They all have ways of finding that out. Obviously, executives make renewal and cancellation decisions based on many different factors: buzz, award potential and critical worship can make a difference. But TV has always been a game of numbers and, without realizing it, we have traded a ruthless barometer – ratings – for another ruthless (and secret) barometer: if a program generates subscription revenue. Most TV shows are unlikely to pass this needle on for the second or third season. So this is more and more.
The state of affairs I have described worries the dozens of TV professionals with whom I spoke, both on and off the record.
"We are not just watching things to be distracted. We are watching things because we care," noted the first streaming showrunner mentioned earlier. “Obviously, this is a business. These shows cost money to make, but the parts of the TV that illuminate something, that can have deeper meanings – sometimes it seems that they are being dropped a little in this race for more and more things. "
Brevity is often the soul of intelligence – and even of the soul. But we are not going to erase a basic principle we learned in high school English: it is in the nature of stories to acquire weight, weight, texture and impact over time. Take Carol in The Walking Dead. "Carol had the most incredible arc of any female character I have ever seen on television," said LaToya Morgan, AMC drama consulting producer. "She started out as a battered and abused housewife, and has become a total scam in all these seasons. We have a chance to take a journey with her through all those ups and downs. Or consider a beloved character from Kirstie Alley from "I can't imagine Cheers without Rebecca," said Liz Tigelaar, executive producer and showrunner at Little Fires Everywhere.
The TV industry – which remains dominated by white, male, healthy, cisgender and heterosexual creators – has started to open the door of opportunity. But how can rising creators become the next Norman Lear or Shonda Rhimes, if all they can do is programs that don't last? Maybe people just want programs that don't require much commitment. But I notice how many people under the age of 30 can quote the OG. from Gilmore Girls, and I realize that I'm not alone in wanting to sometimes bury myself in a heavy blanket from a TV show. For days, months, years. Schur and I talked about "Pine Barrens", an iconic episode of The Sopranos, as well as "The Constant" and "LaFleur" from Lost. The latter is a charming portrait of a character with doses of romance and adventure; is the final stage Lost, and I love it. "You don't get that kind of episode unless the show is a soup rich with things that have been simmering for years," said Schur. "There is a type of episode that you can only do if a program has been around for a long time. And I just fear that it will disappear."
Television used to be sponsored and insulted when it was not ignored. No longer. In recent years, it has evolved into the colossus of the entertainment industry. It is what we turned to when the coronavirus arrived; we wanted that comfort, that distraction, that moment that makes us cry – or cheer. Of course, the film is still important, but it is largely the land of expensive tents and small-scale art plates. TV is everything else: the extremely varied, unexpected, reliable and accessible medium that says who we are – and who we could be. I don't want the conquest of television to be pyranic. I don't want creators to have a chance to make TV that grows and evolves – and connects with our hearts and minds in the process. Stories that cleverly use scope, scale, texture, ambition and psychological details are what made TV dominant. Programs that need space and time must obtain them.
Now that you've grown so big, dear television industry, I beg you: don't think small.
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