You see, back in the '90s and into the aughts, the network entertainment presidents used to gather every September for a right of passage known as the HRTS Network Entertainment Presidents luncheon.
Inevitably, the same question would be asked every year: Which one of your rivals' series do you covet most?
Those HRTS network president luncheons haven't happened in a few years — oh, it had to do with ego and which NBC execs should sit on the dais. (Maybe, now that things are a little more clear, the tradition can be revived this fall).
In the meantime, it took the advertising community to finally get the five network entertainment honchos on the same stage. At Tuesday morning's ANA Alliance for Family Entertainment symposium, NBC's Angela Bromstad, ABC's Steve McPherson, The CW's Dawn Ostroff, Fox's Kevin Reilly and CBS' Nina Tassler were all there.
And so was that infamous question. Turns out, the execs all pretty much covet the same shows. Here's what each prexy said they'd steal from a rival:
ANGELA BROMSTAD: "Modern Family"
STEVE McPHERSON: "Glee"
DAWN OSTROFF: "Glee"
KEVIN REILLY: "Modern Family"
NINA TASSLER: "Glee"
Funny enough, Reilly told the crowd that "Glee" was never meant to be considered family-friendly — particularly because exec producer Ryan Murphy was coming off the rather family unfriendly "Nip/Tuck."
"We didn't say, let's make it family-friendly," Reilly said. "But there was an assumption that it would be 'High School Musical.''
When "Glee" nonetheless started tackling sexy and controversial subjects, a backlash developed — as critics objected to the adult content.
"I got panicky," Reilly admitted. "But then there was a backlash to the backlash."
"Glee," he noted, was dealing with sensitive issues that might make some viewers uncomfortable, but it also helped bridge the gap between parents and kids, and perhaps triggered family discussions about topics that might not have otherwise been addressed, he said.
All of the execs noted the success of "Modern Family" in helping redefine the family comedy, but noted that the era of broad, sugar-coated family series is long gone.
"Family takes on a different meaning," Ostroff said.
Unscripted series like "American Idol" and "Undercover Boss" provide much of today's broad, full-family viewing at the networks, the execs noted.
Asked what it might take to provoke more family-friendly development at the nets, McPherson said money would be a nice start.
"We're all under the same economic pressures," he said.
ANA Alliance has partnered with the Humanitas org to provide seed money to the networks for family-friendly development. And on Tuesday, the ANA Alliance announced that it had secured $10 million in ad dollars from marketers that will be used toward advertising in family shows.