Networks Start to Stockpile Scripts

By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, October 12, 2007

What with it already being week No. 3 of the new TV season and just one new series canceled (Fox's wanna-be-a-country-crooner docu "Nashville," which almost doesn't count) and only one new series picked up for the full season (CW's wanna-be-Lindsay-Lohan series "Gossip Girl"), The Reporters Who Cover Television are mourning broadcasters' lack of itchy trigger-finger-ness, which has deprived said reporters of their annual third-week-of-the-season articles and blog items "in which we take the network suits to task for itchy trigger fingers."

Instead, the media must this week sate themselves with stories about script orders -- that is, orders the networks have given to producers of the new series for additional scripts beyond their initial episode orders.

Big news yesterday had NBC ordering three more scripts on each of four new drama series -- "Bionic Woman," "Life," "Journeyman" and "Chuck." CBS had ordered four more scripts on its Jimmy Smits prime-time soap, "Cane," and CW had ordered more scripts on its hilarious-except-for-Scott-Patterson half-hour, "Aliens in America."

A script order does not guarantee a show an order for more episodes, the media reported.

But an order for an additional script is often the first step to ordering an additional episode, the news stories noted, because a script most often is written before an episode is shot -- except, of course, in the case of Fox's "24" and ABC's "Lost."

Ordering a script is also cheaper than ordering an episode, and ordering a script keeps the scriptwriters working, which the networks are no doubt thinking will take their minds off the Nov. 1 deadline for their potential writers' strike.

The script orders are, in fact, screamingly significant, the news reports said, because they mean the networks will have more, um, scripts, as the Nov. 1 deadline draws near.

All riveting stuff. We called the nets for reax.

"Scripts are Pez," one network exec explained. "Scripts cost pennies on the dollar. Relative to the cost of [producing actual episodes of] shows, ordering scripts is pocket change."

"Like spit in the ocean," said an exec at another network.

The two men -- we hope we're protecting their identity, but we realize we're running a risk by naming their gender, given the scarcity of men working in the executive suites of the broadcast networks these days -- insisted the script orders are not strike-related.

They're C3-related.

C3 is the new currency for selling shows to advertisers. It's the average number of people watching the commercial breaks in a given series live or up to three days after it's broadcast, via DVR.

Broadcasters are still waiting for C3 stats on the first week of the TV season.

"There's nothing that's a hit -- you almost have to wait four or five weeks to see what you're doing," one of the execs explained. "Because Nielsen is so on their game, we haven't received C3 numbers for Premiere Week," one of the guys added -- somewhat sardonically, we think.

"It's still unclear what the translation is from what we're seeing [in the form of program ratings] to what we're selling."

And, with no new series breaking out so far, and broadcasters' general nervousness about this year's C3 ad sales formula, he added, "there is a bit more of, 'You want to do worse in that time period? -- pull that show!' "

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