Perhaps there really is too much TV, at least for selective actors who don’t want to get tied to 20-plus-episode shows per season. “Actors are getting to the point where they’re starting to say, ‘If you want me, shrink the order,’ ” said The Good Wife producer Michelle King during a showrunners’ panel at Produced By: NY 2015.
The subject was broached when a far-flung discussion on the “art and business of showrunning” turned to the ramifications of episode orders at cable networks versus broadcast. Clyde Phillips, whose credits include Nurse Jackie, Dexter and Broke, said cable’s typical 10 to 13 episodes – as opposed to broadcast’s 22 or 23 – are more appealing to actors and directors who want a production schedule that isn’t “life-killing.” He said a cable series like HBO’s True Detective couldn’t entice busy actors like Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson with 20-plus episode orders, and those big names are crucial for certain viewers.
With actors like McConaughey and Harrelson, Phillips said, viewers “cannot not watch that show.” He then jokingly adding a whispered “at least the first season.”
Phillips brought up the much-debated “too much TV” argument stirred up at this year’s TCA by FX’s John Landgraf. “I’m on the fence about it,” he said, explaining at one point that “there aren’t enough showrunners to be doing 22 episode orders.”
Barbara Hall, showrunner for CBS’s Madam Secretary, conceded that while “it’s hard to argue the point” that large orders are a “grind,” the demand for content on an ever-widening number and variety of screens might simply mean that showrunners with shorter per-series episode orders might end up producing two shows instead of one.
Order size notwithstanding, the panelists – also including Darren Star (Younger, Sex and the City), Joe Weisberg (The Americans), Michelle King’s husband and partner Robert King, and moderator Lori McCreary, CEO of Revelations Entertainment and president of the Producers Guild of America – agreed that broadcast networks (and their viewers) are increasingly demanding production quality to rival and compete with cable fare. “The broadcast networks want to feel like they’re in the same game,” said Robert King.
Phillips offered up an example of the shrinking divide between broadcast and cable. He said that during Hollywood’s writers’ strike of 2008, CBS aired slightly edited episodes of sister channel Showtime’s Dexter, resulting in an increase of Showtime viewers who followed the series back to cable when the CBS airings ended.
Another subject that came up during the panel discussion was diversity, both behind and in front of cameras. Star said that, since his show Younger does not feature a multi-ethnic regular cast, he looks for diversity among guest stars. When an audience member asked whether women can find parity in the TV industry, Phillips’ comment that salaries of female showrunners are “virtually equal” to males drew a loud, joking laugh from Hall, who insisted that, while the TV industry is “better than it used to be” for women, female showrunners still “have to say things three times and maybe a little louder” to be heard. But she advised perseverance: “If you go home, you don’t get to play.”