"The Famous Teddy Z" started with a contract, a producer and a promising young actor named Jon Cryer.
"The idea did not exist," said Hugh Wilson, executive producer of "Teddy Z," now airing at 7:30 p.m. Mondays. "It was created."The reason: CBS-TV wanted Cryer to have a show and asked Wilson to craft one that would fit.
By contrast, Craig Haffner's idea germinated when he was a small child in the 1960s, listening to his father and uncle tell war stories about fighting in North Africa, Italy and Normandy.
But Haffner heard "no" said in a dozen different ways before his dream, "Remembering World War II," finally aired on 114 TV stations across America.
These two new programs show how easy it can be to get an idea onto the air - and how hard.
"No matter whether a project is good or mediocre, you have to ask 100 times and figure there are 99 `nos' out there," said Haffner, a former program director at the ABC network's Los Angeles TV station.
"You have to hope you find the one `yes' early."
Sometimes you also have to put up your own money. Before it was finally picked up for syndication by MGM/UA Telecommunications, Haffner and his company, Grey-stone Communications, invested $200,000 in "Remembering World War II."
The show's final package includes four one-hour specials this season, four more planned for next year and a half-hour weekly series after that - if ratings for the specials are good enough.
By contrast, Wilson put none of his own money behind "Teddy Z." "I'm an independent producer," he says. "I have a 2 1/2-year contract with Columbia Pictures Television for a CBS show. My production company is in partnership with Columbia. They have the main ownership and they put up the money. We put up the scripts and deliver the show."
Past success allows Wilson to cut a sweet deal like that. His "WKRP in Cincinnati" does so well in syndication that "I don't have to work much." That show also makes Wilson a proven commodity.
But Wilson wants to work. And he's delighted with "Teddy Z," which allows him to satirize show business.
"Cryer and I talked and we both liked the old story of the young man in the mailroom of a talent agency who is sent out to the airport to pick up Marlon Brando," Wilson recalls.
"In the story, Brando decided to make the young man his agent. Whether it's true or not, we used the story to get Teddy Z into his job as an agent, but we've changed it enough so that it's only the acorn of our idea."
Once he had an idea, a star and approval from CBS, Wilson still had to come up with writers and scripts.
For Haffner, the idea was the easy part.
"We had done some local shows at KABC on the 40th anniversary of D-Day and other World War II themes, and they did very well in various time slots," Haffner said.
"But we couldn't take the idea to a network. The networks at the time had the notion that anything in that area would be done by their news departments."
So he found himself in the less certain world of syndication, needing to find a financial backer also able to sell the program to scores of stations.
"I made the rounds of syndicators in town, from Paramount to Columbia to MGM, King World and Disney," Haffner remembers. "The basic response was, `We're not interested because the stations are not interested.' I told them the stations wouldn't think about the 50th anniversary of World War II until it was upon them - and then they'd want programming badly. But even my friends among program directors said they couldn't sell the show (to station management), despite the ratings we'd gotten at KABC."
Then, while working on the also-syndicated "Group One Medical" for MGM/UA Telecommunications, Haffner showed his $200,000 video to an executive. The quick response: "I want to make a deal for this."
That was last December, but the deal wasn't finalized until May, when MGM/UA put up "about $1 million - enough to cover our costs for the first year with no profit," Haffner said.
CBS and Columbia had to commit much more money to "Teddy Z." Partly because ABC-TV also wanted Wilson to do a series, CBS committed to pay for at least 20 episodes of "Teddy Z," seven more than the usual initial contract for 13 episodes given shows with successful pilots.
Wilson was also spared the tension of making a pilot, the single episode that usually makes or breaks prospective TV shows.
"I told (CBS programming chief) Kim LeMaster what I was going to do and he said, `Great, go do it,' " recalls Wilson. "At this point in my career I'm lucky enough to be able to deal directly with the top executives."
Columbia set a budget of about $600,000 for each episode of "Teddy Z," with CBS "not putting up the full figure."
If the show is a success and later goes into international syndication, Columbia will recoup its contribution many times over. Networks generally fund about 75 percent of the cost of each episode they order.
Here is a breakdown of weekly variable expenses for a typical episode of the CBS-TV program "The Famous Teddy Z":
(Total budget for this episode: $583,000)
-Makeup and hair.....$2,500
(weekly cost, prorated over length of show)
- Fixed costs of about $445,000 per episode include pay of regular actors, office staff, staff writers, office rent, sound stage rent, post-production office expense and wrecking crews to take down sets.)
- Source: executive producer Hugh Wilson