NEW YORK – Hollywood may have to lay off the caviar and start snacking on cocktail weenies for a little while.
These days, the often-indulgent entertainment industry is staring at an economic downturn that may force executives — and stars — to start cutting some corners.
Execs from ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, the WB, and UPN all say they are concerned about the high cost of producing and developing new television shows. People in the biz are looking across the board at places to trim the fat.
NBC's president of entertainment, Jeff Zucker, said this week at a New York luncheon sponsored by The International Radio and Television Society that hiring expensive, big-name stars contributes to the economic strain on some networks. Shows such as Bob Patterson on ABC and The Ellen Show on CBS have so far scored disappointing ratings, though the studios continue to support both shows.
But Stuart Bloomberg, co-chairman of ABC, countered that it would be "dangerous" to cut back on the development of new programs. He said the network will be looking for other areas to cut back.
And Zucker insisted: "I don't think the audience will notice the difference."
Although it's unclear how the belt-tightening will shake out at the networks, the higher-ups at movie studios are already cutting back. Extravagant movie premieres, like the one for Pearl Harbor, in which 3,000 guests crammed onto a U.S. aircraft carrier in Hawaii earlier this year, may be a thing of the past.
Warner Bros. has reportedly scrapped lavish premieres planned for two highly anticipated flicks, Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. According to Daily Variety, Potter was to open with a decadent party at London's Leicester Square. Although the film will still launch in London, the celebration has been limited to a screening and a dinner for the cast.
Terry Curtin, executive VP of Universal Studios told Daily Variety, that money spent on big openings, "would often be better spent in media, where you can target the right audience with the right message."
The small-scale parties are a sharp deviation from the overblown direction Hollywood had been heading in before Sept. 11. Before Pearl Harbor upped the ante, Universal Pictures created a whole wonderland for the How the Grinch Stole Christmas premiere with Jim Carrey.
"The Grinch thing created a new universe to promote a movie," said Robert Thompson, pop culture professor at Syracuse University. "This is exactly what we expect of Hollywood."
At least it used to be what the public expected.
Toning down the image of Hollywood as a Neverland for the rich and famous could be a smart move in a post-Sept. 11 America, Thompson said. The nation has reevaluated its star-worship since the terrorist attacks, and a little humility from celebrities could go a long way with the public.
"The extravagance of Hollywood seems out of sync with the world now," said Thompson. "Hollywood pulling back now makes sense."
While stars of all stripes have come out to participate in at least one of the many benefit concerts and telethons, they are still searching for the right balance. The Emmy Awards, which have been canceled twice and are now scheduled for Nov. 4, will be the first big test of whether America's appetite for celebrity has really waned. But even this usually glitzy event will be dramatically toned down, with a casual dress code and fewer jokes from host Ellen DeGeneres.
Thompson suggested that American's distaste for stars will pass. "Even though we do shake our head at Hollywood [for its excess], it's exactly what fascinates us about Hollywood."
And Thompson pointed out that cutting back spending on flashy events is a double benefit for movie executives right now: They'll save money and seem sensitive.
"They won't look like they are living on anther planet," he said. "But in a sense it is another planet, it's planet Hollywood."