It took almost a year, but USA Network has closed a deal for a pilot order to single-camera comedy Paging Dr. Freed. The network has finalized the pilot pickups for both Paging Dr. Freed and the Denis Leary-produced single-camera comedy Sirens. The move is significant as it creates a deal template for half-hour series on USA, which is returning to the comedy business after more a decade. Paging Dr. Freed is from 20th TV’s Fox21, while Sirens is produced by Fox TV Studios, which also operates under the 20th TV umbrella.
USA stepped up its efforts in comedy development after its summer 2011 off-network acquisition of ABC’s Modern Family. Last September, it greenlighted two comedy pilots, Paging Dr. Freed and the Douglas McGarth project starring Nathan Lane. While the latter, which is produced by USA’s sister studio Universal Cable Prods., has since been shot, seen by USA brass and passed on, Paging Dr. Freed had been stuck in deal-making limbo. It was joined early this year by Sirens, which was unofficially picked up to pilot in January contingent to making a license deal with FtvS, which, like the one for Paging Dr. Freed, was handled by 20th TV brass.
The sticking point was the issue of SVOD (subscription VOD) rights, involving subscription streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. Given the fact that comedy series have very little value internationally and a domestic syndication windfall for a basic cable comedy series is a very long shot, 20th TV has been trying to retain SVOD rights so it could sell the series for streaming to offset some of its sizable deficit financing costs. Such a scenario was initially met with resistance by NBCU as it believed making an USA series available by a third-party online streaming service would diminish the series’ repeatability on USA and displease the network’s affiliates. After several months of negotiations, the two sides hit an impasse in January. But instead of pulling the plug, USA opted to table the issue for a month or so before taking one more stab at resolving it. With Sirens joining the discussing soon thereafter, the two sides got close to a compromise by May and finally reached an agreement last week. USA’s goal is to have an original comedy series ready to launch with Modern Family in fall 2013.
Written by Michael Feldman, Paging Dr. Freed is about two gynecologist brothers who inherit their father’s medical practice. Co-created by Leary and Bob Fisher, Sirens follows three of Chicago’s best EMTs.