Dramas illustrate rapid change in television
FILE - In a Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014 file photo, creator and executive producer Marc Cherry speaks on stage at the Lifetime/A&E Winter Press Tour, in Pasadena, Calif. Cherry and Damon Lindelof, creators of two of the most indelible dramas on network television last decade, "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives," are making programs for cable networks now. Once often content to air reruns, cable networks are busy establishing themselves as creators. (Photo by John Shearer/Invision for A&E Networks/AP Images, File)
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — Creators of two of the most indelible dramas on network television last decade, "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives," are making programs for cable networks now, and they speak with the zeal of the happily converted.
"Now that we're all here together, we can definitively agree that cable is far superior to network," said Damon Lindelof, who worked on ABC's "Lost" and is making a similarly complex new program for HBO, "The Leftovers."
The changing balance of power — and how proud broadcasters are fighting back — is the subtext to meetings with television industry leaders and reporters in Pasadena this month. Nowhere is that more clear than in the field of dramas.
Once often content to air reruns, cable networks are busy establishing themselves as creators. There are 180 scripted original series on cable this year, up from 22 in 2002, said John Landgraf, FX network chief. Services like Netflix are jumping in, too.
More important than numbers is the perception that cable is the place to turn for quality. It started with "The Sopranos," and continues with awards and critical attention showered on the likes of "Mad Men," ''Homeland" and "Breaking Bad." The idea is reinforced when many of television's key creative minds argue that cable is the place to be.
Marc Cherry, creator of "Desperate Housewives," said that making the soap "Devious Maids" for Lifetime "has been just a joyous creative experience." To be fair, Cherry took "Devious Maids" to ABC first and was rejected. Now he revels in the creative freedom, saying he gets less second-guessing.
Cherry said he has more time to work on the writing, and can include more intricate details. After acknowledging now that he went into the critically drubbed second season of "Desperate Housewives" with no plan, he learned he needs to have an idea of what will happen in a second season before beginning the first.
Cable offers a measure of security that broadcasters, with more intense commercial pressures, can't match. A cable series is rarely canceled in the middle of a season.
The grind of a typical broadcast schedule, requiring some 22 episodes a year, also wears on creators — particularly now that they see an alternative. Most cable "seasons" are half that, or less. That improves quality, Lindelof said.
"You're not needing to fill weeks of story that are non-essential," he said. "So, hopefully, every episode of 'The Leftovers' will feel like it needs to exist versus it's just this very kind of fibrous bridge that exists between two essential episodes which all of us as TV fans, you know, really find incredibly frustrating to watch."
Before one conference last week, producers of several CBS dramas admitted grumbling backstage about their workload.
"That's an insatiable appetite," said Jonathan Nolan, "Person of Interest" executive producer, "which is a great thing that the audience wants more of what you're making, but it is very difficult. I feel like that number is probably calibrated ... not to the length of the season or production schedules, but to the exact point at which a showrunner (producer) will have a nervous breakdown."