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Gavin Polone on What Mutts Can Teach Us About Good Television

Dog Breaking Bad Illustration - H 2013
Illustration by: R. Kikuo Johnson

The Emmy-winning producer compares mixed breeds and prestige programming: "Like purebred dogs, franchise shows suffer from their own particular disorders: most notably how repetitive and predictable they are."

This story first appeared in the Aug. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

I'm currently considering a couple of new additions to my life: a dog and a TV series (to watch, not produce). Over the past year, I've sadly lost my two older dogs. If only they could come back to me like reruns of Girls and Game of Thrones. When I do acquire a new pooch, it will most certainly be a mutt, and whatever new show I decide to follow also will be a mutt of sorts, meaning it won't be easily categorized and will certainly be distinct from any of the established genres that so overpopulate the various broadcast and cable TV schedules.

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My one remaining dog, Lacy, came from a shelter several years ago. She has the sweetest disposition and terrific health for her age, which we figure is somewhere between 7 and 10. I would guess she's a mix of a couple of mixes, and when asked, I describe her as "mostly black and about 40 pounds." I ascribe Lacy's vitality and demeanor in part to the fact that her bloodlines are so interwoven. It is pretty much common knowledge that inbreeding increases the chances of genetic defects in all species of animals -- I am sure that my sinuses from hell have something to do with my parents both being of Russian/Jewish descent. A study published by the American Veterinary Medical Association, which examined the medical records of 90,000 dogs, showed that 10 genetic disorders -- including epilepsy, dilated cardiomyopathy and hypothyroidism -- were more common in purebreds, while only one was more common in mixed breeds. Many English bulldogs are so overbred that they have trouble walking and breathing and cannot even mate or give birth without assistance.

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The fact that Lacy doesn't look like another group of dog makes her more beautiful to me. I never can understand why people often crave the aesthetics of something that looks akin to something else. Do people buy a tract home because it looks like the houses on either side of them? Or is it that they are just more affordable because the design cost is spread over a large number of cloned houses? Conversely, when it comes to dogs, the more expensive version is the one that was created to look just like a whole bunch of other dogs, while the unique and healthier models are available for a small adoption fee from a local shelter or rescue group.

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Analogously, it is usually more expensive to create an ersatz CSI or Grey's Anatomy than to make the unique Breaking Bad or American Horror Story. Like purebred dogs, franchise shows suffer from their own particular disorders: most notably how repetitive and predictable they are. Cop shows usually contain the setup of a crime and a victim, an investigation and a resolution of the mystery, with justice meted out on the guilty. Medical shows have sick people and doctors trying to cure them in a familiar pattern with often-seen-before circumstances. Of course, some are much better than others, and secondary plotlines involving personal relationships can be more varied, but ultimately, even with the best lawyer shows such as The Good Wife or Suits, most episodes have some character sitting at a conference room table, explaining their legal trouble with someone like Josh Charles or Gabriel Macht across from them listening. It's not the fault of bad writing or casting, it's just how those shows are. On the other hand, there is nothing predictable about what Walter White or Sister Jude might do, and that is what makes them so interesting and entertaining.

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There is another reason why I lean toward the singular and distinctive when I make decisions about how I want to spend my time and what I want to acquire: It makes me feel better about what I'm doing. There is something cynical about a new TV show that is intentionally engineered to be similar to an already successful series. It may be a good business decision to do a sequel or knockoff, but, in general, TV is more about art than marketing. Supporting a show that tries to do something uncommon is an act that rejects cynicism. And finding an atypical dog at a shelter, and avoiding breeders and pet stores, will give me the gratification of knowing that I not only saved one dog's life but didn't do anything to encourage the pointless creation of more animals when there are so many in need of homes. In both examples, I will not only stand a better chance of satisfaction with my choices but also with myself for having made those choices.

Gavin Polone is a film and television producer. He is currently executive producer of ABC Family's Twisted.