Washington, D.C. -- For the closing panel at the final general session, the 2013 cable TV show assembled its first forum of showrunners -- and all of them seemed to agree that Hollywood’s top creators are only growing more interested in cable.
“For even the most casual observer of television,” said Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry, making his first foray into cable programming with Lifetime's Devious Maids, “you can see cable is where the most buzz-worthy work is being done.”
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Producer Mark Johnson, who did most of his work in feature films (Rainman, The Notebook, Chronicles Of Narnia) until recent years, said he has seen a real shift in the attitude toward cable TV since he began producing cable shows, which include Breaking Bad and Rectify.
“I didn’t really know about cable,” said Johnson. “Most of the feature people I worked with had no idea what the possibilities were on cable. Today everybody -- writers directors and actors -- want desperately to get involved in television -- primarily cable.”
One reason, explained The Americans ep Joe Weisberg, is that you do fewer episodes per season and have more time to work on each one, which makes the work more satisfying and the lifestyle easier to take -- even if the budgets are usually smaller.
Weisberg said he had been working on network TV shows for half a dozen years when he discussed his next assignment with his agent, who told him if the did his show on broadcast, it would mean doing about 23 episodes per season.
“I didn’t think I could survive it,” said Weisberg. “Then he described cable. You could do 13 episodes and have a couple months off … That’s why I’m smiling and in a good mood.”
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Weisberg added that the looser standards for language, sexuality and violence were also appealing.
Still, noted Weisberg, there are standards: “Every episode is submitted to the people at the network who tell us what we can do. You literally can say shit but not f---.”
Cherry quickly drew a laugh when he injected: “You can’t say 'f---' here, too.”
Johnson said while there are different standards, you learn the rules and learn to live with them. “The rules are a little bit more lax,” said Johnson, “but there are certain things we still can’t do. There are different versions of each episode that may be better than what we can air.”
Cherry said he has not been given a “correction” yet because he is “pretty aware of what I can do.”
“You can show touch more cleavage than you might on a (broadcast) network,” said Cherry, “but (there are still limits to what is) acceptable for cable.”
“Thematically, we’ve been given total liberty,” said Johnson. “It really comes down to language, nudity and, to some extent, violence.”
Cherry, who famously was alleged to have hit actress Nicollette Sheridan the set of Desperate Housewives, drew a big laugh when he added: “The only violence on Desperate Housewives was really behind the scenes.”
While standards might be looser for their shows, the showrunners agreed that applies to all of the growing list of original programs on cable TV, so that isn’t enough any more.
“The truth is there will always be shows that maybe try to spice it up with language, violence and nudity,” said Cherry. “At the end of the day it is what the writers have to say that matters.”
“Nudity and swearing and violence are great,” added Cherry, “but now they are so ubiquitous. I think ideas are king.”