Producers cope with shock to the system

On the eve of the Golden Globes, four nominees at the top of their game consider the future of television. The noms for TV drama and comedy series reflect fast and furious times. There are challenges aplenty. Getting the networks healthy again is a big one. But the toughest and most elusive of all is finding that holy grail of all TV: that business model that includes the Internet, network television and cable.

“The landscape changes so dramatically not only year to year but, it seems, every six months,” says Showtime executive producer Sara Colleton (“Dexter”). “We don’t know what this new medium is all about — in all its forms. We’re going to have to be much more facile and adapt to this changing technology.”

Viewers were once tied to the tube, tied to the networks, tied to their skeds. Those days are over.

“Network television, and their old scheduling system, is a dinosaur,” Colleton states. “It needs to be reworked. How and when people watch content has changed, and network television hasn’t changed along with it. Cable television is much more up-to-date.”

The networks seem to be waking up to the changing landscape. Gone is the old system of developing X amount of scripts, doing Y amount of pilots and then throwing them up against the wall and seeing what the Nielsens report in the morning.

“You have to be very careful about what you develop and then make it as original and topnotch as possible,” Colleton says. “NBC announcing Leno five nights a week was a shot across the bow. That’s five scripted one-hour shows that will no longer exist. And with the advent of reality shows, it’s saying to everybody, ‘You better get better!’”

According to HBO executive producer Paris Barclay (“In Treatment”), in 10 years, there will be a sea change in network and cable television. Network will be much less in the business of presenting quality drama and will cede that ground to cable.

“Reality television and Jay Leno are taking more of the real estate,” Barclay says. “Whatever they pay Leno, the rest of the show comes in so much cheaper than an hour drama. The networks are going to go where the money is fastest and easiest — a combination of reality, news, infotainment kinds of programming. I think they’re going to say, ‘Listen, we will have fewer viewers, but this will be cheaper to produce. We will make more money.’ “

It’s all about the money. “Leno (and) the reality shows signify the networks are going to decide that there are other ways they can gather a large audience other than by showing high-quality drama,” Barclay adds. “The good news is that cable will grow. Ten years from, now you’ll see three times as many dramatic series on cable — character-driven and low-budgeted. Dick Wolf will have made his billions.”

 According to Fox producer Larry Kaplow (“House M.D.”), there will not be a separation between network and cable in the future. “It will be just one thing out there,” he says. “Today, someone probably goes to 25, 50 websites in 10 minutes. Why shouldn’t that happen on TV? I think it could. Maybe television will become almost like a game. The viewer will be able to choose where the story goes.”

The Internet is a television producer’s nightmare. “We’re all trying to figure out what that market (the Internet) is going to truly be,” says Showtime exec producer Lou Fusaro (“Californication”). “It’s going to play a big part in the future. And it’s going to be much sooner than anyone thinks.”

Producers believe they are losing the youth to videogames and the Internet. Someday, some way, they say, there will be a merging of scripted TV, reality shows and vidgames. Television will become more hands-on, more interactive. Today’s generation wants a shared experience. And, like it or not, there will be a collision of these different mediums. The big questions: how and when? This is sorta how the folks in radio felt when TV came along.

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