Logistics, high costs derail discussions for scripted series
The Bachelor” women tell all. The “Survivor” tribes gather live for one final ceremony. But where’s the on-air postgame discussion for scripted series?While it’s become standard operating procedure for reality skeins at the end of a cycle to gather up cast members in a studio and put them on the spot, answering questions from fans about the season that just wrapped, the nets have so far mostly resisted doing similar “town-hall”-style specials for their scripted wares. Such a special might make sense for serialized shows like “Lost,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” whose loyal fanbases are always keen on gathering further insights into their favorite characters and plotlines. The hurdles, though, center on scope, cost and access. Broadcasters would almost certainly see some benefit from such value-added extensions, especially at a time when they could very much use some low-cost programming, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights. But the nets still largely dismiss the notion of launching regularly scheduled fan-based specials that dissect their hit dramas and comedies. That’s not to say some form of the concept isn’t already out there, but the discussion is pretty much relegated to the Web. The networks do already encourage their casts and producers to appear on podcasts — like the one from abc.com starring “Lost” exec producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse — and to pen both blogs and Twitter feeds, all about their shows. The broadcasters have additionally experimented with doing similar shows online (such as CBS’ online “Jericho” talkshow). And recap shows like that are more common abroad, including in the U.K. But if there was ever a show that cried out for a town-hall special in primetime, it’s “Lost,” which is set to end its six-season run on May 23. “Lost” has spawned a thousand theories, leading to meticulously produced websites, fan parodies and lengthy treatises. That audience would likely tune in to see those “Lost” threads dissected by experts on TV. Insiders hint that the Alphabet may be kicking around the idea of putting together some sort of hour that would run sometime before the finale (as exec producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have said they plan to enter a cone of silence once the show concludes). A post-”Lost” special on ABC featuring creators and cast would draw huge numbers (perhaps even as big as the finale itself), and even a behind-the-scenes look at the show might perform decently. Serialized skeins lend themselves best to the format, as those are the shows with enough dangling threads to drive viewers nuts. “Desperate Housewives,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Heroes” in their prime might have spawned interest in such a chat show offshoot as well. And actually, “Heroes” did briefly spawn a weekly chatshow — but on cabler G4, which aired a live half-hour wrapup behind its repeat airings. According to Bravo senior VP Andy Cohen, the cabler’s reunion/town-hall specials (most of which he hosts) are frequently the highest-rated episode in a series’ run. “Our reunion shows do very well,” Cohen says. “We have the most engaged audience on cable, and they just want more. They’ve come to expect that we’re going to answer questions and advance the story.” The specials became so popular that they led to Cohen’s weekly Bravo talker “Watch What Happens Live,” which brings in Bravo stars to recap their shows and take calls. “Watch What Happens” has become a surprise hit for Bravo, averaging 952,000 adults 18-49 last week (beating ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live”). “(The reunions) are now integral to the production process of our shows,” Cohen says. “That’s why I’m now expected to ask incredibly personal, in-your-face questions. But they’re exhausting.” Cohen says he’s not so sure if a reality-style reunion show would work for a drama or comedy, however. “I’m dealing with people living their lives,” he says. “They know their motivation. When you’re talking to actors who didn’t write the scripts, there becomes a fair bit of conjecture.” One broadcast exec noted that although such scripted recap/reunion/town-hall specials don’t air in primetime, they creep their way into other dayparts. “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” for example, will sometimes feature the cast and producers of a series — ditto morning chatfests like “Today,” and latenight skeins like “Jimmy Kimmel Live” (where “Lost’s” Lindelof and Cuse are regulars). Producing such a special in primetime — even though it should, conceivably, be cheap to do — is expensive, one exec notes. If the reunion comes from the entertainment side, then stars usually still want to be paid their fees, as well as mention the cost of hair and makeup and other expenses. One wag said the cost of a reunion special can cost several million dollars when all is said and done. “There’s just no way to do it cheap,” an exec says. “And if it’s just talking heads, then maybe you get the diehards to tune in, but it will be really low-rated.” On the flip side, a network’s news division can be brought in to produce a special in order to get around those costs. But those specials are usually more behind-the-scenes snapshots and celebrity-style interviews with the cast, rather than a simple hardcore fan-style chat about what actually happened on said show. Nonetheless, execs say that it’s not out of the question to come up with a special that looks like “Inside the Actors Studio” or emulates a Paley Center panel discussion. “It’s an interesting idea,” says one network exec.
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