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Monday, October 26, 2009

IT AIN'T JAY'S FAULT



In light of the somewhat historic Sons of Anarchy ratings last week, the press seems to be on a Jay-bashing run.  Using the event to call attention to the "NBC mistake" and turning Jay into the I-told-you-so piñata.  Being it was my show that set the fire, I thought I'd take the opportunity to clear up something -- I really like Jay Leno.  I think he's a talented comedian who's earned his place as a preeminent force in late night entertainment.  

When I sat in on the FX showrunners panel at TCA a few months ago, it ended up being a platform for Shawn Ryan to hammer home some residual strike angst.  Most of that was pointed at NBC and Jay.  And trust me, we all chimed in; most of us writers have residual strike angst.  But none of us, including Shawn, really got a chance to expand upon the general comments and unfortunately our quotes were picked up by the trades; we sounded petty and angry.  

But my beef -- and I think this is true for a good chunk of the creative community -- was never with Jay.  Leno's an artist looking for a good gig like the rest of us.  The truth is, NBC should have NEVER bumped him out of the 11:30 spot.  No one bumped out Carson.  Why Jay?  His ratings were solid, he had a loyal following and he was constantly doing what he could to keep his show fresh -- dude is one of the hardest working cats in town.  And it's obvious Conan's "younger" humor works way better in the later hour.  The bigger concern is the potential dangerous trend that NBC is setting by putting Jay in the 10 pm spot.  As Peter Tolan said, "...NBC is raising the white flag", essentially giving up on scripted dramas.  And why is that?  For all the reason I've mentioned in the previous blog -- to succeed in dramas you need employees who are intelligent, patient and creatively nurturing.  Instead of fixing their system, NBC is creating a new one.  An easier one.  A cheaper one.  One that doesn't demand talent.  One that can be run by suit-monkeys and accountants.  That's the core fear we are all experiencing.  We realize that public consumption is changing.  We are the ones who created Jon and Kate, TMZ and the gangsta paparazzi.  We are the ones veraciously consuming rag-mags and reality TV.  Losing five hours of episodic television is the result of that trend.  And we all know it ain't going away.  It's growing.

At the end of the day, NBC's new system may work and the once last-place buffoons could become the simpleton champions of prime-time.  And then we'll all be pitching gameshow ideas to Lord Zucker and the suit-monkeys of the dark empire.  But until then, let's back off Jay and beat the right piñata.  I won't say who that is, but I guarantee you, when he splits open, there will be gold bullion and Universal stock options pouring out of his ass.

30 comments:

G said...

Well said....Kudos!

CrackerJacker said...

It's Ben Silverman. Gotta be. NBC loses audience as it loses big shows, he "solves" things by integrating product placement and leveraging the ad sales, while seeing NBC spend less time and money promoting their own shows.

"Genius" my ass.

Maria said...

Wasn't it Jay's idea?

frankblack2012 said...

Leno experiment is a failure. Affiliates are screaming about loss in 11pm News. Suits only positive spin is profit. What about scripted shows spinoffs? Look at CSI franchise. What about rerun profits? NBC has forgotten about "must see tv" where a block of shows dominated an evening? SOA is further proof that 10pm Leno will go the way of Super Bus, musical cop show and other short sighted desperation stupid suit tricks. Showtime, HBO, FX and other basic cable networks are kicking ass. No longer dramas, you and other new generation producers and writers are knock out 42 minute movies. You're putting Hollywood to shame. Suits at NBC and other MSM networks are shitting in their collective pants, by dropping the ball and not picking up SOA, Dexter, Californication, In Treatment, Mad Men, etc.
Reality tv will also fade. But scripted shows are only avenue where the truly talented, truly creative and truly gifted take all of us to places we could only dream of.

Pointman said...

Like all things, it's not a single person, but a chain of events or policies that create failure or success.
True, there is a basic entertainment formula, but non-profession network suits keep repeating the "doing the same thing expecting different results" methodology of predictable outcomes.
SOA got it's rating because it is exceptional from the status quo...PERIOD!
You never know what will happen from episode to episode, and if you do figure the angles- the actual visual depiction impacts each viewer tremendously.
That is what I look for in entertainment and story telling, I hate sameness and predictability..
SOA will continue to leave those outside the "loop" scratching their heads and running to their outdated playbooks to compete.
The revolution continues..

WI_Debi said...

Well said. I like Jay Leno also, I don't think Conan O'Brien is funny but then again, I'm walking the fine line at the senior end of the target demographic so my opinion obviously doesn't count for shit. Perusing my Top 10 DVR 'can't miss list' I find nothing from NBC....Not even in the running for the top 25 (only 10 of the 25 are even network shows), although I have caught Mercy a couple of times and it looks like it could be a great show until they find a way to dumb it down to the core demographic..then it too will fall off my radar. I've always said that people who value education value educators. I think the same holds true for drama and writers. If you value an excellent story line, you have to value the people who create it, the writers, not the pretty ones who memorize the lines written and repeat them in front of the camera. Although I appreciate eye candy and excellent acting as much as the next person. I think the biggest problem is todays audience expects instant gratification. If the story isn't wrapped up in a neat little package with a bow by the end of the hour, they lose interest. Me, I prefer the shows that make me yell at the television (oh no, you did not just do that!!) and wait a week to see what the hell happened in such and such a situation while I ponder the different scenarios that the writers may pursue. THAT, my friend, is the sign, in my opinion, of excellent television drama. Unfortunately, the suits and accountants don't really give a rat’s ass what I think so they'll continue to spoon-feed us mediocre fare and we'll continue to consume it. Until we as consumers demand better, we'll get whatever they decide to give us, regardless of its quality or lack thereof. Luckily for those of us who have options other than just network fare, we don't have to settle for it.

No Daisy said...

Wow, Kurt, you have been a prolific blogger this past week! I'll have to check in more often. I couldn't agree more about the state of network "drama". Somewhere along the line, the execs got it in their heads that viewers don't really care about character development. Just blow something up or kill off a character (then bring said character back), or leave "easter eggs" and we, the sheep-like viewers will be so entranced that we won't realize that the chacters are shallow, and underdeveloped. Then they wonder why these shows can't sustain themselves after the first season!

I see this same struggle with daytime soaps. People watched them because they become so entrenched in the lives of the characters they grew up with. All of a sudden, it's no longer about the characters but the next ratings stunt for sweeps. It really is sad. And it will end up costing an entire entertainment genre to die. I hope prime time learns from daytimes mistakes before its too late.

OK I'm off my soapbox now. I wnated to thank you for making the only show that I bother watching live anymore. Any chance we'll get more than 13 episodes per season? Not to be greedy, or anything.

zzzdog said...

I think of him as a fall guy really - being asked to spin gold out of the straw of a limited formula that serves as the late night cool-down between TV-watching and sleep for most viewers. It's the network runners and bean counters who have lost sight of the ability to be and do something larger and better than just counting pennies. Jay's just doing his job and doing it fairly well as always, just at the wrong time of night.

My only hope is that it will prove ultimately self-defeating for NBC. I mean really, how much more venal and shallow and penny-driven does a network have to get before it ceases to succeed in the television ARTS and sciences? They are openly measuring the success of this purely in terms of dollars. They make no pretense that they are trying to do anything other than business - no consideration for actual entertainment - just a cost-benefit analysis of what enough viewers will tolerate measured against the cost of filling that time. If they could figure out a way, they'd program the old test pattern, so long as SOMEONE would buy time. They've practically said so.

I can't help but think that at some point the bough will break. Humans need something larger, we need things that fire our imaginations and our souls and take us out of ourselves. We need to reward the things that touch our souls, and not support the "reality" dreck that sinks below the lowest common denominator and weighs us all down.

I want to believe we are collectively better than that and I hope the response your show, a well-crafted show with heart, (which I've been addicted to since the very first promo I saw), will help the suits and those who need the reassurance of imitation, realize the power of something more.

And, thanks for holding out and standing up for something more and real - something that moves and touches. I can only imagine it's an increasingly lonely fight. Thanks. We need it.

smim420 said...

Its not your fault, its not Jay's fault. Its the networks. FX KNOWS how to deliver good tv series, and the old guys just dont get it anymore. Very few shows on tv are really "shows" anymore; its all reality crap and 'date my monkey' shows. The general audience grows tired of being fed the same crap over and over. A good action/drama will win every time when put against the likes of Survivor 8000 or Parks & Rec, at least it will for me. Glad you know how to keep it real and fresh.

East Coast said...

Brother,
Damn man, I wish I had someone like you in my corner. Your thoughts are valid, your words are forcefull, and your mind,.. well,...... I'll let Sons do the talking for me on that one.

Anytime you wannna stand up for a broke, old school, down on his luck Brother,.. look me up. lol

Support 81
Ride Free.

hoghigh said...

Nice to see a writers opinion of the system!

tonilost said...

I said it before either here or on your FB, even Johnny Carson wouldnt make a go of the tonight show at 10pm. It was a stupid move, how many people's circadian rhythm's must suffer before they realize their error (dramatic license used)? Americans used The Tonight show for decades like an Ambien, to put him on at 10 is just pure fucking with us.

mikonos said...

Having worked at senior level of a company crawling with former GE guys and subsequently at my own custom motorcycle company the issue is one of culture and risk/return. GE at its core (besides its dangerous foray into banking which it got hammered by) is low growth, boring industrial products, light bulbs, jet engines, etc. The people that excel at a company like GE and gravitate towards it are low risk, uncreative people. However, they are not stupid either. So when they load their spreadsheet with content and see the risk/reward of investing in several expensive new series to find "a winner" vs. a portfolio of middling product (e.g. reality TV with zero production value and low investment BTW), what do you expect? The truth is GE should NOT own a creative media business, they should stick to industrial products.

Barbara said...

Nothing sexier than a man that stands in defense of another. Way to come to Jay's defense - and rightfully place the blame on the correct shoulders.

Denise Shelton said...

I like Jay at 10. That way I can go to bed early and not miss the show. Unfortunately, the networks expect immediate success. If they don't get it, they move on. Too bad, really because it takes time for people to settle in to the change. They cannot expect Jay Leno to win that time slot every night of the week because there's more competition at 10. I don't see SOA beating Jay so much as a loss for NBC but a gain for the viewers. We get to have the best of both worlds. I guess in the end though, we'll get the programming we deserve. TV really is a passive medium for most people. Even if they don't like what they're being spoon fed, they keep eating because it's too much trouble to protest. I like both shows. But SOA is only on one weeknight and I can still see Jay the other nights, so I'm going to watch SOA. It's apples and oranges. Just because I like one doesn't mean I can't like the other, too, even though they're completely different. The current system assumes that viewers are mindless drones, and it's not suprising because many viewers act like it. Things are changing though, now that we have a chance with the internet to talk back a little louder. The fact that shows (ie artists) are placed in competition with each other for survival is absurd.

Anonymous said...

i watched the jay leno show for the first time tonight ; i saw the topic on your blog and thought itd see what all the fuss was about. i watched him on the late night show all the time ; he is a comical guy. but i am a die hard SOA fan ; so hearing that we beat out his show is great news.

i am a very proud momma. been watching since season 1 ; bought most of the official SOA merchandise ; wear it religiously on tuesdays ; but then again, its sad that they have to down jay for the things that are inevitable ; if you have a better show w/ better writers and producers and directors [ie kurt sutter ; you] you are going to have bigger ratings. i am 24 yrs old ; live in a very small farm town in south florida ; SOA keeps me going some days ; so thank you kurt.

all the reality bullshit shows that are out now ; they are beyond ridiculous ; i am so tired of reality tv ; we live in reality ; why do we want to watch people struggling ; when we ourselves are going through the same. i just do not get it. maybe if they chose to follow people with an actual "story" and not just another "hey, we can make money off of this" then viewers would want to experience it. you are an amazing writer ; i dont know you personally but lets just say if you had your own reality show ; id watch it. <3

therealzenobia said...

Jay was absolutely scorching as a standup. His show is fine, but it never held a candle to his standup - and no other standup I've seen (I used to see a lot, but never saw Carlin or Pryor) was as good as he was. I miss the standup days of yore.

Electronic Sole said...

Mr. Sutter, I continue to appreciate the methods by which you state your opinions on Sutterink both about SoA and the business of television. You acknowledge your biases and move forward from there. I wish more people working in television would hang their raw thoughts out there while getting feedback from viewers. If that occurred, I bet there would be more than two shows I avidly follow.

Heavyroam - Anachronists - NW

Anonymous said...

MAN, great stuff with the Sam Jax brawl! Terrific episode. End this season right!

ErikL said...

Having worked in the studio world I have seen first hand what goes into making the decisions. First the executives are worried about their own jobs, which means they have to make sure the bottom line is in the black and stocks of the conglomerate stay high or gain a few points every quarter. Then they worry about their reputations around town, because in hollywood you are only as good/powerful as you're last success. With the success comes arrogance which leads to paranoia. When you have paranoid egomaniacs beholden to accountants and numbers every 4 months you get erratic and short sighted decisions. The executives are chasing numbers not quality entertainment.
There is an argument that networks begrudgingly put any content on the screen between the money making commercials. And as stated before the line between commercials and content are more blurred today than they ever were. At least in the early days of sole sponsorship programing they didn't try and meld the content and the product. They came right out and put their sponsorship front and center.
I think the success of cable networks shows proves the older business model of good story, talented artists, and looser control(obviously does not translate to more money) still works. But lets not forget that most cable networks are owned by the same conglomerates that are trashing the "free" networks. So maybe the lower financial risk of the cable network shows and the more latitude for content (read racier) is the sweet spot so to speak. MASH, All in the Family, the Jeffersons, Barney Miller, Soap would not be green lit by the Big Four today, OK maybe All in the Family but it would have to be animated. Lower budget with wider latitude for content and talented story tellers worked then as it does now. Executives just can't see the forrest through the bean counters.

holymotherofgod said...

I agree with everyone's comments above related to the industry standards and culture. I can only imagine what planets must have to align for writers, actors, actresses, producers, etc to work effectively in this industry, knowing the machine that runs it. Must be frustrating as hell for true artists when bean counters rule the roost.

therealzenobia said...

Amazing, as always.

Everybody broken. The ol' ladies coalition couldn't be more non-existent: Gemma, Tara, Mary, Luann, Lyla...F'in Fiona?! Trouble in paradise for Clay and Tig, and for Weston and Zobelle! Tig and Bobby, even. Jax and Opie seem to have made a little progress, but the irony of Bobby's chosen messengers is painful.

Meanwhile, is Zobelle whoring out his little girl, whom he professed to be doing it all for? Of course, in that same speech to Hale, he claimed to be fighting guns, then he turns out to be an evil mastermind gun-runner. The Irish boy is very cute, and I applaud Polly's choice if it's a choice, but if she was deployed, Zobelle is as thoroughly corrupt as I guess we should have known.

Meanwhile, Fiona! Kurt, how many different ways could you have gone with this, all of which would have looked more or less alike? Instead you cast a unique, genius actor who happens to be black. Most other creators wouldn't even think of this, much less pursue it, and it not only offers the show so much exciting texture, it also reveals real committment to bucking the white male lock on acting. You not only continue to add fully fleshed women characters, but feminist storylines played by great, non-traditional hires. Look at Tara: Not only is Maggie Siff a gifted actor who brings amazing nuance to every move, she's not blonde and she doen't even look like she wears makeup, but is gorgeous all the time. An ingenue with no curls or makeup! Live dangerously, Mr. Sutter. Look at Nita: This is a role that could have been filled by just about any woman of your choice. Yet Clay says it: "So much for my underage nanny fantasy." You hired a charming, uniquely talented actor instead of a...porn star. I still want to see one Samcro butt for every Caracara or or chick butt next year, but in short, anyone else would have hired Roma Downey or somebody from an Irish Spring commercial for Fiona. Thanks for being you.

It's also exciting to see Chibs get some attention. Flanagan is amazing, offering indelible character in tiny moments. After a party laster, Chibs woke up and didn't recognize who was on top of him. The gentleness and even loving respect with which he brushed away her hair so that he could see her was beautiful, especially since she was apparently a mistake (p.s. Do we know who she was and why it was a mistake?).

You know there'll be more later....

kathi said...

"The bigger concern is the potential dangerous trend that NBC is setting by putting Jay in the 10 pm spot." Exactly. I like Jay Leno but I do not watch him in the 10PM spot. I want him back after the news where he belongs, and Conan O'Brien after him, and Carson Daly after him (and I don't really care what they do with Jimmy Fallon). I want to watch good scripted dramas like SoA at the 10PM hour and it irks me even more that NBC as the former home of some of my old favorites has gone so far away from that.

Jeff said...

My wife and I have a sort of tradition that we haven't done since Deadwood went off the air. When a show is over we look at each other and say "wow" or "what a GREAT show". Now, thanks to Sons, the tradition is alive and well. Thanx for a wonderful and rich show. By the way Katey Sagal's look in the last scene was great acting and heart breaking.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to chime in a bit on what Therealzenobia wrote in such an eloquent manner....The female characters on the show are so intriguing and fascinating. I refuse to gush over Queen Gemma, who's my new TV heroine! But I must give props to Tara being portrayed as book-smart lady who gives into her libido when Jax is around. 'Bout time! Maggie Siff's gorgeous in the role and has been hittin' on all 6s this seasons!!! Also, thank you for creating a character like that, Mr. Sutter! Fiona and Neeta have got me wanting to know more about them, and they've been on the TV all of five minutes total! Fantastic job all around!

Congrats Mr. Sutter, cast and crew!

TMoss said...

Well said. Well put. 100% agreed. Jolly good show in speaking out. Jolly good show.

Outsider said...

I've never liked Jay.....no matter what time slot he's in...but in the end nbc will be primarily a cable company....a big one...but that's why they hired that guy into prime time programming who was the head of cable

Reality TV is part of the democratization of the media spotlight that the digital age has wrought....

It allows a next door neighbor scale vehicle for America's favorite schaden freude pasttime of erecting heroes and then destroying them while the audience clucks their collective tongues at the completion of the rags to riches to rags cycle....
Sort of like watching, and hoping for, the downfall of a lottery or casino winner

Raise someone from the mundane...vicariously celebrate their election to the elite and then stone them to the grave for the hubris of having improved their lot in life

therealzenobia said...

Re: Stories comparing SOA to other FX shows - Comparing SOA to damages is like comparing Pollock to Thomas Kincaide. Damages blows. (So much for eloquence.) It exemplifies everything in the Scripted Dramas Suck post, and is only different in having attracted Glen Close, who then attracts excellent guest, all of whom are wasted. It is self-important and ridiculous, pretending that a cast full of stock villains = groundbreaking characterization' and I demand that critics stop comparing to SOA, or even to Rescue Me and Nip/Tuck. Talk about it alongside that Courteney Cox mess that's no longer.

la depressionada said...

I hope these comments blow you and your show up wide (in a good way).

I am one of your show's most avid fans (and I couldn't be further away from the subculture you represent . . . female, middle-aged, upper-middle class, northeastern, professional, educated, cultural elite. All those not really cool things.)

The insights, analysis, directing, casting and acting are wonderful. But what gives it that extra kick for me is Katey Sagal. A woman my age with juice. Well that's one on TV at least.

(Special note to KS - you pull the clothes off better than I could ever have imagined possible. Good the f*ck for you.)


One other note. I think it's hilarious with the shit on the show to be afraid of - guns, drugs, misogyny, porn, sadism - it's lack of health care that is the scariest every time.

South Charlotte Social Club said...

Ben Silverman has since resigned from NBC.