This story first appeared in the Jan. 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
If you could gather all of your competitors into a single room, what’s the first topic you’d want to address? That was the first of eleven questions The Hollywood Reporter asked 23 network chiefs as they came through Pasadena for the semi-annual gathering of the Television Critics Association.
If I could swap jobs for a day with someone else in this industry, I’d pick:
CHARLIE COLLIER (AMC) I’d do nighttime as David Letterman because I’ve always wanted to host a talk show. I’d then do daytime as Ted Sarandos, so that the morning after my show, I wouldn’t have to share how I performed.
TED SARANDOS (Netflix) Lorne Michaels.
CHRIS ALBRECHT (Starz) Reed Hastings.
MICHAEL LOMBARDO (HBO) Lorne Michaels.
DANA WALDEN (FOX) Les Moonves. It would be good to be king!
CHRIS MCCUMBER (USA) I’d like to run Nielsen and figure out a better system.
The move by one of my competitors that most impressed me this past year was:
ALBRECHT How many different categories HBO could get True Detective in.
CINDY HOLLAND (Netflix) Amazon making Transparent. It’s a wonderful series.
COLLIER Serial, by WBEZ. In this day and age, never did I think I’d be answering a question about “competition” with radio call letters. Well done.
JONES NBC doing a live musical was very risky. It took a lot of balls to do that, and the first one paid off.
WALDEN Giving Thursday night to Shonda Rhimes.
TASSLER Black-ish on ABC. That was a really smart move.
ALTERMAN How FX used The Simpsons to catalyze FXX.
GREENBLATT The launch of Empire.
If I could gather my competitors in a single room, the first topic I’d address is:
HOLLAND The combination of the massive number of original dramas going into production and the relative lack of experienced drama showrunners.
NEVINS We could fix the Emmy categories and create more entries and nominees in the best comedy and best drama categories.
GARY NEWMAN (FOX) Let’s agree on an audience-measurement standard.
DAVE HOWE (Syfy) Stop developing genre shows, and get back to procedurals!
HOOGSTRA There’s the DVR, VOD, OTT — it’s this jumbled mess of stuff. I’d want to ask if everyone else was as stressed as we are.
COLLIER Fire exits.
The series I can’t miss (but have nothing to do with) is:
SARANDOS Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I watch it live every week.
BARNETT The Good Wife.
DANIELS The Mindy Project.
COLLIER Black Mirror.
LOMBARDO I’m always embarrassed to say it, but The Bachelor. I’m a sucker!
CHERNISS The Walking Dead.
TASSLER The Knick.
HOWE Game of Thrones, of course.
The TV trend I wish would end is:
SARANDOS People debating Netflix ratings.
SHARENOW Everyone leapfrogging development, going straight to series and rushing things onto the air. I want to return to a time when you could fully bake something — really kick the tires on it.
BARNETT Fake reality.
LOMBARDO The prepackaged shows that come in with actors, directors, writers — all done in hope of getting more than a script picked up. It doesn’t allow projects to develop organically.
DAVID MCKILLOP (A&E) Declining ratings!
HOOGSTRA Everything is a comic book: TV, movies — it’s too much.
TASSLER The emphasis on 18-49.
NEVINS The incessant search for pre-existing intellectual property. I like writers with an original, closely held idea.
GREENBLATT Dark cable dramas.
The current event or person who would make a good TV show is:
SARANDOS A reality show based on Kim Jong Un. People seem to be super-interested in him.
ALBRECHT The Sony hacker, and the subtitle would be Dr. Strangelove Redux.
WALDEN The new Maroon 5 video [for “Sugar”], where they’re crashing weddings.
NEWMAN President Obama.
PEDOWITZ The way the CDC handled the Ebola crisis.
HOWE Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic. That’s a real-life adventure series.
TASSLER Bill de Blasio.
ALTERMAN Bill Cosby.
When this TV season is over, the headline should be:
HOWE Are there still seasons?
LANDGRAF This has been the best creative year in the history of television, across the board.
COLLIER Jon Hamm deservingly wins his first Emmy for outstanding lead actor in a drama series.
TASSLER That there’s something for everyone, everywhere.
NEVINS The all-you-can-eat buffet just became more than you can eat.
GREENBLATT Where has all the audience gone?
NEWMAN Broadcast television is alive and well.
The hardest show for me to cancel was:
SHARENOW Witches of East End. My 15-year-old daughter still hasn’t forgiven me.
MCKILLOP Longmire, without a doubt. But I’m happy it went to Netflix, and I’ll continue to watch it.
HOWE Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge. It was a fantastic show and the ratings were good, but it was too expensive to be sustainable.
LANDGRAF There have been a lot: The Bridge, The Riches, Terriers, Lights Out.
COLLIER Game of Thrones. HBO wouldn’t let me.
The industry’s comedy problem could be solved by:
HOLLAND Patience and trust that the audience will build over time.
DANIELS Unleashing the traditional guidelines for developing and producing comedies. We over-note comedy people, and their ideas get watered down in the stew that’s created by networks, agents and production companies.
LOMBARDO Stop looking at focus groups. It’s not working, so throw it out.
COLLIER Submitting the next seasons of American Horror Story and True Detective as outstanding comedy series.
GREENBLATT A new generation of great writers.
LANDGRAF A miracle. Comedy is the most subjective thing and it’s just very hard to create a comedy that pulls a very fragmented audience back together because if you’re a man, woman, person of any sexual orientation, any ethnicity, any age, any geographic region, there’s a show that’s made just for you. So how do you make a show that’s as good as that for everyone? I don’t envy the broadcasters trying to make broad comedy right now.
NEWMAN One big comedy hit!
ALTERMAN I’m not sure whether to be alarmed to learn there’s a “comedy problem” or insulted that cable isn’t considered part of the industry.
The project I’d like to reboot is:
DANIELS Doogie Howser.
LOMBARDO I don’t think it will ever happen, but Six Feet Under. I don’t think people were done with the Fisher family. I wasn’t.
MCKILLOP Someone should bring The Waltons back. For A&E, it would probably be a crime drama.
LEVISON The Surreal Life.
PEDOWITZ It will probably never happen, but Reaper.
TASSLER I still believe in vampires. If we could do Moonlight again, I’d do it.
ALTERMAN The Walking Dead.
HOWE Spaceballs: The Miniseries.
HOLLAND Wait and see — we’ll probably do it.
WALDEN The X-Files.
HOOGSTRA East of Eden, as a closed-ended TV event.
The genre I’d like to tackle next is:
SARANDOS A great multicamera sitcom.
ALBRECHT Musical comedy.
LOMBARDO I look at a show like Black Mirror, and as a total Twilight Zone junkie, I think the true anthology series — where every episode is different but thematically connected — is untapped.
DANIELS Comedy animation.
HOOGSTRA Other dayparts: late-night and Saturday afternoons.
GREENBLATT Live comedy.
LANDGRAF Smart, hard sci-fi.
TASSLER I still want a medical show.