It looks like no renewal deal is coming today for Fox’s veteran medical drama House. Or Bones. The network’s two longest-running and strongest drama series are in a similar position: both have been the subject of complex, drawn-out renewal negotiations as neither has a deal for next season. In both cases, the studios (Universal Media Studios for House and 20th Century Fox TV for Bones) have been looking for two-season pickups and have been looking to resolve things sooner rather than later as they also have to make deals with the series’ creators/executive producers, David Shore and Hart Hanson, respectively. (UMS also has to deal with re-signing the original supporting cast on House whose contracts are up, though star Hugh Laurie is locked in for next season.) And in both cases, the holdup has been haggling with the network over license fees.
Because of the rare cross-pollination of NBC’s studio producing for competitor Fox, the House negotiations have garnered a lot more attention. Since talks had stalled/moved extremely slowly, a deadline was set, originally for last week, then pushed to end of day today, as a way to help speed things up. But after making progress at the beginning of the week, mostly on the length of the pickup, the two sides couldn’t bridge the gap as Fox wouldn’t budge on its request for reducing the license fee for the show, which I hear is currently well north of $5 million. “It’s like taking two steps forward and then one step back,” one insider said. Although the so-called deadline will probably come and go without a deal, the two sides are expected to continue negotiating. “The only real deadline is that Fox has to announce its lineup in New York at the upfront,” a person close to the situation said. In 2009, the two-year renewal for Bones didn’t close until the weekend before the upfronts. Back then, 20th TV threatened to take the show elsewhere. Now NBC Universal has been threatening to do the same with House. I hear there is no immediate plans for UMS to shop House to other networks after tonight’s deadline. Whether the studio can sell the series to a sister network, including NBC, has been another point of disagreement between Fox and UMS. Word is Fox’s lawyers believe that the contract prohibits UMS from taking the show to NBC or USA (USA already airs House reruns), while NBCU legal eagles believe they can. (Part of the problem is that UMS didn’t exist when House was created and sold to Fox through Universal, which later merged with NBC Studios).
House is an older, expensive show going into its eighth season, so, in addition to its original network, it probably only makes financial sense for a network that owns the series to pick it up since it continues to make money for the umbrella company in syndication. (As witnessed by the recent pickups of Scrubs by ABC and Medium by CBS after the shows were dropped by NBC). It seems unlikely that CBS or ABC would shell out a big license fee for a show that is in its final legs (House has dropped double digits in the ratings this season) and in which they have no financial interest. Meanwhile, NBCU has a big incentive to keep House going as the series does well in syndication and is a huge seller internationally). If the option for UMS to sell House in-house is not available or at least the subject of potential litigation with Fox, it seems likely that UMS and Fox will continue to try to make it work in the next few weeks, with UMS pushing to wrap things up as quickly as possible so it can address the other elements on the show, i.e. Shore and the supporting actors. Complicating the situation is the fact that UMS has a pilot in contention at Fox, Weekends at Bellevue, which could potentially be used as leverage or become a casualty in the standoff. Meanwhile, both House and Bones have preformed solidly this spring, drawing a 3.2/9 and 3.5/10 in 18-49 this week. What’s more, Fox has not been able to launch a drama that comes even close to the numbers the two veterans are still pulling in. How strange is it that Fringe has been renewed for next season but House and Bones haven’t?