Two Anonymous Hollywood Agents Talk (Mostly) Smack About the Networks

In advance of the TV upfronts, a pair of dealmakers debate what the networks (broadcast and cable) and digital content providers including Netflix and Amazon are doing right (and very wrong).

CBS

AGENT 1 Theoretically, you go to CBS because they're the most consistent shop and they have the most stable schedule. What's unique about this year is that they typically launch five new series and two or three are hits, and it was a real struggle this year.

AGENT 2 In comedy, you know exactly what works for them: big stars in big, multicamera vehicles that you could not see — nor could you really sell — anywhere else, unless you want to be on Friday night at ABC, and that's not where big stars want to go. It's getting harder to get stars to come to broadcast, but at least with CBS actors know what they're getting into. So they've attracted the best actors — Matt LeBlanc, Kevin James, Joel McHale — who want to do multicamera, which in 2016 are very few.

AGENT 1 All of these networks are suffering. Once you get beyond the Shonda Rhimes, Dick Wolf, Greg Berlanti level, the drop-off is massive. Our clients want to do cable, and the only reason they stay in broadcast is if they are a Shonda or a Dick and have a giant deal. If you're not going to make $3 million a year, you're going to cable. But a Glenn Geller still needs to buy 40 dramas, so he's buying them from whomever he can, and it's really evident this year because we're getting calls for showrunners on 80 percent of the shows that are a mess. 

ABC

AGENT 1 In comedy, they do well with the rainbow of families that make up the U.S. They're missing the disabled, which they may very well get with Speechless. They tried an Indian-American family show this year [Square Roots], and if that doesn't go forward — which it's not going to — that's what's left. They have the Jews with The Goldbergs, the African-Americans with Black-ish, the Asians with Fresh Off the Boat, and they had the Latinas with Cristela. The negative is that it's very hard for an adult show or anything else. They haven't had an office comedy in I don't know how long.

AGENT 2 On the drama side, they renewed their Shonda Rhimes deal a few years ago, so they're doing that well. Otherwise? It's a disaster. They don't have the balls to fight back Marvel and tell them their movies are awesome but their shows don't look like their movies. They made a giant mistake in throwing together The Muppets at the last second. And scheduling-wise, the weird thing about Shonda is that, historically, when you have a block of programming that's performing well, you then take the block and blow it up so that it can open up another night. How many times did we go to the upfronts and hear, "Frasier's moving to Tuesday." "The Simpsons are moving to Thursday." Shonda should have her shows holding up two nights of programming by now. 

FOX

AGENT 1 They've taken a safe approach to rebuilding that network, and I'm not saying that in a bad way. Having building blocks like Prison Break, 24, X-Files last year gives you a little bit of structure you can build around.

AGENT 2 But with comedy, they're still trying to figure out what their brand is. They need some help over there. They cast the "right" actors, but outside of New Girl they haven't had a bona fide breakout in years. 

NBC

AGENT 1 Bob Greenblatt now has the steadiest schedule, short of one thing: He has no comedy presence.

AGENT 2 None whatsoever!

AGENT 1 But still he's in pretty good shape going into the year: He has The Voice, Chicago Fire, The Blacklist, Blindspot and one-and-a-half football games. And I actually think he's got decent drama development, too. It's a hard schedule to get on right now. 

THE REST

AGENT 1 The outlets that are succeeding are the ones run out of Los Angeles: FX, Showtime, HBO, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, TNT. Whereas Nickelodeon, A&E, History, Lifetime, USA, AMC, Discovery — it's crazy to me that all of these networks popped up and said: "We do scripted out of New York. We'll just hire some loser guy who got fired from some other place and just develop stuff, and we'll be genius pickers like Charlie Collier was with Mad Men and Breaking Bad." That's the fluke, not the design.

AGENT 2 I'd say the best process is HBO, although it's frustrating because they only really program one night a year.

AGENT 1 To me, the best process is Showtime. It's very straightforward, no bullshit, and there are, like, three people. David Nevins has greenlight authority. FX is great, too, but I feel like they can tell you why everything is not right for them. I don't know if they can tell you what is right for them, unless Ryan Murphy brought it in. But they'll tell you, "Ah, we don't like male leads that have no activity to them." What?

AGENT 2 With Netflix, the thing that's awesome is that they just buy things, straight to series.

AGENT 1 Exactly. Here's 10 episodes at $8 million an episode. People talk about the backend concerns at Netflix, but let me be clear: There has never been a deal at HBO, other than maybe True Detective, where anybody walking in the door has backend of any meaningful proportion. But in success, they take care of their people. I'd venture to say Kevin Spacey and Jenji Kohan feel pretty well taken care of at Netflix.

AGENT 2 Amazon has had more success in comedy than in drama.

AGENT 1 Woody Allen and Whit Stillman? That's interesting — they're making deals with artists. But there's a bigger problem: I don't know anyone who watches anything on Amazon. Do you?

This story first appeared in the May 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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