By FRANK SWERTLOW
Hollywood's major studios have launched a bold initiative to boycott No. 1 TV network NBC, in what is becoming a battle of nerves over ownership, licensing fees and renewals of prime-time series for next season.
Depending on who blinks first, the outcome could change the economics of the television industry.
"A revolution is going on in Hollywood," said a former NBC executive who is now an independent producer. "(The networks) are reinventing the rules almost daily, and as long as network shares keep going down, they have to keep reinventing the wheel. This is all about leverage buyers vs. sellers and the networks are trying to squeeze every nickel out of the suppliers (producers)."
Among the studios involved in the boycott are Warner Bros. (which produces TV's top-rated drama "ER"), Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Co., Sony Pictures Entertainment and Twentieth Century Fox.
Although many of these studios are currently producing shows airing on NBC, they have stopped pitching new projects to the network to protest what they see as excessive demands for a piece of the profits on new contracts being negotiated by NBC.
The implications for both sides are serious. For NBC, it could mean that the best shows go to other networks, which would result in lost ad revenues. For the studios, it means losing a chance to get a show on the nation's most-watched network, and the potential loss of millions in syndication revenues for shows that make it big.
"It is clear that (the studios) have been taking a collective position for them to boycott," said Don Ohlmeyer, president of NBC West Coast. "People have to do what they think is intelligent and honest, and we have to do what we think is intelligent and honest."
Ohlmeyer implied that the studios are trying to leverage their clout against NBC. "That would be some form of collusion," he said, adding sardonically, "nobody thinks the studios would actually talk to one another."
None of the studios involved would comment on the record about the boycott. A source familiar with the studio position denied there was any collusion or joint action being taken against the network.
Despite the boycott, Ohlmeyer said he is not concerned that NBC will lose a batch of new hits to its competitors.
"All the networks have been buying from (the studios), and we are in the largest erosion of audiences in the history of TV," he said. "Maybe if we start casting a wider net, we will do better."
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