Barry Sonnenfeld

Will "Pushing Daisies" be nipped in the bud?

Geez, I hope not. As far as I'm concerned, the greatest thing to happen on TV so far this fall was the second episode of the series, which aired last week.

Which is not to belittle the first episode. That was the fall's best pilot, but it left me with the uneasy feeling that there was no possible way to live up to that pilot in subsequent episodes.

Episode 2 was at least as good as Episode 1. In some ways, better.

The first two episodes of this offbeat fairy tale about a man who can revive dead people with a touch is fun, goofy, charming, engaging, hilarious, surprising and whimsically weird.

But I'm still a little worried about "Daisies" ... because I'm not sure the producers can maintain the quality of the first two episodes.

There's been buzz that executive producer Barry Sonnenfeld (who directed the first two episodes) is on the outs with Warner Bros. (the studio that produces the show) because he went so far over budget.

In subsequent interviews, Sonnenfeld said this is much ado about nothing — that all TV shows go over budget. Which, while a bit of an exaggeration, isn't much of an exaggeration at all.

There are unconfirmed reports that ABC has complained to Warner Bros. that "Pushing Daisies" episodes after the first two didn't look as good because the studio spent less money on them ... but nobody at either the network or the studio is talking on the record about that.

The fact is that virtually every network show is deficit-financed. The license fee the studio receives from the network doesn't cover the production costs; the hope is that, eventually, selling the series into syndication, to foreign markets and on DVD will erase that deficit and produce a profit.

ABC is paying Warner Bros. $1.65 million per episode; Warner Bros. claims to have spent upward of $3 million per episode. (Although, reportedly, ABC has coughed up some more cash beyond that $1.65 million license fee.)

If a show turns into a hit, both the network and the studio stand to make a whole lot of money off it. Best-case, with shows like "Seinfeld" or "Friends," you're talking eight figures — more than a billion dollars.

Or, if you're the studio, you can be throwing millions of dollars down a rat hole if the show is quickly canceled.

"Pushing Daisies" isn't a huge hit yet. It's in the top 20, averaging 13 million viewers. "Deal or No Deal," which airs opposite "Daisies" on Wednesdays at 7 p.m., draws more viewers, but "Daisies" wins its time slot in all the demographics that advertisers pay for — viewers 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54.

Yes, $3 million per episode is certainly a lot of money. But $66 million for a 22-episode season wouldn't even be a particularly large budget for one big movie — and a lot of those big-budget theatrical films flop.

In this case, the look of "Pushing Daisies" is so distinctive and extraordinary that tampering with it would sink the show prematurely.

The old saying, "You've got to spend money to make money," certainly seems to apply.

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