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October 6, 2015

Desperate Networks is a must-read for TV fans

by Bob Sassone, posted May 4th 2006 10:59AM
Desperate NetworksBill Carter wrote one of my favorite media/entertainment books, The Late Shift (about the Letterman/Leno battle for late-night), and now he's back with an even more ambitious book, Desperate Networks. It explains how we got the TV landscape that we have today, from all the reality shows to how Les Moonves got to the head of CBS to Katie Couric's negotiations to leave NBC. It's a fascinating read, with many interesting revelations, including:

1. ER was originally set in Boston, but NBC already had St. Elswhere set there, so they asked for the setting to be changed. Chicago was chosen "for no especially good reason."

2. FOX almost got Friends, but some nice maneuvering by Les Moonves (then head of Warner Brothers Television) got it on NBC.

3. NBC loved the Friends pilot, but asked that the setting be changed to a diner, because "nobody's ever going to believe people in a coffee shop." Moonves suggested the friends meet at Monk's, the diner in Seinfeld, and after that NBC decided to keep the coffee shop in.

4. Don Ohlmeyer, the head of NBC's West Coast Division, is one guy who didn't like the pilot. He walked out of the screening room.

5. NBC met with Jerry Seinfeld during the last season of Seinfeld and begged him to come back for one more year, offering him $5 million an episode. He said no.

6. Mark Burnett pitched Survivor to Les Moonves (yup, he's everywhere), but didn't pitch it in a reality-show sort of way, he pitched it as a drama about a plane crashing on an island, where the survivors have to fight to live.

7. In 1998, William Petersen was asked to star in the TV series The Magnificent Seven. He said no, but there was a Western he did want to do, a remake of Have Gun, Will Travel. He later back out of that, but Moonves signed him to a deal anyway, and CSI later came along (ABC had turned down the show).

8. The reason why CSI made it on the schedule is because Moonves showed the pilot to Everybody Loves Raymond producer Phil Rosenthal, who loved it. Another show was already set to go on the CBS schedule, Homewood, P.I. (starring Tony Danza as a suburban family fan and private eye), but Rosenthal hated that pilot, so Moonves went with CSI.

9. In 2001, Marc Cherry had no job, was completely broke, and was approaching 40, with bills piling up. He gambled everything on a script he had written as a half hour sitcom. It was Desperate Housewives.

10. Paula Abdul almost quit American Idol after the first auditions, after hearing Simon Cowell's comments. Also, producers gave Cowell a list of insults and putdowns they had written for him to use on contestants. Cowell was surprised. The producers actually thought that his putdowns were scripted, and not off the cuff and real.

11. ABC exec Lloyd Braun came up with the idea for Lost (and, yes, Braun also inspired the Seinfeld character of the same name). Most at ABC hated it, thinking it was just Survivor with a script, but ABC drama head Thom Sherman really liked it.

12. The original title of Lost was The Circle. The network didn't like the first script, so they called J.J. Abrams.

13. Jack (Matthew Fox) was actually killed off in the first episode, but the network thought that this was the character everyone could identify with, so they rewrote it.

14. Julia Louis-Dreyfus was interested in the Susan part on Desperate Housewives, but ABC didn't see it. Roma Downey and Jery Ryan both auditioned for Bree, while Jeanne Tripplehorn and Alex Kingston also auditioned for roles.

15. Felicity Huffman and Eva Longoria were signed on early, but there were still several women to meet with for auditions, so producers decided to meet with them, not telling them that roles had already been filled on the show. The women were Marcia Cross and Nicolette Sheridan.

16. ABC invited Teri Hatcher to audition for a sitcom called Hot Moms. She got Desperate Housewives instead.

17. ABC bought Blind Justice (short-lived show with Ron Eldard as a blind cop) only because they wanted one more year of another Steven Bochco show, NYPD Blue.

18. A few years ago, ABC and FOX tried to get Conan O'Brien. FOX offered him $21 million, but O'Brien wasn't sure of their late night chances. Plus he was hoping The Tonight Show would be available. Jeff Zucker considered Jon Stewart, but thought his appeal was too narrow. And as it turned out, O'Brien will take over for Jay Leno in 2009. Leno is very upset with NBC (which is why he now includes more jokes about NBC in his monologue), but didn't want to put O'Brien through what he went through during the whole Carson/Letterman/Leno mess in the early 90s.

19. Grey's Anatomy was originally titled Surgeons.

20. Donald Trump hated the third season of The Apprentice before it even started. All the cast members he loved weren't even chosen and he was angry.

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Wow! Quite an extensive inside info on the tv landscape, although I heard an interview with Bill Carter on WNYC's "On The Media." Check it out because it's very interesting interview. And thanks for this info on all of these popular shows.

May 20 2006 at 12:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Judith Sarach

No wonder this apprentice is so AWFUL If it is a reflection on the corporate world we are in big trouble!!!! they are all spoiled babies!!!!

May 05 2006 at 1:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
John B.

This sounds alot like Brandon Tartikoff's biography, "The Last Great Ride". If you liked that one, pick up this one. If you like this one, go find a copy of Tartikoff's book. You'll never look at network television the same way. And you'll understand how crap like "SuperTrain" got on the air!

May 05 2006 at 9:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Michael G

#3 the one and only month i did a ratings book for neilson was the firt year of Friends. I like to say I helped keep them on the air. (I stopped watcing it after Ross got with Rachel)

#7 I would of liked to see the Magnificent 7.

#19 I voted on ABC web site to help name it Grey Anatomy ( I never watch it)

May 04 2006 at 2:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ashley Boyd

Woah its pricey from Amazon UK, guessing its not been published here yet, hopefully it will be soon because I want it.

May 04 2006 at 1:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

#1 - maybe to compete with Chicago Hope.

May 04 2006 at 1:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

very awesome facts. i'm def. bying the book. did not know that seinfeld was offred that much money to stay on. the greys anatomy stuff was cool too.

May 04 2006 at 1:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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