And Then There's Joan...
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April 19, 2001
GENERATE A FEW HITS AND
In newly released season averages through March, a couple of television's most recent additions are generating some of the most favorable skews toward upscale audiences, but most network newcomers are settling average to weak upscale numbers.
These skews are indicated by indexes that divide the show's 18-49 rating in certain kinds of homes by its 18-49 rating in all homes. A resulting index over 100 shows a skew toward that audience group and an index below 100 shows a skew away from it.
The current season-to-date list shows ABC's What About Joan tied for fifth overall and tied for first among comedies with a 122 index in homes with incomes of $75,000 or more. That's a lot better than the 91 index of its lead-in, Dharma & Greg, or the 94 for the series Joan replaced, The Geena Davis Show.
ABC's other recent comedy additions fall well short of those Joan indexes. The Job managed an 82, down from the 85 of time-period predecessor Spin City but up from the 79 of its lead-in, Drew Carey. Wednesday's two installments of My Wife & Kids (55 and 67) are currently the two lowest indexing shows on the ABC schedule.
ABC's recent reality series The Mole matched the overall average of ABC's regular schedule, a 94. <SNIP>
ABC's What About Joan is an impressive performer across a number of key categories. The Joan Cusack comedy has the No. 2 index among all prime-time series, behind only The Wing Wing in the following categories: adults 18-49 in homes with Internet access, adults 18-49 in $50,000-plus homes where the head of household has at least one year of college, and adults 18-49 in $50,000-plus homes where the head of household is a professional-office-managerial worker.
April 19, 2001
ABC SWEEPING 'JOAN' INTO MAY
ABC is expected to extend the run of the James L. Brooks midseason comedy series "What About Joan" from Columbia TriStar Television throughout the May sweep. The network had initially scheduled six episodes of the series to air in the post-"Dharma & Greg" Tuesday 9:30 p.m. slot to run through May 1.
The production order was for 13 episodes. Sources said ABC will now run original episodes of the show starring Joan Cusack during the remaining three weeks of the May sweep and hold the other four unaired episodes for the fall. In its first four outings, "Joan" averaged a solid 12.6 million viewers and a 5.6 rating/14 share in the key adults 18-49 demographic.
The sitcom survived competition from special airings of Fox's "Boot Camp" and NBC's new game show "Weakest Link." The show, executive produced by Brooks, David Richardson and Richard Sakai, built on its "Dharma" lead-in during three of its four airings.
April 18, 2001
SNIPPY HOSTS DON'T INTIMIDATE JOAN
ABC's strong late-season addition What About Joan (preliminary 5.1/13 in 18-49, 7.8/12 in homes) didn't mind the competition from NBC's Weakest Link. Coming out of a rerun Dharma & Greg (preliminary 4.3/11 in 18-49, 7.8/12 in homes) and free of comedy competition for the first time, Joan built on its 18-49 lead-in from Dharma by a best-yet 19 percent.
in fact, airing up against Weakest Link, What About Joan eliminated two-thirds of the 18-49 advantage NBC held the previous half hour, when the first-run Frasier defeated ABC's rerun Dharma by 1.2 rating points. Head-to-head, Weakest Link beat Joan by just 0.4 of a rating point. Joan rose above the NBC game show head-to-head among women 25-54 (6.3/15 vs. 5.8/14).
Joan is certainly looking like a keeper for ABC. In addition to scoring well in the broad 18-49 category, the show's young-adult audience is skewed somewhat toward upscale categories, so Joan can claim some of prime time's best comedy ''indexes'' by a number of key upscale measures.
April 9, 2001
TALK: ABC MAY HAVE SOME COMEDY CONTENDERS
The long wait at ABC for the next successful series may be over.
If the evidence from the last several weeks holds up, ABC may have two and perhaps three new comedies to fill some holes on its schedule, and provide a little help next season to "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire," the game show that has been holding up the network in prime time all but single-handedly.
And nowhere are the sighs of relief louder than inside ABC's program department, where the co-chairmen of entertainment, Stu Bloomberg and Lloyd Braun, have been waiting for some sign of a turnaround.
The signs have come in the last two weeks in strong ratings for the new comedies "My Wife and Kids," starring Damon Wayans, and "What About Joan," starring Joan Cusack. Both shows have proved solid winners in their time periods. And ABC is also hopeful about a third comedy, "The Job," which has not posted hit ratings but has been performing respectably.
The network has not added a standout entertainment show in four seasons. All three comedies were ready to be added last fall, but Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Braun withheld them because they did not feel they had the right time slots to position them effectively.
"We had to endure; we had to have a lot of patience and wait for the opening in the season where these shows had a real chance to break through," Mr. Braun said.
Mr. Bloomberg said the plan centered on ABC's telecast of the Academy Awards last month, which the network filled with promotions for the comedies.
"My Wife and Kids" has averaged 13.4 million viewers and a 5.5 rating among viewers between the ages of 18 and 49 for the four episodes ABC has used so far. "What About Joan" has averaged 14 million viewers and a 6.3 rating among those young-adult viewers for its two episodes which have run at 9:30 on Tuesday nights. By comparison, ABC has only averaged a 4.6 rating with that age group in prime time this season.
Mr. Braun said, "No one is jumping out of their skin yet, but certainly all the signs are good."
The result could have some impact on ABC's negotiations with the Fox television studio for the comedy "Dharma & Greg." Until now, ABC seemed to have little option but to pay a high price to renew "Dharma," whose contract expires this year.
But ratings for that show have been fading, and ABC has been reluctant to pay a high price to bring it back. With possible replacements on hand, the leverage in the negotiations for "Dharma & Greg" may have shifted toward ABC.
April 3, 2001
FINDS CHICAGO IS HIS KIND OF TOWN FOR ROLES
It looks as if nothing has changed for Kyle Chandler, formerly of CBS' "Early Edition"-- except so much has.
He's sitting on a couch on a soundstage at Chicago Studio City on the city's West Side, his home away from home for more than five years. He's waiting between scenes looking very much in character as "Early" hero Gary Hobson: a turtleneck and jeans, with a few days' worth of stubble on his face.
He's even reading a certain tabloid Chicago newspaper.
The thing is, Chandler isn't waiting to film a scene of his series about Hobson, a man who gets the next day's issue of that same tabloid a day in advance, allowing him to alter the future. He's waiting to tape a scene for the new ABC situation comedy "What About Joan," starring Chicago's Joan Cusack.
In fact, the series is shot one soundstage away from where Chandler made "Edition." Many who worked on his show are performing the same tasks on Cusack's series, too.
Chandler has, in effect, become a working actor in Chicago, but one with the good fortune of going from one network series to another while barely missing a beat.
"It's very much like I had a hiatus and that was it," Chandler says. "Except that this is a completely different format."
Chandler was born in Buffalo, but grew up in north suburban Lake Forest, moving with his family to Georgia when he was 11 years old.
"The longer I'm in Chicago, the longer I have a job," says Chandler, who lives on Chicago's North Side with his wife and daughter.
It looks as if Chandler may have a job here for a little while longer.
"What About Joan" (Tuesdays, 8:30 p.m., WLS-Ch. 7) had a promising debut last week, averaging almost 15 million viewers and beating NBC's "Three Sisters."
In addition to being ABC's most-watched mid-season premiere in three years, the comedy had more people tuning in than its lead-in, "Dharma & Greg."
Chandler, 35, is no doubt enjoying the initial success of the romantic comedy, where he plays the banker boyfriend of Cusack's high school teacher.
"You've got [executive producer] Jim Brooks and everyone he surrounds himself with," Chandler notes, "and you're working with Joan as well. She's one of the greats, as far as I'm concerned."
"Early Edition" completed its fourth season on CBS last year, and Chandler was only off for a few months before he got the call for "Joan." As far as he is concerned, working on "Early Edition" was a good learning experience, but it was enough.
"Now that it's done, it was a lot of work, it was a lot of work," says Chandler, who spent the last season as a producer and also directed an episode.
"Four years is a long time doing that," he explains. "A regular day, you can get up at 6 [a.m.] to be at work around 8 [a.m.] and you start working. You wouldn't go home until dark. And then Friday nights, you shoot, so you got a day and a half on weekends. It was really hard work. It was also a lot of fun. It was great training."
Chandler is now getting some new training on "Joan," his first sitcom after years of movies such as "Homecoming" and "Tour of Duty" and TV movies including "Home Fires Burning" and "Unconquered."
"This is a completely different monster. It's fun, though. I've liked every process and everything I've done in this industry so far, and this is no difference.
"When you're doing the drama, you work on the material and everything, and you get out there and you do it, and you do it over and over and over, on film. Here, everything's very fast. It's like `Flight of the Bumblebee's' always playing in your head."
Chandler feels as though he's in the theater because of the live studio audience, which he calls "the calvary" because they serve as the barometer for what jokes work.
But Chandler admits he has a lot to learn:
"The first day we were shooting, I have a scene where I was standing offstage before I walked onto the set," he says. "And I said to the director, `Where do I stand, the audience is going to see me here?' And he's like, `What?' I was almost talking to him like he was an idiot. . . .
"He's like, `Kyle, it's a TV show, we're shooting it.' I'm like, oh, yeah!'"
Good show: In all, it has been a decent mid-season for ABC. In addition to the performance of "What About Joan," the new Damon Wayans comedy "My Wife and Kids" premiered as the No. 1 show in its Wednesday 7 p.m. time slot last week, with an average of 13.7 million viewers.
As a result, the network, as it did last week, is showing two episodes back-to-back Wednesday, starting at 7 p.m. on Ch. 7.
Meanwhile, the third new ABC comedy, "The Job" starring Denis Leary, lost only 1 percent of its audience from the week before last Wednesday, attracting 9.7 million viewers. However, it's going to have to do as least as good as "Joan" and "Kids" if it expects to have a chance of returning next season on comedy-starved ABC.
March 29, 2001
|SHORT CUTS: ABC's new Joan Cusack sitcom What About Joan made an impressive debut Tuesday night, attracting 14.9 million viewers and earning the network its best numbers for a midseason bow in three years...|
March 28, 2001
HELPS ABC TO TUESDAY RATINGS WIN
The new Joan Cusack show helped ABC win Tuesday's overnight-metered markets (Mar. 27) by a wide margin over CBS, 11.1 rating/17 share (last week, 10.4/16) to 8.4/13 (9.7/15). NBC, with "Fighting Fitzgeralds," was third, 7.9/12 (7.6/12), followed by FOX and "That '70s Show," 7.0/11 (5.8/9). UPN was fifth, 3.7/6 (3.4/5), followed by The WB, 2.6/4 (2.9/4). Among the all-important Adults 18-49 demo, ABC also won the night, with a 5.8/15 (top show, "What About Joan" with a 6.8/16). FOX was second, 6.0/17 ("That '70s Show" 6.0/17) with NBC third ("Frasier" 6.8/16). CBS was a distant fourth, 3.2/8 ("Jag" 4.1/11).
ABC's night began with "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire," 12.5/19 (14.7/23), followed by a new episode of "Dharma & Greg" at 9 p.m., 9.2/14 (7.7/11). The premiere of the new Joan Cusack comedy actually grew on its lead in, winning the half-hour with a strong 10.5/15 ("The Geena Davis Show" 5.9/9) at 9:30 p.m. A new "NYPD Blue" closed out the night with an 11.0/18 (9.8/16) from 10-11 p.m. <snip>
March 27, 2001
WHAT'S NOT TO LIKE ABOUT JOAN?
What About Joan boasts some bright writing and an appealing ensemble, which comes together like H2 and O. Most important, it has Joan Cusack. That's what matters to at least two networks, ABC and CBS, which have been trying to get the expressive comedian in front of a sitcom for several years. ABC agreed to shoot Cusack's sitcom entirely in her hometown of Chicago to seal the deal.
The enthusiasm for Cusack is only somewhat understandable. She brings sterling credentials to her episodic TV debut. She has been twice nominated for supporting actress Oscars (In & Out and Working Girl), and her work on the stage has earned consistent raves. But other actresses have brought gaudy credentials to TV and failed. Geena Davis won an Academy Award and her rookie sitcom stinks. Bette Midler came up with a gem of a pilot but never matched that before throwing in the towel.
What's more, Cusack isn't exactly a TV virgin. She had one season on Saturday Night Live, 1985-86 (coincidentally the same year as Robert Downey Jr.), and was found wanting enough to be fired. It's also noteworthy that Cusack's strongest notices have come when she was in secondary roles. It's a big step to center stage, one many performers have been unable to take.
The nature of her persona also might work against her. If she were a blind date, she would be described as a load of fun." This isn't to say she's unattractive, but if she were still a teen, you wouldn't find her on the WB. In life, this shouldn't matter. In a medium as superficial as TV, it sometimes does. She's also loud, shrill enough to be off-putting to some people. This might be a product of growing accustomed to project to the back row of theaters.
Cusack's character, Joan Gallagher, is certainly likable enough. She's a school teacher given to unconventional methods, which seem to work for her. In her personal life, she's dating a real prize named Jake, a hunk with bucks, who is so madly in love that he's ready to propose marriage before she feels secure about putting his number on her speed dial. Kyle Chandler must have something about Chicago in his karma. The former star of the Windy City-based Early Edition is back in town as Jake.
But nuptials are not in the immediate offing, according to co-executive producer David Richardson. "We have no plans at the moment of getting them married. That's where we're going with another couple on the show."
Seemingly this would be Joan's teaching colleagues, Betsy and Mark. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. In the premiere, even though they have been exclusive for four years and can't keep their hands off each other, Mark won't agree to be seen in public with Betsy. He's convinced rumors of a romance between teachers are career killers. Jessica Hecht and Wallace Langham are superb in the obligatory wacky-friends roles.
Joan also has a couple of grounded friends. She has known Ruby (Donna Murphy), a psychiatrist, for years and listens carefully to the free counsel Ruby offers. Then she pays absolutely no heed to it. Joan actually puts more value on the advice of a fellow teacher named Alice (Kelly Williams).
But the supporting players are merely accessories for Cusack, who is on screen virtually every minute. This might be too much for an actress who seems to work best in lesser doses.
March 27, 2001
ABOUT JOAN': A BOQUET OF NEUROSES
There's something about "What About Joan." It must be Joan herself. A bundle of nerves, a font of foibles, a veritable wellspring of punishing self-doubt, Joan aims to please, misses by a mile, and convinces you the target moved. She's a linear descendant of all the wacky kooks who ever pitched a fit in a sitcom, and either because of or in spite of that, many a viewer will likely fall in love with her, or at least become moderately enamored.
Her name on the show is Joan Gallagher but the name in the credits is Joan Cusack, a truly gifted comic actress who had a brief and unspectacular stint on "Saturday Night Live" and appeared memorably in some unmemorable movies, and a couple of good ones, too. Her ABC sitcom premieres at 9:30 tonight on Channel 7, and the least that can be said for it is that it's positively aglow with Joanness and inimitably Joanacious.
A teacher at a not-too-big school located in somewhere-or-other (it's all interchangeable detail), Joan has found the man of her dreams, a stouthearted and extremely tolerant fellow named Jake, who is played by Kyle Chandler, the intensely likable veteran of the CBS drama series "Early Edition." Chandler's Jake resides in the eye of the storm that is Joan and tries his best to exert a calming, steadying influence.
But it isn't easy. When he asks Joan to marry him on tonight's show, she comes apart in seven directions at once, like an exploding wolf in an old Tex Avery cartoon. Marriage? So soon? "Two days ago, I thought it was premature to put you on my speed dial," she tells him.
They're sitting in a restaurant at dinner time, Joan having arrived late but affecting an amazing transformation at the table -- breaking out of her cocoon coat and becoming a butterfly, but not right before Jake's eyes. He is required to hide behind the menu and "count to 13, slowly," while she makes her metamorphosis.
"What About Joan" is full of clever and cute touches, smart dialogue, believably zany characters and a sense of being very contemporary even though few if any topical names are dropped. Gwen Macsai, who created the show and wrote the pilot, will likely find kindred spirits out there in America who identify instantly with Joan's neuroses and uncertainties and her hilariously uneven keel.
Since the character is very hyper, she takes some getting used to. It's easy to see how such a person could drive you up the nearest wall. Cusack lets us see Joan's compensating, underlying smarts, her wisdom about human nature, and the way she uses low expectations as a defense against disappointment. Of course, that doesn't always work. But she has other arrows in her quiver, too.
Charm shines from Chandler like light from a bulb. He's utterly assured and somehow reassuring as Jake; when Joan threatens to spin herself into a frenzy, he's there to apply the brakes. Jake's a lot more aware of Joan's good qualities than she is, which is what love is really about, isn't it?At least partly?
A stellar supporting cast includes Kellie Shanygne Williams as Alice, a teaching assistant who also becomes Joan's mother confessor and guidance counselor; Donna Murphy as Ruby, a friend who's also a psychiatrist, not that her years of training are always of much help with a case like Joan around; Jessica Hecht as Betsy, a fellow teacher who apparently doesn't own a hairbrush; and versatile Wallace Langham as Mark, also a teacher and Betsy's boyfriend.
Joan has issues, Betsy has issues, and boy does Mark ever have issues. He wears pull-away pants like a male stripper so as to disrobe more quickly at Betsy's apartment, then hides in the closet when Joan arrives even though Joan, like everybody else in the immediate vicinity, knows all about the romance. Mark, one of those God's-gift-to-women types, prefers to think of it as clandestine and profane.
Langham, who was a valuable asset to "The Larry Sanders Show" and a saving grace on "Veronica's Closet," shows he still has more tricks up his sleeve here, creating a character unlike the preceding two. Murphy, meanwhile, has a disarming way of mixing brashness and vulnerability and, like others in the cast, refuses to let her character become a one-note rag.
But Cusack must carry the show, and it's gratifying to watch her take Joan Gallagher to the very brink of being intolerably irritating and then pull back just in time. How refreshing, too, to encounter a sitcom character who doesn't like to talk about sex (!), who's shy about it -- although she does propose "medicinal sex" with Jake after an argument tonight.
On next week's show, she gets a hilarious lesson in feminine sexual gratification from Alice, whose map of the body female strikes Joan as looking like Florida. All right then, says Alice, it's Florida, and it'sokay to make side trips to Miami or Fort Lauderdale "just as long as you end up in Orlando, baby. That's the Magic Kingdom." There follows a Disney reference that one would like to think won't please the top brass at Disney, the company that of course owns ABC.
Because she's certain she'll forget what she really wanted to say during key confrontations in her life, Joan carries around a notepad scribbled full of reminders and talking points. It's one more funny eccentricity for a very funny and yet recognizable character. "What About Joan," co-produced by veteran comedy writer James L. Brooks ("The Mary Tyler Moore Show"), is most definitely a comedy of note.
© 2001 The Washington Post Company
March 26, 2001
HOPES FOR SITCOM SUCCESS,
© TVData Entertainment Features Syndicate
On the big screen, Joan Cusack has had some memorable meltdowns.
Whether she's playing Debbie Jellinsky, a homicidal baby sitter patiently explaining that she torched her parents because they bought her the wrong Barbie one Christmas in Addams Family Values, or Emily Montgomery, the "career bride" of In & Out, morosely wondering whether she has stumbled into a Twilight Zone where all the men are gay, Cusack has wigged out in wild and wonderful style.
On a recent Chicago afternoon, however, the 38-year-old actress seems upbeat but surprisingly serene as she faces a showbiz milestone: the premiere of her first TV sitcom.
In a TV season notable for its failed sitcoms, What About Joan is attracting even more scrutiny than it ordinarily might. For one thing, the series has been tailored to Cusack's talents by the legendary James L. Brooks, the man behind The Mary Tyler Moore Show. For another, her supporting cast includes Early Edition heartthrob Kyle Chandler, seasoned sitcom veteran Wallace Langham (The Larry Sanders Show) and elegant Tony Award winner Donna Murphy (Passion).
Mainly, though, hopes are
running high for What About Joan, premiering Tuesday,
March 27, on ABC, because of Cusack herself, an endearing
two-time Oscar nominee who always manages to inject the
dizziest character with the potential for heartbreak.
"She's not too neurotic, is she?" Cusack asks. "I want her to be relatable, but how often does a gorgeous, nice, wealthy guy walk into your life and, after nine dates, ask you to marry him? I mean, who wouldn't think, `I'm not Heather Locklear or Michelle Pfeiffer. What's up with this?' I want Joan to be a normal person, not a `babe' by any means."
Well, off-camera Cusack can pass for a babe easily enough, but keeping it real has been a priority for her since the early 1990s when, on the heels of a bad movie experience (My Blue Heaven), she decided to take stock of her life.
"I had just spent way too much time on the road without a place of my own, so after that movie I really just stopped and tried to decide what was important to me in my life," she says quietly. "It actually turned out to be a pretty great thing in a way, because I knew that I didn't want to be in L.A. with all that craziness, so I went back to Chicago."
That move seemed logical, because the Chicago area is where Cusack - along with her kid brother, John, and their other siblings - began laying the groundwork for her career as a child.
"Part of it was serendipity, because Joyce Piven started this wonderful theater company for kids in Evanston, which is where we had moved," she explains. "My sister Ann ran into her son on a bus and he told her about it. Joyce was just an amazing, inspirational teacher.
"Here was this group of very gifted people focusing on what is humanizing about the creative process. That's what they tried to bring to the kids, and it was sheer happenstance that we wound up in that as an after-school activity."
It helped, too, that Cusack grew up in a close-knit Irish-Catholic family where humor was an important virtue. The Cusacks watched comedies together regularly, with Joan quickly developing a fondness for wacky Monty Python's Flying Circus.
After appearing in a few minor teen movies, Cusack spent a year on Saturday Night Live, only to be fired. Not long after that, however, she met Brooks, who hired her for Broadcast News. Her small role in that Academy Award-winning comedy led to Cusack's breakout role as Melanie Griffith's blue-collar pal in Working Girl, as well as a surprise phone call.
"I was doing a play in New York and the phone rang at 6:30 one morning," she recalls. "It was my agent, and he said, `You've been nominated for an Oscar.' It was out of the blue. I didn't even know I was being considered! Then there's this huge crowd of friends and calls from everywhere, but I'm still in total shock.
"Then it started to get scary: What do you wear, what do you do, what do you say when you get there? It was a load of fun, because they paid for my whole family to go with me, and we stayed at this huge suite at the Four Seasons. Gift baskets kept arriving. It was just a total trip."
Not long after that, Cusack had her personal epiphany and moved back to Chicago to have a real life. She married corporate attorney Richard Burke in 1993 and became pregnant with her first child shortly after filming In & Out, during which co-star Bob Newhart had put the idea of doing a sitcom into her head.
"Bob said, `Doing a sitcom is just the best job in the world if you get it right.' And getting it right has been hard," she concedes. "It's so difficult, having only 20 minutes to tell a story and be funny while you do it. But I love the fact that every week you get a chance to do it better, and that there's an audience right there, like a theater, which is what I grew up with."
Cusack's deal included the stipulation that the show be filmed in Chicago, which allows her to spend time with her family (her second child was born last year).
"It's an experience that's just very meaningful to me," she says, "that experience of refocusing your life so that work is still a part of me but the other part is living a meaningful life with your friends and your family. It's been incredibly grounding for me.
"And I pinch myself every day."
March 19, 2001
CUSACK'S NEW SHOW IS A REMEMBRANCE OF DEALS PAST
Columbia TriStar's What About Joan owes its life to a 1990 pact between pre-Disney ABC and producer James L. Brooks -- the kind of arrangement that just doesn't exist in today's TV market.
What About Joan, the new ABC sitcom that premieres March 27, has an impressive pedigree.
The star is Joan Cusack, a character actress well known from hit movies like Working Girl and Runaway Bride. One of the executive producers is James L. Brooks, Academy Award-winning director and key force behind such television classics as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Taxi and The Simpsons. And the studio is Columbia TriStar, maker of network staples like Dawson's Creek and The King of Queens.
But the new show is also, in terms of the TV business, the last of a dying breed. It's the final effort in a multimillion-dollar, three-series deal that Brooks signed with ABC back in 1990. The deal is an emblem of the pricey, talent-driven arrangements that once dominated Hollywood during the 1980s but that vertical integration has all but killed off.
The Brooks deal was, even by the standards of the time, extremely generous. ''It was an indulgent deal of a degree that no one had ever seen before,'' says one former ABC executive. Unlike many producers, for instance, Brooks was under no deadline to deliver material, which helps explain why the deal is still active 11 years later. And Columbia TriStar, a longtime Brooks partner, got production loans to cover early deficits on the series that would be paid back if the shows reached the lucrative syndicated market.
In fact, ABC was so eager to get Brooks, executives familiar with the original deal say, that it even agreed to buy the first broadcast rights to his long-gestating movie I'll Do Anything, which stiffed at the box office when Columbia finally released it in 1994.
''The deal is very favorable to us,'' says one top executive at Columbia TriStar.
Virtually everyone agrees that such a deal between a network and a studio that do not share a corporate parent could likely never be made in today's TV market, where five of the six broadcast networks are controlled by media conglomerates with giant sister studios. In fact, agents and producers have been grumbling lately about a series of tough initiatives at Walt Disney-owned ABC that they say are designed to wrest even more power away from writer-producers and rival studios.
For example, the network has recently begun insisting that studios allow ABC to run each episode of a series four times, rather than the customary two or three -- a move that gives the network plenty of scheduling flexibility but studios fear could seriously drain a show's syndicated value. And ABC has pressed for a ''perpetual license fee'' arrangement that would make it difficult, if not impossible, for a studio to shop an existing ABC hit to another network. (Of course, such terms may be largely moot, given that two-thirds of the 21 pilots on ABC's development list for next season are from sister studio Touchstone Television.)
Several agents contacted for this article said that ABC has been by far the most aggressive network in negotiating such deal points.
But the playing field was much different 11 years ago, when ABC belonged to TV and radio station group owner Capital Cities and Robert Iger, now president of the Walt Disney Co., was then head of the network's entertainment division. Iger was under intense pressure to catch NBC, at the time still basking in the ratings victories engineered by programming legend Brandon Tartikoff. Without his own full-fledged studio to depend on for programming, Iger relied heavily on huge talent deals with writer-producers like Brooks and Steven Bochco, whom ABC signed a few years earlier.
But ABC quickly learned that buying a big name didn't guarantee success. The first series under the Brooks contract, Sibs, starring Marsha Mason, was a kind of precursor to NBC's current Three Sisters. It didn't make it past its freshman season in 1991. The next series, a comedy about a teen tennis prodigy called Phenom that starred Judith Light and William Devane, was canceled after a season two years later. Brooks then busied himself with film projects, including 1997's As Good as It Gets; ABC, in the meantime, appeared to have forgotten about the deal.
But Brooks decided he wanted to do What About Joan. And it won't come cheap. While ABC has long wanted Cusack in a series, she insisted on shooting in her hometown of Chicago, which has helped drive up the cost per episode to well over $1 million. Brooks, who is based in Los Angeles, had a costly videoconferencing system set up in his office so that he could watch table readings and rehearsals.
ABC is covering some, but not all of the deficit on the Cusack series. And the network does have the perpetual license fee it has demanded from other studios. Still, Columbia TriStar executives note that there's no way they could afford to do such a series if not for the preexisting Brooks deal. And that's a reality that will make the folks at ABC nervously take a close look when the first ratings of the show roll in.
March 5, 2001
JOAN CUSACK'S 'WHAT ABOUT JOAN' TO PREMIERE ON ABC 3/27/01
Academy Award-nominated actress Joan Cusack ("In And Out," "Working Girl" ) stars as Joan Gallagher in the new romantic comedy series "What About Joan," premiering TUESDAY, MARCH 27 (9:30 -10:00 p.m., ET), on the ABC Television Network.
Shot entirely on location in Chicago, the series focuses on the private lives of an intimate group of high school teachers, exploring the complexity and endurance of close friendships among women, as well as the challenging relationship between Joan and Jake (portrayed by Kyle Chandler, "Early Edition," "Homefront") -- two bright, independent, experienced people -- as they blunder toward intimacy.
Ms. Cusack, starring in her first television comedy series, portrays a high school teacher who depends on the daily support, counsel and friendship of her two best friends: Ruby, played by Tony Award-winner Donna Murphy ("The King and I," "Passion" ), who is a psychiatrist, and Betsy, played by Jessica Hecht ("Friends," "The Single Guy" ), who is a music teacher at the school. Although Ruby appears the picture of strength and stability, she still allows herself to be taken advantage of by Betsy who is locked into an on-again, off-again relationship with fellow teacher Mark, portrayed by Wallace Langham ("Veronica's Closet," "The Larry Sanders Show").
Joan also bonds with Alice Adams, played by Kellie Shanygne Williams ("Family Matters" ), who is a new student teacher at the high school.
In the premiere episode, "Pilot," Joan Gallagher receives the surprise of her life - representing both her fondest wish and her greatest anxiety -- when her new boyfriend, Jake, decides to sweep her off her feet. Joan goes into a full-blown anxiety attack when Jake unexpectedly gets serious, and she turns to Betsy and Ruby for their sage advice on her dilemma.
But after gauging Joan's reaction to his suggestion, Jake decides to turn the tables on her.
"What About Joan" stars Joan Cusack as Joan Gallagher, Kyle Chandler as Jake, Jessica Hecht as Betsy, Donna Murphy as Dr. Ruby Stern, Wallace Langham as Mark, Kellie Shanygne Williams as Alice Adams.
Guest starring are Greta Honold as Maya, Mitchell Fain as waiter, Maia Madison as waitress and Bruce Jarchow as Bob.
Academy and Emmy Award-winner James L. Brooks ("As Good As It Gets," "Jerry Maguire," "The Simpsons," "Terms of Endearment" ), David Richardson ("Malcolm in the Middle," "Phenom," "Manhattan AZ," "The Simpsons") and Richard Sakai ("As Good As It Gets," "Jerry Maguire," "The Simpsons") are executive producers of the series. Emmy Award-winner Michael Lembeck ("Friends," "Mad About You") directed "Pilot" from a script by series creator and producer Gwen Macsai. "What About Joan," which is filmed before a studio audience in Chicago, is a production of Gracie Films in association with Columbia TriStar Television. (CLOSED- CAPTIONED) (Broadcast in stereo where available)
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