Top Showrunners Talk Netflix Paydays, Peak TV Challenges and Big Data

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David Shore, Hart Hanson, Amy Berg

David Shore, Hart Hanson, Amy Berg and other TV bosses at the Vancouver Film Festival debated whether to stay with broadcast networks, or grab a big streaming paydeal.

With Hollywood's talent war heating up as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu target A-list creators, talk among top TV showrunners at the Vancouver Film Festival this week centered on whether to stay with a broadcast or cable network, or grab a big streaming payday.

House and The Good Doctor creator David Shore sees the attraction of an Amazon or Netflix overall deal, but insists he has enough creative freedom from network TV. "I've done network TV and I've never been able to not tell the story I want to tell... The only point in telling stories is to tell them to somebody. Telling it to millions is better than 50," Shore, who has an overall deal with Sony Pictures Television, told VIFF's Meet the Showrunners panel moderated by Tim Goodman, chief TV critic at The Hollywood Reporter.

Bones creator Hart Hanson by contrast is on the fence as he weighs up his next TV gig. "I'm more torn than David [Shore]. Why work in network TV if you don't have to? Excuse the language, but I've got fuck-you money from Bones. I can do whatever I want," Hanson told the creators panel. 

Another challenge for the veteran of the comedic police procedural is Hanson knows, whether it's a traditional network or Amazon and Netflix, each will want another procedural from him. "When I hear someone say, Hart, we want to help you do your passion project, tell us your passion project, I tell them and they say, 'we're not doing that. But we would love a procedural out of you, and 24 episodes,'" he said.

"And I get a meeting at Netflix and they say, we could really use a procedural," Hanson added. That's because he argues Amazon and Netflix know there's only so many veteran showrunners like Hanson that can churn out episodes and get a big audience.

Number among them prolific TV producer Shonda Rhimes, who rocked the TV business when she moved from ABC to Netflix with a big overall deal. "My guess is that they're paying her (Rhimes) $300 million to make a show that a lot of people will watch," Hanson said.

The TV creators in Vancouver also talked about the best number of episodes per season for creativity, and settled at no more than ten. "I've been doing ten (episodes) the last few years, and it allows you the time to get the scripts to where you want them to be, before you start shooting," veteran TV producer Amy Berg (Counterpart, Eureka, Leverage, The 4400) told the VIFF panel.

With 22 episodes, Berg added, launching a writers room is followed six weeks later with the cameras rolling. "I can't imagine going back to that. I left networks a long time ago and I can 't imagine going back. Life's too short," she insisted.

Justified creator Graham Yost, whose crime dramedy Sneaky Pete streams on Amazon, argued peak TV has allowed dramas that were inconceivable 20 years ago to find a platform and audience. The downside is selling a TV show these days isn't any easier owing to Big Data.

"They know exactly what they want. Especially with Netflix and Amazon, where they have their algorithms, they say you better not have any left-handed people in this show because that doesn't work on this platform," Yost told the panel. "But we get to work during this time and that's cool," he added.

The Vancouver Film Festival continues through Oct. 12.