Pilot decisions propel genre

Skeins need either original idea or great execution

This article was corrected on Sep. 9, 2002.

As senior VP of drama development at Fox, Craig Erwich hears all the pitches. From standard action fare to sci-fi and beyond, Erwich is one of a few whose decisions propel the ever-changing face of TV. He discusses where drama is headed and if audiences will follow:

“It feels like in this day and age dramas have to be incredibly distinctive and there’s two ways to get to that. One: a really original idea. Kind of like, ‘Gee I wish I had thought of that. What a great idea for a TV series!’ Or, two: through excellence of execution. Not everything needs to completely reinvent the wheel, but at least the vision and the execution needs to. It’s gotta have one of those things.

“I mean, to be honest, most of the time, when you talk about why something works and why something didn’t, there’s a real quality of execution to it. Occasionally a really great show won’t work, you can talk a lot about the reasons why, but at the end of the day it probably wasn’t as well executed as a lot of shows that do work.

“We really try to develop a broad range of things, and not be in the business of issuing edicts and saying we’re only doing things one way. I think that’s where you run into a lot of problems. We’re willing to take big chances. I think ’24’ is a show that a lot of people probably wouldn’t have put on the air. I think the key when you get into off-the-wall territory is to make sure that the fundamentals are sound. You know that it’s not just about the gimmick, that the stories and the characters are compelling.

“You have to ask, ‘Is this a character I want to watch? Is this a story that I want to watch be told? Is this a relevant world for our audience?’ I would argue now, in ’24,’ Jack Bauer is a great character and it’s a great story.

“People like a good story. Cops, doctors and lawyers are good venues to tell stories so you’ll always see those shows. I think as it gets more competitive, it’s gonna force people to take more risks into more untraditional territory, which is really healthy.”

— As told to Stuart Levine

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