Howard Gordon (Tyrant, Homeland), Graham Yost (The Americans, Justified) and John Eisendrath (The Blacklist) took the stage for a NATPE panel in Miami Beach to talk the television in the age of fragmented audiences and multiple viewing platforms.
“The first show I ever did, which was a show on CBS 20-something years ago,” Eisendrath said, “the first episode got a 24 share, and to CBS it was a disappointment. It was called WIOU, and it lasted 18 episodes because a 24 share back then was seen as a disappointment. So 24% of everyone who was watching TV in America would watch one show, and that wasn’t enough.” He added that a 2 or 3 share would be acceptable nowadays.
Calling TV in 2016 “the best of times” and “challenging,” Gordon said, “I personally think the bar just keeps on getting higher.” Meanwhile, Yost echoed FX boss John Landgraf’s “too much TV” sentiment, saying, “The fear is that at some point the music is going to stop and they’re going to start pulling out chairs.”
Eisendrath said the new age of television has little effect on writers. “In many ways, our jobs have changed the least,” he said. “Everybody in the selling side and in the broadcasting side is scrambling to keep up with the changes, but we just tell stories, and that doesn’t change that much.”
However, with the exponential growth of original scripted shows and platforms, it’s a challenge to come up with original content. “It’s a wealth of opportunity,” Yost said about the highly saturated market. “I have come up with this great idea and there’s this great twist, but there are 20 other people who have come up with something similar. … There’s more opportunity, but there’s more people competing for those slots, so it’s still tough.”
Said Gordon: “My sense is that something can’t be good or good enough — things have to be great.” He also bemoaned a dearth of talent tied to TV’s growth. “The talent pool has gotten shallower, in the proliferation of content,” the producer said. “There’s a lot of people who have a lot less experience and ultimately less helpful to us as we assemble writers rooms because they haven’t put in the time. … Everyone is busy.”
Eisendrath weighed in about how streaming and cable platforms have affected broadcast networks. “They just can’t get enough writers to pitch because people want to pitch for streaming shows, people want to pitch for cable, and their [broadcast] doors are open but there aren’t enough people that come in,” he said. But Eisendrath hailed these new platforms as being an “incredible opportunity to do something you just love — and it is a much better lifestyle.”