And Other Inside TV Stories From New Tell-All Book 'Deperate Networks'

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NEW YORK -- Ever feel that your colleagues don’t see what you see? Well then, take a moment to sympathize with Peter Tortorici, who couldn’t persuade his agency peers that “Desperate Housewives” had the potential to be a powerful marketing vehicle.
One of the many stories from the upcoming tell-all book from 'New York Times' reporter Bill Carter looks at the difficulty one entertainment executive had trying to get 'Desperate Housewives' off the ground.

In the soon-to-be-released book “Desperate Networks,” a tell-all tome about the TV industry by New York Times reporter Bill Carter, success can be accidental, with hit shows facing a series of rejections before ever making it on the air. Sorting the winning scripts from the losers is only one battle that must be won. Convincing network brass of a potential show’s merits is the other.

Early copy of script

In the book, Mr. Carter writes that Mr. Tortorici was given an early copy of the pilot script for “Desperate Housewives” from creator Marc Cherry in the summer of 2002. At the time, Mr. Tortorici was working as an independent television producer, but he had been president of CBS Entertainment; CBS aired the comedy “The Five Mrs. Buchanans,” which Mr. Cherry wrote.

One read of the “Desperate Housewives” script convinced Mr. Tortorici it was a “game-breaker,” according to the book, and he promised Mr. Cherry’s then-agent, Marcie Wright, “I’ll do everything I can to see if I can set this up, because I think it’s great.” The script struck him as “skillfully rendered” with a "dark comic tone” that wasn’t on air anywhere, Mr. Carter writes.

But Mr. Tortorici recognized that the script might be a hard sell with the networks because it was quite different from the usual fare. So he raised the possibility of trying to finance the show in a nontraditional way.

He took it to WPP Group's MindShare, where he was serving as a consultant. He knew that executives at the media agency were interested in identifying projects they could finance early on, even in the script phase, in order to gain initial advertising advantages for the company’s stable of clients and also to get a possible ownership stake in the show, Mr. Carter writes.

Difference of opinions

But MindShare executives thought the “Desperate Housewives” script was just OK, and passed on the opportunity to be the show’s major branded entertainment partner. Their response, according to the book: “We think it is pretty good.” But Mr. Tortorici begged to differ: “It was far better than that.” So he moved on to NBC, which passed on it, as did Lifetime.

Today, of course, the show is a prime-time blockbuster on ABC. And a brand-friendly one, too, with Buick, Nissan and Maserati regularly making cameos in the show, and the show’s ratings are proving to be a magnet for ad dollars for ABC.

“Desperate Housewives” isn’t the only show that Mr. Carter writes about in the book, which hits shelves in May. He also chronicles how NBC, ABC and UPN turned down “American Idol,” and why ABC passed on “The Apprentice,” a show that has since generated considerable coin from integration partners such as Cingular Wireless, Ford Motor Co., Procter & Gamble Co. and General Motors Corp., among others.

Rooting from the sidelines

Mr. Tortorici, who has since joined MindShare and more recently ascended to president of Group M Entertainment, confirmed he shopped the show around to executives, but declined to comment on the book’s specifics because he hasn’t read it yet. About “Desperate Housewives” he said: “I wish the hell I could’ve been part of its success more than just being someone who is delighted to see Marc Cherry get the rewards he so richly deserves.”

Looking on the bright side, he added, “The one thing the 'Desperate Housewives' story shows is we know good material when we see it.”
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