Despite an explosion of programming options, the notion of networks denoting a certain brand still matters, executives concluded during a wide-ranging Hollywood Radio and Television Society luncheon Thursday, which often seemed as much therapy for programmers as an exploration of trends.
Panelists at the Beverly Hilton event spoke about the changing nature of their jobs, the increased likelihood of a passed-on project becoming a series — and perhaps even a hit — elsewhere and the uncertainty in knowing when to stick with a show or cut it loose, given the shift in measurement metrics.
On the brand issue, FX Networks and FX Prods. President of Original Programming Nick Grad called the promise associated with being on a specific network, such as FX, “a factor” in viewers’ decisions. He also rather wryly apologized for the pending onslaught of movie titles that will be turned into series after his network’s experience with adapting “Fargo” to television, as programmers seek any advantage they can find in terms of name recognition.
“I think FX means something to people,” Grad said, suggesting that viewers don’t watch a show strictly because it’s on a given network, but that the venue is one of the things taken into account when marketing a new program.
Grad also conceded that the addition of new players producing original series heightens the risk of saying “no” to a project that eventually becomes a success. “You can’t worry about what’s going to happen afterward,” he said, saying it would be punitive to tie up projects, but added, “You never want to look like an idiot.”
As for knowing when to exercise patience with programs, MTV Programming President Susanne Daniels said the network does considerable research looking for intangibles that go beyond ratings. She also unleashed what became a recurring gag with third panelist Kent Alterman, president of content development and original programming at Comedy Central, when she admitted that the show “Army Wives,” which she ordered while at Lifetime, wasn’t her personal cup of tea.
“How come you hated ‘Army Wives?'” he asked.
Alterman also joked about Comedy Central and MTV both falling under the umbrella of Viacom, saying his bosses didn’t care about ratings. “They’re just in it for the art,” he said.
Although the execs noted that their programming choices “have to meet the criteria of what your mission statement is,” as Daniels put it, the also agreed that rigid adherence to defined parameters can result in missing out on a potential hit.
“Every great show violated some unwritten law of what you’re supposed to do,” Grad said. “You have to be flexible.”
Andy Greenwald, staff writer for Grantland, moderated the discussion.