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Sonnenfeld responds to story about Pushing Daisies budget overruns

by Joel Keller, posted Sep 9th 2007 6:27PM
Barry SonnenfeldLast Wednesday, Kim Masters of Slate.com wrote an interesting article about Pushing Daisies, one of the most highly-anticipated new fall shows. In the article, Masters reports that not only is the first post-pilot episode of Daisies over-budget, but the director of both the pilot and the first episode, Barry Sonnenfeld, has been punished for it; his "role as director was curtailed," as Masters put it.

When I was at the premiere for Daisies at the New York Television Festival last night, my main purpose on the event's red carpet (pictures of and text about the event will be posted on Tuesday) was to ask Sonnenfeld to reply to that article. Luckily, the director of Get Shorty, Men In Black, and The Addams Family wasn't reluctant to respond. "You know, the writer of the piece hasn't written a lot about Hollywood, I think," said Sonnenfeld. "Almost every show after the pilot is over-budget, whether it's Bionic Woman, Chuck, last year's Ugly Betty... I suspect they're all over-budget." More after the jump.

"My role is to make the best shows possible, to get our show on ABC and get as much good press and to make the best shows possible," he continued. "The article... and I called Kim about it... it had a lot of misinformation... I wouldn't talk to her about it, because it's not the right idea to talk to...."

I interrupted Sonnenfeld to ask for an example of the misinformation he felt Masters gave in the article. "We're not wildly over-budget," he said, "And I'm probably going to direct more episodes," something which creator Bryan Fuller confirmed during the post-screening Q&A session.

"The reason why I didn't direct more episodes is that the schedule got changed; I was taking my daughter to boarding school. Truly, what I told Kim when she first called me was... truly, this is a non-story. And there's not a show out there that isn't over-budget after the pilot."

So they are over-budget, but no more so than most shows. I think that's what Barry is saying there. Anyway, I wasn't quite done ticking Mr. Sonnenfeld off; more on that -- and the other things Liz and I learned when at the Daisies premiere -- on Tuesday.

(Update 09/10/07: I sent the article to Kim Masters and asked her to respond. Here is what she said:

"The point of my story is not simply that the episode went over budget but that Sonnenfeld--a high-profile film director who has been portrayed as the architect of this series--was pushed off directing the show because he was blamed for budget overruns.

"I believe Sonnenfeld feels Warner blamed him unfairly for the majority of the overrun. I called him, another producer and his agent to get his point of view. As I told Sonnenfeld, I did what I could to get his side of the story across and his team declined to speak out. (I am told there has been some sort of reconciliation so he may direct future episodes.)

"The assertion that I haven't written much about Hollywood is ridiculous on its face. I suspect that Sonnenfeld meant I have written a lot about film but less about television, which is fair enough. Nonetheless, I am not an inexperienced reporter and I stand by the story.")

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Joel Keller

GC, the article doesn't discuss budget overruns on the pilot, it discusses overruns on the first post-pilot episode.

September 10 2007 at 11:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
GC in CA

The pilot is usually a showcase of what the show could be, meant primarily to convince studio and network executives of the show's viability, which means that a lot of time, money, and effort go into shooting it, more than any regular episode would get. Locations, special effects, guest stars -- all of which set the tone for the series, and all of which will inevitably be scaled back as budgetary and scheduling realities take hold.

I seriously doubt that the "Pushing Daisies" pilot went so over budget that the whole season is in the red, just that on a per-episode basis the third, fourth, and fifth episodes are going to be a little more sparse to make up for the costs of the first two. And I'd bet that Sonnenfeld is right, that there are a lot of other shows that have already gone over budget by that measurement as well.

Lee Goldberg had a really good blog post a couple of years ago about what he called the pilot bait-and-switch here:


September 10 2007 at 10:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Given the news that many pilots have been recasting, reshooting or changing show runners, it makes sense that they would go over budget.

September 10 2007 at 10:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have a possibly morbid curiosity about this sort of thing - like it's a surprise when movies or television shows go over budget? Does the average viewer care? I'm interested to see if Masters does respond. Meanwhile, can't wait to hear more from the red carpet!


September 10 2007 at 10:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joey Geraci

I don't suppose Joel, Masters, or somebody could comment on whether Sonnenfeld is correct in his assertions that most new shows are initially overbudget after the pilot. I know I certainly haven't heard this about other shows in the past.

September 09 2007 at 8:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Joel, I didn't mean my comment as a criticism; I'm just surprised Sonnenfeld said that. Maybe he just assumed that because the article was on the Internet, it was written by a newbie. (Though that would be weird too, since he's so tech-savvy.)

September 09 2007 at 8:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joel Keller

BigTed: Yeah, I know Masters has written a lot about the entertainment industry. I sent her a copy of this post so she can respond; I'll update this post if and when she writes me back.

September 09 2007 at 7:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Not only has Kim Masters "written a lot about Hollywood," she's one of the two or three best-known journalists covering the business side of the entertainment industry today. She's written books about Disney and Sony and covered the industry for Time, Vanity Fair, Esquire, the Washington Post and NPR, among others. What's more, I'd be amazed if Sonnenfeld doesn't know this. (I like the guy, even though "RV" really sucked.)

September 09 2007 at 7:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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