With High Costs, '7th Heaven' Hasn't Got a Prayer

The WB's money-losing
The WB's money-losing "7th Heaven," featuring Stephen Collins, third from left, is being dropped in May. A spinoff of the show, featuring lower-paid cast members, may be in the works, however. (By Reed Saxon -- Associated Press)
By Lisa de Moraes
Tuesday, January 17, 2006

PASADENA, Calif., Jan. 16

The WB is cutting bait on "7th Heaven" in May because the former hit will lose about $16 million this season, network CEO Garth Ancier told surprised critics Monday.

In fact, the prime-time soap, starring Stephen Collins as a minister with a large, very busy family, has been a money loser for the network for a few seasons, Ancier said. Like other much-loved shows, "7th Heaven" will bite the dust because the increasing wage demands of its expensive cast and crew slammed up against plummeting ratings and ad revenue.

But here's a bit of good news for "7th" fans: It may have a reincarnation. Network suits are waiting for show creator Brenda Hampton to pitch them a spinoff that would feature only "7th Heaven's" younger and less expensive stars and cheaper writer-producers, bringing the costs down considerably, Ancier said at Winter TV Press Tour 2006.

"In an ideal world, we would rather that show not go away," programming chief David Janollari said.

This got critics to thinking about, and fretting over, WB's other long-running and by now more expensive shows -- "Gilmore Girls," "Charmed" and "Everwood," to name a few.

"Charmed," about three witch sisters, is still a "really solid performer, and though it is one of our more expensive shows it's not in the territory of '7th,' " Janollari assured them.

"We are not losing money on 'Smallville' or 'Everwood' or 'Gilmore Girls,' " Ancier chimed in.

To be more specific, "Everwood," the network's doc drama set in Colorado, is less expensive than "7th Heaven," as is "Gilmore Girls," Amy Sherman-Palladino's chick drama about a mom and her daughter who are best pals. "Smallville," the Superman teen-angst drama, is as expensive as "7th" but is higher rated and it repeats well, Ancier said. ("7th Heaven" episodes are repeating poorly this season, which further brings down ad revenue.)

Ancier -- the only top dog of a broadcast network who is not too yellow to get up on the stage at a press tour and answer questions on the record -- went unusually deep into the economic model behind his network, which has struggled in the ratings after a few years of gangbuster growth.

It happened when one critic noted that Nielsen began sending out early stats for Spanish language network Univision each day, which revealed that it sometimes pulls in more prime-time viewers than the WB.

Even though the WB in its best year makes a couple million dollars and in its worst year loses a couple million, that's not how the network is judged, Ancier insisted. The bigger moneymaker for parent Time Warner is Warner Bros. Television -- the most prolific producer of small-screen programming in the business, selling to all the TV networks. The value of the WB network is that it puts half of that production on the air, thereby opening up the possibility that all those shows may become eligible for syndication, overseas sales and other back-end deals, where the big bucks can be found. "Frankly, what would be the point of owning this network," which is a break-even proposition, Ancier said, "if you weren't going to have 'Smallville,' which is worth hundreds of millions in back-end value?"

Speaking of back-end value, Ancier said all the networks are trying to figure out the actual economics of the deals they're making fast and furiously to repurpose programming for iPods and the rest of the digital zoo.

"This is a tumultuous time for television as a medium, and I'm not quite sure what the economics . . . of it are," he said.

"Technology continues to change our industry. Thanks to innovations, you can now watch television on your iPod, your PC, your cell phone," WB's goodwill ambassador, Keith Marder, had said in his traditional WB Press Tour Opening Comedy Bit.

"Good luck -- we can't even get people to watch television on television sets."

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