As cable scoops up more and more Golden Globe and Emmy awards, it’s apparent that critically acclaimed programming has found a new home. Some of TVs most successful show producers recently discussed the unique experience and advantages of creating television programming for cable.
Mark Johnson, Executive Producer of “Breaking Bad” and “Rectify”, Marc Cherry, Creator and Executive Producer of “Desperate Housewives” and the new “Devious Maids”, and Joe Weisberg, Creator, Executive Producer, and Writer of “The Americans” all spoke on how different the content landscape has become thanks to cable.
“In the past”, Johnson said, he “had no idea about the possibilities of cable. Now everyone desperately wants to get into TV – especially cable.” Cherry and Weisberg seemed to agree and set off discussing how the risks cable takes on content have reinvented the medium of TV. They also noted how the content schedule compared to broadcast TV plays a big role in how producing for cable allows for better content.
Cable, according to the panelists, lets producers and writers go deeper and create more sophisticated content because they have extra time. Broadcast, for example, demands more episodes over a shorter period of time. Cable allows producers the space to create much more complex content by permitting thirteen-episode seasons and longer breaks.
A big part of the discussion was the differences in what’s permitted on cable versus broadcast. Cherry recounted the time he sent the pilot of “Desperate Housewives” to HBO and it was turned down because “it wasn’t gritty enough”. HBO, knowing its audience and its brand, did so understanding that a big part of its success is thanks to delivering the very content others can’t (or won’t) show. “Desperate Housewives” was much better suited for broadcast TV. But there is a line, the producers agreed, where grit can become gratuitous, and that it’s their creative responsibility to know where that line is.
The panel made clear that great programming is fueled by the kind of creativity and content freedom producers love and that only cable offers. Cherry, Weisberg, and Johnson all agreed that a big part of the success of cable has been its permissiveness in allowing producers and writers to do what they do best – to create great content.