That was the overall consensus from a panel of producers at the cable industry trade show this morning that featured Marc Cherry (who created Desperate Housewives), Mark Johnson (Executive Producer of Breaking Bad), and Joe Weisberg (creator of The Americans). “Some of the most exciting work is being done on cable,” says Cherry who’s about to introduce Devious Maids on Lifetime. Networks are “so hungry for viewers that they’re willing to take risks.” He relishes the opportunity to develop a series without having to generate 23 or more episodes. With the intense plotting of a soap opera “the workload is just overwhelming…You can kind of feel it around episode 14 where the story starts to not make sense.” With Devious Maids “I had every episode plotted out. I couldn’t do that” with Desperate Housewives. Weisberg says he “didn’t think I had it in me” to handle the broadcast networks’ demands. “In cable you could do 13 episodes and then take a couple of months off.”
The producers also say they like cable’s more relaxed policies for profanity, nudity, and violence — although HBO rejected Desperate Housewives, Cherry says, because the pilot “wasn’t gritty enough.” In cable, “you have to watch yourself” to avoid going too far, Weisberg says. But with the smaller budgets in cable, Johnson says that “we just find some imaginative way” to offer the effects that they want. “Sometimes you say, ‘I’m going to put my money into this episode’ and then you have some episodes where everybody’s in the same room,” Cherry says. “If you have time you can do some smart plotting and planning.” The ratings success of shows such as AMC’s The Walking Dead has raised expectations for cable productions. Even so, Cherry says, “the beauty of cable is you don’t need huge numbers to be a success.”
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