With the Bones pickup out of the way, attention focuses on the other Fox drama embroiled in a renewal drama, House. After a string of deadlines came and went, including one last Friday and another one this Monday, there is still no deal but I hear the hope is to wrap the renewal up by early next week when Fox brass will start piecing together the network’s schedule for next season. It won’t be an easy task as Fox and House producer Universal Media Studios are still apart on the license fee by about 20%. That’s by how much I hear Fox wants to cut the series’ current license fee to about $5 million per episode next season. At this point in a series’ run (House will be entering its 8th season in the fall), the network license fee normally covers the cost of production. But I hear UMS cannot produce House in its current form for $5 million an episode, so it has been unwilling to accept a reduced license fee as it faces the possibility to have to deficit finance a show in its eighth season, something studios rarely do. But then, House is not a typical show as it is estimated to gross some $1 billion for its run from Fox license fees, off-network syndication and international sales as well as auxiliary markets. The network is not budging either, and it got fresh ammunition this week when House hit a new season low with a 2.9/8 in adults 18-49. “Both sides have drawn hard lines and are sticking to them,” one person close to the situation said. “Middle ground is incredibly small, it is a very tiny dot.”
To help bridge the gap, UMS has been crunching numbers as it tries to reduce the budget of the show for next season so it gets closer to the $5 million per-episode license fee offered by Fox. The focus has been on cutting above-the-line costs, including cast compensation. The studio is negotiating with House co-stars Robert Sean Leonard, Omar Epps and Lisa Edelstein, whose deals are up at the end of this season. I hear all three, who are at about $175,000 an episode, have been asked to agree to both doing fewer episodes next season (from 24 to 18 is a scenario I hear) and getting a salary reduction. Such double cut is very rare, especially on a successful show like House. I hear the studio had been playing hardball, even threatening to drop Epps or Edelstein. But I also hear that Leonard, Epps and Edelstein all want to return to the show for what is perceived to be its final season and a compromise is expected to be reached, possibly by the end of the week. (House star Hugh Lauri has one more season on his 3-year deal that pays him north of $400,000 an episode, and newer cast members like Olivia Wilde already locked in too). I also hear that there is an offer on the table for House creator/executive producer/showrunner David Shore, whose contract is also up at the end of the season, but negotiations are not expected to begin until after the deals with the actors are made. Meanwhile, fellow exec producer Katie Jacobs, who has been key in shepherding the show, is locked, as are all senior writers with the exception of Shore. And to make things even more intriguing, UMS has the House-esqe medical drama pilot Weekends at Bellevue in serious contention at Fox as a potential companion to House.