Cable toppers chat biz at HRTS lunch

B'cast still a factor in programming landscape

Cable network toppers remain appreciative of their broadcast counterparts because they help fill their own programming pipelines.

That was the message at Wednesday’s Hollywood Radio and Television Society’s panel at the BevHilton, where network chiefs reiterated the difficulties of retaining auds and finding new viewers in an increasingly crowded cable landscape.

FX president-g.m. John Landgraf said his net was “highly dependent on offnet series” acquired from broadcasters. BET’s original programming topper Loretha Jones reitereated that if it wasn’t for former broadcast sitcom “The Game,” which drew a whopping 7.7 million viewers in January, her net wouldn’t have drawn the kind of positive press it has received so far this year. “We had no inkling it would do that kind of number,” Jones explained.

For Jeff Wachtel, head of original programming for USA Network, discussed “Law and Order: Criminal Intent,” originally an NBC vehicle. The Dick Wolf skein moved to the cabler when the Peacock removed it from its schedule. Now shooting its 10th and final season that launches May 1, skein is bringing back original stars Vincent D’Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe. Wachtel said that instead of just letting the show end without much fanfare, USA wanted a “victory lap” for the show that “brings intelligent closure for us.”

The group discussed canceling series that may have critical appeal but are ratings challenged; Landgraf chatted about the end of “Terriers.” He said it would cost FX $200 million to keep a drama series on the air for seven seasons, and it was prudent to cancel “Terriers” after the first season rather than continue it as a financial drain on the net.

Using ratings data he learned on “Damages,” Landgraf said if had a choice today, he wouldn’t go forward with the Glenn Close starrer that was given a two-season reprieve on DirecTV after running three seasons on FX. Because the show was so serialized and many people watched on DVR, the net wasn’t able to monetize the skein as well as it would’ve liked. “For many people, it was better to watch that show on DVR than watch it live,” he explained. “You’d be crazy to make that show now.”

In a chat about the recent move of high-profile sporting events to cable, Showtime topper David Nevins — whose net is set to air a docuseries on the San Francisco Giants — said, “It’s not a God-given right” for viewers to be able to watch sports for free and called the transition a “very natural and obvious evolution.”Nevins said his goal at Showtime is to make sure viewers are given their money’s worth every month, as auds write a check to the pay cabler every time their cable or satellite bill arrives in the mail.

As for what he believes viewers want to see, Nevins — who was a seller at Imagine Television but is now a buyer at Showtime — said, “Our shows will be defined by my tastes. I’m at a place suited to my tastes.”

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