Van Helsing Slays Itself

Long before VAN HELSING was even released, Universal was already treating it as if it was a boxoffice phenomenon, planning movie sequels and even an NBC TV series called TRANSYLVANIA.

Then the movie was released.

Here’s the thing about exploiting a big hit movie… it needs to be a big hit movie first. It also helps if the movie is good.

Now Variety is reporting that the ambitious plans for the VAN HELSING-inspired TV series have been scrapped.

“Transylvania” may live– but don’t look for it at NBC.
Nine months ago, the Peacock pacted with Universal Network Television for “Transylvania,” a drama set in the universe of Universal Pictures’ “Van Helsing” and exec produced by Stephen Sommers. Hopes were high that a pilot would be in this month’s upfront lineup and that the nascent series could benefit from a summer’s worth of movie promos.

It turns out, however, that NBC quietly cooled on “Transylvania” just a few months after the project was announced

Network execs claim the decision has nothing to do with the fact VAN HELSING was a boxoffice dud and a critical bomb (because, as we know, networks clamor to do TV series based flop movies.. THE NEW ADVENTURES OF GIGLI is going to be big at ABC, don’t you think?)

“The box office has no bearing whatsoever on our plans to move forward or not,” says NBCU entertainment prexy Jeff Zucker. “It’s a creative decision based on content and concept. We just want to make sure it has the right network home.”

“Transylvania” may still walk among us: Other networks outside the NBC U universe are said to be interested in the show.

We’ll keep our eyes open for it on PAX.

I Should Have Gone in the Furniture Business

My late grandfather always thought I was foolish to be a writer. The job market was too uncertain. Furniture, he said, was a safer bet. “Everybody has to sit,” he liked to say. According to an article in Variety about the current TV season, I probably should have listened to his advice. The networks are programming fewer comedies and more reality show…and scrapping the practice of airing primetime repeats (goodbye fat residuals!) on anything that doesn’t have CSI or LAW AND ORDER in the title…

For one thing, replacing repeats with original fare is going to add tens of millions to the nets’ programming budgets. But webheads figure they have no choice: If they don’t do something to stop audience erosion, they’ll ultimately lose far more due to declining ad revenue.

All of this comes as more bad news for TV’s beleaguered scribe tribe, particularly those who toil on sitcoms.

It’s become a cliche to bemoan the fall of the funny, but the numbers tell the story: For the upcoming, the nets have scheduled just 36 sitcoms — down nearly one-third from 50 last fall.

“Comedy is in a challenged state,” admits NBC Entertainment topper Kevin Reilly. “The best way to get comedy on the schedule right now is to keep it off in the short term.”

Combine that with a rise in reality skeins — as well as several new primetime improv laffers — and it’s a safe bet that agents all over town this week will be scrambling to find work for a slew of scribes. By one estimate, there’ll be 100 fewer staff positions available for sitcom writers.

The picture is a little rosier for drama writers… but not by much. Staffs are smaller, and more and more primetime real estate is owned by the same folks… (have I mentioned CSI and LAW AN ORDER?) who hired from within their own camps. The trend in drama is also to recruit the screenwriter of last summers big tentpole movie or cheapo horror film hit and give them a series… and pair the TV newbie with a wizened old timer (someone say in their early 40s) to help them run the show… and deal with the devastating realization there are actually 21 more episodes to write after the pilot.

I’m hedging my bets by writing books as well as TV shows…but books dont pay nearly as well as TV, unless you’re in the Connelly-Grisham-Grafton-Evanovich ballpark.

Maybe I should invest in a furniture store after all….

Branding and Franchises

CBS announced today that it is scheduling CSI: NEW YORK up against NBC’s LAW AND ORDER. I guess it was inevitable, with so much of each network’s schedule given over to branded franchises, that a CSI would go up against a L&O… which is launching a fourth L&O spin-off in January

There’s a lot of talk today about the CSIing of CBS and the LAW AND ORDERing of NBC. But Dick Wolf and Jerry Bruckheimer aren’t the first to discover branding…nor is it the first time networks given huge chunks of their schedules to one franchise… though they weren’t called franchises back then, simply “spin-offs.”

During the 1976-77 season, CBS had MTM’s MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, PHYLLIS and RHODA….all spin-offs from one show… as well as Norman Lear’s ALL IN THE FAMILY, MAUDE, THE JEFFERSONS, and GOOD TIMES, all spin-offs from one show. (Beyond that, CBS had other shows from the same producers. ALLS FAIR and ONE DAY AT A TIME from Norman Lear, BOB NEWHART from MTM). Two seasons later, ABC had Garry Marshall’s HAPPY DAYS, LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY, MORK AND MINDY and JOANNIE LOVES CHACHI, all spun-off from one show…

The new wrinkle . and Dick Wolf’s brilliant innovation, is tagging on the name of the “birth show” to the spin-off (ie “ALL IN THE FAMILY: THE JEFFERSONS) and using reworkings of the same theme music and main title graphics on each show.

Then again, it’s not so new… Paramount was doing it in syndication with STAR TREK… and STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE, STAR TREK VOYAGER and now, STAR TREK ENTERPRISE.


An article in Variety about westerns got me thinking about this sadly overlooked genre.

Let’s face it westerns are basicly dead. They don’t command anywhere near the audience they used to at the box office, in bookstores or on television. I’ve only recently come to enjoy and appreciate westerns. It was Larry Mcmurtry’s “lonesome dove” that got me hooked — then I discovered Elmer kelton, Frederick Manfred, AB Guthrie, Edwin Shrake, Tom Eidson, Robert Randisi, Loren Estelman and fell in love with the genre. I even joined the Western Writers of America to learn more about it and discover more authors. I thought “the missing” an “open range” were terrific, and was sad to see them tank at the box office. During my recovery in the hospital, TNT or some other network reran a couple of Tom Selleck’s TV westerns — and I thought they were well-made, well-written. well-acted, and very entertaining (or maybe I was just high on painkillers). Selleck is very convincing as a western hero, and clearly loves the genre. I guess he’s the TV equivalent of Kevin Costner in that regard. I’ve even come to appreciate Gunsmoke — I never realized what an intelligent and adult series it was. Of course, it also had a period when it was awful – in the late 60s — but I’m enjoyimg rediscovering the show. It’s actually possible now, if you have tivo, to watch the black-and-white half-hour episodes on the Hallmark channel from the fifties, the the black-and-white hourlong episodes from the sixties on the Western channel, and the hourlong color episodes from the late sixties occur seventies on TV. I’ve even come to enjoy some classic radio westerns on my morning and evening commutes — particularly James Stewart as the six shooter. Westerns deserve a comeback — in the same way cop shows and mysteries are today. Perhaps hbo’s deadwood will reignite interest in the genre.