When Steven Bochco's TNT drama "Raising the Bar" begins its second season June 6, it will be the first time since the early 1990s that the veteran TV writer-producer has had a series go that far. His last success? ABC's "NYPD Blue," which ran for 12 seasons.
Before that he was behind a series of small-screen gems that included "Hill Street Blues" and "L.A. Law."
But don't expect to see any of his future classics outside cable. "I'm not in the broadcast television business any more," he says. "It's not an environment friendly to creators."
Times change. Vertical integration of media corporations, along with the loss of independent production studios -- as networks became both buyers and sellers of content -- has altered the way producers pitch their wares. Increasingly, the brains behind what are generally regarded as TV milestones -- like Bochco, Stephen J. Cannell and David Milch -- are shrugging off broadcast altogether.
"Regular networks never wanted to do the shows we pitched them," says longtime Bochco collaborator Milch, who created "Deadwood" and is working on another show for HBO, "Last of the Ninth." "They would do it grudgingly and in fear and trembling."
Cannell, the name behind such shows as "The Rockford Files," "The A-Team" and "The Commish" -- who says his Cannell Studios once was "the third-largest supplier of television to Hollywood," with 2,100 employees -- primarily writes novels now, though he says he has a pilot at NBC this year.
"I'm willing to walk away from something if I don't feel I can do it the way my buyer wants to do it," he says. "I didn't want to do a show for NBC and have them hate it."
Cable, in the long run, is likely to be the best home for shows by these creators. But it does seem to be a commentary on the state of broadcast television that while it loses viewers, it's also losing the kind of creativity that once fueled ratings, created stars and earned Milch, Bochco and Cannell 15 Emmys among them.
"On a cable show, I can use all the words in my vocabulary," Cannell says. "Cable shows are more cutting edge, they're taking chances, and they're only being asked to appeal to a smaller demographic number. They don't have to deliver the numbers to be successful."
And for some creative minds, even cable may not suffice: Milch's "Ninth" is languishing.
Apparently, Milch says, "Neither cable nor over-the-air really want to do the type of shows I'm interested in. But if you have a little bit of a track record, sometimes they hold their nose and go along."
Bochco remains a realist, understanding that -- well, change happens. He recalls being under contract at Universal with Cannell in his 20s, sneaking out to listen to some of the then-veterans hanging out with cigarettes at the commissary, complaining about the business. "I used to say, 'I'm having fun, and if you guys aren't, make room for me and Cannell, because we're having a great time,' " he says.
"I always promised myself, if I ever became one of those guys I'd walk away," Bochco adds. "Generally there's no going back, and either you adjust or you find other avenues for what you do. Or you very quietly close up your sample case and move up to Napa and drink more wine. So far, I'm still loving what I do, and I'm fortunate to have a few places that are amenable to working with me."
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