Produced By: Starz CEO On TV Shows With 50 Cent, LeBron James
UPDATED: Chris Albrecht spoke during a panel also featuring Sundance TV's Sarah Barnett, FX's John Landgraf CEO and Showtime's David Nevins.
At the end of a Produced By panel featuring four top cable programmers, Starz CEO Chris Albrecht was asked about his recent programming choices involving rapper Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and basketball star LeBron James, which seem different than the fare the pay TV channel has produced since he arrived in 2010.
“One of the biggest challenges to us is breaking through,” responded Albrecht to what had been questions from the audience. “That’s part of why we’re doing Power.”
Power is an upcoming Starz drama produced by 50 Cent and Courtney Kemp Agboh.
50 Cent, described by the New York Times as the show’s “muse,” also stars with Omari Hardwick, who plays a drug dealer looking to go legit. Power promotions have included TV musical and guest appearances by 50 Cent, who is also doing interviews and press for the show.
“Here’s a first time showrunner [Agboh] coming off a really good show, The Good Wife. She’s never done this before," said Albrecht.
He said he was immediately impressed by her ideas.
“She’s engaged,” continued Albrecht describing his attraction to the show. "It’s got some classic themes, love triangles. Classic tragedy themes and faces not seen a lot on television. Those voices are not on television a lot. so for me trying to attract attention -- all those add up to a reason to take a shot. And then she wrote the first two scripts and they were really good.”
Survivor’s Remorse, a situation comedy LeBron James will executive produced but not appear in, is the network's first comedy since Albrecht to Starz from HBO.
Before he bought Survivor’s Remorse, Albrecht said he was attracted to the pitch from Mike O’Malley, who will executive produce along with James, Boston Red Sox chairman and producer Tom Werner, Maverick Carter and Paul Wachter.
Jessie T. Usher, who is on Cartoon Network’s Level Up, has the lead as a basketball phenom who becomes famous after he signs a multi-million dollar contract.
“I said ‘well I haven’t seen that world before,’” said Albrecht. “It has a strong point of view. And if LeBron is going to come to TCA and let us use his name, those are all good things. It ultimately comes down to I think I can make a really good version of this.”
Along with Albrecht, the panelists were Sarah Barnett, president and general manager, Sundance TV; John Landgraf CEO, FX Network; and David Nevins, president of entertainment, Showtime Networks. The moderator was Vance Van Petten, the PGA’s national executive director.
A lot of the rambling conversation was about the huge changes rocking producers, content creators and distributors. “The notion of broadcasting is in such a state of flux,” said Barnett. “It’s hard for those [broadcast] networks where a one is decent [as a rating for a show]. The overhead those networks have in a market that can’t really support the amount of product I think is interesting.’
She said the shift to VOD viewing has also hurt cable networks because it takes away the urgency to watch shows in pattern in many cases, takes away the promotional opportunities that go with live tune in and doesn’t provide a flow of audience into the next show on the schedule.
However, Barnett said what cable does well is quality programming. She said it is the DNA of broadcasters to “water down the content.”
“I think theirs is this interesting place where the content is merging into what I would call mainstream edgy,” said Barnett. “Even for a small independent network like Sundance, I don’t ever recall having a conversation with a showrunner where it wasn’t about how to push the edges rather than water it down.”
Landgraf talked about how cable and his network have been changed. He said when there were three networks there were no more than 80 scripted shows a year. This year he estimates there will be 300, including shows just for Netflix, Yahoo and PlayStation.
He said most people can’t name them and “something like Walking Dead is a one in 10,000 long shot. You have to be lucky [and] you have to make really god show and keep them on the air for two, three, four years. People are not finding them in one year.”
Nevins said cable has to go in a different direction than broadcast. “It means playing different genres,” he said. “Different approaches to characters …The pressure to be innovative and not copy what other people are doing well makes it hard right now. At one point HBO was the only game in town. Then FX jumped in and now there are others.”
“I don’t think we ever buy a show where there isn’t somebody also interested,” added Landgraf. “The dynamics of television are changing…What constitutes a good show now is much better than it was five or ten years ago. But still nobody can define how you do it.”