When the 2011 Emmy nominations were announced in July, broadcast networks could be heartened by one fact: their fare swept the slots for top comedy series.
On the other hand, broadcasters were no doubt deflated by another fact: They were embarrassed in the drama series category, scoring essentially 1 1/2 nominations: CBS’ “The Good Wife” and “Friday Night Lights,” which airs on NBC after an initial offering on DirecTV.
If broadcast is so adept at producing Emmy-worthy comedies, why is it so incapable of producing dramas of similar quality, particularly given how many are made?
“Cable doesn’t even do that much comedy,” points out NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt, whose previous job was running premium cabler Showtime, which produces a number of edgy comedies.
“Cable has a little bit of a hold on those dazzling concepts in drama,” Greenblatt adds. “They’re usually seductive to the industry. They’re sexy concepts, and they have flawed and damaged characters that are played by lots of interesting actors. They’re like the shinier object at this moment. We have to work hard to develop dramas that feel exciting. I wish I could define what that really meant, but hopefully we’ll figure that out.”
Robert King, co-creator of “The Good Wife,” likens the TV landscape to a shopping mall.
“The broadcast networks are the anchor stores … appealing to a lot of tastes,” he says. “They’re up against the boutique stores that narrowcast to specific tastes. Do you want to buy at an anchor store or a boutique store? The anchor store makes more money, but the boutique store has snob appeal. They’re talking right to you. Both are needed. And, for some reason, comedy does better in the anchor department store.”
King’s wife and collaborator on “The Good Wife,” Michelle, extends the metaphor: “We’ve been given our own department store but have been allowed to run it as we would have it. We’ve been lucky in this regard.”
Still, a couple of NBC’s comedy nominees — multiple-Emmy winner “30 Rock” and first-timer “Parks and Recreation” — feel more boutique in their appeal, as they lure fewer viewers than, say, HBO genre drama nominee “Game of Thrones.”
Ellen Gray, TV critic for the Philadelphia Daily News, explains the seeming anomaly: “They’re on NBC, who’s essentially operating in a cable universe at the moment. If NBC has a good season, you won’t see them satisfied with those ratings ever again.”
Adds St. Petersburg Times TV critic Eric Deggans: “Emmy also doesn’t like formula, which is also the only thing that works on (broadcast) networks. You have all these procedurals, which will never work with Emmy, because they’re too predictable. So factor all of that out, and what you’re left with is ‘The Good Wife,’ which is a really smart combination of genres — it’s a female-centered drama but it reinvents the legal drama in a way that’s sophisticated, that people dig it.
“But it is an anomaly. The network structure doesn’t lend itself to successful dramas — a show that lends itself to Emmys is too distinctive enough to draw broad audiences, and the networks can’t put it on.”
Still, Deggans believes broadcast networks will find a way to rebound in the drama game.
“They care about Emmys because they care about rejecting the idea that they’re ceding quality to cable,” he says. “Bob Greenblatt going to NBC is a perfect example — they wouldn’t have hired him if they didn’t care about the perception that quality is on cable and schlock is on the networks. They’re loathe to give that up, and they shouldn’t.”
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