NBC-Weinstein Snafu: Programming Pacts Need Deal-Making Mark, Not Scar

In the entertainment world, a handshake is the deal. But for the NBC-Weinstein "Project Runway" debacle, make sure you bring the Purell.

Purell is that instant hand sanitizer to eliminate germs and the like -- possibly bad programming deals. That January 2007 handshake between Jeff Zucker, president/CEO of NBC Universal and Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of The Weinstein Co., concerning the valuable Bravo show "Project Runway," has festered into a lawsuit.

Did enough germs, passion, and honesty pass from one executive to another during that hand pump back at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles -- one where NBC would get the right of first refusal, the opportunity to match any offer from another network that Weinstein might get?

Weinstein said that part of the handshake -- I guess between the index and pointer fingers -- didn't happen. Zucker said it did. Marc Graboff, co-chairman of NBC Entertainment, who was also at the meeting, also said Weinstein agreed to a right of first refusal.

One of NBC's claims is that verbal agreements happen all the time in the entertainment business, or with handshakes. Until they don't hold, when I guess someone gets a better deal elsewhere. Then reputations can get sullied.

Similarly, this is the foundation of sorts for the upfront advertising market, where billions are agreed to mostly by phone, handshakes, or email in June. Those "holds" are turned into "orders" in late August/early September.

Is there fallout or "spillage" in these upfront deals? Rarely. At best advertisers may trim back a bit, possibly even add to their buys. A couple of years ago, Citibank dropped its entire upfront buy. Yes, that was a shocker. But to my knowledge no one filed a lawsuit. Sometime a deal is not a deal.

Why is "Project Runway" so important? Because for NBC, it is Bravo's most identifiable show, one that is the base of its entire programming schedule.

In light of all this, remember that NBC has been calling for a new age of TV and entertainment business deal-making over the last year or so. So perhaps it should start with the way it makes its program agreements.

Is NBC ready to pay up? According to some reports, the network is all about profit margins, not ratings. "Normally, the licensing fee we paid would total 50% of a show's budget, but now we are paying on average about 25%," Graboff told the New York Post.

Maybe in the future NBC should plant a kiss on a cheek when it has a deal. It's more personal than a handshake, and, with lipstick, it'll leave a mark



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