Gay TV channel saving "Sarah Silverman"

Tue Mar 3, 2009 4:31pm EST

Actress Sarah Silverman, nominated for her performance in the series ''Monk'', poses at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Primetime Emmy Awards Nominees for Outstanding Performance reception in Los Angeles, California September 19, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

Actress Sarah Silverman, nominated for her performance in the series ''Monk'', poses at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Primetime Emmy Awards Nominees for Outstanding Performance reception in Los Angeles, California September 19, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Fred Prouser

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - "The Sarah Silverman Program" will be back for a third season on Comedy Central, following the resolution of four-day day standoff over planned budget cuts.

The cable channel has ordered a 10-episode season of its signature live-action series, which will now be co-financed with gay-oriented sister cable network Logo.

"We're happy," Silverman said. "All we ever wanted was just to make our show. Nothing fancy -- just our show."

It's a happy ending to a drama that threatened to make "Sarah Silverman" the first major primetime casualty of the economic crisis after the cable network was forced to slash the budget of the series by more that 20% and its executive producers refused to continue at those terms.

"Things were tough on Friday and over the weekend," said Comedy Central's president of original programing Lauren Corrao, who headed the network's efforts to keep "Sarah Silverman" on the air. "We very much wanted the show, we just couldn't come to an agreement for a budget that was acceptable and uncompromising to the producers and that we could afford."

Like every other entertainment company, Comedy Central's Viacom parent has imposed companywide belt-tightening measures. As a result, Comedy central proposed picking up "Sarah Silverman" at an $850,000-per-episode budget for Season 3, down from $1.1 million for Season 2.

Concerned that the drastic reduction won't allow them to keep the integrity of the single-camera comedy, which incorporates animation and musical numbers, Silverman and her fellow executive producers Dan Sterling, Ron Schrab and Heidi Herzon declined the offer.

In a surprising twist, Corrao came up with the idea early on Monday to share "Sarah Silverman" with another Logo, which caters to gay, lesbian and transgender viewers.

She called former Comedy Central executive Marc Leonard, now a senior exec at Logo.

After discussing the idea for several hours, Logo's brass called up their Comedy Central counterparts to tell them they wanted to be part of the show.

Details on how the financial responsibility and the window sharing will be divided between the two partners are still being worked out, but sources said with the combined financing, "Sarah Silverman" will have a budget a tad higher than last season's $1.1 million per episode.

Logo has run Comedy Central shows before, including animated series "Drawn Together," but this the first time the two networks are involved in co-financing a series together.

In broadcast TV, NBC made a similar arrangement with DirecTV last year to bring back critically praised but low-rated drama "Friday Night Lights."

Logo is looking to capitalize on Silverman's strong appeal among women and gay men. Additionally, two of the main characters on the show, Sarah's neighbors Brian (Brian Posehn) and Steve (Steve Agee), are a gay couple.

Logo aired two episodes of "Sarah Silverman" in the summer as part of its NewNowNext awards show weekend when the Comedy Central series won in the best show you're not watching, beating such heavy hitters as AMC's "Mad Men."

"Sarah Silverman's" writing team is expected to begin work shortly. The show's third season, which will get a cross-promotional support on both Comedy Central and Logo, is eyed for a premiere in the first quarter of 2010.

The story started off as a possible grim example of the effects of the deep recession on high-end primetime series.

But in the end, "It was all about our love for Sarah and the show, which we couldn't allow to get off the air, and about getting as creative as possible with financing in the tough economic environment," Corrao said.

(Editing by Dean Goodman at Reuters)

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