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DreamWorks Denies NBC a Stake in Show

March 28, 1997|SALLIE HOFMEISTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Risking a fight with the dominant television network, DreamWorks SKG has refused to relinquish a 50% interest in one of the programs it has in development at NBC, sources say.

As a result, the DreamWorks project, called "Nearly Yours," could be frozen at the network for a year, preventing the studio from shopping it to other networks.

Television production executives have complained this year that NBC is using its lead in the ratings as leverage to extract ownership rights from its suppliers, garnering stakes in an estimated eight of the 10 comedy pilots it is developing for fall--a higher percentage than any other network.

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Several suppliers have agreed to share ownership this season to get a shot at the most premium real estate in prime-time television.

Since rules preventing the networks from owning the programs they air were eliminated last year, all the networks have been beefing up their in-house production of shows, making it more difficult for outside suppliers to compete for air time. But sources say NBC has been the most aggressive in extracting rights from outside suppliers, with a stated internal goal of owning a piece of every show on its schedule.

The growing leverage of the networks, particularly NBC, is troubling to studios, independent producers and agents. They say outside suppliers have little choice but to give in to the networks' demands. "You don't want to cut off a fourth of your market," said one executive, referring to the fact that there are only four major network buyers.

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DreamWorks may be an exception among independent producers because of the clout of its founders--Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Neither NBC nor DreamWorks would comment. But an NBC source said a meeting is scheduled for Tuesday with the studio to iron out the differences.

Sources say NBC placed a 13-order commitment for a project called "708" with DreamWorks in December and ordered two additional pilots from the studio in the last three weeks. The network then suggested that James Burrows, one of the most sought-after directors in TV, who is under contract with NBC, be attached as a director to "Nearly Yours." NBC, which brought a star actor to the series, expected a 50% ownership stake in return. DreamWorks refused, sources said.

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