Lyne Greenlights MindShare Show, Exits

'The Days' goes on as McPherson takes over

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%%STORYIMAGE_RIGHT%% Yesterday's announcement that President of Entertainment Susan Lyne was the odd woman out in the executive shuffle at ABC took many by surprise. Those in the branded-entertainment world wondered whether the departure of Lyne would jeopardize "The Days," the summer family drama she green-lighted last week in partnership with WPP Group's MindShare North America.

Well, probably not, considering her replacement happens to be Steve McPherson, president of Disney's TV production studio, Touchstone Television. The script was developed at Touchstone. In fact an ABC spokesman said the project is going forward as planned and Peter Tortorici, MindShare director of programming, who was the point man in the negotiations with the network, also told Madison + Vine yesterday that he expects no hiccups. "Steve and his staff have been strong partners in this process already and we're proceeding as planned." ABC declined to make McPherson available to comment.


When ABC and MindShare had announced their unusual programming-development deal at the end of 2003, many skeptics wrote it off as nothing more than a toothless PR ploy. Lyne can take a measure of solace in knowing that she leaves her post having quieted detractors of the deal—for now anyway—with the pickup of six episodes of "The Days" this summer to be fully deficit-financed by MindShare and its clients. But more meaningful than keeping the naysayers at bay, the deal continues the trend of exploiting the summer as a laboratory for launching programming with nontraditional financing structures.

Like last summer's limited-run six-episode NBC reality series, "The Restaurant", MindShare negotiated a barter deal, whereby it waived the traditional network license fee in exchange for retaining half the show's advertising. This type of arrangement alleviates much of the financial risk for the network during a period, summer, where programming budgets are generally tighter than the traditional fall TV season.

What many observers might find interesting, however, is that unlike "The Restaurant," which was deficit-financed by Universal Television Networks-backed Reveille Co. and Interpublic Group of Cos.' Magna Global Entertainment and their clients American Express, Coors and Mitsubishi, in this instance MindShare and its clients negotiated a clause in the contract that gives them an option to maintain the barter arrangement if there is a second season pickup.

On the other hand, "The Restaurant", starring Gotham celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito, reverted to a straight license deal for the second season, which started Monday, whereby the Peacock's ad sales unit consolidated control of the entire ad inventory.

"TV is a collaborative form and [this deal] is a good expression of that," said Tortorici, the former head of CBS Entertainment.

"It's difficult to launch a family drama because it's such a competitive environment for all the broadcasters now…because we're able to run six episodes without financial risk and launch it in summer, it means we're going to be able to give a show like this a real chance," Lyne told M+V, a day before her ouster.


Tortorici would not divulge the amount of investment on MindShare or Unilever's part, but he explained their model is to produce at a small premium over the media cost for the program. Among TV industry insiders, it is generally accepted that the average cost of a one-hour scripted serial for network TV ranges from $1 million to $2 million per episode. However, Lyne was quick to point out that "MindShare is making this show on a somewhat smaller production budget than the normal one-hour drama." To get an idea of relative scale, it can be noted that according to CMR/TNS Media Intelligence, Unilever spent nearly $550 million in total U.S. advertising across all its brands in 2003.

Even with a scaled-down budget, she promised Madison + Vine that there would be no slippage in production values. "They are being careful to keep every bit of the quality we expect from an hour scripted drama because they can focus on this program and this program alone. I think they can do things [in this instance] that larger studios and, in some cases, networks can't," said Lyne.

Can these models become more prevalent year-round? Unlike many of her counterparts in network ad sales, who tend to be loath to giving up any control to brands, Lyne is sanguine about the possibilities. "I think as we all struggle to figure out how to program 52 weeks a year, we have to be a lot more inventive about financial models and partnerships…by doing something like this, our advertisers are invested in a very different way."

With the quick turnaround on the production, will Unilever have enough time to build and launch an integrated marketing and promotional program around its association with "The Days" a la AmEx and "The Restaurant?"

For example, will the producers cooperate at Tollin/Robbins, the Hollywood production outfit that developed the script, by allowing footage from the show to be used by the Anglo/Dutch package goods titan for advertising and marketing purposes? Lyne said there had been no conversations so far about "extending our relationship into Unilever's own advertising. You have to be careful about how those things are done. I'd reserve judgement on that issue for now."

As for product-placement opportunities in this dramedy about the complicated lives of a two-career couple with three kids, Lyne said it is a very minor aspect of the deal and that it's more "about an advertiser knowing that it's a piece of programming that will be compatible with its brand."

%%PULLQUOTE_LEFT%% In the minds of many Disney observers, the exits of Lyne and ABC Entertainment Television Chairman Lloyd Braun before her are the latest chess moves in embattled Disney chief Michael Eisner's fight to retain control of the company against unrelenting criticism from shareholders and former board members like Roy Disney. ABC, at the center of Disney's woes, has been specifically criticized of late by Hollywood producers like Mark Burnett, who minced no words recently in describing the lumbering, bureaucratic and byzantine nature of ABC's development process.

Will McPherson's ascension and the expanded power given to Anne Sweeney, president of ABC's Cable Networks, which includes a greater role at ABC, remedy the strained relations with much of the creative community?

Those who believe that it's Eisner's meddling and micro-managing of the network that gum up the works at ABC, are pessimistic that McPherson and Sweeney will be able to affect a more nimble and efficient process than Lyne and Braun were able to create.

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