- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Woes for ‘Silverman’

The economic downturn is jeopardizing “The Sarah Silverman Program,” one of Comedy Central’s signature series.

The show’s executive producers - Miss Silverman, Dan Sterling and Rob Schrab - threatened to quit after the cable network told them the budget for their series would be slashed by more than 20 percent, says MediaWeek.com, citing a story in the Hollywood Reporter.

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More than two months after “Sarah Silverman” ended its second season, the show has yet to be renewed for season three. (In 2007, the second-season pickup came 11 days after the series’ premiere.)

At the center of the holdup is the proposed budget for season three. Citing cuts imposed on the network by parent company MTV Networks, Comedy Central proposed that the trio bring back the critically acclaimed show at about $850,000 an episode, down from the $1.1 million an episode for the show’s second season, sources told THR.

In broadcast, single-camera comedies are produced for about $1.5 million to $2 million an episode, and the budget for any series normally climbs from year to year. “Sarah Silverman” is a single-camera comedy that also features animated sequences and musical numbers.

The contracting ad market during the recession is hitting networks hard, THR noted. Viacom, MTV Networks’ parent company, laid off 7 percent of its work force in December. However, Comedy Central largely was spared because it had been through the wringer following the 2003 acquisition of Time Warner’s 50 percent ownership in the network and had little left to cut.

Amid the economic woes, ABC Studios and 20th Television asked all of their show runners to cut 2 percent of their series budgets. The proposed budget cut on “Sarah Silverman” is more than 10 times that, THR reports.

Concerned they won’t be able to maintain the integrity of the show at the discounted price, Miss Silverman, on behalf of the three executive producers, informed the network late last week that they can’t proceed with a third season. The move reportedly sent shock waves through Comedy Central’s executive offices, with top brass jumping into action to find a budget compromise that would keep the flagship live-action series on the air.

As of Friday night, the situation remained at a standstill, and both sides continued their back-and-forth during the weekend.

Still, insiders familiar with the situation were optimistic that the two sides would agree on financial terms to bring back the show.

ABC exits ‘Mars’

“Life on Mars” won’t return for a second season. According to the Hollywood Reporter, ABC has decided not to renew the series starring Jason O’Mara as 2008 Detective Sam Tyler working as a cop in 1973 New York.

Instead, “Mars” will complete its 17-episode freshman series order with the season finale, which was written as a series finale.

It will wrap up the loose story ends, explain how Tyler was transported back in time and - maybe - bring him back to his own time.

“Mars” enjoyed strong support from ABC brass and was slotted in some of the network’s premiere slots, 10 p.m. Thursday after “Grey’s Anatomy” and 10 p.m. Wednesday after “Lost.” Still, the show, based on the British series of the same name, didn’t click with viewers.

With its serialized nature, many considered “Life” to be better suited as a limited series the way it aired in Great Britain.

In its current ABC incarnation, “Mars” was created by Josh Applebaum, Andre Nemec and Scott Rosenberg. Filmed in New York, the series boasts one of the strongest acting ensembles on TV with Mr. O’Mara, Harvey Keitel, Michael Imperioli and Gretchen Mol.

‘Rita’ to rock on

The news is better for “Rita Rocks.” The Lifetime series will be back for a second season, Variety reports.

The cable channel has placed a 20-episode order for the sitcom, which stars Nicole Sullivan as a mom who also fronts a rock band.

The show, Lifetime’s first original comedy in 10 years, premiered in October to an audience of 1 million total viewers, nearly 800,000 of them women age 18 to 49 - an 11 percent uptick in that key demographic compared with how the time period was performing for the channel in the month before its debut, Variety notes.

On tap tonight:

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• Compiled by Robyn-Denise Yourse from Web and wire reports

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