When talks to renew NBC's deal with West Wing begin early next year, the studio is reportedly going to ask NBC to shell out as much as $10 million an episode for the popular drama that takes place behind the scenes at the White House, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
NBC currently pays Warner Bros. about $1.6 million per episode or about $35.2 million a year for the rights to air the show in the U.S. If the network agrees to resign the show when its current deal expires early next year, it may have to pay as much as $220 million for the rights to each new season, a 525-percent increase.
"If NBC starts putting down $10 million an episode they're going to have to start selling it like Monday Night Football -- as a special. And I'm not so sure that West Wing is so special anymore. It's very good, very critically acclaimed but I don't think it ever seized the kind of ratings that would warrant that price at all," said TV industry analyst Tom DeCabia.
Two years ago, NBC came out on the losing end of talks with Warner Bros. when the studio managed to negotiate a bank-busting $13 million per episode (about $286 million per season) for the licensing rights to ER.
But since then most of the show's original cast members -- including George Clooney, Juliana Margulies, Eriq LaSalle and Anthony Edwards -- have left.
"If you're NBC you learned your lesson with ER, " said DeCabia. The deal rocked the industry and changed the way most networks do business, with most new shows now produced by studios owned by broadcasters.
Reps at Warner Bros. and NBC declined to comment yesterday. At a reported cost of about $3 million to $3.5 million per episode, West Wing is one of the most expensive dramas to produce.
But last year Warner Bros. was only able to sell the rerun rights to cable's Bravo channel for about $1.1 million an episode -- significantly less than the $1.5 million to $1.6 million deals CBS' CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and NBC's Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, according to reports.
"Dramas historically don't repeat well," says DeCabia. "But a show like West Wing is so topical, the way it's written, that these shows repeat even worse than usual. Two years from now am going to want to see a drama about what happened in current events today?"