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TV’s infinite potential

Producers Guild of America Awards 2013

Variety asked five PGA television nominees — Gareth Neame (“Downton Abbey,” PBS), Christopher Lloyd (“Modern Family,” ABC), Leslie Greif (“Hatfields & McCoys,” The History Channel), Anthony Bourdain (“Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations,” Travel Channel) and Mark Burnett (“The Voice,” NBC; “Shark Tank,” ABC) — five key questions.

1. In your opinion, why are so many people citing television as the medium of choice for producers?

Neame: In a television series you are making 10 or 20 movies, and the job of telling the story and maintaining the continuity falls to the producer.

Bourdain: If you have a strong vision of how you want your project to look and sound, if there’s a voice behind it, you see it on TV. You know this is a David Simon project or I’m in Matt Weiner’s world.

Bourdain: For those who like to be the ultimate boss, TV is the place to be. The (executive producers) are in charge in my world.

Burnett: The producer is the first person in and the last person out. You are the Genesis and the Revelation.

Greif: You can do great storytelling in television that you can’t do in movies.

2. What is most liberating about television and what is most constricting?

Neame: Having to tell a story within a certain number of characters, and strict running time. But while constricted by formula, it’s liberating to have that recurring experience with the audience.

Bourdain: The commercial break, the pacing, the act structure can be constricting. But it’s liberating when you can create an individual sense of specific environment.

Lloyd: The quickness of it. You can come up with a topical idea and have it on the air 27 days later. The restricting aspect is having 21 minutes to service a cast and a story in equal amounts.

Burnett: When I was a new producer, I didn’t like the committee aspect of it. But now I’ve gained a level of trust so it’s liberating to do what you like and have fun.

Greif: The liberating part is that you work with people who want to break out of (the) cookie cutter and stimulate an audience. The challenge is the financial models.

3. What are the advantages or disadvantages of network vs. basic cable vs. premium cable?

Neame: Although we work with NBC and TNT, we haven’t done much, but I haven’t seen a difference.

Bourdain: I know how to work with a four-person crew on a basic cable show. With 160 people on the network show (“The Taste,” ABC), it’s a different experience. But I was surprised at how much fun it would be as something of a passenger (rather) than in the driver’s seat.

Lloyd: In cable you get a creative license that should be revoked for some people. It’s nice to have that latitude, but you settle for a smaller audience.

Burnett: Nothing in the world exists on the level of American broadcast TV when it comes to getting people watching your show. On the other hand, in terms of drama, cable is the main game.

Greif: On premium cable, there are no restrictions on language, violence or time. In broadcast, you have a hard delivery time, but you have a big footprint. Basic cable lets you push boundaries, but is more restricted than premium.

4. What is the biggest challenge that your particular show poses?

Neame: When you have 20 characters or more and trying to tell a story in 46 minutes, it’s difficult to carry a meaningful story, but we had a great cast and writers who could do it.

Bourdain: Trying to do something different than the week before. Even if it works, you try hard not to do that again, not to get into a familiar groove. Don’t end with the heart-warming family dinner even though it worked last week.

Lloyd: Keeping the quality where we want it. You always worry about your show being past its prime, as in life.

Burnett: Any big show is a challenge. You have to assemble the right team to execute the vision and have a network to promote it. Then wait to see if the viewers will watch.

Greif: It took 30 years to get (“Hatfields & McCoys”) made because it wasn’t formulaic and no one was interested in doing a period piece.

5. What show(s) other than your own do you watch religiously?

Neame: I admire “Game of Thrones” because of the clever way they have taken a genre-specific fantasy and found a way to the mainstream. And it’s always nice to take a warm bath in “30 Rock,” which reminds me of the nonsense of this business.

Bourdain: “Justified,” “Archer,” “Mad Men” and “Treme,” because I write for “Treme.”

Lloyd: I’m not in the habit of watching much except sports and news. I do waste a lot of time watching Clippers games.

Burnett:“Homeland,” “Game of Thrones,” “60 Minutes,” “The Good Wife” and “Downton Abbey”

Greif: “Homeland,” “Shameless,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “Justified,” “Sons of Anarchy,” “30 Rock” and “Two and a Half Men”; and I love “Downtown Abbey.”

Producers Guild of America Awards
TV’s infinite potential | Society’s ills unchained | PGA’s stamp of approval firmly in place

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