Panelists call NBC's 'Leno' move gutsy

Participants included USA's Wachtel, WME's Ferriter

With just a 1.5 rating, "The Jay Leno Show" could make $300 million a year for NBC -- and probably spark other networks to follow suit.

That was the judgment of WME head of nonscripted John Ferriter, speaking Tuesday on a Producers Caucus panel at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Other panelists, including USA Networks' Jeff Wachtel and Lionsgate's Kevin Beggs, concurred that NBC's move was gutsy and that in any case the Peacock almost certainly would continue to declare victory -- often and loudly -- with regard to replacing five scripted hours a week with "Leno."

As for what the intrusion of a talk show into network primetime means for television during the next two years, most opined that the proportions of scripted and nonscripted likely won't shift dramatically overall. But they noted that cablers are likely to play a bigger role with dramas and comedies and that broadcasters would have further reduced their reliance on scripted, especially high-end, dramas.

In other remarks, HBO's Michael Lombardo said the biggest challenge is always to get the best talent and give them free rein to do their thing.

"It doesn't matter how old or young the writer is or how many credits he has," Lombardo said. "The question is, does he bring a fresh voice to interesting material?" HBO's president of programming also said that his company had been "stymied" in the wake of the success of "The Sopranos" and "Sex and the City" but now has its creative mojo back in gear.

During the discussion about the new season and changing business models, drama creator-producers Kevin Williamson ("The Vampire Diaries") and Matt Nix ("Burn Notice") amusingly described their methods and the hourly pressures they face to get their shows in the can. Neither, interestingly, is averse to notes from executives or product-placement possibilities; both get that cost-containment is part of the process.

Asked about their involvement in their respective Web expansions and iterations, both had the same response. Said Nix: "We're really not involved. However integral to the series such things are described at Comic-Con, essentially the Web thing just gets farmed out to a talented staff writer who wants to step up."

The panel was moderated by THR editor Elizabeth Guider.