Friday, August 8, 2008

Network, Studio, Production Company

I was at a seminar last night for tv writers and a question was introduced which made me realize many people don't understand the difference between a Network, Studio, and Production Company. So,

Network: A network distributes programming. They are the STATION that puts a show on the air, ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, USA, TNT, ESPN, etc. there are six major companies that own networks for SCRIPTED TELEVISION: FoxCORPS, CBSCORP, GE, Time Warner, Disney, Viacom, Sony.

FOX-Owned by FoxCorps
CBS-Owned by CBSCorps
NBC-Owned by GE
CW-Co-owned by CBS and Time-Warner
ABC-Owned by Disney

These channels DO NOT produce programs. They BUY programs and sell ad space to recoup their cost. You may ask, but Russell, I who produces these shows, I thought... Well they are produced by...

Studios: Each show is produced by a STUDIO. Studios are designed to FINANCE and PRODUCE television. These studios DO NOT distribute television, the finance shows and SELL THEM TO NETWORKS. If you are asking HOW Fox doesn't have a studio, the simple answer is THEY DO. Each network ALSO has a STUDIO that produces shows that air on their network.

FOX- 20th Century Fox
CBS-CBS Paramount
NBC-Universal Media Studios
CW-Warner Brothers
ABC-ABC Studios

So, you're pretty confident now, that whatever is on FOX is produced by 20th Century, CBS Paramount is producing everything on CBS, etc etc. Right? WRONG. While 20th Century does produce many fox shows, like 24, they also sell shows to other networks. My favorite current example is SCRUBS. Scrubs is produced by DISNEY, but was DISTRIBUTED by NBC. However, when NBC cancelled Scrubs, it was PICKED-UP by ABC for another season.

Why does this happen? A bevy of reasons; A show a studio is developing doesn't fit on the network they are producing for, a network thought they would like a show but then decided after seeing it they aren't wild about it, the studio specifically produces a show for another network, etc. etc.

When I lived in DC, I met a guy who worked at History Channel's studio, just like the model I've been talking about, but smaller. He explained their system like this. History Channel is only obligated to buy X amount of the content they produce. If history channel passes on a show, they are free to shop that show to other networks.

The point is, it's reciprocal. Sometimes the studio produces the show for another network, sometimes the network doesn't want the show. However, this shows why you'll be watching a show on CBS, and see a 20th Century Fox logo. Or when you're driving past the Warner lot and see banners from other network's shows.

Production Company: Most people think a production company is the company that actually PRODUCES the show. However, this is a misnomer. In actuality, a production company has EXACTLY the same role as a studio, but they are not owned by a network. Most production companies that work with television are successful producers, showrunners, directors, etc. That have OVERALL DEALS with a studio because of their success.

An OVERALL DEAL means this...A Studio will pay a production company X dollars, and in return they will own EVERYTHING the production company produces, whether it's ideas, scripts, etc, for the length of the deal. People like David E. Kelley, Joss Wheadon, J. J. Abrams have overall deals with studios.

So, there is a general overview of WHAT each type of entity does. Next time you're watching a show and you see a production company, a studio, and a network, you'll understand why it is the way it is.

Next time...I'll try to explain what syndication is...maybe...unless I forget.