Television executives remain divided over FX chief John Landgraf’s claim last year that there’s a scripted television glut based on comments this morning at the “Scripted State of the Union” panel that opened NATPE’s confab in Miami.
“When’s the last time anybody complained that there were too many good restaurants in your neighborhood?” Showtime Networks president of programming Gary Levine asked.
Epix CEO Mark Greenberg — whose network is a newcomer to original scripted fare — added that competition “has not been an issue….Consumers want great content.” His premium network has had “no problem” landing Emmy and Oscar nominees to join shows — including Nick Nolte, who’ll appear in a 10-episode original comedy series Graves.
Endemol Shine North America co-CEO Charlie Corwin observed that “it’s a testament to Landgraf’s statement that there’s still more to say about it.” Although it’s “expensive to launch a new show that cuts through the clutter…as a studio it’s great for us.”
Lionsgate Television Group president Sandra Stern says she disagrees that there’s too much television, but acknowledged that it’s also “much more difficult to monetize television today than it was five years ago.”
The proliferation of distribution outlets including Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu opens opportunities for niche oriented shows that “five years ago would never have been in television.” The heightened competition also has led cable channels to buy fewer syndicated shows, and divided the audience.
But UTA Founding Partner Peter Benedek says he basically agrees with Landgraf that “there’s too much going on.” What’s more, he says that the growth of binge viewing — as streaming outlets release an entire season of shows all at once — can damage the value of a series.
Citing The Affair as an example, he says “I want to watch the show over 10 weeks” since it helps to have “an opportunity to percolate.” Binge-viewed shows can burn out more quickly. “House of Cards is irrelevant at this point. Game of Thrones isn’t. And there’s a reason for that….There’s never a watercooler conversation about the shows on Netflix and Amazon.”
Others noted, though, that social media have replaced the watercooler for TV fans. That makes it easier for new venues to develop shows with specialized — and intellectually challenging — concepts.
The major networks are “in the business of [offering] 10 or 12 million people’s third favorite show. We are not,” Amazon Studios Head of Drama Development Morgan Wandell says. Referring to his operation’s series The Man In the High Castle and Transparent, he adds that “there weren’t a lot of networks racing to do a show about Nazis winning the war or a transgender character.”
With so many young writers, and people from other fields including journalism, flocking to scripted TV “it’s a great time to represent experienced showrunners” to guide them, Benedek says. “It’s the hardest job in showbusiness.”
Yet companies can’t afford to think too small.
“The pot of gold is still the network hit,” Levine says. “What’s the most lucrative show on television in the last 10 years? I’d guess it’s the Big Bang Theory” — a series that nobody seems to be emulating.
Even though Showtime’s business model isn’t based on ratings — which gives producers more flexibility to be creative — “nobody wants to be making home movies.”