Showrunners Ilene Chaiken (Empire) and Michelle Ashford (Masters Of Sex) took the stage at NATPE today mainly to talk about the life of a showrunner, but they also touched on such issues as diversity, the state of broadcast TV and the popular debate about whether there is too much television.
In addressing the last question, Ashford sided with FX chief John Landgraf, who sparked this debate. “I don’t not think this can last,” she opined. “I think it’s just eventually going to have to cave in on itself. I don’t know how you distinguish yourself now in a marketplace like this. Every year it just gets crazier and crazier.” Chaiken jokingly added, “In a purely self-serving way I hope it keeps up until I’m ready to go live in an island.”
Regarding the controversy of the lack of minority Oscar nominees, Chaiken agreed that television was “clearly ahead of the movie side of the business” in comparison. She noted that “there have been great evolutionary changes in the last couple of year” but added, “We still have a long way in television.”
While there was no substantial talk about what’s to come on either of their shows, Ashford did offer a tidbit on what to expect in the next season of Showtime’s Masters Of Sex, starring Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan as groundbreaking sex researchers Masters and Johnson. “Season 4 is starting in the late ’60s, and the season will probably encompass a year or two,” she said. “[Masters and Johnson] became huge celebrities and ended up on the front of Time magazine, so we’re really exploring that this year.” Ashford insisted that the show would “never fudge on the science that they were doing,” though they “had to make composites of certain characters that were around their lives, for creative reasons and also for legal reasons.” She went on to assure that Season 4 will get “back to really bringing tight and rigorous adherence to the actual story.”
Asked about a statement UTA founding partner Peter Benedek made about his clients not wanting to pitch to the broadcast networks, opting for less restrictive platforms, Chaiken remained optimistic about the state of broadcast TV. “I think that Empire, in part, but some other shows that are starting to work really well are indicative that broadcast television isn’t obsolete yet,” she said. “There’s hope for it still. I think though that broadcast television still needs to change and take those cues. I certainly wouldn’t write it off. I know that as a business model, it’s still pretty reliable. I think the distinctions are less relevant.”