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This story first appeared in the Jan. 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
With more than 400 original series made last year, “peak TV” became a central and unavoidable theme at the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour. “Until someone figures out how to supersize a day to be more than 24 hours, there’s only so much TV a person can watch,” WeTV’s Marc Juris noted as part of The Hollywood Reporter‘s semiannual executive survey.
Asked what his biggest concern for the TV business going forward is, FX Networks CEO John Landgraf struck a more somber tone: “We make more shows than we can afford, collectively.” But the questionnaire revealed much more than simply the looming challenges facing the industry. Network heads including Showtime’s David Nevins, HBO’s Michael Lombardo, Starz’s Chris Albrecht, NBC’s Bob Greenblatt, ABC’s Paul Lee, and Fox’s Dana Walden and Gary Newman got candid about the show that has them envious, the competitive move that most impressed them and the actor they’d love to bring back to television.
What competitor move most impressed you in 2015?
Robert Greenblatt (NBC) CBS rebooting Star Trek for CBS All Access.
Kevin Reilly (TBS/TNT) Mr. Robot. I didn’t know if USA had it in them, but they did a great job with it.
Jana Bennett (History) Amazon’s range of shows, from Man in the High Castle to Transparent.
Chris Albrecht (Starz) Netflix’s $5 billion announcement on programming was pretty eye-opening.
Matt Cherniss (WGN America) FX’s decision to expand American Horror Story to a different genre with American Crime Story.
Tom Ascheim (Freeform) I’m interested to see how the 25-hour marathon of Angie Tribeca does on TBS.
Mark Pedowitz (The CW) The amount of money the streaming services spent on marketing.
Chris McCumber (USA) Turner’s Kevin Reilly for coming out and saying he’s reducing commercial load by 50 percent. We have to make the viewing experience better.
Keith Cox (TVLand) USA making Mr. Robot.
Rich Ross (Discovery/Animal Planet/Science Channel) I’m impressed by HGTV’s clarity of brand and delivery of programming to fit it.
Jennifer Caserta (IFC) Saturday Night Live having Donald Trump as a host. It was a gutsy move and a controversial decision, but clearly it paid off.
Kent Alterman (Comedy Central) The Republican National Committee. Their debate series is the funniest show on TV.
The new show that has you envious?
Bennett Narcos on Netflix.
Courteney Monroe (Nat Geo) Roots on History.
Paul Lee (ABC) Catastrophe on Channel 4 [and Amazon].
Cherniss Jessica Jones on Netflix.
Mina Lefevre (MTV) Wet Hot American Summer on Netflix.
Michael Lombardo (HBO) Mr. Robot on USA.
David Nevins (Showtime) Mr. Robot on USA.
Glenn Geller (CBS) The People v. O.J. Simpson on FX.
Craig Erwich (Hulu) Vinyl on HBO.
David Howe (Syfy) Humans on AMC.
Alterman Master of None on Netflix.
John Landgraf (FX/FXX) Mr. Robot on USA and Master of None on Netflix.
Roy Price (Amazon) Documentary Now! on IFC.
Rob Sharenow (Lifetime/A&E) Narcos on Netflix.
Cindy Holland (Netflix) Fargo season 2 on FX.
Charlie Collier (AMC/Sundance) Sesame Street on HBO. Who wouldn’t want to work on that show? Now that they’re on pay cable, Cookie Monster can finally work blue.
The genre that’s my top priority is …
Dana Walden (Fox) High-concept soap.
Greenblatt Comedy, comedy, comedy (or maybe a musical).
Albrecht Latino epics.
Pedowitz Quirky family material.
Ross True crime and expedition.
Geller Big family multicam.
Bill Abbott (Hallmark) Romantic comedies.
Frances Berwick (Bravo/Oxygen/E!/Esquire) Nonderivative unscripted.
Lombardo Distinctive drama.
Price Elevated genre.
Caserta Smart, twisted comedy with a female point of view.
Lefevre Comedy with a big twist.
Looking ahead, my biggest concern for the TV business is …
Cherniss That we panic in the face of a changing environment.
Cox The lack of truly skilled showrunners. We’re running out of bodies.
Lefevre Netflix and other platforms.
Lombardo Chasing noise to break through the plethora of choices.
Holland The health of all the networks.
Geller The misperception that network television is dead.
Sharon Levy (Spike) Accurate measurement.
Marc Juris (WE tv) Content overbuilding. Try as we might, we can’t ignore the basic laws of supply and demand.
Abbott Careless proliferation of content sold to “over-the-top” services without consideration of the ecosystem.
Price That eventually we will all just watch our own algorithmically generated TV show about ourselves.
Greenblatt That teenagers no longer know what TVs are.
Alterman A disconnect between popularity and measurement/monetization.
Landgraf We make more shows than we can afford collectively.
What do you say to friends who tell you they are cutting the cord?
Walden You’re not my friend.
Monroe Hold on, I’m just getting started.
Alterman Why would you want to jeopardize my kids’ education like that?
Lombardo HBO Now!
Cox How are you going to watch sports or anything live?
Geller Big mistake!
Sarah Barnett (BBC America) No, you cannot have my HBO Go password.
Nevins Showtime is available everywhere; figure out how to keep that one. I think you’re going to like Billions.
Collier You rooting for an innie or an outie?
Levy No cable, no football. You must be a Jets fan. I’d cancel cable too in that case.
Abbott They will be back!
Price That’s cool. Do you have a Fire TV or are you fully going off the grid?
Holland What took you so long?
What actor would you love to see back on television?
Monroe Jon Hamm. I’d really like him to play Ronald Reagan in Killing Reagan.
Ascheim Shailene Woodley
Berwick Jennifer Garner
Lombardo Larry David
Alterman Dave Chappelle
Greenblatt Steve Carell
Sharenow There was a young actor on Growing Pains named Leonardo DiCaprio who I thought showed some promise.
The dealmaking process would be more effective if …
Bennett Everyone realized we’re in it for the long haul.
Monroe We had more time to think.
Berwick Everyone had representation that has their best interests at heart.
Reilly Agencies gave up those pesky packages.
Cherniss I was the only buyer in town!
Pedowitz It didn’t feel like Kabuki theater.
Levy Everyone involved agreed, “Let’s do this in 48 hours or walk away.”
Price There were standard deals for a broad range of services that we published, notated and broadly accepted.
Holland Agents weren’t involved.
In five years, the cable landscape will …
Monroe Be dramatically different but will still matter.
Berwick Not be called cable; it will be called “video content.”
Reilly Will have fewer networks and new corporate alignments.
Albrecht Be coming to you through a lot more portals.
Landgraf Make more sense.
The biggest waste of money in the TV business is …
Bennett Copycat programming. Like, why?
Reilly Nielsen. We spend a fortune on it, and it’s outdated.
Albrecht Pilots. You don’t really learn that much from a pilot, anyway.
Ross Chasing off-brand hits.
Nevins The multiseason pickup before there’s any proof that a show has legs.
Abbott 400-plus original series.
Juris Thinking if it works on YouTube, it’ll work on linear TV — or valuing “celebrity” over story.
Greenblatt Single episodes of television that take three weeks to shoot.
Landgraf Making television shows that no one watches.
Caserta Campaign ads for Rand Paul.
The Jinx or Making a Murderer?
Reilly A close call, but The Jinx.
Bennett The Jinx.
Cox The Jinx.
Ascheim The Jinx.
Albrecht I didn’t see either.
Barnett The Jinx.
Sharenow I’ve always preferred The First 48.
Lefevre The Jinx.
Landgraf The Jinx.
McCumber The Jinx.
Gary Newman (Fox) Making a Murderer.
Geller The Jinx.
Collier The Staircase on SundanceNow Doc Club.
Levy The Jinx.
Caserta Seth Meyers’ Making of a Talk Show Host. Dead-on.
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