Walt Disney Co.’s ABC, running last this season in the viewers marketers target, is unable to renew its most-popular drama “Desperate Housewives” because of pay demands by three stars, people familiar with the situation said.
Felicity Huffman, Marcia Cross and Eva Longoria are seeking a raise, said three people with knowledge of the demands. Teri Hatcher has signed a new contract, said one of the people, who sought anonymity because the talks with ABC aren’t public. In August, TVGuide.com put their pay at $400,000 each per episode.
“Housewives,” an hour-long weekly drama featuring women living on the deceptively idyllic Wisteria Lane, is ABC’s most- watched scripted show. The Sunday night program averages 13.1 million viewers a night and 5.75 million among the 18-to-49 year olds advertisers target. A 30-second ad costs about $210,000, second on ABC only to the $220,000 for “Grey’s Anatomy,” Ad Age magazine reported in October.
“There are a lot of moving parts, but we have ambitions to pick it up,” Paul Lee, president of ABC Entertainment, said in an interview this week at a TV critics meeting critic in Pasadena, California. “We expect to get the agreements in place but it just hasn’t happened yet.”
On Jan. 10, ABC announced renewals of six shows including “Modern Family” and “Cougar Town.” The fate of new series, such as “Detroit 1-8-7” and “No Ordinary Family,” are still undetermined. The network ranks last among the major networks in viewers ages 18 to 49 and is down 10 percent from last year, when it was third, according to data from Nielsen Co.
Disney, the world’s biggest media company, rose 9 cents to $39.26 at 4 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares gained 16 percent in 2010, beating the 13 percent rise in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.
“Housewives” ranks 10th among viewers ages 18 to 49, and, after the competition show “Dancing With the Stars,” is ABC’s highest-rated program in total viewers, according to Nielsen data. Disney, based in Burbank, California, produces “Housewives,” and generates revenue from DVDs and reruns in addition to ads. The audience peaked at 23.7 million viewers nightly in the 2004-2005 first season, Nielsen data show.
“It would be a pretty big loss for the network,” said Brad Adgate, who oversees research at Horizon Media, a New York- based advertising firm. “Unlike CBS, ABC has had difficulty in developing new hits of late.”
Huffman, Cross, Longoria and Hatcher are original cast members who have appeared in each of the seven seasons since “Housewives” started in October 2004.
“We are currently in talks and hope to reach agreement soon,” said Amber Woodward, an assistant to Huffman. Liza Anderson, Longoria’s publicist, said the actress wasn’t available to comment. Brad Cafarelli, who represents Hatcher, was seeking a comment. Howard Green, Cross’s manager, didn’t respond to e-mail requests for comment.
“Housewives” creator Marc Cherry signed a development contract with ABC in 2009 that runs through 2013, according to the network. Cherry is working on a new show called “Hallelujah,” set in a small Tennessee town of the same name, Lee said, adding a decision hasn’t been made yet whether to pick up the new series.
David Falkenstein, Cherry’s publicist, said he couldn’t immediately comment.
CBS is the most-watched network in the TV season that started in September, according to Nielsen data, averaging 11.7 million total viewers a night, an increase of 2 percent from last year. It leads in younger viewers as well. ABC is second in total audience at 8.69 million, down 5.1 percent from a year ago, and is fourth among the major broadcasters in 18-to-49- year-old viewers at 3.29 million.
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