by GE.

"I think it's looking at it backwards," he said when asked whether GE was under renewed pressure to sell NBC because of the tightening of liquidity in financial markets. "NBC's significance only increases if there is less coming from the financial divisions. We are a piece of the equation that becomes more important."

Nellie Andreeva reported from Los Angeles; Mimi Turner reported from London.