Vertical integration started killing off independent TV producers during the 1980s, but the decade also saw the birth of a true indie powerhouse: the Carsey-Werner Co.
Like Quinn Martin and MTM Prods. in the 1970s, the partnership of former ABC programmers Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner helped shape an entire decade of programming. The duo didn’t produce in volume like its predecessors, but the two’s shows were artistic and commercial heavyweights.
After a false start with a short-lived 1983 Madeline Kahn laffer, C-W exploded with “The Cosby Show.” An instant smash, it gave Carsey and Werner the clout to basically produce whatever they wanted.
Carsey takes little credit for the success of Bill Cosby’s show.
“The only thing we did was service him,” she says.
Still, C-W was now on the map in a big way. But rather than turn into a laugh factory, the two — joined by eventual partner Caryn Mandabach — opted for a go-slow approach.
The trio waited three years before launching the (perhaps inevitable) “Cosby” spinoff, “A Different World.” The series wasn’t a huge critical success when it bowed in 1987, but audiences loved it and the series ultimately ran for six seasons.
A year later, in 1988, C-W captured comic lightning again with “Roseanne.” As “Cosby” ushered in an era of warm and fuzzy family comedies, C-W’s new hit would open the door to a new decade of sitcoms dominated by standup comics: Tim Allen, Jerry Seinfeld, Brett Butler, Paul Reiser, Ellen DeGeneres.
C-W reaped millions in syndication coin from “Cosby” and “Roseanne,” and during the 1990s would find more success with hits such as “Grace Under Fire,” “3rd Rock From the Sun” and “That ’70s Show.”
And while C-W has attempted all kinds of comedies in its 20 years, one formula has worked best:
“Find a unique voice, someone who has a viewpoint that resonates with viewers, and put them at the center of a show,” Carsey says.