- The Washington Times - Monday, July 13, 2009

Show delayed

NBC has delayed the premiere of its new drama “Parenthood” to midseason due to an illness affecting show star Maura Tierney that has delayed production by eight weeks, says TVWeek.com, citing a story from the Hollywood Reporter.

Filming was scheduled to begin July 27 for a fall premiere.

The network will now move midseason series “Mercy” to begin in the fall. The cast and crew of the show have been called to begin work.

NBC did not release information about Miss Tierney’s condition.

This marks the second time “Parenthood” has faced production delays. Pilot production was shut down for two days after the unexpected death of NBC Vice President of Drama Nora O’Brien.

Cox beefs up VOD

Cox Communications Inc. is doubling down on a video-on-demand strategy it has dubbed “TV Anytime,” to let subscribers watch their favorite shows where most people still watch television: on TV.

By Oct. 1, the cable operator is aiming to offer 100 “of America’s top-rated television programs from that week,” Cox President Patrick J. Esser told Multichannel.com, from more than 20 networks the day after they air. That’s up from 50 to 60 shows per week currently in the MyPrimetime queue.

The networks participating in the service have included ABC, NBC, Syfy, Turner Broadcasting System’s TBS, TNT and Cartoon Network, Fox’s FX and Rainbow Media’s AMC.

Cox is now expanding its MyPrimetime to include content from A&E, USA, Lifetime, Discovery, TLC, Animal Planet, Disney and Disney XD, ABC Family, SoapNet, IFC, WE TV, Travel Channel and Bravo.

The industry in recent months has been abuzz about “TV Everywhere,” the idea that cable TV subscribers can access full-length episodes on the Web as part of their monthly bill. Comcast this month expects to begin a 5,000-household test of the concept with programming from Time Warner Inc., Starz Entertainment and others.

Mr. Esser said he was encouraged by the Comcast trial, noting that the industry needs to adopt standards for online authentication. But, he added, “what our energy has been spent on is TV Anytime.”

That’s not to say the approaches are mutually exclusive. Time Warner Inc. Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bewkes also emphasized cable VOD as a major thrust — even as he outlined the TV Everywhere trial last month .

“Don’t miss the importance of video-on-demand on your set-top box,” Mr. Bewkes said. “You’ll also have a dramatic increase in the amount of VOD content available from these networks.”

MyPrimetime provides VOD access to broadcast and cable shows the day after they air for up to 28 days, with the fast-forward disabled. Cox provides networks the option to preserve the full ad load to capture the views in Nielsen’s C3 ratings.

Cox said the service has proven extremely popular, with more than 80 percent of users saying they are satisfied with the product.

Asked what they would do if the shows were not available via MyPrimetime, 20 percent of subscribers would set their DVR to record the program while, on average, 27 percent said they would not have watched the show at all. Meanwhile, 30 percent of MyPrimetime users said they hadn’t used VOD at all previously.

Currently, MyPrimetime offers episodes of NBC’s “30 Rock,” “The Office,” “Chuck,” “Parks and Recreation,” and “Southland”; FX’s “Rescue Me”; TNT’s “Saving Grace” and “The Closer”; TBS’ “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne”; USA’s” Burn Notice”; WeTV’s “Bridezillas”; Travel Channel’s “Ghost Adventures”; and AMC’s “Mad Men” (starting in August).

When the fall season begins, Cox expects to offer additional shows as they premier, including ABC’s “Lost,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Ugly Betty,” and NBC’s “Heroes,” Multichannel.com reports.

Cox’s MyPrimetime is available in 11 markets: Orange County, Calif.; San Diego; Santa Barbara, Calif.; New England; Kansas/Arkansas; Arizona; Macon, Ga.; Roanoke, Va.; Tulsa, Okla.; Greater Louisiana; and Omaha, Neb. The operator plans to expand it to all digital customers by the end of the year.

Heder lands series

“Napoleon Dynamite” star Jon Heder has teamed with Will Ferrell and Adam McKay for an unusual Comedy Central sitcom deal that follows in Tyler Perry’s footsteps.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, the network has ordered 10 episodes of a new multicamera comedy starring Mr. Heder as an out-of-work computer IT specialist who returns to his small hometown and moves in with his parents and younger brother. Mr. Ferrell, Mr. McKay and Chris Henchy will write and produce the series, and Mr. Ferrell might opt for an on-camera appearance or two, THR says.

If the initial 10-episode run meets a ratings threshold, the network has agreed to order 90 more episodes from Gary Sanchez Prods. and distributor Debmar-Mercury, setting up the project for eventual syndication.

The deal is the same unusual structure that Debmar wrangled for Mr. Perry’s hit TBS sitcoms “House of Payne” and “Meet the Browns,” both of which started off with 10-episode orders followed by massive renewals for total orders of 126 and 80 episodes, respectively.

“It’s a very similar business model to ‘House of Payne,’” Debmar co-president Mort Marcus said. “Perry is one of only a handful of people who could do this. We believe that Will Ferrell and Adam McKay will be able to deliver something that works perfectly for Comedy Central.”

Debmar and producers lured Comedy Central by offering the network a more significant ownership stake in the show than most networks get, THR says. Producers and Mr. Heder also have slashed their initial fees in favor of higher potential back-end revenue.

The Heder project is estimated to cost about $50 million over five years, with Comedy Central allowed to pay $10 million per year on a five-year installment plan to reduce upfront costs. Debmar-Mercury, which is funding production on the show, is aiming to crank out 100 episodes in 2½ years for a potential profit that could match or exceed the $200 million to $250 million that the first 100 episodes of “Payne” reportedly generated for the show’s producers.

The downside is that the deal raises the bar high for a series renewal.

Although Debmar has managed to hit two home runs with this deal format, both were under Mr. Perry’s mega-popular comedy brand. Making a sitcom work on Comedy Central, which has never had a hit multicamera comedy, could prove tougher. (The “South Park” gang’s “That’s My Bush” mock sitcom from 2001 was the network’s only previous effort in the genre.)

Mr. Ferrell and Mr. McKay’s most recent TV comedy, HBO’s “Eastbound and Down,” has earned a small but devoted following.

Compiled by Robyn-Denise Yourse from Web and wire reports

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