The Networks: Our Ball, Our Rules, Our Deal

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In an annual ritual filled with hoopla and hype, the television networks last week rolled out their fall lineups. The winners seemed happy, but behind the scenes, television suppliers were reeling from the pressure being exerted on them by the nets for ownership stakes in their programs.

Until three years ago, the networks were limited in the kind of programming they could own, but with the limits lifted, the pressure is on. CBS, which co-owns an unprecedented six of its seven new shows, gave "King of Queens" a slot on the schedule after Columbia Tristar surrendered a share. "NewsRadio," a so-so sitcom, was renewed for a fourth season after NBC, considered the most aggressive network, acquired profit participation from the producer, Brillstein-Grey, which most likely went for the deal in order to prolong the show's life and make it eligible for the big money of syndication. "Much better to partner with a network and own 50 percent of $350 million," observed an executive. ABC took another tack, forcing three producers to accept longer contracts and smaller licensing fees in exchange for space on its schedule next season.

Producers are not happy with these demands, and while they are worried that quality will become secondary to economics, many feel they don't have a choice. Says Paramount Network Television president Garry Hart: "If a network is going to put the bar at one level for shows they have ownership in and another level for those they don't, we have real concerns."