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December 17 2008

20th Century Fox TV is trimming budgets. Shows affected include Dollhouse, Life on Mars, Family Guy and 24.

The shows have been asked to cut down their budgets by 2%. ABC studios has already taken similar actions.

It's to be expected, I guess, and this is definitely preferable to people actually losing jobs and livelihoods, which the article seems to be saying is not going to be happening. Let's just hope Dollhouse doesn't go the way of Woolworths.
Yeah, the headline in my email worried me, but since it's happening to Family Guy and 24 as well, that's not so terrible. And definitely preferable to firing people.
This seems like the best approach given the situation.
A clever showrunner could easily circumvent this by simply having a budget of $0.
If you read Nikki Finke's blog, she broke a story that the studio is also considering cutting costs by switching many SAG contracts to AFTRA, as is Warner.
Oh no, here come the "clipisodes." I hate those. If I wanted to watch a previous episode, I'd just go watch it. I'd rather they drop a planned episode than do the tap-dance of "remember this scene..."

[ edited by quantumac on 2008-12-17 18:01 ]
At least Joss has good penny-pinching skills from his Buffy and Angel days. And this is way better than jobs being lost. Good call by 20th Century Fox.

[ edited by JesusSavedIn01 on 2008-12-17 18:44 ]
If this was handed down recently, 2% could have a massive impact on Dollhouse because there's only a few more shows to shoot (I'm assuming a 13 episode first season.) 24 is already in the can, so I don't see how it will affect them this season. About the only thing Family Guy could do is cut down on guest stars, or make the frakking pauses even longer. I've only seen Life on Mars a couple of times, but it seems like they used a lot of licensed songs. Cutting a few of those would probably do the job.

This does smell like a stunt against a possible strike.
Weren't there episodes of Buffy & Angel where Joss went over-budget?

I can't help but think how silly Fox is to demand an action show, but not be able to afford it. Wouldn't a noir be cheaper to make?
If this translates into more time in the co-ed shower, then itís a cross weíll just have to bare.

(Itís not pervy if itís for a good cause, right?)
Dollhouse is right near the end of their season (grumble) so I can't see this having a big impact.
I changed the link to the original URL. Always refer to the source where possible.
That was my first thought also, gossi.
At least Joss has good penny-pinching from his Buffy and Angel days.

Serenity was brought in under budget from what I remember. And I'm sure Joss well remembers the days of The WB's woeful budget for Angel season 5.
gossi I was just thinking the 2% would have to be spread over a couple of shows instead of a whole season. I bet (hope) you're right that it's too late now for that to happen.
Well, gossi didn't say that it wouldn't happen. Just that it wouldn't have a big impact.
According to Tim Minear's status on Facebook, he's working on Episode 12 now.
Dollhouse is right near the end of their season (grumble) so I can't see this having a big impact.

Unless Joss has plans for a spectactular end of season finale which could also double for the end of the show as well i.e. go out with a bang. Five quid says he blows up the set.
The question I sent to Kristin was to ask which season is expected to end with the glorious destruction of the set.
Shows are budgeted per episode. So any episode not shot yet (Dollhouse started a new one yesterday) will be affected. And it's certainly possible to cut post-production costs on any episode not finished in post, though I couldn't say if they will only cut 2% of post-production budget in that case or cut 2% of the entire episode budget out of the post-production budget.

They may not grandfather it in though, any show currently in post-production may well be safe from the cut.

Also, there are ways of cutting budgets (by that small of an amount) without affecting the show too noticeably. They can trim down their camera and lighting packages, getting rid of a few "luxuries" they can "do without". They can spend less on catering, and so forth. They can cut the heck out of some corners to get that 2% and they're good at doing that. For a show like Dollhouse that is so close to being done shooting for the season, I would imagine they'd cut the corners for a few episodes rather than cut an expensive scene (if the scene is important) out of each one to make the 2% all at once.

I put quotes around luxuries because much to producer's chagrin, when cutting things out of equipment packages that seem like excess, they can actually slow down production enough so that they spend more money in overtime.

Personally, this does not concern me, and I do like the solution as opposed to laying people off. Where I work, if the strike happens we are going to a 32 hour work week, which sucks. But it's great cause no one loses their jobs, and no one loses their benefits (like if we went to a 24hr work week or even 30hr)
Meanwhile, relatedly sort of, on the matter of when the season would wrap. The casting call for 1.11 (on Spoiler TV), says that episode starts filming on January 12. Someone suggested to me the other day that the season would wrap by the end of January. Doesn't seem like that schedule makes sense if 1.11 doesn't start until January 12.
I might have misunderstood him b!X, but if Fox demands Joss cuts 2% of the show's entire budget from the remaining episodes, I think it will have a big impact. Obviously, a lot more information is needed.
Thanks bobw1o. I didn't know shows where budgeted per-episode. That makes a lot more sense.

No way in hell would I take that bet, Simon.
Eric_Curtis, while you most likely had not read my post when you just posted, to reiterate, TV Shows are budgeted per episode, so the rest of the season will only be effected by 2% of each episodes' budget.

Edit: Ah, I'm too slow |-)~

B!X, you're right, if that start date is correct, they would finish around Feb 6th, which to be fair is just after the end of January. I might be able to find out today, or our grumbling Gossi over there might know as well. I'll post if I find out.

[ edited by bobw1o on 2008-12-17 19:07 ]
Ok, so even that date still puts the end at roughly the same point. I have no conception of filming times.
Gossi did mention that the scheduled had slipped slightly recently, so if the current schedule has them ending the first week in Feb, b!x's informant could have been right to the best of their knowledge.
This seems like prudent business to me in the current climate (having nothing to do with a potential strike). I'm shocked that they are only being asked to cut 2%. I would expect it to be closer to 5%.
A standard hour long shooting schedule is 8 days, shot Monday's through Fridays. So a show starting on the Monday the 12th will put the last day on Wed the 21st. However, often(and Dollhouse does) a show will shoot a "second unit" to get anything that may have been missed, or to reshoot something, or to get stuff you don't need the main actors for (close up of Echo's watch on her wrist) That can be 3 days ish, and they overlap the 2nd unit of one episode with the regular unit of another. However, in my calculation above, I mixed up the overlaps. The 13th episode regular shooting would end Feb 12 if Ep 11 is starting Jan 12.

[ edited by bobw1o on 2008-12-17 19:32 ]
I'm actually thinking that there is a much bigger story embedded in this one. I think we are beginning to see the end of television as we have known it. I think the medium is undergoing a transition arising from a combination of factors: the faltering economy, the growth in the internet and the choices people have, continued strife from writers' and actor's guilds and unions, etc. And what it will morph into is not clear to me at all. So even though this may seem a minor news piece related to the drop in our economy, I feel that it has major implications for the health of Dollhouse going forward, and is a harbinger of continued problems for network television in the near future.
This is just in: "Family Guy" and "American Dad's" Seth McFarlane will now only make $98 million a year as opposed to $100 million.

How about cutting the salary for extremely overpaid employees before cutting the show budgets?
Dana5140, the TV model is changing. Sure. It was been changing for quite a while now. No one knows what it is going to morph into, but a 2% cost cutting initiative at 20th is so ridiculously not news in face of the massive layoffs that other studios are doing.

There are many things that have major implications on the health of Dollhouse but I really don't think this is one.

bknick, that is definitely one way they could save the 2%.

Panic level: Polka Dot?
Picnic level! It's picnic level now!

(AAH! Bees!)
It's not a real picnic without some pesky bees.
Won't the sales of the DVD/downloads be factored into the 20th Century Fox budget as well? Surely there must be a tradeoff between future earnings and current budget. Cause we Joss fans will buy any old tat. And they know this.
Maybe they could take all those exercise bikes in the Dollhouse gym and wire them up to a generator? That would help cut the electricity bill.
Mind you, we saw from Serenity that Joss likes shooting in the dark anyway..

[ edited by . on 2009-01-15 04:24 ]
Saje, its funny, I hear the word 'circumvent' and all I hear is 'cirsumvent'! As coined by a toothless GOB Bluth.
Here's the old timetable as best I make it:

Feb 12th'ish - shooting wraps on Dollhouse. Sets are empty.

Feb 13th - Dollhouse premieres on FOX

Feb onwards - nobody knows about Dollhouse's fate as no decisions will be made yet (unless the ratings are truly awful and FOX is forced to place it on 'hiatus', to take it off air), but there will be lots of online wank on the ratings. Joss, Tim etc will sit and tweak the episodes in post production for a few weeks, then they move on. Joss is on 'Cabin In The Woods' by this point.

March - Staffing season starts on shows. Writers without deals with 20th will try to get jobs elsewhere.

March - If FOX need the studio building Dollhouse is in for other pilots, the sets will get taken down.

April/May - Decision will be made by FOX officially on if they are renewing Dollhouse, if it's still on the air.

Back end June - If FOX renewed Dollhouse, it starts back up again now (shooting).
Dollhouse is gonna wrap at the end of January, they are shooting Ep 13 at the same time as 11 and 12.

CSI NY actually does this all the time, as I'm sure many other shows. It does make things rather crazy though.
Damn. Family Guy clip shows now seem inevitable.

I think US tv budgets seem quite ridiciously large most of the time, but this seems like quite a strange selection of shows. 24, Dollhouse are supposed to be action packed, Family Guy doesn't really look that expensive. So Dollhouse being a huge mega hit, getting instantly renewed isn't even a scenario? :( And Dana5140 is depressing me even more. Glad there is Axel to point out the bright side.

[ edited by the Groosalugg on 2008-12-18 00:40 ]
bobw1o, really? Ouch! I was going to say, when I heard the Feb date I was, like, "wow that's slipped!". Triple banking, though?
SG-1 did the multiple episode shooting thing all the time in the later seasons when SciFi cut their budget. They'd write multiple episodes centered on individual characters out of the team then shoot two or three of them all at once along with a team episode. It was like a factory up there.
TamaraC, you owe me a dollar. The new word is "picnic" (see bix's example).

Axel Osbourne, you made my day. BUT, even if the mighty US of A went to hell in a hand-basket, I'd STILL want to know the fate of Dollhouse.

Suggestion: turn the word harbinger into humdinger. See example:

It'll be a real humdinger if we have a picnic.

Thanks gossi & bobw1o for the Dollhouse update. :)
Still laughing at zz9's comment. However, it's not a bad idea!
Gossi - Well, my interpretation is that 11 and 12 will be shot back to back with 13 overlapping the end of 11 and the beginning of 12. Although if they continue shooting overlapping second units... then yeah, the end of 11 will shoot over the beginning of 12 (right now they are finishing up 9 while they shoot 10) and so then I suppose 13 going on in the middle there would be a triple threat. Yikes!

Funny note, I accidentally typed (and fixed) that they were finishing up 9 while they shoot 19. If only...
oops! Sorry, korkster. I guess I didn't get the memo.

Simon, I think it is probably looked at, but it wouldn't be factored into the production budget. At least, I don't think so.
Funny note, I accidentally typed (and fixed) that they were finishing up 9 while they shoot 19. If only...

Think of the rumors you would have sparked.
I could have started a Jossaclypse!
2%? Seriously?? Where I work, our budget is likely to go down more like 20%, and I'm sure we're not alone in those kinds of cuts. I think these shows will manage.
Personal opinion here...I think shows actually get BETTER with less budget. Look at Sarah Connor. They cut their budget, and it's less action and very character driven this year. It's honestly the only drama that I look forward to. That is until Lost, BSG, and of course Dollhouse.
I'm sure all those soon-to-be-unemployed auto workers feel the pain of the 2% cuts in TV-land.
I'm sure all those soon-to-be-unemployed auto workers feel the pain of the 2% cuts in TV-land.

Autoworkers have had job security for decades while in Hollywood everyone, up to and including people like Joss, can and do get fired at the drop of a hat.
How many times do GM or Ford say, four weeks after launching a new model, "Sorry sales aren't what we wanted, we're scrapping it. Everyone on the production line and up to and including the designers and engineers is fired effective today"?
If they did that, zz9, maybe they'd actually make some decent cars.
Could be Korkster but the cost of designing a new car is a tad more then a pilot episode :)

From what (little) I know about production is that the deadline that US producers work to is very costly. The BBCs very top cost target for quality drama is $1.5m per hour, and that's a full hour, not 40 minutes. That would be bargain bucket cheap in the US.
As the old saying goes, cheap, fast or well done. Pick any two. When the episode you're working on has to be broadcast in four weeks no matter what and you have a problem then you have to throw money at it.
The BBC usually film drama as a long movie. If you have scenes in somebodies office in episode one, three and six they will film them all on the same day. The US episodic production line almost always will build the set, shoot Ep1, then break down the set only to have to build the whole thing again a few weeks later.

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