The 'Chaos' Standoff Enters New Phase

This has become the latest example of the tough reality of dealmaking between networks and studios these says, particularly when the two are not vertically integrated.

Week and a half after CBS first handed Chaos a midseason order, there still is no deal and there is a possibility that it may not happen at all. Chaos producer 20th TV didn’t accept the original series pickup because it was for 8 episodes as opposed to the standard 13-episode pickup, making the series hard to impossible to sell internationally through studios’ standard output deals.

After 10 days of little movement, I hear CBS last night upped the order to 12 episodes (plus the pilot), accommodating 20th TV’s request. But there was a catch: the larger order came with a lower license fee. I hear the network was hoping that 20th TV could make up for the difference by taking advantage of the tax incentives from filming in Dallas. However, I also hear 20th TV already agreed to a reduced license fee when the original 8-episode order was made that accounted for potential Texas tax incentives and wouldn’t go for another license fee reduction. That put the two sides in another standoff.

With a 13-episode midseason order to the the Criminal Minds spinoff and a traditionally stable schedule (though the network took more risks than usual this year), CBS felt it only needed 8 episodes of a second midseason drama series and, to justify picking up more episodes than it needed, it decided to do it at a reduced price point. Also, Chaos is considered a little off-brand and thus riskier series for CBS as it has more humor than the network’s other hourlong shows.

Meanwhile, 20th TV felt it could only go so low in cutting the budget for a show that has an ensemble cast, revolves around CIA operatives (you know that would lead to an explosion or two) and has a standard for the look and the pace set by feature director Brett Ratner who directed the pilot.

When the network and the studio are part of the same company, it is easier to make a compromise as money basically moves from one pocket to another. But when they are not vertically integrated, everyone is focused on their own bottom line. Last year, 20th TV’s sister studio FtvS declined TNT’s renewal of Saving Grace after concluding that it couldn’t make the expensive drama series work financially in the framework of the license fee offered by TNT.

So CBS and 20th TV are back in holding pattern and, unless they reach a compromise, CBS may decide to stick with one midseason drama, the Criminal Minds spinoff, or revisit some of its other pilots, including medical drama Gimme Shelter, which was in contention alongside Chaos for a midseason order.

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