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Sunday, August 09, 2009

TCA FX SHOWRUNNERS PANEL

Photo by Frederick M. Brown
PRODUCERS ATTACK NBC... First of all, you can tell by the photo -- as I pick at a lose thread on my jeans -- that I wasn't quite sure what the fuck I was doing up there. All those guys, Shawn Ryan (The Shield, The Unit, Lie to Me), Peter Tolan (Rescue Me, The Job), Todd A. Kessler (Damages, The Sopranos) and a personal hero of mine, Graham Yost (Boomtown, John Adams, Lawman) have way more experience than I do. This was supposed to be a forum about the creative concerns of scripted television. Why, in a landscape of ever-changing content rules, we are witnessing some of the best scripted television ever produced. To me, that's a fascinating topic. However, some of the reporters seemed to have a different agenda. Clearly when the first topic raised was about the difference between running a network show and cable show, I knew I was out of my depth. I've never run, nor even written for network. Then the questions took an inevitable turn to the NBC decision to kill dramas at 10pm. I would like to clarify one thing, the panel was not an NBC-Bashing as Ken Tucker's snappy headline would suggest. It began with Shawn praising NBC as the godfather of television drama. The comments focused on how "disappointing" it was that NBC has, as Tolan put, "given up" by programming Leno at ten. From Hill Street to ER to West Wing, NBC developed the dramas that inspired many of us to become writers. In fact, it was a West Wing spec that got me the gig on The Shield. Reporters then dug in, inciting more heated feedback. Which of course most of us were happy to add. I felt like the idiot echo, chiming in every once in awhile with "Yeah, that's right... what Shawn just said..." My comment, "they're the bastards to hate now" was not a slam as much as it was a comment on the cyclical nature of success in the television business. But I was cut off before I could articulate that point. When the topic of the Emmy time-shifting snub was brought up, Shawn spoke about the general dismissive attitude that some networks and studios have about writers. Clearly carrying over some of his heated feelings from the recent strike, Shawn called out the very real truth that studios hate the fact that they need writers. And if they could a find away to do television without us, they would. And of course, in fact, they have -- Reality TV. Which we all know is also scripted, but that's a whole other heated forum. It ended up being a platform, mostly for Shawn, to remind the media of the importance of writers and the contribution they make. NBC wasn't bashed, they were held accountable for the impact they've had on the creative community.

9 comments:

Max Randal said...

I’m still learning about the entertainment industry. Seems to me it’s all about the $, production costs must be much less for talk shows and reality TV. When the NHL went on strike a few years back the air time was replaced by card games, all a network needed was a camera.
Totally cool the fact you were chosen for the panel, you must be doing something write.

30 days looking forward to it.

Cameron Mount said...

I knew that news article seemed fishy. Thanks for clarifying.

Jacob Cristobal said...

Hell, NBC didn't properly give "Kings" a chance when it deserved one, so they should be bashed for that. Really, how do you screw up a TV series that has Ian McShane in it? Oh I know, if you're NBC, put it on a awful timeslot and have zero hype for it.

However, it does open the idea of him being in SOA. Given any thoughts about that Mr. Sutter?

Outsider said...

Alot of actors are upset that NBC put Leno in Primetime....it cuts 5 hours of possible primetime work space out of the schedules available for actors to work on episodics. And it's true if the studios could automate scriptwriting and have a robot do it they would....in the same way they would exult if they had purely machine generated voices and all animated characters...thereby cutting out the messy and costly "Human Factor" of actors and residuals....

And it's also very true that "Reality TV" is definitely scripted....I have seen one actor I know 'acting' on "Operation: Repo" and have heard of others....it's even more scripted than some of the shills were on Jerry Springer...maybe that's why the True TV slogan is almost a disclaimer "It's not Reality it's Actuality" so they can't be sued for fraud? It's a pop legalese disclaimer.

And as far as writing goes ...I also agree that some of the best naturalistic modern dramatic writing is in episodics versus megabudget gas giant comic book studio blockbusters....even Michael Mann ends up with a bad Dillinger film which crushes the fraternity of Gangsters that made Dillinger Dillinger in favor of a matinee idol version with Johnny Depp channeling Elvis' drawl and Bale sounding like Butthead....(Dillinger was a flinty Lee Marvin type ...not a bubblegum popsicle)

The blockbuster budgeted film seems to be coming in at subvideogame bubblegum levels nowadays...and it's a relief to go see a foreign film like "Revanche" or "Lorna's Silence".....and american tv like SOA and Breaking Bad and a few others on HBO and Showtime are the posts holding up the Tent in the Sphere of American Dramatic writing...
or at least that's the opinion of this crumbling, street foot soldier....someone who has actually witnessed someone getting it with an icepick and making it about a block

CrackerJacker said...

That would have been an interesting panel to talk to, or even hear others talk to. Btw, love the photo.

As for NBC, I think Shawn was right about networks and their attitude to writers. I know that TV has been about pimping some product or another, and making a profit has always been the endgame for the broadcasters, but there is a strangely "modern" ignorance that trolls the halls of places like NBC. Whenever I hear about network notes that include any variety of absolutely barking ideas, I just roll my eyes, and some times I actually end up in a bad mood.

Bottom line, if NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX or any other broadcaster could find a way to simply transmit our dreams as a cheap form of entertainment(No writers, actors or directors involved), then they'd do it, regardless of whether it was any good or not - as long as it's POPULAR enough. NBC's the highlighted example(Not specifically to the story about Kurt and the other guys on the panel, but from all sorts of other stories.), but they all suck in one way or another. It feels like the networks just feel that cable shows do scripted drama better, and then they abdicated that avenue of programming completely. There are still examples of shows that survive this madness of management, but they are few and far between; the good ones are even farther apart.

I guess the endgame of all of this, is that sooner or later, in only one of a million ways, the broadcast networks will end up leading themselves to the doom of television as we currently experience, and content is made for the internet as a primary format. That they seem so determined to do this, is an indicator to how much they know what they're doing.

Looking forward to S2 Mr. Sutter, I still watch recordings of S1 almost bi-monthly.

Spooky Lil Girl said...

The thing that really bugs me about this is the "very real truth that studios hate the fact that they need writers."
Greed, greed and more greed. Like that infamous line in Wall Street, that goes something about how many cars can you drive. How much is enough. Hell look at the classic lines in that movie and say you don't need writers.
And I work as a writer, not in tv but I do write and get paid for it.
Greed is the original sin.

Ty said...

It's no surprise that the best TV being written right now is on cable networks like FX, A&E, and HBO. It almost seems like the big four networks have just given up trying to do anything of actual quality.

I work for a former television writer, and he has often mentioned the antagonistic relationship between the studios and the writing staff. His comment about reality TV was almost exactly the same as yours, "They're looking for ways to create TV without writers."

Been re-watching the Shield. Now that I work for a former TV writer, I actually know what the various producer titles actually mean. It's cool to see you getting promoted pretty much every season. It's like going back in time and watching the development of your career.

(just finished season five, you've got the co-executive title now)

Ganit Orian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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