Marc Graboff had a front-row seat for negotiations that brought Survivor to CBS, kept the Friends cast on NBC and moved Jay Leno from 11:35 p.m. to 10 p.m. (and back). Now, one of TV's most respected dealmakers is leading Core Media Group, best known as the parent company of Fox's American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance.
You're now looking at broadcast networks from the outside. What's their biggest challenge?
There's so much inertia. I think it's going to continue for a while, but you're seeing more and more cracks in the facade. Drama development at the broadcast networks is slower this year. If I were a writer of a serialized, edgy one-hour show that's darker, why would I go to a broadcast network? So the networks have a real challenge to attract those kinds of writers. The biggest selling point the broadcast networks have is that they still attract scale; when you hit on a broadcast network, you hit big. The other is that a typical network spends over $100 million a year on development and pilots. That's a lot of money to launch six shows, times four or five networks. And how many of them work? Those guys are playing at the $10,000 blackjack table. We don't want to play at that table.
Given the money being thrown at the host and judges, coupled with shrinking ratings, at what point does Idol not make financial sense?
Fox still makes a very nice profit from the ad revenue alone, and it helps them command a bit of a premium in the marketplace. There are a lot of intangibles. Think about what it does for their retrans negotiations and as a promotional platform. You've got to think about how many hours of television Idol provides for that network, too, so the unit cost per hour goes way down as a result. That said, the show's expensive. At what point does it not make sense? When the ratings fall below a certain point, if we can't read just the cost of the show, there could be a problem. But I don't see that happening anytime soon.
What's the wildest thing you've had to write into a contract?
I remember trying to close the cast deal on the 10th season of Friends. We were apart by a not-insignificant amount of money on the per-episode fee, and I put a number on the table to the cast's representatives. They were taping a show that night, so literally we'd wait for a break in shooting, then they'd all congregate in Jennifer Aniston's dressing room.
Then they'd come out with a note that they would hand to their rep, who would call me and the head of business affairs at Warner Bros. By this point, it's already Dec. 23, and people are drunk in the halls, and their guy calls and says, "You've got to give them something other than just money to get this deal closed." I said, "Well, we can take that same chunk of money that we had offered that they rejected and turn it into an equivalent amount of airplane hours on chartered jets." They took the deal.
What deal do you regret most?
The way the whole late-night thing went down in 2010. Unfortunately, I was more the guy behind the [scenes] cleaning up the mess, and it was quite a mess. Long-term friendships were blown apart as a result of it. It didn't need to be done so sloppily and with such hard feelings, but a lot of personalities were involved that just exacerbated it. The person who got tainted in all of it who was really innocent was Jay Leno.
There's more at the source. Pretty interesting read regarding network TV.